Friday, December 31, 2010

December 30 2010 - First day in Paradise

Arrived Dec 29 in the late evening.  Small airport at Lihue, and the striking thing is how open the airport is.  Baggage claim area is open to the world.  Ticket counters likewise.  Arrived at the hotel in Kapa'a and the same again.  I love the openness.  The feeling that the whole place is outside.  Inside places feel outside.  And I really like outside!

Awoke to the sound of great chattering in the palm trees outside the window.  Common myna birds.  Lovely birds the size of a blue jay but with a lot of the look of a yellow billed magpie.  VERY noisy.

Ate breakfast next to the pool where we could see the ocean, more myna birds, zebra doves, and pacific golden plovers.

Took a walk and heard some exquisite sounds but have not yet identified who that was.  Sounded like part of the chorus from "New York, New York". Saw western meadowlarks but I do not think this call came from them.  Saw our first red crested cardinals - WOW! gorgeous.  First photos not acceptable, but will get many more chances to try.

Moved on to the condo in Princeville.  Wonderful condo, awesome views (just watched the sun rise over the pacific from the balcony and it was spectacular).

Went driving around.  First stop Kilauea, for fish tacos.  Myna birds and red junglefowl everywhere.  Constant sound of chatter and roosters crowing. Followed this with a trip by Kilauea Lighthouse Point. We had so little time there because they close early but so WOW!! and we will be back.  Watched humpback whales blow and dive, saw lots of wonderful birds including the red footed booby, laysan albatross, frigate bird, white tailed tropic bird, and loads of nene geese with goslings.

 A ranger gave us a marvelous tip for our next stop, along the taro swamps/fields.  The light was a bit poor for shooting but saw some incredible creatures and we must go back with better light.  Among the birds seen here were cattle egrets, Hawaiian ducks, stilts, coots, moorhens, more red crested cardinals, a japanese bush warbler, and a hwamei (amazing! really cool eye).

 Taking a more wide angle view, the mountains, the ocean, the flowers, and the lush vegetation are simply astonishing everywhere you look.  We finished the day with a short walk on the beach at Hanalei. A perfect day in paradise.

Pictures from day 1 are here:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

October 23 2010 - Coyote Hills Regional Park

A Flickr contact, Harjeet Singh, turned us on to this superb location.  It is a bit of a drive for us, but OH so worth it.  The park boasts a very diverse set of habitats - hills, bay, sloughs, nectar garden - and hence also has a diverse set of fauna that frequent the park.  There are so many ways to enjoy this place, and one can come up with any number of walks to take.

In the nectar garden you will usually find 3 or more photographers sitting quietly and patiently to see who will show up for the adoring paparazzi.  Warblers, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and thrushes seem to appear magically from nowhere.  Depending on the time of day the light ranges from heavenly to a bit challenging, but it is always a divine place to sit and soak in some serenity, and so far we have never been disappointed.  The birds are attracted to the lovely variety of colorful nectar flowers and the array of fine bird baths and fountains.  Below is a fox sparrow looking up from his bath.

There are large oaks, sycamores and eucalyptus surrounding the nectar garden area, and you can frequently find a lot of interesting creatures in these trees.

The hills are home to a large number of raptors, and there is ample rodent life to support this population.  We almost always see multiples of red tailed hawks, harriers, kestrels, and white tailed kites.  Harjeet has also captured a golden eagle juvenile and a great horned owl in this area.

The walk along the bay provides some amazing views.  On a clear day one can see San Francisco, Oakland, the bridges, and Mount Tamalpais, along with all of the baylands across the water.  The ripe smell of the bay can be a bit overpowering, but the view is worth it.  Great egrets, herons, snowy egrets, and american white pelicans are flying overhead or foraging in this area.

The slough paths are delightful.  Some boardwalks have been created that cut through high reeds and there is a great feeling of solitude walking these paths.  Here you are likely to see a broad variety of ducks, shoreline waders, more harriers and kites, and if you are lucky perhaps a secretive sora, marsh wren, or rail may pop out from the reeds.  The twittering of the marsh wrens inside the reeds makes a lovely background sound as you walk through the high reeds.

More from Coyote Hills here:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

September 25 2010 - Such a Perfect Day

(cue the Lou Reed song...)

Decided to live this weekend like it might be my last on planet earth, and it was a very fine time.

Saturday was endless great music in the car, too many cappuccinos, and 2 beautiful coastal sites that we drank in until sunset.  First up was our favorite park, Point Lobos, south of Carmel.  The lot was full, but strangely the paths did not seem crowded.  We wondered where all the people had gone.  Saw two distant otters and several of this year's harbor seals. Spent a lot of time in the grove with the old lichen covered twisted trees and enjoyed the views inland and out to sea.  Such an amazing place!

Tom spotted a Townsend's Warbler and I got two mediocre shots of it before it flew and hid.  Nice little bird, and the first time we have seen one, but I was pretty sure of what it was anyway.

From there we traveled north to Sunset Beach and had a great long walk.  Virtually noone ventures beyond maybe 300 feet of the picnic area at this beach, so again it was like we were on our own completely.  However a large crowd did show up to watch and photograph the sunset , which was gorgeous.

