Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 6 of California, 28th July

Another trip to Chumash Park today. A trio of Cassin's Kingbird were fighting over a tree here. I could not re-locate the Jay, tanager or bluebird from yesterday. The Black Phoebes were still here, one for every bench in the area. On the river I did find a Snowy Egret which was expected (I had been looking up this river specifically for them). Closer to home I found a green female Western Tanager, but still no sign of the male.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 5 of California, 27th July

This day I saw my first Common Raven (flying overhead). Among  getting better pictures of local birds, nothing else amazing was found. If you've followed my blog in the past few days, you should be able to work out what they are.


I also checked out a new region of the area, which is practically a deserty hill which to my surprise had a colony of Acmon Blue, which is another of my favourite butterflies. I also found more Fiery Skipper and a Milkweed Bug. On the way in I also found a large orange butterfly, but could not get close enough to see what it was. Unfourtunately as my 5-year old brother complained of "spikes" (Which were actually just dried plants) I did not get very far up it.

I also managed to get a look at a place called Chumash Park. Here I picked up a very skittish and unapproachable Western Scrub-jay, an immature Western Bluebird and a fleeting glimpse of a beautiful red-headed yellow and black bird, which was my first male Western Tanager (no photos yet; until then you will have to satisfy yourself on these) but not my first ever. Before the end of the day I followed a familiar call to find a White-breasted Nuthatch, a few more Fiery Skipper and a Spotted Towhee outside my door.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day 4 of California

Today was similar to yesterday.

The first sighting was a Bewick's Wren on my doorstep, which gave up its bush cover to pishing, and continued to sing in front of me until I tried to approach it further.

A Mourning Cloak (Camberwell Beauty) butterfly landed nicely in a (shaded) clump of oak leaves, which is the best opportunity I've had for this skittish species. In this same location a silent Song Sparrow was also found in the shadows. Many Anna's Hummingbirds were seen all over the place (all females), but for some reason the local hummingbird feeder had still seen no activity. At one point I was checking a House Finch and when I turned around there was literally one hovering right in my face (easily a metre or less away).

I went after some other unfamiliar bird calls, and the only ones I could locate were all Bewick's Wren, which is clearly trying to tell me something. More California Towhees popped up at various points, as did some female House Finches, which was a first for me.

On the way back in a large tree a Vireo-style song brought me to a Robin (American)-sized bird (or European Blackbird if you don't know what an American Robin is like) featuring a distinct supercilia on a sandy brown body which I could not identify at the time. Another hummer in the shade was seen, and when I swore I caught sight of buff-coloured flanks I rechecked this bird and discovered it was actually an Allen's Hummingbird, as opposed to the Anna's I had been seeing so many of, though it was still not inclined to touch the sun. A flock of jumpy brown birds in the valley parallel to the southern part of the estate which I thought were Titmice turned out to be Bushtits on further examination. On the way back I saw the Vireo-song bird a little lower down, and I managed to get a look at the markings better (though it was still very high up in the tree) and most importantly the cone-shaped bill, which brought me to Black-headed Grosbeak as the I.D.

Day 3 of California

Today was not too exciting, but provided some interesting sights nonetheless.

A Spotted Towhee was foraging in the open (sort of) in a garden was the first point of interest today.

Off the bat I managed to pick up a bird of prey was soaring overhead. It's red tail may have convinced a few it was a Red-tailed Hawk, but it was too fast and frail for a hawk, and as it happened it was a male American Kestrel. On the way back a harsh whistle and a genuine hawk flew over, but thanks to a badly-placed tree I never got a good enough look or even a photo of it (though I suspect it may have been a Red-shouldered, which is annoying). I managed another Mourning Dove shot which showed a bronzish iridescence on the neck (at least on the viewfinder); something I was unaware of. Nothing else of interest was seen at this time.

On the second walk a low-down yellow bird caught my attention. I soon saw it was a Lesser Goldfinch; I certainly wished it was one branch forward in the sun. I did try and get some leaves behind it to add colour but it was off before then.
On the way back home a pair of large birds with long tails were California Towhees, which pretty much combine the shape of a Spotted Towhee and the colouration of a Grey Catbird (that red undertail certainly catches your eye).

I made a final walk that day and managed to find a second Lorquin's Admiral (I saw one yesterday too) which is one of my favourite butterflies; I had no idea they were found in California so as you can imagine I was thrilled when I discovered they were here. You can also imagine how miffed I was when it landed in the open at head height (Admirals are notorious for either not landing or landing at the top of the tallest trees) for at least 10 seconds, which is more than 4 times as long as most butterflies, and to have my camera refuse to focus (it was probably the endless churning noise of the lens motors desperately trying to adjust that set it off!). Before I left I managed to glimpse a Nuttall's Woodpecker between the thousand and one leaves and branches, and the picture was only successful due to the magic of manual focus, which I am growing more and more accustomed to (though in most cases it is rather hard to see if an image is perfectly focused or not without checking afterwards).

The regular Bewick's Wrens and House Finches ended the day.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Santa Monica

The morning started with an early 8am walk down my area. Despite the time, it was very silent save the odd Towhee, which seemed to be the only bird present most of the time. The local Black Phoebe was also around in the picnic area once again. Along the way there were a fair amount of Rabbits. Eventually I came across a pair of Hummingbirds, one being Anna's. This time there was a female that shot off so quickly I couldn't see it clear enough to tell if it was also Anna's. In the same tree I also found a Mourning Dove, which was probably that elusive dove I keep seeing flying overhead. In Alberta these birds were only found in uninhabited areas in the far southern prairie, but it seems here they are regular in the sub urban areas. The male Anna's hummingbird hung around for a bit (in the sun, though the angle was still off) and then started some hovering acts high in the air which was not something I expected to see a hummingbird do. There were also quite a few rabbits and skinks/geckos seen today.

Between visits of my dad's work friends I picked up a long-tailed bird on  lampost which I presumed was a Mockingbird, but hints of blue seemed to suggest Western Scrub-jay. The picture was taken from the car window so it was not brilliant.

At Santa Monica there were Western Gulls everywhere, and luckily the beach did not look like this, and due to the fact that it was summer, it was a nice day and it was the summer holidays, I assumed this was the busiest it got. The pier was a different matter, as it was very crowded. Halfway up the pier a lone gull with a white head was undoubtedly the magic Heermann's Gull I had been after. Nothing much else was seen until the end of the pier where I saw a few off-shore Brown Pelicans and some Bottlenose (presumably)Dolphins. A white bird offshore had wingbeats that were off for a gull, and it turned out to be a Royal Tern. A gliding shearwater-like bird was an immature gull; and another Heerman's at that. The only other event was an immature Western Gull on top of a post at the end, which along with the wind blowing inland, had a cleared a space inbetween it and the wall for obvious reasons.