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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bay Area: Northern Harrier and Anna's Hummingbird

[Late 2015/Early 2016. Bay Area]

We review some highlights from the San Francisco Bay area that were long delayed in their publishing in this blog due to the blogger's travel schedule. 

We trust, however, that the eclectic mix of species presented herein shall not be unworthy of the reader's patience

Specifically, we shall review species such as:
  • Anna's Hummingbird
  • Raptors: Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk
  • Herons: Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Flycatchers: Black Phoebe, Say's Phoebe
  • Songbirds: Audubon's Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, House Finch, Song Sparrow
We start with the hummer:

This is a common hummingbird of the West and has increased its range thanks to the corresponding spread of exotic flowering plants. A counter-example to the notion that only native plants benefit native species.

Anna's Hummingbird was named after a French noblewoman by Rene Lesson.

This stunning male was seen at Lucy Evans Baylands Preserve in Palo Alto.

Shifting gears to Raptors, we start with Northern Harrier. Globally, this is known as the "Hen Harrier" and in the early days of American birding was known as the "Marsh Hawk".

In "Birds of America" by JJ Audubon, the flight of the Northern Harrier is beautifully described:

The flight of the Marsh Hawk, although light and elegant, cannot be said to be either swift or strong; but it is well sustained, and this may be accounted for on comparing the small size and weight of its body with the great extent of its wings and tail, which are proportionally larger than those of any other American Hawk. While searching for prey, it performs most of its rambles by rather irregular sailings; by which I mean that it frequently deviates from a straight course, peeping hither and thither among the tall grasses of the marshes, prairies, or meadows, or along the briary edges of our fields.

The harrier was spied (as was the next raptor) at the WPCP in Sunnyvale.

Red-tailed Hawk is a raptor found across the country:

This buzzard comes in a light and a dark morph; and, like others in its family, the females outsize the males by up to 25%.
On the heron front, a Great Blue Heron was seen at Charleston Slough:

As was Snowy Egret:

Also at WPCP Sunnyvale, the reed beds held many Black-crowned Night Herons hiding in the vegetation:

This is a nocturnal species and the blogger's approach caused many to take to the air:

This included immatures (above) as well as adults (below):

Somewhat dumpy looking when standing, these herons are extremely graceful in flight.
Both the expected Western phoebe's were observed: Black Phoebe and Say's Phoebe:

The Black Phoebe above -- caught in the moment it snapped a fly in its bill -- was seen at Baylands. This is common flycatcher in California and was well observed in appropriate habitat.

Say's Phoebe:

Seen at Coyote Valley, this colorful flycatcher was named in Honor of Thomas Say who was an eminent naturalist of his day specializing in insects and shells.

On the songbird front, a couple of warblers, a finch and a sparrow were spied:

Audubon's Warbler:

Seen at Baylands as was the Common Yellowthroat:

House Finch:

Song Sparrow:

Finally, a couple of bonus birds -- Western Gull:

and, Belted Kingfisher:

A stunning hummingbird named after a French noblewoman and a hawk with a captivating flight that inspired Audubon, the West Coast of the US has a plethora of avian riches that will excite the interest of any birder.

Friday, September 16, 2016

California Waterfowl Review Featuring Greater White-fronted Goose, Common Goldeneye and Cinnamon Teal

[Bay Area, CA. Early 2016/Late 2015]

Envision traversing the Western United States from the mountains of the Sierra National Forest to the Pacific -- entering the sea through San Francisco Bay. 

In the ensuing journey of transitions in the landscape from canopy, mid-story, shrublands, grasslands, marshes, mudflats, to water bodies and finally ending in a vast marine expanse we breeze past a succession of birds such as warblers and jays, tanagers and flycatchers, grosbeaks, sparrows and quail, herons and rails, shorebirds to waterfowl and finally the pelagic species. Every habitat supporting its own rich collection of birdlife that is superbly adapted to its particular niche in the environment. 

In this "habitat spectrum", we pause briefly to explore the extensive water bodies of the Bay area and the tremendous variety of waterfowl that can be observed there, including iconic species such as:

  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Bufflehead 
  • Canvasback
  • American White Pelican
  • Brown Pelican
  • Gadwall
  • American Wigeon
  • American Coot
  • Eared Grebe
  • Ruddy Duck
We start with the Goose:

Greater White-fronted Goose has a huge range but is uncommon in the Eastern US. It breeds in the Arctic and winters in California.

The "white-fronted" refers to the white border to the bill on the face of the goose. This is a brown goose with black patches on the breast. The legs are bright orange.

This spectacular individual was observed at the Sunnyvale WPCP.

Our smallest dabbler is the Green-winged Teal. This blogger has not usually had the opportunity to observe this beautiful duck out of the water -- yet, here at Baylands Preserve in Palo Alto, this resplendent male was glistening in the early morning sun:

Every birder has a favorite waterfowl species -- for anyone living in North America, Cinnamon Teal has to be high on that list:

The male's deep cinnamon-chestnut color is unforgettable. The female is predictably plainer. Both were observed at Sunnyvale WPCP.

Among the various similarly shaped ducks, one catches the observer's eye on account of the prominent "honker" of a bill -- this is the Northern Shoveler:

This is a global species with a large range and instantly recognizable thanks to its uniquely shaped bill.
The male Common Goldeneye is a stunning small duck that nests in tree cavities:

The female is a warm brown but also shows the pale iris:

The male Bufflehead's coloration shows subtle shades of purple and green when the lighting permits:

Unlike the dabbler teals and shoveler, the Bufflehead, Goldeneye are diving ducks as is the Canvasback:

While the Canvasback is large relative to the Bufflehead or the Common Goldeneye, it is decidedly dwarfed in relation to the American White Pelican:

These magnificent creatures were seen at Charleston Slough. We have only two species of Pelican in the country -- and both can be observed here in the Bay Area.

The 2nd pelican species, Brown Pelican is found on all three coasts (Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf). However, the Western race of the Brown Pelican is somewhat distinctive with its brighter colors -- the male sporting a bright red gular pouch:

The silvery white accents, red bill and cream-colored head contrast well with the brown plumage of this acrobatic plunge-diving feeder:

Finally two more ducks that sometimes can be confused: Gadwall and American Wigeon:

American Wigeon:

Other species included an American Coot:

An Eared Grebe in winter plumage:

In Spring the Eared Grebe will be completely transformed:

The breeding colors of the grebe were witnessed several years ago at Bolsa Chica in coastal Orange Co.

Finally, a Ruddy Duck:

Our waterfowl species -- dabblers, divers, pelicans and the like -- are a remarkable collection of birds that have mastered not only the air but also the water -- and, for the intrepid birder there are few places more rewarding than the many inlets, water bodies and channels in the San Francisco Bay area to observe them in their natural habitat.