Traversing the Carrizo Plain

Posted by ardeidae on March 04, 2006

Last weekend Carol and I joined the Los Angeles Audubon Society on a field trip to the Carrizo Plain National Monument, about 2-1/2 hours north of Los Angeles. It's a 250,000-acre diversity of habitats, an expanse of open plains with interruptions of ridges, ravines and rolling hills created by the traversing San Andreas Fault. In the mid-1800s, the grasslands of the San Joaquin Valley and other nearby valleys faced heavy conversion to agriculture, industry, and urbanization. Fortunately the Carrizo Plain area remained mostly undeveloped, and on January 17, 2001, President Clinton declared the Carrizo Plain Natural Area a national monument, helping to ensure the habitat would remain pristine. Today, the land is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, the US Bureau of Land Management, and the US Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Since the area is so vast, many of the birds were widely spread. Most of the birding was done by car, with our caravan stopping at a few hotspots or to observe the many raptors in the sky. Ravens were abundant and Ferruginous and Red-tailed Hawks abounded.

Le Conte's Thrasher
Le Conte's
We met on Saturday at Maricopa, the southern end of the plains, at 8am. The weather was near perfect. It was 60 degrees (F), sunny, and calm. At our meeting place, we saw a nesting Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna) about 20 feet up in a tree. Also present were Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), and Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto). We got in our cars around 8:30 and headed out. Just north of Maricopa, on the east side of the plains, we made a stop to see if we could find the Le Conte's Thrasher (Toxostoma lecontei). We walked a hundred yards along the paths that dissected dry brush, stopping to listen and look through the scopes. After spotting Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus), Sage Thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus), plentiful White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys), we got our Le Conte's Thrasher, then another, and another. We also got Sage Sparrow (Amphispiza belli) and a soaring Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) before we got back in our cars. What a way to start the day!

Mountain Plover
After punching through the Land of the Oil Wells, we hit the east side of the plains and worked our way into the flats. It's such a wonderful sight to see such a wide open area. The Mountain Plovers (Charadrius montanus) must have thought so too. There was a flock of more than 80 birds hanging out in the stubbly grass. After a short time, they all took off and circled our group. Clockwise, then reversing direction, swiftly flipping over all at the same time as if they were one. It's quite a neat sight. Also seen in the area were American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris).

Greater Roadrunner
As we continued on, we were also able to catch sight of Greater Roadrunner) (Geococcyx californianus), Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura), American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), and Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus).

Red-tailed Hawks
We stopped at the KCL camping area for lunch around 12:30. As we were eating, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks came soaring over one of the hills and circled a few times. Most of the time, hawks will soar with their legs tucked behind them, but this pair was displaying their mating dance. They both had their legs stretched out below them, the smaller male right flying right behind the female. Occasionally acrobatics would ensue, with the female performing a barrel roll, nearly locking talons with the male. After a couple minutes, they eventually disappeared behind the hills. A few minutes later, the male returned for a last couple looks at us before venturing off.

That afternoon, we saw more of the same birds we had seen in the morning and added some new ones: Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis), Tricolored Blackbird (Agelaius tricolor), Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus), Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens), and Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis). We wrapped up a little before sunset and headed into Buttonwillow to eat and catch some shuteye.

On Sunday, we met up around 6am. It was around 50 degrees (F) and it was just becoming light enough to see that the day was starting out slightly breezy with a light layer of clouds. An hour or so later, they would start to burn off. The sky was amazing. Mostly a deep dark blue with spatterings of a kind of medium neon blue where the light started peeking through the clouds. Something that's hard to believe unless you see it for yourself. I really need to figure out how to photograph those types of scapes and give them due justice.

Morning on the plain
Morning on
the plain
We headed out on Highway 58, stopping occasionally when something caught our attention. First to be seen were Red-tailed Hawk, Common Raven (Corvus corax), Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Merlin (Falco columbarius), and Red-winged Blackbird. Near the highway, someone had a pond at their residence, being used by a few waterfowl, probably wild.
Long-billed Curlew
The pond played host to Ross's Goose (Chen rossii), Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), and the obligatory American Coot (Fulica americana). A lone Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) wandered around on the other side of the road. As we turned onto Bitterwater Road to enter the rolling hills of the Carrizo Plain, we saw a number of Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) and Cassin's Kingbird (Tyrannus vociferans) foraging out in a field. A mile or two up the road, a good-sized flock of Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) flew across the road in front of us and landed in a field.

