Thursday, July 27, 2017

Northern Flicker on the Tuolumne River Bluffs (along with an Acorn Woodpecker)

I was out walking on the Tuolumne River as usual this morning, and saw practically no birds until I finished and had returned to the parking area at the top of the bluffs at the west end of the hike. I was actually driving out when I saw a different bird atop the nearly dead oak (it was a Mockingbird earlier). It was a male Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus).

It didn't immediately fly away, since I was using the car as a blind. I snapped a couple of pictures, and then noticed a second woodpecker a few yards away. That was odd, because it was a different species, an Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus). I guess it was just kind of a woodpecker day.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Juvenile Western Bluebird at the Black Diamond Mine

I still catching up on the richness of birds that I've seen and photographed this summer. Back in May our Geology Club took a tour of the underground mines at Black Diamond Mine Regional Park in the Pittsburg-Antioch area of the Sacramento Delta.
As we walked up the valley towards the mine entrance, I saw a LGB (little gray bird) that I couldn't immediately identify (there are lots of little gray birds that I haven't yet learned to identify quickly). After watching it move around, I began to suspect it was a baby rather than an adult, so I started looking for the mother.
Pretty soon I spied momma, and realized that the little one was a Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana), one of my favorites, judging from the number of posts I've put up (this is the 13th).

Black Diamond Mine was a source of coal and glass-making sands a century ago (California is not known as being much of a coal mining region, but the energy demands in the late 1800s led to the use of even marginal coal deposits). The park is a pleasant place for hiking and bird-watching. Many of the scars of the mining have faded away.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Western Tanager and Tourons at the North Rim of Grand Canyon

Photo by Mrs. Geotripper
Being in a national park can cause people to do things they normally wouldn't in any other place. For example, if you ever have the privilege to explore Yellowstone National Park, you will encounter people who are fine drivers everywhere else. But if an elk or bison is seen at the side of the road (or Heaven forbid, a Wolf or Grizzly Bear), they will screech to a stop, disregarding all other traffic, and get out to take pictures. It doesn't matter if they are blocking traffic, others will get out to see what the commotion is about anyway. After awhile, a ranger has to come along and break up the traffic mess. No wonder they've secretly adopted the term "touron". But at least I never do that kind of thing...
Can you see what caused me to stop in the middle of the highway? Photo by Mrs. Geotripper

I was at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park these last few days, and there were thankfully no tourist traffic jams, the reason being that there were hardly any tourists (the North Rim gets only about 10% of the park's visitors; it's one of the great charms of that section of the park). And so it was that I was the one trying to start a traffic jam...and it wasn't for a wolf, or an elk, or a bison. No, it was for a bird. It happened to be the only bird that would have caused me to hit the brakes and stop in the middle of the highway: it was a Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana).
Photo by Mrs. Geotripper
There were actually two tanagers, a male and a female. It says something about the relative drabness of the female that neither me or Mrs. Geotripper caught a shot of the girl. We were under pressure though; we weren't stopping traffic, but we were on a blind curve. We grabbed our cameras and snapped as many shots as we couldn't in 45 seconds or so.

I was glad we got the pictures we did, but they can never add up to the tanager we saw back home in California on the Clark Fork of the Stanislaus River in the Sierra Nevada a few years ago. You can check out those pictures and a short video at this link:

Friday, July 14, 2017

Violet-Green Swallow at the Black Diamond Mines (and a Mono Lake bonus)

Tropical birds are so colorful, and I don't really know why (I'm sure display has a lot to do with it, but what about defensive camouflage?), but when they visit our region, I sure appreciate the splash of color. The Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) is one of those tropical visitors in our region in the spring and summer.
I saw this swallow on a geology club field trip to Black Diamond Mines Regional Park back in May. If you are wondering about the name of the park, it refers to coal, not gemstones. It may seem strange that an old coal mine (they also mined sand for glassmaking) should be a park, but time heals many scars. There are underground tours in the old mines, but the oak woodland and wildflowers are wonderful as well.
As I was going through the pictures from last May, my mind was jogged. I had seen these birds before, long before I really was doing any kind of birdwatching. I was at Mono Lake in the eastern Sierra Nevada in 2010, and the swallows were catching flies and perching on the tufa towers.

I was fascinated at the time, and for all I know, these pictures may have had something to do with awakening my interest in the birds that were sitting around on my beloved geological outcrops.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wood Duck on the Tuolumne River

Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) are one of the most colorful birds I ever see when I walk the Tuolumne River for my exercise sessions, but they are also one of the most wary. I know of one or two spots where they would hang out during quieter pre-flood days, but no matter how quiet my approach on the trail, they would shoot off before it was possible to get a picture. I've trying to catch up with my bird picture archives since last spring, and I realized that I had captured a couple of almost-clear pictures. The difference? The much higher river had pushed the birds higher on the banks, and the rushing waters masked my approach. These shots may look fairly close, but I'm guessing I was at least fifty yards away, using the zoom lens.

I don't know the ducks all that well yet, so it was a surprise to me to see the duck perched on a tree branch. It turns out that the Wood Ducks have stronger claws than most duck species, and are quite comfortable in trees, often building nests there. Once I learned that, I remembered the videos I've seen of ducklings jumping out of high trees on their first journeys to water. Here's an example from National Geographic:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Western Kingbird on the Tuolumne River

Western Kingbirds (Tyrannus verticalis) make quite a few appearances on my blog. I think it is because they are a migrant, and their appearance and disappearance coincides with the change of seasons (they spend winters in the tropics). There is nothing so special as a change of seasons in today's post, just what I thought was a pretty nice picture. I've been sticking to my commitment to walk nearly every day, and put in three miles along the Tuolumne River. In contrast to yesterday's cornucopia of interesting species, today I saw nothing of particular interest. Yesterday's Kingfishers, for instance, were nowhere to be seen, and neither were the Red Foxes. I got back up the stairwell at the parking area, and in fine OCD manner saw that I had taken 5,063 steps, and I could make it a nice even 5,280 (three miles) if I did a lap around the parking lot. So I did, and finally saw an interesting bird in one of the trees lining the parking area.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Belted Kingfisher on the Tuolumne River

I've been having a battle of wits (twits? tweets?) this week with a pair of Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon). I've been waking up earlier than usual this week (a residual of my recent field trip), so I've been heading down to the Tuolumne River Parkway Trail to see what kinds of birds and other animals might be about (I had a nice encounter with a Red Fox yesterday). For three days in a row, I inadvertently flushed out a pair of Kingfishers who flew away downriver to places unknown (I don't like to harass birds, but I was just walking the trail). Each successive morning I approached more slowly with the camera ready, but they were just too wary. It happened again this morning and they flew off and I walked on. A few minutes later though, I heard that staccato call of a Kingfisher in the tree above, and for a split second, the bird was yelling at me, and I got one shot before it flew off.
Later, at the end of my hike, I was approaching the area where they've been hanging out, and once again I crept ahead slowly and saw the Kingfisher again. I squeezed off about eight shots, one of which was sharp enough to use. Of all the birds I've seen on the Tuolumne, the Kingfishers have been among the most challenging to photograph.

That's not to say that I don't have other challenges. It was quite a day...I saw a Western Tanager, a Bullocks Oriole, an Oak Titmouse and a Green Heron, and of them all, I got exactly no pictures. So I shall sally forth, again and again, until I get the perfect picture of all of them!