Gulf Coast Birds + Blog Post of the Week

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If you follow me on twitter then you saw my statement that I know I will not be able to look at any of the photos of oil-covered birds that will be appearing as the oil spill continues and spreads to the shore line. I couldn’t handle the Exxon-Valdez photos either. I love our feathered friends too much. I feed them in my yard. It’s one thing when the circle of life takes them out (I have no problem watching a Coopers Hawk lunch on a Mourning Dove!), but when we humans do it – UGH!

Thanks to my membership in the Feeder Watch program, I’ve been on the Cornell birding sites and they are magnificent. All About Birds just won a Webby award and a quick visit shows they deserved it. Fabulous photos & sound files and data on bird populations including a section on the birds most likely to be impacted in the Gulf. Like the American Bittern shown above. E-Bird is another great site (they work with Cornell’s sites) and I joined that with the intention of reporting what I see especially when I am out on the trails.

My overall opinion of course, is that anything that harms ecosystems and species the way offshore oil drilling does should be looked at long & hard before we embark on any more of it. Regulate, regulate regulate, and oh, how about the agencies in charge of those regulation actually ENFORCING them rather than (literally) sleeping with and doing drugs with the industries you are supposed to be policing? Yeah, that’d be a change. I’m disappointed that the cleanup of the Interior Department has been so slow, but am heartened by the response I am seeing from Sec Salazar and some of the changes he’s already made.

Meanwhile my heart aches for the birds & the fishermen of the region.

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Ok – blog post of the week! This is technically a guest poster on this site, but he just blew me away. Jane, at PlainJane was diagnosed recently with breast cancer and she had double mastectomy surgery this week. It all went well and thanks to the many Cancer-Be-Gone vibrations sent her way (I’m sure it was all our doing, right?!)  there were no indications of anything having spread and all offending cells were removed. Still, this was quite the ordeal and we were all on pins & needles sending out those powerful vibes. Thankfully he angel of a husband kept us posted. At first they were perfunctory, “here’s what is up” style updates. Then on Wednesday he posted a detailed update not just on Jane but also on the kids and on him and how he was handling everything. I hope it was cathartic for him to write. It is stunning beautiful and I do advise having a tissue handy.

It Was a Long Day

Bravo Paco!

Signs of Spring at the feeder

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Townsends Warbler flitting amongst the budding leaves on the peach tree

Fledgling House Sparrows begging for food from an adult

I noticed the fledglings yesterday. There are 5 total with this one male going back and forth from the feeder to an open, squealing mouth. They are quite annoying when they are all lined up whining for food (gee, not unlike human children eh?!)

Interesting behavior note – my backyard flock is made up of Mourning Doves (6-8), White Crowned Sparrows (6-8), House Sparrows (12+) and House Finches (12+) with the occasional Lesser Goldfinch and one or two Song Sparrows. (Warblers and Hummingbirds and Black Phoebe’s too, but they don’t use the seed feeder). I’ve noticed that whenever I scatter them by going outside to refill the feeder or water the plants that the first bird back is *always* the Song Sparrow. Given the it is the one most likely to be alone and the shyest of the flock that always surprises me that he/she seems to be either the Braveheart or the unofficial scout. Of course, it could be something as simple as the Song Sparrow seeing it as his chance to get about 30 seconds of feeder time to himself🙂

I resolve not to make any resolutions

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Except maybe to walk along the beach below the Torrey Pines trails more often – here’s why:

High clouds created muted, but interesting colors on the water

Guy Fleming trail viewpoint

The boy on Red Butte off the Razor Point trail - 13 year olds are so cooperative with the smiles!

The tree that I use as my profile pic sometimes. Razor Point Trail.

He only agreed to smile nicely since it was my birthday🙂

On the beack below the Guy Fleming Trail

Willet foraging at the wave line just before he escaped being lunch!

Perfect example of the layers of sandstone that make up the cliffs. Green to tan to red. There must have been a falcon perched up there because...

