Here are two Life Birds who were hardest and easiest to see when I was in San Diego.
The surfbird, on the left, was hard! He walks on seaside rocks and lets the surf break over him. The best place to find him is on the breakwater at Mission Bay’s entrance but the day we were there the bird was way down the jetty out of sight.
A few intrepid birders walked the jetty and pointed to the bird. For this particular Life Bird I was willing to walk the jetty but I didn’t count on how hard it would be. Without my walking stick I literally crawled over the uneven rocks. Not fun! I turned back without seeing the bird and waited onshore for him to pop into someone’s scope. Fortunately he appeared at a distance. Even through the scope I felt like I earned him.
The black turnstone was easy. He also lives on rocky shores but there were many more black turnstones and they were easy to see at La Jolla while walking the beautiful seaside path.
For some reason the surfbird feels more valuable.
(photo by Dick Daniels on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.)
When I registered at the San Diego Bird Festival I asked to exchange one of my pre-scheduled bird tours because I was desperate to see this Life Bird, the white-tailed kite.
The trip I wanted was full but David Kimball introduced me to local bird leader Susan Breisch who knows the county well.
Susan was so helpful! She asked to see both my target bird list and my tour schedule, told me the likelihood of seeing my target birds, and suggested places to find them during my unscheduled time.
As usual some species are a challenge, others are surprisingly easy. For instance…
I would love to see a mountain bluebird but they travel in flocks that move around a lot. Their reported location one day may be different the next. This behavior reminds me of the white-winged crossbills visiting Pittsburgh this winter whom I’ve been unable to find. Hmmmm!
The ferruginous hawk is on my wish list, too, but it only visits the grasslands in winter and even then it’s not plentiful. Again, you have to be at the right place at the right time and you have to get lucky.
However, white-tailed kites are easy! They hang out in river valleys and can be found year-round in Rose Canyon where they nest. In fact, I might even see one on a walk from my hotel.
p.s. The San Diego Bird Festival is great! Excellent tours, helpful friendly people, unbeatable weather. I highly recommend it!
(photo by William Parker)
To my untrained East Coast eyes this bird looked like an odd double-crested cormorant, but it’s actually a Brandt’s cormorant, a common bird of the Pacific coast.
This weekend I’m in the bottom left corner of the United States at the San Diego Bird Festival held in one of the two “Birdiest Counties” in the continental U.S. (Los Angeles County is the other.)
According to San Diego Audubon, “the County boasts the largest bird list of any similarly sized area in the United States at almost 500 species.” With this honor also comes the distinction of having “the greatest number of endangered, threatened, and sensitive species than any comparable land area in the continental United States.”
San Diego is able to set these records because it has at least 11 habitat zones including coastal scrub, desert, mountains, salt marshes, wetlands and ocean, far outranking my land-locked home in Pittsburgh.
In my first hour of birding — just walking near the hotel — I saw long-billed curlew’s, marbled godwits, an orange-crowned warbler (singing!), Anna’s hummingbirds, black-crowned night-herons, and Heerman’s gulls. By now I’ve seen 94 species including this life bird, Brandt’s cormorant.
When you compare San Diego’s checklist of 501 birds to Allegheny County’s 316 species (including vagrants), I know I’ll find a “lifer” around every corner.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.
Quotes are from the San Diego Audubon Society website.)
Speaking of owls, as I did on Thursday, here’s a portrait of one of the world’s largest owls, the Eurasian eagle-owl.
Bigger than a snowy owl he is slightly outweighed by the endangered Blakiston’s fish-owl of Asia and has a slightly shorter wing span than the great gray owl.
Despite these technicalities he is virtually the world’s largest owl. With females weighing up to 9.3 pounds they are bigger than our great horned owl (up to 5.7 pounds), the eastern screech-owl (weighing up to 1/2 pound), and the northern saw-whet owl (weighing only as much as 1/3 pound). The two smaller owls are dinner for the great horned owl. Imagine what a Eurasian eagle-owl eats!
To get an idea of owl sizes, visit the National Aviary to see the eagle-owl and others up close.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
Except for the beak this bird looks like a scruffy character from a Dickens novel.
The Marabou stork is not improved by close approach. I’ve seen one at a zoo: five feet tall and surprisingly ugly with rusty feathers, skinny legs, fuzzy bare head, and a dirty-looking bill.
