Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Transcript: Why birds? John Muir Laws

I found this little video on the Audubon California YouTube channel. It is so great I decided to transcribe it here.

It is just the last minute and a half of a talk by Jack Laws at Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary in September 12, 2012.

You can watch the original here.

Transcript:

“The last thought is 'Why birds?'

"I am continuously amazed and awed by birds. If you are interested in observing animals and you want to look at mammals, they all hide from you. So what do the biologists do—the naturalists leading the field trips? They're like, “Oh my gosh, there's some scat!” Right? And they get all excited about looking at animal scat because the mammals are all hiding. Nobody looks at bird scat—because the bird is actually out there in front of you doing their bird thing!

"People say, 'I can't draw that because they fly away.' Yes, that's the point. Because they can fly away, they can hang around, right? It's because they can fly that makes them such great subjects. They can take off any time they want. And they kind of go like, 'You going to catch me? I don't think so, you land-locked primate!' So they will be out there in front of you courting and feeding and preening and cleaning themselves and doing all these sorts of things.

"You want to see mammals? You can go to the zoo. You can look at a nature special. You can look at scat on the ground. But it's nothing compared to the opportunities to see the real wildness that birds give us every day.”

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Channel changes at the San Luis Rey River mouth

The above normal rains we had this winter and spring, after 5+ years of drought, brought a lot of water down the San Luis Rey River in northern San Diego County. I visited once in March and found the river bed full with water rushing into the sea. The former lush beds of cattails and great birding habitat were strewn northward on the beach for a half mile or more.

I visited recently, and the area has not recovered. I have not observed the wash-out of this lagoon before. Perhaps someone who has been around longer will remember how long it takes to recover. At this point it is my guess that winter storms and tides will again pile up beach sand and block the river mouth from reaching the ocean directly and the lagoon will reform. It may then be a couple of years before it reaches a state where it was these past few years. Or, perhaps it happens faster.

At any rate, silt and sand has replaced mud and cattails. Sand smothers the former food-rich river bottom. I do not believe birding will be good this winter for ducks. I don't think it will be good for migrant shorebirds and rails in spring or nesting Black-necked Stilts, Common Gallinules, and Least Bitterns next summer. I could be wrong. I hope I'm wrong. We'll have to keep checking back.

This location was my first birding site guide in San Diego County.

San Luis Rey River mouth
Fresh silt and sand temporarily replaced a healthy lagoon. July 28, 2017.
San Luis Rey River mouth
The San Luis Rey River is now flowing directly into the ocean. July 28, 2017.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Recent Birding in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico

An unexpected extra (paid!) day off from work in July allowed Marlene and me to visit my sister and family in Puerto Peñasco (also known as "Rocky Point," even though the direct translation is "Rocky Port"). This resort town on the Sea of Cortez is about 6 hours away (330-360 miles) from my home in northern San Diego County. Plus, there can be another hour line for crossing the border back into the US. [And I still think that my map navigation program incorrectly computes travel time in Mexico based on speed limits of 90 miles per hour rather than 90 kilometers per hour. So it always takes a lot longer to get places in Mexico than the navigation programs says.]

Known as "Arizona's beach," this seaside community is only 60 miles from Lukeville, Arizona, and a 3-1/2 hours' drive from Phoenix or Tucson. There's really no specific birding parks or trails here, unfortunately, surrounded for miles by sandy cholla desert. The best birding is on the private golf courses and some of the shallow bays, such as Cholla Bay. [This is also known as Choya Bay--I am so confused about the use of Spanish here. I think both are pronounced the same, with the first the predominant cactus of the area and the second means "head," or maybe "point"? So maybe it's a play on words, or maybe confusion that stuck? Or maybe both words refer to the cactus?]

My nephew, Manny, an event photographer, took me out one day to photograph birds at the Laguna del Mar Golf Course. It's a private golf course but Manny knew the right words to say to get in to walk the main road. He comes here regularly to kayak. It was his first time photographing birds. He enjoyed it, I think, but he wasn't converted. Here are my photos from that morning.

