Mittry Lake, February 2018

 

Mittry Lake

Mittry Lake

I need to head out from Yuma before daylight to have any chance of hearing a rare Black Rail at Mittry Lake. The lake is up in the hills and the tiny Rails stop calling before sunrise. I start of well enough but soon I’m in serious agricultural country and lost, dodging huge, road-straddling farm machines of indeterminate purpose, submerged in a sea of  dust and stabbing headlights. It’s rather like rather being part of some lost footage from Close Encounters. My GPS is no help whatsoever by the way. I’m that boxy car icon on the flat green background in a land where no roads exist, including the one I’m presently on. When I finally escape and luck my way up to the opposite end of the Mittry Lake road (which was not my destination) the sun is high and my chances for the Black Rail are now nil. Luckily other birds live here, Ridgway’s Rail for one — a life bird for me. Ridgways used to be just plain old Clapper Rail but recently got split off into its own species. For birders and their lists, splitting species is great, lumping (two Warblers into one species, for example) not so much.

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Killdeer

I’m not sure what I was expecting at Mittry but not this. Snowbird RVs occupy almost every access to the Lake, which kind of spoils the ambience for me, though it’s possible I’m just feeling cranky after the drive. Even Betty’s Kitchen, the protected wildlife area is not very ‘birdy’ right now — a Great Blue Heron, some Killdeer, one or two Anna’s Hummingbirds and a few squeaky Gila Woodpeckers. I see birds on the water — Ruddy Ducks, gorgeous Cinnamon Teal, Pied-billed, Eared, Clarke’s and Western Grebes but most too far away to photograph. The biggish white blobs I spot in the distance turn out to be Pelicans.

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Cinnamon Teal

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Anna’s Hummingbird

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Gila Woodpecker

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Great Blue Heron

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Pied-billed Grebe

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Eared Grebe

I drive along the shore stopping wherever I figure good rail habitat exists, those areas of dense rushes and cattails with just enough open water to allow me to spot the little guys should one decide to show itself. I’m stepping over a wet patch following a Gila Woodpecker when a Ridgways suddenly lets loose right at my feet, loud, like two rocks smacked against each other – clack, clack, clack, clack. Fast. I’m startled and almost fall backwards. Did I catch a fleeting glimpse of the bird? Maybe. Sometimes, I’m delusional. If I had got a photo, which I didn’t, it would have resembled a larger version of a Virginia Rail, like this one – sort of.

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Virginia Rail

 

 

Arcata Marsh

February 4

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Arcata Marsh, Humboldt, California

I’ve been to Arcata before. It’s one of the most productive birding sites in northern California. It’s too early in the year for migrants, in spite of what I might wish. I know because I’ve been checking ebird, hoping for some rarity. Not that I’m complaining. I’m happy to be in the marsh enjoying the late morning sun and the warmth. And there are plenty of birds around — Anna’s Hummingbirds glittering like emeralds, busy Yellow-rumped Warblers, Snowy and Great Egrets, Pied-billed Grebes. Lots of waterfowl too — Canada Geese, Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, Gadwalls, Ruddy Ducks. As I finish my circuit, I spot the prize of the day in a row of distant Cottonwoods. It’s a beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk intent and focussed, glowing a lovely burnt sienna. With that it’s time to go. I’ve got mountains to cross and a long drive to Redding. Arcata marsh – I’ll be back.

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Pied-billed Grebe

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Ruddy Duck

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Anna’s Hummingbird

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Red-shouldered Hawk

Cabo Birding

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The Arco at Cabo San Lucas

Los Cabos — the brightness and warmth is nice after some very gloomy months plus I finally get a chance to visit a location that figures prominently in the historical novel I’m writing. The story involves the capture of the Manila Galleon by the English privateer, Thomas Cavendish in 1587,  Cavendish seized a vast treasure and then left half of it behind with his mutinous second ship, the Content, which almost immediately disappeared from history. It all took place right out there.

On the birding side, Baja Sur has species found nowhere else, such as Belding’s Yellowthroat, Xantus’ Hummingbird and Gray Thrasher. Our hotel is right beside a major bird sanctuary — the Estero San Jose. Coincidence? I think not. Spectacular Hooded and Scott’s Orioles are among the first birds we see.

