Sunday, August 30, 2009

Double-Crested Cormorant

Today I was experimenting with a new lens.  The lens lets me capture images that are quite far away so I can go from this:

To this!

Although there is no mention of this in the guidebooks, the cormorants travel with pelicans while fishing.  I can prove it:

People in Northern California are frequently despondent when it's gray and rainy like today, but it made for some excellent photography!  

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Great Blue Heron

Pescadero is lovely!  I visited for the third week in a row.  This time we headed straight for the marshes.

The marshes are quite beautiful and you can find all sorts of birds there.  Today we saw a song sparrow, an egret, a turkey vulture, several red-tailed hawks, common mergansers, seagulls, swallows, and a great blue heron.  I also heard several chickadees and a very disgruntled crow.  

We're walking back along the trail to head home, and I see this big blue beast.

A great blue heron!  Look at his yellow eye.

He was looking a bit scruffy, which is to be expected at the end of breeding season.  Great blue herons breed from March to May.

He wasn't at all scared by us.  Instead, he watched us carefully and slowly walked off.  Great blue herons are four feet tall and have a six foot wingspan, so he has no reason to be intimidated by mere humans.

Below you can see the thickness of the marsh water.

These marshes also include a breeding ground for the herons, called a rookery.  From a distance, it doesn't look like much of anything.

But each of those gray spots is a nesting site.  They nest together to protect against predators.  

I can't wait to visit a rookery next spring; the noise made by up to 135 great blue herons is supposed to be quite remarkable.

In other news, I set a hummingbird feeder out awhile ago and a few days ago I saw a hummer drinking from it!  Success.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Twitter - Feral Pigeon

Do you use Twitter? I've been trying to keep up on social media technology.  ahem.

Did you know that feral pigeons have their own page? The status updates include "coo coo coo" and "looking shifty."

I hope you enjoy this as much as I have.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Preventing a Cockatiel from Screaming

I like to treat the search terms that bring people here as questions.  If you ever have a question, you can also ask it in the comments and I'll do a post.  Some of the more frequent search terms involve screaming cockatiels.  

Look at this face, all innocent.  You wouldn't guess that he used to scream and scream.

So why do cockatiels scream?  Sometimes they need something.  Audrey is very good about calling when there is a problem.  Unfortunately, the problem can include a bottle being in the wrong place, but as long as there is a legitimate reason, I don't mind too much.  

Both Audrey and Conner call when they're scared, such as when a seagull flies too close to the window.  Conner also calls when he wants attention and he knows to use the emergency call to get me to come.  But if I see that he's faking the emergency call and I tell him to stop it, he won't fake it again.

The cockatiels used to scream all the time because they were unhappy and we did not train each other properly.  There are several ways to stop birds from screaming for no reason:
  • Establish a routine - birds are creatures of habit and they're very uncomfortable when the routine is broken.  Now, during the weekdays we get up at predictable times and go to bed at predictable times.  The birds come out of their cages right after we get home from work.  We play with them for 30 minutes before bedtime.  
  • Provide toys - birds are smart.  They need things to keep their attention.  Conner likes wicker, popsicle sticks, and boxes.  In the picture above, he's next to his favorite toy: a Zyrtec box.  Audrey is surrounded by bottles and boxes.  
  • Spend time with them - birds need attention.  The amount of attention varies with the bird.  Cockatiels are fairly self sufficient, especially compared to the larger parrots.  If you have a single bird and cannot give him or her sufficient attention, consider getting the bird another companion.
  • Ignore the screaming - yelling at a bird that is making noise encourages the bird to continue screaming.  Instead, ignore the screaming and wait several minutes after the screaming has stopped to pay attention to the bird.  Consider providing a treat during the quiet time to provide positive reinforcement.  This step is a lot harder with the larger parrots, but it's essential.  Eventually, the bird will stop screaming.
Good luck!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Heermann's Gull

Birds, like people, frequently wear different clothing in different seasons.  Below are three Heermann's Gulls in their adult breeding plumage.  The photo was taken July 3, 2009.  Note the white heads.  

