Saturday, September 26, 2015

Carbon Canyon Regional Park

The lake at Carbon Canyon Regional Park.

Carbon Canyon Regional Park has a long history in Orange County.  Native Americans lived here long before Europeans came to Orange County.  The park and the adjacent Carbon Canyon Dam stand on the old site of the town of Olinda which was founded in the late 1800s.  Olinda eventually merged with the city of Randolph in 1911 to become the city of Brea which means tar or pitch in Spanish.  (Remember the La Brea Tar Pits?  Also named for the tar present in the ground.)  Oil later became a major industry in Olinda and later Brea.  After the oil was gone, citrus orchards became the major industry.  

One of two piers for fishing and viewing the lake.

Carbon Canyon Regional Park was established in 1965 after work on the dam was completed to prevent flooding.  The original park was 114 acres and has since expanded to 124 acres.  

Double-crested Cormorants resting and drying out after a swim.

Like many of Orange County's Regional Parks, it has a lake.   The lake was dredged and restored in 2014, and fishing is again allowed--with a license of course.  
There are sheltered picnic areas around the lake.

There are picnic tables around the lake and benches to sit and enjoy the view.  There are also barbecues and sheltered picnic areas as well.  The park has plenty of options for sports such as baseball fields, tennis and volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, and for the kids playgrounds.  There is an interpretive center and also interpretive programs.  The park has an amphitheater.  Near the amphitheater is a native and butterfly garden.  And there is an impressive 10-acre redwood grove that is great for birding.   There are bathrooms in many of the developed areas of the park. 

Another view of the lake.

Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea is a Regional Park with several different ecosystems that attract many species of birds.  It also benefits from being right next door to another rich birding stop, Chino Hills State Park. Chino Hills State Park is much closer to its natural state, and attracts lots of wildlife. Carbon Canyon Regional Park

American White Pelicans are often see in the lake fishing in fall and winter.

In fact, this section of Orange County has a wealth of great birding spots due to its being nestled against the Chino Hills in the north. The Chino Hills almost connects to Cleveland National Forest in the east so the north-east part of Orange County borders large, protected wildlife areas.
Scrub Jay near a parking lot.

Carbon Canyon Regional Park is also near Yorba Regional Park in Anaheim adjacent to Anaheim Hills which also has lots of great birding spots.  If you have the stamina, you can make it a birding day marathon of this area.  

Red-tailed Hawk soaring above the park.
Often, the first time I go to a birding area, I go with a group.  Because groups are often run by someone who knows the area, you often find a few secrets of the area such as spots off the main drag that hold rare or unusual birds.  And Carbon Canyon has several nature walks including one to their redwood forest which is led by park staff, and also occasional walks by Sea and Sage Audubon.  

In the fall the lawns are full of House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, American Goldfinches, and Audubon Yellow-rumped Warblers to name a few. 

The Sea and Sage walks cover the main park, the redwood grove, and a walk into the back area by the dam.  Garett is a very knowledgeable birder and can be a fast walker when moving from one birding area to another.  (Garrett alternates Carbon Canyon with other Regional Parks in Orange County during the months he is not leading bird walks at Carbon Canyon Regional Park.)

One of the abundant Audubon Yellow-rumped Warblers in the park--known affectionately as "butter butts" by many birders.

You will find lots of birds on the lawns including Yellow-rumped Audubon Warblers aka butter butts, Lesser Goldfinches, American Goldfinches, and occasionally Horned Larks.  

Northern Flicker on the ground.  Not an unusual sight.

And occasionally, you may see Northern Flickers feeding on the lawn. There are also, I am sorry to say, lots of the invasive European Starlings.

California Ground Squirrel
And squirrels.

Scrub Jay comes down onto the ground to forage.
Scrub Jays are common in the less cultivated areas or on the edge of cultivated and wilder areas.

A Black Phoebe.  In Orange County, there is always a Black Phoebe.

The park has two phoebes: Black Phoebes and

Say's Phoebe visit in fall and winter.

Say's Phoebes. The Black Phoebe is the year-round resident.  Black Phoebes are found everywhere in Orange County.  Every home has at least one, and parks have several. 

