The American Robin, as ubiquitous as it is supposed to be, as ever-present as I *remember* it as a kid in New England, and whose song is as distinctive as a California Quail and should be heard even before the bird is seen, is as difficult a bird to shoot as any that I have tried to capture over the past 20 years! It's at least in the top four. When I saw my first Oak Titmouse, it took top billing, but at it turned out, that really WAS because of equipment. All I has at that time was a 6x S3IX Canon. No burst, no distance, no luck.
I have seen more robins in my birdbath than in the wild. But, ten years ago, I noticed that, at the same time every year, I saw them on the Toyon trees when the berries ripened. They usually came in the middle two weeks of February, and I was going to be prepared.
Then came the drought. The berries ripened later if at all, and I had to wait it out. The Robins invariably arrived with flocks of Cedar Waxwings. To get both species would be fantastic, and so I parked my carcas on the curb across the street from a string of six Toyon trees a few days every week in February for eight years. Then, I noticed two problems: 1. Waxwings and Robins would pick one berry, then fly across the street to a huge Heritage Oak (200+ years old, sometimes 50 feet wide canopy, and always dark). AND always fully leafed on the crown which was about 65 feet up. Getting it in the open, with berry, between trips, was going to be difficult.
I am not a patient person. This was not a hobby for someone who made it mandatory to have a photo, a good photo, of a bird before checking it off my Audubon list. After 20 years, I did (do) have a dozen good images, yet I still hope for even better images and, hence, sit on the curb every year at the same time.
I'm just sorry that Gilles had to leave, but I never expected to get a good image this week, let alone on an overcast Thursday, Feb. 20. I staked out these trees for the past three weeks, and saw neither species and heard no calls. Today, I saw one, then another orange-breasted bird flying from tree to tree. This is my prize for today, looking very much like all the other Robins in an opening between leaves on a toyon.
The American robin (Turdus migratorius) is a migratory songbird of the true thrush genus and Turdidae, the wider thrush family. It is named after the European robin because of its reddish-orange breast, though the two species are not closely related, with the European robin belonging to the Old World flycatcher family. The American robin is widely distributed throughout North America, wintering from southern Canada to central Mexico and along the Pacific Coast. According to some sources, the American robin ranks behind only the red-winged blackbird (and just ahead of the introduced European starling and the not-always-naturally-occurring house finch) as the most abundant extant land bird in North America. Odd that I should see so few. Odder still why I have seen no nests since leaving New England in 1959! Robin-blue eggs were a prize sighting when I was a kid, but I guess they don't like adults.
Tags: American Robin Thrushes Migratory North American Birds Toyon Berries Prefer Earthworms Do Not Get Drunk On Like Cedar Waxwings Mt. Diablo - Walnut Creek, CA Canon SX 50 Copyright Ethan Winning
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It's been four, maybe five years since I was up at Old Borges Ranch, when I decided on Tuesday that that's an ideal place for my friend to see a California Quail. After about 20 minutes, as we walked near the old barn and ranch house where I got MY first 10 years ago, the familiar calls were hard. And then, scrambling in all directions were males and females. The rest was up to him, and he was certainly up to the task. I, on the other hand, was happy to settle for this one indecisive female. She looked left, then right, and basically gave me three seconds to make a choice. And here she is, almost ready to breed. We didn't see any chicks which, when you first see quail can be distracting. Well, I'm easily distracted and in the process, I get none. Things haven't changed in a decade.
The California quail (Callipepla californica), also known as the California valley quail or valley quail, is a small ground-dwelling bird in the New World quail family. These birds have a curving crest or plume, made of six feathers, that droops forward: black in males and brown in females; the flanks are brown with white streaks. Males have a dark brown cap and a black face with a brown back, a grey-blue chest and a light brown belly. Females and immature birds are mainly grey-brown with a light-colored belly.
Their closest relative is Gambel's quail which has a more southerly distribution and, a longer crest at 2.5 in (6.4 cm), a brighter head and a scalier appearance. The two species separated about 1–2 million years ago, during the Late Pliocene or Early Pleistocene. It was an amicable separation. Mostly found in the one state, it is the state bird of California.
It's population was so depleted on the mountain that preservation began about 25 years ago under the supervision of Bob Weiscarver. He did a wonderful job, and I used to pass the 100 yards of restoration every day for seven years. That didn't make getting a good image any easier. These are very cautious birds, especially the females, and will bolt from one hiding place to another, and almost always under the coyote bushes. Once I got to know the habits and, during the years when there were fence posts along the one mile stretch of meadow, I could more easily (not easily) get images of the male who watches over his family groups, usually from my experience, a covey of two females and ten or more chicks.
