Friday, May 11, 2012

Paramount Ranch~ INDIGO BUNTING

This trip to Paramount Ranch started earlier than normal; at 9am. Indeed today was a friday, and I was clearly sick *cough cough*, so hopefully there would be something to be seen here.

The main purpose of coming here was for my parents, at least my mother. She has started to get into nature, and now carries binoculars and a sketchbook. Flowers are her main thing.

And indeed unlike the visit here only a week or two ago this place was overflowing with wildflowers. House Wrens were strangely common and their song, the same song that lies in the background of many American TV programmes, filled the air throughout nearly the entire trip. A Yellow Warbler was heard singing in the trees above the creek just by the car park.  I saw it perched on an open branch; it is a regular sound in the creek and riverine habitats, but actually seeing them is another story. There were 3 Band-tailed Pigeons flying overheard, not that unusual but only the third or fourth time I have seen this species.

In the eucalyptus at the back of the village I heard a familiar call, that of a Black-headed Grosbeak. I almost thought it was a Downy Woodpecker, but the bill on this bird showed otherwise. It was a female. We started off along the Coyote Trail, and instantly I found this interesting Assassin Bug, Apiomerus californicus.

A. californicus is a relatively newly described species, originally considered conspecific with
A. crassipes. It was only offically  recognized in 2011; just last year. It is a predator
of bees, syphrid flies and wasps.
 Another Grosbeak promptly appeared; another female. The male could be heard singing nearby, but it didn't yield any views.

Don't normally get as good views as this; most birds hang out in the shady canopy of trees.
There are very few trees here, only bushes.
A pair of Turkey Vultures soaring overhead were joined by an almost invisible pin-prick in the sky, which later after going through my images turned out to be a White-throated Swift. It was only just identifiable To give an idea, here is one of those images. I'm surprised I even managed to see it with the naked eye. The picture below is zoomed in quite a bit, too.

Several looks at wildflowers later, we came to a little field. A swallowtail was cruising around this area; a very pale one at that. It flew closer and I saw that the stripes were pretty bold. I instantly lost interest in whatever I happened to be taking pictures of at the time (which was a flowering Yucca) and was taking pictures hoping that one of the shots in flight would be focused. But it didn't matter, because the next best thing happened: it actually landed:

While not that rare, the Pale Tiger Swallowtail is very hard to come by and is scarcely seen that

There was a pair of Grosbeaks this time, including one male. While somewhat fleeting, at least I got a look at the male before they left. I was more interested in some brownish nondescript birds in the bushes, however. I thought they were Empidonax at first, being dullish, having white wing bars and a white eye-ring, but a few seconds later I recognized them as Hutton's Vireo. And here I was thinking they looked similar to Ruby-crowned Kinglets. I take that statement back now, because they are nothing like them.
Two lizards were up the path ahead. The first doesn't seem to be a Western Fence, but I don't know what it is without consulting a guide.
The second is a surprisingly large Tiger Whiptail:

The sound of cicadas was quite consistent during the walk thus far. It wasn't the obstreporous metal grinding or the incessant droning, instead being a single click repeated every few seconds, something pretty regular with the small inconspicuous Tibicen cicadas. Of course it was near impossible to a get a good look at them in such dense shrubbery, but while walking I heard one exceptionally close to the path. And sure enough I actually saw this impossible insect. It even sat still for several minutes.

*Note, Tibicen is referring to Tibiceninae as in the family, not the genus Tibicen.

Tibicen cicadas are very numerous and diverse, though at the same time are pretty much
impossible to tell apart, so I have no hope in even putting this to genus level.

A Tibicen family Cicada is a lot smaller than it's noisier Cicadine cousins.
A further walk up the path and I ended up retracing my steps at the call of a Wrentit. The "ping-pong ball" song of this bird is common, but they are one of the hardest birds to physically see. This particular bird was in a low tree just over the path, and I did manage to get some good, though brief, glimpses of it.
While not a good image, with Wrentits you can't hope for anything.
It shows the face, though, which in my personal bird photography terms makes
this a success.
Another male Grosbeak appeared and sung vibrantly in the path ahead, and a few more flower stops later I caught sight of an unknown orange-black Checkerspot butterfly just as it was flushed by my mother in te yellow flowers on the side of the path. Checkspots are quite uncommon, and it was quite unfortunate as I never saw it again and remain with no photos of it, making it the first species I have ever actually "missed" in any country. A second Tiger Whiptail was seen near the intersection with the Medicine Woman trail, and it also meant the 10 minutes Coyote trail took us 1 hour to traverse due to constant stops.

Along the Medicine Woman trail was another orange-and-black butterfly, though too big for a Checkerspot. It was a Fritillary of some sort, I assume Callipe by looks but I am not familiar with the local species. Luckily it co-operated and I got a picture of the underside, which in Fritillary terms is the only sure-fire way to identify most species. It was one of the "Brown-underside" Fritillaries, a self-proclaimed group which the Callipe is a member of.

 There was not much else to note for a while. After the boardwalk at the apex of the Medicine Woman trail things started to appear again. This male American Kestrel was the first thing seen, and yet another House Wren was singing. Bullock's Orioles started appearing; I had two, at least one was a male. This was the spot I saw a single male a few weeks ago.

At the lone oak tree at the top of the semi-hill, yet another Bullock's male flew out of the tree. What I was more interested in was a flash of blue in a large oak tree on the opposite side of the path. It instantly went into the canopy and I did not get a good look, but it eventually flew out and I saw it was completely blue on the back, so it obviously was not a Lazzy. I thought maybe it was a Blue Grosbeak.

As it was about to perch it was chased off by another identical bird, also bright blue, which meant there was at least two. They continued to fight eachother for a while, and it was getting kind of frustrating; I just wanted to see them sit still. Eventually one of them did:

It wasn't just blue; it was completely blue. And its beak was thin. There was only one thing that could be, but it would be quite rare for this side of the United States. It wasn't a Lazzy Bunting or a Blue Grosbeak, but an Indigo Bunting. And there were two of them. A couple of similarly-behaving brown birds at the back may have been females, meaning a tenative four birds. The only thing better than a rare bird is lots of them.

After the view pictured, it disappeared completely, though it did make a final passby before disappearing into the oaks. The birds were completely mute, and even when I played the songs and calls on my Ipod there was no response. Since they had disappeared, there was not much else to do but continue the walk, though nothing could mellow the excitement of seeing a rare bird in full breeding plumage; most Indigo Bunting sightings are of dull brown juveniles.

The remainder of the walk was spent teaching my mother how to tell the difference between Cabbage Whites and Chequered Whites in flight, and surprisingly she managed to pick it up very quickly.

There was an immature Say's Phoebe in the village area. It perched on the wooden fence and flew under the eves of the houses.
And soon I found myself back at the carpark, having undertaken a very productive walk. It was an example of how wildlife fluctuates greatly in the early hours of the morning. My 1pm walks have never been like this.

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