Acorn Woodpecker--male.
Acorn Woodpeckers are year-round residents of the park.  

Acorn Woodpecker

If you go to Carbon Canyon Regional Park, you definitely will see them.  

Female--black band between red cap and white forehead.

Acorn Woodpeckers are in the east side of the lake for the most part.  They are sometimes loud, but not always obvious when quiet.  

Acorn Woodpeckers two males (left) and female (right).

Although the main part of their diet is acorns, they are often on trees that are not oaks In this park.

The fall colors as we headed out to the dam were just beautiful.

It is a long walk out to the dam and back with plenty to see along the way including raptors.

Expect a lot of dusty dirt paths.

The walk out to the dam is definitely work the effort.

Gorgeous textures and colors.

Getting back to the main park area.  It is lower than much of the surrounding land and bordered on several sides by hill over which you can often see raptors like Red-tailed Hawks soaring over the hills or perched in the trees on the hills.  Also seen in this area, Cooper's Hawks, and American Kestrels.

Turkey Vulture

I like to sit and enjoy the park after hiking.  

This particular day, I observed a small drama with a pair of Egyptian geese and their goslings on the lake's shore.   They started walking down the pier with their 5 goslings.

Egyptian Geese with goslings walk down the pier.

Watch below as the goslings try to get the nerve to follow their parents into the water.

Safe on shore at last.

Egyptian Goose

Carbon Canyon Regional Park is a great place to go birding.  I love to stop by at several of the birding hot spots out in this area.  It is adjacent to Chino Hills State Park.  And not far from Carbon Canyon Regional Park also in Brea is Craig Regional Park just west of the 57 freeway.  Last time I went, I stopped at Carbon Canyon Regional Park, stopped at Wildbirds Unlimited in Yorba Linda (awesome feeding station and store), then Yorba Regional Park, Oak Canyon Nature Center, and finally Irvine Regional Park.  Mix and match and create your own birdathon.

It is a beautiful park.

Wherever you go, have fun birding in Orange County.

OC Birder Girl Links

Acorn Woodpecker

American Kestrel

American White Pelicans

Black Phoebe

Double-Crested Cormorants

Northern Flicker

Red-tailed Hawk

Say's Phoebe

Turkey Vultures


Carbon Canyon Regional Park

Orange County Regional Park link.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Northern Flicker-- Colaptes auratus (subspecies--Red-shafted Flicker)

Male Northern Flicker.  Photographer Karen McQuade.  Copyright, all rights reserved.

All photographs unless otherwise attributed are taken by Karen McQuade and are under copyright.

It's eye catching. You see a sudden flash of reddish wings and tail as a bird the size of a pigeon but a bit more svelte flies away into the trees. The Northern Flicker is the largest woodpecker in Orange County, and one of the largest woodpeckers in North America. Only the Pileated Woodpecker which is not found in Orange County is larger. The Northern Flicker in the picture above didn't expect me. I, on the other hand, had seen a few salmon flashes in the distance as I headed over, and so I did expect him. The male on the tree trunk above was very close to the ground. Like many woodpeckers if there is no threat nearby, they will often start checking for insects and other edibles at the base of the tree.  All male red-shafted Northern Flickers have red mustaches like the one pictured above.

Female Northern Flicker feeding on the ground at Mile Square Park golf course in Fountain Valley

The Northern Flicker above has no red mustache and is a female.  She is feeding on insects, spiders, and any creepy crawler that peaks her interest.  Ground feeding is common for Northern Flickers.  The first time I ever saw a Northern Flicker was very early in the morning at Descanso Gardens on a fairly isolated lawn.  So remember to watch ahead of you as you cross a lawn.  Lots of very interesting birds are overlooked and dismissed as something more common until they fly up in front of the surprised birder. 

