Friday, February 28, 2014

Rain day: Bird of Paradise

Bird of Paradise
Well, we are in day 2 of 3 days of fairly heavy rains. This should go quite a ways to relieve drought conditions in southern California. Otherwise we had a shower on the 31st of January. That's pretty much been it for rain so far this winter. I understand that November and March are the "rainiest" months here. We may have had some showers in November, as I recall, but not much and usually only at night.

In Portland, we'd have a couple of "snow days" in the winter. Employers would tell employees to use their best judgement about coming to work when it snowed. I've had jobs with 2-4 allowed snow days, that counted like additional paid sick days. Few cars have winter tires or traction devices and the hills are steep. So accidents in the snow are frequent. Often schools are delayed an hour or two and it all melts off by 10 a.m. Daughter Leslie sent me pics of 10 inches of snow in Portland this winter. Some years no snow sticks on the ground.

Guess what? There's a local version here! It's a "rain day"! Not only are there many automobile accidents when it rains here--especially the first fall rains--but landscapers generally do not work in the rain!

I envision those landscapers in Oregon all dressed in their dark green rain slickers, blowing and raking piles of grass and autumn leaves as it drizzles away.... And then I think of landscapers in southern California when it rains--hitting the beach to surf the higher waves in their wetsuits!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Duck. Lindo Lake, California. February 9, 2014. Greg Gillson.
I thought this sleeping Ruddy Duck was photogenic, even if it's not the typical field guide pose. In a few months this drake will molt to a rusty red with white cheek and blue bill. The long tail is typical of 6 species of "stiff-tailed ducks" worldwide.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule
Common Gallinule. Lindo Lake, California. February 9, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Gallinules are anatomically similar to coots, rails, and cranes. While they float around on ponds like ducks, there are many differences. That pointed stout bill is not like the flat spatulate bill of a duck.

Another major difference is that gallinules do not have webbed feet like ducks, geese, and swans.

Common Gallinule

Gallinules are resident birds of southern states (migrating to the East Coast in summer, and also south into South America). In most of North America the similar, but less colorfully-billed, American Coot is quite abundant. If you are familiar with coots, the gallinules tend to be more shy and hide closer to shore among the reeds. The Common Gallinules at Lindo Lake this day, however, were pretty bold, swimming out from protection and even begging food with the tame ducks!

American Coot. Lindo Lake, California. February 9, 2014. Greg Gillson.

Monday, February 24, 2014

San Diego Year Bird #165: American White Pelican

American White Pelican
American White Pelican. Lindo Lake, California. February 9, 2014. Greg Gillson.
A funny old bird is a pelican.
His beak can hold more than his bellican.
Food for a week
He can hold in his beak,
But I don't know how the hellican.
This limerick is often attributed to Ogden Nash. But evidently it is by Dixon Lanier Merritt (1879-1972).

And, yes, the beak can hold more than it's belly can--the throat pouch can hold 3 gallons!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Great-tailed Grackle

Great-tailed Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle. Lindo Lake, California. February 9, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Marlene and I lived for 4 years in Ventura, California 30 years ago. One of the typical birds seen near ponds and river bottoms was Tricolored Blackbird. It's like a Red-winged Blackbird in appearance but with a white, rather than yellow, border below the red. The voice is unmusical. Tricolored Blackbirds are also more colonial, living in dense flocks all year, whereas Red-winged Blackbirds break up into pairs for the breeding season.

I saw a few Tricolored Blackbirds at Lindo Lake when I visited two weeks ago. But in many areas where they used to be common in southern California, they are now gone. The reason? Apparently Great-tailed Grackles out-compete them.

Noisy and brash, Great-tailed Grackles were primarily found in Mexico and Central America with populations in the US only in Texas and an outlying population in Arizona up to the 1960's. Due to agricultural irrigation, starting in the 1970's, the population of these large grackles expanded. Today they reach from Louisiana to California and are regular vagrants from Minnesota to Oregon.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Greater White-fronted Goose

Greater White-fronted Goose
Greater White-fronted Goose. Lindo Lake, California. February 9, 2014. Greg Gillson.
There were several birds reported at Lindo Lake that I hadn't seen yet this year. So I headed over there in early February. One was this Greater White-fronted Goose.

