Friday, April 27, 2018

Anna's Hummingbird at Lake Hodges

This recent photo of Anna's Hummingbird is one of the best I have ever taken of this species in a natural setting. It is crisply in focus. The bird is looking toward the camera. The gorget is catching some color. The morning light is coming in from the side creating a pleasant shadow to give it a pleasing three-dimensional shape. It has an even, non-distracting, background.

Photography instructors will tell you that the secret to a good photograph is the background. A busy or otherwise distracting background will pull the observer's attention away from the subject. The long telephoto lens I use creates very shallow depth of field--a couple of inches, is all. Thus, the backgrounds for most of my photos is pleasantly blurred. But still, I frequently have to move a bit to the side to remove an out-of-focus tree or distant house from behind my bird. In the case of this photo, the tan color was created by the rocky hillside and sparse vegetation behind the bird.

Anna's Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird. Lake Hodges, California. January 21, 2018.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Greater Roadrunner in Borrego Springs takes me back to 1976

Back in January I obtained three decent photos of Greater Roadrunner in Borrego Springs. I got two photos along the road at the Borrego Springs Resort and Country Club, and another photo in a residential yard at the Roadrunner Club(!). I present them here.

Great Roadruner
Greater Roadrunner. Borrego Springs, California. January 7, 2018.
Great Roadruner

Great Roadruner

All these photos were obtained from inside my car as I drove slowly along back roads and residential areas. In fact, these were the only Roadrunners seen this day.

I have recorded over 70 sightings of Greater Roadrunner according to my eBird records. My first record came from Death Valley, California during the week of March 20-27, 1976. It was during spring break from high school, and my family drove south from Oregon to meet up with my grandparents who were camped there at Furnace Creek Ranch. They spent every winter in the desert from as early as I can remember (early 1960's). When we lived in Minnesota (until August 1967) my grandparents wintered in Texas. A couple of years after we moved to Oregon, so did they. And then they wintered primarily at Crystal Hill, near Quartzsite, Arizona. The camp at Furnace Creek Ranch was, I believe, a week or two stop on the way back north for my grandparents. That was my single visit to Death Valley. I've never been back.

My grandfather had always told me that a Roadrunner at Furnace Creek Ranch would rise at dawn each day and go fight with his reflection in the kick-plate of the outhouse door! While I didn't witness this ritual, I do remember one Roadrunner at Death Valley begging hotdogs from a café there.

While birding on the golf course I met David Fix, another High Schooler vacationing during spring break from Oregon. After meeting again in December of that year at a Corvallis, Oregon birding event, we formed a friendship. We would write a couple of letters monthly back-and-forth about birds we had seen. We kept that up for several years afterward, and would occasionally meet for birding trips. David even joined us on a family camping trip one summer. [Accessing the golf course at Furnace Creek Ranch for birding has not been allowed for many decades. See a photo of birders camped on the golf course in late May during the years surrounding my visit. Thanks to Don Roberson's "California Birding History" webpage.]

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove
White-winged Dove. Borrego Springs, California. January 7, 2018.
White-winged Dove
White-winged Dove

Monday, April 16, 2018

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird. Borrego Springs, California. January 7, 2018.
Northern Mockingbird

Friday, April 13, 2018

Bell's Sparrow

Bell's Sparrow
Bell's Sparrow. Borrego Springs, California. January 7, 2018.
Bell's Sparrow
Bell's Sparrow

Identification article: Sagebrush or Bell's Sparrow?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Gray Flycatcher: My 400th California bird!

After posting these photos without comment a couple of weeks ago, I discovered this was the 400th species of bird I have identified in California (eBird total, which includes some escapees not countable on my ABA list).

Gray Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher. Borrego Springs, California. January 7, 2018.
Gray Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher

Empid ID in 3 easy steps

Monday, April 9, 2018

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. Borrego Springs, California. January 7, 2018.
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Friday, April 6, 2018

Heermann's Gull

Heermann's Gull
Heermann's Gull. Off San Diego, California. January 1, 2018.
Heermann's Gull
Heermann's Gull

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Brown Booby

Brown Booby
Adult male Brown Booby. Off San Diego, California. January 1, 2018.
Brown Booby

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A dozen Sage Thrashers! Desert Avicaching

I scored two points!

