Friday, January 9, 2015
Bird of the Day: Bushtits, too cute for words
We found a new place to search for birds yesterday. We had gone east on Highway 132 into the Sierra Nevada foothills near Turlock Lake looking for a Bald Eagle that we first saw a few weeks ago (we found it too, but it was too far away for any really good pictures). We decided to explore a bit further and found a wilderness area administered by Stanislaus County. It's called the Joe Domecq Wilderness (yes, that's spelled right). It was sort of a surprise because we had been in the area many times in the past and had never noticed it, despite an obvious sign. I knew it was there somewhere, but for various reasons kept looking for it on the wrong side of the road, again, despite an obvious sign! I would have trouble finding the nose on my face if it came down to it.
In any case, we got out and wandered through the reclaimed gold dredging site, which included a pond, tule swamp, cottonwood trees, and a eucalyptus grove. Birds were all around us although they didn't necessarily make it easy for us to photograph them. Except for the Bushtits.
There were several dozen of them working their way through a brushy thicket. As long as I stood still they didn't seem too concerned about my presence, and eventually some of them were hopping on branches only about five feet away from my face. The only problem is that they couldn't stay still! For every picture you see here, there are ten discarded photos showing bird butts, out-of-focus wing blurs, and empty branches. A few of them came out, so we get to see these very small, very cute birds up close.
The Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus) is a bird of the American West and Mexico, with a range that extends from Washington to Mexico, and from Colorado/New Mexico to the California Coast. They build hanging nests that are described as remarkable (although we didn't see any this time), and will sometimes communally raise their young.
I don't know if serious birders are allowed to say "ah, cute", but I certainly couldn't help myself. I should add my usual disclaimer: I'm new at this game; I'm pretty sure it's a Bushtit, but the hooked bill makes me worry that this could be a flycatcher or some other "little gray bird". I welcome gentle corrections!