Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wood Duck or Mandarin Duck?

Duck at Huntington Central Park

My Picture from Central Park

Wood Duck Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

Female Wood Duck--Aix sponsa Courtesy of US Fish &
Wildlife Service

Notice that the pictures are very similar, but not the same. In my post A Walk in Huntington Central Park West 10/15/2007 , I identified a small duck I had seen on my walk as a female Wood Duck. However, there were small differences between the pictures that I had studied of female Wood Ducks and this cute little bird. And it bothered me. Actually, the differences started nagging at me. I began to look for other ducks that looked like this bird from the park. I looked at lots of pictures and videos. Look at some with me.

Take a look at the following pictures of the female Wood Duck, and like the Wood Duck photo above also all Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service. (Hint the female is the drab one. The drake --the male duck--has all the flash.)

Wood Duck Pair Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service Male and Female Wood Ducks. Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service
Female Wood  Duck Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service Female Wood Duck Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

Wood Duck Pair Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service
Wood Duck pair Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice in each photo of the female Wood Duck that white surrounds the eye. It is almost like the eye is set in a large, white tear drop. However, if you look at my picture, that is not the case. The little female in my picture has a very thin white line around the eye and a thin line going toward the back of her head like spectacles. The crest is shaggier and more prominent. The coloring looks different in different light, but is very similar. Most of the markings are very close, but not exact.

Now click on these links, and take a look at the female Mandarin Duck. (And the drake has the most flash of any duck I've seen. Isn't he something?)

Confusing Ducks and Hybrids from Cornell University

Pictures. Good article on telling ducks in general apart. You have to page down to see the female Wood Duck.

Telling Mandarins from Wood Ducks

Good article on telling one species from the other. A good comparison of females that gets right to the heart of differentiating these two ducks.

Mandarin Ducks from the Honolulu Zoo

Good article and pictures.

Male Mandarin Duck added 04/17/2010. San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Mandarin Duck Video from the Internet Bird Collection

Video that shows the difference. Especially the last shot. Stick around for the whole video.

Now, let's take a look at my duck again.

The Duck at Huntington Central Park


Note the similarities and differences between my picture and the female Wood Duck and my picture and the Mandarin Duck. When I first looked at both ducks, they seemed to be almost exactly the same. But once I looked at a lot of pictures and videos, it became to easier to recognize that they are two separate species.

Watch the video below. In this video, you can also hear the duck from Central Park call as she stands behind the male Mallard Duck. The call is a bit sudden and explosive like a whistled sneeze or cough.

Now, I think it is obvious that this female duck is a Mandarin Duck and not a Wood Duck. So, how did I make such a mistake? Well, first of all, I am human. All birders on occasion make mistakes--even experts--which I am not. Second, I made an assumption that I knew what the bird was without really observing it. It wasn't observation, but assumption that guided my identification. I had heard that there was a female Wood Duck at Huntington Lake in Central Park, and I assumed other birders knew better than I did. I was lazy. And I assumed that this was the bird I had heard about. So either the other birders were wrong, or this was not the bird they saw. Always observe the bird you see, and not the bird you think you should see. Hold off for a few minutes jumping to an identification and observe what you are seeing. Note the markings and behavior , the size, sounds it makes, and its color. Then after noting all the characteristics you are seeing, make a hypothesis. Guess. Look it up and see if it matches what you saw. Are there differences in appearance, sound, or behavior? What are the differences? And finally could this be any other bird? After comparing and accounting for differences, make an identification.

So, the lesson I learned was observe, observe, and then observe some more. Go thou, and do likewise.

OC Birder Girl Links of Interest

Wild Ducks of Orange County

Central Park in Huntington Beach

Mandarin Duck

Wood Duck--Aix sponsa

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Windy Walk at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Mallard and Cinnamon Teal dabble in the San Joaquin MarshMallard and Cinnamon Teal

The winds were just beginning, but getting strong when I went for an afternoon walk at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary on October 21th. We almost got blown away. At least it felt like that. But birding in bad weather is not necessarily bad birding. (You just have to make sure it is safe to bird wherever you are birding in good or bad weather.) We talked with people who said there was nothing out, but we saw some good birds.

