Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Cinnamon Teals at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge near Williams in California's Great Valley is a serene place at times. If you are in an area where the Snow Geese are roosting, it can be raucous and loud. But if they're off in some other part of the refuge, the scene can be peaceful and quiet. A lot of birds will be spending their time resting.
The Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera) is making a first appearance here at Geotripper Birds. We saw quite a few of them at the "park and walk" area on the southeast corner of the autotour. The males are a striking shade of, well, cinnamon, with fiery orange eyes.
The Cinnamon Teal has an interesting range. In summer, they are found across the entire American west from Texas to British Columbia. They migrate into Mexico for the winter, although year-round populations are present in central California. There is an entirely separate population in South America, mainly in Argentina.
The Cinnamon Teals are dabbling ducks, tipping into the water to get at vegetation and insects. Their numbers are not known, although they are common enough to be hunted regularly. The Cornell Bird site suggests that their numbers have declined in the last forty years, which is not a surprise, given the loss of wetlands across their habitat.
I'd like to know what these two were arguing about...
Our day was rich with ducks, so look for more pictures soon...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Letting Sleeping Owls Lie in the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

We had a long drive home from Oregon this past weekend, but we couldn't just pass up the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge near Williams in the northern Great Valley. There's a six mile long autotour that rarely disappoints. As we passed a lone tree along a section of the tour, a tree called the "Owl Tree", we were surprised beyond measure that it contained a pair of Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus). Neither one seemed overly concerned that we were driving by (and babbling with excitement).

It was a good day at the refuge. Look for a few more pics before long...

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Great Blue Heron at Ashland, Oregon

I guess I have to admit that I like Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias), since they've been profiled here six times now. including a life-and-death struggle with Bald Eagles on Vancouver Island a year ago. We were taking a short break this afternoon at the roadside rest near Ashland, Oregon, when Mrs. Geotripper spotted a heron in the nearby field. I snapped a few pictures, as well as a video of the heron hunting. It's fascinating to watch how they hold themselves so steady as they walk forward. Although it didn't catch anything while I filmed, I can't doubt that some kind of amphibian or bug became a meal tonight. They seem very patient...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Western Meadowlark on the Oregon Coast

I'm sure it's not unusual, but walking along the Siuslaw River estuary on the central Oregon coastline, I was expecting to see all manner of shorebirds, and the odd crow or maybe even a Bald Eagle that has been said to be lurking nearby. I wasn't really expecting to see a Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), but that was what I got pictures of this morning. Thinking back, it wasn't that strange, as the vegetated dunes that characterize this section of the Oregon coast are covered with grasses that make for excellent habitat for the Meadowlarks. In any case, it's always a delight to see one.

Monday, November 21, 2016

California Quail at Pinnacles National Park

The California drought, five years and counting, has had a devastating effect on the state, but some areas in Northern California were a bit closer to normal precipitation this past year. One sign of improvement would be a rebound in bird populations. After five years of limited plant growth, a wet year would mean more food and shelter.

I have no idea if that is actually the explanation, but during our field studies journey through Pinnacles National Park this last weekend, I saw hundreds of California Quail (Callipepla californica), instead of the usual dozens. I saw most of them as we drove along the roads, but when I walked the lower part of Bear Gulch, this female stuck around just long enough for a picture.

The California Quail is the state bird of California, but its range extends from the southern tip of Baja California north to the Canadian border. They are mainly ground-dwellers, moving about in large coveys. By preference, they melt into the vegetation when an intruder comes near, but will fly for cover if startled.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Wrentit at Pinnacles National Park

I hope you enjoy this picture, because it was a lot of work to get it! It's my first sighting and first ever picture of a Wrentit (Chamaea fasciata). I got the picture while hiking in Pinnacles National Park in the Central California Coast Ranges. I was on the Six Bridges Nature Trail in lower Bear Gulch on the east side of the park when I noticed some small birds hopping through the shrubs next to the trail. Most of them flushed as I walked by, but one of them kept searching for bugs on the far side of the bush. I stood quietly, hoping it would move into view, because I could see it was a new species for me. The intense eyes were intriguing. I wasted ten shots as it moved around, and it finally came into view and I got the only picture I was happy with.

The guides describe the bird as hard to see, and I have to agree! It is a species of the west coast of North America, living in chaparral and thickets in the coastal mountains and Sierra Nevada foothills. Its range extends from Oregon to Mexico. Although the name mentions two different groups, the wrens and tits, it is actually related to neither. There are no similar species in North America. According to the Cornell bird site, their closest relatives are in Africa, Spain, India, and China. The site also mentions that they may be most sedentary bird in North America, as they tend to range no more than 1,300 feet from their birthplace.

It's always a thrill to add a new bird to your list!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

American Kestrel at the San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge

There were rumors "flying" about in birding circles this week about a Brant that made an appearance at the Beckwith Road viewing platform. Well, not rumors, it was actually there. It's only the fourth appearance by this goose species ever in our county. I'm not quite to the place where I drop everything in an effort to see a single rare bird, but I was in town on errands, so I went on out to the San Joaquin NWR to see what was happening. It was early in the afternoon which is not the best time to see the birds, and my low expectations were fulfilled. The geese flock was nearly a mile away. There was not much else going on, but as I was leaving, I saw an American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched on the telephone wires.
It was not as skittish as they often are, and didn't fly off, so I got a couple of shots. They are colorful little falcons.