Greater White-fronted Geese that nest in Alaska winter in two primary areas (see this explanation and map by David Sibley). One group winters in the Klamath Basin and northern Central Valley of California, with others continuing to northwestern Mexico (coastal Sonora). A second group winters in central Mexico.

Away from the primary wintering areas it is not unusual for lone geese or assumed family groups to settle in with other wild or tame geese, such as a local city park. When you are a stranger, it is safer to behave as the locals. Thus, these individuals that turn up at city parks soon behave just like the tame geese which they have joined.

From looking at eBird data for the Lindo Lake hotspot, it appears this individual bird has remained year-round here for at least 2 years without migrating to Alaska in spring. Good for its personal survival, but not adding anything to its species gene pool!

Retiring to San Diego. Could you blame it?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Welcome back to the 1990's

Telegraph by denzombie. Creative Commons License.
Ok, so maybe my photo selection is from the 1890's and not the 1990's.

But sometimes living in San Diego is like going back in time. Back to the 1990's. I thought California was the avant-garde of technology innovation and use? IBM? Apple Computers? UCLA and Stanford?

Slow Internet
In Portland we had the Comcast cable monopoly. But it was at least possible to get high speed Internet. Here in San Diego we have the Cox cable monopoly. TV, telephone, Internet. Bundled. You have to get them all. No good TV channels for basic cable, and no ISPN sports on basic cable. Besides, no matter what cable package you choose, Satellite TV is the only way to get the NFL football games you want to see, not cable. So forget broadcast television, Netflix at <$20 per month is the way to go--even if they started charging $10 now for streaming movies that used to be free. And wired telephone? Really? 1993 saw the introduction of the 2G SmartPhone from IBM.

I did see a Time Warner advertisement for "High speed" Internet of 3 Mbps. Whoa! That's about dial-up speed, isn't it? Don't try to watch streaming video with that! One can get 15 Mbps speed on Cox cable at a "reasonable" rate (if you can call $90 bundled with basic TV "reasonable"). You know what? We had Fios fiber optics at 50 Mbps 8 years ago in supposedly backward Oregon. And that was nowhere near $90 per month.

Traffic lights
The traffic lights in San Diego are not synchronized to improve fuel efficiency and traffic flow. After you stop for a red light in Hillsboro, Oregon, and it turns green, you get all the rest of the lights green through town when you travel the speed limit. In San Diego the lights are not synchronized and they stay red a l-o-n-g time. Thus, because you don't want to hit a red light, jackrabbit starts and high speeds are the order of the day to make the next intersection before the light turns red.

Doesn't everyone have a smart phone or Internet device to look up businesses? This is not just a California problem, but the books don't biodegrade here in the sun as fast as they did in rain-drenched Oregon. How many Yellowpage books are sitting unwanted and uninvited, run-over in driveways in your neighborhood? Notice how people don't even pick them up from their own driveway? "I didn't put it there. I'm not picking it up!"

When Marlene and I went to take our driver's license test recently to get our California licenses, we didn't use the computerized test system that has been used in Oregon for over 10 years. We were flabbergasted when they handed us... paper and a pencil! We looked around for Alan Funt-- like it was 1990 or something!
Pencil by Kilian Evang. Creative Commons License.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lilac-crowned Parrot

Lilac-crowned Parrot
Lilac-crowned Parrot. Point Loma, San Diego, California. February 9, 2014. Greg Gillson.
San Diego has many introduced birds flying about. Besides the continent-wide House Sparrows, European Starlings, Eurasian Collared-Doves, and domestic pigeons, ducks, geese, and chickens, there are Orange Bishops, Pin-tailed Whydahs, Black-throated Magpie-Jays, Nutmeg Mannikins, and perhaps a dozen types of parrots and parakeets.

Last week I drove through Point Loma on a brief exploratory visit. Point Loma is a community and huge peninsula that separates the Pacific Ocean from the northwest side San Diego Bay. It has upon it a university, several military installations, the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Sunset Cliffs, Cabrillo National Monument including the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, and residential neighborhoods. The marina is on the bay side of the base of the peninsula, where one departs for pelagic trips. It is only a mile or two from the San Diego International Airport.