….just a little further up the beach Sportsboy & I noticed an interesting looking “ledge” of the green sandstone at the base of the cliff & we went for a closer look and I was about to take photos when out of the corner of my eye I saw two birds swooping down from the cliffs straight at him! They swerved right past (he swears he could have reached out his arms and knocked one out of the air) and leveled out and flushed the Willet and chased it up the beach. I thought for SURE the Willet was lunch because I knew right away they were a pair of Peregrines. One noticeable larger than the other and the big one was on that poor Willet’s tail! Somehow the Willet was just evasive enough – I think it used a life guard tower as a diversion – to escape at which point the smaller falcon swooped back up to the cliff face just above us and settled down. The larger one actually perched on the somewhat distant life guard tower rail for a bit & I was insanely jealous of the people near there who seemed clue less to the spectacle! Meanwhile I tried my best to get some sort of shot of the smaller one above us – here’s a cropped version which gives a little bit better look:

Peregine Falcon on a cliff ledge just below Guy Fleming Trail at Torrey Pines

The larger one then took off and came swooping right past us again – got a full view of all those dramatic markings, particularly the face mask and streaked underbelly. Such glorious birds to see in flight like that!

My 45th birthday present

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Look really closely at the cliff edge - that's a Peregrine Falcon!!

The highlight of hiking on the trails today (besides my son & friends being there) was our walk along the beach below afterwards when two Peregrine Falcons whooshed right past Sports Boy and out over the beach chasing a shorebird who eventually escaped. Then the smaller falcon landed on this cliff face above us while the larger one whooshed back past us close enough again to see his beautiful facial mask.

Happy happy happy was I!!

More late – off to dinner.

Birdie num num, part 2 – a Very Special Visitor

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I swear this wont turn into a bird blog, but since the feeder is new and exciting and I am home to enjoy it..well…

My hope was to get some fun varieties in the yard, and today has been a jackpot day. Since I finished in my bedroom yesterday…oh yeah…here’s that set of pics..solid day of work to get this done:

My bedroom - no longer the junk closet of the house!

Reading corner. All set for 2010 - the Year of the Book.

ok, back to the birds. So this morning I cleaned the windows for optimum viewing & picture taking. Once I was back inside for good and the birds knew it was all clear to resume feasting, there were new visitors immediately:

Song Sparrow, side view

Now, I know this looks quite a bit like the Rufous Crowned Sparrow (see how hard this ID thing can get?), but even though the head looks similar, it’s the super streaky breast that differentiates this one:

Song Sparrow, front view

Hah – caught him with a seed in his mouth! Soon after this guy flew off, I spotted the one I was hoping for:

Male White Crowned Sparrow

Isn’t he pretty? I just love their shocking yellow bills & perfectly coiffed stripey crowns. The female has the same yellow bill, but a duller version of the crown. Like the Rufous Crowned & Song Sparrow, these guys are ground dwellers and take to the area under the feeder looking for spill over seeds. The House Finches still dominate the feeder itself. Heh, just noticed there’s a female finch tucked up in the tree behind the pretty sparrow in the picture. That’s the way it is back there now – dozens of birds all over in the trees, on the feeder, on the fence, and on the ground at any given time.

So while I was enjoying the ground show, I still keep an eye up on the trees in case of a warbler or two. Then I saw this:

Nuttall's Woodpecker

Not a great picture but it was literally there for maybe a minute so all I could do was point and shoot and hope! I’m just glad it turned it’s head so that I had that back view like that because that’s how I got to the ID. There’s a shot in my bird book of the back of a Nuttall to show the unique pattern since there’s another variety otherwise quite similar that also crosses territories of course! I thought I had heard a woodpecker in those trees before, but never good a clear view to identify it. So today was a major jackpot!

And now I have to go out and refill the feeder already. I guess pigs do fly!