Above is a Mallard and a Cinnamon Teal. I like this picture for a few reasons. One, the colors are good together. The green on the Mallard, the reddish-brown Cinnamon Teal, and the blue water. I also like that it shows both birds in action. Both are dabblers. They get their bills in the water and chomp around for something to eat. Sometimes in deeper water, they lean down into the water so much that you only see their tails sticking out of the water. This photo shows their typical behavior of dabbling in shallow water. The picture also shows a significant size difference. Is this an optical illusion like the size of the pitcher on the mound during a televised baseball game or is it a real size difference? It is a real size difference. A Mallard is an average of 23" long with a 35" wing span. A Cinnamon Teal is only an average of 16" long with a 22" wing span. That is a difference of at least 7 " in length and 13 " for the wing span. The Mallard is over a half a foot longer than the Cinnamon Teal. There are several kinds of teals. Cinnamon Teal, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal and several more exotic kinds. Note that all teals are small ducks.

Cinnamon Teal at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Cinnamon Teal dabbling in the water and mud for vegetarian goodies. Notice even the eye is red.

Notice both are in breeding plumage. It is October and both have a breeding season that begins in October. The Cinnamon Teal from October through June and the Mallard from October through May. Not all ducks are in breeding plumage at this time of year, but these two are. For me, getting a nice picture of a Cinnamon Teal without its head in the water has been a challenge. I know they have to come up for air sometime. I figure that one of my goals for this fall/winter will be to get a shot or three of a Cinnamon Teal sitting with its head up out of the water. (Yes, I set goals for walks, and goals for seasons. It gives direction to my birding.)

Black-necked Stilt at San Joaquin Wildlife SanctuaryBlack-necked Stilt--Himantopus mexicanus making strides across the duck pond. Notice all the little waves from the Santa Ana winds.

Now here is a Black-necked Stilt--Himantopus mexicanus going for a walk. I like Black-necked Stilts. A pair had an unsuccessful nest near the bridge at Bolsa Chica this last summer. It was in a very public place and was probably photographed more than the Killdeer--Charadrius vociferus nest by the path at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. The Black-necked Stilt is a common shore bird. Its body is only 14" long and it has a wind span of only 29" but its legs are very long and red. It gives it height. The legs are very long in relation to its body and that difference is where the name comes from--I am guessing. It kind of looks like what it is, a small bird on stilts. There are often Black-necked Stilts in the first two ponds. The wind blew steadily, and every once in a while the gusts came that made us wonder if we would get blown into the ponds. The birds were laying low in the ponds as the wind blew up on the paths, but they still were getting some wind.

Female Ruddy Duck at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Ruddy Duck Female at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

There were about 10 or so Ruddy ducks in the second pond on the right. You can always tell them from a distance--and they are usually at a distance--by of their tails. They are stifftail ducks and their tails are at about a 45% angle to their bodies instead of being on the same plane as the body. The female has a line through her cheek. The male has a very white cheek. During breeding season, the male Ruddy has ruddy or reddish body and head and a bright blue bill. He is a is very flashy fellow. Their breeding season runs from March through August. Very different from the Mallard's and the Cinnamon Teal's breeding seasons. The Ruddy only over laps two months. At a length of 15" and a wing span of 18.5" it is not the biggest duck in the pond. They do tend to be in deeper water and in groups swimming rather than wadding. They are often off away from the more travelled area and often sleeping. Look for the 45% tail and the white cheek of the male.