This westernmost point of land grabs more than its fair share of rare birds in migration and winter. I had been a bit apprehensive of driving through the military cemetery to look for birds. But it turns out you have to drive through it to visit Cabrillo National Monument. I turned around without going in to Cabrillo because it is a fee area and I wasn't going to be staying on this visit. And I didn't have time to look for some of the rare warblers, tanagers, and other goodies that have been wintering in the cemetery. I still have plenty of common birds to find before I chase too many of the rarities.

However, I did hear this horrible grating screech and pulled over to photograph 6 parrots--my first psittacids of San Diego County. The only parrot currently countable in California is the Red-crowned Parrot. I wasn't sure what species this was when I quickly got out of the car and took the photos. I have settled on Lilac-crowned Parrots, as the red isn't extensive enough and the blue (lilac, even) crown too extensive for Red-crowned. It is also called Lilac-crowned Amazon and Finsch's Amazon, and is native to the Pacific slope of Mexico. So, pretty, but obnoxious and not countable on my ABA list.

Lilac-crowned Parrot

Sunday, February 16, 2014

San Diego Year Bird #160: Nutmeg Mannikin

Nutmeg Mannikin
Nutmeg Mannikin pulling nesting material. Escondido, California. February 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
It had been two months since I saw my first Nutmeg Mannikin. I saw my second--and first of 2014--at Kit Carson Park in Escondido pulling nesting material from this broken giant grassy-tuft swamp-plant thing (that might not actually be its official name).

And that's all I have to say about this photo.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite
White-tailed Kite. Lake Hodges, California. February 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
White-tailed Kites started increasing greatly in Oregon about the time I started watching birds in 1972. The first Oregon nesting was at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge near Corvallis in 1976. In October that year I visited Finley refuge and spotted my first kite in Oregon. In December our birding group found 7 birds there flying to roost at dusk.

Their unique hovering flight is shared with two other raptors: American Kestrels and Rough-legged Hawks.

In December 1978 Marlene and I were birding at Finley refuge with David Fix. In the morning David and I were looking at birds on the cold prairie while Marlene remained in the car to keep warm. Soon the car horn was sounding and we ran back. Marlene was very excited to point out this unusual bird hovering nearby. Her first White-tailed Kite!

I had seen kites in California as early as March 1973, but I didn't record an exact date or location. No doubt I saw several in the Central Valley on a trip from Oregon to Death Valley with my parents during spring break that year. Now that I think about it, that's where I first met David Fix--two Oregon teenagers on spring break meeting by chance looking at birds on the golf course at Furnace Creek Ranch.

Even now I encounter White-tailed Kites infrequently enough that they are still exciting to observe.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Nuttall's Woodpecker

Nuttall's Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker. Lake Hodges, California. February 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.

The Nuttall's Woodpecker is found almost exclusively in California--the length of the state. They also occur in northernmost Baja California. Stragglers reach western Nevada and a couple have reached SW Oregon.

They are associated primarily with coast live oak trees.

Nuttall's are the most common woodpecker in San Diego County, more so than Northern Flickers or Downy Woodpeckers. Well, Acorn Woodpeckers are pretty common too, but are patchily distributed in colonies in older, larger oak groves.

Nuttall's Woodpecker

Like many birds, you can approach them closely if you aren't really interested in them. But if you start showing interest, such as pointing a big camera lens eyeball at them and following them around trying to get a better photo, they tend to hide or flee. Thus, I have tried getting photos of this species a few times previously, mostly unsuccessfully. I had walked right up to this bird on the trail without realizing it until I was right next to the bird. Fortunately, it was slightly more interested in working over this tree than it was in fleeing from me. After I got these pictures it played hide-and-seek behind the nearby tree trunk.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

San Diego Year Bird #155: Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon. Lake Hodges, California. February 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
When I first started birding in 1972 the Peregrine Falcon was near its lowest population level in North America due to DDT poisoning. Now they are not rare throughout most of North America.

