Sunday, March 31, 2019

Phainopeplas in the Anza-Borrego Desert

Phainopepla. Agua Caliente Hot Springs, California. March 16, 2019.
My favorite desert bird is the Phainopepla. It is one of a small group of 4 bird species called "Silky Flycatchers." Formerly--and even now--some authorities group them together with the waxwings.

Phainopeplas breed in early spring in the desert mesquite, then pop over the mountains to the west and breed again in drier oak canyons. In both places they feed on mistletoe berries and are rarely seem away from this hemiparasite (parasitic plant that feeds on others, but also has chlorophyl).

This post shows birds photographed at three different locations on one weekend. This is an indication of both how common and photogenic they are, and how much I admire them.


Saturday, March 30, 2019

Mourning Dove at Lake Hodges

Today's photo is a common North American bird--Mourning Dove. The mournful calls of this bird is one of my earliest bird memories from childhood. I notice that they're already paired up and chasing one another, getting ready for the breeding season.

Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove. Lake Hodges, California. March 1, 2019.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Red-tailed Hawk at Lake Hodges

Today's bird is Red-tailed Hawk. The barred tail of this bird indicates it is an immature bird. Next fall the rusty (unbarred) tail will molt in.

While the Red-tailed Hawk is widespread and often the "usual" hawk one encounters in North America, the Red-shouldered Hawk is more frequent in most of San Diego County. In fact, I probably see more Cooper's Hawks than Red-tails, too. American Kestrels and White-tailed Kites are next most frequent. Let's see, am I missing any others? Ferruginous Hawk, Bald Eagle, Swainson's Hawk, Merlin, Prairie Falcon, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Golden Eagle. Oh, I guess I left out Turkey Vulture, which can be the most numerically abundant raptor, and is right up there with Red-shouldered Hawk as most frequently seen. But now I'm way off-topic.

I was happy to get a flight shot at eye-level that is in focus. I've seen this same bird perched on this trail-side rock several times this winter at Lake Hodges. Maybe next time the sun will be out. One can hope.

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Immature Red-tailed Hawk. Lake Hodges, California. March 1, 2019.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

California Towhee at Lake Hodges

Here's a towhee to start your day. Though a bird of chaparral, they have adapted to human settlement and are found in residential areas as well as more wild brushy habitats.

California Towhee. Lake Hodges, California. March 1, 2019.
More photos of California Towhee in San Diego from eBird. Click on the photos to rate (1 awful, 2 poor but identifiable, 3 average or small, 4 very good, 5 magazine cover worthy). (Rating eBird photos: How and why.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Eurasian Wigeon in Borrego Springs

Eurasian Wigeon is a rare winter visitor with about 5-10 sightings per winter in the San Diego region.

A pair (presumably the same pair?) has wintered the past 3 years at the Roadrunner Golf & Country Club ponds in Borrego Springs. The male is easier to pick out. Females can appear similar to the female American Wigeon with their contrasting gray heads, or have brown heads matching the flanks. I have photos below.

Be aware that American and Eurasian Wigeon have frequent hybrids that show a combination of characters on the sides and flanks and head (though a small green eye patch doesn't necessarily indicate a hybrid on an otherwise solid Eurasian Wigeon).

Male Eurasian Wigeon. Borrego Springs, California. February 18, 2019.
Three males and a female American Wigeon.
A female and male Eurasian Wigeon.
Male Eurasian Wigeon
Female Eurasian Wigeon with brown head matching sides.
Female American Wigeon showing gray head and brown sides.
Male Eurasian Wigeon
More photos of Eurasian Wigeon in San Diego from eBird. Click on the photos to rate (1 awful, 2 poor but identifiable, 3 average or small, 4 very good, 5 magazine cover worthy). (Rating eBird photos: How and why.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Painted Lady Butterfly in Borrego Springs

I'm not a butterfly watcher, but that doesn't mean I won't try to get a photo if I encounter one. I always try to identify all living things when I encounter them. This is a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, a widespread species around the world.

Painted Lady Butterfly Anza-Borrego Desert
Painted Lady Butterfly Anza-Borrego Desert, California. February 18, 2019.
This butterfly became quite abundant in early March in the San Diego region. Many people commented on the hundreds of small butterflies--especially in the hills along the I-15 freeway, where the California Poppies were blooming.

