Saturday, March 28, 2015

Springtime Aggression!

Went to the San Elijo Lagoon on the Cardiff side the other day. What fantastic weather we have been having. It was exciting to be out early and getting excellent light and interesting bird subjects on this beautiful spring day. With this change in seasons, we are seeing lots of birds in breeding plumage and quite a bit of the aggressive behavior that comes along with this time of the year.

Arriving early at the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center I noticed that the tide was perfect with quite of bit of shoreline exposed on the banks of the tide channels. Several birders and photographers were already there scanning the area for interesting subjects. My first bird subject of the morning took all of us by surprise as a pair of American Avocets flew in from the east and landed directly in front of us on the exposed shoreline of the tide channel. I was lucky enough to catch this one coming in for a landing.

A beautiful glide in by the first American Avocet. 

The second one had already landed and was looking quite alert at something. 

The first one starts to forage for food near the shore.

But now my attention goes to the second Avocet. It has become alerted to something and goes into an aggressive posturing, moving towards its intended target.  But I keep the lens on the Avocet and follow his deliberate focused movement.
The Avocet is moving swiftly towards his target without coming out of the aggressive posturing. 

Now his pace quickens and starts to charge... his head is tucked back for a strike with his beak held like a spear by a jousting horseman.

I follow the Avocet on his charge and his intended target is a Marbled Godwit!
The aggressive charge startles the Godwit and he hop/flies out of reach. 
But the Avocet feels he has not gone far enough and charges again. 

The Godwit flies off as the Avocet calls out a warning to leave his part of the beach. 

The Avocet rushes the Godwit with more warning calls. The Godwit stays just far enough to avoid the reach of the Avocet's long bill. 
Stopping and looking to see if the Godwit has relinquished his beach. 

Nope, the Godwit has landed too close for his liking and the Avocet assumes his aggressive posturing and rushes the offending bird again. 

Scolding and charging the Godwit on the wing, the Avocet makes his displeasure of the Godwit's presence quite clear. 
The Godwit wants to avoid the confrontation that the Avocet is instigating with his aggressive action.
Because the Godwit is in a panic, he hurries out of the Avocet's way by running towards where we are all standing and watching.

The Avocet stops as the distance becomes greater between the two birds.

The Avocet again calls out a warning... probably telling the Godwit he has to keep going, don't stop moving.
Feeling that the Godwit is still not in compliance with the Avocet's demands, the Avocet charges again. 

The Godwit gets the hint and puts some more distance between them. 

What a great opportunity to watch the interaction between these two species. The Avocet playing beach master and the Godwit staying just out of striking distance but refusing to leave an area that offers lots of tasty treats. 

Finally the Godwit puts enough distance between himself and the aggressive Avocet and things quiet down again at the tide channel.
 Happy with running off the Godwit, the Avocet starts to feed near the shore. 

Looks like lots of prey for this handsome bird. 
His mate joins him and forages near by. 

Last shot of this beautiful shorebird and it's time for me to go home. 

As I head towards the parking lot, I pass the first outlook area by the visitor center and spot a Double-crested Cormorant in full breeding plumage. This is the first time I have seen one close-up in full breeding plumage with the white plumed crests for which they're named. Wow, they are quite colorful to see!
Cormorants are usually dull looking and not a fun bird subject for photographers but when they have that white eyebrow looking plumage and bright yellow/orange lores and chin with the emerald green eyes, they are quite a nice subject to shoot. Great way to end a super beautiful morning walk.
Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Birding at Discovery Lake

It's been quite a while since I went birding at Discovery Lake in San Marcos. When I got an e-mail from Eve last night saying she had the morning off and would I like to go birding... and I get to choose the place... I replied that it would be fun and let's check out Discovery Lake!

8:00am and Eve was right on time having already stopped by the nearest Starbucks so we could head straight for San Marcos to Discovery Lake. The weather was perfect for walking and birding, and the area was filled with lush, newly planted trees and flowers. It was a perfect spring day to check out this beautiful little park. Beautiful blooming flowers greet us as we entered the grounds.

Discovery Lake is a 5 acre lake with a .8 mile trail that loops around it for hiking, bikes, roller blading, and jogging with playground for the kids and flat wide trail surface safe for baby strollers . There is a total of 4 miles of trails that cover the 24 acre open space. With man-made dam and rock rubble on the north side and a cute little dock to fish from, feed the ducks or just relax near the water. This beautiful photo of the cute little fishing dock taken by Eve with her phone. A mother and child are feeding ducks off the dock.
There were lots of American Coots and a few Ruddy Ducks coming close to be fed. Several hybrid ducks were observed with questionable lineage. Could be some Easter pet ducks released into this nice little lake. My first bird subject at the little dock on the east side of the lake was a beautiful male Ruddy Duck in full breeding plumage. Look at the beautiful turquoise blue bill. It reminds me of the color of the most prized turquoise stone from the Sleeping Beauty mine in Globe, Arizona.

Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamicensis measures 15 inches long with a wingspan of 18.5 inches. A nice side view of the male.

This is a female Ruddy Duck. She stayed close to the male indicating that they were a bonded pair. Ruddy Ducks lay very large eggs. Largest of all duck eggs relative to their body size. The female chooses the site for her nest which is usually 2 to 10 inches off the water built on tall grass or cattails and is well concealed usually by the female weaving a canopy over the nest. She may lay from 3 to 13 eggs and may brood twice in a breeding season. When the eggs hatch after 20 to 26 days of incubation, the young are able to immediately fend for themselves. The mother only stays with them for a few days but the hatchlings are already able to find their own food and even dive underwater in search of prey.

