Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Let plovers nest in peace! Save the snowy plovers.... (#278-279)

We are nearing the end of the journey (well, it kept going, but the birding slowed down a bit as we hit urban centres and finally arrived at our ultimate destination). We stayed in a log cabin in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, and hit the dunes in the morning. I wasn't sure what to expect, but had seen some images of this unique area. I was a little annoyed by the gazillion dune buggies---I just don't get it!

The dunes are a long area of the Oregon Coast and we accessed them near Coos Bay. We did the long walk down the dunes (knowing it would be a fun climb back up again). When we came back up again, two rangers had set up a little table and had information on the dunes and ...birds! The one ranger was a university student and so helpful--I asked her what birds I could be seeing at that time and what I might have missed and she mentioned that there were western snowy plovers around. These tiny birds are threatened and long sections of the beach have been roped off, as well as signs and warnings indicating that motorized vehicles are not allowed in the beach during certain times (it's a bit odd...everybody drives their trucks on the beach there). Dogs are also a huge threat, scaring the birds away from their nest and wasting precious energy. Apparently, there were as few as 28 nesting birds in 1992 but they are now up to at least 231--a step in the right direction, for sure! She pointed me to a location where we might see them.

We drove there and walked a long ways down the shore not really seeing anything. First of all, it was really foggy and you couldn't really see all that far, and secondly because there were no birds! And also no people. It's crazy how much shoreline there is, and how few people are on it. Just at some at the main stops, but there are just not enough people to fill up all that beach, plus it's really too cold to do any sunbathing or swimming, so everyone just walks the beach and checks out the rocks and beachcombs generally.

Knowing chances would be really slim of seeing this bird anywhere else, we walked all the way down the beach as far as we could, at least 30 minutes. Finally, Matt yells my name quite urgently and laughs--pointing out this bird that is so tiny...so tiny this little bird weighs only 1.4 oz--scurrying along the beach. Scurrying, stopping in its tracks, scurrying some more. So sweet. And so white and fluffy. That tiny little bird totally won my heart.

You can check out this site for more information on the snowy plover and conservation efforts at http://www.westernsnowyplover.org/. I'd recommend you read up on this special little bird.

#278: Snowy Plover, Oregon Dunes, August 2013
I swear little snowy you are not just a number to me!
Check out the teeny tiny bands on its legs
After we noticed the plover, we started to see a few other birds, including some gnarly terns nearby, a few gulls eating dead crabs on the beach and a small sandpiper, that I almost thought was another plover.
Gull with Caspian Terns

Western sandpiper

Our last section before heading into Portland was Seaside to Astoria. We spent an extra day there than we had planned, hanging out with some amazing Warm Showers/Couchsurfing people we had met, relaxing, cooking, going to a karaoke bar, and for me at least, shooting the hummingbirds through the kitchen window. :)
Yes. It's sticking it's tongue out. At me?
I headed back to the archives for a better look and I'm glad I didn't delete this shot because this is the confirmation I need that these were rufous humingbirds :)

#278: Rufous Hummingbird; Seaside, Oregon, August 2013
Little bird playing peekabo shows the white tips of his tail. YES!
Another angle
On that note--more developments on the redwoods hummingbirds. here's proof that Matt did see Anna's. I went back and found this among the pics from that day....but none of them turned out, sadly--either super over or underexposed. But I think we can safely agree that the previous posted bird wasn't an Anna's and this one is--they are pretty clearly different!
You can find friends anywhere. I love that these experiences are so short but so intense.
I love you Oregon.
This was on all the cars in OR. I think I know why.

It's nice taking a while before doing these posts after a trip (I'm justifying my slacker habits here) because it's been nice to revisit the trip. I think just one more west coast post to come. It will be a familiar bird but a funny one. See you soon :)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Arcata. That is all. And a funny binocular story. And more identification woes... (#276-277)

A cut inland, through the Redwoods and 400 kilometres later (or since we're in the USA, 247 miles), we're back to the ocean's edge. The visitor centres have been great handing out one-page maps pointing out the major natural areas. Arcata was pointed out as a great spot for birding. So far we haven't really been birding a lot, just an hour here and there. After all, this trip was never planned as a birding trip, and not timed with any migration or anything, so any sightings were just luck.

Well let me tell you just how lucky we got.


