Friday, April 22, 2011

Odello Marsh, Carmel, California

The Odello Marsh area offers a range of habitat including dense brush, relatively open recovering marsh area and a secluded pond. We expected to see some nesting activity and perhaps some unusual sightings during our Bird Walk led by local expert Brian Weed. This day we documented with photos the State Flower and the State Bird.

Near the parking area we heard California Quail (the State Bird) in the dense growth and a pair appeared briefly. We were able to get a shot of the male before he was back under cover. This isn't a great shot but it documents our observations. A nice find. For more information on the California Quail check here (Cornell) or here (Wikipedia).
The Audubon Society chose the Valley Quail as an appropriate symbol for the California State Bird and recommended its official adoption to the California Legislature. It was signed into law by Governor James Rolph on June 12, 1931. Info from the State web site.

Above us this Song Sparrow was singing his song. It's just amazing to hear the sound from this little bird.

This American Robin was also a pleasant sight well above us in the tree-tops. Although very common,  there is all the information you will ever need to know about the American Robin here on Wikipedia. It was fascinating to read the detail, finding things I really never knew about our friendly Robin.

We always like to capture some of the plant life and found this Wild Radish in a particularly sunny spot. We read in Wikipedia that this is a non-native, invasive species. It was pretty but maybe not so good to have around us. That information is here.

Nearby we caught a brief look at this Hermit Thrush who posed momentarily and was off. We were fortunate to get this one shot off before he disappeared. Wikipedia has very good information with photos here.

Then nearby we heard a lot of singing in the dense brush and after waiting a while - as the bird watching group had moved on - we spotted this fine example of a Black-headed Grosbeak. He wasn't in the greatest location, but we were able to get a few shots. These next two are the best. The very complete Seattle Audubon information on the Black-headed Grosbeak can be found here.

Also nearby we spotted this bird in a shady location.  After processing to recover detail, and a correction from Brian Weed, we now know it is certainly a Chestnut-backed Chickadee not a Mountain Chickadee as I originally thought. We see this fellow has a small grub of some sort in his beak - likely one of the ones that had been eating the leaves nearby - no longer. More information from Cornell Labs about the Chestnut-backed Chickadee can be found here. As we look at the detailed references for the Chestnut-backed and the Mountain Chickadee varieties, the range map should have been a tip-off. The Chestnut-backed range is consistent with the Monterey coastal area. Thanks Brian!

Then on to the Pond where we recorded four different species in the following shot:  A mallard drake, a Dowitcher, a Coot and a Killdeer. Not a great shot but it gives an idea of the variety of birds that enjoy the secluded location together. Dowitcher info here.

And below, a Bufflehead pair, with a correction from Brian Weed on their breeding area. The range map from the Cornell site shows the summer breeding area well north of here into Canada. We continue to learn from Brian. Thanks! Information from the Cornell Labs site provides excellent Bufflehead information here.

And as a finale, a California Poppy, one of the few we saw but we expect the nearby hills to be covered with this color soon. The golden poppy, Eschscholzia, was selected as the official State flower of California by an act of the Legislature on March 2, 1903. Info from the State website.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Laguna Grande Park, Seaside, CA

A Productive Day and a pleasant walk at the Laguna Grande Pond - -
We observed nesting activity and many of the more common species on this visit. 
This Eurasian Collared Dove was sitting on a nearby wire as we arrived. We understand that this species was introduced into the Bahamas in the 1970's, reached Florida in the 1980's, has progressed across the Country since then and has recently has been reported in Alaska. Migration across the Country in 25 years - quite a feat. We see many perched in the dead trees in the Park. Wikipedia describes how the Eurasian Collared Dove has been one of the great colonizers of the bird world during the last century. There is a very informative history of the world-wide dispersion since the 1600's here.

This Double-crested Cormorant was roosting in a pond-side tree where we have seen them previously. Note the white breeding plumage crests. Wikipedia has a very complete history of the common Double-crested Cormorant here.

Red-winged Blackbirds were plentiful. There were many males - this one seems to be the western bi-colored variety while others did have the red-yellow wing patch. Portraits of a male and a presumed female follow. Again, Wikipedia has very good historical information on the species here.

One Great-blue Heron had been sitting in the rushes on the other side of the Pond. We captured this shot as he moved to a new location. Excellent Wikipedia information on the distribution, habitat, behavior and diet can be found here.