Male Northern Flicker at Huntington Central Park. Photographer, Karen McQuade

The Northern Flicker has two subspecies:  The Red-shafted found in the western United States and the Yellow-shafted found in the east.  In Orange County, we do rarely see Red-shafted/Yellow-shafted hybrids or an occasional Yellow Shafted Flicker.  If it is not seen in flight, the most obvious field mark is the black rather than red mustache on the male.  in flight, the yellow wing linings and yellow on the tail are the most obvious field mark or the red on the back of the head.  Our Red-shafted Flickers have no red on the back of their head.   The Northern Flicker we almost always see is the Red-shafted.  Its wing linings and undertail coverts are salmon colored.  In the picture above, the salmon color can be seen just a bit on the edges of the wingtips. 

Female Northern Flicker, red-shafted.  Notice the white rump is visible

Northern Flickers have white rumps, but usually the white is not visible.  In the picture above, you can see the white rump.  

Red-shafted Northern Flicker pair Wikipedia David Margrave Photographer

And though Birds of North America says they are primarily a ground feeding bird, I mostly see them in the trees in Orange County parks.  And that may be because there are so many people around in the parks.  

Female Northern Flicker feeding on the ground at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley

Above we can see the a female Northern Flicker from the front.  Like the male, she has a large, black wedge or bib on her chest just below the throat.  The female has no red mustache.  I took this photo through the fence.  She was actually on the lawn at the golf course adjoining Mile Square Regional Park.  The golf course attracts a lot of interesting birds.

Male Northern Flicker courtesy of USFWS  Dave Menke Photographer

Like many woodpeckers, Northern Flickers are cavity nesters.  They excavate a nest in a dead or diseased tree, buy will also use utility posts.   They will use nest boxes.  Check out the nestbox specifications on Nest Watch here.

Female Northern Flicker at Fairview Park, Costa Mesa, CA

Northern Flickers are especially fond of ants.  Orange County is a cornucopia of ants.  We are a perfect match.  Lawns with their short grass are places to forage for their favorite food--insects.  Seeds and fruit round out their diet.

Four Northern Flickers--Huntington Central Park

I have noticed that occasionally I do see groups of male and female Northern Flickers together and not just individuals or pairs or individuals. 

Male Northern Flicker--Huntington Central Park

Sometimes the first thing that draws my attention is the call.  Northern Flickers like many woodpeckers are loud birds.   Check one of their longer calls on Lark Wire and on All About Birds here.   I often hear their Kyeer call.  It may be hard to identify if you are not familiar with it.  It almost can sound a wee bit hawkish.  Another call is the wik, wik, wik call.  Quite loud and very hard to miss.  Has a similar quality to the Acorn Woodpecker without sounding exactly like it.  

Male Northern Flicker at Huntington Central Park. Photographer, Karen McQuade

One of the best skills to develop if you are a birder is listening.  If you know what you are hearing, you know at least some of the birds that are present.  Sea and Sage has some birding by ear classes taught by experienced birder and teacher Sylvia Gallagher. 

Male Northern Flicker at Huntington Central Park. Photographer, Karen McQuade

Become familiar with the habits, habitat, and diet of birds you want to see.  Then look where they are most likely to be found.  Know what to expect where you are birding, but be prepared for anything.

Female Northern Flicker at Huntington Central Park in Shipley Nature Center. Photographer, Karen McQuade

You may notice that there is a reduced number of Northern Flickers in Orange County from late-spring to summer.  Northern Flickers do migrate.  Some do leave California entirely, but many travel to higher elevations within California.   By fall, the Northern Flickers have returned to Orange County.

Male Northern Flicker at Huntington Central Park. Photographer, Karen McQuade

Northern Flickers are great birds to observe.   As with all woodpecker, look along the trunk of the tree as well as the branches.  Don't forget that they are ground feeders as well, and take a good look at the birds feeding on the ground.  You may get lucky and find a Northern Flicker feeding on the lawn at your local park.

Male Northern Flicker at Huntington Central Park. Photographer, Karen McQuade

Enjoy birding in Orange County, and listen and look for our largest woodpecker, the Northern Flicker.


Where can you see Northern Flickers in Orange County?

Many of the Regional Parks including Mile Square Park,  Laguna Niguel Regional Park, Irvine Regional Park, Carbon Canyon Regional Park, Santiago Oaks Regional Park.

