Monday, April 27, 2015

Cuyamaca, a Birder's Heaven! Part 2

Arriving at the southern end of the Lake Cuyamaca, a glimmer of bright yellow/orange flying into a faraway tree gets our attention. Looking all around for some kind of trail to follow that might lead us to the group of trees at the east edge of the park near the highway, I see a narrow clearing, possibly made by deer, and decided to follow it hoping that it takes us close enough to ID this mystery bird.

The ground was covered with coarse marsh type grass approximately 12 inches high that grows around the whole lake.  The footing was uneven and our shoes sank in-between the grass clumps. This is a place where you do not want to twist an ankle or injure your knees. Taking the lead on this narrow animal trail, always on the lookout for snakes, we came to the point in the trail as close as possible to the cluster of trees where the mystery bird was perched. Eve strained her eyes with the binoculars watching every movement of this brightly colored bird trying to find his identity. I worked my camera's 400mm lens trying to capture his identity. It was still much too far for any clear shots but here is the shot that finally ID'd this mystery bird!
This is a male Bullock's Oriole, a life bird for me!   Icterus bullockii measures 9 inches with a wingspan of 12 inches.
Happy that we got to see this beautiful Oriole, we headed back to the edge of the lake trail making a wide turn north following the lake's east shore trail and heading for the pine forest. As we walked past the reeds, there were many Red-winged Blackbirds singing for their mates. Here is a male with the red patch on his shoulder in full display as he calls. 
The colorful red shoulder patches are visible in flight. 
A female Red-winged Blackbird is seen foraging on the ground. 

We finally make it over to the east side of the lake and we are at the beginning of the grouping of pine trees growing on a small hillside with smaller deciduous trees nestled together sheltering us from the wind. Eve first hears and then spots this little Chipping Sparrow perched on the fencing along our trail. 
I followed it as it flew to a pine tree and started to sing. What a sweet sparrow with that bright rufus crown. This is an adult Chipping Sparrow in full breeding plumage. Another life bird for me!

Chipping Sparrow, Spizella passerina measures 5.5 inches with a wingspan of 8.5 inches. 
One last shot of this adorable bird.
There are lots of Turkey Vultures here at Lake Cuyamaca. They are seen riding the air currents off the lake. A few are always curious what we are up to.  An eye-to-eye with a very interesting bird. This one may be a youngster... His head still has a lot of brown coloring.
When they are full adults, the head will turn bright red. 

Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura measures 26 inches long and has a wingspan of 67 inches. They soar and ride the thermals in the sky and find food by smell. They have such a good sense of smell that they can detect dead smell in the air by a few parts per trillion... amazing abilities for survival!  He checks us out and soon he is off scouting for something to eat.

A birder's heaven! Eve took this shot of an area that was loaded with all kinds of small birds. LOL...We were overwhelmed trying to spot every chirp and song that we heard around us. This was one of the most beautiful spots at the lake and it appeared that there were many warblers, sparrows, bluebirds, flycatchers and many, many more birds to spot in this area. A special place. 

A yellow plumage caught my attention in the shade of a large bush. A Wilson's Warbler makes a quick appearance. This is an adult male. Only the male has the black cap.
Wilson's Warbler, Cardellina pusilla measures 4.75 inches long with a wingspan of 7 inches. 

One last shot before he flies off. One of my favorite warblers. 

I have to say that there were so many Yellow-rumped Warblers around that when you saw movement in the trees or a nearby bush, you hoped for something other than a Yellow-rumped Warbler. However, they are absolutely beautiful this time of the year as you can see in this photo.
Several Spotted Towhees were heard on our walk but found this one singing its heart out on a dead branch. He had unusually light-colored eyes. 
We have spotted several Western Bluebirds but this was the only shot that I managed from this part of the trail. The trees are very dense and getting a bird subject out in the clear was a challenge.
A Townsend's Warbler makes an appearance. 
We also spotted a Dark-eyed Junco. There were quite a few that were around foraging in this birder's heaven. 
A tiny flycatcher, it may be a Hammond's Flycatcher which are small and have a tiny dark bill.

