Monday, August 27, 2018
Sunday, August 26, 2018
The young bird has a long road ahead, as it will be migrating to South America. According to eBird, the Eastern and Western species of Wood-Pewee are definitely distinct genetically, but aside from their calls they are pretty much identical in appearance. They don't intermingle much in the areas where their ranges overlap in the north, but no one knows if they do so in their southern winter homes. And they don't sing much in the winter!
Monday, August 20, 2018
Saturday, August 18, 2018
Sometimes I'm just really lucky. I'm no expert, not by a longshot, and though I can recognize most of the common species in our area, I'm at a loss when some of the rarer migrants come through. I learn most by repetition, and if I've seen a bird only once or twice previously, I won't be able to pick it out readily. I have to get pictures and pull out the field guides.
That's what happened yesterday. I was keeping a careful eye out for Buntings and Grosbeaks, my most exciting recent discoveries, when another bird landed in the branches in front of me long enough for two quick shots. The distinctive shape of the eye-ring and the bi-colored bill nailed it: a Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis). I've only seen it once before, during the spring migration.
Pacific-slope Flycatcher might seem a slightly clumsy name, but how about Cordilleran Flycatcher? Those are fairly modern terms for a bird that was first described in 1858. Until 1989 the two species were considered to be one: the Western Flycatcher, a more normal-sounding name. The problem is that the species split was based on vocalizations and breeding habits, and in practice the birds are very difficult to tell apart from each other. Some sources on the web suggest that the species split was premature.
In any case, I was lucky to identify this bird as a flycatcher, period. But I was really happy to get a fairly sharp picture (compare it to my last image here), and maybe next time I'll recognize it on sight!.
Friday, August 17, 2018
This morning, though, they weren't nearly so upset when I appeared on the section of the trail overlooking the river. A pair of females were perched on a large tree branch, and even though I was maybe only 150 feet away, they hung around. They didn't fly off until I turned to walk on down the trail.
The rust colored feathers on the breast indicate the female. The males have a white breast.
Thursday, August 16, 2018
That identification immediately led me to realize that I had photographed this species a few other times, but was frustrated by my failure to accurately identify the birds. I went searching and found even better pictures in the archives. I just need to remember that if I see a yellow-olive colored bird with a thin bill and half-arcs around the eyes, and NO ORANGE, it logically must be an Orange-crowned Warbler!
Monday, August 13, 2018
I don't know who is responsible for the names of the different flocks of birds, but somehow a grouping of woodpeckers is a "kettle". I was running errands today in the La Loma area of Modesto and passed Kewin Park, a notable birding spot in the middle of town. Dry Creek runs through the park, and a nice riparian habitat has been maintained along the length of the creek which ironically is often not dry (miles and miles of irrigated fields upstream provide runoff during the dry summer). I saw a gathering of Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) so I jumped out and snapped a few pictures.
The woodpeckers live in communal groups in the oak woodlands of the west from Oregon to Central America. As their name suggests, they consume acorns. They store vast numbers of them in holes that they drill into tree trunks that are called granaries. Single trees can have tens of thousands of these stored acorns, and they are carefully guarded. One can often hear their distinctive 'waka waka' long before seeing them.
Sunday, August 12, 2018
The river runs low this time of year as the operators at Don Pedro Reservoir upstream are very sparing with their water releases. The water is shallow and clear, so I guess the fishing is pretty good for the Ospreys (and the salmon run will be starting soon).
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Whenever I see a new or unusual bird, I go with whatever pictures I'm able to get. Take for example the Lazuli Bunting I saw this morning for the first time. I have no idea if I'll ever get a chance to take better pictures, so the ones I have get posted. Well, yesterday I saw a Rufous Hummingbird as I was walking and I got some okay pictures, so they got posted yesterday. Then today, one of them landed right in front of me, wondering, no doubt, whether I needed to be chased away (they are highly pugnacious that way: they take on much bigger birds at times). I snapped a couple of close-up shots, and here is the best one. I suppose tomorrow it will land in my hand or something...
Eventually the male Bunting flew off. Another bird perched near the same spot, and at the distance I thought the male had returned. I snapped a few more pictures and found it was not the male after all. I suspect this is a female, but I would appreciate some expert opinions from those who are more familiar with these birds than I am.
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
I guess they may be starting to move south for the winter (there have only been three sightings in Stanislaus County in the last 30 days). I couldn't help but notice they were in the same wild tobacco bush where I saw them last spring. The Cornell Lab mentions that the birds have an excellent memory for location.
Monday, August 6, 2018
There were also a number of them resting on the entrance station at Cape Disappointment State Park in the southwest corner of the state.
now almost exclusively build their nests in human structures.
It will be a sad enough day when they disappear from our region in the fall, but it's nice to know that they will be back next year.
Saturday, August 4, 2018
Steller's Jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) aren't rare, but the one we saw at did something a bit odd. It spread out its wings and flattened itself onto the fence. I didn't understand what was going on at the time, but I later found that it was probably "anting". The bird may be spreading ants on its wings as a way of making a chemically hostile environment for mites and other parasites.
Steller's Jays are a familiar sight in western conifer forests, with a range that extends from Central America to Alaska. They are almost never found at my home in the Central Valley, but it is a rare trip to the local mountains that doesn't have a sighting or two or a dozen. They are the most common nuisance bird at campgrounds and picnic areas with the possible exception of Common Ravens.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park preserves some beautiful old-growth Redwood forests along the so-called Avenue of the Giants (an old section of Highway 101 repurposed into a tourist route). It's a wonderful cool destination when the temperature soars in other parts of the western states.
Thursday, August 2, 2018
There were a number of birds about, but the prettiest were the Western Bluebirds (Sialia Mexicana). There was a family, or several families, and I was able to get pictures of some of the slightly plainer looking females who were busy feeding some fledglings (above, with the spotted breast). The males are a showier bright blue, but in this instance I didn't get clear shots (check the archives to the right if you want to see a few; they are a favorite of mine to post).
so we didn't see any bears like we did last year, but Mrs. Geotripper heard one right outside our tent in the middle of the night. I of course slept through the whole thing.