This is actually my 3rd Peregrine in San Diego County. The first was at San Elijo Lagoon in March 2008. Soon after moving here I saw one in October 2013 over Nine Mile Bank--that's out to sea 9 miles from Point Loma--chasing seabirds.

Wherever there are concentrations of ducks or small shorebirds you can often find Peregrine Falcons. While they sit and watch much of the day, every once in a while they launch out on a strafing run at flocks of birds looking for that one bird that is slower than the rest.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

California Thrasher

California Thrasher
California Thrasher. Lake Hodges, California. February 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
One of the inhabitants of chaparral habitats in California is the California Thrasher. They are larger than robins, but rather secretive in winter. However, they have started singing now from exposed perches. Their songs are in many TV shows filmed outdoors in California. For instance, the TV show Little House on the Prairie (1974-1983) was supposed to be Kansas. But it is filled with the natural on-location songs of California Quail and California Thrashers, birds that do not occur in Kansas. It was filmed at the Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, NE of Los Angeles. As I've said before: Never watch TV with bird watchers!

California Thrasher
California Thrasher. Lake Henshaw, California. January 26, 2014. Greg Gillson.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Black-throated Sparrow on Cholla

Black-throated Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow. Anza-Borrego Desert, California. January 26, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Here is one last photo from the trip over to Anza-Borrego Desert two weeks ago. Black-throated Sparrows are my favorite sparrows. To me they represent the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and northwestern Mexico as much as Roadrunners, Phainopeplas, Verdins, Gambel's Quails, Gila Woopeckers, Curve-billed Thrashers, Cactus Wrens, palo verde, mesquite, saguaro, creosote bush, ocotillo, and cholla.

This small bird is smartly patterned. The gray head has a white line over each eye and another on the lower border of the cheeks. There is a large inverted triangle of black on the throat and chest. They are invariably found on the hottest south facing desert slopes, running on the gravel ground between the sparse vegetation.

The first I saw were in Arizona as a teenager when I traveled by Grayhound from Oregon to visit my grandparents. They spent the winters camped out on the desert. I visited during spring break in high school, March 1977. Then I rode back with them to Oregon.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck
Ring-necked Duck. Lake Hodges, California. February 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
A big advantage of bird photography in San Diego versus Portland is that mornings are usually sunny! Even sunny days in Portland often start with low clouds. Without the sun the purple head sheen of Ring-necked Duck does not show up. The ring on the neck? Well that is a field mark usually only seen by hunters with a bird in the hand. I do have one photo that shows it well, though.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Birding Site Guide: San Diego River Mouth

Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit at San Diego River Mouth, January 12, 2014. Greg Gillson.
The mouth of the San Diego River empties into the Pacific Ocean between the Mission Beach and Ocean Beach neighborhoods of San Diego, next to Sea World and Mission Bay. Mudflats are uncovered at low tide and numbers of ducks and waders feed then. The stage of tides will make a difference in both the number of birds present and how close they are. I don't have enough direct experience here, but recommend a falling tide, between any extremes. During high tide there may be no mudflats, and during low tide too much exposed mud too far from the shores.

Both sides of the river are accessible and birding is good. The south side walking/bike path accessed at Robb Field is more crowded and starts closer to the beach; the north side (Old Sea World Drive) looks into the sun but can be driven or walked, allowing you to bird from your vehicle more upstream than Robb Field.

South Side: Robb Field:
Getting there: Take I-8 to its western end about a mile west of the I-5 intersection. Turn left onto Sunset Cliffs Blvd, stay right to remain on Sunset Cliffs Blvd for 0.4 miles. Take the 1st right onto W Point Loma Blvd. Take the 1st right into Robb Field and park closest to the river (#1 on map). Parking: Free parking lot. Hours: Dawn to dusk. Map navigation: Robb Field Recreation Center, 2525 Bacon St, San Diego, CA 92107