The hills didn't produce a whole lot of birds, but we did catch sight of a Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya) and soaring Turkey Vulture. We pulled off to the side of the road as we neared a pond about 75 yards out. There were Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera) and Mallard. A flock of Tricolored Blackbirds were off to the side feeding and playing. We paused at our last location before lunch, being able to get good looks at a Phainopepla and a Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana). The wind was picking up and the clouds were starting to roll in.

We continued up to Highway 41/46 and stopped at the Jack Ranch Cafe near where James Dean crashed and died in 1955. Just outside the cafe is a memorial dedicated to him. We had prepared our lunch for the day, but with the weather the way it was, a hot meal sounded good. Unfortunately for us, while we were inside eating, the few that dined outside were able to see the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that flew over.

After lunch we headed back out, but the weather continued to get windier and cold, and our group was starting to thin out. As we hit a fork in the road, we had to make a decision on whether to continue back into the heart of the plains or to head for the highway. Although we'd had a great time, the weather was helping us to make the decision, and we headed back towards home.

The Carrizo Plain National Monument is a wonderful place for several reasons. It's only about two hours away form Los Angeles, has amazing scenery, contains diverse habitat, and plays host to a variety of birds, especially raptors. If you ever get the opportunity, it's definitely worth a vist!

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Birds of Westwood

Posted by ardeidae on February 18, 2006

Last Sunday (February 12th), I joined a small group of people in counting the birds on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles. The survey was headed up by Jason Finley of Birds of Westwood, a site he started to help people understand and appreciate the bird life around the UCLA campus. Jason received a B.S. degree in Cognitive Science in 2003 and is a researcher in the UCLA Psychology Department. He's also an ardent birder who keeps a detailed list and photos of birds seen on campus.

Dr. Loye Miller was an ornithologist and a professor at the Los Angeles State Normal School, which became the University of California Southern Branch, and later UCLA. When the UCLA campus was moved to Westwood in 1929, Dr. Miller started documenting the bird life around the campus, and in 1947 "Birds of the Campus" (PDF) was published. In the book, Dr. Miller recounts: "At the formal dedication of the new site in 1926, we 'spied out the land' en masse. There was nothing upon it but weeds and dust and chaprral and glowing hopes and glowing hopefuls and diginified officials (and still others of the firstcomers)." He goes on to describe the early days of the campus and how the birds adapted to their new habitat. The book describes 114 species of birds on the campus from 1929 to 1944.

It's been almost sixty years since "Birds of the Campus" was published, and Jason Finley hoped that Sunday would be a good continuation of Dr. Miller's work. Birds of Westood already has a comprehensive species list on the campus, but Jason hoped to get a good count of individuals as well. He was joined by co-leader and compiler Bobby Walsh, another campus expert who was also quick at identification, both visually and aurally. The two of them had laid out a map, and since we had enough people, we split up into two groups of four. Irwin, a seasoned birder, was teamed up with Joy, Pat, and Julia. Jason, Bobby, Wendy, and I made up the other.

It was 6:45am when we set out. The temperature was about 70 degrees, it was calm out and the sky had a bit of the morning greys, which burned off shortly. Irwin's group took off toward the eastern side of the campus, while our group stayed on the west side to start off studying The Native Fragment. About 9:30 our groups joined up and compared notes. We then headed to the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. After a nice tour, we stopped at the south-east corner of the grounds before heading back across campus to our cars, wrapping everything up around noon.

UCLA is the smallest of all the UC campuses at 419 acres, which works out to a little over one square mile. In the five hours we took to survey the area, we tallied 36 species of birds for a total of 498 birds. There were eight species that were expected to be seen that we didn't catch. Check out the detailed report at Birds of Westwood. My photos from the day aren't ready to post just yet, but when they do go up, there will be a nice enhancement to accompany them.Update (2/23/06): Photos with locations have been added. See below.

