Sunday, February 22, 2009

Redhead--Aythya americana

Male Redhead at small, private "lake" or pond in Orange County

One of the least common ducks in North America (according to the USGS), the male Redhead is striking and easy to spot. It has a dark red head, black chest, gray back and a black tail end. Its eyes are a bright yellow. Its bill is bright blue, ending with a indistinct pale stripe and a black tip. The female also has the same indistinct pale stripe and a black tipped bill, but her bill is more grayish-blue. (Bill is similar in pattern to the Ring-necked Duck.) Their feet are blue-gray with the males having brighter feet than the females. The female Redhead is brown with a white eye ring. Her eyes are brown. During the molting season, the male's head temporarily becomes less red. As in many species, the immature closely resembles the female. The females weigh less than the males, but otherwise are the same size. According to the USGS, the oldest recorded age for a wild Redhead is just a few months over 22 years old.

Male and Female Redheads at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California background and Ring-necked Ducks in foreground.

Redheads are crepuscular (occurring at dawn and dusk) and nocturnal feeders. They combine diving and dabbling feeding styles, but are primarily diving ducks. They feed on almost entirely on plant matter including wild celery, wetland grasses, and the leaves, roots, seeds, and stems of aquatic plants. A small amount of their diet consists of fish, insects, and other aquatic life. During breeding season, before laying eggs, the female switches to a mostly animal based diet.

Male Redhead at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Redheads are at home in either salt water or fresh or anywhere in between. They dive and dabble in the water. They can be found in lakes, bays, estuaries, and ponds. Habitat loss is cited as the reason experts believe this species has declined. It is hopeful to note that the population of Redheads in North American appears to be increasing.

Male Redhead with Male Scaups at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Redhead females are often the initiator in courtship, but not always. Sometimes they string two males along until the males clash and one leaves. Courtship begins in late winter and by late April the eggs are beginning to be laid. After the eggs are laid, the male takes off. Females often lay their eggs in the nests of other Redheads, other duck species or the nest of any handy species. They have even been know to lay eggs in the nests of American Bitterns and Northern Harriers both of whom nest on the ground. Breeding season lasts until late June. Nests close together.

Redheads breed in Alaska, the southern part of Canada, and in the northern part of the lower 48 States. They winter from California and along the Gulf of Mexico and south into Mexico.

Male and Female Redheads at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
Similar species are the Canvasback, and the Ring-necked Duck. The Ring is shaped similarly, but is black, white, and gray with no red. The bill is a lighter shade of blue.

Male Canvasback
Photo Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service. (Eugene Hester, photographer)  Note the differences between the Redhead and the Canvasback: A thin, black, tapered bill, long neck, and a red eye. The head of the Canvasback is more brown than the Redhead whose head is a much brighter red. The Redhead has a much more rounded head and bill, a blue bill, and yellow eyes. The Redhead and the Canvasback hybridize. Sibley makes a point in Sibley's guide to birds that only the male hybrids would be obvious, but the female hybrids may often be missed.

Male Redhead at small private lake or pond in Orange County

Redheads tend to move around in flocks. Like Cedar Waxwings, or Cattle Egrets, they can turn up unexpectedly.

Male Redhead at small private lake or pond in Orange County

Female Redheads have a harsh sounding quack. The male "meows" during courting.

Redhead - Delta Waterfowl Species Profile on YouTube
Check out the educational video put out by a hunting association above.

Male Redhead at small private lake or pond in Orange County

The Redhead is a very pretty bird and a nice one to see. Next time you are near water, scan the lake, pond, or estuary for this handsome duck, and have fun birding in Orange County.

Male and female Redhead at small private lake or pond in Orange County

Below are some videos I took of the Redhead at the private lake or pond in Orange County.

Redhead--Aythya americana II from OC Birder Girl on Vimeo.

OC Birder Girl Links

External Links and Resources

All About Birds: Redhead

Detailed article about the Redhead.

Detailed article.

Interesting information regarding the population of Redheads in the United States.

BirdWeb: Redhead


Honolulu Zoo: Redhead

Detailed profile.

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Say's Phoebe--Sayornis saya

Say's Phoebe on a fence post at Upper Newport Bay by the Muth Interpretive Center.

Say's Phoebe has not been studied as much as other phoebes, but there is still some good information available. The Say's Phoebe is a flycatcher with a black tail and brown-gray back and head. It is colorful only due to the cinnamon-colored belly and undertail coverts. Its bill, feet, and legs are black. Male and female have the same plumage and size. The Say's Phoebe is a mid-sized flycatcher. It's similar in behavior to the Black Phoebe--which we also have in Orange County. The Say's Phoebe is much less abundant than the almost ubiquitous Black Phoebe, but it can be seen in open areas like Upper Newport Bay on both sides of the bay, Mason Regional Park , and Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve .

Say's Phoebe on the lookout for insects near the Muth Interpretive Center at Upper Newport Bay.

Say's Phoebe got its name from Thomas Say, a pharmacist turned naturalist, who lived in the early 1800s. He identified more new species than any one else had at that point. Notice that the species name is Sayornis saya and that the Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) is also from the same family. The family name is named after Say as well, so this little phoebe is doubly named after the naturalist Thomas Say. That is fitting since it was Say who first described Say's Phoebe. He also was the first to describe the Orange-crowned Warbler, the Lesser Goldfinch, the Band-tailed Pigeon, the Western Kingbird, and the Lazuli Bunting among others. Amazingly, this was not his main field. He was very into insects. In fact, he is sometimes called the American father of entomology.

Say's Phoebe near the Muth Interpretive Center at Upper Newport Bay.

The Say's Phoebe like all flycatchers eats mainly insects. Often bees and wasps. It will catch insects on the wing, fly down onto the ground to catch them, or hover and glean them off plants and trees. It is a very active flycatcher. I found it very aware of people walking by it. It would fly on to the next post or branch. But if I stood still, it would come closer and take a look. Then go on about its business.

Say's Phoebe near the Muth Interpretive Center at Upper Newport Bay.

Although its near relatives the Black Phoebe and the Eastern Phoebe build mud nests or include mud in their nests, the Say's Phoebe builds its nest of grass and other plant material. No mud. It usually builds its nest inside, out of the rain. Could be a cave, a building, but usually with a roof over its head.

Say's Phoebe near the Muth Interpretive Center at Upper Newport Bay.

Desert, scrubby, rocky bare land, bare wetlands. The Say's Phoebe like land that has lots of dirt and a few plants. Perhaps it's easier to find terrestrial insects that way. I don't know. But this is no jungle bird. It can be found from as far south as southern Mexico and as far North as The Northern part of Alaska, even nesting on the Alaskan Pipeline according to All About Birds. Its range extends east to the the mid west.

Say's Phoebe near the
Muth Interpretive Center at Upper Newport Bay.

The Say's Phoebe is sometimes confused with the female Vermilion Flycatcher. The female Say's Phoebe is more cinnamon or rusty than the Vermilion which is more pinkish. The Vermilion Flycatcher also has streaks on its white chest. The Say's Phoebe has a grayish chest with no streaks.

Say's Phoebe from OC Birder Girl on Vimeo.

And below, from an expert videographer and birder, Don DesJardin:

Say's Phoebe from Don DesJardin on Vimeo.
Compare the Say's Phoebe to the Black Phoebe in my video below:

When you are out birding in Orange County and see a flycatcher, take a good look. You just may be looking at a Say's Phoebe.

Say's Phoebe at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

OC Birder Girl Links

Fairly common here all year except in summer.

Say's Phoebe at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

External Links and Resources

Detailed article from Cornell Ornithology Lab about Say's Phoebe.

BirdWeb: Say's Phoebe

Good article on the Say's Phoebe by the Seattle Audubon Society.

Birds of North America Online Courtesy Preview of Say's Phoebe

Good article about the Say's Phoebe by Cornell Lab's Birds of North America.

Carolina Nature: Rare Sighting of a Say's Phoebe in North Carolina

Good photographs. Interesting habitat where the Say's Phoebe was sighted out of its range.

Duke University: Say's Phoebe

Good photos and information from an Eastern perspective.

Internet Bird Collection: Say's Phoebe

Videos of Say's Phoebes.

IV Birds: Say's Phoebe

From Imperial Valley College. A short blurb about Say's Phoebes in the Imperial Valley.

Living the Scientific Life: Say's Phoebe

Great text and photos discussing the Say's Phoebe and identification.

Montana Field Guide: Say's Phoebe

Information on Say's Phoebe.

Comprehensive article on the Say's Phoebe.

The River Basin Center in Georgia: Say's Phoebe

Short article with pictures about Say's Phoebe from the University of Georgia's River Basin Center in Georgia where Say's Phoebe is a rarity unlike Orange County California where we see it often.

San Diego Natural History Museum: Say's Phoebe

Long and helpful article about the Say's Phoebe.

South Dakota Birds: Say's Phoebe

Nice photo and helpful text.

Article about Thomas Say who first observed the Say's Phoebe and described it, and after whom the Say's Phoebe is named.

USGS: Say's Phoebe

Short article on Say's Phoebe.