More photos here:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

September 19 2010 - I am a hunter

It has occurred to me more than once, as I step carefully through the woods, that I am a hunter.  Not the kind of hunter that actually kills, but in all other ways almost identical.  I dress to camouflage myself.  I walk quietly.  I "shoot", and my equipment needs to be light enough to walk for miles. I listen carefully, watch carefully, and know where to look for my "prey".  I capture trophies, even display them.

Last weekend it occurred to me that photographers who shoot wildlife are typically hunters or fishermen.  The hunters, as described above, need lighter weight equipment as they stalk the wildlife.  Fishermen find a good spot, settle in, and wait for their fish to show up.  They frequently put out bait (backyard feeders, say), or find areas that attract fauna in good numbers.  These photographers can bring out the big glass, balanced on tripods, like sports photographers can.  They can sit comfortably like fishermen, hang out, and maybe even have a quiet chat or two.

I do an occasional bit of fishing in my own backyard, but I have the soul of a hunter....

Sunday, August 29, 2010

August 29 2010 - A day by the bay

As previously stated, during these late summer days the best chances for any kind of "fauna" action are at the coast, by the bay, or in the backyard. These are the places where food is still abundant.

Last post covered the coast so today it is the bay.  Yesterday we visited Mountain View Shoreline Park.  It is truly one of the best places to walk in the bay area.   Shoreline Lake, the various sloughs, the power towers, various little islands, the shoreline brush and trees and the bay itself all become host to an enormous diversity of creatures large and small.  You can take a different path every time you visit, walk for miles, and still come up with a completely different experience. Yesterday we walked to and past the Shoreline Lake area, crossing over Permanente Creek and then onto the Stevens Creek trail.

Tide was out, and the forebay area was mainly filled with dowitchers and a handful of avocets, snowy egrets, and great egrets, all with bills deep in mud.

Surprisingly, did not see a single black crowned night heron.  There have been dozens in the marshy areas at this San Antonio entrance area every visit for the past year.  Hiding well at least for today.

At the lake we saw a few female plumaged surf scoters - likely immature birds. Also saw several cormorants, great and snowy egrets, pied billed grebes, coots, and of course a lawn filled with canadian geese.  Some of these were just so fat that they lay on the lawn splayed on their bellies while snarfing up bills full of fresh grass.

Along the Stevens Creek trail the bay shore was a heavy slick of green and pink brine.  There were clearly hordes of bugs there and lots of birds getting in on that action, especially egrets, forster's terns and gulls.  The smell was not delicious for us, but enjoyed the chance to see and shoot these birds in their feeding action poses.

I had been hoping to see and shoot some harriers or hawks, so was delighted when we started seeing a collection of turkey vultures and a few hawks milling around in the sky.  One juvenile red tailed hawk descended to one of the small hills inland and was closely followed and watched by two vultures.  He had something that they wanted to get in on and were edging in on him.  The hawk  flew off by himself to a second small hill area and we followed him to see what he had.  At first there seemed to be nothing there, but the hawk continued to strike very odd poses.  Then there was a small hop followed by several more small hops.  We thought then that it must be a frog.  These were all hops pretty much straight up in the air, maybe 4-6 inches.  But eventually we moved in close enough to see that it was a small mouse.  No idea why it moved in such a strange way, but it must have already been injured by the hawk in transit.  The hawk poked at the mouse with it's beak, just to make it jump, and then walked around or hopped around after it.  It was exactly what you would expect from a cat, but certainly had never seen a hawk exhibit this kind of behavior.
The hawk was so completely pre-occupied with his catch that he allowed me to get very close to him and shoot endless photos.  I have seen that behavior before from a juvie red tailed hawk with prey.

More complete series of photos here:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

July already - where does the time go?

It's late July, and yet we have really not yet had a summer heat wave here.  Remarkable, and great, if you are a person that walks every day.  It is hot enough though that most animals are chilling it by hiding in the trees and brush.  My only photo opps are in the backyard, by the bay, or at the coast.  Have had some really fantastic walks by the sea - favorite places are Point Lobos and now Andrew Molera.

Point Lobos has stunning views of the coast, tons of wild life, and incredible rocks and trees.  Nature does not get better than this:

More of the beautiful Point Lobos here:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Nest Statistics - June 25 2010

It has been almost two months since my last entry.  TOO MUCH WORK!!! Oh well, it does pay the bills.

It's time to go back over the notes and pics and come up with some nest stats:

***red shouldered hawk nest #1:

first mating activity seen on March 6

first saw hawk sitting on the nest March 13

first saw chicks May 22, fuzzy white heads

2 chicks quite large on June 6

***red shouldered hawk nest #2 :

mating recorded on March 28

first chicks actually seen on June 2

two hawk chicks total.  One is developing far faster than the other and is getting large and dark while the smaller one is still quite downy and white. still not fledged as of June 25

***red tailed hawk nest #1 :

first saw hawk on nest March 15

first saw chicks May 2

saw 2 very large hawk chicks on the nest as late as June 20..these two fledged long after the first 2, but are finally gone

***red tailed hawk nest #2 :

first saw a hawk sitting on the nest on Feb 14, also prepping with materials

protective behavior March 13

first saw hawk sitting at edge of nest, probably hatch time frame  April 22

saw active chicks May 2

counted 5 chicks total by May 15

first saw a fledge fly on June 2

last saw 1 hawk sitting on the nest on June 16

***white tailed kite nest :

first saw brooding hawk April

small white heads Jun 2

first flying and 2 chicks fledged on June 18

all fledged by June 24

new mating for possible second clutch, June 13/ June 20

lots of nest pics:

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May 1 2010 - What do I shoot with?

