Monday, November 28, 2011

Oak Canyon Community Park, 23rd November

Oak Canyon Community Park
Ring-necked Duck, Hermit Thrush
                                                 Total: 2

Another simple visit to a nearby location today. I certainly had hope that the duck pond would one day hold something more wild, as opposed to the hundreds of domestic (and probably wild) Mallards there.

The first bird I saw, other than the Mallards, was an American Coot. This is the first time I've really seen this bird here. The first time I ever saw this bird was in Alberta, and at that time it was very far off in the distance. This one however, actually came out of the water and waddled over to my feet. I guess they get fed too. In fact they came so close I had problem focusing which is clearly seen on the walking birds below.

The American Coot is one of many different Coot species in the world, and the American has occasionally turned up even in the U.K. Most people would wonder how an earth you tell the two apart, because at first glance they appear identical, but there are two static differences, both around the bill, that do not vary (in adults that is). Compared to some European-American pairs like these two, all you have to do here is check the bill. No need for getting obscure looks at a certain wing feather, or counting how many plumes are in its tail hoping that there's a slim chance it will fan its tail when preening. 

At the right angle the water had managed to conjure up a very interesting effect in the background. I'm not even sure how physics made it look like this.

Getting back to the birds, the Mallards here are a unique bunch. Half of them are obviously domestic, with extravagant shapes, colouring and proportions. The other half look perfectly wild. Problem is there is not really any way to tell. Luckily Mallards are common in the wild, and it isn't hard to find a perfectly wild bird somewhere else.

All this time there was a fairly large sized group of ducks at the back that kept their distance from the mixed-origin Mallards. I payed little attention to them at the start for whatever reason, but once I was on the other side of the lake I didn't hesitate to get a look at them. They were very skittish when compared to the Mallards, and they kept a distance no matter how I tried to get around them. When I first caught onto their appearance and got a good look at them I very quickly searched for a female to base my ID on (the brown females have far more differences when compared to scaups). As expected they had the bridled eye, and a distinct pale brown patch around the base of the bill.

And they were Ring-necked Ducks, about 22 in total. A scaup relative that has become one of the few ducks I had yet to see in North America. Ring-necks are a true wild duck that has California as its migration route. The chance of them coming from captivity? Around 0%.

I was very happy to finally pick up this handsome looking bird. In Alberta they were harder to come by, as they stuck to the lakes of the wilderness, which despite my somewhat lengthy stay there I had yet to see (a lake of that description that is).

Ring-necks' name is a bit of a paradox in a way. Reopen the first image and take a look at the bird on the right. Look closely and you'll see a sort of brownish-maroonish ring around the neck. It's a bit hard to see, but it's there. Now I was constantly referring them accidentally as Ring-billed Ducks, for obvious reasons. The white band on the bill is significantly easier to see, and no other duck has it. And why aren't they called Ring-billed Ducks? The name hasn't been used yet. It's like calling a Blue Tit the Green-backed Tit instead.
I'm sure when I said that someone reading this had gone to find a picture of a Blue Tit to check it. If you didn't, then I expect after reading this sentence you will be.

Since the start a few Yellow-rumped Warblers (all Audubon's) had been flitting about in the maple sp. trees around the park, but only one was really picture friendly, and it deserved some pictures.

All of them were in basic (non-breeding) plumage which is a typical sight in California, where they appear throughout the entire winter. They get a lot prettier than this during the summer.

At the back of the lake is a patch of reeds. While too small to be anything larger than a micro-habitat, migrating wetland birds will flock to these sites like moths to a light. During Canada an even smaller patch of reeds managed somehow to home a Marsh Wren and a Wilson's Snipe during such a time period. As a general rule, most reed-inhabiting are very stubborn, and even if the patch of reeds is no more than a square metre you would literally have to pull out whatever it is to actually get it to move. Obviously I wouldn't do that, but there are other tricks.