His bill doesn’t just look dirty. It is dirty because he eats carrion and garbage.
In Africa this stork follows vultures to dead animals and stands hunched waiting for the vultures to rip open the carcass and make an opening so the stork can dine.
He’s aptly named the Undertaker Bird.
(photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Wikipedia. Click on the image to see the original)
Something strange happened in the North Atlantic this fall that prompted thousands of seabirds to migrate much further south than normal.
This juvenile black-legged kittiwake is one of them, photographed by Dan Irizarry on February 6 in Manatee County, Florida.
Hatched somewhere in Canada or Greenland, this bird normally would have spent the winter offshore between Newfoundland and North Carolina. Instead he’s foraging at Tampa Bay.
His bold black M pattern shouts out that he’s a kittiwake.
Not only is he rare, but he really stands out.
(photo by Dan Irizarry)
On Monday I wrote about cats and windmills as threats to bird life but neither of them are the leading reason why birds die. The number one cause of bird death worldwide is habitat loss.
The Laysan rail, pictured above, went extinct in the 20th century because of habitat loss with a bizarre twist.
Laysan is a small, isolated island in the middle of the Northwestern Hawaiian Island chain. Only 1 by 1.5 miles across its land area is 1,016 acres, about twice the size of Schenley Park.
Laysan is famous for its bird life, a nesting island for many Pacific seabirds and home of the rare Laysan albatross and even rarer Laysan duck. It was also the home of the Laysan rail, a fearless, flightless bird less than 6 inches long.
Unfortunately, in 1903 Max Schlemmer released rabbits on the island as a money-making venture. Instead of making money it was the beginning of the end. The rabbits on Laysan had no predators and in short order they overran the island. (Keep in mind that a rabbit can bear 35 young per year.) The rabbits ate everything. Everything.
By 1918 Laysan was a barren dustbowl on which only 100 rabbits survived. With little to eat and no cover the Laysan rail population was hanging on by a thread. Meanwhile a few rails had been introduced to other islands in the northwestern Hawaiian chain in hopes they could survive elsewhere.
In 1923 the Tanager Expedition eradicated Laysan’s rabbits but it was too late for the rail. The last two on the island died that year. A few hung on at other islands in the chain but the final blow fell in 1944 when a World War II ship drifted to shore on Eastern Island, Midway and the ship’s rats swam ashore. The rats ate the last Laysan rails on earth. That was that. Extinction.
In the broadest sense, loss of habitat killed the Laysan rail. In a narrow sense it was a case of extinction by rabbit.
(drawing by Walter Rothschild from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original. Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 640 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)
What’s black and white and red all over?
This crimson-breasted shrike (Laniarius atrococcineus) from southern Africa is an unbelievably beautiful bird.
(photo by Hans Hillewaert from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original and its location data)
Ice is on my mind this morning because of the freezing rain that began last night, so I couldn’t resist writing about this iceberg series by Kim Hansen on Wikimedia Commons.
The photo above shows a black ice growler (tiny iceberg) found at Upernavik, Greenland on Baffin Bay. It’s one of the last intact pieces of a larger iceberg that broke apart while melting.
Black ice forms in a glacier when melt water refreezes in a crevasse without incorporating any air bubbles. This ice is so clear that it takes on the color of its background. Here it’s dark because of the sea.
Hansen and her friends retrieved the growler from the water. Its surface was quite beautiful.
At first it was completely transparent but as it sat on the ground, exposed to sun and heat, it developed hairline cracks and began to turn white. Click here and scroll down to see the experiment they tried on it.
This solid transparent ball, only two feet across, was hidden inside the iceberg until its last days on earth. It could have been the iceberg’s heart.
(photos by Kim Hansen on Wikimedia Commons)
Doesn’t this bird look a lot like a red-bellied woodpecker?
This is a red-crowned woodpecker (Melanerpes rubricapillus), photographed by Charlie Hickey in Costa Rica.
There are nine Melanerpes woodpeckers that look very similar. Most of them live in the tropics; some are island species. I’ve noted below where you can see three species in the U.S.
Biologically speaking, this is more than a “family” resemblance It’s at the genus level.
(photo by Charlie Hickey)