I've spent much of the day trying to distinguish between different types of gulls (Shush!  We all have our hobbies).  CA Gulls have black feet, Western Gulls have pink feet, and there is a world of difference in the shading of the primary feathers for these gulls and others (Thayer's, Herring, Glaucous-Winged).  

In comparison, Heermann's gulls are so easy to identify.  They have black feet, white heads, reddish beaks, and below you can make out the red tint of their eyes.  Note that the beak barely has some black shading at the tip.

Their winter clothing includes a grey head.  These pictures were all taken yesterday.  Here you can see that the molt is halfway complete.  The bill also has a darker tip during the non-breeding season.

The molt has progressed further in this guy.

These three have mostly completed their molt.

According to my field guide, Heermann's Gulls frequently steal food from other birds.  The bird below had other Heermann's Gulls trying to steal his food!

Sadly, all the photos of the chase were blurry.  Rest assured, dear readers, he was able to keep the food.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Western Sandpiper

Pescadero, CA is my new favorite place.  They have a beach, marshes, and Butano State Park.  Today was an exceptionally good day for birding.  I saw several new types of birds and several well-known birds that are experiencing a molt in anticipation of their winter plumage.

The most exciting discovery of today was seeing Western Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers.  I'll discuss the plovers in a later post.  

Western Sandpipers travel in large flocks.

Here is a close-up of two.  Aren't they beautiful?

I really like the lighter brown feathers on their wings.  They look distinct in the above picture, but against other backgrounds, the brown helps them blend completely.

Below is a comparison of the sandpipers with a Heermann's Gull for size.  They're very small birds.

Western Sandpipers eat aquatic insects, worms, small mollusks, and crustaceans from shallow water.  The sandpipers to the left of the gull above are searching for food.

I was photographing the sandpipers in some shallow water when I discovered a huge group of them napping and preening.  I almost walked into them, they were so well hidden.  You see the brown section at the bottom of the photograph?  Those are birds!

When you are close to them, you can hear the cheep noises that they constantly make.  

Below is an even better picture.  You can really see how they blend here.

I saw them in other sections of the beach and when they were not eating, they always chose to be near debris that served as camouflage.  

I've been tracking my life list of birds on Birdpost and today's discoveries put me up to 82. 

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cranky Older Cockatiels

Cockatiels get cranky as they get older.  Audrey is no exception.  He's very territorial, he only accepts affection when he's in the mood, and he dictates our schedule by screaming when he wants the lights off or out of his cage.

For the last several months, he'll get so angry that when he's sitting on your finger, he'll attack the finger violently and spread his wings out.  If you don't distract him, he'll start flapping his wings and almost fall over.  He gets so caught up in being angry.

When Audrey wants to be scratched, though, he'll still let you kiss him.  Who can say no to this face?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Red-Tailed Hawk

This was an excellent birding weekend. Thanks to my wonderfully patient boyfriend, Jon, I went birding twice! Once in Tiburon, CA and once in Half Moon Bay, CA. The pictures below are from Half Moon Bay.

August is the month when the raptors return. It's amazing; one day they're nowhere to be seen, and the next day they're on every telephone wire. Poplar Beach in Half Moon Bay is known to be a good spot for raptors. The trick for finding raptors is to locate an open field surrounded by tall trees.

Today, we hit the jackpot. Hawks, crows, and kites oh my! Below is a red-tailed hawk.

He has a prominent brow ridge.

These hawks are very common. We always see them on the telephone poles staring intently at the ground.

They are so beautiful in flight. In this picture he's saying: "I'm going to get you."

He circled the field many times. I have at least 50 pictures just like the one below.

Here is a shot from the back.

They're very stealthy. When he flew off the branches, the only sound came from the branch.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sandhill Cranes

In Utah, we took one day to explore a series of rivers southwest of Salt Lake City. Jordanelle State Park is located near the Jordanelle dam. It's a very popular spot for fishing.

As we were leaving the area, we spotted some movement in the grasses and stopped the car. I saw my first sandhill crane!

