Sunday, July 31, 2011

Balboa Park, San Diego ... and Birds

On June 15, we took a day trip to San Diego to take in the sights, so I thought I'd might try to do some birding in Balboa Park while we were there. 

Balboa Park, San Diego, CA; 6/15/2011.
Because there were lots of beautiful sites, I didn't concentrate on birds as much as I'd like to but here is the small  list of birds I was able to identify: California Towhees, House Finches, House Wrens, Western Bluebird (FOY), Black Phoebes, Mourning Doves, Song Sparrows, House Sparrows, Lesser Goldfinch, Red-shouldered Hawk* (FOY), Anna's Hummingbird* (FOY) and Black-chinned Hummingbird (FOY).
* The Red-shouldered Hawk and Anna's Hummingbird were additions to my Life List (#303 & #304).

California Towhee

Black Phoebe

Female Lesser Goldfinch

House Wren

Young House Wren - just out of the nest

Mourning Dove
Although not a great photo, this is the first time I was able to identify a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Song Sparrow - Pacific variety.

Balboa Park, San Diego, CA; 6/15/2011.

Balboa Park, San Diego, CA; 6/15/2011.
During my next couple of posts, I will highlight  my photos of the Western Bluebird,  Anna's Hummingbird, and  the Black-chinned Hummingbird from Balboa Park.

Sunset of the Day

The evening sun lighting up the vapors from the PuuOo Volcanic eruption, Hawaii; 6/30/2008.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Yellow-breasted Chat - Western Birds

Yellow-breasted Chats are pretty much found throughout the U.S from coast to coast with the exception of  the high elevations of the Rockies, the extreme northeast, and a few spotty areas in the borders of Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.  Even though they are found in Illinois, I have never seen one in Illinois, as they are considered uncommon and secretive and tend to hide in the dense brush.
A Yellow-breasted Chat, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/17/2011.
On the very last day I had in Newport Beach, California, I decided to make one last trip to Crystal Cove State Park before I had to pack off.  After a couple of hours (and running a cross a Bobcat and several roadrunners), I needed to head back, and on my return I heard this loud chattering fly past behind me, and I saw the bird which made the noise land on an open branch a good 100 feet from me. It wasn't in the best light, but I snapped a photo, and before I could get a second shot, off it went chattering a way out of sight.  Even though I never saw one before, by the brief look I had of it and my recall of the many images in bird books I've leafed through, I hoped it was a Yellow-breasted Chat. And sure enough after looking at its image on my LED screen, it was (Above), and it became #305 on my Life List.

These birds are from the warbler family, and is one of the very few warblers found in the extreme West. They are fairly large at 7 1/2" long and (as their name suggests) are noted for their very bright yellow breast, white spectacles, and olive-gray back, head, and tail. Their yellow breasts give way to a white under belly.

Crystal Cove State Park was good to me in the 5 days I spent some time there. I identified 40 species, 23 of which were FOYs, and added 11 new birds to my Life List.

Crystal Cove State Park, CA (6/13-6/14 & 6/16-6/17)
Birds Identified: Mourning Doves, Common Yellowthroats, Brown Pelicans (FOY), American Crows, Common Ravens, Brewer's Blackbird (FOY), Brown-headed Cowbirds, California Gulls (FOY), Heerman's Gulls (FOY), California Quail (FOY), Greater Roadrunners (FOY), California Towhees (FOY), Spotted Towhees, House Finches, Lesser Gold Finches (FOY), Mallard Duck, Song Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, House Sparrows, Starling, Black Phoebes (FOY), Says Phoebe, Double-crested Cormorants, California Gnatcatchers  (FOY), Bushtits  (FOY), Wrentits  (FOY), Ash-throated Flycatchers  (FOY), Bullock's Oriole  (FOY), Coopers Hawk  (FOY), Black Skimmers  (FOY), Allen's Hummingbird  (FOY), Bewick's Wren  (FOY), House Wrens, Cassin's Kingbird  (FOY), Yellow-rumped Audubon's Warbler  (FOY), Yellow Warblers, Cliff Swallows  (FOY), Northern Mockingbird  (FOY), and a Yellow-breasted Chat  (FOY).