North Side: Old Sea World Drive:
Getting there: Take the Sea World Dr/Tecolote Rd exit off I-5 about 1/2 mile north of the I-8 intersection. Turn left on Sea World Dr/Tecolote Rd and follow Sea World Dr almost a mile. Turn left at the light on Mission Bay Pwky. Turn right onto Old Sea World Dr (#3 on map). Parking: Park freely along the shoulder of Old Sea World Drive. It is a dead end, multi-use road, so you can pull over and bird from your vehicle or pop out and set up your scope. Hours: Dawn to dusk. Map navigation: Mission Bay Pwky & Old Sea World Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

San Diego birding site guide

Robb Field

Where to bird: From the Robb Field parking area (#1 on map) the great mudflats are just over the dike. Such wonderful birding! Shorebirds, herons, ducks. What's this? No! Unfortunately, this is also the Ocean Beach Dog Beach. So expect dogs and their owners running on the beach and wading into the best bird areas. Most of the birds are used to it, but they invariably move out further from the edges and shores and are harder to view.

From here, then, walk along the bike path upstream. It is about 3/4 miles to the Mission Bay Bridge where I turned back on January 12th. I spent just over 1-1/2 hours photographing and going slow. I found 38 species, 30 of them various water birds. If I had spent another hour and continued farther, another mile toward the I-5 bridges (#2 on map), the deep water along the rock edges would have given way to shallows with weedy edges and more mudflats where I may have been able to find gallinules and rails... and break out of the coastal fog. eBird lists 195 species for this area, so birding continues to be good all year.

San Diego River Mouth
From Robb Field looking north across the tidal mud flats on a foggy morning.
San Diego River Mouth
From Robb Field looking east up the river.

Old Sea World Drive

Where to bird: Get on to Old Sea World Drive from Sea World Drive at the light at Mission Bay Parkway (#3 on the map). This road parallels the river channel for almost a mile to the Mission Bay bridge (#4 on the map) before vehicles are no longer permitted. You will share this road with joggers, dog walkers, and many bicyclists. The best tactic may be to drive to the end and turn around, driving slowly along the dike and stopping every couple of hundred feet to park and scan the shoreline.

This section of the river has many Little Blue Herons. I found 9 on my January 12 visit. American Avocets and Marbled Godwits winter in good numbers. I spent 1-1/4 hours here, photographing birds on January 12. I think that's about as long as it needs (in December I spent 50 minutes). There is a fenced off area for nesting Least Terns. So a visit in later spring and summer (May to August) would likely pick up a few of these endangered birds. But judging from the few sightings and low numbers listed in eBird in recent years, there are likely better areas to find these terns.

San Diego River Mouth
Old Sea World Dr looking southeast.
San Diego River Mouth
Old Sea World Dr looking west.
Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron at San Diego River Mouth, January 12, 2014. Greg Gillson.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

San Diego Year Bird #151: Common Ground-Dove

Common Ground-Dove
Common Ground-Dove. Borrego Springs, California. January 26, 2014. Greg Gillson.
At 6-1/2 inches bill to tail, these pudgy pigeons are shorter than White-crowned Sparrows.

They are found in dry, sandy, brushy or agricultural areas from South Carolina to southern California, south through Mexico and the Caribbean to Brazil.

In San Diego County they are rather patchily distributed. In fall and winter stragglers may show up anywhere. They are found regularly in the Tijuana River Valley near the Mexican border. They are frequently encountered in the Anza-Borrego Desert, especially in the "country clubs" around Borrego Springs. These planned communities were built around golf courses that never got very many people to move in--even though the roads and lots are all laid out. But the water in the desert attracts many birds, including these diminutive doves.

Common Ground-Dove

Friday, February 7, 2014

ID: Gnatcatchers of San Diego

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Escondido, California. January 1, 2014.
In Oregon, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers barely reach the southern edge of the state. So I rarely saw them, living as I did in the NW corner. Active and perky, these birds are like more long-tailed and long-legged Bushtits that mostly occur as pairs. So I love the chance to see them more often now.

Gnatcatchers as a whole tend to prefer brushy habitat, so, yes, there's always a pesky stick in front of them ruining that perfect shot!

As for identification, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is... wait for it... blue-gray above, almost white below. The tails on gnatcatchers are key to their ID. On Blue-gray Gnatcatchers the outer tail feathers are white. This causes the underside of the tail when held normally (not spread) to be nearly entirely white, with dark restricted to the inner underside of the tail.