The work Jason Finley has done and continues to do with Birds of Westwood is important to the area around UCLA. He has brought awareness to an environment that might otherwise be overlooked. A few of the people that participated in the count were students new to birding, but I could see the enthusiasm and interest envelop them, just as it did for me when I started a year ago. It's essential for people to get involved. As Dr. Miller wrote "The 'dominant race' has moved into new territory at Westwood and is fighting its way to a settled status. We are pioneers and call ourselves the firstcomers. Are we really first? If not, whom do we displace? Who remain as our neighbors? How long will they remain neighborly? How long will they survive?" In the last sixty years, more than half of the birds Dr. Miller reported have vanished from the area. As the "dominant race", it's up to us to make sure it doesn't happen in the next sixty. Not only at UCLA, but all around the world as well.

Here are photos and locations of some of the birds we saw during the count. Light was sometimes low, so some photos may be noisy and/or blurry due to the photographer (me) attempting to hand hold the camera, but nevertheless, you get the idea...

Created by
Map Locations [-]

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    Winter Wonderland at the Salton Sea, Day 2

    Posted by ardeidae on February 01, 2006

    After a spectacular first day at the Los Angeles Audubon Society's winter trip to the Salton Sea, I was eager to see what Day #2 had in store for us. As Carol and I approached Cattle Call Park in Brawley, my radio picked up talk from two members of our party that had already arrived. They had spotted a Gray Flycatcher (Empidonax wrightii) and were trying to get some photos. About the time we parked the car, other people were arriving. We got out and waited for the rest to show up. It was 33 degrees and sunny, with very little breeze. A quick glimpse of a Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) made for a good start of the day. A Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) flew by and landed atop a mid-size palm tree. A few minutes later, everyone had arrived, so we drove to the south side of the park and joined in on the search for the Gray Flycatcher.

    Gray Flycatcher
    Gray Flycatcher
    Moments after getting out of our cars, the Gray Flycatcher landed on a barbed-wire fence on a gate about 30 yards away.
    Vermilion Flycatcher
    That perch wasn't the most desirable place for a photo, but I snapped off a few anyway. About that time, a young Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) flew into a nearby tree. I managed a couple photos before the Grey Flycatcher landed in a tree about 20 feet away. We all refocused our attention as it gave us some good looks, and some excellent photos. It flew off and tagged the Vermilion Flycatcher who flew in for a closer look at us. It landed on the rope railings of a fence and twitted around a bit before flying into a tree for a more natural look. I got some good shots before it hopped back down on the rope. It must have stayed around for a good ten minutes.

    Gila Woodpecker
    As we continued on, we heard a call about a Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis). Sure enough there were two of them on a small tree. Quite active, they were, circling the tree as they climbed. A few moments later two more joined. There were a total of four on that small tree, all at the same time! The party soon broke up and they went their separate ways. One of them chose a highly visible palm tree, content at hanging around for a while. It was soon time to head out to the next location. During our time there, we also saw a Gambel's Quail (Callipepla gambelii) dancing around on the ground, as well as a Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) and White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi) in the air. (Not at the same time, thankfully for the ibis.)

    Great Blue Heron
    Great Blue
    We headed up the 86 and turned onto Vendel Road. A Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) sat on a utility line. A little further ahead we got a call on the radio about a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) on the right side of the road. We slowed down to get a good look. I was looking toward the field, but it was only a few feet away from the road. As we stopped, it threatened to fly off, but must have thought it wasn't worth the effort. Instead it turned back and posed for us. I've never gotten this close of a look, and it was standing tall. What an awesome creature!

    A half of a mile up the road, we passed some cattle (Cowus moous) and stopped to look at the field of Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) and Ross's Geese (Chen rossii). We were specifically looking for a blue morph, but no luck. The cattle were very curious and before no time they all mosied over to see what we were up to. Good thing for the fence; I have a feeling they would have hoarded the scope. On the other side of the road, a pond turned up American Coot (Fulica americana), Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata), Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca), and Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus). We even had a fly-by of a Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon) and a quick visit by a Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans).

