Saturday, November 29, 2014

Wild Side of Rios Never Disappoints!

Friday Nov. 28, 2014

For the past few days, I have been noticing that there has been a raptor visiting the Pole Trail at Rios but when spotting him from the northern San Elijo side of the lagoon, it was impossible to make out what kind of raptor it was. Today, I was determined to find out and maybe if I was lucky, I would get some close-up shots of our mystery guest!

Another fantastic weather day and not a cloud in the sky. Perfect day for birders and photographers. There were a lot of people and birds today at the lagoon. An interesting sight as I check the tide channel from the observation deck for bird subjects. A Pied-billed Grebe decides to go for a quick walk on a sandbar where two male American Wigeons are taking a morning nap.
The Grebe keeps his wings flapping as he "walks a few steps onto the sandbar. You can see how far back his legs are set on his body. This conformation makes walking very difficult and awkward for the grebes.
As fast as he landed on the sandbar... he decides he's done enough "walking" for today and waddles back into the water never stopping flapping his wings the whole time. He soon joins another Pied-billed Grebe in the channel doing what his legs are best designed for... diving and catching fish.
There was lots of far away action by the Ospreys and four beautiful Western Grebes floating on the tide channel, a little too far away today for photos, and many ducks flying back and forth. I did manage to get a good look at a male Bufflehead as it surfaced from his dive.
As I was getting ready to leave, a juvenile Osprey flew over with quite a bit of blood on his face. Hope it was from a prey that he ate. He appears a little too thin compared to the other Ospreys.
Going home for a quick early lunch I was eager to head over to the Solana Beach side of the lagoon to find out who the mystery raptor was on the tall telephone poles at Rios. Making a quick check on the peninsula trail, my first subject was the Great Blue Heron. It flew straight towards me and flew by very close. As I search the area, I spot the mystery raptor on top of the telephone pole. Time for me to go to the Pole Trail.
Viewing the pole with my camera lens, I see that the Raptor is on the third pole past the pumphouse. Hoping that the mystery raptor stays put, I quicken my pace as I walked towards the third pole. But just past the pumphouse, I was treated to a wild flight drama by a very angry Snowy Egret !  The aggressor egret flies in with angry calls and flared crown.
Quite an exciting display of aggressive flight.
The aggressor appears to tell the other to leave.
With threatening outstretched wing and warning calls but the other egret appears to ignore his warnings.
Time for action...
The chase...
Very impressive wing and head plumage display with lots of raspy screeching calls.
The place appears loaded with small fish and the egret that is being chased does not want to leave his food source.
A bit more persuasive tactic...
Looks very menacing.
More warning calls and another chase. This drama goes on for a few more minutes but it was time for me to check on the mystery guest.
Well... I now know who the mystery raptor is... It is the Peregrine Falcon!
I walk over by the pole he is perched on... soon, about 30 minutes later, he stretches his wing, this is a beautiful display of his wings.
The falcon is looking intently at something, I would love to witness a hunt.
Wow, what a stretch... This shot really shows up the fantastic length and the pointed shape of his powerful wings.
He brings it down and feels the wind under his wings.
Peregrine Falcon... Falco peregrinus. They measure 16 inches long with a wing span of 41 inches.They are amazing birds to watch in flight. When they hunt every bird in the area is on guard. They are fierce at protecting their nest area in breeding season. Peregrine Falcons nest at Torrey Pines State Park and last year those Peregrine fledglings' worst enemy was an intruder Peregrine. The intruder killed one of the fledglings as it was practicing flying. This drama was witnessed by many very upset beachgoers and birders that go there from all over the world to see the Peregrine and its fledglings. A very tragic event on the beach of Torrey Pines State Park.
And he takes flight. This is the fastest flying bird in the world. Every time I see this bird I feel so very lucky to have a such a magnificent raptor visit our beautiful lagoon. The phone wires got into my favorite shot of this awesome falcon.
The dark mustache on his face is one good way to ID this bird of prey.
The wings are uniformly patterned on the underside.
Both male and female look alike. This is an adult Peregrine.
He spots something and quickly disappears on the other side of the tracks.
When the falcon flew past the railroad tracks, I lost sight of him so I walked towards home feeling great to be able to see the Peregrine today. As I pass one of the Snowy Egrets, I notice that he has frozen in his tracks and looking up at something. Sure enough, as I look up at the near telephone pole I spot the Peregrine! He must have missed his prey and circled back to try again. 
He gets quite a view of the whole lagoon from the top of these telephone poles. These are the tallest wooden telephone poles I have ever seen! The sun is almost straight up and there is not a cloud in the sky. The temperature is climbing to the mid-eighties. It feels like the middle of summer.
He is really focused on something and looks like he is going to fly...
There he goes! Wow, look at those talons! Very deadly weapons for capturing prey.
He flies south but keeps his eye on something in the lagoon. Probably the female Northern Harrier that I saw earlier.
What a beautiful sight.
Works his wings once but keeps at a slow pace giving me a chance for a few photos.
And get a nice look at his underside as he glides by.
Takes a good long look at whatever got his attention in the lagoon.
But veers southwest towards the ocean. It's time for me to go home too. What a treat to have seen this magnificent bird of prey today. Every day is exciting and unpredictable when you walk on the Wild Side of Rios!
Have a nice weekend everyone.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Snowy Egret's Dance