So this is my photography journey so far....

I started shooting with a digital camera in 2004, with a 4 MP, 3x optical zoom Canon Elph.  Wow, at that time this was about $425!! I had played around with non digital photography in the past, but never went very far with it.  It was mainly something that I did on vacation, and I enjoyed it but found it cumbersome to send out film etc.  I never would have been a darkroom type person, because I would not be able to cope with the smell of that.

As soon as I went digital I was hooked.  I loved the ability to instantly see the results on my laptop, edit/crop/arrange and I fell in love with the new hobby.  I am clearly the outdoorsy type so this was more about nature photography than anything else, although grandchildren are a fine subject when they don't mind me taking their picture.

It wasn't long before I wanted to work with a better camera.  However, I just did not think I would be able to cope with a camera of any kind of weight at all.  I had injured my neck long ago, and had 2 disks removed in 2003 and replaced with cadaver bone, all laced together with titanium plates and screws.  My arms were not very strong, and I feared that they never would regain much of their strength.  I bought a better camera for Tom, an 8MP Canon with 12x zoom, and I was envious of the better results that he was getting for birds up in the trees.  But I kept with the Elph for quite a long time.  My next purchase was not until 2007.

So the next experiment was still a very small point and shoot, but by this time these were now much cheaper and had much more power.  I tried a Panasonic with 8 MP and 10x zoom.  I almost immediately missed the Canon color and image quality, but loved the 10x reach and got a few very nice and interesting shots with this camera.  It was very small and I still did not think I could work with anything larger.

When my quarter century of IBM rolled around, in early 2008, I picked out a camera as my gift.  It was a Sony 10 MP with 15x zoom.  Compared to my previous cameras this point and shoot was a big camera.  But I found that I really could handle it and was very excited by the reach.  I found an owl's nest at the lab and took some fairly outstanding pictures of the baby owls.  I went to Portland to visit a friend and loved what I captured at the zoo.  I would say that my hobby at this point became an obsession.  I added an extender lens to the Sony unit and started shooting with that.  Quite heavy now, I could still manage to hold it steady, but a monopod was a nice addition to my kit.

But despite the results that I was getting with the Sony and the Panasonic, I still yearned for the Canon color and image quality.  The next foray was with the Canon G9.  This is a very sweet little point and shoot camera.  12 MP and 6x zoom, and there are quite a few great attachments for this camera.  Extender lens, wide angle lens, etc.  I still have this camera and it is worth more today than it was when I bought it.  Canon has created a G10 and a G11 since, and I feel that the G9 was better than the subsequent editions.  I enjoyed using this camera so much that I sold back the Panasonic and the Sony.  The elph had long ago gone to live with my friend Doo.

I worked with the G9 for quite some time, and was still certain that I would never have the strength to get to a DSLR with a lens that had decent reach.  I believed that this would always be beyond MY reach.  But with a cool European trip on th horizon in 2009, I started getting very excited by the new "superzoom" point and shoots on the market, and ended up buying a Nikon P90 to take on the trip.  This camera had 12 MP and a zoom to 24x.  All in quite a lightweight camera.  I must say that this was an outstanding camera.  And all along the way something had been happening to me while using successively larger and larger cameras, and shooting more and more.  I was getting stronger.  This was, as it turns out, the best physical therapy that anyone could have ever suggested for my condition.

In 2009 I started doing a lot more studying.  I was reading more about photography, about birds, and about bird photography.  One thing that I realized was that a point and shoot camera was never going to get me what I most wanted to achieve.  Because of the nature of a point and shoot camera, it is nearly impossible to freeze birds in flight.  But having tried the impossible for so long, I was getting better at using a camera!  In the fall of 2009, I finally broke down and bought a lightweight DSLR, the Canon Rebel T1i, with a 70-300 lens.  I had test driven the lens briefly at the B and H mega store in NYC in August, and it is a great lens for the weight.  At first I had to use a monopod with this combination of camera and lens, which together weigh about 2 pounds.  I also grabbed a 400mm prime lens, and a 2x extender.  With the 2x extender on the prime there is only manual focus, the 400mm has no IS, and it is touchy as the devil at that length.  This requires a very heavy steady tripod to manage at that sensitive 800mm focal length, and with a remote shutter so the camera will not have any shake.