Matt took a little path off the main trail to the edge and I followed. We looked down the shore and saw a bunch of grey bumps that I thought were rocks. But Matt was taking pictures.

Because they were birds. ALL OF THEM. 
I started to pinch myself around this point.We sort of just stumbled on shorebird heaven. My previous shorebird excursions have been a little frustrating. The birds are so far away that you need a behemoth of a scope and still they can be hard to identify.

#276: Willet; Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary; California; August 2013
#277: Marbled Godwit; Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary; California; August 2013

Willets with Marbled godwits

Marbled Godwit

Willet. Note grey legs! Think it might be the only shorebird with grey legs that I can think of, except whimbrel---makes my life easy :)

Another willet, with dowitchers

This last image leads me to the next section. I could have either one or two life birds in addition to these...long-billed and short-billed dowitchers. There's enough resolution in these pics (the originals, at least) that I might spend some more time on this, but I've already spent hours it feels, comparing illustrations and reading articles and ripping my hair out and wondering if am slowly going crazy123456switch. I think, if they have to write super lengthy articles about distinguishing the two, I shouldn't feel so bad about not being able to tell them apart. On the upside, I'm getting a little better with my bird anatomy (I didn't actually now where a tertial was until...oh, five minutes ago....blush). It's all tertials an juveniles and breeding and worn breeding and tiger stripes and spring and fall and winter and how is fall in August anyway and on and on and none of it seems to be helping. Next time, I'll just make sure that I....listen!

These resources seem pretty good:

Dowitchers in flight

Apparently wider black bars on the tail tan wide is a surefire sign of a long-billed, EXCEPT on the West Coast. BAH.

Marbled godwits with dowitcher
Marbled godwit with dowitchers
Size comparison!

Least Sandpiper
The snowy egret was also there, and this time I managed a shot where it was lifting its feet out of the water so you can see its awesome yellow feet! This is one thing that makes it really stand apart from the egrets at home (plus the obvious size difference!)
Snowy Egret
 I love how the GBH stands over the other little shorebirds; I call him the Godfather. For sure if he could talk he'd have an Italian accent.
There was also a marshy/forest walk but it was a little bit quieter. This little sparrow stopped and said hello.

Song? I THINK....
Hawks. Hawks. Hawk. I believe we saw these on the road. I don't know if I could count the hours I've spent poring over my bird guides trying to sort these hawks out. I think there's only one consistent thing in this post.....

I'm most inclined to think red-shouldered hawk (http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/red-shouldered-hawk/), although there isn't an obvious red part on the shoulder. But the tail is striped and not the giveaway red of a red-tailed hawk. Out of range for Broad winged and doesn't have dark breast of rough-legged, but that would be my second choice.

Check out the spidey web on the bottom left! Red-shouldered again? maybe? sigh....how much longer until I sort this out? :(

So here's another little anecdote. I decided to buy Matt (ahem...) binoculars for his birthday in August. Of course I left this to just a few days before we had to leave. So the first step was researching which ones to get. He had mentions Monarchs and I think he was already sold on the Nikon brand (obviously!) but I wanted to do some thorough research before throwing the cash down. I got some great input from a Facebook group (Eagle Optics Ranfer line came highly recommended).

I made my way to Focus Scientific in Ottawa. They closed at 6 so I had to really give it once I got out of work. I figured out the bus route and was making good time. I got off at Westgate Mall but didn't see the sign for the store or its listing in the directory. I then realized that I was quite off and assumed the store was in the mall but it was way back down the road, and there was no bus going in the other direction. I had a huge bag, and it was a typically warm August Day, and I silly stupid office shoes on (which were quite cute but not good for much else). I walked 20-30 minutes back in the other direction and ended up with a spectacularly painful blister. I must have been a sore sight limping down the street. And I bet I have scars to show for this story.

There was a really confusing intersection I had to cross to get to the store on the other side of the road. Some really nice and helpful guy helped me out. He showed me pics he had taken of some celestial body with a telescope mounted on his camera, and I wondered, "is it possible there is someone nerdier than me?" I was so surprised how different the binos looked/felt. Picking one was easier than I thought. Some of them just felt wrong and were easy to eliminate. Focus Scientific did not carry the Ranger line but I didn't have time to locate them somewhere else to try them out. I felt good about the Monarchs so that's what I picked up. (HEY SANTA I'M STILL WAITING FOR THAT SCOPE). As I was paying, a cyclist got hit by a car in that weird intersection right in front o the store window. The whole thing was just crazy.

