Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Pair of Belted Kingfishers on the Tuolumne River

It's been a battle of wits and tweets. I've known there were Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) on the Tuolumne River. As a species, the bird is common all across North America, and the Tuolumne River where I live is excellent habitat, providing good fishing, lots of riparian vegetation for perching, and high dirt banks that are perfect for digging nesting burrows. I've even seen them a couple of times, perched along the section of the river where I've seen otters a few times now. But so far there was nothing to show in terms of photography. They've been too far away and unfocused in the few pictures I've attempted.
I was back on the river today making my usual trek along the Tuolumne Parkway Trail, and I made my way down to the banks of the river to a favorite sitting spot (I've seen both otters and raccoons from here recently). There was a lot of chattering in the trees, but I couldn't quite see who was responsible.
This is the last thing a fish sees sometimes...
Before long it was clear that the noisemakers were a pair of Belted Kingfishers. I'm not sure they were excited about me in particular because they were patrolling a large section of the river downstream, flying back and forth, perching briefly, and then patrolling again.
Once in a while they landed close enough to snap a few okay shots from a distance of about 200-300 feet. The pair were male and female. Kingfishers are one of the few bird species in which the female is more brightly colored. The male has a plain white breast (with the black "belt" near the neck). The females (top photo) have some rusty bands as well.
I waited for some time, and they teased me by coming closer and perching in a nearby tree that made focusing a bit harder (it'll work one of these times!). Finally, I needed to get going so I started walking back downstream. As if to tease me, the female landed on the tree snag practically over my head and posed for a single shot, the one that appears at the top of the post. And then they flew off again, chattering and twittering away.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Cassin's Kingbird at Dana Point, California

We are still catching up with a summer of bird watching! I was in Southern California in early July, and we found ourselves at Dana Point along the Orange County Coast. I saw what I assumed was a Western Kingbird, which are common around my home region in spring and summer. It wasn't until much later looking at the photos that I noticed the slight green color to the back feathers, and the white patch under the throat. It was a Kingbird, but not one I've seen before. Cassin's Kingbirds (Tyrannus vociferans) have been seen back home in Stanislaus County, but so rarely that sightings cause some local excitement among birders.

Dana Point is a particularly beautiful stretch of California coast, with some nice cliffs and mountains nearby. We saw the Cassin's Kingbird at a gazebo that overlooks the small harbor.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Allen's Hummingbird in Costa Mesa (Maybe)

For today's post, we find out why I'm still an amateur at the birding game. I was touring the Sherman Gardens in Costa Mesa in Southern California at the beginning of July. In other words, I was on unfamiliar ground. The gardens were nice to tour, and there was a hummingbird. It posed for me. It just sat there waiting for me to finish snapping a few pictures. It was clearly a Rufous Hummingbird female (Selasphorus rufus), since the Rufous is the only golden colored hummingbird I know (from my area, anyway).
But I wasn't in my home area. So I looked it up, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology had this to say: "Female and juvenile Rufous and Allen's hummingbirds are nearly indistinguishable in the field - it's probably better not to try to identify them during migration, when their ranges overlap considerably."

An Allen's? What's that? So it's an Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin). Maybe. They live in the coastal areas of Southern California and Mexico. Or a Rufous Hummingbird, which has a much wider range across the American West, but the area we were in is a migration route rather than a breeding or wintering ground. So I settled on the Allen's for the title of the post. I welcome an identification from an expert!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Female Black-chinned Hummingbird on the Tuolumne River

Female hummingbirds can be hard to tell apart. I'm going with the white eye spot and slightly curved beak to call this one a Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri). I've also seen males on these same shrubs. The hummingbirds in general have been one of the most common birds I've seen along the Tuolumne Parkway Trail over the last few days. Some of the shrubs are flowering despite the dry conditions, providing a food source. There have been quite a few bugs flying in the air, and hummingbirds aren't at all averse to consuming bugs. They need the protein. They need the sugar too, given that their metabolism is such that they could starve in the space of a few hours or a day.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Black-headed Grosbeak on the Tuolumne River

It's another case of a bird species being relatively common, but not for me. I saw a Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) a few days ago while I was strolling on the Tuolumne Parkway Trail where the Tuolumne River flows into the Great Valley. The Grosbeaks spend the summer in the United States and southernmost Canada, and migrate to Mexico and Central America for the winter. The males and females have kind of an egalitarian relationship, as they both will tend to the nest, sit on the eggs and feed the young.

I wasn't close, so the sharp focused pictures will have to come at a different time! I'll keep trying...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Young Turkey Vulture (or a Vampire) on the Tuolumne River

I didn't see many birds on my stroll along the Tuolumne River this morning, and I'm not entirely convinced that this Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) would have seen its reflection in a mirror. This may be the same juvenile I ran across a few weeks ago. I've seen it several times now along the same section of the Parkway Trail. I'm going to start carrying garlic and a cross with me on these walks.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

California Thrasher at Crystal Cove Beach, Southern California

I grew up in Southern California, and had a good thirty years to learn something about the birds to be found there, and learned hardly a thing. I saw one of the last free-roaming California Condors before they were trapped for captive breeding (they were down to two dozen or so at the time, and now they are back in the wild). But that was about it. I could identify crows and mockingbirds, basically.
California is a good environment for birds, being at a cross-roads between the tropical environments to the south and the Mediterranean climate of the L.A. Basin. I don't have many chances to get back to the region, but I was at Crystal Cove State Beach early in the summer and had a chance to check out some local species. I walked out on the wilderness bluffs above the beach and didn't see much of anything. The drought has really put the hurt on the coastal chaparral. I walked back to the car, and there was a thrasher, not two feet from my front tires! I'm assuming it is a California Thrasher (Toxostoma redivivum). It is one of a fairly short list of California endemic bird species (I tend to group Baja and Alta California together). They've been noted in the Sierra Foothills and Coast Ranges in my area of Central California, but I've yet to see one there.
It was admittedly not the best day to be at the beach, given the overcast, but it was really nice to see an uncrowded beach in Southern California. Crystal Cove is a state park just south of Corona Del Mar in Orange County. Getting to the beach requires a walk of a few hundred yards, which is more than a lot of people want to do.