White-faced Ibis, Cinnamon Teal and Other Ducks
White-faced Ibis, Cinnamon Teal--Anas cyanoptera, and other ducks

Notice how small the White-faced Ibis is. I first noticed it not because of the size but because of its black color with the green sheen. I didn't notice it until we were on our way out because its head was down the first time we passed it. In the pictures I took on the way in, it can clearly be seen in deep water with its head down. The White-faced Ibis is 23 " long and has a 36" wing span. A Mallard is an average of 23" long with a 35" wing span. It is the legs and color and the shape of the long, down-curved bill that draw the eye. But if the bird is foraging in deeper water and has its bill in the water, it just looks like another duck from behind--except for the color. I was looking for an Ibis, since I knew they were here. I just forgot to look at the size in relation to everything else on the pond. So remember the White-faced Ibis is the about the same size as a Mallard. Check groups for the black with the green sheen. In deep water with its bill in the water, you won't have the characteristic legs and bill to id it, and you might not know what it is you are really seeing. Look for the black with the green sheen, and then watch for it to come up for air.

American Avocets in Winter Plumage

American Avocet--Recurvirostra americana in Winter Plumage. Ripples in the water from the wind.

The American Avocet--Recurvirostra americana has a light reddish brown head in spring and summer and is totally black-and-white in the late fall and winter. It is 18" long and has a 31" wing span. It moves its head back and forth through the water as if it is panning for gold. They tend to hang out with other American Avocets--Recurvirostra americana, Black-necked Stilts--Himantopus mexicanus, Dowitchers, and other shore birds with somewhat longer legs in the shallows, but often not the really, really shallow places. They are often seen in pairs during mating season.

Green-winged Teal in Breeding Plumage

Green-winged Teal--Anas crecca in Breeding Plumage from October until June

So how can I tell that this bird with half its head in the water is a Green-winged Teal--Anas crecca? Well, first of all Green-winged Teals are dabbling duck like the Mallards, the Cinnamon Teal, and the Blue-winged , and this bird is dabbling. Second, the green eye markings and the rufous head. Then the gray color on the upper back and sides below the wing. This is the smallest teal at 14" long and a wing span of 23".

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal--Anas discors

Another dabbler braving the winds was the Blue-winged Teal--Anas discors is 15.5" in length and has a wing span of 23". The third teal I saw that day. So if this is a Blue-winged Teal--Anas discors, where is the blue on its wing? Believe it or not, both the Blue-winged Teal and the Cinnamon Teal--Anas cyanoptera both have blue wings. The blue is just on the shoulder and the other feathers hide the blue when the wings are folded closed. If it should stretch its wing or fly, you would see its blue shoulder. So perhaps we should call this teal the Blue-Shouldered Teal. Notice the crescent by the bill. That crescent is diagnostic. This bird is on its way to full breeding plumage. Breeding season is November through June.

Great Blue Heron Hiding in the Reeds

Great Blue Heron--Ardea herodias trying to be inconspicuous among the reeds.

As we headed for the second pond, we saw a Great Blue Heron--Ardea herodias standing in the path where three ponds come together toward the start of the trail near the Audubon House. It was out for a walk. This is at least the second time we have see a Great Blue Heron walking there. As we walked closer, the Great Blue Heron disappeared into the reeds. When we reached the reeds where he had disappeared, there he was trying to hide. At 46" long with a 72" wing span, that is no easy task.

Remember out in the field, birds can look very different than in the field guide. You may not be able to see the whole bird. The light or angle may not be like the guidebook. And finally, the depth of the water when you are looking at water birds can affect how you are interpreting what you see. You might not know the depth of the water. You might think the bird is bigger than it is. Check the size and color and remember there may be long legs hidden in the water. There could be a White-faced Ibis among the ducks.

Birds in Order of Size, Smallest to Largest

Bird length/wing span/ breeding season

Green-winged Teal 14" long and a wing span of 23" Breeding October through June

Black-necked Stilt 14" long and it has a wing span of 29"

Ruddy Duck 15" long and a wing span of 18.5" Breeding March through August

Cinnamon Teal 16" long with a 22" wing span Breeding October through June

American Avocet 18" long and has a 31" wing span Breeding March through August

Mallard 23" long with a 35" wing span Breeding October through May

Thursday, October 18, 2007

White-crowned Sparrows--Zonotrichia leucophrys

White-crowned Sparrow at Central Park by Alice's Breakfast in the ParkA White-crowned Sparrow at Central Park by Alice's Breakfast in the Park.