So this is where it gets to the good part! I wanted to give the binos to Matt on the plane, which meant I had to bring a bigger carry-on on the plane, and had to hide it in my bag. As I approached the CATSA scanner, I signaled to one of the officers and tried to explain discreetly that I had a present in my bag for the next man in line and if he needs to search my bag could he please do it somewhere where that guy down the line wouldn't see? I wasn't sure if this would raise more suspicion but I was waved right through after my bag was scanned. I decided not to wait until we were on the plane because the stupid airline didn't even give us seats together and we had a bit of a wait. So he opened them up and we watched the gulls waddling around on the tarmac and I thought for sure the guard were watching us because of all the antics we were up to.

It was such a good move getting the binoculars for the trip. In fact Matt had a hard time getting them out of my hands. I liked looking through them so much sometimes I forgot to put them down....
I have no idea if my experience at Arcata was typical but it was pretty awesome. So if you are out that way, I'd recommend it!

I'd also like to give a shout-out to Dwayne over at Nerdy for Birdy for his input on the mysterious hummingbird in my previous post. I love getting feedback! His comment led me to the Cornell page on Allen's Hummingbirds (I think that is a real possibility and I hadn't even thought of it) which led me to the ebird sightings range map, which is AWESOME because I could choose a species, choose a date range (August 2013) and zoom right in to where we were (Garberville).

With this tool, it's easy to get a sense if a certain bird is in the area at a given time. Of course you are relying on other birders to submit sightings and to do so accurately, but definitely interesting results:


All this to say it could probably be any of the three of them. :P

Still have a few more posts to go and I'm moving through them rapid fire, so come back (real) soon!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Mud flat march--Bodega Bay (#273-275)

We headed north out of SF, stopping for a bit in Sausalito, but mostly wanting to get over the coast. The plan was to avoid the 101 at all costs, but we heard from the car ahead of us that a big truck was blocking Highway 1 heading north. Since Hwy 1 is one lane each way with no shoulder, that meant nobody was going anywhere. So I sadly accepted that Point Reyes would not be happening (honestly, we wouldn't have had time to appreciate anyway--ideally you would want a full day there from what I hear). The 101 was slow going to, but we managed to cut over to the coast past the accident. This meant cutting through some farming country.

Red-tailed, I think
There was just a bit of sunlight left by the time we saw water at Bodega Bay...and I'd read somewhere that this was a great spot for birding. We limited ourselves to an hour and set out. It was pretty grey and little foggy--something we got really used later on in Oregon.

This area had a bit of trail before coming to a bridge and then some mud flats beside the trail. The first section was really active with lots of little birds eating seed pods on some plant that I'm not sure what it is. They were quick little things, darting around, making my job as a photographer quite difficult.

#273: Bushtit; Bodega Bay, California; August 2013

While not as numerous as the bushtits, I did see my first black phoebes too.

#274: Black Phoebe; Bodega Bay, California; August 2013

Juvenile black phoebe. Looks similar to American Redstart
In the mud flats we were treated to a few different elegant herons. I immediately though of the Great Egrets we have at home, and these were the same.

However, there were also much smaller white egrets. I was so happy to get a shot of the two of them side by side for comparison! The snowy egret was awesome--it's hard to describe how their feathers move in the air, but they are so graceful and elegant.
Then I got another shot with a Great Blue--the Great Egrets are similar in size.

Great Blues are majestic birds, no matter how many times you see them!
On the way out I spotted another birdie perched in the bush, and so glad I took a closer look. Check out the eyebrows on this guy!

#275: Western Scrub Jay; Bodega Bay, California; August 2013
Hmm. Super dark song sparrow maybe?

Eventually it was getting late and we still had a long way to go that day. Unfortunately it got dark and we missed seeing some of the coast because it was night, but what we saw was so spectacular. Eventually we made it to the Redwood forest where we stayed for the night. The people we stayed with (an amazing couple in their 80s with an awful lot of stories and an off the grid house surrounded by forest and their own garden) had a hummingbird feeder. Matt got up before me (as always) and caught a feeder visitor. Sadly I don't think I saw any of these. Darn it, I need to start getting up earlier! Our host said that only Ana's were around but now that' I'm looking at the book, it really seems to be a Rufous Hummingbird. I don't feel confident contradicting someone who sees them all the time, but I'm pretty certain. Anyone want to confirm?