Tags: California Quail or Valley Quail Old Borges Ranch Old Borges Ranch Trail Mt. Diablo - Walnut Creek, CA Canon SX 50 Copyright Ethan Winning
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Yesterday, I went to my three favorite locations, certainly for birds, but nature in general. I took over 600 images. I have four possibles to post, and two of those are iffy. I've often said that lighting here is usually AM "iffy" with a very small window where it is perfect (overhead, slightly behind, and not reflected off water). This particular Golden-crowned sparrow, a month away from breeding plumage, was one of the few with good focus, was taken because, after focusing on it, was the best I'd gotten to that point. It's in the same tree and on a similar branch as one that I took almost four years ago to the day.
I was shooting with a Flickr friend who visited for the day. I know that he'll have much better images, and I'm really happy for that. Am I that altruistic? Yes. He traveled far. He is and always has been more proficient than I, and has taught he a lot. Most important, however, is that I "promised" he's get quite a few lifers, and that I had perfect locations for him. Last week, I went to all the locations, and came away with nothing. Monday, I remembered that my favorite place, Old Borges Ranch on Mt. Diablo, had provided me with nine lifers for me and I'd forgotten about that. So, I settled down a bit, and was most concerned about weather.
Well he arrived, we went to Old Borges Ranch, and I (and Debi, the ranger's wife and life-long birder and naturalist) acted as spotters (sort of). As he clicked off several lifers, I think I might have been happier than he, although he did a dance better than mine. After all these years, I got to prove that I wasn't exaggerating.
The golden-crowned sparrow is one of five species in the genus Zonotrichia, a group of large American sparrows. It has no subspecies. It is a sister species with, and very closely related to, the white-crowned sparrow; studies of mitochondrial DNA show the two evolved into separate species very recently in geologic time. The white-throated sparrow is a slightly more distant relative. Hybridization with both white-crowned and white-throated sparrows has been reported. The golden-crowned sparrow is common along the western edge of North America. It is a migratory species, breeding from north-central Alaska, central Yukon south to the northwestern corner of the US state of Washington, and wintering from southern coastal Alaska to northern Baja California.
That's all I'm saying. In a few weeks, he'll post and I'll tell the rest of the story. Just know that this sparrow was my best. Next best was barely considered a keeper. And after all was said and done, it was a great day, so great that I forgot my *^#*! dentist appointment this morning.
Tags: Golden-crowned Sparrow Passerines A West Coast Bird Mt. Diablo - Walnut Creek, CA Heather Farm Reserve Canon SX 50 Copyright Ethan Winning
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In the 9-16 years I rarely missed a day of hiking the foothills of Mt. Diablo and the East Bay Regional Hills, I doubt if there was a day when I didn't see a California Ground Squirrel. I never learned much about them. In fact, all I did learn was by observing them. I'm sure they were in communities but more spread out than Prairie Dog Towns. I also watched them long enough to know that every burrow had at least two entrances and exits or exits and entrances, each about 80 feet (my estimate) from the next. There were no signs saying, "Welcome" or "Go Away," but when the call went out that a raptor had been spotted (by this guy who was the designated sentry for the day), there'd be squirrels bolting in all directions and down the hole for safety. Their system wasn't foolproof or even raptor proof, but most often, when I saw one that had been caught off guard, it was obvious he was never on his guard to begin with: every kill I saw was to a Western Diamondback. I never could stand to watch the process: just something about squirrels...
The California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi), also known as the Beechey ground squirrel, is a common and easily observed ground squirrel of the western United States and the Baja California Peninsula; it is common in Oregon and California and its range has relatively recently extended into Washington and northwestern Nevada.
As is typical for ground squirrels, California ground squirrels live in burrows which they excavate themselves. Some burrows are occupied communally but each individual squirrel has its own entrance. Although they readily become tame in areas used by humans, and quickly learn to take food left or offered by picnickers, they spend most of their time within 25 m (82 ft) of their burrow, and rarely go further than 50 m (160 ft) from it. How about that, I estimated correctly. So my seven years was not a total waste.
In the colder parts of their range, California ground squirrels hibernate for several months, but in areas where winters have no snow, most squirrels are active year-round. In those parts where the summers are hot they may also estivate for periods of a few days. Squirrels mate for only two weeks during the spring and the pups become sexually active at one year. In other words, there will always be a lot of squirrels. They eat seeds and some insects and, though I've never - not in 50 years - seen one in town or burbs, supposedly they're "the scourge of suburban neighborhoods," a statement made by someone who doesn't like squirrels, because the more likely culprit would be mule deer which have roses as the entree to every other meal. Wild turkeys around here do quite a bit of damage as well though they live in the hills. If you're wealthy enough to live in one of the cities that abut the Open Space of Diablo, you're wealthy enough to replace your roses. If you have no money, what are you doing living in an $8 million home on Diablo, and still entertaining having wild turkey for Thanksgiving?
