Category Archives: Birds

Fine Feathered Friends – June 09th

On Sunday I told the story of a pair of red-tail hawks that I saw just after I got home with groceries. The first was the literal embodiment of “death from above,” while the second perched on the telephone pole across the street and gave me time to take some pictures.

Thank you for staying there while I grabbed the camera from inside the house!

What are you looking at? Okay, I know that I outweigh this dude (dudette? I don’t know) by about a factor of 100 or so, but I would still give him at least even odds if he really, REALLY decided to take his chances with me.

Now looking for lunch, having apparently decided that I’m not it. Probably too tough and stringy to eat.

Anything downhill? That’s where his mate went with her mourning dove entrĂ©e.

What’s that, a lizard? Or maybe one of the bunnies in the bushes?

After taking pictures for over five minutes and praying that he wouldn’t take off, I was now wanting to catch some photos of him flying off (and I needed to rescue those groceries from the car…). Finally he starts to stretch.

And he’s off! Look at those claws! Okay, so forget my 50/50 comment, the betting’s now 60/40 on the hawk.

You can see why their called “red-tailed” hawks! Out over the canyon and gone…

Time to go grab the groceries out of the car.

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Big Clouds, Mid-Sized Jets, Tiny Hummingbirds

Big clouds. Broken. Puffy. Probably VFR conditions breaking through that deck, but I don’t know if I would push my luck and go through on a check ride.

More clouds to the north but a different pattern. Can you see the tiny hummingbird?

Now can you find the tiny hummingbird? How about the mid-sized jet? A Southwest 747 to be exact, going straight in to Burbank Runway 8. Small compared to the clouds, huge compared to the hummingbird, mid-sized compared to a 747.

It’s all perspective.

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Bird Pictures In Mind Only

Two experiences today where I was either without a camera (and it happened really fast) or I had a camera and something happened too fast to move, focus, and shoot.

Experience The First – Death From Above

I had done my usual Sunday morning COVID-based grocery run and pick up of breakfast. As I pulled into the driveway and got out, I saw a pair of red-tail hawks circling a quarter-mile or so down to the south, maybe 500′ above us. I locked the car and walked around to the trunk, popped it open, and for whatever reason I looked south for the hawks and couldn’t see them. As I looked, I heard the cry of a hawk directly overhead (exactly like the sound effect used in every Western since the first talkie hit the flicks), looked up, and saw one of them with wings tucked, in a full dive. “Death From Above” indeed!

Across the street, perched on a telephone wire, was a mourning dove. The hawk at the last second in an eyeblink extended his wings, hit the brakes, extended his claws, and that mourning dove EXPLODED into a cloud of feathers. Out of this fluttering mass of feathers emerged the hawk with its lunch, struggling a bit with the weight of its prey, but as the hill drops of pretty swiftly it made it off with no problem into the trees a couple of houses down.

As I was picking up my jaw from seeing that, the other red-tail hawk swooped in low from behind our house, crossed to where the kill had been, and perched on the power line transformer on top of the pole. I have to wonder if it went there since it was very close to where the kill had just happened, the hawk logic being that where there was one fat, slow bird, there might be others. This time I did grab my camera (as I took the cold food and hot breakfast into the house) and spent several minutes taking pictures as the second hawk scanned the neighborhood for its lunch. It finally flew off to look elsewhere, just as the memory card on my camera filled up. (RAW files will do that…)

Pictures will follow this week (probably) as I get time to process them.

Experience The Second – Buzzed By Fighters

After replacing the memory card with a new one, I was out taking pictures of the hummingbirds. There’s a whole drama thing going on with them (again, pictures to follow one of these days) but at one point the very territorial male Anna’s Hummingbird was chasing a Rufous Hummingbird away from one of the feeders.

I had been taking pictures of the Anna’s and through the lens saw the Rufous zoom through the field of view toward the feeder. The Anna’s took off like a Spitfire scrambling to take on fleet of German bombers during the Battle of Britain. The Rufous did a hard right and headed right toward my face with the Anna’s, neon red neck feathers on full display, right behind them. They went past my left ear just slightly under Mach One, just like a biological Top Gun dogfight.

It was awesome!

I don’t know if a newer, faster, better camera would have caught it (it might have – they’re pretty good these days, especially at the high end, while my two are like fifteen years old) but my didn’t even try, so no pictures for you, sorry!