Mid-month, when Marlene and I went to see all the wildflowers in the Anza-Borrego Desert they were unavoidable. Literally. We couldn't drive anywhere without a thwack! on the windshield and a yellow-green streak. "Oops. Sorry!" Thwack! "Oh, there's another one--sorry!" (I'm pretty sure they didn't accept our apologies.)

Even after going through the car wash and a couple of rainy days, the ghosts of butterflies past are still imbedded in the windshield.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Anza-Borrego Desert Wildflower Super Bloom 2019

It has only been 2 years since the last "super bloom" in 2017.

It's been a cool, rainy winter in San Diego County, even in the Anza-Borrego Desert on the "dry" side of the mountains. As a result, many were predicting another "super bloom"--a spring wildflower show brought on by more than average winter rains.

Marlene and I visited in February and made arrangements to come back at the same time we were here in 2017. We spent the long weekend of March 16-18, 2019 in the Anza-Borrego Desert. The first morning we visited birding locations in the south end of the desert. We arrived in Borrego Springs in the north on Saturday afternoon and stayed until noon Monday.

Wildflowers and mountains of Borrego Springs
Borrego Springs wildflowers, Borrego Springs Road near Henderson Canyon Road. March 18, 2019.
Compared with 2017, the wildflowers are less intense, but more widespread, this year. In 2017 all the wildflowers were blooming during that one week of 90+F degree weather. This year wildflowers started in some protected south facing canyons in February. They were going strong during our mid-March visit, yet some flowers--like the Desert Lily--were mostly just buds. Out warmest day--and one of the warmest this year, thus far, was only 83F.

The long period of rainy weather has been especially conducive to growing grass--yes, the desert floor (between all the cactus and creosote) is a carpet of foot-high grass!

Brittlebush flowers
Rain or no, Brittlebush flowers tower over the blue-green leaves of this shrub every spring. 
It is found in higher, rockier areas of the desert. This one was at Vallecito County Park.
My flower identification skills are barely at the dandelion, daffodil, rose, tulip stage. So I use the wonderfully handy foldable poster "Spring Wildflowers of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park." This 2005 publication lists over 50 species of wildflowers that pretty much include any species you are likely to see. It was still in print 2 years ago when I got mine. I noticed other people with this publication on the side of the road (reminding me of bygone ages where people navigated using impossible-to-refold paper maps).

Brown-eyed Primrose
About 6-8 inches tall are these Brown-eyed Primrose.
Wild Heliotrope
This was a new flower for me, and widespread, the Wild Heliotrope, if I'm not mistaken.
It seems this year there are more clumps of purple flowers than in 2017. I think they are Wild Heliotrope. I also saw a similar flower in the same genus (Phacelia)--Scorpionweed. I could easily have them reversed. There is a third Phacelia I did not identify: Wild Canterbury Bells.

Pretty white flower with red oval leaves
This pretty flower is about 6 inches tall. I have no idea what it is, though. 
It was near the Borrego Springs waste treatment ponds.
It is surrounded by the tiny Popcorn Flower.
Desert Dandelion
Desert Dandelion was a widespread flower.
Little Gold Poppy
Little Gold Poppy, I think.
Desert Chicory.
Desert Lily. One of my favorites.
The lovely Desert Lilies were not blooming yet. I saw only 3 that had open flowers. I did see hundreds of these sand-loving flowers with buds. They needed another week of warmer weather, I guess.

Popcorn Flower
Barely 3 inches tall, the Popcorn Flower carpets the desert, often under the taller flowers.
Sand Verbena
Though smaller, the Sand Verbena is one of the major flowers of Anza-Borrego.
Wildflower super bloom
Wildflowers: yellow Desert Dandelions and purple Wild Heliotropes with a few white Desert Chicory.
Desert Dandelion
Desert Dandelion
Sand Verbena
Sand Verbena
There is another species of verbena that grows on the sand dunes of the ocean beaches.