    We continued down to Unit 2. A Black-necked Stilt spent some time poking around in the water. American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos were in the distance. We heard the call of Sora (Porzana carolina) coming from the reeds in the marsh, and periodically one would pop out into view. One has to be paying attention to get good shots because they seem to disappear as quickly as they came.

    After Unit 2, we worked our way over to Lack Road where there were some Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) gathered on a dead tree in the water. As we passed Lindsey, we came upon another dead tree in the water, this time hosting a perched Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus).

    Peregrine Falcon
    Peregrine Falcon
    Carol and I stopped to get some pictures, but it took off, only to circle around and land almost in the same place. We continued on to Grubel, where we hopped out to see if we could spot a Yellow-footed Gull (Larus livens) among the Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) flying around, but no luck. We drove up a couple hundred yards and checked out all the shore birds wading around. There was quite the collection: Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis), Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana), Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus), Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), and Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa). There were also Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) and Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), which are much easier to identify when they're standing side by side. Some Black-necked Stilts pranced around in the water, and on occasion, one would fly by for a good shot.

    Geese eating gravel
    Geese eating
    We spent another half hour or so checking more places where there might be a Yellow-footed Gull, but none of them wanted to be seen, so we headed back to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Wildlife Refuge to have some lunch. As we approached, we passed by a field loaded with Snow and Ross's Geese. Some of them were standing in the corner of the field dining on gravel. I remember eating gravel as a kid and it didn't taste too good. But I guess if you rely on a gizzard to chew your food, you'd learn to like it.
    Gambel's Quail
    Gambel's Quail
    After downing my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (sans gravel), I wandered over to where the Gambel's Quail were the day before. This time the male quail were the ones who were more cooperative for a photograph, though they spent most of their time proving their dominance over each other. An Abert's Towhee (Pipilo aberti) and Northern Mockingbird both landed in nearby trees and posed quite nicely while a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) and a few White-crowned Sparrows gathered on the ground to see if they could find something to eat. A Verdin (Auriparus flaviceps) also showed itself.

    Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
    After lunch we set off for Eddin and Sperry roads, a place notorious for dove gatherings, and we found plenty of them. At first the most active bird was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) fluttering around in a tree by the side of the road. Most of my attempts at getting a photo ended up in blurred or blank branch, but I managed to get one or two keepers. Then it was time to rack up the doves. We spotted Ruddy Ground-Dove (Colmbina talpacoti), Ringed Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia risoria), Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto), Inca Dove (Columbina inca), and Mourning Dove. Quite a nice catch in the half-hour or so that we were there, though many of them declined the opportunity to be photographed.

    We continued our search for the Yellow-footed Gull, near Garst and Red Hill roads, No gull, but there were Black-necked Stilt, Lesser Yellowlegs, Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors), Kildeer (Charadrius vociferus), and Northern Shoveler. Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) turned out to be the highlight of the stop.

    We were starting to lose the light, but we were close enough to the Wister Unit to make one last stop to look for that Rufous-backed Robin, but still no luck. Maybe next time. It quickly got dark, so we all said our goodbyes. Most of the crew took off, but Carol and I had decided to stay one more night, so we headed back to Calipatria.

    The next morning, we packed it up around 9. Since Wister Unit was on our way home, we gave that robin one last chance to show itself. It would have been awesome to say it did, but it was chilly and windy, and there really wasn't much out and about. Nonetheless, the Salton Sea once again proved to be a wonderland of birds. Make sure to check out my Birds of the Salton Sea photo set.

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    New Podcast Channels Added!

    Posted by ardeidae on January 30, 2006

    Two new podcasts channels have been added.

    Parrot Science
    Parrots are complex creatures. This podcast will feature parrot news, behaviour information, news about wild parrots and other ways to get along with your pet parrot more effectively. Whether or not you are a bird owner with some questions, a breeder, or involved in conservation, there is something for everyone. From

    Whooper Happenings
    Whooper Happenings will present current information about Whooping Cranes across North America and those who work with and help to preserve and guide this highly endangered species. Actual voice-cuts and interviews with the biologists who do the work and handle the birds as well as those who fly with them (Operation Migration ultralight pilots) is offered.