American Oystercatcher
American Oystercatcher. Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. July 3, 2017. Greg Gillson.
American Oystercatcher
It's been several years since I last saw an American Oystercatcher.
American Oystercatcher
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Osprey
Don't tell this Osprey that hunting is not allowed!
Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret
Snowy Egrets were nesting in a tree along the road allowing some great flight shots as they slowed to land.
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird
Magnificent Frigatebird
Male Magnificent Frigatebird
Magnificent Frigatebird
Juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird.
Magnificent Frigatebird
Really ratty plumage. At least it has 7 new outer primaries so it can fly!
Magnificent Frigatebird
About 15 frigatebirds were hunting over the golf course ponds. And here I was looking out to sea for them!
Great-tailed Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle
Cactus Wren
Cactus Wren in the tree above me.
Black-necked Stilt
Black-necked Stilts
Coyote
Coyote is not likely to get a bird. Better go back to hunting lizards!
Black-necked Stilt
Black-necked Stilt

Later in the afternoon Marlene and I joined Bob and Karen on the private beach at Las Conchas. While we enjoyed the company of two other couples that showed up, Marlene first had to go swimming in the warm waters.

I'm not much for swimming as I was when I was younger (before eyeglasses). But large birds were flying right along the shoreline for decent photos.

Las Conchas Beach
A relaxing afternoon at Las Conchas Beach.
Heermann's Gull
Heermann's Gull
Royal Tern
Royal Tern
Osprey
Osprey
Brown Booby
Brown Booby
Marlene enjoying a boogie board
Brown Booby
Female Brown Booby
Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican. Who's photobombing whom?
Osprey
Osprey fishing
Yellow-footed Gull
Yellow-footed Gull
Long-billed Curlew
Long-billed Curlew
Brown Booby
Immature Brown Booby


nature journal
A page from my nature journal.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Willets and Godwits on the beach

Recently, Marlene and I went for a walk on the beach at Imperial Beach. This was the north side of the Tijuana River mouth, within 2 miles of the border with Mexico.

A flock of Willets was feeding in the surf, joined by a few Marbled Godwits. They approached closely and I was able to get some good photos.

Willet
Willets on the beach.
Included were a couple juvenile birds. Western Willets nest in the Great Basin and northern Great Plains and many winter in California. So they don't migrate as far as many other shorebirds and are found nearly year-round on California beaches.

And, while juveniles of other species of Arctic-nesting shorebirds often don't arrive in southern latitudes until September or October, freshly-hatched juvenile Willets show up in southern California by late July.

juvenile Willet
Juvenile Willet. Imperial Beach, California. July 16, 2017. Greg Gillson.
Willet
Adult Willet.
juvenile Willet
Juvenile Willet.
Willet
Willet

Also on the beach were a few Marbled Godwits. These godwits also breed in the interior of the continent in the northern Great Plains, which are called the Prairies in Canada.

As with the Willets, late northward migrating birds may be found in California to early June, and the first returning nesting birds may show up by the first of July. And there are always some non-breeding birds on California's beaches in summer that failed to migrate for whatever reason.

Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit. Imperial Beach, California. July 16, 2017. Greg Gillson.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Colored pencil: Sulphur



sulphur butterfly
Butterfly, drawn July 23, 2017, based on photo at Santa Ysabel, California June 16, 2017. Greg Gillson.
I am continuing my attempt at photo-realistic colored pencil nature drawings. This butterfly is some kind of sulphur, perhaps a female Orange Sulphur colias eurytheme. I was unable to identify the flowering plant. I learned a lot about the lines on butterfly wings making this drawing--my first attempt at a butterfly.

The out-of-focus background is my second attempt. My first attempt at such a background (not this butterfly) was a flop.

The background alone took about 3 hours, the entire piece about 10 hours. Original size is 5-1/2 x 6-1/2.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Colored pencil: Dragonflies

Here are two colored pencil works derived from photos. These were my first drawings of dragonflies, and my first attempt at partially transparent wings.

Colored pencil dragonfly
Colored pencil dragonfly. From photo at Santa Ysabel, California on June 16, 2017. Greg Gillson.
I'm not positive of the species. The first appears to be a skimmer, perhaps Common Whitetail. The second dragonfly is possibly some kind of meadowhawk.

