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Sunday, February 9, 2020

A Lewis's Woodpecker at Stonewall Mine

There have been reports of this species from the past four to five months near Stonewall Mine in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park on eBird. Perhaps it is the same individual or individuals wintering here, or not. There's no way to tell for sure.

I decided that it would be nice to see one of these uncommon birds and get it on my year list, so I drove over to Stonewall Mine to try to find it. I saw one individual well, and a possible second bird near the first. The single bird that was easily observed was fly-catching from perches in one large pine, and at one point pecked in between the scales of two different Jeffrey Pine female cones. The literature reports low percentages of "seeds" in the diet of these birds, so I thought it would be interesting to show the imperfect images I captured of this behavior - taken from quite a distance away.

Here is an image of the pine, right in the middle of the frame:

Jeffrey Pine favored by Lewis's Woodpecker, late morning, Feb. 8, 2020
 Below are images of the bird pecking one pine cone, then flying to a second, and then perched over the second. The three most likely explanations for the behavior to me are either consumption of the pine seeds, or searching for/consumption of insects hiding in the cone. Consumption of sap seems much less likely as the literature indicates that sap is not a significant component of this species' diet.

Lewis's Woodpecker and pine cone.

Flying to second cone.

Perched over second cone.

These are beautiful birds and it's a treat to see them living their lives here in our local piny woods.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Birding Year Update as of January 31.

Being busy and starting up teaching again makes it harder to see birds, but I have managed to get out here and there, and have increased my year total SLIGHTLY.

It now stands at 129 (as of January 31).

On January 23, a day involving a trip to La Jolla and then later to Lindo Lake in Lakeside yielded species like Brandt's Cormorant, hard (for me) to find outside of La Jolla, and a Wandering Tattler - a nice bird to be sure!

Also other birds, including extremely common species were seen and photographed.

A few of those images below.

This Black Phoebe was belting out it repetitive calls from its perch near Sunny Jim Cave (and the highly photogenic pelicans  and cormorants) near La Jolla Cove.

Brown Pelican in breeding condition. This bird put on a nice show of preening, stretching and generally looking regal in the morning sun. La Jolla, California.

Doing its "pelican decoy" imitation. La Jolla, California.

Double-crested Cormorant. La Jolla, California.

I think this Western Gull is a one-legger. It looked very mellow at a comfortable distance from the attention-hogging pelicans. La Jolla, California.

At Lindo Lake, the Black-crowned Night Herons were hanging around on the south shore of the "primary" lake, as usual. Lindo Lake, Lakeside, California.

Many ducks were present on the shallow "lake" to the east of the main lake, including this male Northern Pintail. A small group were dabbling and loitering near shore in nice light before two women let their dogs off leash which scared the ducks to the middle of the lake. Lindo Lake, Lakeside, California.

Yes, a VERY common bird, but the lighting was too perfect (and this pose too irresistible). Rock Pigeon, Lindo Lake, Lakeside, California. 

I THINK that these are Red-masked Parakeets. Several small flocks flew over. Lindo Lake, Lakeside, California.

I only saw one Greater White-fronted Goose, although at least two are apparently regulars at the lake. Lindo Lake, Lakeside, California.




Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Today is National Squirrel Appreciation Day!

How could this important day be ignored??

In honor of it, here are a few of my favorite photos (taken by myself) of the animals-of-the-day:


Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel, Kilen Woods SP, Minnesota

Arizona Gray Squirrel, Madera Canyon, Arizona

California Ground Squirrel, Julian, California

Chiricahua Fox Squirrel, Portal, Arizona

Eastern Fox Squirrel, San Diego, California (non-native)

Merriam's Chipmunk, Julian, California

Richardson's Ground Squirrel, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Rock Squirrel, Madera Canyon, Arizona

White-tailed Antelope Squirrel, Anza Borrego Desert, California

Round-tailed Ground Squirrel, Borrego Springs, California

My Little "Big Year"

Big Years (in other words years in which as many bird species are seen by one person as possible) are known to many people now, including many non-birders, thanks to various books and at least one movie!

I am not a very dedicated bird lister but I have been keeping year lists for quite a while - since around 2005.

Especially when I was more involved in insect study, I was a very lazy birder indeed and was lucky to top 200 species in a given year. But I've become more bird-oriented of late, and decided that it would be fun to try to see 300 different bird species in 2020. This is a decidedly puny number, especially when keeping in mind that the ABA (American Birding Association) area, United States, Continental U.S., and other big year areas as they are variously defined have records all exceeding 700 species or 800 species, depending on the area.

I don't believe I'll ever do one of THOSE Big Years, but I think it would be fun to shoot for a personal record, especially as we have a couple trips planned which should help quite a lot with the total tally (namely to Massachusetts and Maine next summer, and southwestern regions further afield of San Diego County here and there during the year).

So my current 2020 total is 116 species as of yesterday (January 20).

Most of these are easy San Diego County species, but a two day trip to the Salton Sea on the 19th and 20th of this month helped quite a bit.

Here are a few photos of some of those Salton Sea birds:

Burrowing Owl, with that "wise" look. along Schrimpf Road, E. of S,. end of Salton Sea, Imperial County, California. 


Burrowing Owl, along Schrimpf Road. Very cooperative regarding allowing photos from the truck-as-blind.

Burrowing Owl by its burrow, Schrimpf Rd. Sunday was sunny, allowing for better photos. Monday was very cloudy, unfortunately. 

Green Heron, Unit 1, Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. Flushed from the top of an embankment by a wandering birder. It then perched "hidden" in the nearby ditch as shown here. Spotted by Gary Waayers.

A rather blurry shot taken from a great distance of a Tundra Swan, a rarity in this part of the country. Unit 1, SBSSNWR.