    Make sure to check them out!

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    Winter Wonderland at the Salton Sea

    Posted by ardeidae on January 29, 2006

    Wow, what a week! Today, I finally finished up processing the photos I took last weekend at the Los Angeles Audubon Society's winter field trip to Salton Sea. I had a wonderful time. My new Nikon D200 camera and 80-400mm VR lens were definitely up for the task, and although I only had them for a week, the combination proved to be quite impressive in usability and in the results. At the end of the two days, I had taken over 1300 photos, and ran up an 18-gigabyte tab! Going through them all and trying to pick out the best ones was quite a chore, but enjoyable and educational nonetheless.

    This was the second trip for Carol and I to the Salton Sea. Our first trip last August, was incredibly hot and humid, but there were some amazing birds. (Read "Sultry Salton Sea for a recap.) This time the weather was great. It was mostly sunny and in the 60s, and the birds were abundant!

    Cattle Egret
    Cattle Egret
    On Saturday, we met up at the Wister Unit, just north of Niland, at 7:30am. The temperature was around the 40s and it was sunny, with a light breeze. As we were getting organized, we saw the first "official" birds of the trip: Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus), Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina), Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris), and Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto). Around 8am we headed down the 111 and turned east on Sinclair Road, where a Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) flew over. Just past the corrections facility, we made our first stop to watch for longspurs.
    Ring-billed Gull
    Ring-billed Gull
    We were three-for-four with Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus), Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus), and Smith's Longspur (Calcarius pictus). They were really skittish and kept their distance. They didn't lend themselved to a good photo, but there were others who were more accomodating. Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) and Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) were abundant, flying by and landing in the fields to get some breakfast. Other vistors were Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus), American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis), Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus), Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya), Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), and Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura).

    Dusky-capped Flycatcher
    After figuring we'd seen all the longspur we were going to see, we headed back to the Wister Unit to see if we could find the Rufous-backed Robin (Turdus rufopalliatus) that had been seen there in the previous days.
    Red-tailed Hawk
    Red-tailed Hawk
    It's a real rarity in the US and was seen eating the dates from a tree by the side of the road. It never showed up, but we did get a good look (and photos) of a Dusky-capped Flycatcher (Myiarchus tuberculifer), another rare vistor to the area. After snapping off a few shots, the flycatcher flew away. A few minutes later, a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) swooped in and circled a few times before continuing on. The big buffer on the camera really came into play and I was able to get a lot of flight shots. Also in the area were Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) and American Coot (Fulica americana).

    Mud Volcanoes
    Mud Volcanoes
    Another interesting piece of the Salton Sea is that is lies along the southern part of the San Andreas fault system and encounters some geothermic activity. Hot mud and gas spews up from deep down causing mud pots and mud volcanoes. Some of these volcanoes reach five or six feet in height. You can walk right up to them and watch the mud sputter out. If you're ever in the area, make sure to check them out on Davis Road, north of Schrimpf.

    Geese at SBSSNWR
    Geese at SBSSNWR
    It was around 2pm when we stopped for lunch at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. As we got out of our cars, we heard the unmistakable cackling of geese. We climed the ramp to the top of the observation tower to see a field filled with Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) and Ross's Geese (Chen rossii). They're very similar, but having them side by side makes it easier to identify the difference in markings. While making a restroom stop before continuing on, it was hard to miss the Gambel's Quail (Callipepla gambelii) chasing each other around. Some stopped long enough to get their photos taken.

    Our last stop of the day was south of Brawley on McConnell Road, south of Keystone. There was a small body of water next to the road. As we arrived, we spotted a flock of Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) trying to decide where to land. They didn't seem to want to make up their minds, so we got out to see what else we could find.

    Swarms at sunset
    Swarms at sunset
    There were plenty of other birds in the water and out in the field to observe. Large flocks including Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus), Long-billed Curlew, Cattle Egret, Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus), Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata), Ring-billed Gull, American Coot, Kildeer (Charadrius vociferus), American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana), and Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) were all hanging around and feeding. There was even a lone Sandhill Crane in the mix. As the sun started setting, large swarms of birds would appear seemingly out of nowhere and then land again. It was quite a sight. A flock of Sandhill Cranes started approaching, but veered off and few west. A few minutes later another flock neared and landed in a field about a hundred yards away. They really have an unmistakable call.

