Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Monterey Harbor and Washington Park

On a cool overcast morning, the harbor was quiet but with some interesting nest building activity. This Pelagic Cormorant emerged from the deep with a bit of nest building material, hesitated only a moment and was off to the nest. Note the second shot showing the cormorant using both feet together when taking off. We would have thought that they "run" using alternate feet when taking off.  Seattle Audubon info here.

Nearby this female Red-breasted Merganser came up from feeding, rested a moment and was back down again. The Harbor apparently provides well for its regular winter inhabitants. Cornell Lab info here.
Seen from the walking path beside the Harbor, this Song Sparrow was demonstrating how it may have gotten the name. Although common, it is always a welcome sight to see our feathered neighbors willingly sharing their environment with us. Cornell Lab info here.

Then off to Washington Park where we saw several Pine Siskins. The group was very busy at the tree tops - a pine tree as might be expected. There were about 15 in the group and very active. We did some post-processing to see detail because of the back-lit sky. Cornell Labs info here.

We were reminded that spring (it comes early to the Monterey Peninsula) brings all varieties of mushrooms. This rather large one was identified as an edible one - we left it for the experts. Expert ID info here.

The Band-tailed Pigeon, another new entry to our California bird list. The perch area was very dark and the light was diffused from above but we did get this shot. We have done some post-processing to extract detail from the shadows. The Band-tailed Pigeon is Washington State's native pigeon, soft gray like the Rock Dove, but longer and sleeker. Living along much of the Pacific Coast, Band-tailed Pigeons are found in low- and mid-elevation forests. More information from Seattle Audubon here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Western Grebes Wintering Along Pacific Grove Shore

Flocks of Western Grebes winter in several areas along the entire Monterey Bay coast. One of those flocks occupies a sheltered cove-like area just south of Lover's Point in Pacific Grove. These wintering birds arrive in September, are seen every day in their neck-over-back position and remain until spring. The number of wintering birds varies from year to year and this year there seem to be fewer than previous years.

Don Roberson tells us in his definitive book "Monterey Birds, second edition", that these wintering ocean flocks nest at Lake San Antonio about 120 miles (as the Grebes fly) inland and south just east of the Santa Lucia coastal mountains.

The courtship dances at Lake San Antonio have been seen year-round while nests and young have been seen from June to December. We are planning a trip to see them in the inland habitat this coming April.

The shot below taken on February 15, 2011 shows a portion of the birds offshore in the area where they have been seen for years. The Grebes are always a welcome sign that everything seems to be right in our usual ocean habitat. We counted 48 birds in this flock which included four Red-breasted Mergansers. There is one Red-breasted Merganser in the shot below.

First some color to keep the flock photo from being "cropped" by the fixed Blog format. It is always a welcome sight to have bright color in February along the ocean in Pacific Grove, California.
The Red-breasted Merganser is left center

We also read in Don Roberson's book that Western and Clark's grebes are often found together with the Clark's in much fewer numbers. It is difficult to tell which is which from this distance as the typical position is with the neck over the back - seemly asleep but far from it. The flock is constantly on the move, "motoring" in unison, staying more or less together while compensating for the wind and ocean currents.

The shot below is of one Western Grebe (or is it?) that came close to shore to dive and feed. Note that the typical black under the eye distinction is not clearly below the eye. The bill color is definitely not the Clark's distinctive yellow-orange color. The bill here is the more typical olive color of the Western Grebe. Peterson's Field Guide tells us that intermediates are known. After feeding, this individual re-joined the flock and assumed the typical resting position.
We will report on the Lake San Antonio trip later in the spring.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lover's Point, Pacific Grove

Another beautiful day on the Monterey Peninsula. Walking along the Recreation Trail we decided to photograph some of the common sights along the ocean. The wind was calm and the skies were clear with the distant shore across Monterey Bay towards Santa Cruz clearly visible. Many Cormorants were sunning themselves on the rocks further away from shore - no good photo ops.

This Great Egret was "fishing" offshore on a clump of kelp for some time and when satisfied, came ashore and landed on a nice warm rock directly in front of one of the benches along the walking trail. There was a long preening session with some typical poses and one that showed some interesting feather detail. The Great Egret is a majestic bird and very common along the coast year-round.
The Typical Great Egret Pose          

Interesting Feather Detail

There were a few gulls cruising along the shore and we had hoped for a better portrait of the Western Gull. One obliged with a nice pose and included a juvenile begging for attention and a food handout more likely.
A Mature Gull Pestered by a Juvenile

Still Squawking for a Meal. It's Easier than Foraging.