This has been my first photo opportunity for a close-up of the male Ruddy Duck in full breeding plumage with the beautiful bright blue bill. The males, when displaying in breeding season, will carry the tail straight up and inflate their neck with air then strike it hard with their bill causing air bubbles to be pushed up from their neck feathers to end their courtship display with a belch-like call. Males in courting behavior will also lower their tail and run on water making popping sounds with their feet. All info from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
What a beauty, his bill looks like someone took a paintbrush and painted it blue. These ducks are diving birds and they are not known for their flying ability. They would rather dive underwater to evade a predator than to fly away.

They mainly hunt for food at night so that is why we mostly see them sleeping during the day. They eat aquatic insects, crustaceans, zooplanktons, and other invertebrates. Also will eat small amounts of aquatic plants and seeds. They forage for food by diving to the bottom in shallow ponds straining mouthful of mud through the thin plates on their bills and swallowing the prey that is left behind. They also eat water fleas, worms, amphipods, seed shrimp, snails, caddisfly larvae, dragonfly nymphs, predacious diving beetles and their larvaes, bugs, water boatmen, brine fly larvae, crane fly larvae, mosquitoes, mayflies, and many aquatic plant materials. Plant materials are more common in their diet during migration and winter. One last shot of this handsome unique duck with the bright blue bill!
We heard the Common Gallinule calling and making quite a commotion in the reeds but this is as clear a photo as I could get of one. It never did come out in the clear even when children came to feed the ducks, these marsh birds stayed hidden in the reeds. Maybe I will have better luck on my next visit.
We left the dock area and headed south on the trail. Soon we spotted a pair of California Quails, the state bird of California since 1931, near the trail's edge. They were feeding on some bird seeds left by a park visitor. This is a shot of an adult female California Quail.
Nearby a male California Quail forages on the ground for some birdseeds. He is in full adult plumage.

California Quail, Callipepla californica measures 10 inches with a wingspan of 14 inches. This photo gives a good look at the male's crown with the tassel-like plumage.

A nice back view of the adult male California Quail with that beautiful fish scale pattern on his neck and shoulders.

A Spotted Towhee found himself some seeds left by a park visitor too. 

As we headed south and made a gradual turn that put us on the west side of the lake, Eve spotted this female Red-winged Blackbird. She was being pursued by a male Red-winged Blackbird. It's that time of the year when all the birds have eggs on their mind.
This is a photo I took last year when I visited Discovery Lake. I wanted to show a photo of the male Red-winged Blackbird since I didn't get a good close-up on this trip.

As we headed north, we kept hearing a call that we were not quite sure what bird was singing his heart out... Soon we spotted a Orange-crowned Warbler that flew out onto branch clear enough for us to spot him. We watched as he sang and sang his heart out calling for a mate. Eve thought it might be a good idea to record his call and maybe sometime in the future, she may set something up on the blog that everyone can hear what we hear on some of our birding trips.

All that singing must have made him hungry. He stops and hops on a nearby branch. 

Spots something that looks appetizing. 
Taking a good look. 

Found something to nibble on. 

Most of the birds that we did spot were on the fence posts feasting on the handout seeds that a visitor left on top. Here a California Towhee has a mouthful of seeds. 

The next post was occupied by a White-crowned Sparrow. 

For some reason, Eve has a soft spot for this plain colored bird... the Wrentit, Chamaea fasciata, measures 6.5 inches long with a wingspan of 7 inches. A common bird of the Pacific chaparrel. They eat insects mostly by gleaning them from twigs and barks. They also eat spiders, fruit, and seeds. In this case the seeds that someone left on each and every fencepost in the park.

He is quite adorable as he looks at us with his tail raised. Lol, there's just something about the eyes that hypnotizes you into looking at him and following them.
A typical move of a Wrentit... half flying and half hopping with his tail straight up. Interesting facts about Wrentits... They mate for life and live very close to the natal site, which averages about 1300 ft to their breeding site.They are known for being the most sedentary of all bird species in North America. All info from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
A side view showing off that wonderful long tail that he keeps straight up. I am getting to like this little guy more and more. 
This bird was a topic of some discussion for Eve and me. Eve said that this appeared be a Golden-crowned Sparrow, I have not enough knowledge about identifying sparrows and thought it might be a young White-crowned Sparrow but the beak looked different. Eventually agreeing with Eve that it may be a young Golden-crowned Sparrow. Hopefully we will get this identification verified by our expert birders. 

Ready to head for home, we spot a adult Red-shouldered Hawk coming our way. 

He is very vocal and he calls and calls. 

Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus measureing 17 inches long with a wingspan of 40 inches. 
He is calling and calling... Red- Shouldered Hawks are the most vocal of the hawks. 

A young female answers his call. She is perched on top of a telephone pole just north of us. 

She flies onto the wires below. Soon the male Red-shouldered Hawk joins her on the wires. 
She watches him approach and it becomes obvious that he is her mate. Wish I could find their nest. I will be keeping a lookout for it and fledglings in the future but now it is time for us to head home. 

Have a beautiful week everyone!