Posted by: atowhee | September 18, 2014


Our Partnership for International Birding (PIB) California trip did Monterey County today, from sea to Salinas Valley. From sea otter to Yellow-billed Magpie.CUTE KILLER (1280x543)This sea otter is about the cvutest predator you’ve ever seen. Right? Lying on the mud on his back at the mouth of Elkhorn Slough.
South of Greenfield, California, and up Pine Canyon Road we found a flock of Y-B Magpies. Photo taken by one of the Colorado birders with me. How;d we find the birds? Asked the locals in a nearby cafe. Oh yes, they said, the magpies comeinto my yard and steal my dog’s food.magpies
No the group has seen 100% of the North Americans endemics, Corvids both–Island Scrub-Jay and Y-B Magpie. Neither has ever been recorded outside California.

Posted by: atowhee | September 17, 2014


The Elegant Terns were not living up to their name. They were frantic in their pursuit of small fish in the Morro State Park Yacht Harbor–yeah, I know, yacht harbor in a state park? Local hominids told us there was a heavy run of anchovies this year and many fishing birds were brought to the shore. That included a long line of pelicans, both white and brown. But today the terns were the whole show. Each dive took a bird beneath the water, leaving a small circle of ripples, then the tern would emerge, sometimes with a three-inch fish in its beak which would be swallowed as the bird lifted out of the water.
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Posted by: atowhee | September 17, 2014

The U.S. has two endemic species. They are both Corvids. They are both California-only birds. Yesterday our PIB trip to the California Coast got close to one member of the Island Scrub-Jay species. This immature bird wanted to be fed in seems. He or she cam overhead and whispered sweet songs to us in the baked scrub on Santa Cruz Island off Ventura.IS-SCJA BANDS (1025x1280)IS-SCJA FACE PROFILE (1280x962)

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This bird has never been found off the island and it id an example of giantism that sometimes evolves in isolated population, like the Galapagos tortoises. He’s bigger and brighter than other Scrub-Jay species.
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Posted by: atowhee | September 15, 2014


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Turkey Vultures drinking from small spring branch that flows onto sand at Stinson Beach and then sinks beneath the surface. Gulls drank there as well on a hot, sunny day.

Posted by: atowhee | September 15, 2014


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White-tailed Kite over Olema Marsh. The dark band under the bird’s throat is mark of young bird.
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Bluebird on the roof.
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Turkey Vulture warming in the morning sun.
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Anna’s Hummer at the nectar bar. Fill’er up. Joe.
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Below, hundreds of Elegants and Heermann’s on the sand bar at the mouth of Bolinas Lagoon.
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eles c-u (1280x960)elgnt flutter (1280x960)Above, an Elegant flutter.

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Above Pintails loafing allng edge of Bolinas Lagoon. Below: Common Murre.

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High tide on Tomales Bay has Western Sandpiper flock restless to find resting spot.wesa in air (1280x960)

Posted by: atowhee | September 15, 2014


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This incident of gull vs. tourists took place at Limantour Beach, Pt. Reyes, a few days ago.


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Today I was leading a group of birders and we stopped for dinner at an outdoor seafood cafe in Ventura. Some other diners left their table and a first-year Western Gull quickly swooped down to empty the small container of tartar sauce left on the table. That very same gull also proved adept at catching French fries with his beak. By that time he had managed to get most of the spare sauce off his beak. We offered him a napkin which he eschewed with apparent disdain. Real gulls don’t do napkins?

Why Ventura? Tomorrow we take the Island Packers boat out to Santa Cruz Island for the endemic Island Scrub-Jay, an example of evolutionary giantism, like the Komodo monitor lizards, but not as dangerous.

Posted by: atowhee | September 12, 2014


To cap off our day of Marin birding we went to the evening show at the McNear Brickyard in San Rafael:brkyard

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going in The actual descent into the one chosen chimney began around sunset, 720pm. The official count for the night was 8730. The previous night it had set a local record: 13000+. This roost site was first discovered in 2010.
Among the Vaux’s I believe we saw a single Black Swift.

Posted by: atowhee | September 11, 2014


I am birding the Pt. Reyes area with two birders who flew in from Colorado. The remit: learn gulls and shorebirds. The fall birds are here in numbers now, and yesterday they were also in good light. Here are two species that nest in southern California in late winter, then spend much of their lives in the north. They come for the food, no fools they.
Elegant Terns loafing at Stinson Beach above. Ditto four of the 300 Heermann’s Gulls just up the beach a couple steps.
heer qurtet (1280x960) Juts the most colorful of the eight gulls species we had.
We’re going for 12 hours each day, not much time for blogging. Shorebirds were pretty good with Curlew, Whimbrel, Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Red-necked Phalarope, Short-billed Dowitcher. We go for rockpipers today.
Two alcids went onto Coloradan’s life list, the easiest two here in Bay Area: Common Murre and Pigeon Guillemot. We also got nice looks at some of the little guys, esp. good to follow a Hutton’s Vireo through some willows.
Most encouraging: huge coveys of California Quail, esp. at Five Brooks where the horse manure enriches the habitat for ground feeders which also included California Towhee and Song Sparrow.