The Adult Walking Away! No Handout for the Kids Today.

Since it was such a nice warm afternoon, all the comfortable rocks in the vicinity had their usual Harbor Seals in residence soaking up the sun. Some seals were resting nose-up in the water, some fighting for a better rock and this one picking his teeth. We had never seen that behavior before.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Monterey Harbor on a Quiet Winter Day

Today we went to the Fisherman's Wharf area to see what birds we might see. The Harbor was quiet at mid-day and there were a few birds feeding in the unusually clear water. The mid-day light did have a benefit in that it illuminated the under parts of the cormorants that were close-by. Cormorants in the Harbor are not at all unusual at all but we enjoy capturing the behavior of the local birds.

Shot with the Nikon D7000, 300mm f4 and 1.7x tele. In bright sun this configuration auto focuses very well although it is not Nikon recommended practice. It is hard to fault the new D7000.

This adult Pelagic Cormorant was feeding nearby and displayed the typical head  and body  breeding coloration. Some of the unusual color on his tail and waterline must be an artifact of the feather iridescence and water reflections. This shot shows the breeding condition double crest, nicely raised, and the white flank patches.

Here we again see the typical breeding condition with still some of the iridescent artifact on the head.

Nearby an immature Brandt's Cormorant was feeding and while surfacing we got the action of the water being shaken off as well as a nice portrait shot (below). It's interesting how he shook his head and neck with wings out for balance.

This was a particularly nice pose.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Carmel River Marsh

The Carmel River Marsh is an unusual brackish water habitat as the river doesn't flow into the ocean except during periods of heavy run-off. A difficult decision then presents itself;  whether to interfere with the natural river dynamics (and temporary flooding) or accommodate the homeowners at risk by opening a temporary route to the ocean. Once the decision is made, the river outlet is "bulldozed" to open the river flow to the ocean. Ocean currents along the shore soon begin to deposit sand back into the river mouth and it is only a matter of time (or maybe a strong ocean storm) before the river mouth closes once again, completing the cycle.

It was another brisk morning on Monday, January 31, 2011 when we began our weekly Bird Walk, led by local expert, Brian Weed. The inland lagoon and marshy area hosted many deer, Buffleheads, Canada Geese, and Ruddy Ducks. We spotted two White-tailed Kites in the distant trees as well as a Red-shouldered Hawk scanning the fields. This is certainly a productive wildlife area.

All shots were taken with the new Nikon D7K with a Nikon 300mm f4 Telephoto lens and a 1.7x Tele-extender. Shutter speed fixed at 1/1000, variable aperture, ISO fixed at 200. This is a capable combination for field work with some focus "hunting" on low contrast subjects.

We first explored the inland marsh area and encountered this Field Lily (we call it) and the California Poppy bursting forth in the morning sun. This is unusual, as many other parts of the country don't experience flowers like this for months to come. The California central coast is certainly a unique place to live.


Near the ocean we encountered a lone Whimbrel warming himself in the sun quite some distance away.

We then spotted this pair of Bushtits in the dense brush. Note the female above with the yellow iris and the male below. They were very busy and quite difficult to "capture". Note also the yellowish cast to the chest - apparently collected pollen that can (and did) confuse identification.

Along the ocean path, on the roof of an ocean-front home, this Red-tailed Hawk surveyed the low brush area between the homes and the ocean.

And directly below on the ocean path we saw a very large flock of House Finches under the watchful eye of the Red-shouldered Hawk above. The House Finches kept "on-the-move" while the hawk stayed on the ideal roof perch.

We got these shots of the California Towhee and a Hummingbird that seemed to be an Anna's Hummingbird. All the morning birds were very active. We also saw Song Sparrows, Golden-crowned Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows in this same area.

As we were leaving the ocean-front area we stopped along an access road and spotted the California Quail and the California Thrasher, both new birds to some of the participants. 

Finally we found this White-crowned Sparrow posing close-by along the ocean trail, we couldn't resist including his portrait . 

It's hard to believe that most of the country is experiencing major winter cold and snow. Here it's warm and pleasant.