Sunday, September 14, 2014

Welcome to Geotripper's California Birds!

Yellow-billed Magpie (Pica nuttalli), possibly California's only endemic bird species.
Welcome to Geotripper's California Birds! You possibly know me from my long-running blog Geotripper, which covers geological topics in California and across the American West. As many of my friends know, I have taken up bird photography for the total fun of it, and I have amassed thousands of images of our feathered friends during my travels. I make no pretenses of being an expert on ornithology, and can barely be described as an avid birder (my life list is laughable), but I enjoy the challenge of learning about the rich world that exists around us, even in our own neighborhoods.
Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica) in the local pasture.
No birder would be surprised at this, but I was astounded to find there was a rich and diverse bird population within walking distance of my home in a small farm town in the Central Valley of California. In my ignorance I thought the bird ecosystem consisted of crows, mockingbirds, mourning doves and sparrows. I started walking and photographing the birds in my neighborhood  and local region and soon amassed a list of 70 species. There are lots more to be discovered, as the bird list for my county (Stanislaus) is around 400 strong.
A Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) in my front yard.
So what's ahead? What am I trying to accomplish with this blog? I've been doing this long enough over at Geotripper to know how things will work. My primary goal is educational. I want to get lots of pictures out there that can be used for school projects and teaching. So if you discover this site, feel free to use the pictures in your projects on birds. Like any author/photographer, I would appreciate knowing that you found the site useful, and that my pictures are correctly attributed. If you are seeking pictures for texts or other profit-making objectives, please contact me privately.
A Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) in the Clark Fork of the Stanislaus River in the Sierra Nevada
My second goal is also educational but in a different sense. The old adage "canary in a coal mine" was a real thing. The canaries were more sensitive to bad air than the miners, so if the canary stopped singing, the miners knew to get out of the mine. Birds are very sensitive to changes in the climate and changes to the landscape. California's Central Valley was once a critical part of the North American migratory flyway. Agriculture and urbanization have co-opted 95% of the original landscape, and bird species have been severely impacted. A system of wildlife refuges and natural waterways remain, and so millions of birds still winter in the valley, though only a fraction of what once was. In the larger sense, all ecosystems are being impacted by global warming. We may be on the verge of an extinction event on par with that which destroyed all but the avian dinosaurs. 50% of all bird species are at risk in the coming decades. Let's learn about this together.
The California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus), a bird on the verge of extinction
My third goal is simply to have fun. I have been driving my Facebook friends crazy with daily updates about the birds in my region, and I look forward to sharing my avian adventures more widely.
A slightly younger Geotripper, with friends in Australia.
I hope you will enjoy the adventure. As I said at the outset, I'm no expert, so I welcome any comments or corrections, especially where bird identifications are concerned.

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