Colored pencil dragonfly
Colored pencil dragonfly. From photo at Santa Ysabel, California on June 16, 2017. Greg Gillson.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Colored pencil: Cottontail

Colored pencil: Desert Cottontail
Desert Cottontail.
Colored pencil based on photo from Lake Hodges, California on April 26, 2017. Greg Gillson.
It has been just over 6 months, now, since I started nature journaling. Well, in actuality, I've really only done journaling in the field one weekend. My field drawings and notes are really slow and crude--I need much more practice. However, I have done nature art based on my photos. Does that count? I've tried for photo-realistic colored pencil illustrations. It fits my personality--careful, detail-oriented. Colored pencil is a very slow medium.

And my visualization is slow--I am still learning how to see color and value (light and dark). In fact, I may have studied the photo of this cottontail for two days before putting pencil to paper. You can't do that in the field!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Spring 2017 San Diego pelagic birding trips

I attended two San Diego pelagic trips this spring, one in May and one in early June.

The May trip had sunny skies, making for better (more colorful) photography. A number of Scripps's Murrelets were found, as expected in spring. We started out with an approachable pair early--not always easy, and they continued in small numbers throughout the day.

Sooty, Pink-footed and a few Black-vented Shearwaters were spotted. Other regular species included Western Gulls, Black Storm-Petrels, Elegant Terns, and Common Terns.

Just after noon, Jimmy McMorran photographed a distant Cook's Petrel. Somehow I didn't hear anything about it on the boat, and only learned of it after returning home. I guess I could have been in the galley having lunch. Unfortunately, sometimes that is the way it happens on a large and noisy boat. Of all the regular pelagic species on the West Coast, Cook's Petrel is one of the few I have yet to see. I've certainly seen more than a handful of much rarer species. Cook's is one of those true oceanic species that rarely approaches the coastline closely enough to be seen from one day pelagic birding trips from shore and back.

We ended the day with a pod of Common Dolphins just offshore from the San Diego Bay mouth. They had driven fish to the surface and we had 10 Brown Boobies fishing here among other birds, flying over the dolphins--very exciting!

Pink-footed Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater
Scripps's Murrelet
Scripps's Murrelet
Pink-footed Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Common Tern
Common Tern
Black-vented Shearwater
Black-vented Shearwater
Brown Booby
Brown Booby
Brown Boobies and Western Gulls feeding over a pod of Common Dolphins
Brown Boobies and Western Gulls feeding over a pod of Common Dolphins
Common Dolphins
Common Dolphins
Common Dolphins and Brown Boobies
Common Dolphins and Brown Boobies.
Brown Booby
Brown Booby.
California Sea Lion
California Sea Lion.
Sailboats in San Diego Bay
Sailboats in San Diego Bay.

The second trip was on June 11. A couple of Black Skimmers flew around the bay. I believe I was the only one to identify a late Wandering Tattler flying about the rocky beach at Ballast Point as we motored past. This trip had quite a few Least Terns nearshore.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was a single Black-footed Albatross in the early morning--spring is the best time for these in San Diego waters. Otherwise, they are regular much farther offshore in the main California Current that flows outside the islands of the Southern California Bight.

The trip featured quite a few storm-petrels. Storm-petrels are small and flighty, and rather skittish and seem to be afraid of the boat. I took dozens of photos in the hopes that a few would turn out. I think the overcast skies helped lower the contrast when photographing these against the bright water. Identifying storm-petrels requires much experience to get a feel for the ID--backed up with photos whenever possible. Shape and flight behavior is key for identifying most seabirds--especially the all brownish ones! We had Black, Ashy, and Leach's, including several white-rumped Leach's or Townsend's (either is unusual in spring), but none photographed well enough to be definitely identified as Townsend's.

In late afternoon we came across some rather early Craver's Murrelets. This is a species that was more common in the 1980's, fairly rare at the turn of the 21st century, and regular again in recent years.

Elegant Tern
Elegant Tern
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Elegant Tern
Elegant Terns
Sooty Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater in heavy wing molt.
Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross
Ashy Storm-Petrel
Ashy Storm-Petrel
Ashy Storm-Petrel (left), Black Storm-Petrel (right).
Ashy Storm-Petrel (left), Black Storm-Petrel (right).
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Leach's Storm-Petrel
Leach's Storm-Petrel
Ashy Storm-Petrel (left), Black Storm-Petrel (right).
Ashy Storm-Petrel (left), Black Storm-Petrel (right).
Ashy Storm-Petrel
Ashy Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Pink-footed Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater
Craveri's Murrelet
Craveri's Murrelet