Within a few months though, I was shooting with the 70-300 handheld with very little shake problems.  This lens has pretty decent optic image stabilization and that helps a great deal at longer shutter times, but I can manage handheld up to about 1/80.  To wear the lens without destroying my neck, I wear a pack around my waist, such that the end of the lens barrel is sitting and propped by the pouch  which completely takes the weight off my neck.  OK, it puts the weight onto my lower back which is not always so great, but...

Now the latest.  We are planning a raptor expedition trip to Belize and Guatemala in December of this year.  In anticipation of the lower light jungle environment which will be filled with some of the most wonderful birds in the world, I want to be able to wear and shoot with a 400mm.  I have just recently purchased, and am now mainly shooting with, a 100-400mm Canon with image stabilization.  I am thrilled with the results.  I am amazed that I can shoot with this much weight, handheld.  (about 4.5 pounds now)  This would only be possible through this multi-year physical therapy program of increasingly larger and larger cameras.  Get a healthier neck and arms, the B and H way!!!

April 22 2010 - Earth Day Walk

Incredibly lovely late afternoon walk.  The previous day was so wet and windy that we cut our walk short and called it a day, but this afternoon was delicious.  Started with a nice distant view of a kingfisher, flying fairly high following the path of the creek.

We checked in on the many nests, and all were occupied.  Even the red shouldered hawk nest that we thought was abandoned, is again occupied.  The red tailed hawk that we call Yoko was sitting on the side of the nest - we are certain that her chicks have hatched. At that same nest it appears that some smaller birds, finches perhaps, have nested in the lower part of the nest.  No idea if that is really the case, but they are always there, and show nesting behaviors flying in and out.  Previously we thought that they might be stealing nesting materials, but now suspect that they are actually nesting there.  The white tailed kite was also sitting on the side of the nest and gave us a great show of gently climbing back down to sit.

There are loads of western kingbirds now, especially in the sycamores by the airfield.  They sound like a roomful of squeaky toys being stepped on repeatedly.

On our return, at the footbridge, we stopped to watch the tree sparrows flying about in the meadow with their nest boxes.  We then were treated to a troupe of cedar waxwings.  They were a bit far to get good photos, but they were great to observe.  The interesting thing about the waxwings is their troupe behavior.  They stick together as a unit and move almost in synchrony.  I caught some nice shots of them preening in unison.  There was also a beautiful yellow rumped warbler there, whose spring gray plumage was so brilliant that it read a shade of blue.  He matched the tree that he was hopping around on so perfectly that the lens consistently failed to read him properly with AF and he moves too fast for MF.  a shame to not get a good shot of such a nice bird.

Photo set is here:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

April 18 2010 - A Great Weekend

Friday late afternoon we spent a few hours walking on the Coyote Creek Trail.  Tom tried out his new recording equipment and I shot pictures of birds.  Very harmonious parallel activities for us.  There were some beautiful Bullock's Orioles, woodpeckers, jays, hawks - all the usuals. The 2 redtail nests and the kite nest were all occupied.

Saturday we started at Calaveras Reservoir and the bald eagles gave us a great show.  There was an adult on the nest and the 2 chicks were far more active than we expected.  I had seen pictures of fuzzy heads sticking up above the nest line, but we had one chick just jumping and moving all around the nest and a second less active chick popped up from time to time also.   The other adult showed up at one point and landed on the other tower and the 2 adults called to each other. Tom got some great recordings from the reservoir area, and we saw lots of other birds.  We both are recognizing more and more birds "by ear".

After the reservoir we went to Ed Levin Park where I was hoping to see the Calliope Hummingbird that has been seen there daily for the last several weeks.  I again did not see it, but it was a lovely day to be out at the park.  I did see many Anna's Hummingbirds and also a Rufous male.  Got some nice pictures of some male and female Anna's.  Pictures from lately are in this set on Flickr:

Sunday we drove down to Point Lobos and had a great hike.  Beautiful weather, very blue water, tons of wild flowers, and the most delicious aroma of artemesia everywhere.  The harbor seals have pups and there were many moms and pups laying out on rocks together or swimming together in the water.  

Saturday, April 17, 2010

April 17 2010 - Mimics

When I was young, my family went to Florida most winters for a vacation.  We would stay somewhere in St. Petersburg, near the beach.  A regular attraction at that time was Busch Bavarian Gardens in Tampa.  Today this is a major attraction with a lot of rides, shows, and animals, but back then there were trees, birds, and a beer factory.  After a tour of the factory the adults received free beer.  When I was about 7 or 8 I was wandering around looking at the trees and birds, and a bird said to me "Hello little girl".  I was just completely freaked out.  First I thought that someone was hiding in the bushes and trying to frighten me with their very strange voice.  Then I realized it really was the bird talking, and I had NO IDEA that birds could do that.  Of course it was a myna bird, which I found out after finding the rest of my family in a total panic about the talking bird.

I was thinking about this experience in the past week because 2 of our typical mimic birds gave us some really great shows.  Of course most people know about the mockingbird and its wonderful repertoire of great sounds. We have a pair of mockingbirds that are hanging near our house daily and singing some pretty great songs.  But one evening at sunset recently we had a mockingbird swing by and then began to croak like a frog.   Wonderful!

