Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I ranna long way when I saw the shine.

Something about this Anna's Hummingbird was different to the others.

1. It was tame.
2. It somehow managed to sit at the perfect position in a perfect angle with perfect fluency (with a degree so accurate that not even that famous guy named Einstein could calculate it with any variation of mc^2) to the sun.

Number 1 isn't too uncommon, but number 2 is. And a combination of the two is very unusual (at least for me). I took a lot of pictures, and I know not all of these are the best examples of that pose in my pretty fair-sized amalgamation of pixels. I didn't have the patience to go through 200 pictures to find the sharpest ones, so I picked the ones that seemed focused enough at first glance.

This is what the other 95% of my Anna shots resemble. You almost wouldn't consider
them to be the same bird.

Extreme portrait!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Golden-crowned Kinglet 2

The Golden-crowned Kinglets have been around for 3 days. Each day they moved further up the park. Originally they were in the two pines near Argos street, the day after they were in the pines on the hill, and after that they took to the taller pines near the playground. There was only one row of pines left but it seems they skipped them for some reason.

I finally managed to get some decent shots of the crown.

Took me about 300 photos but I finally got there. They are just as restless as the rubies.
To add to this, I had a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the same tree, and it had its crest raised up. Ruby-crowns very rarely show off their red crown, so this was quite a pleasure to watch. It only had its crest up when it was in the same tree as the GCKLs, so perhaps there was some indirect territorialism going on here.
Closest I'll ever get to a perfect crown shot. Pose isn't great and that twig is in the way but I can't complain.

 On the 2nd I met two birders who came to follow up my sighting--Dan Cooper and Dinuk Maganamma. Unfortunately they were a day too late, but we had interesting conversations (the best perhaps being where Dan assumed from the reports I send in that I was an old man with a beard!). It seems there are not as many younger birders as I had previously thought. On the 1st I emphasized the movement of the birds in the park, noting how the 2nd was probably the last day to see them. Dinuk needed it for a photo-lifer, I assume Dan had seen this bird multiple times already.

I notice they were trying to call the birds in with tapes. I had tried this on the 3rd day but they were not responsive to the song. The ruby-crowned kinglet, however, responded with its territorial, scolding calls to its own song. I have no idea why the golden-crowns are not so eager to entertain.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Local findings *GCKI

I hadn't been out much recently after the farm escapade. There was a field trip to Oxnard Plain last saturday for Red-throated Pipits and vagrant stuff but it wasn't that successful from what I heard other than a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets.

Now that fall migration was certainly coming to an end, I started setting targets for winter. I still needed birds like Sharp-shinned Hawk, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher and Ferruginous Hawk.

I managed to tick one of those off yesterday. When walking to school I noticed the crows were going after something and I saw a remarkably small Accipter sp. Without a doubt this had to be that Sharp-shinned Hawk I had long awaited. Its behaviour was quite different to the Cooper's I usually see too, typically the Cooper's are stubborn and don't like leaving the tree they are in but this Sharpie was well off before the crows even got anywhere close. Sharp-shinned are migrants through this area so it made sense that it would not stay for long.

My local crows are very territorial for some reason. I've seen them harass Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, White-tailed Kite, Cooper's and now Sharp-shinned Hawks in our area now. At least I can count on them, I don't even have to look for birds of prey most of the time because the crows find them for me!

On another note, I had something even more remarkable this morning. I heard some very high-pitched whistly notes in the pine trees along Argos. They were quite silent, and I didn't really pay much attention the first time I heard it. The second time I thought I would check things out. A bird name already clicked into my head, but since I had never seen that bird I don't know how I could jump to that conclusion (though I was aware the species did make high-pitched twittering calls, but perhaps it was the Goldcrests I grew up with in England that drew me to that answer). I tracked the source of the call and simply found an Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler and it was kind of deflating. Yellow-rumps have already foiled me many times (it already had happened once today), and a Common Yellowthroat (well away from water source may I point out) already tried to convince me it was a Macgillivray's.

However there was another little fluffball in the back branches of the tree that caught my eye; now that was a better match of the description I was seeking. It took some effort but it finally yielded a view of the head which showed the dark supercilium and contrasting white lores. It was nothing like the perfect picture in the field guide, but I was into this enough to recognize it without its golden crown. Yes, Golden-crowned Kinglet, did you get it?

While this was incredible in itself, I found it a step up purely because that it just happened that this was the only (life) bird that was on the field trip I was seeking admission into (but missed out on). It isn't the first time something like this has happened. Out of hundreds of possible rare birds it happened to be this one. What a curious scenario....

Pictures pending.

Moorpark *YHBL on 15th October

Though I wasn't entirely pleased at a trip to a halloween festival designed for children replacing a birding plan I had made, it fortunately held some interesting attractions. The location was Underwood Family Farm, a location in the farmlands north of Agoura. The area was entirely swamped with blackbirds, there must have been at least 200.

