Don’t Mess With My Food!

When I was a 7th grade science teacher, an activity for my students was to create a beak for a bird to dig, grab and eat the bird’s food. Dependent on the student’s research of what food the bird eats would determine the shape of the bird’s beak. Then their challenge was creating the beak and only allowed to use two of their fingers to move their created beak. Really interesting creations were made and some truly worked in picking up “food”.

Often I think of this science activity as I observe birds working to find food in the natural environment. Every so often I also see other birds try to “steal” another bird’s food. While walking along the north trail at Imperial Beach, CA, I did see one gull try to get another gull’s food. I suspect this happens often, yet here was my opportunity to observe the action.

Here is a western gull with food in its beak. It shook the food and a small bit fell off. The other gull picked up the piece and moved closer to the gull. 

They see each other and the one gull tries to get closer. The gull displays its annoyance to get the one to move away. I watched this activity between the birds for a couple of minutes and the gull with the food was having none of this annoyance from the other gull! Do not mess with my food! Looks like it snipped at the gull’s tail feathers.

Ok! that gull will leave the other one alone now!

Brown Pelican … in Action!

Bird photography has its challenges! I set myself in a place to capture a photo as a bird flies into the wind and hopefully towards me and within reach of my camera lens. While on Southern California’s Pacific Ocean, I saw a number of brown pelicans and thought this was a good bird to photograph.

All set up to capture the brown pelican flying towards me.

Then before I knew it, the bird must have seen some fish just below the water’s surface and dove into the water! It’s head was well underwater!

I was originally looking at the bird’s breeding plumage and large bill and pouch, but then was holding my breath as it plunged underwater! The bird feeds on small fish and I could only hope it would be successful.

Back to the surface!

Once back on the surface, it looked like the brown pelican was running across the water. Check out the photos and see what you think. I loved seeing and photographing this bird!

Seeing A Bird as Birdwatcher or Birder?

I observe a bird and experience simple joy. These past 2 years seeing birds, being present outdoors in natural environments, talking with others about birds, and sketching, painting or photographing birds has helped me maintain some sanity. But I must admit, I have gone down the rabbit-hole! I am deep into birding!

When I think about my first observation of birds, it really was in the 1970’s when I was intrigued with the common loon in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. I was camping on an island in Stillwater Reservoir and heard the loon’s eerie call as I laid in my sleeping bag at night. One would think something awful is happening when you first hear this bird, but then you know it is a loon. I also would hike 4 miles to lakes where I knew there were loons, with no binoculars or camera … simply outdoors looking for the bird. Friends would give me loon wood carvings, books, etc. As I have come to discover, the common loon was my “spark” bird. The bird that got me first interested in birds. 

I had been a science teacher and naturalist, so all living things were always of interest to me. In 2017 while traveling in Peru along the Amazon River, seeing 100 birds in 5 days. I thought this is crazy, I do not even know the birds in my backyard! Yet, that did not kick my bird-watching into high gear. Then the pandemic. Now home-bound, I bought bird feeders, spent time watching and learning the birds there and bought a camera to photograph birds. Thanks to various apps, especially Merlin Bird ID, this budding bird-watcher was on my way!

Today I know there is a difference between a bird-watcher and a birder. I also must admit I am officially now a “birder”. A birder is one who over-shadows most things in their life to go out and observe birds. Yes my goal this year is a checklist each day of the birds I observe, and to send via eBird to Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. Another goal is trying to photograph as many birds as I can. My eyes are always wandering to check the sky, nearby plants, or places bird may perch or fly by. I have a life list of 386 birds seen since the start I made during the pandemic. A “birder” I am and also enjoy being with people who are bird-watchers. It is fun to share observations with the casual observers outdoors seeing a bird.

When I was an assistant guide for a Roads Scholar trip at the Grand Canyon, I met an 80 year old woman who wanted to be sure to see a California condor on our hiking trip. She had her binoculars and named every bird we were seeing on our hike. She also would send bird lists to the companies she was traveling with next in Central America and Africa. Now I truly understand, she was a “birder” and yes she did see a condor. Interestingly I have not added a California condor to my list yet because I have only listed birds since I started this endeavor. Hopefully I’ll see that bird again and be able to list it.

