Tuesday, June 26, 2018

White-faced Ibis

When I first started birding (1972) White-faced Ibis were rather rare in my home state of Oregon. My first sighting of ibises in Oregon was in May 1979 at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. That year 190 breeding pair nested in Oregon (details here), up from only 10 pairs in 1963.

Drought at Great Salt Lake, Utah, and extra rain and flooding to the northwest in Harney basin of SE Oregon in the 1980's, evidently led to many birds permanently relocating to Oregon. Thus, in subsequent years I could see hundreds of birds at a time at Malheur refuge (800 birds between P Ranch and Benson Pond on May 21, 1990; 700 birds on Diamond Road on May 27, 1994; 950 birds on Hotchkiss Lane on May 28, 2013).

Because they were rare when and where I first started birding, I still am excited whenever I encounter these birds here in the San Diego region, where they are regular. Their long dull pink legs and long curved bills and maroon plumage with glossy pink, purple, and green highlights lend an air of a rare tropical visitor.

This is a long-winded way to say that I am presenting this recent photo below of 3 birds at Kit Carson Park in Escondido, even though the photo is not exceptional.

White-faced Ibis
White-faced Ibis. March 7, 2018. Escondido, California.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Great Egret

The Great Egret is the American symbol of conservation, specifically, the National Audubon Society, incorporated in 1905.

Great Egret
Great Egret sporting breeding plumes. March 7, 2018. Kit Carson Park, Escondido, California.
Bird populations in the United States were plummeting due to market hunting and birds killed for women's fashions. One of the hardest hit species was the Great Egret. Entire breeding colonies were wiped out on their nests. The reason? To obtain the handful of long plume feathers that sprouted only during the breeding season for use on ladies' hats.

The Audubon Society brought about a change in people's perceptions about the natural bounty of the world: the natural world should be preserved, not exploited.

Exactly 100 years ago--in 1918--virtually all birds were afforded protections thanks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Act started with the United States and Canada, but spread to include Mexico and some other lands. That Act makes it illegal to harm or possess wild birds, eggs, feathers, or nests. This treaty can be traced to the efforts of the Audubon Society.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Northern Mockingbird backgrounds

I'm continuing to present some of my better photos from earlier in the year.

This Northern Mockingbird was at Kit Carson Park in Escondido on March 7, 2018. It was perched on this dead yucca and catching the early morning light from the side, creating strong, but pleasant shadows.

My lens and camera combination required me to shoot at f/7.1, so the background isn't quite as smooth and uniform as I would have liked. That pale strip above the bird's head distracts somewhat from the artistic appeal of this photo. What to do?

In this case, all I had to do was drop to one knee to put the bird above the horizon! Now the background is a pleasant smooth, slightly cloudy blue sky.

Of course, this changes the bird from being pale in a dark background to be darker in a light background. But there are no distracting elements to compete with the bird composition. (Although I do notice if I tip my screen I can see almost 20 dust spots on my camera sensor--it's a "feature" of my push-pull lens "dust sucker.")

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Do not change the name of Ring-necked Duck to Ring-billed Duck

Last summer--wow, almost a year now--there was a proposal to rename the Ring-necked Duck to "Ring-billed Duck." Though at first it might seem a reasonable change, all members of the AOU Checklist committee voted "no," keeping the name. Their reasoning is here.

Ring-necked Duck
Ring-necked Duck, March 7, 2018, Kit Carson Park, Escondido, California.
To view a photo of mine showing the copper neck ring, and a description of how this bird was named, see my post: An eponymous Ring-necked Duck.

As I explain in that post, the bird was first found in a meat market in London. The copper-colored neck ring really stood out, as otherwise it looked quite similar to the very common local Tufted Duck. The Tufted Duck also has a very similar bill to Ring-necked Duck, so naming either one "Ring-billed Duck" would be very confusing.

Northern Pintail (front), Ring-necked Duck female (rear left), and Tufted Duck male (rear right)

The above photo from January 30, 2013 in Yamhill County, Oregon shows two "Ring-billed Ducks" behind the Northern Pintail--Ring-necked Duck on the left and Tufted Duck on the right.

So, when looking at flocks of diving ducks next winter, be sure to look for the copper neck ring or the tuft that separate the males only of the two species of "Ring-billed Ducks."

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Flying dolphins!

We had a blast watching dolphins last Sunday!

The pelagic trip offshore 30 miles from San Diego on June 10 was primarily for bird watching. However, we came across numerous pods of dolphins chasing schools of fish to the surface. The Common Dolphins--both the long-beaked and short-beaked varieties--herded the fish together in a final splashing assault.

So many fish at the surface attracted Elegant Terns and Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters. These birds were diving into the water from flight. While the terns flew high into the air again for impressive high-dives, the shearwaters would often remain in the water. They'd stick their head under to look for fish, then run a few feet on the water with wings open and plunge into the water again.

Sooty Shearwater puts on the brakes to avoid flying into leaping Common Dolphin
Sooty Shearwater puts on the brakes to avoid flying into leaping Common Dolphin
Every once in a while a dolphin would decide to jump out of the water. Photographing such a random jump is pretty impossible. However, occasionally one dolphin would jump several times in a row. Thus I was able to photograph this dolphin's near mid-air-collision. I keep imagining I can see a goofy grin on the dolphin's face and hear the angry cussing of the shearwater.

Common Dolphin rockets to space
"We have liftoff." SpaceX has nothing on this little rocketman.
Common Dolphin riding the bow wave
Common Dolphin riding the bow wave.
As usual, several dolphins peeled off from the feeding group to come and play in the bow wake of our boat. It must be nice to so easily find and capture your food that you can take a play break right in the middle of dinner!

You don't realize how poorly these close-up animals photograph, though. The water distorts their appearance. When they break the surface for a quick breath, the splash nearly completely hides them. These close animals are best shown in video, where our slow eyes can combine all the frames of distorted outlines and splashes into an exciting spectacle.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cackling Goose

The Cackling Goose is rather rare in the San Diego region. There are many forms, but the expected form is the Aleutian Cackling Goose (Branta hutchensii leucopareia). A few are sometimes mixed in with flocks of the much larger Canada Goose, from which these smaller birds were split as a separate species in 2004. The Ramona Grassland Preserve or, rather, the nearby cattle pastures are a good place to look.

The Aleutian Cackling Goose below was found grazing with coots in a small park on the edge of the San Diego Bay, in Chula Vista, on February 18, 2018.

Aleutian Cackling Goose
Aleutian Cackling Goose
Another form that may be found in winter is the Ridgway's Cackling Goose. It has a dark purplish-brown breast.

The Ridgway's Cackling Goose (B.h. minima) is 25 inches long, bill to tail, the size of a tame Mallard. The Aleutian Cackling Goose is an inch or two longer. The Canada Goose flocks here are Western Canada Goose (B. canadensis moffitti) with a length of 45 inches--quite the difference!

For a primer on separating Cackling and Canada Goose see this blog post.