Upper Newport Bay

Huntington Central Park--both sides of the park

Fairview Park in Costa Mesa down by the marsh.

And many small park and residential areas

Where have Yellow-Shafted Northern Flickers been seen?

Both Yellow-shafted and hybrid Yellow-and-Red-shafted flickers have popped up a few times a year in various areas all over Orange County in the last decade.  They are still rare.  If you think you see one, all the details of where and when, and the field marks and report it to ebird and Orange County Birding.  Document, document, document.  Write the details, take pictures or video if you can.  Do this with any rarity so that others can try to verify your findings and perhaps gather more information.  Remember, there is no disrespect in this.  The best of us make errors, and science is all about documenting and duplicating findings.

OC Birder Girl Links

Woodpeckers of Orange County, California

Resources and Links 

Sound library.  Northern Flicker calls.

Videos taken by many individuals of the red-shafted and yellow-shafted Northern Flicker.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Downy Woodpecker--Picoides pubescen

Female Downy Woodpecker.  Donna Dewhurst, Photographer. USFWS Digital Library.

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in the United States. While the Nuttall's Woodpecker is a California bird rarely found anywhere else, the Downy Woodpecker is a North American bird found in every state in North America including Alaska.  The Downy is also found in Canada, but not in Central or South America like the similar Hairy Woodpecker.

Male Downy Woodpecker.  Dan Sudia, Photographer.  USFWS Digital Library

Like many woodpeckers the Downy Woodpecker is black, white, and the male has red on his head.  Both males and females have a large patch of white feathers on their backs. 

Male Downy Woodpecker looking mighty fluffy.

The white feathers on the back of the Downy are soft and fluffy looking, hence the name "Downy" Woodpecker.  

Male Downy Woodpecker Huntington Central Park

The Downy Woodpecker is dainty.  Its bill looks little and cute.  Nothing like the big drill bit bill on the Hairy Woodpecker or most other woodpeckers.  Remember, it is the smallest North American woodpecker, and so think little and cute.

Male Downy Woodpecker Huntington Central Park

Downy Woodpeckers like deciduous trees no matter where they are.  You will see them in forests, woodlands, parks, and even in apartment complexes with deciduous trees.  Years ago I saw an adult Downy Woodpecker and her three babies on the trunk of a sycamore tree in front of my apartment.  Caught me totally by surprise because I usually wouldn't think of an apartment complex as a woodpecker magnet, but it was.   But regardless of where the trees are, most of the Downy Woodpeckers I have seen are in trees like sycamores, oaks, or even eucalyptus rather than pines.

Male Downy Woodpecker Huntington Central Park

Males and females tend to forage in slightly different types of trees or locations on trees that vary across its range so that where the male and female Downy Woodpeckers forage may be different in California and New Jersey.  However, the male will still take the  better foraging areas no matter where in the country you see him.  The male is the dominant woodpecker.

Male Downy Woodpecker foraging among the bark and leaf litter on a eucalyptus.

Downy Woodpeckers' diet consists of fruit, plant matter, sap, and also most of the creepy little edibles you might imagine on and under the bark and on the leaves of trees: insects, spiders, snails, caterpillars, larvae, and more. Downy Woodpeckers also drill holes in galls, and eat whatever they find in the gall including eat insects, and larvae.

Female Downy Woodpecker

Like all woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers have zygodactyl feet which means they have two toes pointing forward and two pointing backward.  Like all woodpeckers, they are able to use their zygodactyl feet to hold onto the tree more firmly and their to use their stiff tail feathers to help them balance and to move more rapidly by providing more stability as they move their feet.  Sometimes woodpeckers move in a circular fashion up a tree, and they fly frequently to other locations. 

Female Downy Woodpecker excavating a nesting cavity. 

Downy woodpeckers nest in cavities they excavate in trees.  Above is a female Downy excavating a cavity near the library at Huntington Central Park.   She abandoned it soon after without finishing it, but the wood chips were flying for a while.  Males and females both excavate the nest and care for the young.  Notice that there are black spots on the edge of her white tail.  The Downy has black spots in the white edges of the tail, but the Hairy Woodpecker does not.  The Hairy Woodpecker has pure white edges on its tail.