Perhaps less folks know what a wonderful mimic the Stellar's Jay is.  We see these jays every day, both feeding in our backyard as well as everywhere along the trail or at regional parks.  The vocalizations are really great .  The Stellar's can imitate a red shouldered hawk cry with some proficiency, and you need a bit of practice to know the difference.  But the surprise that we had this week was a jay that was on a branch overhanging the creek on Coyote Creek Trail.  We were down by the creek watching some mallards and mergansers, when we heard a very odd quacking.  None of the ducks were making this noise and it took a bit of time to recognize that the quacking was above our heads and coming from the jay!  Very cool mimic, this bird.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

April 10 2010 - Coyote Creek Trail

We are already seeing more quail this year than we have the last few years.  A good trend.  I have been concerned that too many have been nabbed by the new neighborhood cats introduced with the latest subdivisions that have grown up near the creek.

On their nests:  the two red tailed hawk nests are still constantly inhabited.  We discovered a kite nest yesterday, with the lovely long kite tail sticking prominently out in full view:

And a kite nearby was literally screaming, which is what made us see the nest...

This nest is between the two red tailed hawk nests.

The first fairly well hidden red shouldered hawk nest is still active, but the second one that was so very out in the open is abandoned.  There is a constant traffic of vultures perusing the tops of the trees in this area.  Nests in this territory must be very well guarded or they will be lost.

On the other end of the food chain, we observed a small bird stealing twigs from the bottom of one of the red tailed hawk nests.  This shot shows that small bird ( at the bottom) having a rest in between stealing the bits of nest (red tail sticking out above):

Yesterday we saw the first western bluebird that we have ever seen at Coyote Creek.  They are of course very common around here, but we usually see them other places like Henry Coe or Calaveras Reservoir.  We are now seeing our first of season western kingbirds also, and hearing their squeaky twittering everywhere:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

April 2-4 2010 - Coyote Creek Trail

Walked on the trail 4 times in the last 3 days.

Three of the 4 hawk nests are still occupied, but the most exposed red shouldered hawk nest appears to be abandoned these last few days.  This is the nest with the fairly small but very red hawk pair, and this is also the pair that was seen mating again a week ago.  This nest is so exposed that it is possible that it could not be defended, and we see a lot of larger raptors in this area regularly.

Yesterday we saw our first of season Bullock's Orioles.  They showed up as beautiful bursts of color against a very flat white day and mostly leafless pale branched sycamores. The Cornell page states that these birds like tall trees along rivers and streams, and these trees clearly qualify. I think that they should be named beatnik orioles - they look like they are wearing sunglasses and are sporting goatees.  We are also seeing many American finches in their breeding bright yellow feathers now.

I went back out on my own yesterday with my 400mm lens and a monopod.  I am checking out how able I will be to carry that lens around in Belize, and how well it performs with a monopod vs tripod.  It was a fairly quiet afternoon in terms of bird activity.  There was the usual contingent of mallards, mergansers, and wood ducks in the creek near the parking lot.  I got one decent shot of the mergansers, but no luck (again!) with the wood ducks.  I saw a lot of quail in the bushy undergrowth and did get a few shots of them.

I was sitting down by the creek near the oak rest area.  I usually see a lot of small birds in the trees there, but was seeing nothing.  In the far distance towards the south I saw a large raptor and snagged a picture of it, thinking that it really had the strong rectangular shape of an eagle.  With no binoculars, I had to wait until I got home to see that it was a bald eagle!  Very much a surprise from that vantage point.  It must be the Anderson Reservoir bald, but very unusual to be able to see it from where I was located.  We also saw an immature golden eagle on Friday afternoon, at the first of the Ogier ponds.  There is no doubt that my spotting skills are improving.  It helps that I read the south bay birding forum because I have a much better idea of what I might be likely to see at any given time or place, and this makes me more likely to see the birds for what they are.  I am sure that we have been seeing eagles for years and thinking that all of the large dark birds around here were turkey vultures, for example.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

March 28 2010 - Coyote Creek Trail

After many aborted efforts, I finally grabbed an ok shot of the wood ducks on the creek. They are positively outrageous.

Have seen tails, heads, or bodies in all 4 hawk nests through the weekend. One of the red shouldered hawks took a break for some quick afternoon mating.  Is this an insurance bet, in case the first brood of eggs fails?
She immediately returned to the nest and settled back in snugly.  She is a very red and pretty looking bird.

We also saw a coyote head peeking out over the grasses in the meadow.  Large head, very wolf-like.

And speaking of wolf-like, crazy beautiful patches of lupin this year.  The mountains were lovely with color flying back from Chicago on Friday.   Patches of neon green fuzz on the usually very pale brown hills around Pacheco Pass.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

March 16-19 2010 - Seattle

I got out walking Tuesday thru Thursday in Seattle. I saw 2 new birds while I was there - the Pigeon Guillemot and the Red-Necked Grebe. They were both shy and i had to chase them down just to get a distant shot. Both very nice looking birds, great colors. Very bright red feet on the Guillemot.