    After a busy day of birding, we made our way to a Mexican restaurant in Brawley, where we were joined by Bob Miller of Southwest Birders. Bob was raised in the Salton Sea area and is an amazing guide. If you ever need a guide there, make sure to hire him for the won't be disappointed. After a tasty dinner, Bob was kind enough to take us to his neighborhood, where Western Screech-Owls (Megascops kennicottii) frequented. We heard a call at one tree, but gave up searching after 20 minutes, since it was apparent it didn't want to be found. The next spot, however, turned up two calls from the same tree. No more than five minutes later, Bob spotted the two owls only about ten feet over our heads. It was almost as if they wanted to be seen. I guess after a day of watching birds, it was time for the birds to watch us. What a great way to end the day.

    Continue to Day 2.

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    Posted by ardeidae on January 26, 2006

    • Georgie, a three-year-old conure, stolen from his cage at a restaurant in Bonita Springs, Florida. He speaks English and Greek. If you have any information, please call Crime Stoppers at (800) 780-TIPS. There's a $500 reward being offered for his return.
    • Big O Birding Festival to be held January 27-29 in Moore Haven, Florida. Dr. Jerome Jackson, one of the world experts on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), will be giving the keynote address Saturday night. The festival has an excellent schedule, so make sure to check it out if you're in the area.
    • US Fish and Wildlife Service rejects proposal to reclassify the Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) as endangered. It's currently listed as threatened. About 3000-4000 breeding pairs remain, but its restricted habitat faces heavy development pressure. "I was not only disappointed with the initial determination of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but also surprised," said Mary Sphar of the Sierra Club. "The evidence has been mounting that the Florida Scrub-Jay population has been declining at a rapid rate.
    • Five-year study by Matt Holloran, a doctoral student at the University of Wyoming, shows that oil and gas development is adversely affecting populations of Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in Pinedale Anticline and Jonah Field. Focusing on the impact of drilling close to leks, the study found drilling activity cut male Sage-grouse populations at nearby mating grounds by 51 percent. "This study changes the debate on sage grouse and oil and gas development," said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. "The Bureau of Land Management will have to change their oil and gas practices and mitigation measures to protect the sage grouse."
    • Redwood Region Audubon Society in Eureka, CA holding their annual banquet and auction on Saturday, February 25. The speaker will be Phil Nott, a research scientist at the Institute of Bird Populations at Point Reyes. His presentation is titled "Birds, Climate Change, and Migration Connectivity." If you'd like to attend, make sure to contact the RRAS as tickets must be purchased in advance.

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    Posted by ardeidae on January 25, 2006

    • Volunteers needed by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island to become guides for their Exhibit Hall and Wildlife Refuge at the Environmental Education Center in Bristol. Training will start on February 9 and will continue for five consecutive Thursday evenings. Training will include field and forest habitats, birds, fresh and saltwater habitats, whales, seals and animal handling. Graduates of the program will be qualified to lead tours at the center. If you're interested, please contact them.
    • Thirteen-year-old in Fairbanks Ranch, California donates $2,000 he received at his bar mitzvah to the Helen Woodward Animal Center. Since adopting a dog there ten years ago, Jack Doshay has really taken to animals. His family now has six companions. "Animals are just like little people. They have feelings," he said. Jack has grown to appreciate the center and is counting the days until he turns fourteen and becomes old enough to volunteer there.
    • Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) in Binghamton, Vermont receive new nest box atop the ten-story Security Mutual Life Insurance building. The falcons have fledged ten chicks since arriving there several years ago, but they've been unsuccessful the last two years, so the state, the insurance company, and volunteers pitched in to help them out.
    • Terry Knight of the Record-Bee recalls his encounters with the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) in Minnesota and California and describes some of their diverse feeding habits.

