Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cliff Swallow nestlings

Cliff Swallow nestlings
Cliff Swallow nestlings. Carlsbad, California. June 8, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Here's a close-up of two Cliff Swallow nestlings peeking from their mud nest under the eaves.

This is called an adherent nest, as it adheres to a vertical face, such as a wall or cliff. How many hundreds of mouthfuls of mud did the parents use to build this nest? The local San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy website has my answer: 900-1200 pellets.

These fully-feathered nestlings are probably capable of flight. But it's so much easier to stay home and be fed by your parents than set out on your own.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

One-year old Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak. Carlsbad, California. June 8, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Earlier in spring I saw my first-ever male Blue Grosbeak. This bird is a male, just about one year old.

Blue Grosbeak

Monday, June 23, 2014

San Diego Year Bird #232: Least Tern

Least Tern
Least Tern and chicks. Carlsbad, California. June 8, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Actually, I first saw Least Terns on June 1, but couldn't get close enough for photos. But these on June 8 were very close to the highway at the mouth of Batiquitos Lagoon.

Least Tern
There are many beaches in San Diego County with signs and fenced off areas for nesting Least Terns and Snowy Plovers. I've seen terns, now, at several of these but, so far, no Snowy Plovers. I wonder where the easiest place is to see Snowy Plovers on beaches in the North County?

Least Tern

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Nutmeg Mannikin--most sought-after?

Nutmeg Mannikin
Nutmeg Mannikin. Batiquitos Lagoon, Carlsbad, California. June 1, 2014. Greg Gillson.
My first photo of Nutmeg Mannikin was December of last year. Then I got another photo in February. So, here's another. This time a male and female of this former exotic (non-countable) species that has become established enough to be added to the AOU Check-list last summer. It is now a countable bird.

The day before it was added to the AOU list no one could have cared less about these wild offspring of escaped cage birds. Since the change to AOU listing status, I understand that this is now one of the most sought-after species by visiting birders to San Diego. Silly, I know. The games people play.

Nutmeg Mannikin
Female Nutmeg Mannikin.

Friday, June 20, 2014

House Wren

House Wren
House Wren. Batiquitos Lagoon, Carlsbad, California. June 1, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Shades of brown and gray. Here's a pic of a House Wren. It's not a very good photo, but I'm running out of photos, so this is what we get. I'll have to get out with my camera again soon to replenish my supply.

House Wren is found year-round here. I'm not sure, though, if the birds here in winter are the same individuals that stay to nest, or are perhaps winter visitors from the north.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove. Batiquitos Lagoon, Carlsbad, California. June 1, 2014. Greg Gillson.
I started birding in the 8th grade as a school science project. Actually, birding itself wasn't the project, but I had been procrastinating. I needed to come up with some idea--quick. It was one of those rare snowy winters in western Oregon. For one of my projects in shop class that year I had built an ugly metal bird feeder, which was now feeding juncos. "Why don't you keep track of the birds that come to the bird feeder?" my father asked.

Over 40 years later I'm still keeping track of the birds.

Mourning Dove is actually one of the few species I remember seeing (and hearing) as a child in Minnesota--before I really started watching birds in earnest. Others were Northern Cardinal, Eastern Bluebird, Baltimore Oriole, Tufted Titmouse, Common Grackle, Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Apart from the incessantly (24/7) singing Northern Mockingbirds, it is one of the first birds of the morning that awake me each day here in southern California. Their song may sound mournful to some, a boo-hoo-hoo crying, but I actually find it more comforting than sad. After all, they've been singing to me my entire life.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk. Batiquitos Lagoon, Carlsbad, California. June 1, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Just a quick post today of a recent photo.

This hawk was sitting near its nest along the trail at Batiquitos Lagoon. There was at least one large nestling on the nest.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Yellow-breasted Chat at Batiquitos Lagoon

Yellow-breasted Chat
Yellow-breasted Chat. Batiquitos Lagoon, Carlsbad, California. June 1, 2014. Greg Gillson.
To view a Yellow-breasted Chat you must visit dense riparian bottom lands. Not just a willow-lined creek, but a wide, dense, impenetrable willow thicket. Such perfect habitat is rather rare, as most creeks are "tamed" and channelized.

