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.