Saturday, January 30, 2010

'Sucker Fans

A visit to the Veteran's Memorial Park in Sylmar turned out to be super Sapsucker morning for us. In a span of less than two hours we had some good looks (and photographs) of three kinds of sapsuckers: Williamson's, Yellow-bellied and Red-breasted. Now where is the Red-naped when you needed it? :-)

Here's a not-so-cooperative Red-breasted:

A quite cooperative yellow-bellied:

And a very cooperative Williamson's:

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Junco which?

Taking advantage of a break in the stormy weather Southern California has been experiencing lately (with more to come tomorrow) I thought I'd visit Legg Lake in El Monte to "document" the Red-throated Loon that was seen there yesterday. It is rather unusual for a seabird like a loon to be hanging out in a freshwater inland lake so the birding gurus in Los Angeles County would like to see a photo which, thankfully, I was able to get without any problem at all.

What got my attention though was the flock of Dark-eyed Juncos feeding by the picnic tables. As you know there are several "varieties" of Dark-eyed Juncos differing slightly in plumage coloration. What I noticed in this particular flock was that there were individuals that differ from the very common Oregon variety. Looking closely, I was able to pick-out what I believe to be the Pink-sided variety and a male and female of the Slate-colored subspecies! What boggles my mind is why these three different varieties all flock together. Aren't subspecies supposed to be separated geographically? Or does this "flocking" happen only during the non-breeding season? Moreover, the different "kinds" of Dark-eyed Juncos are quite distinct from each other that they should be elevated to a species status. I mean there are sandpipers that look so very much alike that are of different speciation. Why not then the Dark-eyed Juncos?

Oregon (female)


Slate-colored (male)

Slate-colored (female)

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Take a Haiku

It seems that everybody and his uncle had seen the Black-throated Green Warbler in Pasadena, so I'll just make it brief with a haiku:

black-throated green seen
working the oak tree at the
front of panda inn

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Four Play

My wife also wanted to see the King Eider, so off to Cabrillo Beach we went last Saturday, Jan 9th. From our two-hour stay we were treated to wonderful viewings of four different kinds of birds. A brief story accompanies each one:

The Eider has Landed
The juvenile male King Eider at Cabrillo Beach had become some sort of celebrity among birders in Southern California. We met three such birders who drove all the way from San Diego just to see this bird. Earlier that morning the Eider was swimming with some Surf Scoters a hundred feet away from the fishing pier where it usually hangs out. As Cynthia and I focused our attention (and our cameras) to the other avian denizens of the beach, I noticed the Eider slowly swimming towards the shore until it finally landed on terra firma and stood there for a few seconds. Now, all of the pictures of this bird posted in the internet were always showing it on the water. So it was a thrill for us to photograph it on land.

A Loon at Last
One of the very first birds we saw when we arrived at Cabrillo was a Red-throated Loon preening close to the shore. Cynthia and I don't see Loons quite often and seeing one so near and so unperturbed by the presence of human beings was a treat. I have seen one last year at Huntington Central Park but it was sleeping at the edge of the lake which I thought was very unloon-like. Some birders, myself included, even thought that that perticular Red-throated Loon was sick or injured. (Thankfully, it wasn't). But the one we saw at Cabrillo was everything you expect a Loon to be - slick, preening, diving and quite active.

You Make Me Feel Brant New
The Brant was a species that did not make it to my yearlist for 2009. It wasn't there when I first saw the King Eider last Dec. 29th (or I just wasn't aware they were there then..because I just concentrated my efforts on the Eider). So it was a pleasant surprise when Cynthia and I saw not one but five (!) Brants associating with the Gulls by the seashore. The last time I saw one was on a hot summer day in 2007 at Legg Lake.

My Gull (talking about my gull)
The other reason why we came to Cabrillo was to look for the Mew Gull. Again, because I was more intent in seeing the Eider the last time, I did not even bother look at the other species in the area. It was only when I read the postings of the other birders who had been to Cabrillo and mentioned the presence of Mew Gulls that I realized my blunder. Mew Gull would be a lifer for me, you see. After searching diligently at each and every flock of gulls snoozing on the beach, we finally saw our quarry. At least seven of them, actually. It wasn't that difficult picking them out from the numerous Ring-billeds that were in the same flock because Mew Gulls don't have the black spot on their bills (See what a little homework can do?).

It was a bright, albeit windy morning that Saturday.  As we watched huge breakers pound the jetty, we were thankful that we saw the birds we wanted to see. So easy, in fact, it was like child's play.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Franklin's my dear, I got a lifer!

I thought I would be getting my first dip of the year. Not a good way to start the year was what I felt as I left Legg Lake a little before 10 am, Monday morning. I was searching for the Franklin's Gull that was observed here just the day before. After going around the lake looking at every single gull that was there, and not finding my quarry, I reluctantly left for home.