Additions to Life List (292-302 & 305): California Quail, California Towhee, Black Skimmer. Bushtit, Bullock's Oriole, Allen's Hummingbird, Bewick's Wren, Wrentit, California Thrasher, Cassin's Kingbird, and Yellow-breasted Chat.
Sunset of the Day
The last two posts, I highlighted a photo from this same scene (on Watchman's Peak) as the sun was setting . This photo was just minutes later as storm clouds rolled in and everything turned gold form the setting sun, Crater Lake National Park, OR; 7/10/2008.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cooper's Hawk - Western Birds

A Cooper's Hawk sitting on a lamp post, Newport Beach, CA; 6/13/2011.
As I was walking down the road just outside of the Crystal Cove State Park boundaries, a Cooper's Hawk (Above) eyed me from its perch on a lamp post. I saw it from quite a distance away, but wasn't sure what kind of raptor it was until I came closer. I took lots of photos as I approached it, and expected him to fly off. But it let me not only get close to its perch, but also pass under him and take more pictures from the other side. Cooper's Hawks can be found on both sides of the country from the Midwest to the Atlantic Coast and from the Rockies to the Pacific Coast. In summer months, they'll stretch their range across all of the states along the the U.S. northern border and into Canada. About the only place you won't find them in summer is a small section in the central south - Nebraska, Oklahoma and central Texas.

Cooper's Hawks have a beautiful red and white speckled breast and belly, with grayish back, wings, and crown. The gray on its head fades to lighter on its cheeks and is set off with very clear red eyes.

Sunset of the Day
From the same perch (as yesterday's Sunset pic) on Watchman's Peak, we could see storm clouds rolling in from the west, opposite of Crater Lake, but the clouds did not obscure the setting sun, Crater Lake National Park, OR; 7/10/2007

Thursday, July 28, 2011

California Thrasher - Western Birds

California Thrasher, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/16/2011.
Three consecutive days during the week I spent birding in Crystal Cove State Park I saw a rather large bird with a long hooked bill suddenly appear in the brush then disappear just as fast. It was always on the ground under dense brush and never came into view except for a curved bill here or a tail there. Because of its bill, I knew it was a thrasher, and had to do some research to find out that the only Thrasher to inhabit the California Pacific Coast would be the California Thrasher, which then became #301 on my Life List.  Finally, in the late afternoon on the day before I was to leave the area, I heard a low harsh scratchy sort of bird call coming from the thickets. I wasn't sure what it was until I saw the Thrasher sitting on a branch about three feet off the ground. And there it was, the elusive California Thrasher sitting in a position in which I could get a photograph. I hurriedly snapped off several shots, but the bird was in a position with horrible back light (Below) and all that the photos produced were silhouettes of it. II thought if only I could get around to the other side of it, but that would mean bushwhacking through some thick thorny brush, and undoubtedly making excess noise, which would scare the bird into the underbrush.  I decided it was worth a try because the Thrasher seemed content to stay where it was and didn't seem motivated to move into a better photographic position - birds are selfish that way.  The bushes were anywhere from waist high to head high, so as  slowly scratched my way through the brush (it was more like the bush scratched me) to get to the other side, I moved one branch at a time out of my and tried to step over and in between as many brambles as possible so not to cause undue noise. After about five minutes (which seemed longer) of purposeful bushwhacking (actually it was not much of a "whacking" more like a "bushmoving"), I reached a point where I could see the Cal. Thrasher in better light. To my surprise, it didn't fly away, but kept up its croak like song. It surely must have known I was there - I wasn't very incognito, nor stealthy. But it stayed put and let me take  several pictures (Above). It didn't look very healthy as its head was very thinly covered with feathers. it was either molting or sick.

The clear silhouette of a California Thrasher, CA; 6/16/2011.

California Thrashers are only found in California and the northern Pacific Coast of the Baja Peninsula. I felt fortunate to find one in the open because several birding guides say that they are common but difficult to see.

Sunset of the Day
As seen from Watchman's Peak, the golden light of the setting sun reflecting off the mountains surrounding Crater Lake and casting a very defined shadow of  Wizard Island on the lake, Crater Lake Nat. Park, OR;  7/10/2008.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Greater Roadrunner - Western Birds