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Scott’s Oriole

So, a successful, combined research and birding trip all in all.  Did I mention the glorious sun and sparkling blue water? Never mind. For a week it’s been birding in the morning and composing galleon action scenes and  treasure stories in the afternoon. Not a bad thing – birding in sandals, imagining history on the beach. Later, a Baja Birding tour will help me get the Xantus’ and the Gray Thrasher, both life birds, as was the Yellow-footed Gull I saw at the ‘Arco’.  Great!

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Damage from Hurricane Odile (2014)

As for the Sanctuary, at the moment it exists, it seems, in name only. No one to blame, I suppose, economics being what it is. Hurricane Odile smashed through here in 2014 and the effects are still visible. Littering and illegal dumping are a problem too and dogs and horses roam the trails. One can only hope that conservation efforts will revive once Odile and its costs slide into the more distant past.

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Yellow-footed Gull

Otherwise, the Estero is fantastic. Happily, birds don’t seem to mind many of those things that irritate us humans. Water birds are abundant and relatively easy to find — Cinnamon and Blue-wing Teal, American Coots and Gallinules, Herons and Egrets. Glossy, black White-faced Ibises gather like mini conventions of funeral directors. Lots of stuff here. I particularly like watching the numerous Reddish Egrets as they dash about and pounce in the peculiar way they do. It’s like it just occurred to these birds that they are supposed to be working! It’s a fishing strategy that seems to me, well, goofy. It must be successful but I think they’re hilarious.

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White-faced Ibises

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Reddish Egret

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Hooded Oriole

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Female Belding’s Yellowthroat

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Eared Grebe

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Gilded Flicker

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Lark Sparrow

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Crested Caracara

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Gray Thrasher — a supercilious look methinks!

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Verdin

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Xantus’ Hummingbird

 

 

 

 

 

Worn.

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Uplands Park View

Today, the Park seems like the Hundred Acre Wood, intimate, private. It’s breezy closer to the sea but I’m out of the wind here in the meadow. I have the trails to myself too. With no runners or dogs to disturb them, young Chickadees and Towhees are active, chasing each other through the foliage like kids. They seemed not to mark the juvenile Cooper’s Hawk that cruised silently past a moment earlier, a serious lapse. Carelessness can get a bird killed here, unless it’s lucky, or the wide-eyed hawk is equally inexperienced and inept, which is not impossible.

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Cooper’s Hawk

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Meadow Flowers

Mostly I see signs of the turning of the year – flowers past their peak, older birds, worn now and replacing feathers. Gone the flamboyant colours and behaviours of mating season. Not completely, perhaps. A Yellow-rumped Warbler is still handsome, a ( pardon me ) ratty Spotted Towhee trills and fidgets a display of sorts nearby, a Bewick’s Wren sings half-hardheartedly in the shade. A Chipping Sparrow, on the other hand, seems content to feed up for the fall migration, keeping its own counsel. An Anna’s Hummingbird takes in the sun, as relaxed as a hummingbird ever gets

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Yellow-rumped Warbler

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Spotted Towhee

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Bewick’s Wren

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Chipping Sparrow

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Anna’s Hummingbird

A strikingly-patterned butterfly appears. It’s a Lorquin’s Admiral, looking great from a distance but close up, not so good. Its wings are in tatters, a sign that it’s at the end of its short life. Nice name though – Lorquin’s Admiral.

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Lorquin’s Admiral

Speaking of names, those of butterflies seem more poetic than those of birds – Skippers, Fritillaries, Azures, Parnassians, Hairstreaks. Admirals are Brushfoots. Brushfoots – makes me think of Hobbits. So – I started my walk with Winnie the Pooh and now I’m in Middle Earth. It’s that kind of a morning.

Once assigned, of course, names frequently stick. The competition to put the labels on things must be fierce. Bicycles were originally called velocipedes, which seems so much better. The same people who named birds must have insisted upon ‘bikes’; butterfly aficionados probably would have gone with ‘velos’. Boy, my mind really is wandering now. Talk about worn.

 

 

 

 

When you got nothing to say, a funny bird picture might suffice…

It’s summer proper now, fall migrations are weeks away and I’m not seeing as many birds as I’d like. Summer’s the problem. Most aren’t singing, so harder to spot in heavy foliage. They’re rearing young – busy. Ah well. I make another trip to Martindale to search for the Bullock’s Orioles I missed when the tree service people showed up on site a week or so ago. They’re supposed to have fledglings now. The Orioles, not the tree service people. I do hear a Bullock-type chortle in the cottonwoods, see Robins and Waxwings briefly but spot no pretty Orioles. Not my day, I guess.