To me, the White-crowned Sparrow brings up pictures of leafless tangles of winter undergrowth. Twisted bare branches peppered with fast-moving little birds jumping quickly from one branch to the other. The "clear whistles and buzzy trills" of the White-crowned sparrow are the soundtrack of our Orange County autumns and winters. My old, worn copy of Golden Field Guide to Birds of North America described it perfectly. White-crowned Sparrows add mood and feeling to the winter landscape. They create ambiance.

White-crowned Sparrow looking for seeds
White-crowned Sparrow looking for seeds.

Their appearance is striking. Their heads have bold black stripes across a white crown. They raise their striped crown feathers in a small crest. They catch the eye. What else can sound so good and be so eye-catching in simply black-and-white?

White-crowned Sparrow Huntington Central Park. Crown feathers raised
White-crowned Sparrow Huntington Central Park. Crown feathers raised.

White-crowned sparrows feed on seeds on the ground. They hop around and flee into the underbrush when they sense danger near. They perch on posts and tree branches and sing that wonderful wintry song of "clear whistles and buzzy trills."

White-crowned Sparrow in Central Park in Huntington Beach
White-crowned Sparrow in Central Park in Huntington Beach. Crown feathers down.

When I hear those beautiful clear notes, I know the days of beautiful autumn leaves, cooler weather, pumpkins, Halloween, turkey, stuffing, yams, and spiced cider, and Christmas and pine needles are getting near. When the White-crowned Sparrow returns, I better get my Christmas list in order and start thinking of pumpkin pies.

Tangled winter undergrowth in which you might find White-Crowned Sparrows
Type of tangled winter undergrowth in which you might find White-Crowned Sparrows.

If you are bird watching in the fall or winter in Orange County, listen for the "clear whistles and buzzy trills" and look for the little black-and-white crown of the White-crowned Sparrow hopping through the undergrowth.

An Immature White-crowned Sparrow
An immature White-crowned Sparrow with brown instead of black stripes.

White-crowned Sparrow foraging in the leaf litter on the way to Alice's Breakfast in the Park at Huntington Central Park. You can hear the very loud geese honking in the background and people talking on their way to breakfast.

White-crowned Sparrow Links

Animal Diversity Web

Very Detailed information from the University of Michigan.

Bird Web: The Birds of Washington State--White-Crowned Sparrow

Great site with very good information including sounds of the Pacific subspecies of the White-Crowned Sparrow. Cornell has the Eastern.

Immature White-crowned Sparrow with brown stripes instead of black stripes

Birding Column: Sweet Song of the Winter Sparrows

Mathew Tekulsky "The Birdman of Bel Air" writes a column about his backyard birds for the National Geographic News. This column is all about the winter sparrows that come to his backyard. Good piece.

Cornell's All About Birds: White-Crowned Sparrow

Cornell Ornithology Lab's Bird Guide has great details on birds in the United States.

Migratory Sleeplessness in the White-Crowned Sparrow

A study on the way White-Crowned Sparrow don't get a lot of shut eye during migration. Seriously.

Mitton: Song dialects in white-crowned sparrows

Information about the song dialects of the White-Crowned Sparrow by Jeff Mitton who is chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado.

Scholarly Articles on the White-Crowned Sparrow

Believe it or not these little birdies have been studied a lot. Do females prefer a certain song, or other characteristics in a mate? The affect of hormones on the brain. And many more obscure studies of than would ever occur to me.

White-crowned Sparrow at Huntington Central Park on the West Side

US Geological Survey's Short Article on White-Crowned Sparrows

Good, short summary with small pictures that can be clicked to see larger photos.

Vireo White-crowned Sparrow Page

Short page that gives important details about White-crowned Sparrows and also shows pictures of similar sparrows.

White-crowned Sparrow among the Flowers Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service
Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service. I love this picture.

White-Crowned Sparrow Photographs

White-Crowned Sparrow Images by Mark Chappell

White-crowned Sparrow Videos

The Internet Bird Collection: White-Crowned Sparrow Videos

Seven White-Crowned Sparrow videos.

