Sunday, August 28, 2011

Those Rascally Raptors

I was sorting through some photos this morning and realized I have quite a few images of birds of prey that I've taken here and there but have never gotten around to posting. Some of these shots are marginal at best because I'm pretty lousy at stop-action photography -- something that comes in handy when a hawk soars over your head. Some of the shots are a bit blurry at the edges as well because I've yet to get a 500mm lens that would be a big help with birds too far away for my current lens. But I'm posting them anyway. Also, I readily admit that I'm not only terrible at gull IDs, I'm also lousy with hawk IDs. If any of you want to chime in and correct me on any of these photos, I'd be grateful.

So here's a shot of the one hawk I'm absolutely certain I've correctly ID'ed, the Red-tailed Hawk. Pretty obvious, right? I wish they were all this easy.

Looking down at me with curious look on its face is what I believe is a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Perching high in a tree is a White-tailed Kite. It's very hard to see here, but this bird has an amber colored eye  inside that black ring. (Here's where I really need a 500mm lens, Santa.)

This rascally raptor circled and screeched for days in the airspace over my neighborhood, presumably trying to find a mate. Here it is perched on a giant star a neighbor has high in a tree that lights up each December. I'm pretty sure this is a Red-shouldered Hawk, but don't put money on it.

This fine fellow (or gal?) perched on my back fence is a Red-shouldered Hawk also, though not the same bird as in the prior picture, to my knowledge. These two photos were taken months apart, so I don't think it's the same hawk.

This lovely perching raptor is a juvenile White-tailed Kite. That black eye ring is already present. As it matures, the buff coloring you see will fade and you'll see a mostly white bird with gray wings. 

These next two photos were taken just a second or two apart. They appear to be floating because I had to lighten them considerably to see anything since they were taken on a dark, rainy day. I took the first one of the hawk perched on the pole and was about to take another when it swooped down to grab the prey it spied below. Thus you see the second shot of the bird diving straight down, a shot I'll never get again in 100 years. I believe this is a dark morph Red-tailed Hawk. But I'll be the first to admit that I have no idea if that's right or not.

In these next two shots, a Northern Harrier is flying over an open field hunting for prey below. This is another raptor ID I'm sure of because that white band across its rump is a dead giveaway.

Here we have my favorite raptor of them all, the American Kestrel. This is our smallest falcon and his beautiful field marks and distinctive blue/gray wings, reddish brown tail and black sideburns make him the handsomest guy around. Not the sharpest picture, this was taken through my car windshield.

Here we have a White-tailed Kite in action. While the Northern Harrier glides over grassland to hunt, the White-tailed Kite hovers in mid-air while it locks on to its prey below and then dives down to grab it.

Another American Kestrel, this one with the prey it just grabbed.

Here's a closer look at a Red-tailed Hawk. This was another instance where I was about to take a photo of a perched hawk and it suddenly took flight, in this case almost directly over my head!

I hope you've enjoyed these photos and your comments and corrections are always welcome. Good birding!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Just A Few Faves

If you read my last blog post, you know that I've moved to a new city, which explains why I'm such a laggard posting here. And yes, I'm still unpacking, still muttering, still wishing I could just go birding for a day and I can't. I have to be "responsible." So here's a visit to some of the images I've taken in the recent past, some of which I've never managed to post and some which are probably repeats; I honestly can't remember. Heck, I can barely remember where I left my car keys, as my "everything in its place" mantra has gone right out the window in a new house where routines have yet to be established.

But in the midst of what is still general chaos for me, I find a little sense of order is regained by looking at some of my images. I can remember where I was when I took each and every one of these images. Fancy that! I don't know where I put the damn measuring tape or that pair of pliers, but I know exactly where I was when I took each of these photos. That makes me feel a bit better. I hope you enjoy looking at them!

A lovely Say's Phoebe taken at
Grizzly Island Wildlife Area, CA

American Goldfinch in my San Rafael backyard.

Breakfast for a Red-breasted Nuthatch, also
in my backyard.

This Wilson's Warbler gave me a good look
at Point Reyes National Seashore, CA.

 An Anna's Hummingbird in a treetop,
Corte Madera Creek, CA

This shot of an American Kestrel was taken
through my windshield at Grizzly Island
Wildlife Area, CA.

A White-tailed Kite about to descend upon its
prey in American Canyon, CA.

A lovely "butterbutt" or Yellow-rumped Warbler perched
among the cattails at the Las Gallinas Wildlife
Ponds in San Rafael, CA

This Red-winged Blackbird was eating berries in
a shopping center parking lot in Corte Madera, CA.
And here's a little Chipping Sparrow by
 Corte Madera Creek in CA.