Utah Birds: Say's Phoebe Photographs

Good photos of Say's Phoebes.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Butterflies in Orange County

Tiger Swallowtail--Papilio rutulus Huntington Central Park
Birders often see butterflies when they are out birding, and so here are a few butterflies found in Orange County, California. I took these pictures over the last few years when I was out birding. In the winter, I most often see Monarchs and Mourning Cloaks.    Notice how the same butterfly can look very different with its wings closed.

Fiery Skipper--Hylephila phyleus (?) Huntington Central Park

Striated Queen--Danaus gilippus

California Dogface--Colias eurydice Environmental Nature Center's Native Butterfly House

California Dogface--Colias eurydice Environmental Nature Center's Native Butterfly House

California Dogface--Colias eurydice at Environmental Nature Center's Native Butterfly House

Cabbage White--Pieris rapae female

Buckeye--Precis coenia

1) West Coast Lady--Vanessa anabella

2) West Coast Lady--Vanessa anabella

3) West Coast Lady--Vanessa anabella--wings closed

Mourning Cloak--Nymphalis antiopa at Environmental Nature Center's Native Butterfly House

1) Gulf Fritillary--Agraulis vanillae Huntington Central Park wings closed.

2) Gulf Fritillary--Agraulis vanillae Huntington Central Park wings open.

Monarch--Danaus plexippus

Monarch--Danaus plexippus at Environmental Nature Center's Native Butterfly House

Monarch--Danaus plexippus

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta rubria. Loves Stinging Nettle.

Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Central Park just put in a Stinging Nettle area to attract the Red Admiral Butterfly. The one shown above is from last year still alive, but pretty tattered.

Funereal Duskywing--Erynnis funeralis--in my backyard.

OC Birder Girl Links

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

You can find butterflies near the parking lot and along the path by PCH, on the mesa, and along Wintersburg Channel.

Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve aka Newport Back Bay

On the Muth Center side off Irvine Avenue there seem to be more butterflies. The Muth Center is starting a butterfly garden.

Huntington Central Park

There are butterflies all over the park on both sides. The Monarch Butterflies have lots of milkweed in Huntington Central Park's Shipley Nature Center and Monarchs seem to be starting a winter colony among Eucalyptus trees in the park.

Environmental Nature Center Butterfly House

Has a butterfly house during spring and summer.

San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Has a butterfly garden, but you can see butterflies throughout the sanctuary.

Mason Regional Park

External Links and Resources

Pavilion of Wings
LA Museum of Natural History's butterfly house is great. April through September.

ENC Native Butterfly House

May through Summer.  A much smaller exhibit than the LA Museum of Natural History, but closer, less hassle, and still plenty of butterflies to see. 

North American Butterfly Association - Orange County Chapter

Orange County has its own chapter. Check out their website. They have lots of information and even field trips. Can't beat it.

Butterflies and Their Larval Food Plants

Pictures and information about butterflies in Orange County California.

Gibbs Park

Known as "The Butterfly Park," Gibbs park is a small park with plants that attract butterflies, a display about butterflies, and a beautiful mural on the pavement near the entrance to the park. Lots of historical plaques about local history as well.

Butterfly Migration Under Way in Orange County

About Painted Lady butterfly migration. From last year.

Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park

This wilderness park has a butterfly garden.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Northern Harrier--Circus cyaneus

Female Harrier on the ground at Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve aka Newport Back Bay . Notice her brown coloring.

Northern Harriers used to be called Marsh Hawks when I started birding in the early 1980s. In Europe, the Northern Harrier is called the Hen Harrier.  Harrier means hunter.  The Northern Harrier hunts by sight and sound. It has a facial disk similar to an owl and serves the same purpose. The facial disk directs sound to the Harrier's ears.

Female Northern Harrier with white rump visible--can you see it?
Because it hunts by sound as well as sight, the Northern Harrier flies low over the wetlands or marsh from as low as 5 feet, although sometimes much higher. The most obvious field mark is its white rump.   It is possible to see it soaring high above the ground, but not common.  Usually, you will spot the Northern Harrier as it flies low over the ground and you spot the white rump.

Female Norther Harrier at San Jacinto Wildlife Area

Although male and female are quite different, both have the distinctive white rump and forage by flying low over ground. Their flight, too, is distinctive with rapid wing beats alternating with gliding giving them what some call a "roller coaster" type of flight.

Female Northern Harrier on the ground at Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve aka Newport Back Bay . Notice the facial disk--very owl-like.

Northern Harriers also often rest on the ground like the female in the picture above or in foliage low to the ground like the female below.   Females are bigger than males and hunt in slightly different area--those with higher grass.