Just a short story: One of the owners of one of the "estates" went to court to have his property taxes reduced because he didn't know that the wildlife was going to eat him out of house and home. Case dismissed: have the wildlife chip in to pay the taxes was the wry reply.
Tags: California Ground Squirrel Beechy Burrows Used By Burrowing Owls Mt. Diablo - Walnut Creek, CA East Bay Regional Open Space Canon SX40 Copyright Ethan Winning
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There are five "prime" birding areas within a 15 mile radius of my home. "Prime" is defined as those places within easy walking or driving and then walking distances of my home. And it is within three of those areas that I have seen and photographed 104 species of birds in 20 years.
As years tick by, and I've had to come to grips with well, age, I've adjusted to weather conditions and my abilities to hike what has become rough terrain. In other words, the six to 10 mile hikes in the foothills are things of the past. Over the past five years, I've gone over archives and notes to find what birds (lizards, snakes, and even wildflowers) can be found at lower elevations and with as few steep trails, having found that 3-5% grades are maximum. And then I have to take migration and seasonal changes. There will be no more hikes in 100+ temperatures, BUT I can still walk the two miles to the swamp and withstand 106 degrees if I just remember to wear a hat, take water, drink water (when I'm in "the zone" in THE Odonata grotto, I sometimes ... often forget to drink as well as remember that there's two miles to walk to get back home), and take the extra battery.
So. Twenty years ago, when I discovered my first California Quail, American Kestrel, and Acorn Woodpeckers, I would drive to a "staging" area (used mostly for bicyclists climbing Mt. Diablo from any one of the four directions) and then hike for miles, sometimes in circles, to get any decent capture, and then hike up to six miles as the crow walks. In the process, I would eventually get some pretty good shots - even with a Canon S3IS - and in the process find Southern Alligator Lizards, Western Diamondbacks, and all kinds of "new" species like my first Western Bluebird (the bird that hooked me!) and twice, rarities for this area. The find of a Rock Wren at 900 vertical feet became a 30 day daily expedition over the toughest trail from any direction. Twice I became dehydrated, and finally Mother Nature and my heart told me that I wasn't 30 anymore. (I never was, come to think of it.)
I have a visitor from the east (sounds downright mystical, doesn't it) coming tomorrow, and he wants to see his first Acorn Woodpecker. Not the best time of year, but I know where to find "the" woodpecker trees. One route is five miles one way on "hilly" trails, and I've been trying to find another way. Last night, I remembered that at one of my prime birding areas, Old Borges Ranch, I'd ver often heard the "Ratcha, Ratcha, Ratcha" call of the Acorn Woodpecker. (No matter what the guide books or apps say, it is spelled "Ratcha, Ratcha, Ratcha," always capitalized according to the peckers I've talked to.) A short drive, and we could just sit and wait, or we could take a one mile trek to find them and, in the process, the bluebirds, Cooper's hawks, Blacktailed deer, and even the "lowly" but ever-present House Finch. And that is my upload for today.
The House Finch is ubiquitous, estimated at 1.2 billion birds in North America. The maps are incorrect in labeling only parts of Western Canada as "breeding." They're bred in the eaves of my home, and I'm sure that the hundreds of bright red (or orange) males didn't fly down from British Columbia to show me their new suits with which to entice the ladies. Females seem to show appear first, followed by males in a week or two, and courtship begins as early as January. It is usually the second bird (the first is the oak titmouse with a huge voice for a three-inch bird) I hear every year. The Oregon Junco will nest third IF we don't have the gangs of crows roosting as they are right now: I counted over 30 or 15 twice just yesterday on my way to find the Cedar Waxwings and Robins at the toyon trees, but the crows have really put them off this year.
This female House finch was just short of my destination of Heather Farm (the swamp). She didn't sing - never does as far as I know - but I saw her and it was the start of my 2020 season or artchives depending on how you look at it in a year. I guess what I'm telling you is that we all have to adapt at some time in our lives. I may not like it, but I've adapted, and am so lucky to be in a birder's paradise, less so with the population doubling and that I cannot adapt to. Anyway, wherever you are, just keep your eyes open and stay alert to the sounds around you, and you may find much more than you've experienced for however long you've been existing if not living. No birds? Have you ever looked at a dragonfly?
Tags: House Finch Passerines Finches North American Birds Where Find Birds Birding Seasons Geography Join Local Audubon Societies Mt. Diablo - Walnut Creek, CA Heather Farm Reserve Martinez Estuary Alhambra Slough Carquinez Straits Canon SX 50 Copyright Ethan Winning
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