This sweet Song Sparrow was flitting among
the rocks on the jetty at the
Loch Lomand Marina, San Rafael, CA.

Thanks for stopping by and good birding to you!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I'm Back & I'm Missing My Shorebirds

So where have I been for the last two months, you might ask? No, not off on some exotic vacation. And no, not traveling, unless you consider hauling all your worldly possessions to a new city traveling. Yes, I have moved. And let me tell you, packing up and moving a 3-bedroom house, home office, garage and storage outbuilding where you've lived for 27 years is no easy task. I'm still unpacking.

Now that I'm no longer living in a coastal area, I'm missing my shorebirds a lot. So I decided to take a little trip down memory lane to remind myself what some of these beauties look like. Care to join me?

This is a Black-bellied Plover. Funny, its belly doesn't look black . . . 
because it's in its summer dress. Just wait for winter, when it will 
show off its impressive black belly.

A Greater Yellowlegs takes a stroll looking for tasty morsels.

A Long-billed Curlew forages in shallow water, showing off
 its amazing curved bill. I love the way this photo captures the two-toned
 water color of the late afternoon sun.

A Western Grebe motors around the harbor at a local marina. 
The boaters are used to seeing these lovely, slender birds as they
 dive for food and hang around the docks.

A pair of White-faced Ibises, and though not the best photo, 
wonderful to see with their long, slender bills as they forage in 
local waterways.

An American Avocet just coming into its breeding plumage. The 
cinnamon color will get deeper and darker as the summer progresses until 
it peaks and begins fading back to its winter black and white colors.

In case you can't recall which is the Great Egret and which is the
 Snowy, here's your clue as to why one is called the Great Egret.

This young beauty was a life bird for me right off the fishing pier by
 the Golden Gate Bridge where it zigged and zagged with astonishing
 speed chasing fish just below the surface of the water. It was a moment 
I'll never forget as it surfaced in front of me, tilting its head with a fish
 disappearing down its gullet in a flash not
 6 feet in front of me on the pier. Amazing stuff.

I've been away awhile and I hope to be back with a bit more regularity, but I'm still getting
used to a new routine and it's a challenge. Best to all my birder friends and others who
stop by for a look. I appreciate your visit and hope you'll say hi after I've been gone so
long. Best to you and yours and do say hi if you have a moment!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

So While I Was Out Birding ...

How many times has this happened to you? You're out birding, and you see something else . . .  a flower,  a cloud formation, some mushrooms, maybe a squirrel or a snake . . . and you experience that amazing "wow" nature moment.

Boy, did that ever happen to me today! Check this out:

See that? Maybe not. Look a little closer. Wow! Look at those FISH!

Here I am, wandering along a path at one of my favorite birding locales at the Las Gallinas Ponds in Marin County, and the sound of these behemoths is what made me turn around and say, "What in the heck is making all that racket in the water?" I thought it must be river otters, which I've seen here before. But this was LOUD. Like a three-year-old in a bathtub loud! So look now at what I saw:

Do you believe this? These fish were HUGE! Like two-feet-long huge! And they thrashed and splashed and crashed to beat the band!

They practically climbed up on the rocks. I've never seen anything like it!

But now that I've done a little bit of research, I know that these are spawning carp, just one of a gazillion aquatic species who reproduce this way. Says Wikipedia: Most fish reproduce by spawning, and so do most other aquatic animals, including crustaceans such as crabs and shrimps,molluscs such as oysters and squid, echinoderms such as sea urchins and sea cucumbers, amphibious animals such as frogs and turtles, aquatic insects such as mayflies and mosquitoes, and corals (which are small aquatic animals and not plants).

I knew about spawning, but have certainly never witnessed it. Are they all this vigorous? Beats me.

I'm amazed at how these enormous fish -- I'd estimate these at about two feet in length -- come almost completely out of the water to broadcast their eggs/sperm. You can't tell the males from the females, but there's obviously some benefit from being close to shore when it comes to reproductive success. 

These creatures look almost prehistoric, don't they? For these shots, I'd climbed down among the rocks and was practically on top of them. You would not believe how loud their thrashing and splashing was. It was like a high school water polo match, but these guys weren't in Speedos.

I went on to enjoy some excellent birding on this day, but that's another post. For now, I'm just going to leave you with a couple more pictures of this amazing sight that I never imagined I'd see as I set out birding yesterday. Just goes to show you, nature rules, as always.