A Greater Roadrunner, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/17/2011.
I always thought Roadrunners were a desert bird - so you can imagine my surprise when a Roadrunner zipped out of the brush in front of me and disappeared down the trail - it was gone within seconds. I didn't expect to see one just yards from the coast of the Pacific Ocean.  Well actually, the area in Crystal Cove State Park, up on the bluff overlooking the ocean is very arid, grassy, weedy and brush-filled, which is the exact kind of  habitat the roadrunner likes. A couple of days later, I saw another Roadrunner just sitting on an electrical box (Above) posing as if on a pedestal. That same morning, I saw four different Roadrunners in different parts of the park. This was the same morning I saw the Bobcat (see my 7/10/2011 post - link below: ). The Bobcat must have been on to something, with all the roadrunners out and about that morning - or the roadrunners were moving about because of the Bobcat.
Another Greater Roadrunner, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/17/2011.
Greater Roadrunners are found throughout the Southwest from southern California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, and even into Louisiana and Arkansas, and of course, all over Mexico.
A close up of a Greater Roadrunner after it caught a small snake, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/17/2011.
Greater Roadrunners are large ground bird which very seldom flies, that grow to almost two feet in length. They do their hunting in the bush looking for lizards and snakes (Above).  They are a brown steaked bird with a long tail and large crest. They often have a spot of blue and red behind the eye.
A Greater Roadrunner doing what' it is known for, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/17/2011.
The first Roadrunner I ever saw was in Big Bend National Park, Texas;12/30/2007.
Another Greater Roadrunner, Tucson, AZ; 12/29/2009.
There are also the Lesser Roadrunners which are a bit smaller than the Greater, and can be found in southwestern Mexico and the northern regions of Central America.

The desert habitat of Crystal Cove State Park is perfect for Roadrunners, CA; 6/14/2011.

The Pacific Ocean Coastline as seen from the bluffs, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/14/20011.

Sunset of the Day
A Desert Sunset, Phoenix, AZ; December, 2006.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lesser Goldfinch - Western Birds

The first time I saw a Lesser Goldfinch was several years ago while visiting my brother in Tucson, AZ.  They are not as brilliant as their relative the American Goldfinch, but they still have a pretty look with their yellow throat and underparts contrasted by their dark wings, back and black cap. The main difference between the Lesser and the American Goldfinches are their backs. The American Goldfinch has a yellow back while the Lesser's is grayish/olive. When the Lesser Goldfinch (Above) landed literally next to me in Crystal Cove State Park, it stayed put and allowed me to get several pics. 
Escalante, UT; 6/15/2011.
Lesser Goldfinches are found mostly in the southwest, but range from as far north as Oregon to the southern tip of Texas and into Mexico.

Sunset of the Day
I have always liked the texture quality of this sunset photo - it reminds me of a painting, Dana Point Harbor, CA; 8/13/2007.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bewick's Wren - Western Birds

A pair of Bewick's Wrens, Crystal Cove State Park; 6/14/2011.
I hit the magic #300 on my Life List when I saw a pair of Bewick's Wrens foraging in the mesquite thickets of  Crystal Cove State Park.  These are a medium sized wren that can be found year round from the Northwest corner of Washingon State angling southeast into Oklahoma and Texas. In the summers they'll stretch their range a bit east into Missourri and Kentucky. Bewick's have a very long bold white eyebrow set against a brown head (crown and cheeks). They have a brown back, wings and tail, with lighter grayish underparts. Like all wrens they have their characteristic long slightly curved bill.

Another Bewick's Wren, Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, CA; 6/18/2011.
A few days later while hiking on Santa Cruz Island of the Channel Islands National Park, I heard a familiar song from a bird in the distance - another Bewick's Wren (Above).  It was sitting on a rock at a quite a distance away. I tried to gradually inch myself closer to get a better picture, but it disappeared over the bluff leading to the ocean. If I didn't hear it sing, I might have mistaken it for a Canyon Wren, but it also didn't have the Canyon's Wren's rufous belly.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wrentit - Western Birds

(Burst 1)Wrentit, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/14/2011.
Wrentits (Above) are fairly common along the Pacific coast - if you can spot one. They hang around very dense brushy habitats, which is exactly the area I found this little guy high up on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was flitting aound non-stop in the bush, and I was lucky to capture it with a couple of bursts in the split second it stood still in a relatively open area. It also took me a while to identify it as it was with a small group of California Gnatcatchers and Bushtits. Finally after looking at my photos and comparing the image to a very similar photo in The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America I had my match and the Wrentit became  #298 on my Life List.
(Burst #2) A Wrentit looking at me before it took off and hid on me, Crystal Cove State Park; 6/14/2011.
The Wrentit's name comes from its combination of characteristics of wrens and titmice. It tends to raise its tail like wrens and has small bills like titmice. They can only be found along the Pacific Coast from Oregon down to the northern regions of the Baja.
Another Wrentit in Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/17/2011.
A couple of days later I was fortunate enough to capture another Wrentit (Above) in Crystal Cove State Park. This one showed itself for a moment and was gone. Most Wrentits are brownish overall, lighter underneath with a short bill and a pale iris.  The Wrentits in southern California are grayer above which makes their breast appear reddish brown with light gray streaks.

