Thursday, September 8, 2016

End of Summer Birding at Rios

This is the time of the year that birders are looking for fall migration visitors or spotting many of our local juveniles testing their skill at hunting and surviving in their new world. It can be a bittersweet time with feelings of concern for their safety but thrilled at their progress as they face daily challenges. A time of year when the warmth of summer will be exchanged by chills of approaching winter. A few shots of the birds at the end of summer at our San Elijo Lagoon.

Deciding to head east on the trail at the end of Rios Ave but finding not much in bird subjects. I was heading back to the trail head and got a shot of this little guy just starting to get his new plumage. An Anna's Hummingbird showing some new bright plumage. 

Looks like a young male coming into his adult plumage. He is already chasing away other males from his area.

Lots of small "peeps" were foraging on the mudflats. Hard to ID these guys. Could be a stint of some kind but need to ask the experts. Note:  Greg Gillson  has helped me ID this shorebird as a Least Sandpiper. Also informed us that in Europe, flocks of tiny little shorebirds are called "stints" and in North America they are called "peeps".  I  would like to recommend his wonderful new addition to his blog called  " Annotated Checklist: Birds of San Diego " .  Great info for birders!

Walking by this egret, I had to give it a double take. Looking at a white egret in our lagoon your mind automatically says "Snowy" so you keep your camera down because you have a huge number of shots of the egret. Looking at it again, the beak is the wrong color for a Snowy. It flashes in my mind that this is a Cattle Egret!

He shows us his profile. Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis measures 20 inches long with a wingspan of 36 inches. Originally from Africa, they made their way to United States in 1941 and nested here by 1953. They quickly spread throughout the continent and became the most abundant of the North American herons. Info from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

They are the smallest of the white herons.
Cattle Egrets have much shorter legs and bill than a Snowy with a thicker neck.

Noticed that the head is rounder looking too.

Beak is shorter and thicker than a snowy. This youngster looks as though his dark beak is just turning yellow and will be bright yellow when he is a full adult.

Legs are short and dark on this juvenile but when fully matured, they will have yellow legs. Also, an adult Cattle Egret in breeding plumage will have golden plumes on their heads.

They have a purposeful looking walk.

He picks up his leg quickly.

A nice side view as he walks along the mudflats.

Looks stout compared to our Snowy.

 Another angle showing the shorter neck on the Cattle Egret. They are also called by different names around the world. Usually by the animals that they are seen by such as rhinoceros egret, cow cranes, cow herons, hippopotamus egret or elephant birds.

He flies over to the other side of the bank and starts to forage for prey. They have been known to fly towards wildfires to catch insects fleeing the fire. Also will eat some birds. In Florida, they have been observed hunting migrating warblers.

He sees something in the pickleweeds and struts forward with his chest forward and head straight.

I call this the "Cattle Egret strut" - an exaggerated movement forward with his chest sticking out.

Shows excitement with raised crown as he closes in on his prey.

Got it!

A large grasshopper is snagged in this bill made perfectly for grabbing insects. They usually follow livestock or tractors looking for insects that are stirred up by their movement.

He squishes the bug.

Swallows it and moves forward looking for more.
Got another one. They are so efficient at grabbing these insects.

Has a pickleweed branch that broke off as he grabbed this grasshopper but no problem in tossing it aside.
Squish and ready to swallow.

Down the hatch.

Lol, looks like the grasshopper is giving a little bit of fight as he goes down the egret's throat.

The Cattle Egret takes off for the center of the lagoon. A shot that shows the short neck and legs as he flies north.

Deciding to check out the west trail at Rios. Walked down the peninsula trail to find a beautiful juvenile Red-tailed Hawk finishing up a big meal in the pickleweeds.

I watch quietly for a few minutes. When he is finished with his meal, we get to see this beauty in flight.

Red -tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis measures 19 inches long with a wingspan of 49 inches. This juve looks huge!

Wow, look at the crop on this beauty. Looks like she is doing well and getting plenty to eat.
The color on this hawk is absolutely gorgeous
Showing us her classic markings.

Female Red-tailed Hawks are usually larger than the males. This one looked huge!  It's nice to see her in the San Elijo Lagoon without a group of crows harassing her every move. It was kind of strange not to see one crow in the area.

When this youngster turns into a full adult bird, she will have the classic red tail feathers.

