Sandhill Cranes the other day because they were foraging a bit closer to the road which they avoided in previous weeks because plenty of food was available in more remote locations. Because we had some early heavy rains this fall, and fog ever since, I'm hopeful that the growth of grasses and marsh plants will be sufficient to give the birds enough energy to begin their northern migrations in a few weeks.
There were several other bird species hanging out with the cranes, including a few dozen Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons). These geese have one of the widest ranges in the world, being known from Europe, Russia and northern Asia, Greenland, and northern Canada. In North America, they have a divergent range, including the summer breeding grounds on the North Slope of Alaska and Canada, and wintering grounds along the Pacific Coast, and on the Texas plains leading into Mexico.
Friday, January 30, 2015
Thursday, January 29, 2015
In any case, I hope this poor pheasant gets her wish (either, I imagine, to get sneak in, or to engineer a jail break for the rest of the flock to get them all out).
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
short video of some of them in this post). It's not that long before they start heading north again. I'm glad I had a chance to see them up close!
Monday, January 26, 2015
Sierra Nevada that aren't Yosemite, I've been going through the fall field trip files looking for pictures and remembered there were some birds that didn't make it onto this blog at the time. They included a fast-moving group of small birds at the Schulman Grove of Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains across the Owens Valley from the Sierra Nevada.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
The White-headed Woodpecker is a bird of the western mountains, with a range extending from British Columbia to Southern California, but no further east than Idaho or western Nevada. They live pretty exclusively in montain forests. I've only seen them once before, with equally fuzzy photographic results, at the Columns of the Giants on the Stanislaus River in the Sierra Nevada, a few miles south of Calaveras Big Trees (below). I'll keep at until I get some sharp pictures!
Saturday, January 24, 2015
|Golden Eagle above Sonora Pass in the Sierra Nevada|
Twice on the Eastern Sierra Nevada field studies trip we saw what most of us agreed were Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos). The profile against the sky at least looks right, though as always I am open to gentle correction. The Golden Eagle is one of the largest and fastest of the raptors, capable of 200 mph dives. According to the Cornell birding site, the birds escaped most of the worst of the DDT poisonings in the 50s and 60s because their usual prey, small mammals, were less likely to consume the pesticide, unlike fish and birds. Their populations have been relatively stable, though they continue to die mostly at the hands of humans (they are protected by federal law).
|Golden Eagle above Crowley Lake in the eastern Sierra Nevada|
Monday, January 19, 2015
The gloomy weather didn't keep me from trying, though. I headed up along the Tuolumne River to the Joe Domecq Wilderness Park in the lower Sierra Nevada foothills to see what was out and about. I've seen Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) before, but it's been rare that I have caught sharp pictures (mainly these at Chaw'se). But there they were, a number of them flitting about through the trees. I took what pictures I could, as I slogged through the marshy grasses getting wet, cold feet.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
once at Chaw'se, and another time on the west campus. I saw one in the backyard very early one morning catching bugs near the porch light, but I didn't think much of it, since the only birds we've ever seen consistently are the finches and sparrows around the bird feeders.
Monday, January 12, 2015
It was easy to see why the fishing was good. Merced Falls lake was way down so the water was shallow, and the resident fish had much less shelter to hide in. In the picture below all the rocks in the background are usually submerged.
The Merced River is currently the southernmost Sierra Nevada River that supports salmon, but as of 2007, they were not able to get past Crocker-Huffman dam about three miles downstream of our location. There was a feasibility study in 2007 that explored the possibility extending their range, but I don't know if anything was done about it. I'm sure the Ospreys would be in favor of it!
Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) are well-adapted to fishing, able to dive as much as three feet into the water to capture their prey (fish makes up 99% of their diet). They have barbs on their feet that allow them to grip their slippery targets.
The widespread use of DDT in the 1950s and 1960s nearly did in the Osprey. Their population crashed, and it was only after the use of the pesticide was banned that their numbers began to climb again. According to the Cornell Bird site, there are about 500,000 across North and South America.
There is a huge Osprey nest on a post near the reservoir. We'll be keeping an eye on developments there during the spring!
Saturday, January 10, 2015
Turlock Lake State Recreation Area is a reservoir that stores irrigation water for the valley floordownstream. It consists of low hills composed of gravel and sand washed down ancient rivers of the Sierra Nevada. The site is mostly composed of grassy hills with occasional oak woodlands, and some landscaped trees and shrubs around the parking areas. We've not fully explored the birdwatching possibilities of the park, but we occasionally stop by, especially since seeing the Bald Eagle there last November. We stopped in for a few minutes the other day, and saw a Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus) on the fencing along the high ridge above the reservoir. It was kind enough to stay still for several shots.
Friday, January 9, 2015
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!
Thursday, January 8, 2015
The American Robin is of course one of the most common birds in North America, with an estimated population of around 300 million. Many of those from the north country migrate into the southern states and California for the winter. Apparently this crew likes our area for overwintering, or at least a brief stop. We'll see if they're still around in the coming weeks.