After lunch I checked the Yahoo group postings for a possible update on the gull's whereabouts. Chris Akiyoshi, a birder friend, who originally found the bird, posted that it was seen again by the main lake at 11:30 am. By 4 pm I was once again scouring the shores on the north side of the lake. Ed Stonick, another birder friend, was already there and gave the bad news that he couldn't find the Franklin's Gull. When he said he will try to look for the Tropical Kingbird, which hangs around the middle lake, instead, I decided to go the south side of the main lake and try my luck there.

There were a bunch of Ring-billed Gulls standing on the shore when I arrived. Then I noticed a smaller gull with some dark feathers on its head. My heart leapt as I realized that I finally found my lifer! I started taking its photograph when a kid came and flushed all the gulls away. Luckily I was able to get a few shots before the gulls, including the Franklin's, flew off to parts unknown. I checked the north side again when I returned to the parking area but the little gull wasn't there.

Nevertheless, I am quite happy that I got my 505th lifer, just 4 days into the new year.

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New year's eye

Occasional drizzles punctuated the grey skies over Benicia - a city lying by the inland bay in Northern California. It was New Year's Day and my wife and I together with our hosts, Glenn and Haydee Ilan were out birding in this inclement weather. Neither Haydee nor Glenn are birders and they wanted to experience the awareness of feathered creatures that occupy their little corner of the world. (Although in the back of their minds they're probably thinking that birders are a bit "cuckoo" to go out in this near-freezing temperatures just to look at birds.).

The highlight of our foray along the shores and marshes of Benicia was when we were at the fishing pier at the end of First Street. It was there that we saw another couple who obviously were birders, too (the spotting scope and binoculars were a dead giveaway). Glad that we were not the only nuts to brave the cold, we introduced ourselves. Call it coincidence or whatever, but their last name was also Kaufman! Spelled the exact same way as mine! John and Murthia are from nearby Vallejo and like us, believed that the best way to start the year would be to be out birding. A couple after my own heart, I must say.

While they were scanning the west side of the pier, Cynthia and I looked at the gray expanse on the east side. There I noticed a duck that I'm certain was neither a Scaup nor a Bufflehead which were what we have seen so far.  It was a bit far and the light wasn't that good that I couldn't make a positive identification even with the use of my binoculars. I called the Kaufman's and explained my dilemma.

"I think it is a Common Goldeneye, but I'm not sure.", I told John.

Using his scope he finally got the bird in question in view (the bird was always diving for fish) and confirmed my suspicion. It was indeed a female Common Goldeneye. While they were enjoying the sight of the female, I sauntered over to the west side and this time, a male Goldeneye appeared. Yelling and waving once again at the Kaufmans, I told them of my latest finding. They hurried over and once fixed their scope on the male Goldeneye. As I continued to scan the waters, I noticed a raft of ducks about 200 feet away. My jaw dropped as I realized I was staring at a whole bunch of Goldeneyes! We counted 16 of them. This is the most number of these birds that I have seen in one outing. John and Murthia agreed that what we saw bordered on the unusual.

After the initial excitement and without the adrenalin pumping, we now became more aware of the biting cold breezes that chilled us to the bone. We bade our namesakes goodbye and hurried back to where the warmth of a cozy home awaited us.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

2009 The (Birding) year that was

The year 2009 started with a big bang for us. My wife and I celebrated new year's day at Salton Sea and boy were we so happy to have made that trip. Racking up three lifers on that day alone sort of set the trend for what will happen on the following 364 days.

Also, for the first time in my relatively short birding experience, I decided to keep a year list inasmuch as this will be my last full year in the United States. In 2010, Cynthia and I will retire in the Philippines.

New Year's Eve and we were travelling to Benicia in Northern California to visit some friends. I told my wife that I hoped that we would see a Yellow-billed Magpie which I thought would be a fitting final bird for my yearlist. A few miles after we entered Hwy 580, Cynthia excitedly pointed to a long-tailed bird perched on a roadside tree. Then two more flew across the highway and I knew without a doubt that I got my final species for the year bringing my total to 341; 306 in the United States and 35 from the Philippines. Of these, 61 were lifers, 43 American and 18 Philippines. Not a bad tally considering we confined our birding to California in 2009, except for a two-week visit to the Philippines and a 4 day trip to Florida.

Of those lifers, most memorable was the California Condor we saw at Big Sur.

The others were surprisingly easy: Common Goldeneye and Black Scoter at Playa del Rey,

Common Goldeneye
Black Scoter

White-winged Scoter at Bolsa Chica,

King Eider at Cabrillo Beach

and Williamson's Sapsucker at Sylmar

and Bobolink at Bonelli.

Cynthia and I are hoping that 2010 will be another great birding year for us, especially since we will do most part of it in our native country.