These rather large song birds are currently lumped in with the North American Wood-Warbler family. That's not because chats are giant warblers but, rather, it is because they aren't anything else. Don't be surprised if in the future Yellow-breasted Chat is in your field guide next to the blackbirds and orioles!

They certainly don't have the sweet, lisping, monotonous songs of warblers. Their "song" consists of crow-like caws, grating cackles, clucks, hoots, and whistles. They frequently sing at night, again, unlike other warblers. They may give their song from deep within the brushy tangle or, frequently at dawn, flying low circles over the small trees and shrubs with exaggerated deep wing beats and glides with the wings mostly over the horizontal while dangling the legs down, making a terrible racket.

Yellow-breasted Chat
My most memorable Yellow-breasted Chat was one heard just before midnight on May 8, 1995. Tim Janzen and I were at the end of a big day of birding. It was a 24-hour birding marathon, referred to by birders, appropriately enough, as a "Big Day." You see, we had started the day--just after midnight, mind you--with owls. In fact, one of the first birds of the day was my first-ever Barred Owl at Whilhoit Springs, near Portland, Oregon.

From there we listened for other night birds of forest and marsh and drove 120 miles to the coast to listen to the dawn chorus in the Coast Range forest. As it started getting lighter in the east we ticked off scores of singing birds. Just after sunrise we hit the beach. By 10:00 am we were leaving the coast with over 120 species and heading inland to the Willamette Valley and birding our way eastward 100 miles into the Cascade Mountains. By noon we were over the top and leaving the Ponderosa pine forests and heading into the sage and rimrock for another 120 mile dash across the desert to Malheur NWR. We drove through the extensive marshes south of Burns for 50 miles and arrived at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters just at dusk. From there we headed south through the refuge 35 miles, adding marsh birds and owls again, until we arrived at Page Springs Campground just before midnight. We stopped the car, jumped out, and there! A singing Yellow-breasted Chat was the 200th species detected in Oregon on one day!

[And you did notice the 425 miles we traveled that day, too, right? 690 round-trip miles. The current Oregon Big Day record is 219 species, set June 2, 2007 by none other than Tim Janzen, joined by Noah Strycker, Dave Irons, and John Sullivan.]

Sunday, June 8, 2014


Jacaranda trees line the street in Carlsbad, California. June 1, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Not to be confused with the Jaguarundi, a South American cat, these purple-flowered South American trees are popular ornamentals in the San Diego area. They bloom in both spring and fall.


Friday, June 6, 2014

San Diego Year Bird #229: Hammond's Flycatcher

Hammond's Flycatcher
Hammond's Flycatcher. May 4, 2014. Fallbrook, California. Greg Gillson.
I'm not getting as much practice identifying Empidonax flycatchers in San Diego as I used to get in Oregon where there were 5 common breeding species. I don't have any sightings of Dusky, Gray, or Willow Flycatcher yet this year in San Diego County. These are migrants only here and don't usually breed this far south. Actually, Hammond's don't breed either, but these are nearly common spring migrants here. The only regular breeding Empid here is Pacific-slope Flycatcher.

If I just remember Empid ID in 3 easy steps I'll do all right. Primary Extension: long; Bill Shape: short and straight-sided; Lower Mandible Color Pattern: mostly dark.

Hammond's Flycatcher

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch
Lesser Goldfinch. Fallbrook, California. May 4, 2014. Greg Gillson.
This is the most common goldfinch in southern California. This bird's northernmost regular range is near Portland, Oregon.

Lesser Goldfinches maintain their bright plumage year-round. American Goldfinches, on the other hand, employ a different molt strategy. The bright yellow male "wild canaries" of summer, molt into a dull buffy non-breeding plumage for the winter. Thus, in winter, Lesser Goldfinches are brighter yellow than American Goldfinches!

More details of the American Goldfinch molt are here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bewick's Wren

Bewick's Wren
Bewick's Wren. Fallbrook, California. May 4, 2014. Greg Gillson.
I haven't done a lot of bird photography lately. Here's a juvenile Bewick's Wren near Fallbrook that I managed a few weeks ago.

How do I know it's a juvenile? The fleshy yellow corners of the mouth (the "gape"). The inside mouth linings on many young birds are bright orange or yellow, making a target for the parents to "insert food here" into the little beggar's mouth.