Female Downy Woodpecker

The sound of the Downy Woodpecker is distinct.   Try to listen to some of the drumming and calls of the Downy Woodpecker at The Macaulay Library.  Get familiar with it.  Knowing the sound can help you look for it and find it.

Female Downy Woodpecker

Notice the small bill and dainty look of the Downy Woodpecker.  Notice, too, in the pictures of the Downy the sharp angle of the bill.

Notice the small bill on this Male Downy woodpecker. 

Downy Woodpecker and the Hairy Woodpecker are very similar.  The Downy is common in Orange County, but the Hairy Woodpecker is rare.  However, the very similar Hairy Woodpecker is seen on occasion in Orange County.  Notice the spots on the white edges of the tail in the photo above.  This is a Downy.

So how do you tell the difference?

Female Hairy Woodpecker, Donna Dewhurst Photographer. Courtesy USFWS.

Well, the most obvious is the size.  The Hairy Woodpecker is approximately 9 inches long and the Downy is only 6.5 inches long.   Also, notice that the Hairy Woodpecker in the picture above has a much larger bill and lacks the dainty look of the Downy.  In addition, the Hairy Woodpecker's feathers lack the soft, fluffy look of the Downy Woodpecker.  The feathers look more hairy than soft and fluffy.  Also as mentioned above, the white tail edges of the Downy are white with black spots, and the Hairy's tail edge are white with no spots.   But the best thing is to view a lot of pictures, watch a lot of videos, and listen to a lot of audio recordings.  The more you have seen and heard both the species, the easier it is to identify them.  Notice, too, that the Hairy Woodpecker's bill is about the depth of its head.  A big bill, not a dainty one.

Female Downy Woodpecker.  Very fluffy, and very dainty.

Become very familiar with the profile and the look of each.  There is a distinctly different feel you get from a small dainty, fluffy Downy with a little, chisel-like bill and a larger Hairy with a large bill.  The bill is bulkier on the Hairy and the slope of the bill from base to tip is much more gradual.  The Downy has a more sharp angle and a much thinner, pointed bill.  It would take several bills to equal the depth of its head.

Male Downy Woodpecker

The Hairy's bill is longer and thicker.  It has a more gradual slope.  And yes the bill of a Hairy is almost as deep as its head while the Downy covers only a about a third of the head, but get the feel for each bird.  Familiarize yourself with the calls.  It is like knowing twins who look very much alike, but have differences that are subtle.  I used to work with several sets of identical twins, and there are subtle differences when you know them well.  Initially, I couldn't tell who was who, but later I just knew.   Get to know these well and you won't have much hesitation in differentiating them.

Female Downy Woodpecker

Enjoy the parks and wilderness areas and have fun as you look for the Downy Woodpecker and other amazing birds in Orange County.

OC Birder Girl Links

Woodpeckers of Orange County, California

Acorn Woodpeckers 

Nuttall's Woodpecker

Links and Resources

Backyard Birding YouTube Channel

I highly recommend the Backyard Birding YouTube Channel.  There are excellent videos and quite a few on Downy Woodpeckers. Has some good clips of the calls and rattles as well.

YouTube Downy Woodpecker search

View a lot of Downy Woodpecker videos.

Downy Woodpecker and Hairy Woodpecker

Helpful article on how to differentiate the Downy Woodpecker and the Hairy Woodpecker from Cornell Lab's Project Feeder Watch.

Bird Note--Downy Woodpecker

An audio description of the Downy Woodpecker complete with its call.  Transcript available.  Video available, too.

SORA: Downy Woodpecker Predation at Goldenrod Galls

The Internet Bird Collection: Downy Woodpeckers

Video and photos of Downy Woodpeckers.

A new clue for identifying Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers by David Sibley

New field mark detail discussed on Sibley Guides.

Tennessee Watchable Wildlife--Downy vs. Hairy

Detailed article with photos of the difference between the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.