Sunset of the Day
A sunset in the Chatahoochie Mts., Goergia; 6/15/2010.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bullock's Oriole - Western Birds

A Bullocks Oriole in Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/14/2011.
The Bullock's Oriole became #297 on my Life List, when I heard it singing in the tree tops in Crystal Cove State Park. It never really came down in a better position than (Above). Bullock's Orioles are purely found in the West - from Montana in the north to Texas in the South westward to the Pacific coast and into Mexico.

Bullock's Oriole, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/14/2011.
Bullock's Orioles have a yellowish/orangish  breast, belly and head, with a black crown, nape and back, and a thin black eyeline. Its wings coverts are white. The eyeline and coverts are the main identifying marks for the Bullock's.

Sunset of the Day
A bauman Park Sunset, Cherry Valley , IL; 5/1/2010.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bushtit - Western Birds

A Bushtit, Crystal Cove State Park, Newport Beach, CA; 6/14/2011.
A Bushtit (Above) became my #296 on my Life List on June 13. They are a chickadee-shaped bird, but even smaller, only growing about 4 1/2" in length with a small wingspan of 6". The Bushtits I encountered were always in small flocks in perpetual motion, buzzing from from bush to bush. The "Pacific Coast" subspecies (in contrast to the "Interior" species) is the type I saw. They are more brown overall (the interior is more gray) especially with a brownish crown and wingtips.
A Bushtit taking flight, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/14/2011
Bushtits hardly ever stopped moving (Above), and I was fortunate to get a clear shot at a couple of them, as they tended to stay hidden, keeping the bush between me and them.
My first capture of a Bushtit, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/13/2011
Bushtits range year round along the Pacific coastal states of Washingtom, Oregon and California, as well as the interior states of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and south into Mexico.

Sunset of the Day
Another Bauman Park sunset, Cherry Valley, IL; 11/12/2007

Thursday, July 21, 2011

California Gnatcatchers - Western Birds

A California Gnatcatcher, Crystal Cove State Park, Newport Beach, CA; 6/14/2011.
The California Gnatcatcher (Above) became #294 on my Life List, but it took me a few days to actually identify it. When I saw it flitting around in the bush in Crystal Cove State Park, I assumed that it was another Blue-gray Gnatcatcher as they are very similar looking, but its song is slightly different - less wheezy. Visually, it took me until I could see its under tail, which is mostly black with a couple of thin white swoops. The Blue-Gray is mostly white underneath. (See pics Below)

Although the photo is of poor quality, the black undertail proves this to be a California Gnatcatcher, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/14/2011.
Another blurry photo showing the black undertail of the Cal. Gnatcatcher, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/14/2011.
My first look at a California Gnatcatcher, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/13/2011.
California Gnatcatchers have a very small breeding area which only includes the very southern coast of california and the Baja Peninsula, which they inhabit year round. I am very fortunate that I was able to identify it.

To see photos of the Blue Gray Gnatcatcher see my 6/17/2011 post with the link below:

Sunset of the Day

A Bauman park Sunset, Cherry Valley, IL; 11/4/2007

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ash-throated Flycatcher - Western Birds

An Ash-throated Flycatcher in Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/14/2011.
Four types of tyrant flycatchers look very similar, but only two of them (Ash-throated and Brown-crested) would be found in southern California. I saw a pair of Ash-throated Flycatchers hanging about the brushy habitat of Crystal Cove State Park. I knew it was an Ash-throated because its bill was smaller than a Brown-crested, and its habitat suited the Ash-throated. These flycatchers have a gray upper body with white wing bars and pale gray chest and pale yellow belly. One striking trait is its tannish primaries and tail.

Another look at an Ash-throated Flycatcher, Crystal Cove State Park, CA; 6/13/2011.
In the summer months, Ash-throated Flycatchers can be found throughout the West from southern Oregon, northern California, Nevada and Utah southward into Arizona New Mexico, western Texas and Mexico. In Winter it will migrate to the Texas coast of the Gulf of mexico and further south into Mexico and cenral America.  Year round they can be found in the Baja Peninsula and the western coast of Mexico.
An Ash-throated Flycatcher trying to hide in the foliage, Crystal Cove State Park; 6/14/2011.

Sunrise of the Day
 A beautiful sunrise coming up over the Chiricahua Mountains in the Chiricahua National Monument, AZ; 3/12/2007