Saturday, May 23, 2009


As I was driving home from my art class on Tuesday night around nine-thirty, I noticed an odd lump in the gutter of our street. As I drove closer, a head popped up - a Mallard head! A female Mallard and a whole brood of ducklings were huddled in the gutter a couple houses down my street. Streets generally aren't good places for duck families, since they are sitting ducks (no pun intended) for coyotes, house cats, and crazy drivers. I pulled into our driveway and enlisted the help of my mom and brother for a rescue mission. We quickly walked down the street, armed with flashlights and a cat carrier.

The plan was simple: round up the ducklings, toss them into the carrier, and then transport them into the garage where they would spend the night safe from predators. I've heard of other people transporting ducklings and having the female follow them, so I figured she'd stroll right into the garage after us.

It took only a few minutes to catch all the ducklings - nine of them. The fuzzy little devils could scramble around very swiftly, but we were faster. We loaded them up in the cat carrier and moved them to the garage. The female followed, waddling around and nervously quacking.

Ducks apparently are not accustomed to being shut up in a garage, as it took a few minutes for the female to settle down. The ducklings all clustered around their mother and the family huddled in a clump for the night. We turned off the lights and bade them goodnight.

Our cat usually sleeps in the garage, so we had to find a spot for him to spend the night. I let him spend the night in my room. This was a mistake. He is apparently only capable of sleeping for a couple hours at a time, since he occasionally would walk around, meow, and knock stuff off my desk. Needless to say, I will never let him sleep in my room again.

In the morning I woke up bright and early, opened the garage door, and shooed the ducks out. They waddled into the yard and disappeared while I went inside to eat breakfast. Later we saw a female Mallard with three ducklings on the lake. It's entirely possible this was the same family, grossly reduced in size by various predators, but we'll never know. At least we could provide the ducklings a safe haven their first night.

First Batch of Michigan Photos (Belated)

I am sure many reading this blog have been wondering the past month where my report of my trip to Michigan in April was. Well, I have excuses. I've been working hard the past month finishing up my AP classes, and I simply haven't gotten around to posting photos or a report. So, here is the first batch of my photos from the trip, over a month late. I don't have the time to write a full report, but here are some photos with short descriptions.

The main purpose of the trip was to investigate two colleges in western Michigan, Hope College in Holland and Calvin College in Grand Rapids. I took this American Robin photo in Holland. I didn't like Hope College, or Holland for that matter; my mom and I saw few birds during the few minutes we poked around the area (though, of course, that was not the only reason I didn't like the college or the city.) However, robins were abundant. Robins are relatively uncommon in California, so it was a treat to see and hear them in masses again.

This unspectacular photo shows a very nifty bird. The Midwest experienced a massive invasion of White-winged Crossbills this winter. I angrily read of crossbills being seen within a couple miles of my old house. I had never seen one before. And, just as luck would have it, almost all of the birds had departed by the time I arrived in Michigan. A handful were sticking around Brighton State Recreation Area in Livingston County, so we stopped there on our way from Grand Rapids to Detroit. I easily located several quietly feeding in the tops of some tamarack trees. After a few minutes they became restless and took off. I was happy to see at least a few after reading about hordes of them all winter. Interestingly, in several years I saw an extraordinary number of rare birds within a few miles of the crossbill spot: White-eared Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Bullock's Oriole, Spotted Towhee, and Townsend's Solitaire. These may sound ho-hum to the seasoned Californian, but to Michiganders these species are rare and exotic.

A rare sight in California, but a common one in the Midwest: a sprawling corn field. One of the days we were in Michigan I went birding with a few old friends of mine, including my mentor Karl Overman. We made the long drive to Mercer County, Ohio, to chase a flock of Smith's Longspurs that had been reported from this field. It's a good three and a half hours of driving to get there; fortunately, we easily found the birds. Another life bird for me, but unfortunately the birds were not cooperative for photographs.

This photo shows a meadowlark, more specifically a Western Meadowlark. Now, a Western Meadowlark is not a big deal in California, but in Ohio it is. The day I went birding with Karl and several other birders we also made a short detour to see it. A state bird for me.