There were dozens of Barrow's Goldeneyes and they seemed a little bit larger than the ones we have seen at Shoreline, but I might have just been the angle from which I was viewing them. There was some of the cute male display going on, and they had a tendency to travel in straight lines , one behind the other. I got a shot of about 11 of them lined up this way.

On Thursday morning the clouds and fog lifted to reveal: mountains! I knew they were there somewhere. I have to pull some of the panoramic shots together and see what I shot.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March 15 2010 - Coyote Creek Trail Nesting

Today we saw a hawk sitting on the "first" hawk nest along the trail - the one closer to the freeway. This was the first time we saw that happen this year. We did not see or hear hawks on the other redtail nest, and did not see a hawk on or near the red shouldered nest near the freeway. We did not walk back by the other RSHA nest, but we did hear RSHA activity in that area.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

March 13 2010 - Coyote Creek Trail Nesting Activity

Lots to report from the trail today. We walked from the Morgan hill parking lot to the airfield and back. In the meadow just past the footbridge over Coyote Creek, tree sparrows were flying in and out of the nest boxes there, so they appear to be taking up residence now.

Past the point where 101 crosses over the trail, at the "first" redtail hawk nest from last year (easily seen right now with little foliage, on the left but across the trail from the very obvious first sycamores on the right) we still saw no hawk activity.

We also saw no hawk on the next nest from last year, close to the airfield. However, there was a redtail hawk near the nest on a nearby tree. When I raised my lens to shoot this redtail, it responded in a way that was very new to us. Rather than flying away, this bird was almost chasing us away - circling near us and vocalizing. (bird in top photo) We have certainly seen this behavior from other birds, particularly the stilts, but never from a hawk, and we were so far away from the nest. But the behavior was unmistakably protective. I was nearly certain that when we came back we would see a hawk on the nest, and indeed we did (second photo).

There were three kestrels on the sycamore opposite the airfield parking lot.

On our return, on the other side of the creek and just past the "first" redtail nest, I spotted a smallish red shouldered hawk with a pale head. I have taken photos of this bird before in this area. When I went to shoot this bird, it screamed pretty loudly and flew up to a nest that we have not seen before. (fourth picture above) A second red shouldered hawk flew and vocalized around this nest for a while before perching nearby. This really seems to be a new nest because it is in a fairly visible area and we have not seen it before. We have seen a lot of red shouldered activity in this area the last few weeks and have seen as many as four red shouldered hawks circling together. The nest is about midway between the 101 crossover and the "first" redtail nest from last year. It is large but fairly flat, and easily visible across the creek by the orchard.

When we reached the Oak rest area we left the main path and walked on the path by the creek. About half way between the rest area and the bridge over the creek where this path ends, we heard a loud red shouldered hawk shriek and turned around to see yet another red shouldered hawk nest with a head peeking over the top. This hawk continued to vocalize while I captured a few photos.(see the third photo above) The photo does not make it clear that the nest is occupied but we were able to see the bird, and it was very audible. We have seen and heard so many red shouldered hawks in this area this winter that I believe it is likely that there is at least one more nest in this vicinity - we will keep looking for this.

March 6 2010 - Coyote Creek Trail

Last Saturday the trail was again dominated by tree swallow activity. They are sitting on the nest boxes in the meadow near the bridge, and still fighting over every tree with good nestable holes. I like that the pair photographed here seem to be chatting with each other.

There were no hawks on the known nests nor on the nest trees.

There was one pair of very noisy red shouldered hawks, also in the meadow, circling each other and landing on various trees together. This may be the same mating pair observed in this area in previous years. We will start paying attention to that area to see where this pair may nest this year.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

March 1-4 2010 - Yosemite at the end of Winter

An unbelievably great week. Lousy weather had been threatened, but it really did not get in the way at all. Monday we arrived to clear skies, in the afternoon. Tom skated at the outdoor rink while I went off and did some shooting. I decided this week that I am a biathlete - I hike and shoot! I joined a tailgate party at the El Capitan picnic area, where we all waited in hope that the sun would light up horsetail falls with red light. A bit late for that by about a week, but we all had a great time waiting and talking. Met people from all over.

Tuesday we hiked for 6 hours, first to Mirror Lake, then over to Happy Isles and on to the Mist Trail, up to the Vernal Falls view. Little snow and no ice on the trails. It spit rain at times but nothing uncomfortable. Only tucked the lenses away once against the rain. The granite, the mosses and lichens, the tall trees, and the sound and beauty of the water flowing everywhere was enough to take your breath away. I always forget how beautiful Yosemite is, which just makes it possible to rediscover it anew. I loved shooting the valley with the 17-40 wide angle. It did a great job of drinking in whole vistas of granite and mist.

Wednesday it did finally start to rain. We managed to get a very long morning to early afternoon hike in first, mostly in the area of Yosemite falls. We were hiking against the valley walls, and under the trees we heard some very noisy woodpecker activity and stopped to bird for a half hour or so. Stellar Jays jumping all over, a Northern Flicker, Acorn Woodpeckers, and a Downy Woodpecker. We went back to our room when the rain started to come down, but within an hour or so the rain turned to fat white wet snowflakes. As an adventure we decided to walk to dinner in the snow and walk back after in the snow and dark. with flashlights. Great fun. The snowy twilight was gorgeous. Dinner was delicious. The walk back was very interesting and we only got a little bit lost, but figured it out short of making an encore trip to Mirror Lake!