Sand Verbena and Desert Dandelion
Sand Verbena and Desert Dandelion tower over the Popcorn Flower. 
All grow out of the thick spring grass in the Anza-Borrego Desert.
Arizona Lupine
Tall Arizona Lupines were only seen on the side of the road near Truckhaven.
Barrel Cactus flowers
A Barrel Cactus flowers near Vallecito County Park.
Sunset in Borrego Springs
The sun sets behind the western mountains as Marlene and I take a late afternoon walk in Borrego Springs, California.
Brown-eyed Primrose
A carpet of Brown-eyed Primrose on sandy soil catches the sunrise at the Borrego Springs waste treatment plant.
Dune Evening Primrose
The large Dune Evening Primrose favors sandy soil.
Some Little Gold Poppies peek out.
Caterpillar of sphynx moth eating Dune Evening Primrose
The 3-inch long caterpillar of the Sphynx Moth gorges on the Dune Evening Primrose.
I spent Sunday evening with a group counting migrant Swainson's Hawks going to roost. Unfortunately, it was a disappointing show. About 70 hawks were circling around very high to the north over Henderson Canyon Road about 5:30 PM. They disappeared for over an hour, then came back, but never approached near the Date Farm evening count site. I couldn't even get a distant photo.

Hal Cohen was leading the volunteer group. The flowers bring the Sphynx Moths, which lay eggs and soon the finger-sized caterpillars are munching on the flowers. Those juicy morsels in turn are eaten by the Swainson's Hawks which may only stay a day or two before continuing north to their breeding grounds in the interior Mountain West. The hawks winter in Argentina and migrate in large flocks of hundreds. During most of the year they eat large grasshoppers, but during a few weeks in spring these Sphynx Moth caterpillars are favored.

Visit the Borrego Valley Hawkwatch blog.

Sand Verbena near the Badlands.
Sand Verbena near Truckhaven.
Fremont's Pincushion
This must be the Fremont's Pincushion.
Scorpionweed or Notch-leaved Phacelia
If I've got this right, this is a Scorpionweed, also known as Notch-leaved Phacelia, near Truckhaven.
Wild Heliotrope
If I've got this right, this is Wild Heliotrope.
Wildflowers at Anza-Borrego Desert.
Wildflowers at Anza-Borrego Desert.
Sand Verbena and Desert Sunflower
Sand Verbena and Desert Sunflower on Henderson Canyon Road.
Flowers and plants pictured in this article:

Arizona Lupine  Lupinus arizonicus
Barrel Cactus  Ferocactus cylindraceus
Brittlebush  Encelia farinosa
Brown-eyed Primrose  Camissonia claviformis
Desert Chicory  Rafinesquia neomexicana
Desert Dandelion  Malocothrix glabrata
Desert Lily  Hesperocallis undulata
Desert Sunflower  Geraea canescens
Dune Evening Primrose  Oenothera deltoides
Fremont's Pincushion  Chaenactis fremontii
Little Gold Poppy  Eschscholzia minutiflora
Notch-leaved Phacelia (Scorpionweed)  Phacelia crenulata
Popcorn Flower  Cryptantha angustifolia
Sand Verbena  Abronia villosa
Wild Heliotrope  Phacelia distans

Sage Sparrows in Borrego Springs

It has been several years since the Sage Sparrow was split into the Sagebrush Sparrow (Artemiseospiza nevadensis) and the Bell's Sparrow (Artemiseospiza belli). Yet experts still do not agree on how to tell apart the canescens race of Bell's Sparrow from the nominate Sagebrush Sparrow in the field where they winter together in southern California.

I detect differences in back streaking, darkness of the gray head, and width and blackness of the malar streak, as well as habitat preferences. Nevertheless, these differences could be due to sex, age, feather wear, or normal variation.

These birds I found in the saltbush and sand dunes in Borrego Springs. The streaked back, pale gray head, weak malar, all indicate to me that these are Sagebrush Sparrows. But they are not accepted as such in eBird. So, into the Sagebrush/Bell's "Sage" Sparrow bucket they go. Perhaps someday the identification criteria will be more exactly known. Until then, I'll keep on taking photos.

Sage Sparrow, Sagebrush/Bell's Sparrow
Sage Sparrow, Sagebrush/Bell's Sparrow
Sage Sparrow, Sagebrush/Bell's Sparrow
Sage Sparrow, Sagebrush/Bell's Sparrow
Sage Sparrow, Sagebrush/Bell's Sparrow
Sage Sparrow. Borrego Springs, California. February 18, 2019.
Sand Verbena
An early blooming Sand Verbena. Borrego Springs, California. February 18, 2019.
More photos of Sagebrush/Bell's Sparrows in San Diego from eBird. Click on the photos to rate (1 awful, 2 poor but identifiable, 3 average or small, 4 very good, 5 magazine cover worthy). (Rating eBird photos: How and why.)