Sunday, April 24, 2016

Checking Out the Jack Creek Trail

The temperature is in the high 80s and it feels like summer already! Eve said she could go birding today so we decided to check out the Jack Creek Nature Trail at Dixon Lake. Time for lots of sunscreen!

As we entered the trailhead for Jack Creek Trail, we realized that we had found a wonderful birding spot. There were birds everywhere and immediately Eve heard the waka waka of the Acorn Woodpecker and almost every large tree had a couple of Nuttall's Woodpeckers calling and flying about. Here is a shot that Eve took with her phone of the Jack Creek Picnic Area and what you will see as you enter the trailhead.

We walked down towards the creek and stood by the picnic table to get a good look at the area and find some shade to stay cool on this very hot day. We heard lots of birds and noticed quite a bit of bird activity near a loquat tree. In this photo taken by Eve, you can see the loquat tree on the left side of this photo which is mostly obscured by the dead part, as once, it must have been a beautiful tree. Now only 1/4 of the tree is alive and still bearing fruit.

A female Black-headed Grosbeak lands on the dead part of the loquat tree.

A male Black-headed Grosbeak flies in to join the female. Black-headed Grosbeak, Pheucticus melanocephalus measures 8.25 inches long with a wingspan of 12.5 inches.
Western Bluebirds were everywhere. A dull looking female compared to the bright blue of the male is spotted on a branch nearby.
Searching all around, a flutter to the east of my location gets a second look. It's the Wilson's Warbler!

Fluttering and searching for insects.
Even in the shade this is one beautiful bird.

One last shot of the male Wilson's as he freezes and looks upward.

The reason for his concern is this big raptor! A vocal Red-tailed Hawk floats by. 
Another Red-tailed Hawk is also soaring near and this one appears to be a juvenile. What a beauty!  You can see that not all Red-tailed Hawks have red tails!  You can identify this Red-Tail by the white chest with brown belly band and the two dark "patagial" patches on the shoulder sections of the wings.

It took a while before the birds felt safe enough to come out of hiding. This guy was the first to go to the loquat buffet. 
Western Scrub-Jay, Aphelocoma californica measures 11.5 inches long with a wingspan of 15.5 inches. 
It's easy for his pointed beak to pierce the soft skin of the Loquat fruit and extract some juicy bits to eat. The torn fruit makes it easier for the smaller birds to access the meat.

A close look at the Scrub-Jay eating the loquat fruit. 

The female Black-headed Grosbeak is also very fond of this juicy fruit. Loquat, Eriobotrya japonica is a wonderful mild sweet tasting fruit with very large seeds. You can eat it as a fresh fruit or use it for making jams. But these birds like it served up on the tree as is!

It's suddenly quiet and the birds go into hiding again. This time a Cooper's Hawk makes an appearance and lands near the loquat tree. 

Wow, as the birds scatter, we spot a Western Tanager!
He appears to be hiding in the shade of the tree. Soon he flies off to a huge eucalyptus tree north of our location. Eve is a great spotter and never loses track. All of a sudden she waves her fingerless-gloved hand pointing to the loquat tree, signaling that the Tanager is back in the loquat tree. 
Finally I get a shot of the Western Tanager perched on the dead branch of the loquat tree. 

I try to walk quietly towards the tree where he is perched but he is getting nervous and might fly at any second. Western Tanager, Piranga ludoviciana measures 7.25 inches long with a wingspan of 11.5 inches.
 Instead of flying he puffs up and appears to be focused on something up above. 

This was as close as I could get to this beauty. I took a shot of the Tanager and looked up above us to see another Red-tailed Hawk soaring. The hawk soon leaves the area and we are back to lots of birds singing and calling and fluttering about the loquat tree. 

In this shot you can see the unique beak with a small "tooth" . A rough tooth-like protrusion at the edge of the upper bill. Most North American species of tanagers have this "tooth" except for the Summer Tanagers. This info from the book "The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior" 

A shot that shows his beautiful red color. The red pigment on his face is caused by rhodoxanthin, a pigment that is rare in birds and this pigment comes from the insects and plants that the tanager eats and the insects get it from the plants carrying the pigment.
There appeared to be three males in the area and Eve has spotted at least one female. They were all very skittish and hard to get close enough for photos. 

Oh, but this House Wren was not shy at all, constantly flying back and forth to the loquat tree. We figured it had a nest close-by.

Eve heard him before we saw this beauty heading for the loquat tree. Hooded Oriole, Icterus cucullatus measures 8 inches long with a wingspan of 10.5 inches. This is a male in full breeding plumage with the beautiful black face and chin and the bright orange/yellow body. 
 A female Grosbeak resting in the shade of the loquat tree blended so much with the fruit I didn't see her for a while and was quite surprised to look through the lens to see that it was not a hanging fruit but a bird perched. 

Looking south of the picnic table, I spot this flycatcher-type bird and wonder if it is a Hammond's. Thanks to Greg, he has suggested that this flycatcher is probably a Pacific-slope.

A look at his backside.

Another Western Tanager stops by near the loquat tree. This loquat tree provided us with  wonderful  bird-watching morning but the temperature was getting higher. Our stomach told us it was lunchtime and it was time to head for home.

Walking towards the parking area, we stop under a large sycamore tree for shade as we scan  the loquat tree for one last look at the Tanagers.  We noticed a Lesser Goldfinch sitting on her nest right above were we were standing. Looks like there may be a nestling in there. I see a small beak right under her beak begging for food.
Bringing in some nest materials.
Reinforcing the nest.

The female Goldfinch is quite busy flying in and out of the nest . We watch for awhile and finally head home but wanting to come back to this beautiful birding area soon. 
Have a fun week everyone!


  1. I think the primary extension is a bit short for Hammond's and do I see orange at the base of the underside of the bill? If so, then not Hammond's which have all-dark under bill. Dusky or Pacific-slope seems like better fit of the wings and bill. Yellow throat favors Pacific-slope.

    1. Thanks again Greg! Great to have you here to help with the ID.