You-Tube White-crowned Sparrow Convention from the UK

Good video of lots of White-crowned Sparrows at a feeder in the UK. Good opportunity to hear song.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007


A Common Yellowthroat--Geothlypis trichas satisfies his curiosity by coming out to take a peek.

Now, for those of you who are beginning birders, pishing is not about someone trying to get your personal banking information. Pishing is one of those onomatopoeic words like snort, buzz, sizzle, click, pop, cheep, chirp, caw, squawk, twitter, and peep that sound like the noise they name. Pishing is a trick we birders pull out of our khaki hats to make sure birds not only notice us, but that they go out on a limb and take a good look. We then also get a good look. Strictly speaking, pishing is a sound that sounds like PSH PSH made with mouth closed, low volume, but explosive lip action. Kind of like keeping your mouth closed and saying Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers in an Irish whisper. It has been expanded to mean every bird-like noise a birder can make from squeaks to trills to smooching their our own hand. As entertaining as all this is to our fellow birders, friends, and relatives, it may sound like life or death to a bird. And so they come out to take a peek to see if danger is near. Imagine their dismay to find only bird paparazzi. Seriously, pishing is helpful in moderation. You can pish into wind, but there are rules. Don't wear it out or it may not work. Don't harm birds by using it at inappropriate times such as spring near nesting birds. They are raising young and need to protect and nurture them so that we can have more birds to pish at. Please don't interrupt them. Don't pish when a Cooper's Hawk is sitting in the tree behind you. He may appreciate it and follow you to the next tree, but the bird you attract will be munched. Unfair advantage, hawk. Basic rule of thumb: Do no harm. But away from nesting birds and predators, an occasional pish may attract a feathered audience that you can then observe and learn from them. So, have fun out there, be moderate, and by all means, pish!

Pishing Links

BBC Article on Pishing

Article on Pishing from Bird Watch Canada

The Fine Art of Pishing

Wikipedia Article on Pishing

Wildbird on the Fly: Article on Pishing

This is the blog from the editor of Wildbird. This article is funny and informative and has sound effects. Really. Push the "play" button and you can hear two sound bits of pishing.

Greater Akron Audubon Newsletter with Article on Pishing and Pete Dunne

You have to go through the Newsletter to find the beginning of the Article "The Art of Pishing." Pete Dunne came to their meeting and spoke on the subject. Good article.

Why Pishing Works

Scholarly article on pishing.

The Art of Pishing from the University of Michigan

Julie Crave talks about pishing. Author of amusing essay "Shush and Pish" in the book Good Birder's Don't Wear White. She is supervisor of avian research for the Rouge River Bird Observatory in Dearborn, Michigan. If you buy the book through them, part of the fee goes toward the operation of the observatory.


Basic Pishing Demo by Pete Dunne

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Monday, October 15, 2007

A Walk in Huntington Central Park West 10/15/2007

Huntington Lake in Huntington Central Park Lake Huntington -- low water level due to drought.

It was about two hours before sunset. My mother and I went for a walk at Huntington Lake at Central Park in Huntington Beach. Even this year-round lake is down due to the drought. Lots of tree roots are exposed that would usually be submerged. I was stunned to see how far down the water level had dropped. The other side of Central Park has little water left due to the drought. Here at Lake Huntington, the water level is down, but there is still enough water to support animal life. We saw lots of birds including many ducks, coots, sparrows, a Great Egret, a Double -crested Cormorant, a Black Phoebe, and an Osprey overhead.

American Wigeon
American Wigeon--probably an Adult Female

There were American Wigeons starting to join the crowd of ducks. They don't quack--except the female a little. They have what Cornell's All About Birds describes as a "High squeaky whistle, resembling squeaky toy." If you click on American Wigeon, you can read the profile and listen to their distinctive whistle. Breeding plumage for the male begins in October--this month. However, I didn't see any males yet.

Male Mallard checking out a squirrel hole for food.
Trick or Treat! Male Mallard checking out a squirrel hole for food.

