Sunday, October 19, 2014

Bird of the Day: Western Bluebird at the Kennedy Tailings Wheels in Jackson, CA

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.

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