Tuesday, October 9, 2007
The Hordes of Winter
Over the past few days, there have been lots of birds around the neighborhood, particularly at the end of my street! There's a small drainage ditch that almost always has a small stream running through it, and it draws the birds like a magnet. The photo above shows a bunch of House Finches and a couple Western Bluebirds splashing away. My rough estimate of numbers of the main species in the flock follow: Yellow-rumped Warbler (100+), House Finch (40+), Western Bluebird (20+), Lesser Goldfinch (12), Chipping Sparrow (5).
Early this afternoon, while on a quick walk, I noticed a chunky brown bird wandering around on the grass near the arena at the end of my street. My first impression was that it was a Mourning Dove, but something didn't fit (I wasn't carrying binoculars). Suddenly, it turned around - and its breast glowed yellow. A Western Meadowlark! I sprinted home, grabbed my scope, and returned to find it still there.
Meadowlarks are some of my favorite birds (though, if you know me well, I'll say that of just about any bird), so I was really excited to see one practically right in my backyard. To my amazement, the bird walked even closer (they look so goofy when they walk) and took a drink out the ditch, and then came even closer. Here's a shot concealing the brilliantly colored breast. It shows how well camouflaged they really are. Also, notice all the little details on the wing and mantle feathers, that you wouldn't notice with distant looks or on a worn bird (this bird is very fresh).
Here's one more shot, showing that classic meadowlark over-the-shoulder pose:
Later this afternoon, I spent some time photographing all the birds. I'm fascinated by the Yellow-rumped Warblers' behavior - they hop around on the ground out in the open like sparrows - I've never seen warblers do this before! I couldn't get any good shots of them, however. While I was trying to photograph some bluebirds bathing in the ditch, a small brownish bird with white outer tail feathers whipped right by me. It landed in a nearby tree, but I only got a milli-second long view before a screaming young girl scared it away. I knew that it was almost certainly a Vesper Sparrow, but I couldn't eliminate a House Finch with a couple white tail feathers from the view I got. I spent about fifteen minutes trying to relocate it, but unsuccessfully. Then, I turned around, and there was a beautiful Vesper Sparrow pecking around on the sidewalk almost exactly where I had been standing when I first saw it! Vesper Sparrow isn't too common in southern California, and out of habitat, according to the San Diego County Bird Atlas.
Lastly, here's a shot of a lovely male Western Bluebird on the arena fence. There were lots (20+) Western Bluebirds around today!
Posted by Neil Gilbert at 8:05 PM