The Mallards were all over the park. On the shore and in the lake. Above is a male Mallard checking a California Ground Squirrel hole for food. Many people feed both the ducks and squirrels which means some food gets scattered in to the squirrel holes. Squirrels and Mallards typically mix here while feeding. Sometimes they get very close together and don't seem to mind. Nonetheless, sticking one's little green head down a dark hole seems just a little risky to me.

Cooper's Hawk
Mature Cooper's Hawk sitting in a low tree observing ducks and coots below.

The adult Cooper's Hawk above sat in a very low tree not far from Alice's Breakfast in the Park. It is the tree near where the chain link fence comes out perpendicular to the lake. A tree hangs over the water. It sat there for at least an hour and watched the birds coming and going around it. It also watched the ducks and coots waddling around directly below it on the muddy shore. It must have recently had a good meal because it showed just a casual interest, and did not attempt to catch anything. It let people come very close to it, and didn't seem to mind. I was using a zoom, so I was not as close as it seems.

Green Heron on the shore looking for fish.
Green Heron on the shore looking for fish. In this shot, you can actually see the green sheen.

I got my first digital camera in May. I have seen Green Herons four times since then, but this is the first decent shot I have been able to get. I took this between the bushes on the way to the playground. It didn't move much and was quite a cooperative subject. Here you can actually see the green sheen for which it is named. You often cannot.

White-crowned Sparrow
The White-crowned Sparrows are back.

White-crowned Sparrows and warblers are back. I love the look of the White-crowned Sparrow and the song. It is a beautiful song. Click on the White-crowned Sparrow link to see the Cornell All About Birds Profile and listen to that great song. They were all over in the undergrowth and leafless trees. They would come out and hop around on the ground, then fly back in to the undergrowth if startled.

Female Wood Duck? Or Female Mandarin Duck?Female Wood Duck

This little duck has been hanging around with the Mallards since summer at least. She joins the crowd as they beg for food. She is quieter than the Mallards and more lady like. She doesn't quack, but makes a strange sound like a combination whistle and sneeze. She seems very sweet. Check out the Wood Duck Society for more information on Wood Ducks. Wood Ducks can usually be seen at the Los Angeles Arboretum. Note: I have had second thoughts about this identification--I think I made a mistake and that this is actually a female Mandarin Duck. See my post Wood Duck or Mandarin Duck? for all the details.

Duck Escort
We were escorted to our car by a large contingent of ducks and a few coots. They quacked all the way. It was a great short walk. We saw so many great birds. The sounds and sights of the lake near sunset stayed with me throughout the night.

Sunset at Huntington Central Park
Sunset at Huntington Central Park

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Walk at Bolsa Chica

Looking out from the bridge at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

Note that this post was added out of order, but since I started it before the Central Park walk, it appears here. So, no you are not crazy if you didn't think this was here the other day.

Took a short walk before church. The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve was somewhat quiet, but there were some birds close to the walkways and easy to view. I like to stand on the bridge and see what's in the water. On the bridge, there is usually the morning cadre of men and their humongous telephoto lenses. I usually feel so incredibly amateurish--which of course, I am. The professionals have camera equipment that probably cost as much as my car. I ignore the camera club, try not to be overly intimidated, and look in the water. Usually I see fish, often small. My friend Ron, a serious fisherman, identified some as smelt. And then there are some of those invertebrates that the birds like herons and egrets, godwits and you name it eat out in the shallows. See the little worms and other icky, squiggly invertebrates below. What is that stuff?

Life below the surface at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. Fine dining for some.

The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is a natural fishery. Technically, according to the Amigos de Bolsa Chica, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is a tidal salt marsh. Here salt and fresh water meet and form an environment that is full of nutrients and the fish that feed on them and the birds that feed on the fish and the invertebrates that feed on the nutrients. For far more detailed and accurate information than I can give, see the Amigos de Bolsa Chica page on Birds and Science. To print out a checklist to use when going to the marsh, click on check list. There is also an interesting check list of animals at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve--something I don't always think about, but they are there. Shrimp, sea hares, snails, clams, mussels, crabs, fish like topsmelt and mullet, and sharks and stingrays. Some of the birds--like the Great Blue Heron and the hawks eat small mammals. The list mentions two mammals: cottontail, ground squirrels, and two kinds of lizards. It doesn't mention mice or rats, but I wonder about that.