Thursday Nov. 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving Day everyone! The weather is perfect and it's time to go birding.

Got to the San Elijo Lagoon just as the gate opened. Noticed that there were only a few visitors today. It was also the same for the birds. Only a few ducks and Willets on the shore and the tide was coming in. There is one bird that is always around... the Snowy Egret and no matter how many shots you take of this beautiful bird it always tempts you to take more. This Snowy Egret is chasing after some fish.
It is like a dance that is never repeated. Every step a different pose.
The Snowy follows the fish as it swims by...
The wings appear to give it some shade from the glare of the sun.
The chase is intense.
He hops and turns in the air.
Missed but there is always another fish.
Skips off after some other fish.
Spots one now.
Got it! 
We get to see it for a moment before it is swallowed.
On to the next meal. Since the snowy was the only subject at San Elijo, I decided to go over to the Rios side and try to spot the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow again.

Arriving at the peninsula trail I find the female American Kestrel sitting on the dead bush where the Nelson's has been spotted. This is not a good sign for spotting the Nelson's.
She sees me walking up and she isn't pleased about it either.
Gives me that "what do you want" look...
and takes flight.
I sit on the bench nearby and wait for the tide to come up. It is almost 1 hour to maximum high tide. I decide to walk back to the lookout at the top of the trailhead and wait for the tide. On the way to the outlook I ran into an older gentleman photographer who came up from
San Diego to look for the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow and asked me if I knew the exact spot to get a look. I said "yes, I did". He asked me if I could show it to him and I said "of course" and took him to the spot. It wasn't two minutes after we arrived at the spot that the gentleman spotted the Nelson's on the old dead branch of the bush. I was in shock!  All I could do was thank the man for asking me to bring him to the site. A frontal shot of the ever elusive Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow.
Side view...
He even moved to a clear area for a better pose!
The final shot on the branch... but a good look at his underarm and that famous tail. The gentleman from San Diego was delighted because he had only a little while before he was expected for Thanksgiving dinner at his daughter's house. Now he has a camera full of  Nelson's Sharp-tailed photos. He was a very happy birder and left for the big feast.
As the tide came in, I was joined at the spot by a lady photographer from Las Vegas... she came over just in time for a few shots of the Nelson's as he surfaced again. She was delighted because it was a life bird for her!
One last shot and he dives for cover... I look around to see what made him panic... and look who just flew in!
The reason the Nelson's has disappeared so fast is the Kestrel coming in to land with a tasty dragonfly snack. Thank goodness she is hunting only dragonflies today! The Nelson's is safe for a while now and it is time for me to say good-bye and head for home...

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving day!
Have a beautiful day everyone.