Our vanload of birders also hit Oak Openings Metropark, a beautiful park west of Toledo. Oak Openings is one of my favorite spots for spring and summer birding. Several species breed there that are extremely difficult to find elsewhere in Ohio, including Lark Sparrow, Summer Tanager, and Blue Grosbeak. I photographed this White-breasted Nuthatch at the nature center feeders.

Another visitor to the feeders at Oak Openings was this cute little Red Squirrel. We don't get these guys in Southern California, so it was nice to see them again. I used to spend countless hours attempting to keep them off my bird feeders in Michigan.

Another interesting sighting at Oak Openings was this beautiful Blue Racer. We were walking along a road, seeing Red-headed Woodpeckers, Field Sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, and others, when I looked down and nearly stepped on this snake.

We couldn't bird northwestern Ohio without a stop at Crane Creek. This legendary migration hotspot located on the shore of Lake Erie is an incredible spot for seeing warblers and other migrants in the spring. Unfortunately, I was a few weeks early for the big rush. In fact, birding was quite dull along the boardwalk. However, I enjoyed strolling along the boardwalk I've stalked so many times. I visited Crane Creek every year, starting in 2000 (almost a decade ago!) The most interesting bird we saw was an Eastern Screech-Owl that popped out of a tree cavity when Karl began imitating its whistled call.

Common Grackles, though obnoxiously common in Michigan and Ohio, are truly beautiful to behold when the sun strikes them. This one was rummaging through the leaf litter at Crane Creek. Pretty handsome guy, eh?

That's all for now. Hopefully I'll get some more up soon. It was an excellent trip. I liked Calvin College in Grand Rapids, so we will be going back in the fall to take a second look. It was also great to go birding again in Michigan and Ohio and see old friends.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Shifting Seasons

As the year passes by, new Bigby birds become more and more difficult to root out. It is easy to add a few dozen new species the first few times out in a year, but after that you are lucky if you tally half a dozen with an all-day ride. I rode over forty miles today and managed to dig out only four new Bigby birds. That’s over ten miles for each bird.

I haven’t taken a long bike ride since late February, so I knew I would at least score a couple easy birds. My main targets for the day were Grasshopper Sparrow and Least Tern. The tern I could get any time all summer long, as this species frequents San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary and Upper Newport Bay. Grasshopper Sparrows are easy enough to find along Shady Canyon on the far side of University California Irvine, but it is a five-mile side trip up a large hill. As a result, I drag my rear end up there once a year, and once I have heard them I gleefully coast down the hill with Grasshopper Sparrow on my list.

I decided to leave early, around six fifteen, so I would make it down to Shady Canyon while the sparrows were still singing. Once I arrived at Shady Canyon, I immediately heard the Grasshopper Sparrows – two of them – buzzing away from the grassy slopes above the road. Great. I puttered around for a few more minutes before turning around and heading to San Joaquin. See you next year, sparrows.

The Least Terns at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary also posed no problem. I easily found several flying around the first few ponds. While watching the terns, I noticed a Bonaparte’s Gull paddling around Pond C. Somewhat surprisingly, this was also a new Bigby bird for me (number two hundred, in fact!)

I wandered around San Joaquin for a couple hours, finding nothing extraordinary. All the neat winter birds – ducks and shorebirds – are gone, and I found very few migrants. However, there was a lot of breeding activity. Perhaps the most obvious were the American Avocets. The fluffy babies were prancing around the ponds, ignoring their shouting parents who were attempting to herd them around.

The most interesting nesting activity was happening on the Campus Dr. bridge over the San Diego Creek. Hundreds of Cliff Swallow nests line the sides of the bridge, and swarms of the swallows were fluttering around making a racket. It is very entertaining to stand below the bridge and drink in the spectacle: swallows poking their heads out of the nest holes, others gathering mud to be added on to the nests, and still others just flying around seemingly randomly.

In the late morning I decided to take a spin around Upper Newport to look for Elegant Terns. I had no luck with the Elegant Terns, and had very few birds overall. Only a few rather cruddy-looking shorebirds were around, probably second-years oversummering. All the ducks were gone. There were hundreds of Black Skimmers hanging around the nesting island at the north end of the bay, along with Forster’s and Least Terns. I gave up and headed towards home without finding any new Bigby birds.