The ever-present immature gulls were seen - this one with a nice pose.

And there were a few Pied-billed Grebes - the most wide-spread of the North-American grebes. Not strong flyers, we see them feeding in the Pond and often nearby the reeds along the shore - their likely nesting site.The Wikipedia reference material provides very complete information here.

A group of Canada Geese was nearby this nesting spot when another male (see below) came in for a noisy landing while immediately claiming dominance and protecting the female on this nest.

The "touch-down" isn't necessarily an elegant maneuver - it seems more like a "controlled crash".

We always look for the Red-shouldered Hawk and this day we spotted two. We also identified their likely nest - high in these eucalyptus trees. We read in the Wikipedia summary here that their incubation period is about 30 days and that hatchlings are brooded for up to 40 days. The young leave the nest at about six weeks of age, but remain dependent on the parents until they are 17 to 19 weeks old. We will have several more weeks to observe their activity in this area.

There was other nest-building activity observed as this Black Phoebe was collecting mud for a nest under one of the Pond bridges. We watched as several trips were made with mud from this location. It is interesting to read the Wikipedia commentary about the more common birds. We always get a better understanding after checking the references - here. We read that their habitat must supply mud for nest building - as we observed.

The Dark-eyed Junco was also in the mud but not apparently gathering nesting mud in his beak. This one is the Oregon sub-species common in this coastal area. Wikipedia has a good summary of the Dark-eyed Junco here.

We are finding that the Wikipedia information is often far more detailed and informative than the Cornell Labs site We check both sources while developing the Blog entries, referencing the one with the better information.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Black Oystercatchers, Monterey Bay Shoreline

Black Oystercatchers are one of the more unusual year-round inhabitants on the Monterey Bay Shore. They can be found almost every day, usually in pairs and announce their comings and goings with a loud high-pitched scream. Once settled on the rocks, we watch them feeding in the exposed areas dislodging small shellfish and other creatures hidden in the moist growth on the rocks. When not feeding, they are often found on the sunny side of shoreline rocks enjoying the afternoon sun. Note in the first shot below that one of the Oystercatchers is "hunkered-down" resting on the sunny side of this rock.

It is always a welcome sight to find them in their habitat and often on one of their favorite warm rocks. We wonder if we see the same ones day after day. It's like meeting old friends - the day doesn't seem complete until we find them.

While having observed them along the Monterey and Pacific Grove shore for the last five years, it was a surprise to read that as recently as 2002 they were on the Audubon "Watch List". By 2007, they had apparently made enough of a come-back and were no longer on the Watch List. There is very good information on the Audubon site describing their Distribution & Population Trends, Ecology, Threats, and Conservation efforts here.

The BirdWeb site also has fine information about them in the Washington State coastal area here. Black Oystercatchers are found all along the Pacific coast from the Aleutian Islands to Baja California.

One of this pair was on a nearby rock allowing a better close-up of their coloration and showing the distinctive red bill and pink feet. We observe them most often poking into this dark colored growth on the rocks but seldom do we see them eating anything large enough to be visible even with binoculars or the telephoto lens. The informative web sites describe their diet including small shell fish but we have never observed them eating anything but the food found in this typical growth.

These shots were taken at 500mm with a Nikon D90 - hand held at 1/1000.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Gulls Feeding, Monterey Bay

We set up with the Nikon 500mm, 1.4 Tele and the D7000 close to the rocky shore to shoot an experimental series while making fine-tuning adjustments on the camera focus settings with the goal of maximizing focus sharpness of the shots.
This immature Gull was first on the scene having spotted this giant chunk of food that he had to himself for a few minutes. The gull made an ideal subject for the focus experiments - close enough and with good feather detail.
It is unfortunate that the Blog format to the right "clips" the photos. We'll try to revise the format.

The immature gull was soon replaced by a pair of adult Western Gulls that displayed unusual sharing behavior - they don't usually share their food. We gather the food supply was adequate for both. The immature gull watched from a nearby rock.

The pair was close enough to shore that breaking waves sometimes interrupted the feast. In fact, they lost their delicacy for a while. Where did it go?

One gull went under in an attempt to retrieve the food.

Successful, the remaining gull had a few more bites - then the food sank and drifted away. We like the feather detail in this shot.

The gulls gave us good subject material for the focus adjustments. We are close to establishing the optimum settings. More testing will be needed but we're satisfied with the results so far.