The call is a soft, almost insect-like, drawn out "speee."

This species likes riparian and is often found in weedy or brushy river bottoms but also chaparral and even juniper woodlands in the West. In San Diego County they are found throughout the county, including quite near the coast, but below the mountains, and only along water courses in the eastern desert areas.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. Anza-Borrego Desert, California. January 26, 2014.
Black-tailed Gnatcatchers replace Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in the desert. However, near water both species can occur in desert habitats.

In comparison to the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers are darker gray, still with  contrasting paler underparts. The inner and basal portions of the tail are black on the undersides, but there is a considerable amount of white in the outer portion of the end of the tail.

The call is rather harsh in comparison with Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, but not loud; it is a doubled or tripled "chee-eee."

In San Diego County Black-tailed Gnatcatchers are found in the extreme eastern portion in the Anza-Borrego desert.

California Gnatcatcher
California Gnatcatcher. Lake Hodges, California. February 2, 2014.
Found only in the disappearing coastal sage scrub habitat of the coastal slope from southern Ventura County to southern Baja California Sur, the Endangered California Gnatcatchers are similar to Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, from which they were split in 1993.

They are rather dark gray all over, including the underparts, and the tail is nearly entirely black underneath.

One of their calls is a soft cat-like mewing. They also have a harsher call similar to Black-tailed. I've had some difficulty finding this species by voice, as House Wrens also winter commonly in coastal sage scrub and give a similar harsh call note in addition to their more familiar rattle. I've chased a lot of soft harsh calls thinking I was going to find a California Gnatcatcher and ended up with a House Wren instead.

Two locations in San Diego County where California Gnatcatchers are fairly easy to see is San Elijo Lagoon and Lake Hodges.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Buck and Babe

Russel Marvin Gillson "Buck"
Buck Gillson. Quartzsite, Arizona. About 1982. Photo by Marlene Gillson.
No one knew my grandfather as Russel. He was called Buck from childhood. It was a fitting name, as he was quite a character. I can't believe he's been gone 22 years.

As snow birds, my earliest memories (1963) were of my grandparents visiting in the spring after returning to Minnesota from a winter camped out in the desert in Big Bend, Texas or other exotic places with accompanying dark tans, interesting souvenirs, and fascinating adventure stories. Later, after Marlene and I were married, we visited them a few times to camp with them for a few days on the desert at Crystal Hill, Arizona, where Marlene took the above photo: "Come on, girl, are you gonna take all day to get this photo?"

Grandma's name was Leora, but she was called Babe since childhood. Everyone knew them as Buck and Babe ("like a team of mules," my grandfather would say). They were both 17 when they married.

Helen, Walter, and Russel Gillson about 1916. Mankato, Minnesota.
This picture is new to me, I mean, I hadn't seen it before about 5 years ago when my sister Sheri emailed it to me. Comment from my sister: "Grandpa as a little scrapper in knee britches, bare-feet, and about as ornery as I've ever seen a little boy look."

This photo looks like it could have inspired "Lil' Rascals" (1922-1937).

Formally educated until the 8th grade, I always remember stacks of 15-20 library books at a time in my grandfather's home on every topic from astronomy and psychology, to steam locomotives.

The obituary below must have appeared in a Mankato, Minnesota newspaper. I don't know where I picked it up. 

Russel M[arvin] Gillson [1911-1991]
   Salem, Ore.-- Longtime Mankato[, Minnesota] resident Russel M. "Buck" Gillson, 80, died Tuesday, December 31, 1991, at Salem, Ore., where he had lived since 1987.
   Memorial services were Jan. 4 at the Oak Park Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in Salem, Ore.
   Mr. Gillson was born in Mankato, Jan. 22, 1911, to Thomas and Lorena (Kraft) Gillson. He married Leora Blanshan in Mankato, Jan 19, 1929. He was employed as a fireman on steam locomotives for the Chicago and North Western Rail Road; as a foreman in the Mankato Parks Department; worked at Continental Can Co.; was a tool and die man at Kato Engineering for many years; and after working for a time as a carpenter, became a stationary steam engineer at St. Joseph's Hospital. In 1967 he moved to Albany, Ore., working there as a stationary engineer until he retired. He moved to Salem about 4 years ago. He was a member of Jehovah's Witnesses and enjoyed music and collecting fossils.
   Mr. Gillson is survived by his wife; a son, Ronald of Yreka, Calif.; a daughter, Phyllis Sisson of Salem, Ore.; a sister, Helen Cornwell of Hemet, Calif.; 6 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.
See my previous post on the Gillson family.