Thursday we woke up to about five inches of wet snow on everything, and misty wreathes around the top of every mountain. The entire valley was lit up with a bright white snowy light, amplified with sunshine and white mist. We had another fabulous hike, this time staying more towards the center of the valley rather than hugging the hills. Where the trees had previously shielded us from soft rain, they now were more likely to dump snow and ice chunks on your head, so it was better to walk through the meadows, and along the Merced.

Sad to leave, thoroughly exhausted that it helped kick our butts in gear to drive home. Also wanted to escape while the slush on the roads was still slush and not ice.

Building up a collection of photos from the trip in this set on Flickr:

February 28 2010 - Mountain View Shoreline Park

A beautiful day at the park. Favorites today were the Avocets, the Goldeneyes, Song Sparrows, and some very busy Canvasback ducks throwing jets of water up while they dug in the mud.

February 27 2010 - Coyote Creek Trail

Tree swallows are back and are actively seeking nesting holes. Throughout the week we have seen no hawks on nests. If there is a hawk on one of the nests it is settled very far down and not visible.

There was one pair of redtail hawks circling each other with talons down, near the ranger station in Morgan Hill. More photos of the tree swallows and redtail hawks are on Flickr.

Monday, February 22, 2010

February 22 2010 - Coyote Creek Trail Hawks

On Sunday we walked to the Ogier ponds and back, in the drizzle and rain. We didn't bring any gear because of the weather. There was a hawk on the sycamore near the freeway, just opposite the first nest past the freeway. Near the second nest the other pair were seen perching very close together in a nearby tree.

Today the first hawk was absent, but the pair were together again, on sycamore trees adjacent to the nest. I would say that the hawk pictured here is the male of the pair, after studying pictures of the two.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

February 20 2010 - San Pedro Ponds

Only had a short window of opportunity today to walk and shoot, so we walked to the nearby San Pedro Ponds. The water level was very low even though we have had a lot of rain - we aren't too sure about what gives with that.

Today we saw quite a few mockingbirds at the ponds , along with the usual geese and coots. No larks and nearly no sparrows, but it was early and still very foggy.

Most interesting find was a male and two female plumage hooded mergansers. I have yet to get a really good shot of these birds. They are fairly shy, and again the light was poor because of the fog.

Friday, February 19, 2010

February 19 2010 - Coyote Creek Trail through the week

Just a few notes from the walking this week. The hawk pair were seen on their nesting tree on Tuesday and Thursday, and one hawk was in the nest on Wednesday. Neither of them were seen Monday or Friday.

The other large hawk was seen on the second nesting tree on Thursday, and was again alone.

Friday we saw a sub-adult Golden Eagle, high over the dump.

Not a good week for photography, as it was overcast and foggy, providing very poor light.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

February 14 2010 - Coyote Creek Trail

Today we walked to the Eucalyptus Rest Area and back on the Coyote Creek trail. It was foggy for nearly the entire 3 1/2 hours we were walking.

The exciting news is that we saw one of the Redtail Hawks on the nest from last year, nearest the model plane airfield, in the large sycamore tree. This appeared to be the larger female hawk(Yoko) who was in the nest, as there was a smaller Redtail (John) on a nearby tree. She took leaves out of the nest as she flew out and dropped them. On our return trip, she was back on the nest. This is the first time we have seen one of them actually in or on the nest so far this season, although the couple has been regularly lurking in nearby trees for the last 2 weeks. It was a really poor day for photography, but I did get a shot of Yoko on the nest for record keeping purposes.

In the past week we have also seen a very large Redtail on the tree where there was a second nest last year - the one more hidden and closer to where the freeway crosses the trail. The female that nested there last year was also very large and we are hoping that this is the same hawk coming back to reuse her nest. Strangely, we usually only ever saw one parent near this other nest through the whole of last season.

We are also seeing a singleton or pair of Kestrels on a very regular basis in the sycamore directly opposite of the airfield parking lot "blue house". They may also be preparing to nest as they are regularly harassing any Redtail Hawks that fly into that area. Today we saw the female.

Near the Ogier ponds we saw our first Kildeer pair of the season running around in the grass together, and also our first Tree Swallows flying around over the ponds. Some of the trees that made up the Tree Swallow nest habitat were destroyed in the recent storms, so they will need to work on creating some new nests.

February 13 2010 - Shoreline Park

An amazing day of walking and bird watching and photography. Tom was working on the house, so I walked at Mountain View Shoreline Park with my 400mm and a tripod. Just as it was 2 weeks ago, there are so many birds that are displaying for each other. I did not walk far because I was carrying so much, but even so I saw so many different species and it was truly a magical time.

Along Adobe Creek there were a dozen mostly hidden juvenile and adult Black Crowned Night Herons. A Double Crested Cormorant was sunning himself . Many pairs of Cinnamon Teal were sleeping, but one pair was swimming around and for the first time I saw the male Cinnamon Teal fluff out his feathers and show what an incredible tapestry he is - so many colors. He is my featured animal here today.

