We found a Swamp Sparrow today on a class field trip to Ogier Ponds in Morgan Hill. The bird was tough to coax out, but eventually provided everyone with good looks. Can't wait to see some of the shots taken by our faithful photographers.
No matter how many Wild Turkeys I see, maybe hundreds over the years... I am never prepared for how long their legs are. The slender females and juvenile males often keep company in the off season, and stroll elegantly through the oak-covered hills in our area. Only occasionally have I seen on fly, and that is truly something to watch out for. They are like cannon balls with wings!
This week I've seen two nice examples of the changing seasons. First it was the one-in-twelve American Avocet sporting alternate plumage, the other was yesterday's Canvasbacks at Byxbee Park in Palo Alto. The males' courtship displays were accompanied by soft, dove-like cooing as they followed females. They bobbed their heads in a ritual that also included very dramatic craning of their necks. The females seemed to pay them little attention.
I found myself with both an opportunity and a challenge today. A small marsh in Menlo Park near the bridge over San Francisquito Creek provided me with good looks at sleeping American Avocets. The opportunity was obvious, the challenge was to figure out on which feather groups the bold black and white wing pattern fell... Black scapulars, white lesser and median coverts, black greater coverts is what I came up with. I'll have to review to be sure. Flight pattern was especially interesting, but no less confusing. Also of interest was the ONE bird out of twelve that showed something approaching alternate plumage. Spring is definitely near.
Yesterday in Panoche Valley, we had great looks at Horned Larks, affording an uncommon opportunity to study features up close. They were quite literally at eye level as the road dipped below the field where they were foraging. They kept their bellies low to the ground and all seemed to face the same direction. The female's pattern was really very much like a softer male.
A Marsh Wren from today's lunch hour walk in the Palo Alto Flood Control Basin. Conditions were good for seeing this species up close. The reeds were high and male birds' hormones were going nuts... There were probably no less than 15 of these birds singing loudly from the marsh, many of which sat within easy view.
Finally arrived! A first edition of Rev. J.G. Wood's Illustrated Natural History: Birds. Published in London 1862, it was followed by an U.S. edition a decade later. It is an impressive 786 page work with beautiful (and very detailed) engravings on nearly every page. It's a colorfully written account of birds from around the world. Weighing 5 lbs and in very good shape considering it's almost 150 years old.
Saw 3 Mountain Plovers on the Flannery-Robinson tour today, as well as a Ferruginous Hawk, a fly-over flock of Horned Larks and a heard-only Longspur.
Dense fog ALL day couldn't stop our group from finding 12 Eurasian Wigeons between Gray Lodge and Colusa today. Jury's still out on a potential 13th bird (female). Other birds of note were 3 Great Horned Owls, 2 Bald Eagles and 2 American Bitterns and a Rock Wren. Tomorrow it's Sacramento NWR, Flannery/Robinson and on till home.
I was struck by a few features on this large secretive bird which flushed from the marsh during annual north central valley weekend: 1) the dark olive primaries, and 2) the extended neck while in flight. We saw two during the tour, but expect there were more that remained hidden in the reeds.
Rock Wren memory sketch from the Gray Lodge/Colusa leg of our Northern Central Valley weekend field trip. The Rock Wren was seen exactly where we anticipated, on the roadside lava slope on the north side of Sutter Buttes. The sandy colors of the bird are so subtle that the "wren pattern" on the wings and tail are almost completely lost. I remember some more rufous tones, maybe on the tail, but I need to see it again soon so I can study it more closely. It's interesting how this species never seems to raise its tail in the manner of other Wrens.
Found a male Phainopepla in Yuba City this afternoon. The bird was in a residential neighborhood two blocks from Hyw 99, and walking distance from our motel. Of course, the trees were filled with mistletoe... Tomorrow it's off to Gray Lodge and Colusa with a train of cars behind us.
The Palm Warbler was at the SE end of Embarcadero Way in Palo Alto today at lunch. It was in the flowering eucalyptus just past the dead end gate. I was able to watch the bird (and its pumping tail) at close range for several minutes. It remained in the trees, but not very high, so it was easy to see once it showed up. It called several times, making a much more metallic "tseek!" call than the nearby Yellow-rumps.
Thayer's Gull has long been my favorite North American Gull. Not only because it was late to be recognized as a full species, but because of the curious placement of black on the leading edge of the primaries. Through an equally curious phenomenon this feature is almost completely obscured from below. Because of the way the feathers lay on top of eachotehr, the wings appear dark-lined on the dorsal, and almost completely white on the ventral. Makes my heart race every time...
Palo Alto Baylands lunch: 2 Peregrine Falcons were on the power towers by the visitors center. Huge number of Gulls gathered at the dump! Ring-billed, California, Herring, Thayer's, Western and Glaucous-winged. A few Mew were also present around the edges, hundreds of Bonaparte's were on the slough. There may have been a first-cycle Glaucous, but it got lost in the cloud of birds that never seemed to stop moving.
Pygmy Nuthatches were by far the most numerous in the Klamath Basin, especially in the hilly areas. The fortunate thing is they usually give a series of morse code-like peeps before they stage an ambush on unwary travelers.
As we left the timeshare in Klamath Falls, a small crowd of Golden-crowned Kinglets was in the pine trees by our ice-covered car. The little birds were so intent on finding food between the long needles that they descended to eye level, completely oblivious to us and so close to us we could almost touch them. This female made a perfect subject for a sketch.