Blackbirds (not the little thrush found in England, but the New World family of Orioles type of Blackbird) are notorious for being sociable, just like warblers. On migration they do congregate, but usually numbers like this are fairly unusual. The near deafening sound of blackbird calls was just an invitation to check through them. The flock was primarily Brewer's and Red-winged, but if I was ever to see a vagrant blackbird here was the place, and I figured at least I'd get a Tricoloured or two. Almost immediately I had a Yellow-headed Blackbird fly right past me, a rare bird for southern California. After some extensive chasing I found it (it seemed to be an immature male) again with a second female-type* bird.

*Female-type referring to a dull plumage that females show; often juveniles and immatures show similar dull plumage (even colourful males) and usually it is near impossible to distinguish adult females from immature males or females.

I found a Lincoln's Sparrow sneaking around the children's playground area. Soon enough I had some pretty good candidates for the uncommon Tricoloured Blackbird too. Tricolours are like small Red-wings. The best way to tell them apart is by the colour band on the epaulette of the wing (if it shows yellow or orange is definitely a Red-winged, however in Tricoloured it is usually white).

Though some fall Red-winged can show some diluted colouration it seemed very likely that the white
bar on the scapular/epaulette was legitimate.

Only two other rare blackbirds remained (not including Orioles, but Orioles don't socialize with the "ground" blackbirds) and those two were the Rusty Blackbird (a scarce accidental) and the sparrow-like Bobolink (scarce but not as rare as Rusty) however I could not find any that resembled these two. Rusty males are painful to identify as they are very similar to Brewer's with a slightly less intensive sheen on their feathers, so who knows, there may have been one around.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Joshua Tree National Park Day 2 Part 2


I came across this little ladybird on the way to the Cholla Cactus Garden. Someone else in the car had found it crawling on their leg. It is a little Psyllobora of some kind, a genus of very tiny little mildew ladybirds. They are seldom seen due to their size; image trying to find one in a very extensive field of bushes.

I suspect it is Psyllobora renifer but I cannot find any evidence of it occuring any further west than Arizona. It is a distinctive species however so perhaps this shows either a range extension in the species or an unknown population. It certainly has the tendency to go unnoticed.

The Cholla Cactus Garden is somewhat well-known in the tourist industry. It is a giant field of Teddy-bear Cholla which is not found anywhere else. This cactus, while it looks furry, is not very welcoming. When you touch the spines they detach (along with a piece of the cactus) and embed themselves into your skin with barbed hooks. Good luck getting them out.

California Patch, Queen, Sleepy Orange and Cloudless Sulphur butterflies were present here (all but Sleepy Orange I will show pictures of later). Most of my photos were of reptiles and insects. I saw one bird very vaguely at the start but I could not see what it was.

Sleepy Orange; best shot I have, they don't seem to like sitting.

Next stop was a location called Split Rock. It was a rocky (duh) location that had some pretty interesting hikes, many of which off path and involving climbing some ledges. Needless to say none of them led anywhere interesting so I stuck to the nature-y looking trails.

There were some very vocal White-throated Swifts over the canyon. I have never heard these birds calling before so it was quite an unusual experience to hear them.

The only other bird was a medium-sized long-tailed bird that flew into a bush just underneath me. I originally thought it was a Say's Phoebe but the features were wrong. It took a bit of time but I finally worked out it had to be a Townsend's Solitaire; certainly not something I would expect around here. Solitaires were a mountain bird, and the nearest mountains were quite far off. From some research it seems they are a regular bird here in winter each year but in very minute numbers. Seeing it in flight confirmed my suspicions.

Here are some other photos from the site:

Dusky Chipmunk of the southern subspecies Tamias obscurus davisi
California Patch (top of photo, I honestly never got a better picture).
Next up was the Barker Dam region of the desert.

There was indeed a dam here, but it was by no means a large scale dam like you may picture, and at this time of year there wasn't even any water, though it did manage to attract quite a few tourists. In the car park there was a White Chequered-skipper. Luckily here there was no issue of separating it from the identical Common Chequered-skipper (in areas where they coexist the only way of telling them is by microscopic dissection of genitalia, what a job that is...) as the Common does not stray this far south nor does it favour the desert.
Yay, I don't have to list it as Chequered-skipped sp. I can actually put the silly little thing to species.
Many of the flora here was unique to the desert. Usually I don't post photos of wildflowers on this blog but sometimes I make exceptions.
Turbinella Oak (ssp. turbinella), a special desert subspecies of the Coastal Live Oak (dumosa). I think it is its own species now.
Opuntia chlorotica, sometimes called the Pancake or Flapjack Pricky Pear.