Posted by: atowhee | September 8, 2014



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All these feathers were on the ground in my garden. Guess the species. ANSWERS AFTER THE TURKEYS.


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Have you ever been close enough to an adult tom turkey tco see his unicorn-style proboscis horn? And I tought only medaeval Scottish warriors painted their faces blue. With thees guys it comes naturally.
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The first two from from Turkey, the first one is eleven inches lone.
The third set are from various parts of a Steller’s Jay.
The next pair are from Band-tailed PIgeon, the banded one from the…tail, of course.
The last one is from a Downy Woodpecker.

Posted by: atowhee | September 7, 2014


Peter Thiemann has made contact with landowners in the Applegate Valley who are proud neighbors of nesting Great Gray Owls. At 10am this morning Peter and a landowner came across a roosting GGO on the private ranch. Then the owners shared some of their trail cam photos from a year-round waterhole that is spring fed:1030:072114:63F:2774:CAMERA1   :6

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The owls in the Applegate are nesting at about 2000′ elevation, far lower than in Cascades just twenty-five east. The habitat is mixed forest including oak, madrone, maple and Doug-fir. The Appleagte GGOs live in a hotter, dryer habitat than any other known population of the species. This is the only known Great gray Owl population in the Siskiyous and the only one that is west Interstate 5 anywhere. The largest number of Great Grays are in boreal forests of Canada, Alaska and the far north of Eurasia.

This ranch will be the recipient of a nest platform, part of the Rogue Valley Audubon program to help Great Grays in Jackson County. Last month we put up two on a ranch near Grizzly Peak in the Cascades. If you can donate please. Here’s the information: GGO PLATFORM PROGRAM—Harry Fuller

RVAS is helping place nest platforms for Great Gray Owls. Jackson County has 300-500 GGOs, mostly in the Cascades. A few are in the uplands along the Applegate River. That estimate’s from Steve Godwin, BLM’s chief biologist in the county. For about two decades BLM field biologists in southwestern Oregon have searched for Great Gray Owls during an annual spring survey. Great Grays are in eastern Josephine County and Klamath County. The only confirmed GGO population in northern California is a small one north of Alturas in Modoc County. There’s an isolated population around Yosemite.
Godwin assured me the recent forest fire east of Greensprings did NOT hit known GGO nesting habitat. That fire mostly burned commercial timber land, not the right habitat for the species.
Platforms are being made by volunteer and nature photographer, Peter Thiemann. Each needs to be carefully placed in dense, mature forest near meadows good for Great Gray hunting. A platform is put 35 feet above the ground by an experienced forestry worker. Donations go for materials and pay the person equipped to hang the platform.
One limitation to Great Grays’ population is lack of nesting places. Owls don’t build nests. They use cliffs, cavities, old nests for other species, manmade structures. GGOs do not use buildings, bridges, cavities or cliffs. Left to their own devices GGOs need a large tree trunk broken off at the right height or a nest built by Raven or Red-tail. Many of these natural nest sites are short-lived. A pair we monitored this spring on a private ranch near Grizzly Peak used a fast disintegrating Ravens’ nest. That area is where the first two platforms will be placed this fall.
There is good evidence of Great Gray Owls using nest platforms over many years. Here in the southern part of their range owls will pair and nest almost every season because food supplies—small rodents—are generally available. Further north lemming populations may crash leading to a dormant season where nests are fewer or non-existent. Platforms are now used for GGOs in Scandanavia, Canada and in their scattered nesting areas in the western U.S. One platform on private land near Howard Prairie Lake has been used both in 2013 and 2014.
If you can donate to the Great Gray Owl nest platform fund, please send check to RVAS, P.O. Box 8597, Medford OR 97501. Your donations are tax deductible.

The presence of mountain lion, black bear, Great Gray Owl and other alpha predators in Jackson County gives some life to a book I just finished reading. FERAL is by British journalist George Monbiot. It is a reasoned argument for rewildling. Read it if you care about stopping the headlong drive to turn our entire planet into either a shopping center or garden. FERAL is available as hardcover or ebook in America. If you have a British contact, they can mail you a paperback copy.

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