Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sacramento Mandarin Duck

After shooting an adventure racing team at Lake Natoma, I spent the afternoon with my 5 year old son, Simon at McKinley Park in East Sacramento. This is a great spot for close views of wild WOOD DUCKS as the pond there has several pairs. Today the pond held a adult male MANDARIN DUCK (who copulated with a very willing female Wood Duck). This is a free flying bird that is likely an escape...but you never know!

No leg bands...

...primaries are all intact...

...somehow, though, I don't think any rare bird committee would accept this one! Regardless...he's quite a stunner!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Summer Tanager in El Dorado Hills!

Chris Conard got wind of a returning SUMMER TANAGER staked out off a nature trail in a suburban neighborhood about a week ago. I finally got a chance to get over there and check it out. I was there for about 20 minutes when Fritz Steurer appeared and pointed me to the bird. I got off a few poor shots before it flew out towards the neighborhood. Dave Johnson and Dee Wyrencia were also there at the time. The others left but I wanted to try and get another chance for photos. About 5-10 minutes later the bird reappeared and allowed fairly close approach. Nice bird!

It was feasting on bees that were slowly appearing from an oak. You can see bee parts on it's bill in these photos.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Texas: Day 6. Last half day...a great way to end the trip!

We decided to use the remaining half day of my involvement in this trip to check local parks in Harlingen for Groove-billed Ani. Since it was local, we didn't get up until 7:00am (vs. the 4:30am and 5:30am alarms of the previous days). It was a beautiful day with very little wind! It figures...last day here...and it's a half day!

While getting ready I checked the Texbirds listserv and saw that there was a TROPICAL PARULA found the day before near the Convention Centre on South Padre Island. This was one species I was hoping for but really didn't expect. Plans changed immediately. South Padre Island is only a 35 minute drive from Harlingen and, since the Spring breakers were all still sleeping or hung over, there was no traffic.

Upon arrival I was pleased to see that the spot where this bird was found is a very small grove of trees next to the Convention Centre which is surrounded by salt marsh...this was an isolated oasis. As I returned to the car to get my camera, Dad came running around the corner to get me because he had found it! It gave all great views for the hour that we were there...beautiful lighting and it seemed oblivious to our presence as it would feed in the trees right over our heads.

Also in the grove were several butterflies...

...roosting MONARCHS...


There was a BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER present as well. This is a very active species that rarely sits still. The nice weather following such severe winds was probably the reason this bird took a few minutes to preen itself...a sight I've never encountered in the 31 years I've been birding.

All in all a good trip despite the weather. 4 life birds for me and a few state birds for Dad. The Tropical Parula was such a great way to end the trip.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Texas: Day 4. Another windy day

We began our day at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park in search of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. We walked into the park about 45 minutes before dawn and almost immediately heard an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL trilling in the dark. A short walk from the entrance yielded 3 more. PAURAQUE (pah-RAH-key) were calling around us and one flew within feet of us. We were able to get one in the flashlight beam for a moment and saw the unmistakable orange "eye shine."

It began to get lighter and suddenly, we both heard a FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL from the trees ahead. It gave us perhaps, 8-10 toots and never called again and we never did see it. After searching through a passerine flock for the previously reported Tropical Parula (without luck) we decided to leave.

On our way out we bumped into the daily bird walk and the leader happily showed us this roosting EASTERN SCREECH-OWL.

This insect (Hoverfly?) was guarding one of the interpretive signs...there seemed to be one at each sign.

We then headed for Frontera Audubon where there had been Groove-billed Ani reported recently. No luck with the ani but we did have some nice birds, leps (butterflies), and odes (dragonflies).

This GREAT KISKADEE was coming to the water for a drink.

TELEUS LONGTAILS and BROWN LONGTAILS were braving the winds.

This BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD was coming in to feed at one of the several nectar feeders.

A short walk through the grounds found us at a feeding station that held an OVENBIRD, INCA DOVES, and several CHACHALACAS, like this one. He seemed to be displaying...all puffed up.

I believe this is a mature (past it's prime) ROSEATE SKIMMER.

I was told that this butterfly is a TEXAS CRESCENT but can't find that common name referenced.

After Frontera we decided to give another shot at Aplomado Falcon and headed east to Laguna Atascosa. A large falcon perched on a radio tower gave us hope and a pursued a NORTHERN HARRIER that had a prey item and forced it to relinquish the meal. We found it a little bit later on the ground and it turned out to be a PEREGRINE FALCON.

In pursuit of the falcon I almost stepped on this WESTERN DIAMONDBACK RATTLESNAKE...a life herp (reptile).

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Texas: Day 3. Another day, another life bird

Today we spent the entire day (yes 7am-7pm) waiting for the Muscovy Ducks to show themselves on the Rio Grande at Salineno. They never did. Neither did Hook-billed Kite. RED-BILLED PIGEONS showed well providing me with a new species. The sky was overcast all day which made photography difficult. We did have some highlights...3 ZONE-TAILED HAWKS joined the vultures soaring above. A COMMON BLACK HAWK sat partially obstructed in a tree upstream frustrating some birders. Below are some of the birds present.

GREAT KISKADEE sounds filled the air most of the day. There were several at a feeder nearby fighting over the peanut butter tray.

AUDUBON'S ORIOLE is a specialty of Salineno. This male was at the feeder eating oranges.

This CURVE-BILLED THRASHER was new for this trip. Love that orange eye!

One of the most common birds in the valley is GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKER.

LEAF-CUTTER ANTS created a nice diversion while we waited (and waited...and waited).

On a side note...we watched many large bales of marijuana trafficked across the border on boats and witnessed (quite close) a boat of illegal immigrants come ashore as 2 vehicles raced into the parking lot to pick them up and drive off in haste.