Monday, March 30, 2015

A Pygmy Horned-Owl, Blossoming Blossoms, the Halloween Thrush.

Seeing a Northern Pygmy-Owl usually tops any day of birding; seeing one that you can walk right up to puts your day in a whole other birding league.  Mines Road, Alameda County, CA.

Well now that I have gotten the obligatory winter is ending/spring is coming post out of the way, I don't have to talk about that shit anymore.  So other than migrants, what is the good word?

The birding world has been bereft of much new controversy lately, for good or ill, though there has been some intrigue...your life list may get a bit shorter soon, and there is still a Brown(ish) Shrike lurking 3 hours north of me...maybe I should try to see it or something.  I say Brownish because it does not really look like the Brown Shrike I saw in Humboldt County a few years ago, and Red-backed Shrike could potentially reach North America.  Equally plausible, it is a different subspecies of Brown Shrike, it is an intergrade of different Brown Shrike subspecies, or most horribly of all, it could be a hybrid. Who knows how the Bird Police will rule?  I know how....WITH AN IRON FIST!!!!!  Naw not really, they are nerds, sorry guys (and Kristie). Anyways, I may be #7, but this is out of my birding wheelhouse.  Old World birders, you are our only hope!

This bird was sitting directly above a moderately used road, completely ignoring traffic and only briefly acknowledging Cass Grattan and myself with a few seconds of eye contact.  It was silent the entire time, and was completely zoned in on a handful of shrubs on the other side of the road.  No playback required for this one.

While it is not too difficult to figure out where Northern Pygmy-Owls might be found, I rarely get to see fact, I don't even remember the last time I saw one.  What an epic bird to hang out with. The tail almost looks like an afterthought of sorts.  It never flushed, and when we came back an hour later, it still had not moved.  Patience rewards the hungry pygmy-owl.

This bird actually had horns out for a while. Did you even know that pygmy-owls had horns?  I think it's worth showing such a shitty picture just so you can see what I'm talking about.  Life plumage feature for #7.

Other things besides birds are appearing now.  This is a Castilleja, some kind of owl's clover. Maybe dense flower owl's clover?  Castilleja is the same genus that Indian paintbrush belong to, but I don't get to see owl's clover nearly as often. Mines Road, Alameda County.

Dodecatheon, shooting star, is another beloved wildflower around these parts. Del Valle Regional Park, Alameda County, CA.

Sometimes it's hard to think of a caption for certain birds...Northern Rough-winged Swallow is one species that presents such a challenge.  They are adherent to the Economy of Style.  They don't make remarkable noises.  Unless you are someplace where Southern Rough-winged Swallow also occurs, they are easy to identify, and there is probably not a soul in the world whose favorite bird is this bird. It's nice to see them perched on something other than a power line though. Lake Elizabeth, Fremont, CA.

Stll, no one can deny that NRWS is a pleasant's just so mellow.  And hardy...they are one of the very first spring migrants to arrive in the spring, though the last few years a bird doesn't exactly have to be hardy to spend a winter around here.

Phainopepla, the bird in the shining robe.  Many birders associate Phainopeplas with desolate, arid landscapes, but they can are equally at home in oak woodlands.  You show me mistletoe and I will show you Phainopepla. Del Valle Regional Park, CA.

I wonder how male Phainopeplas became black. They sit in conspicuous places within often bleak landscapes, and frequently live in areas with triple digit temperatures...yet somehow manage to avoid predators and don't overheat. They got dressed by the same force that dressed Bronzed Cowbirds, ostensibly...they both even have red eyes.

Last fall and this winter was an INVASION YEAR for Varied Thrushes in much of California, with more than one bird making it all the way to Imperial County, where there is absolutely no Varied Thrush habitat to speak of...the one I saw was foraging in palm trees. This bird was in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.

One of the big birding perks of living in northern California is being able to see Varied Thrushes regularly, and getting to listen to their wondrous and soothing songs. No other bird commands your attention as much in a redwood dawn chorus.

They are fabulously constructed birds, even their undertail coverts are interesting to look at.

A Red-tailed Hawk sits above Highway 101 gridlock and ponders the idiots below. San Francisco, CA.


  1. NPOW is a sweet bird, not only because it sounds like a Batman comic sound effect when banded, but because of myriad other reasons.
    To this day, I have only ever seen one staring at me out of a nest cavity--never the whole body--and this haunts me. It wasn't enough. I couldn't finish.

    I have ton contest about the NRWS regarding their vocalization. Their flight call sounds a lot like the laser gun sound effects from x_wings when they're attacking the death star in episode IV (not episode VII, which had different sound effects), and I find this very enjoyable.

  2. great pics! We'll be heading up to Grants Park/Mt Ham Wed or Fryday sans the bourbon :)

  3. Holy cow, I've NEVER seen lighting doing that to a phainopepla before. Can they POSSIBLY be that GORGEOUS? Jeeze. They were already super stylish... also, at Del Valle?!? V. strange. V. interesting.

    Ah, we had a nice influx of varied thrushes earlier this year, up here in the Yosemite foothill-y zone. What a delightful sound. I knew I'd miss that call, most of all, upon leaving Mt. Rainier NP, but I didn't know I'd get to hear it in my own yard. Delightful.