A "nice" bird indeed - one of two Wilson's Snipes (spotted by Gary Waayers) seen from the northern platform, Unit 1, SBSSNWR. The bird to the left is a dowitcher.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Some of Our Neighbors Here in the Woods...

Non-human neighbors, that is.

Over the past two weekends I spent a bit of time on my photography platform (without the blind), photographing the comings of goings in the morning rush.

Here are some of the locals from last weekend:

A special visitor: A male California Quail. We have had very few quail coming around over the years, although we hear them in the underbrush nearby periodically. This guy just appeared out of nowhere (seemingly) and wandered around in camera-shot for a while before retiring into the thick manzanita.

The California Scrub Jays are VERY common, and are easy to photograph on the perches I set out.

The Desert Cottontails are also very common, but they rarely wander past in the morning when I am outside. This one looks rather stern here!

The morning light is a wonderful thing!

The Oak Titmice are close neighbors, and seem to be on the lookout for me as long as the sun is up (I do put a little seed out on the ground in the morning, which they have become very fond of). If I wander anywhere near the platform area, they are right there in the small oaks talking to me. They fledged young (again) this year.

The Merriam's Chipmunks are not always in evidence, but seem to have re-emerged from hiding recently. This may be the "beat up" looking individual that I photographed last spring (missing the tip of its tail). Or just a look-alike. They appear to lead hard lives. Note the notches in the ears of this one.
Here are some of the animals that revealed themselves when I was on the platform this morning. In addition, Dark-eyed Juncos were around, and I heard a White-crowned Sparrow last week. Fall is here and Winter is coming...

Immature male Anna's Hummingbird, hatched this year. Earlier in the year I saw a female hummer collect some cat hair that I had placed out in a suet cage for the birds to use for their nest-linings.

The hummingbird feeders are beset by Honey Bees and yellowjackets, and this young male is eyeing the feeder carefully before attempting a sip.

The Oak Titmice are ALWAYS here.

The Steller's Jay made an appearance. I rarely see more than one at a time of this species here.

Too bad the tail is hidden...

Merriam's Chipmunk

The pair of White-winged Doves that I described in the previous post.

White-winged Doves in the Cuyamaca Mountains

White-winged Doves are typically found in the desert regions of southern California (as well as in the other southern tier states as far east as Texas).

They are not usually found in the mountains here in southern California, although the San Diego County Bird Atlas (Unitt), describes yearly movements between the desert and the coast, in small numbers, particularly in spring and fall.

Over the past 18 months, I (and at least one of my neighbors) have periodically seen or heard White-winged Doves in the Cuyamaca Woods area here in the Cuyamaca Mountains. It likely has not been the same individual, based on the movements described above. My first observation was near our property on April 1 (yes, April Fool's Day - but it WAS actually seen!). The characteristic vocalization, usually a signature of the desert, was heard very close to my house, and with some effort, the bird was found. It obligingly perched on a tree on a neighboring property, as shown below.
White-winged Dove, Zenaida asiatica, Cuyamaca Mountains, California, April 1, 2018.
I have heard the distinctive vocalizations on and off over the next year-and-a-half, and this morning, while photographing animals from the photography platform on my property, I saw a pair of doves appear, and then move around within view of the platform, first perching in a tall dead tree, then foraging on the ground, then perching on one of the boulders just downslope from our patio.

I was able to capture a few photographs of the pair together, the best two of which are shown below.
Two White-winged Doves on boulder a few feet from our patio. October 19, 2019.

White-winged Doves in dead tree downslope from house. October 19, 2019.

I have been reporting these observations to eBird: https://ebird.org/profile/MTA0NjUyMw/world

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Acorn Woodpeckers: Sap Connoisseurs!

Immature male Acorn Woodpecker consuming sap (identified by his dark irises and lack of a black band between the white and red on his forehead). This young male was the most avid sap-eater.

The local Acorn Woodpeckers started creating small holes in one of our re-grown live oaks last year. Some sap began to flow and they partook of it happily, although only intermittently and on a small scale. This is not particularly unusual behavior and has been documented for the species, but I had never personally observed it (let alone photographed it).

This year, in the first couple weeks of August, the sap holes were re-opened and the sap flowed freely! We had such a wet winter and spring that presumably the sap was more plentiful, and for a couple weeks, the sap flows on this tree were visible from quite a distance, they were so substantial. The woodpeckers were the primary exploiters of the sap, and had clearly been the creators of the flows in the first place, but other local residents tried to sneak some sap too. Most notably, a White-breasted Nuthatch would try valiantly to get a little sap when it could before being chased off by an irate woodpecker.

After several days of intense sapping, the tree was taken over by honey bees. Then the bird visitors, including the "rightful owners", the Acorn Woodpeckers, dropped off dramatically, seemingly not wanting to tangle with the buzzing hordes.

Eventually the sap dried up, and the woodpeckers have not reopened the holes to any great extent, which is probably better for the health of the tree anyway.

Below are photos of the tree, the sap flows and the avian visitors (before the bees took over).

The sap tree with the most holes, in our landscape. A couple nearby trees had fewer holes. These small live oaks had regrown from ground level following the Cedar Fire in 2003.

An example of how vigorous the sap flows were around their peak.

An adult female Acorn Woodpecker eyeing a sap hole. Note her pale iris and black band on the forehead.

In the act. She is using her tail as a stabilizer here.

The young male woodpecker with his bill in a hole. He was a devoted sap-fan. He (or a close look-alike) also likes visiting the hummingbird feeder.

I sat out in the open on a small stool to take these photos and the birds were quite comfortable with my presence. 

On the day that I did the most photography, this little White-breasted Nuthatch was able to move in on a sap hole after the woodpeckers shown above departed.

Finally some sap! The woodpeckers had little tolerance for moochers like this little one.