Pishing; little skulking birds are very curious. And it doesn't have to be "pishing". Any clicks, or whistles even have the tendency to do the job. It depends on the bird. Pishing is simply making squeaking sounds via pursed lips. And it works. It really does work. Within seconds a silent patch of reeds with only the rustling of nearby trees to be heard, came the alarm call of a Common Yellowthroat, which shortly escaped its cover and into a bush nearby to see where the sound was coming from (which normally happens during its flight when it can see everything). But that is normally all you get. There are three things that can happen:

1-The bird, and the other birds nearby, completely hide and make themselves invisible for the remainder of the trip.
2-The bird pokes it head out and resumes its skulking buisness, or flies to more cover to check whats happening as it did here. 
3-The bird jumps to an exposed perch where it can get a good look and stays there provided you don't move.

Option 3 is always the best, but it doesn't happen that often. Option 2 depends on many factors. If the bird can see you perfectly fine by simply putting its eye against a gap in the leaves, then don't expect it to fly out. The best way to get Option 3 is to try and hide yourself. If you bird can't see you then it is still curious, and it will keep coming out until it does.

I have seen Common Yellowthroats before, but it is not a bird to shun. It's rather attractive if you can get a good look at it (which rarely happens...).

There was little else around here. There were no Marsh Wrens, Nelson's Sparrows or Soras (at least not that I could see/hear) in the reeds this time around, so I decided to run through some other parts of the park I had not really had a detailed look around yet.

A short walk in the forest behind the lake revealed a charming little creek, complete with yellow-leaved trees, partly-leafless trees. It was a genuine autumn sight, and if I didn't only have my telephoto lens I would have taken some pics of it.

It was well-lit, and the trees were perfect. So I decided to do a bit of migrant surveying. I stood around for about two minutes, heard nothing, so started to try a bit of pishing. After a few seconds I was alerted to a rustle in a bush beside me, and sure enough something was perched there.

From where I was I could only see a part of it, as this particular bush was very dense. Luckily I was able to maneuver around and start to get a better idea of what it is. It was completely still the whole time, probably hoping I hadn't seen it yet.

I started to see speckling on the throat and all the way down the chest, which only confirmed my suspicions it was a thrush of some sort. It seemed small, so I was really hoping for a Veery, which is a very unique thrush. I stepped a little closer in hope that it would fly to a more exposed perch, and it did. It was in the shade, but it was very close, the latter more or less winning over (no point having a bird in the sun if its only a speck on the screen). It was all I needed to work out what it was. The Hermit Thrush is an oddity to most (I imagine; it is to me), especially if you have lived in Europe. All the thrushes there, the Blackbird, Song/Mistle, Fieldfare, Redwing and Ring Ouzel tend to dislike cover and do not hesitate to perch in the open. The Hermit Thrush however is a complete skulker, and dwells only in shade, shade and more shade. If I didn't catch onto that single rustle I never would have seen it, and to think it was less than a metre away. The Hermit also flicks its tail a lot, which I've never seen in any other thrush before.
This somewhat common bird has eluded me until today, and I must have walked past them all the time, because as soon as it flew from it's dully-lit perch I could not relocate it, despite it landing in a second bush within clear sight of me. As a ground dwelling bird they tend to run instead of fly. A thrush that's harder to see than a warbler...I didn't think such a bird existed. Perhaps some time ago it was the descendant to the modern-day Veery, which has managed to ascend to the Parulid warbler clan.

I decided to call off the search, because I had some good shots as it is, and chances are it had skulked its way to the other side of the forest by now, though I did hear some whistling calls that were very reminiscent of a european Blackbird nearby and can't have come from anything else.

Seconds later a decently-sized Accipter (default around here is Cooper's) had flown right over my head and landed into a patch of trees. If it stayed a second longer I could have got my first ever good look at these elusive forest hawks, but it was not to be. This is the second I have seen so far, and the first I saw was also here. The Cooper's has a much larger cousin known as the Sharp-shinned, which occur here as uncommon winter migrants, but are virtually inseparable save for the shape of their (frequently molting...) tail and overall size. If I had to estimate, I'd say there was a 15% chance it was a Sharp-shinned, which is another bird I have yet to see. It definitely seemed big, but if it was then it would be on my missed birds list, which I do not like to add to!

Back at the duck pond a party of about seven White-crowned Sparrows had appeared in the leafless bushes and were very obliging.