It looks like some Snow Geese and Ross's Geese have begun arriving in the valley. I could see a flock at the pond in the great distance, along with the Cackling Geese.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Moment of Zen for a Crazy Evening: White-faced Ibis at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge

Crazy political day, on the cusp of a new time in the country. It's tense, it's worrisome, so take a moment, take a breath, and enjoy a few pics of a beautiful bird at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge.
It's a White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi), one of the few species of ibis in the United States.
I hope you have enjoyed this moment. If you haven't voted, get on it. The polls close in a few hours!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Downy Woodpecker on the Tuolumne River Parkway Trail

Some days on the Tuolumne River are quiet, and I won't see any birds of note. Other times I will see a new species that I haven't seen before along the trail. My short walk last week felt like the former but turned out to be the latter. As I was wrapping up my stroll, I saw a new bird on the dead cottonwood. It turned out to be a Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens). These are the smallest of the woodpeckers, and are described as very active. That seemed apt; I got lots of pictures, but most were blurry. Not the scene, but the bird itself.
It climbed over and under the dead branches looking for insects. It finally posed for a couple of pictures, and then flew to the adjacent tree, where I saw that it had company!
The Downy Woodpecker is common and ranges widely across North America from Alaska to the Mexican border and the Eastern Seaboard. Obviously, I should be seeing them more often!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Moments of Beauty: Sandhill Cranes at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge

(Yes, this is the same post as the one I just did at Geotripper. For all I know, I may different readers of my two blogs!)
It's no secret to my friends and family that I have followed the political scene closely, as bizarre as it has been. The many discussions and worries lead to all kinds of stress. In times like that, it never hurts to step back a bit and see what is happening at the nearest national wildlife refuge. With that in mind, Mrs. Geotripper and I set out to explore the Merced National Wildlife Refuge today. It's situated darn near the geographical center of the state just south of the town of Merced. 
In the winter months the refuge plays host to tens of thousands of Snow Geese, Ross's Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Sandhill Cranes, all of whom spend their summers in the Arctic. The birds that arrive here have traveled thousands of miles. Not many geese were in attendance today at the refuge, but we were treated with the spectacle of thousands of Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis).
The birds gather thousands strong in several relatively small wildlife refuges in the Central Valley of California. 95% of our valley has been altered for agriculture and urban development, but these islands of wetlands and prairies allow the survival of several million migratory geese and cranes. It's probably a fraction of the number of birds that once filled the pre-western civilization skies, but it is a dramatic sight nonetheless. As we watched, a flock of what must have been close to a thousand birds landed in the fields before us.
The birds in general are doing okay with stable or slowly increasing populations in most areas. They mate for life, and usually raise a single chick each year. They would be vulnerable to the destruction of the wetland habitats that they prefer.
One more marvelous aspect of the Sandhill Cranes is their intriguing call. It's hard to describe, but it reminds me of the purring of a cat, amplified hundreds of times. Because of the bass tones, individual birds can be easily heard from a good half mile away. When thousands of birds are together, the sound is riotous. Check out my video from this afternoon below...

Friday, November 4, 2016

Ruby-crowned Kinglet on the Tuolumne River Parkway Trail

Ruby-crowned Kinglets (Regulus calendula) are common enough birds no doubt, but for this amateur birder, they are pretty rare. I depend on pictures for the identification of the small birds that flit rapidly through the underbrush, and the Kinglet rarely stays still enough for sharp pictures. Today, one of them cooperated with me for a few moments. I was on my customary exploration of the Tuolumne River Parkway Trail and caught a few shots. It helped that a lot of the leaves in the shrubbery have fallen.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Greater White-fronted Geese the Next to Arrive at the San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge

The next members of the goose parade have arrived at the San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge. I have no idea if they were here last week or not, but I'm only out there for an hour once a week, and can only report on what I see. There were thousands of Cackling Geese in the cornfields, and hundreds of Sandhill Cranes last week, but I didn't notice any Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons). This week I could tell the flock of Cackling Geese had grown considerably (look for a video soon), and the cranes were investigating a plowed field across Beckwith Road towards the Stanislaus River at Caswell. I finished my observations and took off for school. There is a pond close to the highway about half a mile west of the viewing platform, and the previous week it had been occupied by Cackling Geese. I slowed for a look and realized that many of the birds didn't have the white necks, so I stopped for pictures.
We are still awaiting the arrival of the Snow Geese and the Ross's Geese, and maybe some swans. I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Great Egret in the Campus Wetland

The campus wetland, my "mini-wilderness" has been undergoing some changes. The campus is "improving" the road system to give our students better access to the various parking lots, which is a good thing, but part of the process has been to shore up old fencing, and provide new secure fencing on the west boundary of the school property. As a result, I can only walk around three-quarters of the wetland before running into fences. I'm not sure what that will mean for our campus foxes or the other creatures that use the wetland. History generally shows that foxes and the others are pretty resourceful, so they'll probably be okay.

On the other hand, the pond has been dry for months. It serves as the drainage and groundwater recharge basin for the entire west campus, and it has been very dry, to say the least, for the last six months, and for much of the last five years. Consequently, without water there have been few birds hanging around. The last two storms brought some record rainfall totals, though, so I was pleased to see water in the pond, and even a few Mallards in attendance. There was also a Great Egret (Ardea alba), which I haven't seen on campus in months. It was a bit skittish, taking off before I even arrived at the fencing, but it perched in the old cottonwood tree while I walked by, and allowed me a few pictures.
If the pond persists for a few weeks, look for a few more members of the bird community in these posts!.