Friday, April 29, 2011

What's New in the Neighborhood?

Not only do I enjoy the arrival of  migrants and summer breeders in the spring, but I also enjoy breeding behavior of common permanent resident bird species.  The California Towhee (left) was involved in an apparent courtship display as it lengthened its neck, cocked its tail and fluttered its wings as another towehee was nearby.  The other bird was doing similar behavior and since I cannot tell the male from the female I don't know for sure if this was a male/female pair or not.  I assume it was, but I suppose it could have been two males squaring off?  This happened at Pecho Willows on April 25.  On the next day I observed a California Towhee running along the ground with its tail up and fluttering its wings.  It was working it, but i did not see another towhee nearby.

This Yellow-breasted Chat (left) was in the "migrant just passing through" category as they don't nest in my neighborhood.  Usually I find this species by hearing its loud and varied repetoire of calls, but this bird was silent.  It popped into view on April 25 when I chattered for orioles.  (You can click on the picture for a closer view.)  I only see this species about once a year in my home territory, so it was a treat and definitely a new green year bird!  It is usually a secretive bird so I was unable to get a better shot.

On April 30, the wind shifted from the usual on-shore direction to a warmer off-shore direction.  This often brings more migrants to the coast and this morning was no exception as I had my first Western Tanager singing in the trees at the end of my street and Lazuli Buntings were flying by with their buzz call note.  My third green year bird was an Olive-side Flycatcher, new for my neighborhood, that posed long enough in a couple of trees near the edge of the bay for me to get this far off shot (left) before it took off.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sand Spit Re-visited

On April 9, Ross Schaefer and I walked out to the sand spit in hopes that there might be some different shorebirds or sea birds.  It is a long long walk on a sandy trail: out to the sandy beach and north to the breakwater.  From my house in Los Osos it was a ten to twelve mile walk that felt much worse due to the sand! The way out was fun - we stopped frequently to look, at and photograph, flowers and butterflies.  The usual birds of the coastal scrub - towhees, thrashers, gnatcatchers and sparrows called and sang in the sunlight.

Once we got out to the beach it was quiet, bird-wise.  We did see a couple of American Pipits (photo above), and Snowy Plovers were numerous. We walked several kilometers before we saw  flocks of shorebirds other than plovers.  We did stop occasionally to scope the ocean and Ross picked out a Pigeon Guillemot as it flew by, showing its white wing patches contrasting with its otherwise all black plumage (new green year bird). An occasional Common Murre flew by as well.  The only rare birds we found were two Common (not so common) Ravens spotted by Ross, feeding on a sea lion carcass on the beach (new bigby species).
This species is very rare in the coastal portion of San Luis Obispo County for some unknown reason.  It is common south and north of the central coast in California.
The birding was otherwise very slow and so Ross and I were looking at other creatures, like the rove beetle (Thinopinus pictus)
(above) - a wingless beetle that lives on beaches from Alaska to Baja.  It was feeding on beach hoppers (sandhoppers or sand fleas), a terrestrial amphipod crustacean that feeds on detritus that washes up onto the beach. (Click on the photo for a larger image).  The ravens, the rove beetle, and many wild flowers (beach primrose left) were the highlights of the walk, which was much more tiring on the way back!  A green big year on foot seems like more work than one on bicycle, at times. Also, I can only range so far from home on foot and the addition of new species is much harder!  I cannot complain about two new year birds, with the ravens being an unexpected surprise!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Another Montana de Oro Sate Park Walk

On March 31, it was a holiday (Cesar Chavez Day) and unseasonably warm, so it seemed like the perfect day to skip work and walk from home into the nearby state park. I first took an extended 50 minute walk around Cuesta Inlet (Morro Bay) and my neighborhood, with my dog.  I tallied 61 species, including two BIGBY addition: a fly over male Great-tailed Grackle and a family of Wild Turkeys across the back bay at the Morro Bay Golf Course (through my scope).  I then dropped off Nike at home, packed my lunch and my scope on my back and headed to Montana de Oro State Park, via Sea Pines Golf Course.  I wanted to try and find over 100 species and see what recent spring migrants could be added to my year's list.  The nearby golf course sometimes has various geese and ducks, but the extra walk there this day only yielded coots and mallards.

  From the golf course came a hot one mile uphill walk to the top of the state park entrance road and the descent through coastal scrub habitat and exotic eucalyptus forest toward lower Hazard Canyon.  The definite highlight of the day's walk occurred just before reaching Hazard Canyon, when a bobcat ambled across the pave road in front of me.  It walked casually uphill of the road, to a horse trail that parallels the main road and I went after it (after I pulled out my camera).  I followed the cat at a comfortable distance on the trail and it stopped at a gopher hole to look for a meal. (Gophers seem to be one of the cat's staple meals here.)  I took this shot as it dug for gophers, without luck.  It then went up the trail and disappeared off the trail, and I headed back toward Hazard Canyon. I also heard numerous Pacific-slope Flycatchers in the trees and Wilson's Warblers along the creek (new green year birds) at this location.

 I followed the horse trail which curved away from the main road and down to the creek at the wooded canyon bottom.  After crossing the creek, I went up a side canyon and found several slow flying Margined White Butterflies (pictured below), which seemed to be attracted to the Milk Maids pictured here (mustard family).  This early White butterfly most likely feeds on the Milk Maids given the frequent visits by the bugs to this plant, and the fact that no other mustard family member seemed to be in the vicinity.

I then returned to the main road and walked along the road to the ranch house at Spooner's cove.  I was hoping to find Pigeon Guillemots that I figured had returned because one had been reported from Morro Bay Harbor Mouth.  As I took the scope off my back, to scan the ocean beyond Spooner's Cove, I realized that the eye piece was gone - it had fallen off somewhere on the 4 1/2 mile walk here (expletives deleted)!  I decided to eat my packed lunch here, before checking the campground for birds and then retracing my steps home to look for the eyepiece.  I did locate several new BIGBY species here, including Cliff and Rough-winged Swallows.

I took one side trip on the way home, out to the rocky coast where I saw the usual rocky shore birds such as this Black Oystercatcher and I took photos of the rock formations here (e.g., the photo below).  I never did find any Surfbirds, Ruddy Turnstones or Wandering Tattlers that I needed for my year's walking list.  I did notice that flocks of  up to 15 Whimbrels and 30 or more Semipalmated Plovers had formed, signaling the spring migration for these two species.  Spotted Sandpipers also seemed more numerous than they had a few weeks earlier.

The walk back home was frustrating as I never did find the missing eye piece.  My final tally for the day was 104 species and about 12 miles of walking.  My legs were tired from the long hilly walk.  (The soreness in my calves lasted for a couple of days after this walk!)  I also passed 150 species for my walking big year, with a my running total for the year up to 154 species.