Sandhill cranes are so beautiful and delicate. They move like ballet dancers; very carefully and quietly. They're quite skittish.

The sandhill crane has the oldest fossil records of any existing bird species. Scientists have found a fossils of a sandhill crane that dates back 2.5 million years, which is 1.5 times older than the second oldest fossil of any existing bird species.

And then there were two!

Sandhill cranes mate for life. Their mating ritual involves a series of leaps and deep bows.

They're supposed to migrate through the Bay area starting in September. I'm going to try and find somewhere local that is in their known migration path. Lodi, CA holds a crane festival every year, which is tempting, but located over 100 miles away.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Nest Box

Okay, Conner hasn't taken a wet enough shower yet to warrant pictures.  I haven't forgotten; I promise.  In lieu of wet Conner, I have Conner in a box!  Now that Conner has chewed down a side of his box, he can hang out in the box without missing any of the action.  

He's all about redecorating the box too.  Since these pictures were taken, Conner has chewed down the green box and repositioned it on the other side of the nest box in front of the opening.  Last night I found him napping inside the nest box next to the green box.

He also does his flirting routine inside the box.  Here his head is high.

Here he dips his head down low.

Once he reaches the lowest point, he pops his head back up while making a kissy noise.  It's very charming.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Search Terms

Okay, whoever came here using the search term "mixing cockatiel with chickens" needs to know that these species can't breed with each other.  The only mixing of cockatiels that I've seen is with a pink cockatoo called a Galah.  I tend to think that is a hoax, but there is a video, so maybe it's legitimate.  But this type of breeding is dangerous for the cockatiel.  The cockatiel could be hurt during the mating process, or become egg-bound.  In any case, don't try to breed your cockatiel with a chicken.

On a less alarming note, whoever came here wondering about what it means when a cockatiel dips its head, you've come to the right place!  When a cockatiel dips his head and spreads his wings like Audrey is doing below, he's flirting with you.

This position is referred to as a heart-shaped pose (Update: or more commonly known as heart wings, as Cyndi mentioned in the comments).  The best way to respond is to play along with him by dipping your head, making kissy noises, etc.  

The dipping behavior is also a way to determine if your cockatiel is male or female.  The males flirt and sing.  The females enjoy being flirted with and sung to.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Pigeon Guillemot

We're back from the marshes of Pescadero, CA.  Alas, I did not find any avocets, but I saw tons of birds.  I saw at least five kinds of birds that I've never seen before.  Tonight I'll be trying to determine whether I saw different types of terns or one kind with slight variations.  The key to these water birds is in the beak, the tips of the primaries, and the shape of the head.  If you ever have a question about bird identification, you can post a picture on Birdforum.  The members are incredibly nice and very knowledgeable.

Have you ever been to Pescadero?  It's lovely.

Growing up in Massachusetts, I was really quite surprised the first time I saw a California coast.  It's all high bluffs and crumbling rocks here in California. 

Onto the birds!

Pigeon guillemots live along the coast and obtain their food by diving into the water.  Their name is derived from their similarity to pigeons.  I was really surprised to discover that they are not water pigeons.  Just look!

They have awesome bright orange feet.

They are very vocal.  We kept hearing an eee-eee-eee and they'd come flying out of the rock crevices.  

Pigeon guillemots are quite common, especially this time of year, when they're breeding in crevices, caves, or burrows.  This next part is from my field guide and it's so funny that I have to quote directly from the book:  "In their summer courtship rituals, these birds flaunt their scarlet mouths and wave their scarlet feet while peering down the throats of potential mates."  Don't you wish I captured a picture of that?  Instead I can only show you the inside of their mouths.

They were really busy today.  They were searching for food, calling to each other, disappearing inside the rocks.  I suspect that they're raising babies right now.  They feed their babies throughout the day to reduce the time it takes for the babies to fledge.

I wanted to get a really good picture of their feet.  We kept yelling "Show us your feet" but they're stubborn.  

 You see that face?  That's the face of a bird with resolve.  He will not show you his feet.