“Pics Or It Didn’t Happen!”

Don’t even start with me…

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Fine Feathered Friends – May 31st

As we put a stake in the heart of May and bid it adieu, another new bird showed up out of nowhere today.

Yellow birds stand out – we don’t get many of them. Which is why I was so surprised to see this one just a couple of days after the yellow-headed blackbird showed up here.

My first thought was that it might be one of the yellow-rumped warblers that we have all over, which don’t have what *I* would consider to be exceedingly yellow rumps, but maybe this was a different sex or subspecies than I normally see. But the Cornell Lab app says differently.

The Merlin app at Cornell Labs identifies this bird as a “Pacific-slope flycatcher.” It also notes that they’re almost identical and difficult to distinguish from the Cordilleran flycatcher – but the Pacific-slope flycatcher’s range includes Southern California and the coast, while the Cordilleran flycatcher stays in the mountains of Arizona and down into Mexico.

Which makes me wonder. I haven’t been obsessed with seeing and IDing different birds – but on the other hand I have been watching and keeping my eyes open and living within a mile or two of here for thirty years. So is there some improvement in my observations that has multiple new species being seen here in just the last few months? Or are we actually getting more variety and newer-ish species of birds coming into this area?

Beats me!

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Fine Feathered Friends – May 27th

A fantastic new visitor today, out of the blue! But first, a lesson.

I’ve often watched professional photographers at weddings or other social events. Many of them will habitually take a quick glance at the image on the back of the camera every dozen or so shots, particularly after they’ve changed a lens, a camera body, or some setting on the camera. Today I learned why that’s an excellent habit to start training myself in. Because if you’re doing astrophotography (for example, for no particular reason) and you have the camera on full manual mode with the exposure set at 1/100 second because you were taking pictures of the nearly full moon through a high-powered telescope (for example, for no particular reason) and then something happens outside and you grab the camera and start taking pictures without realizing that you’re still on full manual mode while in bright, daylight conditions where you really should be shooting at about 1/2000 second, you’ll get this:

Noting wrong with your computer, phone, or tablet – there’s an image there, click on it. It’s 100% white, overexposed by a factor of twenty.

Fortunately, I realized the error in time and this particular fine feathered friend hadn’t flown off yet, so I got at least a couple of images. And they’re pretty cool!

I was just going to take the trash cans out and this guy was above the neighbor’s sidewalk, directly across the street. He stood out.

I remember seeing him or one of his close relatives in our back yard, once, shortly after we moved in three years ago. The Cornell Labs bird ID app confirmed what I suspected from that first encounter.

This is a yellow-headed blackbird. Their permanent range is along the Colorado River from the US/Mexico border into Nevada, around Las Vegas, but they’re occasionally seen here and there in Southern California. It’s possible to see them sometimes pretty much anywhere west of the Mississippi and east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but they’re not terribly common in the LA Metro area.

A most pleasant surprise and beautiful visitor, as well as a lesson learned (I hope) in my photography practices!

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Fine Feathered Friends – May 23rd

Another bird that’s common around here (like the mockingbirds) is the mourning dove.

Being “common” isn’t a slam, just a fact. The finches are common, and they got a ton of press here when they had a nest right outside the kitchen window last year.

I’ve tended to focus on the “new” species (the hummingbirds, the juncos, the wrens, the woodpeckers, and so on) and have some more coming up, but I don’t want to let the “common” species get shortchanged.

So, many of you have probably seen mourning doves, or heard them.

They have that stereotypical dove body and head, gray-ish brown with darker spots.

Also look for the weird, brighter than average red feet. (Well, *I* think they’re weird.)

Lots of folks will hear that call and think it’s an owl, particularly since mourning doves will continue to call past sunset and will start before sunrise. It’s not an owl, although the sounds are a bit similar.

They’re not the fastest birds in the race, and when they take off (slowly…) there’s a a lot of noise and wing flapping and some rapid, high-pitched “coo! coo! coo!” sounds with each flap as they grunt sort of like a tennis player with a monstrous serve.

In this neighborhood, a couple of times of year we’ll find a patch of mourning dove feathers spread out over a few square yards of lawn. That’s what a slow takeoff will get you in a neighborhood full of real owls and hawks.

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Fine Feathered Friends – May 20th

Another “common” bird that I love seeing around the yard is the mockingbird.

They hide in the bushes and can be very, very hard to see. Trust me, he’s there!