We were about to return home, but instead I was able to look around the "Water Park" area of this location, which has offered some good birds in the past. Apart from the regulars the only interesting bird was a type of woodpecker known as the Northern Flicker (ssp. aureus) that came over the trees. I have seen three in this country so far (2 ssp. aureus, 1 ssp. cafer), all three appearing erratically over my head in random patches of trees, and all three somehow managing to vanish as I turned my camera off (!). They are very attractive birds for the woodpecker family overall, if you can get a good look at them that is. I wasn't too concerned because I have good images from Alberta, but only of the Yellow-shafted race (aureus), so I'll be keeping an eye out for a Red-shafted in the mean time.

United States of America: California
Oak Canyon Community Park
30 minutes around Duck pond, and 30 minutes in water park area.
Email Link:
List Status:
Published in Atlas
Lifer LiferNew for site New for site

Scientific Name

Anas platyrhynchos

Males have attained breeding plumage now.
lifernew for site
Ring-necked Duck
Aythya collaris
Males and females. Fairly skittish.

Cooper's Hawk
Accipiter cooperii

new for site
Red-tailed Hawk
Buteo jamaicensis

new for site
American Coot
Fulica americana


Anna's Hummingbird
Calypte anna

new for site
Northern Flicker
Colaptes auratus
Appeared to be yellow-shafted or hybrid, but flew off very quickly.

Black Phoebe
Sayornis nigricans

Cassin's Kingbird
Tyrannus vociferans

American Crow
Corvus brachyrhynchos

new for site
Common Raven
Corvus corax

Oak Titmouse
Baeolophus inornatus

Bewick's Wren
Thryomanes bewickii

lifernew for site
Hermit Thrush
Catharus guttatus
Found by pishing.
new for site
Cedar Waxwing
Bombycilla cedrorum

new for site
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Dendroica coronata

Dendroica coronata auduboni

Common Yellowthroat
Geothlypis trichas

California Towhee
Melozone crissalis

new for site
White-crowned Sparrow
Zonotrichia leucophrys

House Finch
Carpodacus mexicanus
Yes, just one....

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tidedancers, 19th November

After not having been out much for more than a month, of course I was glad to get out again, even if it wasn't on a bird-specific trip. The destination was the famous Venice Beach, which apparently is well-known for its culture, street performers etc.

However I was more interested in the beach itself, and its neighbour Marina Del Rey. The Sanderling is one of those 'big' birds (Others being Peregrine, Osprey etc.) that has been common in each country I've lived in, but I've still yet to come across.

Venice beach matched the description of this bird's winter habitat perfectly, and I was literally told that all I would have to do is find some waves anywhere down the coast and the birds would be there. Since I had spent a lot of effort trying to locate them in the past I was a bit skeptical.

The gulls around the place were fairly typical, but I surprised to find that the inland prairie California Gull actually outnumbered the typical Western Gulls in some areas. The very pretty Heerman's was also in great abundance here, too.

Apart from the typical gulls was a 2cy Ring-billed Gull (see left), which undoubtedly marks the start of the winter gulls arrival in California(the others being Glaucous-winged, Thayer's, Mew etc.) which I'll be careful to keep an eye out for in future. Of course it isn't as simple as that. Each gull has 3 plumages (1cy- Juvenile, 2cy- Immature and 3cy- Adult) and there are those intermediate plumages inbetween when they are in mid-moult. With hundreds of gulls spiralling over your head, having to check through each one thoroughly is frustrating at the least. And there is no guarantee I won't mix up a 2cy Glaucous-winged with a 2cy Ring-billed or Western. In the air they all look so similar.... Of course there are people out there who could give them a second look and tell you what they are, but I am not one of them!

Almost immediately on seeing the beach I caught sight of a flock of minute little shorebirds coursing around the coastline. Oh, I wonder what they could possibly be?

Eventually they all settled (a flock of about 40 birds) and offered some brief looks before trailling off again. I wasn't really expecting to see many, because on most occasions they stride around in flocks of less than 10. 

It was at that point I turned around and found a flock of at least 100 (not all in the picture below) sitting right behind me within just a few metres. I guess they really were everywhere.

The birds were very photogenic (is that a word?), at least if you stood still. If I tried to approach them they would scatter before I could get too close but if I stood still the birds, in their foraging, would step closer and closer.

They had much more of a charm than their other Calidris sandpiper cousins, and maybe it was because they were so afraid of getting wet. They would let the waves come within inches of their feet, but any closer and they would bolt towards shore until the waves went back out to see. It only took one bird at the front to get too close to a wave, and immediately they were all darting away from the intruding sea in unison, cheeping in alarm. If only I had some way of filming. I've yet to find a video on the internet that portrays them correctly.