Birdie num nums

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House finches enjoying a new source of food

Sweet Prince brought this bird feeder over from work on Christmas Eve & I nearly rejected it. Fear of rats & too much mess. But, I do still have that rat trap service on contract from several summers ago, and we’ve now been two full seasons without even a sign of a rat, living or dead. I have this perfect tree to hang it on right outside the back set of french doors. It’s all pebbles below so hopefully it wont cause an explosion of weed growth and I knew the birds would love it. And, of course so would the cats🙂

Amber in her newly permanent pose looking out the window

Within 24 hours I had a small flock of finches calling my yard and the trees surrounding it home. They are pretty, but I am more interested in what might follow them.

Rufous Crowned sparrow foraging on the ground below the feeder

Trust me on that🙂 I just did a feature by feature comparison of this guy to my bird book to secure an ID. He’s much more skittish and seems to be traveling alone so there is just one for now. But I know we also have White Crowned sparrows in the area and I really hope they come in. And once a yard becomes bird friendly, others do follow. I know I’ve already have one Yellow Rumped Warbler (aka butterbutt) and another warbler variety that I could not immediately ID. Even though they are not seed eaters, the activity brings them in. Now I’m thinking about a water source for them🙂

Meanwhile the cats just sit and stare. Heck, I do too! Gotta clean that window for better viewing and picture taking. Oh, and they wont like it when I take down the Christmas lights. They have been using the strands as perches!

Another glorious day of hiking

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I rewarded myself for working mad hours this week by taking off at 2:45 yesterday and meeting two friends at Torrey Pines. One was from out of town – camera in hand much like Robin! – and the other lives here though is a recent transplant from the mid west. Of course, that fabulous book that I picked up when Robin and I were there with the wildflower guide was left at home! Duh. Oh well, I managed to remember a *few* items I’d read. We hit up Guy Fleming Trail AND Flat Rock so it was a pretty long hike. The weather was perfect though with the clouds rolling in just enough to ease up the sun and keep it from being hot. Especially on the way back UP the hill from flat rock, cloud cover is critical! Here is one flower which FoodGal remembered – a Wild Hyancinth:

Bird activity was really high, though no peregrines yesterday. FoodGal started asking me about the songs we were hearing and the trail to flat rock had a lot of activity so I had a blast rattling off the names of birds I recognized by voice or on sight. We saw a pair of California Quail scramble down the path ahead of us, a White Crowned Sparrow, a Rufous Sided Towhee and his cousin the Brown Towhee and a Scrub Jay. We heard a Wrentit and a Gnatcather in the shrubs.

The state bird of California:

Quails are so cool!

Anyhow, we were hungry and FoodGal had suggested her favorite restaurant for dinner so I gladly joined them. The place is called Spread and is a vegetarian restaurant that goes out every day to the local farms and buys ingredients for the evening. The open at 6:00pm until…whenever for dinner and their menu naturally varies according to what they can find when they are out shopping. It was SOOOOO good! Omigosh I have never had food so fresh and packed with flavor. We had an arugala salad and a bruchetta that I honestly could eat every day. Here’s a kicker – there are some veggies that I really don’t like raw, or at all. Tomatoes for instance – love them cooked, but just cannot eat them raw. There were fresh tomatoes on the bruchetta that were amazing – I was eating them without abandon! Another sauteed vegetable dish had zucchini and almonds in it – two more I would normally pick around and avoid – no way, they were so so good!! The key besides the fresh organic vegetables, is also the seasoning/sauces they create. They were absolutely perfect compliments to the food. The only one that was a little over powering was the citrus sautee. But, that was the last dish brought to the table and I was so full from the first three that I did not mind! And the sangria! The first one we had was a passion fruit blend and the second was a cinnamon apple. So lovely. As someone who is quite a committed carnivore, this restaurant is now on my list of favorites.

Of course, the company was awesome. FoodGal and NYCGuy are people I met from DailyKos and have since met in Vegas and Chicago at the YK conventions. We had a wonderful time trashing the debate and the media together!