In another blog, I mentioned it took me days to find a yellow-billed loon. Another bird I searched for was a brant. I went to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in California and looked out on the Pacific Ocean. Thankfully I had sketched this bird so in my mind I had an idea of what it looked like. I saw what I thought were 2 brants flew by. I could not capture them in a photograph, but despite being so far away from me I did get a photo of them in the water! Birder success!!!!

White “necklace” helped identify this black bird as a brant for me!

No matter being a birdwatcher or a birder, take time to see the bird, watch what it is doing, marvel at its skills and beautiful look, and enjoy the moment! Relax … don’t worry about knowing its name … simply take a good look and see the bird. Enjoy!

San Diego Bird Festival

The birds in San Diego, California were having a wet time just as festival attendees, like myself! Rain, then more rain! Often I leave Arizona forgetting to pack a raincoat; this trip I had it but needed rain pants too. Rain was falling like some of the best home showers … and even sideways at times. Once hail was falling! Wow … such unusual weather for southern California!

Like our fine-feathered friends, I was in the wet weather at Camp Pendleton, Ramona Grasslands Preserve and near the festival’s meeting center at the local marina. My trip to Palomar Mountain was snowed out and my boat trip was cancelled due to high winds and rain.

It was my first time attending this bird festival and it was fun! Since I am often in the San Diego area, I did already have many birds on my life list; however, I did get a few new ones. The festival was well organized with interesting keynote speakers and other workshops, plus many vendors so we could try binoculars and scopes. 

Prior to the start of the festival, I was at the Bird and Butterfly Garden and saw a red-breasted sapsucker. Unfortunately I had misidentified it while I was speaking with others there so I hope they had a good photograph to identify it correctly.

Red-breasted sapsucker

While being a participant on the festival field trips, I added these new birds: surfbird, Cackling goose, red-throated loon and Pacific loon. On my own, which involved a couple of days and numerous times watching the water near Mariner’s Cove, I did finally observe a yellow-billed loon! So often I saw a common loon, but I was looking for the yellow bill held slightly upward to know this was a yellow-billed loon. What was funny, the waves would allow me to see the bird one moment and then it was gone … or the loon decided to dive and I had to wait and watch for it to come back to the surface and sometimes not even near where it dove! Ah yes, the joys of bird watching!

Yellow-billed loon
Yellow-billed loon … it helped me easily see it as it spread its wings!

I was disappointed the boat trip did not happen. For safety-sake it sure was the right decision to be made by the festival organizers. Plus, I will someday get to Palomar Mountain …. maybe next year’s festival! If you love shorebirds, check out next year’s bird festival and come join in on the fun!

Hawk Watch …

I saw a bird … oh, it is a hawk! During the month of March, hawks will be flying over Tubac Arizona area. Thankfully with good binoculars and expert fellow birders someone will correctly identify the bird in the air. Typically I like to capture a photograph of the bird and then more easily identify it. Birds high in the sky are difficult to identify.

Want to know more on how you can identify raptors, or get help viewing the birds in the sky during the month, or to hike the De Anza Trail and Santa Cruz River area with others, then check out the Tubac Nature Center website for details or click this link.

See you in Tubac … and if you are not in this neighborhood, there are other places to see hawks flying overhead … no doubt a Google search will send you in the right direction and with dates for hawk observations. Have fun!

PS Many thanks to a friend who bought me the t-shirt with the “Sorry I’m late I saw a bird” logo on it…very cool and appreciated!

Lunch with a Friend & a Hawk!?!

My friend and I just finished a bird walk with a local group. We then decided to get out of the wind and sit in a car to eat lunch. As we talked and looked over a grassy field, we noticed some birds. At first glance we thought it was two birds mating, but after there was no movement for a few minutes we took a better look. What’s that? A Cooper’s hawk on top of a Greater roadrunner. Wow! The tussle we witnessed between two birds was no love affair as they were two in battle! The hawk won.