Funny little birds.

And yes, I did check the flock very thoroughly. As you may know shorebirds, like warblers, are very sociable and any strays will almost certainly socialize with the locals. But I saw nothing. At least until I looked through the pictures. If you look carefully on the left side (closer to the middle in the second) of these images there is a smaller, darker brown bird.

It's another Calidris sandpiper, but a different one, and its a Western Sandpiper. Before the Sanderling I have only seen one other Calidris, which was also a Western Sand. Unfortunately out of all the Calidris sandpipers that can turn up in California, it has to be that same one! 

So there we have it. My 488th bird, the Sanderling.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dealing with Scientific Names

This is something I set up on a Game wikipedia site as it concerned the use of such topics with the insects and fish. I thought I would make it more mainstream, so here it is. The links in the contents take you to the Wikia itself. As it is directly copy and pasted the formatting may appear weird in some places so bear with me.


1 Introduction
2 The basis of scientific names
3 Using scientific names & correct grammar
4 Definitions
5 Family names


Ever seen those complicated, overly long scientific names that come with animals? Sometimes they are called latin names. Yes, the word "latin" makes many people cringe, but today, for the benefit of this wiki, this will change. I may add more to it in future. And I'm 15, so don't expect a whole thesis here.

The basis of scientific names

A scientific name has three main parts, but we only need to worry about two on this wiki. The three parts are the Genus, species and subspecies as follows:

Cabbage White, Pieris rapae (rapae)
Pieris = genus
rapae = species(rapae) = subspecies *not important

The species is specific (see the word similarity) to one individual. The genus is sort of a link. Related species will most often be in the same genus. The Cabbage White and the Mustard White as an example, are both in the genus Pieris as they share many things in common.

Subspecies, while not relevant to this wikia, are another feature. Sometimes seperate races of a species will exist, but they are not different enough to be defined as species, so they become subspecies. The Yellow-rumped Warbler of North America is a good example occuring as "Audubon's" or "Myrtle" subspecies as follows;

Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dendroica coronata (coronata) Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dendroica coronata (auduboni)
*note I use brackets () to indicate subspecies. This is not neccessary but I like to use them.Now you may notice that the Myrtle's subspecies name is the same as its species name. This is because it is the type population. In other words, this population was the first named and discovered of this species. The word Type also refers to other contexts, such as when a new genus is formed; the first species in that genus will be the "type species". Some type species such as the Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) have the same species name and genus name to reflect this. Using scientific names & correct grammar
Grammar can never be escaped, and lets face it it makes things much better.
The first rule of scientific name grammar: Never capitalize the species name! Never! Lots of people do it but it is wrong. Do not become one of them!

Dendroica auduboni is right.Dendroica Auduboni is wrong.

 Never ever ever ever capitalize the species name! Also subspecies are not to capitalized either. Only the genus.

Now you may notice I italicize scientific names. This is mostly a choice, but when using them in a sentence it makes them stand out. Like using chinese characters in an English sentence. Most scientists these days recommend making them italic in all instances.

Sometimes you may see me use something like this: .

D. auduboni
Yes, I put a D and a period instead of Dendroica. In the same way you can use the surname of a person once you have identified him, you can shorten the genus name if it has already been used like so:

You can only abbreviate if the genus is the same. Just because the first letter is the same does not mean you can abbreviate! If you said Dendroica auduboni you can use D. auduboni after that, but not for Dasyptera. Now of course it might get confusing if you define both genus names and use D. for both so you might want to consistently refer to the full spelling. It's up to you.

When you use a latin name it refers to the entire species. So say:

Dendroica auduboni is a cool bird.
Instead of:
The Dendroica auduboni is a cool bird. *This is incorrect. While you can say "Sheep are cool" as well as "The Sheep are cool" there is a difference. Using the "the" is referring to specific individuals instead of every single Sheep on the planet. (When you say "the sheep" you are likely pointing out a herd in a field, not the entire species race in itself). Short rule: Do not use "The" when referring to present tense. You can say "The Dendroica auduboni are cool." and "The Dendroica auduboni will be cool." but not present tense! No "is"!

