Friday, July 31, 2009

Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City, UT

The Mormons settled in Utah in 1848.  Salt Lake City is home to the headquarters for the Church of Latter-day Saints, which is in Temple Square.  SLC is on a grid system and the center of the grid is Temple Square.  Here's a picture of the Assembly Hall, the congregation area for the church.

During the first spring season that the Mormons were in Utah, a plague of Mormon crickets (katydids) swarmed the crops.  The katydids would eat the crops and then eat any katydids left on the plants in an act of cannibalism that horrified the Mormons.  The crops were disappearing; 4,000 Mormons were facing starvation.  

In June, seagulls came and rescued the crops by eating all the katydids.  The crops were saved and the Mormons were spared!

The incident is called "The Miracle of the Gulls" and the California gulls are Utah's state birds.  To commemorate the miracle, Temple Square has a Seagull Monument.  

The monument has a plaque that states:  "Seagull monument erected in grateful remembrance of the mercy of God to the Mormon pioneers."

Temple Square is really beautiful; I recommend visiting.  The square is huge and you can see the buildings from other parts of the city because they're so tall.

I was trying to be artistic with the picture above.  All the cranes in SLC have an American flag attached, so I captured the flag in between the towers (it's very small in the picture).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Utah and Black-Billed Magpies

I'm sorry for the lack of posts, but we went to Utah for five days. Utah is wonderful! Before this week, I thought Utah was just one of those square states where people in the middle live. Other than being Dooce's state, I knew almost nothing about Utah.

Here is cold, grey Oakland, CA. While the rest of the country has a heat wave, Oakland stays cold and damp.

Below is Salt Lake City. What a difference! You can see mountains from a parking lot! SLC is surrounded by mountains.

It gets even better once you're in the mountains. Such clarity!

The sunsets are fantastic.

The clouds are dense. They create shadows.

I saw so many birds in Utah! I saw my first non-captive turkey vulture. And an osprey! Plus, Salt Lake City has a wonderful aviary that is a pleasant contrast to the San Francisco Zoo. None of the birds are tethered, they have large cages with shade and fresh branches, and you can even go inside some of the cages.

My favorite Utah bird is the black-billed magpie. When they fly, all you can see is a black bird with white spots on the wings. At first I thought they were some crazy variant of a crow: a white-spotted crow perhaps?

These pictures are deceptive. The blue backs are not so apparent in person.

These magpies are everywhere! They're as common in Utah as crows are around the Bay area. Magpies can be found on the backs of mammals, eating ticks. It is now a lifelong goal of mine to photograph a magpie on a moose.

They're such curious creatures. I would love to live among magpies.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cockatiel Food

This morning the cockatiels got some brown rice. Audrey is not impressed by any food except seed, millet, and sweet things like Honey Nut Cheerios.

In this picture, the rice is in the blue container to the right of Audrey. But Audrey only wants the seed.

Conner, on the other hand, loves brown rice. He starts running when he sees it. Conner also loves peas, but he does not like carrots. Even if you try and hide a piece of carrot in the middle of vegetables that he does like, he'll eat around the carrot.

He eats so much rice, it looks like a beard coming off his beak.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Parrot Who Owns Me

A few months ago I read "The Parrot Who Owns Me" by Joanna Burger. The author is a good writer; I looked forward to reading the book each night. She does a good job of blending personal anecdotes with science. The best parts are when she describes her research of parrots in South America.

This may be my own bias, though, because there were several aspects of her personal anecdotes that bothered me. First, she seems a bit insecure. She has a PhD. Oh and did you know that her husband is a doctor? She can make many assertions because, duh, she has a PhD. That means she knows things. Second, she gives her bird chocolate. Chocolate! And she doesn't mention that, by the way, it's poisonous to birds. Sure, in small doses, the bird was fine. But this book is read by people who don't know anything about birds. She should have been more cautious.

I've read many books about birds. This one is excellent because it's well organized. So many books are just a collection of people's experiences with no theme and many digressions. Burger is focused and clever. I recommend the book.

Does anyone have any good book recommendations? Right now I'm reading a non-bird related book, Infinite Jest, but I'm already tiring of it. I read "Of Parrots and People" after the first 100 pages of Infinite Jest, because I needed a break. Right now I'm on page 153, so I might need another break pretty soon.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Birds in Motion - Pigeon, Pelican, Heermann's Gull, White Crowned Sparrow

I love capturing birds in motion. The most common, scrappy bird becomes a piece of art. Below is a pigeon flying after pieces of bread. This may be my favorite bird picture because his head and the pieces of bread are in focus, while the wings become out-of-focus at the edges.

This is a brown pelican. I like how his primary feathers flip upwards. (Photo by Jon)

The heermann's gull curves his wings in the same shape as the waves.

Here you can see three different primaries curving at the tips.

The white-crowned sparrow moves so fast, his wings are almost a blur.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dark-Eyed Juncos

When I first started putting out cockatiel seed for the outdoor birds to eat, this little bird would join the sparrows.  I could not identify him for the longest time because the vast majority of dark-eyed juncos are grey with white breasts (Slate-colored juncos).  But finally, I realized that he was a dark-eyed junco.  There are 15 different races of dark-eyed juncos and we have the Oregon variety.  They're remarkably abundant during the spring and summer.  Other than at feeders, I always see them on the forest floor.