Eared Grebe on the surface before a sudden dive. Can you see his foot?

For a long time the only pictures I got of Eared Grebe looked like this:

Where an Eared Grebe had been a mere second before.

Some of my shots still look like this. This is because the grebe family in general and the Eared Grebe in particular makes very sudden dives under the water. The secret to getting a good look at an Eared Grebe is that this bird is often a very shallow diver and can easily be seen below the surface of the water. So follow him as he swims after the fish and then take your picture or train your binoculars on him as he surfaces. An Eared Grebe's feet are placed far back on its body. In the picture of the Eared Grebe two pictures up, you can see his feet far back on his body under the water where you might imagine a tail might be. Obviously, walking is very difficult for grebes.

A pair of Eared Grebe.

There is a lot of Eared Grebe activity at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and other similar environments now. Lots of popping up and down under the water. I saw a lot of Eared Grebe activity last year at this time of year at Golden Shore Marine Biological Reserve Park and its environs, and at Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley. In fall and winter, the Eared Grebe looks drab, but come April and breeding season, they become quite flashy. You wouldn't recognize them. Below is a picture from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I believe that is a chick on the parent's back:

Eared Grebe all Gussied Up in Breeding Plumage. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

They do get into breeding plumage before they leave for their nesting grounds. I think I saw an Eared Grebe with chicks this spring at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. I am not sure about the ID though.

Willets, Marbled Godwits, and Dowitchers huddling in the wind.

For several days this group seemed to like this place to hunker down when the cold winds blew.
Like many Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve photo ops, this group has been snapped hundreds and hundreds of times I am sure.

Mirror, Mirror in the water. A Great Egret Fishes in the waters that reflect his every move like an elegant ballet for two.

This beautiful Great Egret fishes with gracefully slow movements and strikes quickly like a snake when it locates its prey. The light was just right, and this Great Egret danced a beautiful duet with its own reflection as it hunted for food.

Snowy Egret Takes a Break and Surveys the water scape.

The usually active Snowy Egret takes a break from its frenetic fishing style to study its surroundings. This little guy took it easy and perched here for quite a while. You can barely see his yellow feet.

Great Egret takes wing and flies to a quieter area as a group jogs across the bridge.

For some reason, people jog noisily across the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve Bridge. It doesn't matter if wildlife is close and can be startled or if people are lined up taking photos or studying wildlife, the jog must go on. It cannot be slowed for birds or people with purposes other than their own. And so they thunder across the bridge, annoyed no doubt that about a dozen birders and photographers are in the way of their jog. It's one of my pet peeves which I usually keep to myself, knowing that we all share this wonderful place and that I can put up with a few joggers to keep the peace as I walk and watch the wonders of this place.

I remember years ago two groups who came to a different, but similarly beautiful place. One came to walk--very quickly-- and one to slowly meander through and bird watch. The walkers scared the birds and ruined the bird walk over and over again. I was in one group and one of my dear friends was in another. Well, things got ugly. We were both stunned. Loud, harsh words were exchanged between the leaders. Righteous indignation expressed. Trust me, it was not pretty. My friend and I witnessed this fiasco on two different days. And that was not the only time it happened from what I heard. Way too much stress for either birding or walking. I can't imagine it was good for the birds either. Understanding another's viewpoint rarely--if ever--comes through disrespectful exchanges. tente is far more likely to be built through respectful exchanges and relationships. So when I am tempted to say something, I remember the brouhaha. Then I smile and greet the joggers who in actual fact may be no more narcissistic than I.

A Motley Crew of Double-Crested Cormorants, Brown Pelicans, and assorted gulls and terns.