A good look at the under wing marking
Last shot as she disappears south over the houses.
Resting on the bench at the end of the peninsula trail just enjoying the quiet of the morning, I spot a Osprey flying overhead. Another Osprey can be heard in the distance warning off this youngster. She decides to head back south away from the annoyed male that comes flying aggressively towards her.
 Giving me a good look-over as she flies by.

Soon after this shot was taken, the aggressive male catches up with this juvenile but no contact is made. It's all part of life's lesson on establishing territories and how to interact with aggressive encounters. It is wonderful to see our youngsters looking healthy and thriving. Hope to see much more of them in the future. 
Have a super week everyone!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Black-tailed Gnatcatchers at Sorrento Valley?

A quick trip to Sorrento Valley on a beautiful overcast morning, a nice little birding area at the north end of Flintkote Ave. The paved trail winds through Torrey Pines State Park and follows Penasquitos Creek. Nothing new to photograph there today. Most of the shots were of birds perched on a tree hundreds of feet away. Finally at the end of my walk I heard a familiar sound that sounded much like that of a California Gnatcatcher. Excited to photograph some close-ups of these birds, I started to track and follow the calls. The surprise of the morning when reviewing the photos on my computer is that I may have captured some images of what appeared to be a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher instead. But is it just a variance in the tail marking of a California or Blue-gray Gnatcatcher?

The trail at Flintkote Road is a wonderful walking trail but most of the bird subjects are quite far away. This bird is one of the few that is always around all year. The California Towhee, Melozone crissalis measures 9 inches long with a wingspan of 11.5 inches.

A possible Cassin's Kingbird is spotted quite far away. Flintkote Ave is a wonderful place for birders but really quite challenging for bird photographers. There were lots of birds heard but most were spotted very far off and many were in such thick greenery that spotting was very difficult and pictures were almost impossible.
Here is an example of what I was dealing with today. I was so desperate to capture a bird subject, I took a few shots but couldn't figure out who they were.
This is the only large bird that flew overhead. It didn't look like an ordinary seabird. But too far to tell.

Looks like a Cassin's Kingbird came closer but still not a very close shot. Giving up for the day, I decided to head back to the truck. It has been a nice peaceful morning but I wished that I could have something to show you. But you can't always get birds to cooperate and come closer.

I see another bird that looks like a Kingbird but the throat area is really light, the tail seems notched. Could this be a Tropical Kingbird?

He has a bug.

Swallows the bug and shows us the white area on his throat.

Side View.

Front view. The tail is notched.

Frustrated that I couldn't get a close-up shot of the kingbird, I keep walking back to the parking area. A quick shot of a Wrentit before it disappears into the thick underbrush. Wrentit, Chamaea fasciata measures 6.5 inches long with a wingspan of 11 inches. Both male and female have the distinctive pale colored iris.

I'm past the gate and only a few hundred feet away from my truck when I hear a familiar mewing sound. I automatically thought that I was hearing a pair of California Gnatcatchers. Started to search the nearby brushes and found this guy. At first glance, it does look like a California Gnatcatcher but look at the tail. It shows lots of white on the edges.

A good profile of the Gnatcatcher.

Now the tail is more visible.

The description of the California Gnatcatcher and the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher is identical except that my Sibley Guide to Birds 2nd edition says that the Black-tailed Gnatcatchers are paler than the California and the markings on the underside of the tail is different. Could all the wild fires near the border this season pushed this desert bird to the coastal area?

Side view.

The tail. The white marking on the tail looks much like the eastern Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. The underside shows quite a bit of the white edging and a dollop of white at the tip.

Back view. Quite a lot of white on the tail is visible.

But the calls were much like the California Gnatcatcher's "mewing" which the Black-gray isn't reported to make. And our western Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is known to have a call somewhat closer to the California's call.  They all measure 4.5 inches long with a wingspan of 5.5-6 inches.

Another back angle shot.

A front view showing the tail markings.
Closer view of the new tail feathers that are coming in with quite a bit of the white markings of a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.

Another side view.

Posing sweetly and then they fly off further up the canyon. This was an interesting subject to shoot. Hope I hear from our experts on Gnatcatchers to let me know what I observed today at Flintkote Ave. Was it really a rare Black-tailed Gnatcatcher? No matter the result, it has been another wonderful morning observing this beautiful area in Sorrento Valley. That's what birding is all about, having fun and learning about all the birds. It enriches everyone that participates in this wonderful activity.

Have a fun weekend everyone!