While I was biking from Shady Canyon to San Joaquin earlier in the morning, I made a great discovery. Instead of taking the long way back through Mason Regional Park, I cut across from Culver on Campus. There, within a quarter mile of San Joaquin, I found an In-N-Out Burger restaurant. As I was biking from Upper Newport Bay, I was hungry, but I didn’t really feel like eating a squished peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I took the short detour to In-N-Out. As I looked over the menu (it isn’t hard to choose at In-N-Out, since there are only a handful of options), I pulled out my wallet and was horrified to find that I had only three dollars. Three bucks isn’t enough for a combo, but a burger and a small drink are only a few cents short of three dollars. Unfortunately, I had forgotten about a little thing called sales tax. Turns out I was fourteen cents short. Thankfully, the guy at the register let me off the hook and gave me $3.14 of food for $3.00.

After wolfing down my burger I headed for home. However, that plan changed when I last-minute decided to make a quick stop at Mason Regional Park. I’m glad I did. The park had decent numbers of migrants, which was nice to see after a couple weeks of absolutely dismal migration. The only new Bigby bird I found was Hermit Warbler (which I had actually been getting worried about), but I saw lots of Wilson’s, Townsend’s, Orange-crowned, and Yellow Warblers, along with Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Warbling Vireo.

I finally tore myself away from Mason and shot homeward. I kept my cruising speed around sixteen miles per hour and managed to get up the long hill on Jamboree Road without stopping. When I reached home, I was tired, dirty, and sunburned, but I had four new Bigby birds under my belt. These four new ones pushed my Bigby list up to two hundred and one. Here are a few more photos from the day.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dragonfly Lifers #7-8

I know I haven't posted about birds for awhile - after all, this is OCBirding, not OCDragonflying. However, I simply haven't had the time to sit down and write about the few birds I've managed to see recently in quick breaks of studying for my dreaded AP exams. In the last week I've found two more dragonfly lifers, bringing my list up to eight.

On Friday I took a quick jaunt down along the Yellowthroat Creek in my neighborhood. Spring migration has been really slow recently, so I focused on dragonflies. I didn't find many, but one of the few I found was a lifer: Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata.) Now I know that I've seen plenty of these before, but the list starts from scratch. It's a common species throughout California, and if you live within their range you've probably noticed them as well. They are big, brilliant red-orange dragonflies that grab your attention.

I found number eight yesterday at Starr Ranch. I was there to assist with the MAPS bird banding program, but kept an eye out for dragonflies as we tromped along the creek to check nets. We had a great day, catching lots of birds. Some of the more interesting ones were Lazuli Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeak, Costa's Hummingbird, Black Phoebe, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow.

Back to dragonflies. The creek that runs through the banding area is a good spot for dragonflies. As we were furling the nets in the early afternoon, I noticed a brilliant red dragonfly perched low over the water near one of the nets. At first glance this one resembles another Flame Skimmer, but it is a much smaller and less bulky species. The abdomen in particular is longer and thinner than a Flame Skimmer.

There aren't many other dragonflies that are completely red like this one. It is a Cardinal Meadowhawk (Sympetrum illotum.) It is one handsome dragonfly. I've probably seen them before, but perhaps not.

Hopefully I'll have more time to write about birds later. I'll be completely done with AP exams on Friday, which should free up my schedule greatly.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Dragonfly Lifer #6: Blue Dasher

My dragonfly life list has been stuck at five for quite awhile. I just haven't gotten many chances to get out recently because of the insane amount of time I've been spending studying for my AP classes. Fortunately, I'll be done with those next week and my schedule will free up a lot.

I was out on a quick afternoon walk yesterday when I noticed a medium-sized blue dragonfly buzzing around the neighborhood lake. This one wasn't difficult to identify as a Blue Dasher; the only similar species is Western Pondhawk, but it can be eliminated by the white patch on the face. It is the sixth species on my official dragonfly life list.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Pictures from Silverado Canyon

I apologize for the lack of recent posting, which can be blamed on my AP classes. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of time, so here are some photos from my drive up Silverado Canyon this morning. It was a lot of fun. Some of the more interesting species included Mountain Quail (county bird), Mountain Chickadee, Hairy Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Common Poorwill, and Hermit Warbler.

I haven't forgotten about my Michigan trip - I'll try to get the photos posted along with a write up. Once my AP classes are over (a week and a half), life will be much less hectic.

Singing Olive-sided Flycatcher.

Mountain Quail.