Monday, May 25, 2009

Oh By Gosh, By Golly-leo

The California high desert. The haunting whistling of the sciroccos permeated the morning air as we drove to California City. The bleak desertland along the way made our trip seemed longer than it actually was. After what felt like an eternity, we were entered a lush oasis in the midst of this barrenness.

Galileo Hills.

Actually this place is owned by the Silver Saddle Resort Group. They have a small hotel and restaurant and activity areas that cater to those seeking refuge from the bustling city-life, such as archery, skeet shooting and even a petting zoo for the guest's children. But to southern California birders, this is Galileo Hills. How it came to be popularly know as such, I don't know. And frankly, I don't care. All I care is that this is a birder's paradise. It's verdancy in the middle of the desert wilderness made it a veritable migrant trap. Every spring and autumn this place practically oozes with quite a diversity of birds, sometimes including such rarities as an Arctic Warbler a couple of years ago.

That's why we were surprised at the apparent lack of bird activity when we got out of our Jeep. Except for a number of Swainson's Thrushes and scads of Brewer's Blackbirds, the place was disappointingly quiet. While Cynthia and I were pondering this glaring vagary of nature, Ken and Brenda Kyle, a kind and lovely birding couple from Bakersfield, came by. Ken agreed that this spring was not producing the expected number of migrants. However, they saw a Rose-breasted Grosbeak near the Pavillion this morning. Ken then showed us a picture of the grosbeak to give us the encouragement that we so badly needed.

Off to the pavillion we went and it wasn't long before my wife's uber sharp hearing led us to our quarry. Then came one of those propitious moments when the Rose-breasted Grosbeak flew down and started feeding on the ground not more than 20 feet away from us.

And it was one of those Bob-eats-crow moments when Cynthia's photographs trumped my best shots. When a 40D+300mm blew to pieces the 5D2+500mm+1.4x combo. To save face, at least I got some high definition video of the grosbeak.

Here is Cynthia's photograph of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I'm sure you too will say: Oh by gosh!

My video:

For more lovely bird blogs and photos, please visit:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This Gray's Fool

It was a dark and gloomy morning. Suddenly a shot pierced the cold air.

"Did you get him?", Cynthia asked me with a bit of trepidation.

"I think I did", I answered as I showed her the picture of the wading bird that I just "shot" with my new Canon 5D Mark II camera.

I was experimenting with the automatic ISO setting of this model and the prevailing gray skies provided such an opportunity. Especially with a grayish subject as the Reddish Egret. I thought the camera performed quite well.

We were at Bolsa Chica last Saturday where we joined up with our new friend (and new birder) Pat Thelen, whom we met last month at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Surprisingly it wasn't really birdy that gray morning. It seems like only the terns were active. A Snowy Plover was sheltering its young from the cool breeze that was sweeping in from the ocean, making it appear like it has three pairs of legs. We found them in the area behind the green fence (which was actually built for their protection).

As we were scanning the various birds lounging by the water's edge, Cynthia asked for the identification of one bird that seemed different from the Black-bellied Plovers and Lesser Yellowlegs that it was mingling with. The giss (general impression on size and shape) indicated that it was some sort of phalarope, although it didn't look exactly like the Wilson's or the Red-necked that I have seen before. We moved on leaving the mystery bird's ID as an inconclusive "phalarope". We walked towards the tidal gates and not seeing anything really interesting - everything appeared to be grayish - decided to call it a day. When we passed by the fenced area on our way back to the parking lot, we noticed a lot of birders peering through their binoculars and scopes.

"Must be the Snowy Plovers", I told my companions. I was surprised to see fellow blogger/birder Felicia Lee among the plover spectators. She's back from Florida and spending her summer vacation here. We were busy catching up when a couple of bird photographers arrived and asked if the Red Phalarope has been seen. Felicia then replied to them pointing to the water's edge, saying it was there.

Cynthia and I were already well on our way home, when it finally kicked in. Red Phalarope!! It was that species that we saw earlier and didn't think much of it then. Red Phalarope, a lifer for us! Red Phalarope, which I didn't even bother to take a picture of! I felt like a fool!