Looks like the Great Blue finally got his meal. You can see the lake is very choppy and still very windy. 
Another flyby by a Turkey Vulture. This is an adult with the full red head and the silvery light-colored flight feathers. Vultures eat dead animals but they need the carrion to rot for a day or two to get soft enough to pierce through the skin. Not all people think these birds are the "harbinger of death"; many see them as sacred for their cleanup ability. The Tibetan Buddhists practice "sky burials" where the vultures consume their dead. Also the Zoroastrians offer their dead to be consumed by vultures on raised platforms believing these birds are precious and that they release the human spirit from the body. However, in parts of India, the vultures have become scarce due to accidental poisoning by consumption of cattle meat tainted by anti-inflammatory medication. This info is from the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

An article written by Peter C. Doherty, PhD, the only veterinarian to have been awarded a Nobel Prize,  explains this tragic accidental poisoning. Special thank you to the author, Prof. Doherty for the permission to link to his article "Why we should watch birds" .  I am planning to read his book Their Fate is our Fate: How Birds Foretell Threats to our Health and our World and Pandemics"
We are finally heading back to the parking lot but right before we make the turn on the trail to the west, we spot a nice Lark Sparrow in the shade.

Lark Sparrow, Chondestes grammacus measures 6.5 inches with a wingspan of 11 inches. He moves out into the sunshine and poses for a nice frontal shot. 
A good look at his side view. He has a fairly long neck but the weather is a little chilly today and he is all puffed up and tucked in. 

A quick appearance by a White-breasted Nuthatch with prey. 
Quite a few Red-tailed Hawks were soaring overhead today. Here is a shot of one that came by but not close enough. 
Another shot of a flycatcher... This one may be an Ash-throated Flycatcher but need a second opinion. There are so many flycatchers that are so close in coloring and size. 

One more shot showing a nice profile and back view. 
We are almost back at the south parking area and quite hungry. We have been on the trail for almost four hours. We spot a pretty female Western Bluebird resting her hindquarters on a dead branch. 
We are almost at the parking lot and I mention to Eve that only bird that we haven't seen on our Cuyamaca wish list was the Western Tanager. Well, just say these words and wouldn't you know it... here in Birder's heaven, a whole flock came into the pine tree we were walking past!

This must be heaven! What a beautiful bird. Western Tanager, Piranga ludoviciana measures 7.25 inches with a wingspan of 11.5 inches. 

Only the adult male in full breeding plumage has the bright orange head.

Another one lands on a branch nearby. 
A nice look at his front.

Another male Western Tanager in a pine tree.
One last shot and we had to start for home. What a fun-filled birding day this has been. Lake Cuyamaca always seem to hold lots of hidden treasures, you just have to go there and be amazed!
Have a heavenly week everyone!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cuyamaca, a Birder's Heaven! Part 1

Looking at the weather report online from the Lake Cuyamaca Tackle Shop was just as good as getting a second cup of coffee.  The number 42 degrees jolted me out of my morning grogginess at 6:00am. Grabbing my Alaska jacket I hurried to get ready for Eve's arrival for our birding day-trip.

The weather on the drive up to the Julian mountains was cloudy and even drizzly at times so that I had to use the van's windshield wipers. Arriving at Lake Cuyamaca around 8:45am, I fussed with my jacket bringing the zipper all the way to the top. The wind was blowing from the north and it felt more like 36 degrees instead of the 46 degrees that was reported by the bait and tackle shop at 9:00am. Here is a shot of the lake looking south that Eve took with her phone. As you can see, it is misty with the lake surface looking choppy from the steady cold northern wind at about 15 mph.  The wind gusts were reported at about 25 mph, which were helping clear the fog away.
LOL... I asked Eve where the sunshine was that she had promised according to her online weather source. She laughed and said it was supposed to clear soon... as she busily put on her fingerless gloves and tightened the strap on her hat, already checking the nearby trees for bird subjects, always scanning the skies in hopes of seeing the Bald Eagles. Eve points her fingerless gloved finger east and as I focus my camera on the bird, it dives for prey and we are rewarded with the beautiful sight of a Caspian Tern coming our way with fish!

