Friday, April 29, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rachid, Laura & Jann's Excellent Adventure

For all you Twitter folks, this title refers to @rachidH, @DrMarm and @BirdGalAlcatraz getting together yesterday for a fantastic TweetUp to explore some of the flora and fauna of the San Francisco Bay Area and Marin County, CA.

Laura & Jann have met for photo outings before, but this is the first time we've had the pleasure of meeting our long-time friend, Rachid, face to face as he traveled to San Francisco to visit family here. Many of you know Rachid from Twitter and joined us in fretting for his safety and whereabouts during the Egyptian Revolution since he had arrived in Cairo the day before all hell broke loose. We were all gratified when we finally got a tweet from him some days later that he was safe in Dubai.

We had a wonderful adventure yesterday visiting Muir Woods, Stinson Beach, Olema and some favorite birding haunts in Marin County. Here are some of the birding photos of this most Excellent Adventure, which included more than one life bird along the way.

First up, a pair of House Sparrows who decided that a shallow dirt bowl outside the restaurant where we had lunch was the perfect place to hunker down for a nice dust bath.

We then headed over to the wastewater treatment plant in San Rafael where we thought it likely we'd see some waterfowl and maybe a wild bird or two. We weren't disappointed. First, a Great Egret flew in and landed at the water's edge and began looking for food immediately. We also got some good looks at Red-winged Blackbirds which were abundant.

Walking around the main ponds on the site, we were buzzed by Barn Swallows whirling everywhere overhead and across the water. Rachid spotted this pair that actually perched long enough for us to catch a few shots before they took to the air again.

Then there was one little Song Sparrow all by its lonesome, singing its heart out.

And although this Steller's Jay wasn't in the same location, we did manage to grab of few pics of this guy on the grounds at Cavallo Point, part of the former Fort Baker right near the base of the Golden Gate Bridge on the north side.

As we headed out toward the large fishing pier near Cavallo Point, we noticed perhaps a dozen black & white somethings floating in the water, their heads tucked down, sleeping. Laura asked, "What are those?" as I slowed the car down, wondering myself. At first I thought they might be Greater Scaups because I couldn't see them quite close enough. Here are two of them:

Then one of them raised its head and that long, distinctive neck and bill emerged, announcing that we'd come upon a whole flock of sleeping Western Grebes. I'm so used to seeing them at a distance, diving and disappearing in a flash, that I could scarcely believe that a whole flock of them was just lolling about nearby in the harbor. Here are a few more looks:

We then walked out onto the fishing pier where we saw many Western and Ring-billed Gulls, along with a few Double-crested Cormorants in the water, diving and searching for dinner. Rachid and I both did a double take when we spied another fish chaser much lighter in color, popping up and diving repeatedly. At first we thought it was a juvenile cormorant, but after consulting some field guides, it was clear we had the prize of the day: a juvenile Red-throated Loon, and a lifer for all of us. We got some very good looks as you'll see from these shots:

It truly was a most excellent adventure made even more special by having the opportunity for Twitter friends to meet IRL - in real life, for those of you who don't know the shortened language of Twitter. We had an absolute blast and look forward to doing it again in the future. Rachid will be posting some of his photos on Twitter in the days ahead and you also won't want to miss Laura's next blog post (probably Saturday) where she'll share some of her great shots as well, including Muir Woods. Check out her blog at

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Wily Willet

Willets are fairly common shorebirds on both the East and West coasts, but they're often shy and easily flushed if  you encounter them feeding along tidal marshes. I've had many fly away before I could even raise my camera. But here I'll share some images I got when I had what must have been a mighty hungry Willet, because it let me get up close and personal.

Willets are mostly solitary foragers, hunting and pecking with purpose, looking for a good meal. You'll see one shot in this series where the Willet is accompanied by two Least Sandpipers that it doesn't seem to even notice. I was happy to capture this image because it convincingly demonstrates how tiny the Least Sandpipers are in comparison, something my solo shots of them never convey. Enjoy.

Adonis Willet

A tasty morsel

Sorta like aquatic popcorn

So many of these yummy little things

Whoa, now I've really scored!

Hmm, now how do I eat something as big as my head?

These tiny peeps - I'll pay them no mind

Nothing like a good burp after a big meal - see my tongue?

A pause for reflection before I take off

I'm outta here for now, but I'll be back in the morning!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wings, Wings, Wings

Snowy Egrets forage in the shallow water.

An American Pelican soars over my head.

A Least Sandpiper uses its wings to hop along the shore.

This White-tailed Kite is about to dive for its unsuspecting lunch below.

Willets and Marbled Godwits take to the air as a Northern Harrier shows up.

An American Avocet stretches a bit.

This Canada Goose appears to be conducting an imaginary orchestra.

A Red-tailed Hawk looks over its shoulder at you!

A Killdeer tests its wings.

This Mallard offers a lovely display of its beautiful wing.

A Forster's Tern blends in with the slate colored water below.

This Cinnamon Teal female just woke up from an afternoon nap.

Buffleheads start to take flight.
One Western Gull with a fish attracts attention and flapping wings.