While the redwoods were wonderful in their own way, they were pretty quiet bird-wise. Or at least we didn't see many. Maybe because the tree tops are soooooooooo high up.

Stay tuned...

Friday, December 27, 2013

If you are birding in San Francisco...(#269-272)

Perhaps this will seem a little off topic, since all of Ontario is a-frenzy with snowy owls. If you are fortunate enough to see one, enjoy! (at distance, of course!)

But today I'm going somewhere a little farther south, a little warmer, a little foggier, a little more coastal, and a lot more west!

I've had a little bit of time to catch my breath and time to catch up with myself. So while this post is not just about San Francisco, it's the only clever title I could come up with today.

From Vegas through Death Valley, Yosemite, San Francisco, sleepy beach towns and endless coast to Portland, Seattle and onward, I'm going to try really hard to keep the details of this three-week epic adventure to those relevant to the subject at hand.

The journey begins in Yosemite National Park (well, technically it starts at a seedy casino off the strip where we doubled our money at a blackjack table, but that's another story and this blog entry begins at Yosemite). Turns out the only bird picture I had is a bird I've already seen but it still quite a treat for a non-west coaster.
Steller's Jay. Remember the story about Steller?

However, there was so much about Yosemite that I'm sure my readers will appreciate. Like squirrels. Especially squirrels sticking their tongues out!
California ground squirrel
I thought there was something funny about the squirrels! I felt so absurd taking pictures of squirrels, because I see tourists doing it all the time at home and I always laugh at them. Anyways, they have a faint band of white near their neck and are sport of spotted. Plus their tails are not so bushy. And they are cheeky cheeky things!

And slightly more exciting and also slightly larger are bears. Which it turns out, I am a little less afraid of than I thought. Not afraid enough, anyway, not to take a selfie of myself with one.

We arrived at night in the dark, and when I stepped out of the cabin in the morning, I realized, oh my god, there are mountains all around me. I don't know at what point of the journey we sort of got used to everything being so damn breathtaking.
Half dome in the background. That's another hike for another day when we have more time!

I can easily recommend this hike in Yosemite. 4.8 km, not bad right? This was a trail that is pretty much uphill the whole way--1000ft up. There were people stopped on the side of the trail panting, sweating, even crying. I don't know but I didn't think it was that hard...I guess we have done much more intense elevation changes...with way heavier packs...anyways....
Vernal Falls.
The mountains were fabulous but we had an itinerary and it was time to move. Later that day we pushed right across the map to Frisco, which provided a surprising number of life birds when I wasn't really looking for them, right at fisherman's wharf.
Best catches in the bay

Gulls are my least favourite birds to identify  (something tells me it's not just me....). At least I'm starting to get better and recognize when something is just a bit off. Or in the case of this first gull, quite a bit off.

Like, this one is so sooty it looks like it was hanging out in someone's chimney. And that bright orange bill. Can't miss it. Just hanging out on some dude's car. 

#269: Heerman's Gull; San Francisco, August 2013

How have I not counted a Western Gull yet? I swear I've seen these, or at least something that looks an awful lot like one. Anyways, hey there pink toes, strutting across the intersection like you are Paul McCartney or something.

#270: Western Gull; San Francisco, August 2013
Again, another life bird...hanging out in a planter in the middle of the sidewalk. Geez!! Quite certain I also saw these in Yosemite but couldn't get a clear shot.

#271: Brewer's Blackbird; San Francisco, August 2013
This next one looks a bit odd but I suppose it's somewhere between juvenile and adult. It's definitely a familiar one...
European starling.
Oh yeah. Funny story. Remember that time I wanted to go to Alcatraz so bad when we were in San Fran but it was sold out for like an eternity? Remember that time we got up at 4am to stand in line in the fog drips for *a chance* to get a ticket Alcatraz?

Well, it was worth it and not just because we scored a life bird.

#272: Brandt's cormorant;  San Francisco, August 2013

Notice the dude on the left, with the blue on the throat pouch.
These gulls were the biggest babies I have ever seen, totally whining for food when they are clearly just as big as their moms. I could make an analogy...but I won't go there.

The City by the Bay was a blast, but after a while you need to get away from the crowds and hug the curves of that beautiful coast. You need sand in your shoes. You need salty on your skin. You need a little more space. The adventure continues...