Opuntia littoralis.
Echinocactus polycephalus
A peculiar Darkling beetle, probably Philolithus actuosus.

Since there was still time left we made another stop at Hidden Valley. It was like Split Rock but a little more unique.

Here there were even more White-throated Swifts. It was apparent that they were gathering around here to roost in the coming hour.

Everyone else split up to "boulder-hop" the cliffs and I ended up taking a walk with the Marine Biology teacher (who I learned took Ornithology in college and he actually knows a hell of a lot of content). A peculiar jay call in the trees over the hill sounded eerily like Pinyon Jay but it could not be confirmed. I found a Western Scrub-jay in the area, but I was sure it sounded like Pinyon. Near the end of the trail we found a Rock Wren perched on the cliffside. Rock Wrens are funny little birds. Take a typical House Wren (or Eurasian Wren) and make it crawl up cliffs (x Wallcreeper or Nuthatch) and you have a Rock Wren. 

Small and brown but an unmistakable bird.
See if you can find it. Hint: its small and brown.
I managed to get some extra birding time in when three of the students went missing. Not that birding was the most important thing. Nevertheless they eventually returned, apparently "stuck" but without the sense to use their emergency whistle. On the way out I saw this bat flying high around the cliffs and managed to astound many people since they could not work out how I differentiated it from a bird.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Joshua Tree National Park Day 2 part 1

Last night was fairly interesting (in terms of trying to sleep!). Laying on my back and seeing the entire night sky was a little disorientating. On the bright side there was nearly no light pollution so the milky way and most constellations were easily visible. I also saw at least 3 shooting stars (I had no idea they were so bright and large) while trying to fall asleep. If I had my tripod perhaps I would have attempted some night sky photography but I could not hold the camera still enough without it.
I was up at 6:30am, took a few landscape shots (as seen above) and checked the local wildlife. I was the only person awake.
The quails were up and about. Brewer's Blackbird was around too. There was some very extensive flocks flying high overhead.
Brewer's Blackbirds
Near the campsite I managed to locate a few Black-tailed Jackrabbits. They were very skittish but I did manage to get a couple of fairly decent pictures. I never saw them again.

I started hearing California Thrasher nearby. Their song is a jumbled load of mimicry and starling-like notes (compare Common Myna), much like a Mockingbird. It was a new bird for me so I pursued them and eventually got some shots of them. They were not especially tame but I eventually managed to approach them quite closely. Thrashers are usually very hard to find as they lurk deep in the bushes but early in the morning like this they perch on exposed branches and sing.

Other than the bill they aren't much to look at I guess.
Gambel's Quail females
The sun was out by 7am. More birds were to be found around this time. The Juncos and White-crowned Sparrows were around and singing. The best part was hearing and seeing Cactus Wren in the northern part of the campground. There seemed to be at least 2 resident birds here but they only appeared from 7-8am. At other times of the day they completely vanished. This concluded the morning.

The first stop of the day was the Twentynine Palms Visitor Center at Mara Oasis. It was close to development so it didn't appear very birdy but I was quite surprised. The light at the visitor center had attracted two moths the night before.

Geometrid moth--one of the so-called "pugs"

A noctuid or "Owlet" moth.
The Mara Oasis hike was a little trail that ran through the desert and around a vacant oasis. There is no longer any water visible, but the palm trees show that water did indeed exist at the location.

My first interesting find was this Western Pygmy-blue, the world's smallest butterfly. It didn't seem much smaller than an average blue butterfly at first glance but there was certainly a miniature feeling to it.

Phainopepla, that unique cardinal-waxwing lookalike, was quite numerous here. Apart from one female all the bird here were males. I am still attempting to obtain some good flight shots of this bird and I suppose you could say I partially suceeded.

Butterflies here included Chequered White and a Sleepy Orange. Otherwise there was not too much at the location as I had expected, however there was still a surprise left to see. There was a dark butterfly that flew low over the Honey Mesquite on the return trail -- a Great Purple Hairstreak.

Hairstreaks are notoriously hard to find due to elusive nature. This is one of the most conspicuous but by no means commonly seen.
It landed in the tree about 2 metres above ground -- so close I had to step back to get photos. And to think it stayed still when 21 people walked under it. This butterfly defies all qualities that hairstreaks typically show. Shame I couldn't get an upperside shot though when it took off. They are not as purple as the european Purple Hairstreak on the upperside but still pleasing to look at.

Ms. McCartney's father located this White-lined Hawk (Sphinx) Moth in the bush just outside the car. I really don't know how I managed to miss this. I tried to capture it so I could spread the wings for a full shot but it flew off instantly -- quite unusual for a hawk moth. They usually are very docile and sleepy in the day and it takes a lot to get them going.