Here am I two days later and I'm still kicking myself.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Nothing contradictory, just a series of a couple of quackers' photos:

Northern Pintails:
Green-winged Teals:
Cinnamon Teals:

Blue-winged Teals:

American Wigeons:

Wood Ducks:
As I said, nothing but a pair-a-ducks. :-)

For more bird blogs/photos, please check out:

Friday, May 15, 2009


..from photography to videography??

I thought I'd try out the HiDef video making capabilities of the Canon 5D Mk II. Apparently it works quite well - my problem seems to be with my slow CF card. And then my old clunker of a PC (read 512MB RAM) can't handle the processing of large video files. That said, here is a video of a Western Bluebird drying itself off. This was taken at noon thus the harsh light.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Two if by Sea

Every once in a while I am amazed by the prescience of my wife. She seemed to possess this uncanny sense of knowing what birds we will see at a certain place even before we get there.

Friday, May 1st. I was being irresolute as to where we would go birding. Cynthia, fed up with my wishy-washiness suggested that we go to Playa del Rey "so you can add the Wandering Tattler and the Black Oystercatcher to your year list!" That statement shook me up. We have been to Playa at least twice this year and have seen all the expected species except for these two. Now my indecisiveness was replaced with a kind of determination found only among the likes of marathon runners.

We scoured the length of the south jetty and found the usual Surfbirds, Sanderlings and both Black and Ruddy Turnstones. Then skulking among the rocks by the water's edge a Wandering Tattler finally stopped wandering and gave us some good views.

But no Black Oystercatchers. I was about to reproach my wife for her false predictions when she proposed that we check out the area along Ballona Channel east of the Pacific Avenue bridge. Lo and behold, just 100 feet from the bridge a pair of Black Oystercatchers were casually standing on the rocks as if they were actually waiting for us.

As heaven is my witness, I shall never doubt my wife again.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

To all the hard-working mothers out there..I hope you enjoyed your day. May you have the honor and respect that you so deserve.

For more interesting stories and photographs please check out:

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Full Frontal View

You are a birder and enjoy taking photographs of the birds you see. Now, what if every other bird you saw stood still in front of your camera and gave you a full frontal image. Add to that a look that seemed to say “How about this pose?” You’d probably say that it was just a fantasy or really extremely lucky.

Well it was luck for sure when that happened to me at Bonelli Regional Park last Wednesday. I went there primarily to add the Pacific Loon to my year list. Yes, I saw it and no, I wasn’t able to take a picture of it as it flew to places unknown as soon as I set up my gear.

After that initial setback, things began to turn around as bird species after bird species were quite obliging in having their photographs taken, including an unexpected sighting of a group of Lawrence’s Goldfinches (another sought after bird) just as I was about to leave.

American Robin:

California Towhee:

Western Bluebird:

Song Sparrow:

Lawrence's Goldfinch:

Friday, May 08, 2009

Eye Candies

Imagine a parade of gaudy-plumaged birds appearing before your very eyes. Overwhelming your sense of sight to a certain degree of rapturous delight. And you’re not even in the tropics!

The place was Big Morongo Valley where we had an interesting encounter with a hungry Roadrunner and a staring contest with a couple of Long-eared Owl babies. At nearby Covington Park, colorful birds put on a show that made our long trip even more worthwhile.

Hooded Oriole:

Yellow Warbler:

Western Bluebird:

Vermillion Flycatcher:

Western Tanager:

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Chick Flicks

As I have mentioned in my previous blog, our primary purpose in going to Big Morongo Valley was to look for the Long-eared Owls and their nest. We easily found it at the Marsh Trail between markers 6 and 7. However, when we got there only a single chick was on the nest staring at us with almost human-like eyes.

Scanning the surrounding area, we located a second, albeit older, chick, again staring at us with wide open eyes.

It took us a while before locating an adult (which was thankfully pointed to us by the leader of the birding group that were also watching the owl family). It was sleeping deep inside the tangle of vegetation.

For other great bird stories and photos please check out