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!"


  1. Jo,

    Your first flycatcher is Western Wood-Pewee. The diffuse wingbars, very long primary extension with sharp tips, lack of eye ring. dark lower mandible with pale base, are all key marks.

    It's a bit early for Willow Flycatcher and they have very short primary extension (past the stacked secondaries) with rather rounded tips.

    Now your second bird is very interesting. Again, unless I'm way off, the long primary projection and diffuse wingbars make it a Contopus (pewee or olive-sided flycatcher). The complete eye ring is wrong, as is the entirely orange lower mandible. The prominent crest. Why isn't this Greater Pewee? I'd get some more experts to weigh in. Probability favors an odd WWPW, but....

    1. Thanks so much Greg for helping Jo and me with the flycatcher IDs! Per your suggestion, we're querying some additional experts on that second flycatcher.

      Your blog is wonderful! And anyone interested in San Diego birding will find your Birding Site Guides terrifically helpful! ( )

      Thanks for that, too :)