Saturday, April 30, 2016

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Dixon Lake

Gnatcatchers are active tiny sprites with expressive long tails. They search for insects and spiders, crawling through low bushes and brush. They give incessant soft slightly-harsh sibilant calls.

There are three species of gnatcatchers in San Diego County. Besides having different songs, calls, and habitat preferences, they all differ in the amount of white on the underside of the black tail. The dusky-breasted California Gnatcatcher has a nearly all-black tail. It is an endangered species of the coastal sage scrub--found in the lowland hills where residential development is most intense. The gray-and-white Black-tailed Gnatcatcher has a bit of white in the tail, but is over half black. It is found only in the desert lands east of the mountains. [See my post on identifying gnatcatchers in southern California.]

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are found in the most diverse habitats--riparian bottoms, pinyon-juniper, chaparral, and live oak woods.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Dixon Lake, Escondido, California. April 15, 2016. Greg Gillson.
This male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is more bluish than the females. Females and winter males lack the black line that starts on the forehead and continues just over the eyes. The thin white eyering is obvious. The tail is mostly black with several white outer tail feathers. When the tail is closed, the outer feathers are folded on the bottom of the tail feather stack--thus the tail looks mostly white from below. From above, the tail looks black, unless it is fanned wide open. Then the white outer tail feathers are obvious.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers

I heard this bird and its mate as I was driving slowly along the pot-holed road on the north shore of Dixon Lake, Escondido. I made a slight hiss with my tongue and the male popped up to investigate. I was able to shoot my photos from the car, using it as a blind. Remember to shut off the engine to remove vibrations that affect image quality. These ended up being my best photographs of this bird that always seems to peek out from behind a tangles of branches.

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