You can see with the junco on the left that they have lovely silver tail feathers.
The picture below is probably a female dark-eyed junco.  The females are lighter in color.  She was so obliging, just sitting there singing while I snapped pictures.

I tweaked this photo in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.  The junco was only a few feet away from us and I was using a long lens, so I needed the software to make the picture clearer and the leaves brighter. 

Here is a close up of the junco.

They disappear for the winter.  I will really miss them so I'm soaking up the juncos right now.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Conner's Antics

Conner has a routine that he will only do for my boyfriend. He'll make kissy noises for me, but I can't respond properly so he gets frustrated. He also will not tilt his head upside down for me like he does in this video clip.
He was unsure about going up to the cage because it's Audrey's cage.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets

Driving home from Monterey Bay, we're stuck in traffic driving 20 miles an hour and I see a great egret standing in a field. This is all I could capture before he took off:

I'm guessing that he was thinking something like, "I don't know who this chick with the camera is, but I'm out of here."

Just look at him! The great egret's wingspan is 51 inches. There are three types of egrets in Northern California and the great egret is the only one with black feet.

A few months after moving to California, we were driving home after work and a great egret flew above the car in a blur of white. It happened so fast and only once, until I saw the great egret again, I wondered if I imagined him.

The Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park has a resident snowy egret. He's been there every time I've visited. Here he's hunting minnows.

Every time I see this picture, I start singing in my head, "Walk like an Egyptian." Look at his yellow foot!

In this picture, he's in the process of swallowing a minnow. It was great fun watching him stalk the minnows and stab the water.

If it's possible to hire a bird, this bird is totally on the Golden Gate Park's staff. He appeared in two different ponds, posed for pictures from tourists who failed to respect his space, and took flight several times.

Such a graceful bird. The snowy egret's wingspan is only 41 inches. He's not nearly as imposing as the great egret, but he's quite graceful.

Plus, he has yellow feet.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


We spent the day in San Francisco today, so no new bird pictures. This is a view of the city from the Castro.

This rooster was at the San Francisco Zoo. Look at his headdress! He's the George Clinton of chickens. How does he even see through that?

This guy was very goal oriented. He saw a female and approached.

These were very open chickens. He had a whole audience to watch him mount the chicken.

She has a pretty big headdress too. Hers looks more like clown hair than feathers, though.

This isn't bird related, but have you ever seen a meerkat? They're so cool! This guy looks like he owns the world.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Popsicle Sticks as Cockatiel Toys

Conner has a new toy! Popsicle sticks in between wooden beads. Although the toy is fairly new, he's already overcome his fear of it. He walked over to the toy and tried to crack a wooden ball.
Here you can see in the distance that Conner watches carefully when anyone messes with things on his cage. If you touch his box, he frequently runs at you to attack. Conner is very fierce!

I've been thinking about adding some wicker to Conner's cage. Shannon posted some fantastic pictures that inspired me. Audrey might even like wicker. He would certainly like the one that is shaped like a nest box.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Screaming Cockatiels

There is no sleeping late at this house...until now!

Oh my Audrey, how you love to demand attention so early in the morning. I cannot simply put you on my shoulder and fall back asleep because if you are outside your cage, you must be scratched.

Conner, most of the time when you sing, I'm happy. You're telling the world how much you enjoy life! Most days, starting to sing at 6:00 AM is not a big deal because I'm already awake. But oh, the weekends!

We have solved the problem of the early risers by providing a downstairs room for them. Conner has to be next to a mirror or he screams, which agitates Audrey, and causes synchronized screaming. Fortunately, the closet of this room doubles as a mirror!

As soon as Conner started chirping on Sunday, I took him and Audrey downstairs. I spent the next few hours sleeping restlessly, though, because I was so concerned that they might get scared. Irrational, I know. Conner had a mirror after all! When I took them out, I projected my guilt onto Audrey. I imagined him saying, "How could you abandon me?" So I put some orange juice bottles on top of the cage.

This morning, I took them downstairs again and went back to bed. A few minutes later I woke up to Conner singing, his sounds muffled by several sets of doors. Finally, I could sleep.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Heermann's Gull

It's summer, which means that the coastal birds are busy breeding. Heermann's gulls are different from most gulls in that they migrate south to breed and fly back north for the remaining summer months. Here is the Heermann's Gull in his breeding plumage.
On Friday we went to Monterey Bay to visit the aquarium. Driving back home, the traffic was terrible so we stopped at Moss Landing Beach. The Heermann's Gulls were flying in and out of the waves.

This was taken several weeks ago in San Gregorio. I like the guy on the left. It looks like he's telling us to leave his territory. "Get out!"

Today we went to Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. I saw the cherry-headed conures that live outside. They moved too fast to get any pictures, but just being near them was a thrill. For anyone who isn't familiar with the documentary, the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is an excellent movie.