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    Posted by ardeidae on January 24, 2006

    • South Florida Birding Trail officially opens, completing the 2000-mile, 446-stop Great Florida Birding Trail. "We're trying to get communities aware they can draw birders from Florida and from all over the world by taking good care of their wildlife," said Mark Kiser, birding trail coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "Some tourists are looking for experiences where they can get a better feel for what Florida used to look like many years ago, where they can get a more natural kind of experience."
    • Commissioners in Coos County, Oregon suing the US Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) from the threatened species list so logging can proceed. The bird was declared an endangered species in 1992, but the commissioners say the 17,000 to 20,000 birds nesting in Oregon, Washington, and Northern California are not significantly different from the one million birds in Canada and Alaska. Marbled Murrelets prefer nesting in trees more than 200 years old and it's not okay to eradicate any species from an area just because they exist elsewhere.
    • Trustees of the Dudley Butterfield estate donate island to the Bermuda Audubon Society. Pearl Island, part of the Great Sound islands in Bermuda, is barely a quarter of an acre, but is an important breeding area for the Common Tern (Sterna hirundo). "When sailing around the Great Sound my father delighted in saying he'd bought [Pearl Island] for five pounds," said trustee Jim Butterfield. "Now it is of very little use to anyone other than the birds and navigational aid. By giving it to the Audubon Society, everyone is a winner."
    • Socorro Soil and Water Conservation District working to create nature area and education center on a piece of land in New Mexico deemed unsuitable for agriculture and housing. The owners donated 178 acres of land after the district approached them saying the land was ideal for bosque restoration work.

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    Posted by ardeidae on January 23, 2006

    • US Army Corps of Engineers to spend $54 million to protect endangered and threatened species along the Missouri River. Included in the plans is the building of a sandbar habitat for the Least Tern (Sterna antillarum) and the Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus). The corps will also monitor adult populations and nesting success. "This level of funding allows us to not just comply with the Endangered Species Act, but gives us a good start on the path to recovery for these species," said Brig. Gen. Gregg Martin, northwestern division engineer for the corps.
    • Seventeen of Hawaii's endangered state bird, the Nene (Branta Sandvicensis), to be released at the remote area of Paliku in Haleakala National Park. They were hatched and raised at the Maui Bird Conservation Center in Olinda and will be trucked to Hosmer Grove, where they will catch a short helicopter flight, courtesy of the Friends of Haleakala National Park Inc.'s Adopt-a-Nene program. The addition of these birds will bring up the total population in the park to about 250. Around 25,000 Nene existed on Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai when the islands were discovered by Captain Cook in the late 1700s, but due to habitat destruction and hunting during its breeding season, the population took a serious dive and by 1950, only about 50 remained. Thanks to captive breeding programs and conservation efforts, the population is on the rise.
    • Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) found shot in Hopkins County, Kentucky. It's currently being treated at Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky, but will not be able to return to the wild. Wildlife officials are offering up to a $1000 reward for information. If you have any information, please contact Bob Snow of the US Fish and Wildlife Service at (502) 695-2722.
    • Check out "Birds of a father" by Tony Deyal. It's very punny. "Polly has to be a mathematical genius. She figured out the odds on escaping and beat them fairly but not squarely. Instead, it was a perfect polly-gone."

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    The Virgin D200 and the Sepulveda Basin

    Posted by ardeidae on January 18, 2006

    Last week, I was lucky enough to score a new D200 SLR camera from Nikon. They were released in mid-December, but the high demand has made it difficult for Nikon to keep up with all the orders. I was following all the rumors, and after the camera was officially announced on November 1, 2005, I knew right away I had to have one. I wanted to upgrade my 6-megapixel D70, and for the price, the 10-megapixel D200 was a great deal. There were a few places taking pre-orders, but due to holiday plans possibly conflicting with a shipping destination, I decided to hold off and get one when they were in stock somewhere. I never thought getting this camera would be such a challenge. The Nikon fan site, Nikonians, helped keep me up to date with the availability of the D200. People there are like a family. There’s the occasional argument with siblings, but they generally stick up for their family. Posters were diligent on letting the community know when and where a D200 went on sale. After a couple of misses, Tuesday I got lucky and Wednesday I had my camera. Oh, and in case you were wondering, I’m keeping the D70. smile

    There are some enhancements to the D200 that made me especially eager to get it for my trip to the Salton Sea next weekend. My trip last August turned out some spectacular birds and some great photos, and the upgrades in the D200 should help get some even better shots. If you’re looking for a review or specs on the camera, DP Review has a comprehensive report. Maybe some day I’ll get my equipment list posted here.

