Friday, October 31, 2014
On a 2009 field trip with my students in Kauai, we were driving down the hill from Waimea Canyon (the Grand Canyon of the Pacific). I had been on the lookout for native birds all day, and had little success. As we drove by the lower end of the canyon, I was shocked to see an owl on a tree top just a short way off the highway. It was a Hawaiian Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus sandwichensis), a subspecies of Short-eared Owls found on all continents except Antarctic and Australia. Called Pueo by the native Hawaiians, the bird is revered as one of their ancestral spirits.
The owls are having a hard time of it. They nest on the ground and thus are subject to predation by the hated mongooses, rats, and cats. Mongooses were never introduced on the island of Kauai, so the owls are doing somewhat better there.
It was a thrill to see one relatively close, and willing to have a few photos taken. I hope to get back to the islands soon. I truly miss them (it's been four years...).
Thursday, October 30, 2014
dropping from an estimated 180,000 individuals to only 90,000 or so. The survivors had some resistance to the virus, so the population has rebounded in recent years. It would have been a real shame to lose these beautiful and unique birds. I've enjoyed watching the flocks in my neighborhood pasture and on the west campus as well.
Wikipedia article on the ancient birds, they also noted the resemblance.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
|Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)|
This morning I was walking towards my building when I heard an unusual bird calling out, echoing off the buildings around me. I wondered if it was a hawk, but it sounded a bit more melodious than most hawks I've heard (which aren't that many, really). I looked up and finally saw it in the Deodar tree on the east side of the parking lot. It was a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), quite likely the one I've photographed once or twice before. It looked like it was greeting the sunrise, much as I was.
It was a nice moment in the quiet morning before things got crowded and hectic.
Source: Wikipedia (Tony Phillips)
Monday, October 27, 2014
|No, this picture isn't upside down, the bird was.|
Sunday, October 26, 2014
|Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) at Chaw'se|
I've had four of the last five weekends taken up with field trip commitments. I would never complain about a job that sends me on the road with students, but it felt a bit hectic. So what did I do with my first free weekend in more than a month? I hit the road of course!
There was a difference this time. Mrs. Geotripper and I took a couple of folding chairs and set them up in the middle of the meadow at Chaw'se, the Indian Grinding Rock State Park in the Sierra Nevada above the Gold Rush town of Jackson. And we sat for two hours. We were at the park last week as one of the stops on our study of the geology of the Mother Lode, but the stop was short. This time we just wanted to sit and listen and watch for birds and whatever else might wander by.
I was rewarded with two new species, and a lot of other sightings. New species isn't much of a surprise, as I haven't been at this for long, but it's always fun, even if the bird is relatively common. I just haven't seen them for myself yet.
Today's bird is the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), a member of the woodpecker family that wasn't spending much time pecking at wood. It was foraging on the ground, looking for ants or beetles. The colors and patterns of the bird are striking and unmistakable!
Saturday, October 25, 2014
The herons are found all over North America, especially around wetlands. I've even seen them in my small backyard, but for an unwelcome reason. I looked out one day and saw one in our little fishpond. Before I realized what was going on, most of my goldfish had been consumed. There is a reason I fill the pond with 25 cent feeder goldfish instead of expensive Koi! Thankfully the fishapocalypse has only happened twice over the years.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
30% or so in the last forty years.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
|Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)|
The first is a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) that I've seen a couple of times in the last few days. It was perched on a telephone pole at the northeast edge of the campus.
|White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)|
|Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana)|
If it is red and white, then blue must be next. There have been dozens of Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) on campus these last few days. They have been mostly around the cattle pastures, looking for bugs in the grass.
|So...Purple or House Finch?|
Sunday, October 19, 2014
By my own self-imposed rules, I'm trying not to repeat a species on my "Bird of the Day" posts until I've run out of new ones. I've decided I can make exceptions for vastly better pictures of a species, and also those of a different gender. Thus, since the pictures I posted a few days ago of a Western Bluebird were fuzzy and indistinct, and also males of the species, we are seeing Western Bluebirds today, the females. Like many bird species, they are less vividly colored than the males.
|Is this one of the Angry Birds?|
These Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) were at the Kennedy Mine Tailings Wheels Park in Jackson up in the Sierra Nevada Mother Lode. We were on a geology field studies trip, but had a few moments of spare time as the students explored the full length of the park.
The bluebirds eat insects and sometimes berries, living for most of the year in the mid-elevations of the mountains, up to 5,000 feet or so. Some will move to lower elevations in the winter, and indeed they have been showing up in the pasture back home, and on our west campus.
The site, the Kennedy Tailings Wheels in Jackson, is part of the history of the Gold Rush in California. The Kennedy Mine was one of the largest of the Gold Rush, ultimately producing 1.7 million ounces of gold from around 150 miles of tunnels reaching a depth of nearly 6,000 feet beneath the surface. The mine produced a great deal of waste material, and when a mishap occurred that sent poisonous waste through town and into the water supply (hey, accidents happen you know), they were compelled to send their wastes elsewhere. The giant wheels were designed with buckets that lifted the material to a flume at a higher level, and eventually over two ridges to a newly constructed reservoir. What was once a barren hillside in a mining/industrial complex is today a quiet corner of mature oak trees and ponderosa pines, with a nice collection of birds to watch for.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
To the surprise of perhaps no one, I was on the road again, this week with a field class studying the geology of the California Mother Lode. We made a stop at Chaw'se (Indian Grinding Rock) State Park near the town of Volcano to have a look at a gigantic slab of marble covered by more than a thousand grinding mortars.
The species is quite common, although I am chagrined to say that I had not noticed them prior to the start of my neighborhood odyssey of birding last November. I've now seen them up in the Sierra Nevada foothills, on the west campus of my college (see the last picture below), and one morning last winter, on my back porch, catching bugs around the porch light like a little bat.
They have a more intense coloration during the breeding season, as evidenced by this shot (below) of a visitor to my third floor corridor on the west campus. It held still long enough for three or four shots.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Zonotrichia atricapilla). I've only recognized it once before (remember, I'm still new at this!), and it stuck around long enough for pictures.
The Golden-crowned Sparrow apparently isn't a year-round resident around here. They breed in the far north and spend the winter in California and northern Mexico. They are closely related to the White-crowned Sparrows and are thought to have branched off from them in recent geologic time. The White-crowned Sparrows are found across North America while the Golden-crowned are mostly a west coast species.
The Tuolumne River is a real treasure. It has its more famous sections up in Yosemite National Park (Tuolumne Meadows and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne), but it adds a thread of life to the arid floor of the Great Valley where I live. I could be accused of taking it for granted sometimes (though I disagree, mostly), but had a small realization the other day. Mrs. Geotripper was looking at some pictures a friend from southern California had posted, and asked "Do you know where this river is?" Her friend had called it a bit of paradise. I looked and realized she was talking about the river in our own backyard. The friend just happened to be visiting our town, and recognized just how precious the river was.