When the tide is such that little sand bars or islands are left, crowds of birds come to light and rest on their little isle in the midst of the shining waters. It is fun to check out the groups and see what is there. Often there are Black Skimmers, too, but not this time.

It was a beautiful, but short morning. I hurried over to the service and praised God for the beauty of the wildlife, water, and landscape of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Osprey--Pandion haliaetus

Osprey in Flight Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Osprey in Flight -- Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

When I began working in Long Beach by the Golden Shore Marine Biological Reserve Park, I often came early, sat on the benches behind the office and if I were lucky ate breakfast with one of the resident Osprey. I would have yogurt, and it would eat fish. Sometimes alive and wiggling. I would bring my zoom binocular and watch as the Osprey landed on the light post and wrestled with its breakfast. Surprisingly, I never lost mine.

Osprey with a fish at Newport Back Bay.

It took at least 20 minutes for it to eat the fish, often longer. Sometimes the terns and Brown Pelicans would be splashing into the water already. The Black-crowned Night Herons would be sitting on the dock, peering into the water. The Osprey would eat, look out over the Catalina Express dock, check out the Chancellor's parking lot trees, and glance over at me to see if I were still there. We would listen to the docks creak and the Great Blue Herons croak. Then it would get back to business and have another beak full. It was a great way to start the day. I was always in a better mood after having a breakfast meeting before work.

Osprey in pine tree Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Osprey in pine tree-- Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

I would often see them flying over the area by the Catalina dock and up the LA river to the Golden Shore Marine Biological Reserve Park. They caught plenty of fish, but I never saw the actual catch. I loved to see their black-and-white markings and the way they often looked like they were having a bad-hair day--or I guess I should say a bad feather day.

Osprey landing courtesy of NASA
Osprey coming in for a landing-- courtesy of NASA.

The Osprey eats mostly fish and more fish. It spots a fish, hovers, and dives talons first into the water and grabs its prey. I often see Osprey at Bolsa Chica, flying overhead, and at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. They are also at the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, the Newport Backbay, and Central Park West at Lake Huntington. In fact any body of water with fish whether fresh or salt mixed with fresh, Osprey are probably somewhere around.

Osprey on the nest at NASA Courtesy of NASA Osprey on the nest at NASA. (Courtesy of NASA )

Where can you find Ospreys in Orange County. You can find them where there are fish: Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Seal Beach Wildlife Refuge, Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve aka Newport Back Bay , San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, and Central Park in Huntington Beach to name just a few. I have even seen an Osprey at Tewinkle Park.

Immature Osprey at Tewinkle Park in Costa Mesa.

When you think you see a hawk at an estuary, bay, or lake, look at it with your binoculars and see if it is really a hawk or an Osprey hunting for fish. Then keep an eye on it and maybe you will see the Osprey hover, dive, and catch a fish. That would be something!

Note that I have added some new photos and links. I have been getting good Osprey Photo Opportunities.

Here is a great video that Jane from Dorset, England posted to You-Tube of an Osprey in Florida flying close to their boat.

Check out Jane's blog about her village's fight against urbanization and her great articles on wildlife and nature in Dorset. It is called Urban Extension.

OC Birder Girl Links

Good detailed article with range map, photos, and information about habitat, similar species, and cool facts.

Project to understand Osprey and prevent aircraft-Osprey collisions.

Osprey Nest Cam from Earth Cam

Osprey Cam showing nest.

Snake River Birds of Prey: Osprey

Detailed profile of Osprey.

The Return of the Fish Hawk: Project Osprey Curriculum

Thirty-six page teacher's curriculum all about Osprey from the Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

The Peregrine Fund Osprey Page

Good information. Includes a quiz.

Mono Lake Bird of the Month: The Osprey

Good descriptions of Ospreys.

Osprey Videos

Bird Cinema: Osprey

Great selection of videos of Osprey in different situations.

The Internet Bird Collection: Osprey Videos

Good videos. Especially check out the Osprey with the fish.

National Geographic Educational Video about Osprey

Very good video about Osprey. Good footage and facts.

You-Tube Osprey Videos

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