I got out of the car and brought my camera along hoping to get a photo before any bird flew off. Well the roadrunner was not going anywhere as it was dead and the hawk simply stayed on it … all in the middle of a local road. Those hawk’s talons in the dead bird made me feel sorry for the now dead roadrunner.

After a few minutes, and after a pick-up truck maneuvered around the birds in the road, the hawk decided to pull its prey to the grassy field. This was not an easy task for the hawk! But the hawk had success.

We watched the hawk continually look around … was it being sure no other predator would steal his prey? Or was it trying to figure out where to put his prey for consumption later in the day? Or how was it simply going to move it out of sight of every other living thing? Minutes went by…

Cooper’s hawks do eat medium-sized birds, like a robin, or small mammals, like chipmunks … but this hawk seemed to have gotten a big prize capturing a roadrunner. Now its challenge was what to do with it!

I moved closer to the hawk and there was no doubt he saw me. I was moving slowly, not waving my arms or anything around to cause it any real disturbance. It had to know I had no interest in his prey, right?

The hawk decides it is best to get back to the road. And so it pulls the roadrunner through the grass and an opening in the fence and onto the road. That must have taken plenty of energy to accomplish. I was amazed to see the hawk move that bird to the road.

Back out on the road, I figured the birds would not hang out here too long. A Greater roadrunner weighs at least 8-15 ounces and of course we are talking dead weight now! A Cooper’s hawk can weigh up to 1.2 pounds and usually will not be able to carry anything heavier than itself, so this was a huge kill for the hawk. I could only imagine the hawk continuing to drag the roadrunner along. But then again, I may be wrong …. and I was as I saw the hawk fly off down the road with the roadrunner.

There the hawk went with its prey; quite the predator-prey interaction of 21 minutes we shared with these birds!

I wish I knew how far the hawk actually carried and stashed his prey. That had to take plenty of energy to accomplish the carry. No doubt the hawk will rest and eat … and if birds can be happy, then this is one happy hawk!

Birding While Bicycling, Forget It!

Bicycling is fun and so is birding. Combine the two activities and there is a challenge at least while I ride my Trek bicycle. I can cycle along and hear the cactus wren at the cholla cactus, the curve-billed thrasher by the cactus or under a creosote bush, or a common raven cawing overhead. But as soon as I coast, stop pedaling, on my bicycle there is a buzzing sound flushing birds from the area! Very frustrating if I want a closer look at the bird or even a photograph!

Well my reality is I am not going to stop birding while bicycling. Instead I have realized I should just keep pedaling, even if it is slowly, when I want to take a closer look. Or pass by the area where a bird is or stop before where I think I am hearing the bird!

We have a wonderful bike loop here in Tucson, Arizona so many bicyclists are out cycling and maybe not as observant of some things that I may notice. At times I stop to observe, listen, and take in a moment. I’ll continue to bicycle and bird …

By the way, the clicking sound is like that of a ratchet wrench, if you know what that is. On a bicycle, the sub-component of a bike’s rear wheel is the free hub that allows the wheel to keep spinning even when I have stopped pedaling. The drivetrain is instantly disengaged until there is a transfer of power from me to the wheel when I pedal. There is more to this in the world of “pawls” to understand the creation of the clicking sound; I will not get into here. I just want to get outdoors to cycle and bird! Hope you are having a great day!

Learn New Things About Nature

Nature provides many lessons for us if we simply look at what is going on around us in the living world! I am a visual learner so I enjoy learning new things when I watch nature programs on television. Truth be told, I also watch some nature programs designed for children, yet I suspect I am not the only adult watching them! Recently while watching nature programs, I have been jotting down interesting facts and names of birds.

Hippos are the largest land animals. An African bullfrog can live 15 years. Warthogs can run 30 miles per hour. Ostriches have the largest eyes of birds. A Canada goose can eat 3 pounds of grass a day and their chicks can dive 40 feet on day one! Who knew!?!

After enjoying Nature, Wild Child, and Earth Odyssey …. all television programs I record and watch … I also research some of the birds mentioned during a program. From there I sketch the bird. Why, you may ask? I am not sure if I will be in Central or South America, Africa, or Europe in 2024 when I plan to return to international travel. So I sketch birds I would love to see when I travel internationally again.

