Sunday, January 15, 2017

Spotted Towhees from All Over

Spotted Towhees (Pipilo maculatus) are beautiful colorful birds that I've seen a fair number of times, but I've found them difficult to photograph. Most of the time it is because they are foraging in thick underbrush, and they never seem to sit still. A case in point: I got a nice shot of the Towhee above at Silver Lake near Mt. St. Helens in Washington at Christmastime. But it never turned around to show its colorful breast.
Then, I was at Don Pedro Reservoir on the Tuolumne River to take a look at water levels prior to the big storms of last week (which also explains why no birds for two weeks; I was distracted by events being posted at Geotripper). There was a Towhee in the parking lot foraging for seeds or bugs. I got a shot of the bird's front, and a video as well. But no side shots!

Finally, I was out on the Tuolumne Parkway Trail today for the first time since the storms began, and I saw another Towhee foraging in the open. I got the side shot I wanted, so I was finally able to cobble together this post, from three different locations and with three different birds.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Belted Kingfisher at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

I've seen the Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) a few times on my trail along the Tuolumne River, but they've kept their distance, and it has been fairly hard to get clear pictures. We were headed home from the holiday travels, and noted previously, we stopped at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in the Central Valley of California. We were excited to see a pair of Bald Eagles while we were there, and thought the birding was over with when we got back to the visitor center at the end of the auto-tour. And wouldn't you know, there was a Belted Kingfisher hanging out around the pond at the visitor center!
I got a couple of fairly decent shots, although they are still a bit fuzzy at the distance. The brown-colored breast feathers indicate a female (one of the few birds in which the females are more brightly colored).

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Juvenile Bald Eagle at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Photo by Mrs. Geotripper
In all of the excitement of seeing the Bald Eagle yesterday, we almost missed another. While we were parked and snapping pictures of the adult, Mrs. Geotripper spotted another really large bird flying away off to our right.  She wondered if it was a vulture or some such, but it was flying in a very stable fashion (vultures tend to tip back and forth a bit while they soar). It landed a short distance away so we crept forward to see if we could get some pictures. As usual, Mrs. Geotripper got the best shot (above).
The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is of course the national bird of the United States, and it seems ironic that we just about killed it off, as the state of California did with its mammal, the California Grizzly Bear. The eagles were hunted, for one, but they were also poisoned by DDT. Their numbers plummeted in the middle 1990s, but the ban on DDT and their listing as an endangered species allowed their numbers to recover. I fear we are entering another dark age, as the politicians who are taking power in a few weeks have stated their opposition to both the Endangered Species Act, and the control of poisons in our environment through the Environmental Protection Agency. We have so much to lose.

A short postscript. Mrs. Geotripper reminded me that I took a short video of the eagle! Here it is:

Friday, December 30, 2016

Bald Eagle at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (and one in Oregon)

Photo by Mrs. Geotripper
I spent the better part of two weeks in the Pacific Northwest visiting relatives for the holidays, and I knew we had a good chance to glimpse some Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), seeing as they are more common up that way. We did in fact see a few, but few decent pictures emerged from my efforts. On the way home, we stopped, as we almost always do, at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, and wouldn't you know there was a Bald Eagle hanging out on a small island right next to auto-tour road in the refuge. Mrs. Geotripper got the best shot (above).
The Sacramento Refuge has a very scenic backdrop for bird viewing, with the highest part of the California Coast Ranges to the west, Lassen Peak and other volcanoes to the north, and the Sutter Buttes to the southeast.
We mentioned our excitement about seeing eagles on our Facebook page, and found out that two of them were sitting in a tree next to the Oregon house that we had just left! It's too ironic. Anyway, I did actually see one of those eagles in Oregon, but it was high above, and I got just this fuzzy shot of it soaring over my head.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Hermit Thrush at Cape Perpetua, Oregon

I don't see Hermit Thrushes (Catharus guttatus) very often, and catching photographs of them has proven difficult (although I have a few). I've been on the road, as is usual for this time of year, and we were stopped at Cape Perpetua on the central Oregon Coast to have a look at the pounding surf. I haven't been expecting to see all that many birds out and about in the winter environment, but I've been pleasantly surprised many times over. As we were leaving the visitor center at the Cape, I saw a bird lurking just over my head, and there was the thrush! It felt close enough to touch, but as you can see, the angle for pictures was very steep. 
For the most part, Hermit Thrushes spend the winter much further to the south, especially in the southern tier of American states and Mexico. The exception is the west coast of the United States, where they may winter as far north as Washington state. The climate stays warmer because of the moderating effect of the nearby Pacific Ocean.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Red-breasted Sapsucker in Washington for Christmas

Merry Christmas all! I didn't really expect to have a Christmas bird today, but later on in the afternoon I walked to a park in Renton, just south of Seattle, Washington. I heard a drumming in the pines over my head, and was lucky enough to spot a Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber) high above. I got a couple of shots before it disappeared.

The Red-breasted Sapsucker is a bird of the West Coast, ranging from Southern California to Alaska, but never ranging farther east than the Sierra or the Cascades. They prefer the lower elevations of coniferous forests. The "sapsucker" name refers to their practice of drilling a linear series of holes in tree trucks that starts sap running. The birds then can consume the sap itself (by lapping it up, not sucking) or feeding on the bugs that become trapped in the sap.
It was a pleasant Christmas surprise to see a new bird, the third new bird seen on this trip!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Very Small, Very Tough, and Fearless: Golden-crowned Kinglet below Mt. St. Helens, Washington

I was privileged to catch sight of some Golden-crowned Kinglets (Regulus satrapa) today. We were at Silver Lake in Washington state. The lake was formed by mudflows from nearby Mt. St. Helens thousands of years ago.
The sense of privilege comes from the fact that I've never seen any before, and because their preferred habitat is way up in the canopy of conifer forests, where they search for bugs. In these winter days, the bugs are less prevalent, so these kinglets had come down to the pavement in the parking lot for the Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center, looking for seeds or bugs on the ground.
Fearless? Yes, they danced around the pavement less than 10 feet away from me. Frenetic? Yes! They never stopped moving while I was watching them and trying to get a few photographs. I took 30 shots or more, and only four or five came out at all. Look below to see an average shot...
A real-life Angry Bird?
Tough? Yes. It is the beginning of winter, and these birds weren't messing around with migration to warmer climes. According to the Cornell Ornithology website, they can survive temperatures of -40 degrees, sometimes huddling together for warmth. It's amazing that they don't freeze; they're barely bigger than hummingbirds!
Very small, very tough, and fearless. But also quite beautiful!