They’re primarily a noisy, raucous, troublemaking breed with a bad attitude.

Get four or five together and they will take on a crow, raven, hawk, owl, or any other predator or raptor that tries to take their eggs. They’re fearless.

They’ll come down to the grass to feed on worms and bugs, which is when that tail starts flipping and dancing around.

They’ll hop more than fly on the ground – dinosaur descendants indeed.

With attitude. They descended from T-Rex and they haven’t forgotten.

Also marvelous is their song, which can trill and soar all over the place or start imitating other bird songs and items from the human world – like car alarms.

If you stay their friend, they’ll be endlessly amusing and fun to watch and listen to.

Don’t stay their friend, they’ll look at you like this and then try to annoy the crap out of you every time you go out in your yard. (Pro tip: Stay their friend!)

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Finch Architect Failure

While last year we had a pair of finches that built a great nest underneath the porch awning right outside our kitchen window, this year we had at least three and possibly four or five nests being built. It was just never clear it was three (or four, or five) pairs or just one or two pairs building a couple of nests each to see which one they liked. A couple of the nest locations are up behind outdoor speakers, so it’s not clear if there are nests in there or just birds getting together for a quickie.

One of the pairs had built a pretty respectable looking nest, and for at least a week or two I was seeing “MomBird” sitting on the nest for hours a day. From this I started to think that there might be eggs and chicks coming.

Nope. This morning that nest was down on the ground.

There were definitely signs of occupancy (i.e., bird shit on the walls and beam) and some of it stayed up there, but most of it ended up on the ground.

No sign of any eggs in it, and I hadn’t seen MomBird in a few days, so this might have been a swing and a miss.

Maybe they’re off on the other side of the porch, up near the house where the speakers are. Or maybe they’re up in the gutters somewhere, or a tree of some sort.

Better luck next time!

On the other hand, the house finches are a long way from endangered around here. There was one point this afternoon when I counted over fifteen of them out there feeding at once, and I can’t even start to count how many are flitting around in the trees and shrubs at the same time.

 

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Solo Junco

A little over a month ago I wrote about a new bird that had been with us since October, the dark-eyed junco. We had something like 15-20 of them living here all winter. Then, a week or so after that first post, I noticed that I hadn’t seen any in days and days. And days. A little research showed that they were migratory and it was about this time we should expect them to leave, as they apparently had.

Except for one.

After a good two weeks where we hadn’t seen a single one, this guy started showing up again.

We call him “Solo Junco.”

I’m not sure why he’s here when all of the rest of his flock took off back to Canada to mate.

He doesn’t appear to be hurt or have any issues that would prevent him from flying north.

He’ll eat with the finches without any problems, just like the whole flock did with the dozens of finches that descend after the food is put out for them.

Maybe he got a few days out, got hungry, and came back. Canada and sex are all well and good, but nothing beats a steady handout!

Of course, there could still be a dozen of them in the bushes and they only come out one at a time to fool us and keep us feeding them, while still maintaining the illusion that they flew north for the summer. You know, to keep the Finch Union guys off their case.

Or I could be overthinking it.

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Fine Feathered Friends – May 02nd

A new visitor! I’m very excited, especially if this one sticks around and brings friends.

I had noticed, briefly, because these little flying gremlins are quick, a flash of red on one of the hummingbirds zooming around the yard. With the new feeders, there are more of them – “more” meaning that it seems at swarming/feeding time just before sunset there are maybe 8-10 of them zooming about instead of 4-6 of them. I know we have Rofous hummingbirds, and we have what I think are black-chinned hummingbirds.

I finally got a good look at this guy today and my first thought was “ruby throated hummingbird” because I know I’ve heard of them and it’s a widespread species. Then I found out that they’re rarely seen west of the Mississippi and never on the West Coast.

So what is it?

The Cornell Lab Merlin bird ID app immediately told me this was a male Anna’s Hummingbird. That bright magenta head is a dead giveaway for this part of the world.

The biggest issue I’m having right now is that (as the hummingbird literature discusses) we have a dominant Rufous hummingbird that tends to chase off other hummingbirds from the feeder. In order to prevent that, we need to put up two or three other feeders around the yard, away from this one. That should allow others to come in and have the “boss” Rufous abandon his territory. Or at least chill out a bit.

And I’ll get the chance to get some better pictures of them all. They are a wonder to watch as they zip and zoom about!

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