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Thursday, January 24, 2013

A California Endemic: Yellow-billed Magpie

The fabled yellow-billed magpie is found nowhere else but California. A striking bird, this corvid is restricted to the Central valley region of the state.

Yellow-billed magpie seen at Mines and Tesla roads, Livermore, CA.

A raucous and gregarious bird, the yellow-billed magpie is suffering population declines due to disease (West Nile virus; which decimated 50% of the population several years ago) as well as increased competition with crows. This species is very similar to the black-billed magpie -- except of course for the color of the bill.

Earlier, a quick stop at Sunol Regional Park produced some choice species including varied and Swainson's thrushes.
The varied thrush is a signature thrush of the West -- boldly patterned and colorful. In winter, it is known to disperse widely -- even reaching the Eastern US.
While the Varied offered only fleeting looks, a far more cooperative thrush was the Swainson's; seen here with its diagnostic eye-ring and buffy face showing clearly.

In the nearby woods, a noisy flock of tiny birds feeding energetically emerges -- chestnut-backed chickadees -- these Western specialties are similar to the black-capped's but of course with a chestnut rather than grey back.
At Sunol, the sparrow family was especially well represented. First up, dark-eyed juncos -- found in a small flock feeding on the ground:
Dark-eyed junco feeding.

And, of course, this being California, can the golden-crowned sparrow be far behind? And, indeed, there it was -- found in mixed feeding flocks in the leaf litter.

Less conspicuous were a small number of white-throated sparrows. Temperatures were exceedingly cold by California standards as the frozen puddle in this image attests.

Perhaps outshining all the other sparrows was the handsome spotted towhee.

The spotted towhee, of course, is much more flamboyant than the drab but superbly camouflaged California Towhee.

Overhead, a pair of Acorn Woodpeckers stash away acorns in purpose-built holes. They are known to stash away up to 500 lbs of acorns in their granary trees.

A fascinating morning and the return ride yields the only raptor of the day -- a red-tailed hawk.

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