Further down the creek there were the usual large numbers of Northern Shovelers. Today the males were doing a lot of chasing and fighting with one another and displaying for the females. They have these huge flat bills ( their "shovels") and they look very comical when they bite at one another, almost like a cartoon.

Along the banks I was looking for the Meadowlarks and Savannah Sparrows. Previously I have been able to get a few good shots of the Meadowlarks, but not of this sparrow. I found loads of the Savannah Sparrows to shoot, and one Meadowlark that posed for me for a matter of minutes - lots of wing stretching and preening. These sparrows look like miniature versions of the Meadowlark, and all of these birds blend so perfectly with the pickle weed, especially the drier browner bits.

Along with all of the usual Coots, Mallards, Canadian Geese, and Ruddy Ducks, the Common Moorhen showed up, and a handful of Canvasbacks and Green Winged Teal.

Moved along towards Shoreline Lake then, and along the marsh area was another Moorhen, many Snowy and Great Egrets, many more Black Crowned Night Herons, and a nice surprise - the White Faced Ibis. He was again backlit for me and very difficult to get a photo that shows his beautiful green and burgundy feathers, but very nice to observe. While watching him many of the herons flew in and walked about, and a snowy egret caught a nice fish and ate it. Eventually the Ibis was chased off by a Great Egret.

At Shoreline Lake, the Common Goldeneyes were displaying again. I have posted a few new pictures of this behavior, which is one of the most delightful things to watch in the bird kingdom. The pair of Goldeneyes swim away from each other and then come back together terribly excited to see one another. The male throws his head back as far as you can imagine it would go, bill to the sky, and calls out at the same time, as if to say "oh helloooooooo" to the female. She responds by ducking down flat against the water. A very suggestive and submissive pose. I could watch them do this behavior all day.

While there, a Great Egret that had been wading in the lake saw something that caught his eye on the shore and stalked his way cautiously but quite quickly and boom, nabbed a lizard. After throwing the lizard around a bit and finally swallowing it, he then wiggled his head and throat for quite a while. You could imagine that it was quite an effort to get this lizard to go down that long throat.

It was such a great day of shooting that I created a new set for some of the shots at

Saturday, February 13, 2010

February 12 2010 - Coyote Creek Trail

Walked the Coyote Creek Trail from the Morgan Hill parking lot to the first set of Ogier Ponds. This is a fairly normal pattern for us, so typically I will only give the end point of this walk, and not the starting point.

Observations today include: an immature Golden Eagle flying very high with a Turkey Vulture (hereafter TV), near the creek and just past where 101 crosses the trail. We have seen one or two Golden Eagles at this same place on many occasions this year. In fact we have seen so many Golden Eagles this year that we cannot decide if we just were not looking hard enough in the past, perhaps always assuming that they were all TVs, or if this is an especially rich year for the eagles.
Photos were useless today on this bird for anything but identification as the bird was so high in the sky.

The Redtail Hawks are starting to regularly perch on or around the Sycamores that have the nests from last year. We will be watching very closely to see if they reuse the same nests. Of course we cannot know for certain if these are the same hawks from last year, but my intuition says that they are. The hawk perching in the first nest that we come to on the trail, just past where we see the Golden Eagle, is very large. We think it is the female from last year that nested there who was very large. Then there is the pair that nested closer to the airfield, again hanging out every evening near their nest from last year. We named them John and Yoko last year, based on their proclivity towards mating in public, and Yoko has a very distinctive wild hairdo. Yoko is also quite large, and clearly larger than her mate. In the past week we have seen one or both of these hawks persistently in the sycamores near last year's nest. As is so often the case, one Redtail was perched in the Sycamore directly opposite the parking area for the airfield. A pair of Kestrels, male and female were harassing this Redtail, leading us to believe that this Kestrel pair is planning to nest nearby.

Posted pictures of a lovely Great Blue Heron that was near the bridge that crosses the creek, and the Redtail that was being harassed on Flickr: and including the Redtail here.

The ponds closest to the airfield had very few species today. Mostly coots, ruddy ducks, and scaups. The Hooded Merganser pair was still there, as was a Gadwall pair, both of these on the more hidden pond next to the airfield. No sign of the American Wigeons, the Cinnamon Teals, or the Green Winged Teals.


In his book 'Outliers', Malcolm Gladwell proposes that even though genius and natural talent exist in the world, for the most part great talents and notables become that way through basically practice, practice, practice... He feels that one needs about 10,000 hours of practice to truly become great at something.

It is my intention to become a great nature photographer and naturalist. I started my 10,000 hours some time ago, but I have decided to start blogging to help me focus on what I am seeing and photographing on a more daily basis. Most photographs that I am interested in sharing will continue to go to my Flickr account, with links from here, but I think that I will post one photo here for each journal entry.

There are also people in my area trying to keep accurate records of what birds are using our natural spaces, in order to continue the fight to preserve these natural spaces. My hope is that some of my record keeping in this blog can help with this fight, which is so very important to me.