When you want to refer to the family in text, you can say Audubon's Warbler (Parulidae) or Audubon's Warbler (Family: Parulidae) or Audubon's Warbler (Parulidae; Parulinae). See Family section for more detail.

The plural of genus is genera. Don't ever say genuses. You will get laughed at in the scientific community, and if they are nice enough they may correct you.
There are a few important definitions that should be defined that have their uses on this wikia.
Cf. means compare. This is a way of referring to a species it might be, but is not 100% identified as it. For insects with 1000s of species such as the
Walkingstick and Scorpion in Animal Crossing sense it is impossible to tell what species was on the mind of the developers if any. So if you found what might be a close match you might say cf. Scorpionus sp. And it doesn't really matter if the cf. is in italic.

For example if I saw a bird I thought might be Audubon's warbler I might say Dendroica sp. (cf. auduboni). I recommend putting the cf. phrase in brackets. Sp. is short for species. If you saw a bird in the genus Dendroica but don't know what species it is you can say you saw a Dendroica sp. You could say Dendroica species if you wanted but I would assume it is rather unprofessional.
Ssp. means subspecies. Similar to sp.but with subspecies. Don't think I need to say more here.

is used when referring to multiple species in a genus. Instead of saying " I saw Dendroica coronata, D. auduboni, D. palmarum & D. tigrina on the weekend. (I wish.)"  I could just say "I saw 4 different Dendroica spp. on the weekend."

Family names

Family names. They are slightly different than Genus, species and subspecies names. Unlike the scientific name itself, they do not need to be capitalized.

I will use the Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) in this example.
The Cabbage White is in the family Pieridae. Now what does that mean?

Well family is just another way of showing a relation. Species is specific, Genus is broadening things by including closely related species, Family is broader, including closely and semi-closely related species. In the middle of Genus and Family there are other levels which are rarely important except in a few cases. The "hidden" levels are as follows:

Family - Subfamily - Tribe - Genus
After genus there is also subgenus, which I will not mention in any more detail here.

The family for the Cabbage White is Pieridae, and the subfamily is Pierinae. The tribe is Pierini. Convenient huh? Going to back to "type species" the Cabbage White is almost certainly the type species of the family Pieridae or at least close. You can tell this as the family, subfamily, tribe and genus all have the same root.
Also if the genus shares the name of the family (as a result being the first genus described in the family) it is called the "Type genus".

How do you refer to families in text? The key two letters are "id". See below:

The Cabbage White is a Pierid.

Simple huh? Not quite. All family names end in "dae". All subfamily names end in "nae". Tribes in "ini". With this simple knowledge you can identify the status of the name in question i.e. whether its the family, subfamily etc. Now how is this relevant, well:

The Cabbage White is a Pierid. <- Family *you cut off ae
The Cabbage White is a Pierinid <- Subfamily *with subfamilies you cut off the ae, but add id.
The Cabbage White is a Pierini. <- Tribe. The name is not altered whatsoever. Luckily you rarely have to refer to anything other than the family or subfamily, so this is not neccessary. Now sometimes people would say "The Cabbage White is a Pieriine" or Pierine (change last i to e). I don't know what people use nowadays.

So all you have to do is cut off the ae? Almost, but there is another rule. When you say it is part of the family you cut it off. If you are referring to the family as a whole you don't poke it at all.

The Cabbage White is a Pierid. *You are saying it is of the family thus referring to an individual.
The Cabbage White is in the family Pieridae. * Here you are referring the family as a whole by saying it is in the family.
The Cabbage White is a Pieridae. *Don't ever use this. You can say "That man is a Roger" as in he is in the Roger family but with taxonomy things are a little different.

Remember I said "When you want to refer to the family in text, you can say Audubon's Warbler (Parulidae) or Audubon's Warbler (Family: Parulidae) or Audubon's Warbler (Parulidae; Parulinae)." You should know that the last example shows the Family first (ends in dae) and also the Subfamily (hint: ParuliNAE)   
Dendroica auduboni is a North American warbler, considered by some to be a seperate species from D. coronata. D. auduboni differs in voice, colouration and habits yet many still want to keep them together as one species: D. coronata.   
And that concludes this collection of information. I used no sources, but I'm fairly certain there are no faults (but no promises)