    With the camera upgrade, I figured I could use a lens upgrade too. Through the last year of shooting, I’ve discovered the 70-300mm that was included with the D70 kit isn’t quite enough for what I need to do. On Saturday, I drove to Samy’s Camera and added the 80-400mm VR lens to my repertoire. It had rained most of the morning, but after I got home from running around, it was afternoon and the clouds appeared to be clearing so I headed out to break in my new setup.

    Just a few minutes from home is the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve. It’s a 48-acre riparian habitat with a small lake located in the middle of the San Fernando Valley (California), right off the 405 Freeway. I’ve been there several times and it’s always teeming with birds. This time was no exception. As I entered the refuge around 3pm, I was immediately greeted by an Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) zipping back and forth from an exposed tree branch right by the main path. It would sit there for a few minutes looking around and preening, then it would buzz away to a nearby tree, returning 30 seconds later. I never pinpointed where it was going, and after watching for about 15 minutes, it finally flashed past my head and disappeared.

    American White Pelican
    American White Pelican
    As I approached the first viewing area, two Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) surfaced for a quick breath before taking another dive. Across the way was a Black-Crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) resting in the reeds, and an American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) cruising around for food. After watching for a few minutes, the pelican decided it needed to get a little excercise. When a pelican flaps, it’s hard to miss, and the new camera and lens did an excellent job capturing it.
    Great Egret
    Great Egret

    After 20 minutes of observation, I headed over to the next observation point. The second area extends more into the lake and allows for an excellent view of the island, and all the Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) that like to nest there. Great Egrets (Ardea alba) and American White Pelicans were also seen there napping along the western shore. At the end of the point, I noticed a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) land in a tree. Just then, I caught a glimpse of something white approaching from the left. A Great Egret flew past, providing a perfect exhibition of grace in flight. I have found egrets in general to be really photogenic. In the past, I’ve got some really good photos of the Snowy Egret (Egretta thula); today it was almost elusive and was able to get away unphotographed, but not unseen.

    Black Phoebe
    Black Phoebe

    Some other feathered friends noted at Sepulveda Basin were Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), American Coot (Fulica americana), California Towhee (Pipilo crissalis), Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis), and Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis).

    Allen's Hummingbird

    I had Monday off due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so I took the opportunity to return to Sepulveda Basin. I got there around 1pm. It was 60 degrees, sunny, and windy, although the wind let up shortly after I arrived. As I approached the entrance to the reserve, a Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) made itself apparent as it hopped around the lower branches of a tree. It was in complete shade, so exposures were difficult. But it must have wanted its photo taken as it hopped down to a sunny spot near the path and sat there long enough for me to get a few good shots.

    Anna's Hummingbird

    After reviewing the photos I had taken on Saturday, the Anna’s Hummingbird turned out a bit dark. I was more prepared this time, though. But no luck, it wasn’t in the place I had seen it two days before. The birds I saw were much the same I had seen on Saturday, though the American White Pelicans were more abundant and actively cruising around in the water near the first viewing area. At one point a Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon) dashed past and was evasive enough to avoid the lens. One specimen however, posed for quite some time. The Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) made a few poses on a tall branch before buzzing over to a bushy tree where it hung out on an outer branch and preened itself, sometimes flashing some of that brilliant orange iridescence. It must have hung around for at least 20-30 minutes.

    It was almost 4pm when I started to head out. As I passed the spot I’d seen the Anna’s Hummingbird on Saturday, it flew in, right on cue. This time I was ready, and so was the bird. And the display it provided this time was incredible. It knew right where to stand for me to catch that amazing iridescent red gorget. Wow, thank you!

    I really like the usability of the D200, and after looking at the photos I took at the Sepulveda Basin, I’m impressed with the results as well. I look forward to using it more this coming weekend at the Salton Sea.

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