With no birding adventures to report and no new birds recorded, I got nothing. Going through my photos, I find shots of a Red-crested Cardinal from Maui that I found funny at the time. The bird even looked slightly embarrassed, as if I’d happened on him in the middle of some private and exclusive exercises. He shot me a look of reluctant approbation and carried on. I make a quick search for birds that surprised me, made me smile. Mostly, the experience was too fleeting and I too slow with my camera. Still…

 

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Red-crested Cardinal – Yoga

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Slaty-backed Gull – Washington – No Pictures, Please!

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Anna’s Hummingbird – Victoria – Pilates

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Raven – Observatory Hill, Victoria – So relaxed!

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I’Iwi – Maui, Hosmer Grove – Coming Right At you!

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Wrentit – California – Yes, I’m only two inches tall. Want to make something out if it!

 

I forget what the second thing was…

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Broom and Roses

It’s one of those days when the birding gods decide to take a picnic – with some other birder. I set out this morning to locate birds at three different locations, and ended up being foiled, as Oilcan Harry says, at all three. The first two don’t matter much – traffic disruptions cancelled these out. The third should have been a piece of cake – Bullock’s Orioles at Martindale, from one to umpteen depending on whose report you read. Singing loudly too, so hard to miss. It’s a nice day-peaceful. I gear up. I’m ready for Orioles when, from out of the blue, two tree service trucks roar up. Out go the cones, out come the chain saws, and that’s all she wrote.

An hour later, for want of a better plan, I’m at the Munn Road power line. Not a bad fallback it turns out. The sun is out, the trail verges are thick with cad-yellow broom and Nootka Rose. In fact, the roses perfumes the air. And birds seem to be everywhere. I even discover the remains of an ancient civilization in the form of a mysterious trilith – like Stonehenge. You just have to unfocus your eyes!

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White-crowned Sparrow

 

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Downy Woodpecker

 

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Cedar Waxwing

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Nootka Rose

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Olive-sided Flycatcher

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Rufous Hummingbird

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Eastern Cottontail

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Mysterious Stonehenge-like Trilith

 

Observatory Hill-Pygmy Owl Hunting

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The Fog Clears

It was bright and clear at sea level when I left home this morning but by the time I get to the top of Observatory Hill heavy cloud is moving in and drifting down into the trees. Red-barked Arbutus, pale maples and the rocky bones of the mountain become ghostly, moss-draped forms; the boles of giant firs, alleys of indistinct columns. I take the trail past one of the smaller telescope-covering domes (the reason it’s called Observatory Hill) and go down into the mist. I can hear birds – nuthatches, drumming woodpeckers, kinglets, a Varied Thrush – but aside from a half dozen Ravens, an Anna’s Hummingbird and a few Dark-eyed Juncos, I see nada. I had hoped to luck into a Northern Pygmy Owl, my real goal this morning. They live up here reportedly and hunt in the daytime, and I have yet to get a picture of one of these fierce little hunters. Now, with the fog, I’m expecting I’ll be plumb out of luck today.

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Dark-eyed Juncos

I hike through the gloomy forest, being careful to stay on trails I know. I’ve been lost in forests before and I do not like the feeling. After an hour or so, a light breeze arrives, quickens, changes direction and begins to scour the cloud from my side of the ‘mountain’. I pause on a rock outcrop for a view of Prospect Lake. It’s so quiet, so peaceful. A young Bald Eagle cruises past, gives me the ‘hairy eyeball’ and carries on. Fine. I’m leaving anyway. After a couple of hours on a cold, foggy mountaintop, I’m ready for a cup of hot coffee and, just maybe, a donut.

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Bald Eagle

On my way back up through the firs, I hear something – the clear, repeated  ‘toots’ of a Pygmy Owl calling. And from the other side of the trail, a hundred meters or so away, another bird, ‘tooting’ back. I think they do this, male and female counter-calling. They might stand still for a photo if I could just find them. The mist lingers here and there and the sound seems to move around, making it hard to locate the Pygmy. I never do get a picture. My reward for stalking the birds is a brief flash of underwing, and those sounds. Still, the owls are here, on Observatory Hill. Next chance I get, next clear early morning, I’ll be up here searching.