07-31-02

As I was moving out of my old apartment this weekend a strange sound eminated from the pool/lawn area below my balcony. Upon investigating, I saw a pair of adult Dark-eyed Juncos busily feeding an insistent juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird. At some point prior to this episode, a female Cowbird had laid her egg in the hapless Juncos' nest and left her offspring in the care of the two other birds. Most likely, their own young were either kicked out of the nest or out-competed for food and so did not survive to fledge. In any case, as I was observing this scene I felt a strong sympathy for the two Juncos who seemed exhausted by their enormous and insatiable guest. Then, their situation changed in a sudden flash as an immature Cooper's Hawk landed on the young Cowbird and snatched it away. It was over in an instant, but it amazed me for the rest of the day. What makes it even more incredible was that, after the Hawk caught the young Cowbird on the ground, it somehow flew throught the gap between the vertical bars in the fence before flying over the pool. Getting though this gap, a mere 7-inch wide space, seems like an impossible feat especially since the hawk has a 3-foot wingspan! I'm still baffled as to how she did it.


07-21-02

Kelly and I made a brief trip to Yosemite over the weekend and camped for three nights in Hodgdon Meadow just inside the west entrance of the park. It seems to be increasingly difficult to camp in the park and we considered ourselves lucky to get this site, although most of our activities were centered around the Tuolumne meadows area almost 45 minutes away. The landscape is, of course, stunning anywhere in the park and the weather that was absolutely perfect as well. It seemed from the beginning like our trip would be perfect. Some spots like Glacier Point and Sentinal Dome were new to me and will remain on the permanent "don't miss" list. During our stay we hoped to find as many montane birds we could, but missed three such target species: Great Gray Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, White-tailed Ptarmigan. Still, we had wonderful encounters with many other Sierra specialties. Kelly logged 6 lifers during our three birding hikes, which took us around Saddlebag Lake above the treeline, around some precarious rock formations at Olmstead Point, and an astoundingly beautiful hike up to the top of Sentinal Dome. Birds seemed to be everywhere we looked in Yosemite, but one of the most rewarding discoveries was not a bird at all. For the first time for either of us, we saw a Pika, a small, rabbit-like mammal of rocky treeless habitat above 10,000'. Other mammals encountered were Yellow-bellied Marmots, Golden-mantled Squirrels, Chickaree (Red Squirrel) and we think three species of Chipmunks. I can't wait to explore the Sierras again, and perhaps find those three missed tagets then. The list of birds we logged on this trip is as follows:

Great Blue Heron
Mallard
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Blue Grouse (male booming was heard, a female and two immatures)
California Gull
Killdeer
Band-tailed Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Vaux's Swift
White-throated Swift
Anna's Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Williamson's Sapsucker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker (heard right above our campsite, never saw)
Dusky Flycatcher
Hammond's Flycatcher
Western Wood Pewee
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Steller's Jay
Clark's Nutcracker
Common Raven
Mountain Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Rock Wren
Bewick's Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet (heard only)
Mountain Bluebird
Townsend's Solitaire
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Wrentit (heard only)
European Starling
Warbling Vireo
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler (heard only)
MacGillivray's Warbler (heard only)
Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak
Lazuli Bunting
Spotted Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (some showing "Slate-colored" X "Oregon" intergrade coloration)
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Pine Grosbeak
Gray-crowned Rosy Finch (family feeding child at 10,000'. See "News 08-04-01" for more details about my first encounter with this species.)
Cassin's Finch
Red Crossbill (very exciting, a complete family!)
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch