Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday: Northern Red Bishop

This past fall, I was pulling out of the parking lot at my regular birding spot in Irvine when a brilliant flash of orange caught my eye.  Due to other commitments, I was unable to turn around to see what it might have been and wondered all the way home what I'd missed.

A week later, I discovered that a small flock of unusual birds had made a temporary home at this spot.  Northern Red Bishops (also known as Orange Bishops) are actually from Africa!  However, they are one of a multitude of non-native species that has escaped and taken hold in the Southern California environment.

The males are a brilliant orange/red with black faces and chests.

This small flock hung around for about 2 months on this same grouping of dead branches.

Their brown wings look almost like a sparrow's wings have been grafted on - I always thought they don't match the rest of the bird.

As I watched them over time, it was easy to pick out their dominance games...always trying to be in the "top spot" on the branch.

The orange feathers on the backs of their heads can ruffle up to appear almost like a hood.

This set of photos was taken two weeks later than the ones above...and the birds were still on that same group of branches!

This time, I was able to get a few shots of the females...who really do look like sparrows! 

I had to do some research at home to make sure these weren't just sparrows hanging out with the Bishops.

There's quite a lot of controversy regarding these non-native species (especially those that are nest parasites like the Whydahs) and whether they should be allowed to proliferate.  I'm a little on the fence - would not want to see a native species displaced by these birds, but on the other hand, if there are enough resources for them to co-exist, then maybe it's okay.  We've lost so many species and so much habitat...if something can manage to survive, maybe it's Nature's way of moving a new game piece onto the board.  In any event, I'll be interested to see if this flock returns this fall or if this was a one-time deal.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday: Northern Harrier

These pictures are not of the best quality, but this was such an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime encounter that I decided to share them anyway.  While I saw Northern Harriers several times over the course of fall and winter (the only time they are present in Southern California), it was always at a distance or while they were in flight.  However, one day, as I was walking down a path, I was amazed to see a female Northern Harrier pounce on something in the reeds just in front of me. 

She graciously allowed me to snap 3 shots and then she was off with her prey and disappeared in the distance.  I had no time to maneuver for a clean shot so there are a few reeds in front of her, but the owl-like facial disk that is unique to this raptor is clearly visible.

Maybe if I can just sneak a teeny bit around I can get those reeds out of the shot...

Yep - she saw me.  Bye-bye!
And that was it.  The end of my surprise close encounter with this amazing raptor.  I did at least manage to get a shot of those cool facial markings, though.  I saw her a few times after this, but always in flight.  Never saw a male at this location, but did see one in April at location much farther inland - the males are smaller and much more gray in coloration.  In fact, their nickname is the "Gray Ghost".
Next fall...I'll definitely be looking out for the return of this stunning bird.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday: Snowy Plovers

In late 2015, Ryan and I participated in the OC Snowy Plover survey.  After a day of training, we were assigned a particular beach and went out on two occasions to survey it.  Unfortunately, our beach was an unlikely location and, as expected, we didn't find any Plovers.  However, a few weeks later, the Sea and Sage Audubon Society (who sponsored the survey) also had a Snowy Plover field trip which we attended in the hopes of finally spotting this bird.  While numerous in other parts of the country, Snowy's are listed as threatened in Southern California due to habitat loss.  Work is being done to restore native sand dune ecologies and to set aside some roosting/breeding areas for these birds.  Following are some of the photos from that day:

This shot (looking north towards the pier) shows some of the very small area of remaining native dune plants.

This shot looks south towards Balboa Harbor and shows the fenced off Plover area.

These are some close-ups of some of the native/endangered plants...

...Beach Primrose...

...and Sand Verbena

Hopes were high in the week leading up to the trip as the biologist/guide reported that the Plovers were in the expected location every day.  We arrived at the meeting location south of Balboa Pier on the morning of October 17th...only to be met with the news that the Plovers had apparently just moved to a new location that day.  As we expressed our disappointment and tried to decide what to do next, one possible reason for their departure became immediately apparent:

This adult Cooper's Hawk flew right in and settled on the fence of the roosting area...clearly he wanted a nice plump Plover for breakfast!  Just as clearly, the Plovers weren't coming back to this area any time soon :-(

After much discussion, the group agreed it was worth heading up the coast another 20 minutes or so to Huntington Beach to check out another potential location.  This time...the Plovers didn't disappoint!

Now you see why we couldn't give up on finding them...they are quite arguably the world's cutest bird!

For comparison, here's a shot of Snowy's mixed with Sanderlings.  You think Sanderlings are tiny little birds until you see them next to Snowy's!

Here's an example of what our guide referred to as the "egg carton effect."  Snowy's like to roost in divots in the sand...think a speeding lifeguard vehicle is going to notice them in time?

Speaking of vehicles...guess where the nicest "sand divots" are?  Yep...vehicle tracks!  You can see a track running right through the bottom section of this photo...and a Snowy standing right in it!

These guys are just so cute that I couldn't stop taking photos.  I took well over 1,000 shots that day which is why it's taken me 6 months to go through them all.  Truly, it was a bit excessive LOL!

On the day we were there, I seemed to see mostly females or males in non-breeding plumage, but I was looking for that one male who would be showing the nice dark shoulder bars...

Here's a wing stretch in progress, but the shoulder marks were still a little fuzzy...

...and then this handsome specimen showed up with his nice dark shoulder marks.  If there was a complete single dark ring...this would be a Semipalmated Plover.  If larger and 2 rings...a Killdeer.

Another example of the "egg carton" effect.

Just for fun...see if you can guess how many Snowy's are in this photo!