Leora Gertrude Blanshan Gillson [1911-2008]
Born June 25, 1911 in Fairbanks, Minnesota. Died December 15, 2008 in Salem, Oregon at 97 years of age.

More on my grandmother's family is on this web page I recently discovered: Chester Ralph Blanshan

My grandparents talked fondly of "Grandma Buck." I didn't really know who she was until I found her on the web recently--she was Babe's mother's mother, Alzora Celestine Richardson Buck.

Buck and Babe. 1988.

During family get togethers, Grampa Buck and my father would regularly play cribbage. Soon after there was a victor they'd get their guitars and harmonicas out. Beer Barrel Polka, The Wreck of the Old 97, and just to irritate Babe, Buck would sing Grandma's in the Cellar, My Father Has Tuberculosis, and my (and my children's) favorite... a folk song that seems to have been sung by many grandparents with many differently rendered verses and tunes.

Burglar Bold (The Old Maid Song)

Let me tell you a story of a burglar bold, who went to rob a house;
He opened the window and then crept in, as quiet as a mouse;
He looked all around for a place to hide, in the room where the old maid slept;
He thought of the money and jewels she had, as under the bed he crept

The old maid came home 'bout nine-o'clock; "Oh, I'm so tired," she said;
And thinking all was well that night, she never looked under the bed;
She took out her teeth, and her big glass eye, took the hair all off of her head;
Well, the burglar had about seventeen fits as he peeked from under the bed

From under the bed the burglar crept, he was a total wreck;
The old maid she was wide awake, she grabbed him around the neck;
She did not faint nor run away, but said as calmly as a lamb;
"At last my prayers are answered now,... at last I've got a man!"

She pointed a pistol at his head, and very calmly said;
"Now if you do not marry me, I'll blow off the top of your head";
The burglar saw that he was caught, and he had no place to scoot;
He thought of the teeth and the big glass eye,.. and said "For the gosh sakes, shoot!"

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Costa's Hummingbird on Ocotillo

Costa's Hummingbird
Costa's Hummingbird. Anza-Borrego Desert, California. January 26, 2014. Greg Gillson.
This tiny hummingbird is a resident in the deserts of the SW US, Baja, and Sonora, Mexico.

The Ocotillo is an interesting plant. After a rain it grows leaves (as above) that last only a month before dropping off until the next rain. It has a flaming red flower on the end of each stalk. See my previous post about desert cacti and plants including the Ocotillo.

Monday, February 3, 2014

ID: Slate-colored Fox Sparrow

Slate-colored Fox Sparrow
Slate-colored Fox Sparrow (possibly altivagans). Anza-Borrego Desert, California. January 26, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Three forms of Fox Sparrows winter regularly in southern California--Sooty, Thick-billed, and Slate-colored. Slate-colored is the most common in San Diego County, though Thick-billed is not rare and also breeds.

A dozen years ago I put together a web page on the identification of the four forms of Fox Sparrows.

Follow this link for a newer page on Fox Sparrows by Don Roberson.

These forms are shown in all the recent field guides. They have been rumored to be ready for an official split into separate species for two decades, but that has not happened yet. One problem is that some altivagans appear to be half way between the Slate-colored group and the Sooty group.

The Slate-colored Fox Sparrow above has gray upperparts strongly contrasting with red wing and tail. The underparts are heavily spotted with reddish-brown, and the lower mandible is yellow. The lower mandible is also smaller than the upper mandible, unlike the Thick-billed forms (should really be called "wide-billed").

Sunday, February 2, 2014


February 2, 2014. San Marcos, California. Greg Gillson.
Our first frosty morning since December started out with a beautiful sunrise.