Female Northern Harrier in the brush at San Jacinto Wildlife Area

If a male and female get into a confrontation, the larger female is the winner. So she hunts where she chooses. The male is very different in appearance from the female Northern Harrier. Most hawks differ mostly in size, but not in color. 

Male Northern Harrier at Fairview Park in Costa Mesa

However, the Northern Harrier female is brown and white, and the male Northern Harrier is gray and white. Both have a white rump and fly low over the ground. Juvenile Northern Harriers look similar to females but may be darker and have streaking or barring on the stomach and chest. Full adult plumage may take 3 years or more.

Female Norther Harrier on a tree stump out in the wetlands at Upper Newport Bay. Notice the very long legs.

Blurry thought it is, this picture shows something about Northern Harriers that is worthy of note. It has very long legs. Even in flight they hang down. When they stand in the tall grass or other marsh foliage, the legs are pretty hard to see.   However, in the picture above the Harrier's long legs can easily be seen as it perches on a tree stump.

Male Northern Harrier flying low over the water. Notice his gray and white coloring. Notice that his long legs hanging down.

Female Northern Harrier flying over field at San Jacinto Wildlife Area in San Jacinto

Northern Harrier males have 2-3 female mates at the same time. They nest on the ground and vigorously defend their nests against any potential predator including people. The male Northern Harrier is busy during nesting season bringing food to all his mates and their offspring.

Northern Harriers eat rodents and other mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and occasionally, carrion. Some of the birds harriers eat can be large. Like ducks and shorebirds like American Avocets. The Northern Harrier sometimes drowns larger birds.

This Northern Harrier female courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.   Photographer Kent Olson.

Northern Harriers hunt in wetlands, fields, pastures, and grasslands. Basically, open areas with plants that may attract prey. They may fly low over the ground or hover. Like the Turkey Vulture which flies much higher, the Northern Harrier holds its wings at a slight dihedral. Their white rumps are often visible as they fly across the wetlands or other open areas hunting. They frequently scatter large groups of birds as they fly past them just a few feet above their heads. When you see a lot of shore birds scattering in a panic, check low to the ground and you may see this hawk.

Northern Harrier female in flight courtesy of  Wiki Commons.  Photographer is Dan Pancamo.

The Northern Harrier can be found in North America in Alaska, Canada, and down into California. They can also be found in Central and a little bit of South America. They are also found in Europe (where they are called Hen Harriers), the Middle East, to Asia and in bits of Northern Africa.

Very good video of a Northern Harrier female hunting in England. Posted on You-Tube

The Northern Harrier has been seen at Fairview Park in Costa Mesa, Talbert Regional Park, Banning Ranch, Upper Newport Bay, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine, The UCI San Joaquin Marsh Reserve, The Great Park, Crystal Cove, State Park, and Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach (and the adjoining parks like Harriett M. Wieder Regional Park), and all the small wetlands along PCH in Huntington Beach.  Check out wetlands and rivers (Especially the Santa Ana River) near you for the Northern Harrier, and have fun birding in Orange County!

OC Birder Girl Links

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve aka Newport Back Bay

San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Red-Tailed Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawk

American Kestrel--Falco sparverius

White-Tailed Kite--Elanus leucurus

Great Horned Owl--Bubo virginianus

Barn Owl--Tyto alba

External Links and Resources

All About Birds: Northern Harrier

Detailed page about the Northern Harrier from Cornell University Ornithology Lab.

Animal Diversity Web: Northern Harrier

Detailed article with photographs about the Northern Harrier.

BirdWeb: Northern Harrier

Seattle Audubon page on the Norther Harrier. Good information.

Desert USA: Northern Harrier

Good, short article on the Northern Harrier.

Internet Bird Collection: Hen Harrier

The European name for Northern Harrier is Hen Harrier. Great group of videos. High quality.

Southern Adirondack Audubon: Identifying Northern Harriers, Rough-legged Hawks and Short-eared Owls

Great article with photos on differentiating the three species and male and female Northern Harrier.

Northern Harrier Casts Pellet While in Flight

By Mark A. Manske (Journal of Raptor Research: Vol. 24, No. 3, 1990) from SORA.

Peregrine Fund: Northern Harrier

Short, but helpful article about the Northern Harrier.


By ETHAN J. TEMELES (Auk: Vol. 103, No. 1, January-March, 1986) from SORA.

Techniques for Differentiating Pellets of Short-Eared Owls and Northern harriers

By Denver W. Holt, L. Jack Lyon, and Robert Hale (Condor: Vol. 89, No. 4, July-August, 1987) from SORA.

USGS: Northern Harrier

Short, but helpful article about the Norther Harrier from the USGS--includes pictures.

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