While birding in Borrego Springs recently, I remembered that I had previously entered some locations on my maps application to search for desert thrashers this spring for something called "Avicaching." Of course, I had forgotten most of the details. But I knew that birding surveys usually happen at dawn. So we were too late in the day to make an "official" survey. But why not check out the location in case we get another opportunity this spring? So Marlene and I headed south from Borrego Springs after lunch. We stopped at Yaqui Well where I walked in and found the two Long-eared Owls (no photos) that have been present this winter. Then we continued on to Scissors Crossing and headed south about 12 miles to Blair Valley.

We easily found the survey sites on two miles of sandy dirt roads that were no problem for our Kia Soul--two wheel drive but about 10 inches of clearance. We didn't have much time, so we only visited two of the three survey sites for less than a half hour each.

What is Avicaching? The details for this Desert Avicaching survey is here. Basically, this is eBird + Geocaching. Survey sites in under-birded areas or habitats are set up as eBird Hotspots. Record birds here during the survey period (February 1 to June 15, 2018). Surveys should be 20-60 minutes and travel less than 1 mile to be valid.

Even though I wasn't there before 10:00 am, I noted that my eBird list was automatically entered into the Desert Avicaching Leaderboard. I scored two points!

Sage Thrasher
Sage Thrasher. Blair Valley, California. March 18, 2018.
Avicaching is fun! This particular project contributes to knowledge of birds in remote desert areas that may be impacted by solar farms. In this case, Sage Thrashers migrate through this area in large numbers. And who knows, perhaps Le Conte's Thrashers may be resident here. Further north, in San Bernardino County, breeding Bendire's Thrashers may be impacted. Other Avicaching points continue in the Mojave Desert to Death Valley and Las Vegas, Nevada.

Birdless. That's the first impression one has of Blair Valley survey points. The low spot on the valley is a dry lake bed. Last year spring rains brought a "Super-Bloom" to the desert. Very little moisture this winter, so just year-old dry grass in the lake bottom. At the edges, sparse well-spaced creosote bushes begin. Then some Gander's cholla and Mojave yucca (like smaller Joshua trees). That's the vegetation of one of the survey sites.

Sage Thrasher

But scanning across the creosote I spy several solitary robin-like birds hopping on the ground--Sage Thrashers! And they are more common than one would think. After I entered 2 birds on the checklist the rarity flag in eBird popped up. I quickly reached 9 birds, and finally 12 birds after walking a couple hundred feet out and then returned to the car in a large loop around the survey point. That surpasses the total number of Sage Thrashers I've seen total in the Anza-Borrego desert the past 3 years!

Sage Thrasher

Driving out past the camping area there were several Mourning Doves, a Verdin called, and several Black-throated Sparrows flitted about. There were certainly birds here, especially up next to the rocky hill, but it requires work to find them.

Sage Thrasher

The second survey point was closer to the highway. There was more vegetation here. Some gravelly areas included cholla, barrel and hedgehog cacti, California juniper, and desert agave. As the gravel gave way to sand, it was again creosote, cholla, and Mojave yucca.

Blair Valley

The gravel/cactus area seemed good for Black-throated Sparrows. But none revealed themselves. I walked a couple hundred feet without encountering any sign of any birds. I was really thinking I was going to submit a 20-minute checklist with no birds recorded! Then I heard a very distant raven. Looping around back to the car I heard the chugging of a far-off Cactus Wren. When I reached the car I heard the caroling melody of a singing Sage Thrasher back where I had been. Three species, three total individuals, none seen. Then two ravens flew up right over me!

First eBird checklist.

Second eBird checklist.

Even though birds were sparse, I enjoyed visiting a new area for me and contributing to the knowledge of birds in a very under-birded location. I hope to get out there again a time or two this spring. I would really enjoy it if there were more avicaching projects to participate in. Perhaps it could be done as a follow-up to the bird atlas project that was done about 20 years ago in San Diego County. I know I really enjoyed the Oregon Breeding Bird Atlas project done about the same time. Fun!

Western Grebe

Western Grebe. San Diego Bay, California. January 1, 2018.