We learn new things about nature when we are in nature and also as we read, but I love seeing these nature programs on television. The programs explore nature in areas of the world I may never get to or that I can look forward to visiting someday. In the meantime I am also learning more about some of the birds I have sketched lately.

In the Alps, I may some day see:

Eurasian Jay
Alpine choughs

In Africa, there may be a yellow-wattled lapwing, top drawing, and/or a yellow-billed oxpecker, bottom drawing:

Lapwing at top & oxpecker below.

However you wish to learn about nature is good. Step outdoors and begin your observations, ask questions and always wonder what is under the rock or popping up at the water’s surface. It may be as small as an ant or HUGE! It’ll be alive and worthy of your attention! Enjoy!

Here Again at Bosque; Part 2 of 2

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge can be visited in a few hours; however, I chose to spend two days. My second day I drove the south loop for a couple of hours. Less activity seemed to be happening on this loop compared to my previous day, yet I saw almost the same number of different bird species as the previous day. Also, 10 javelina were within my sight and I have a new bird for my life list: tundra swan! 

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I had only seen one bufflehead, but on this day I saw 15! Here is a male bufflehead:

Male bufflehead

I happened to notice this sharp-shinned hawk as I was walking toward a boardwalk hike I planned to take. Also saw this great blue heron in a roadside ditch and a bald eagle in the middle of the body of water!

Sharp-shinned hawk
Great blue heron
Bald eagle

My new bird though was a tundra swan. There were two of them on the water! These birds breed in the northern parts of Alaska and Canada, rarely seen this far south at anytime. How exciting to see them!

Tundra swans

Just when I think I have seen it all, I see the tundra swans. It’s important to keep your eyes open since a bird may have just flown in or resurface from their dive. I was happy to take two days viewing wildlife at the national wildlife refuge. We are so fortunate to have these areas. Help protect them anyway you can, so you can visit and future generations of people can visit too! Thanks for doing your part.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge; Part 1 of 2

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, in New Mexico, is more than 57,000 acres between the Chupadera and San Pascual Mountains with 30,000 acres designated as wilderness. I recently visited the refuge for a couple of winter days to view various ducks, sandhill cranes and geese. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages this area. It is a challenge to do so because of the shrinking water supply from the Rio Grande River. Birds do land here and then fly off to feed in nearby fields of the Middle Rio Grande Valley.

I scoped out the refuge the previous spring to know what to expect when I arrived here. There is a wonderful visitor center and nature shop. Friendly volunteers will answer questions and provide insight on how best to spend your day if this is your first visit. The first day of my visit I drove the north loop. It was four hours of slowly driving an auto loop, stopping at observation decks and a blind or other spots where I simply noticed some bird activity and wanted to spend more time. At some spots I walked with my camera and tripod to get closer to birds and not flush them with any vehicle noise. I eventually saw 20 different species of birds, 1 coyote, 2 squirrels, and 4 javelina. 

Some photos:

Beautiful landscape!
Cranes eating at the field.
Many birds are here, such as the great blue heron.
I only saw one bufflehead this day, but 15 the next day!
Huge blind yet no water on the other side of it at this time.

Other important info: You are at 4500 feet elevation so plan for cooler weather than the cities, plus hat, layers of clothing, sunscreen and sunglasses. Mountain lion are in the refuge; signs remind you of this fact. There is an annual Festival of Cranes each December to celebrate the sandhill crane migration. Hiking trails and a biking trail are other activities to check out when you have more time at the refuge.

Good things to know, so read the sign!

There were not many sandhill cranes there while I was at the refuge since it was midday and they were out for lunch! But about 150 were in the nearby agricultural land eating their lunch so I was able to observe them.

Sandhill crane.
Northern harrier. I love their owl-like, disc-like face.

Friends of Bosque del Apache help support this wild area since federal funding is not enough to meet the increasing challenges in this area. Here is a link if you wish to join the Friends. Or when you drive on Interstate 25 between Albuquerque and Las Cruces, New Mexico, plan a couple hours to visit the refuge! You’ll have a great break from driving as you spend time in nature.