Caspian Terns are the largest of terns. They are the size of a Ring-billed Gull. One more shot of the tern as he flies past us with his prize.

Keeping an eye on the south end of the lake for Bald Eagles, we spot a determined Great Blue Heron flying against the wind. He tries to land in the middle of the lake but changes his mind getting pushed around by the wind gusts. There were lots of swallows flying but trying to capture a shot is very difficult. The one on the upper left of the photo just happened to be in this shot. I believe it to be Violet-green Swallow.

The Great Blue Heron heads north following the east edge of the lake but runs into quite the head wind.

Very determined to go forward, the heron fights his way into the wind gusts. 
It was a beautiful sight to watch but we turned our attention back to the south skies looking for the Bald Eagle to make an appearance. 

There is no mistaking the outline of a Bald Eagle as it approaches the lake from the southeast sky as the sun breaking through the clouds shines on his beautiful white head. 

A breathtaking moment when I look through my lens and watch this magnificent bird fly by. I motion to Eve to get a good look with her binoculars and we decided that yes indeed this was a fantastic place for birding!

As we make our way south on the trail next to the lake, we spot a male American Robin foraging on shore. 
American Robin, Turdus migratorius measures 10 inches long with a wingspan of 17 inches. 
Finds a runoff to drink from. 

Thanks to Greg Gillson for IDing this Western Wood-Pewee for us!
We had guessed it might be a very light plumage Willow Flycatcher but Greg points how much longer the primary wing feathers extend on the Western Wood-Pewee as well as the less-defined wing markings.
The Robin has flown into the tree nearby and poses for a few more shots. 
 A nice side pose from the American Robin. 
Eve spots another flycatcher that is hard to ID. 

A close-up of the head. 
A very sweet looking bird. 
 One last shot as we walk past and head south of the lake.

Just as we make progress going south on the trail, our attention is diverted once again to a familiar shape perched on a rock. It is a female Red-shafted Northern Flicker. She spots us and takes flight. 
 I follow her with my lens and find her next to a male Red-shafted Northern Flicker. 
 A good look at the top of the tail. 
A shot of the undertail. You can see it has the bright red coloring on his tail plumage. That is the same color red that is on his underwings.

The female flies off to another tree but the male remains on the tree for a few moments looking our way just enough for a few shots of his beautiful red mustache. Only the male has the mustache or malar as described in the Sibley guide to birds book.

A nice side view. 

The male flies to a dirt mound and proceeds to dig with his beak. 

Like a dirt pick, he excavates the area with his wedge-like beak where he believes there may be some insects for him to eat. 

He finds the nest and with his long tongue, he probes the nest to find his treat.
They use their woodpecker beak to hammer the tough ground to get to the ant's nest.  These birds have long tongues that unwind from the inside of their scull as they collect insects especially ants and ant larvae. See the diagram in next photo.

A close-up photo of a female Northern Flicker to show you the amazing design of their tongues.

Collecting his insects.
His beak is wedge-shaped towards the end and nice and thick. He uses it to break the hard crust on the surface of the dirt to get to his ant nest.
 This photo shows the distinctive black bib markings on the chest. Reminds me of a tux.

A nice top view showing the shape of his beak.

Trying to get a closer photo of this Flicker, I draw his attention and he stops to make sure I am not a threat. One last shot and I leave him to his digging and head south. 
Eve and I have now walked to the very south end of the lake and as we look all around for interesting subjects, we notice that the Great Blue Heron is still flying into the wind and searching for breakfast. Looking southwest towards the highway, a bright yellow bird catches our attention... We decide to go and check out what type of bird would be such a vivid orange/yellow... to be continued in Part 2 of "Cuyamaca, a Birder's Heaven!"