New Bird per day in Salinas & Monterey, California

This trip is not really all about birds. I must admit to being excited when seeing a new bird though. I checked in at my campground in Salinas. In past trips I have already seen the cannery and other Salinas history, so off I went to Point Pinos in Pacific Grove, California. Will I see a new bird?

I hope we all appreciate the agricultural work done here in California … so many  fruits, vegetables, nuts, and there are the workers out in the many, many fields bringing in the food we shop for at our markets. While driving some back roads I discover Castroville is the “artichoke capital of the world”. Cherries and pluots are available now. And while we thank these workers, let’s not forget the truckers who are hauling these products all over the place! I see the trailer trucks here and on the interstates.

At Point Pinos, Pacific Grove, I see the usual birds: various gulls, brown pelicans, cormorants and then black turnstones! The thing about birding, I sometimes have an idea of what I am looking for and other times I discover a bird. I may not recognize the bird, so I photograph it, and later in the day identify it. The black turnstone is a new one for my life list.

Black turnstone

Another day … another bird?

The next day another birding hotspot: Moss Landing State Beach and north jetty where many birds were reported and apparently sea otters. I did not know about the otters till a woman asked me where they were, as we looked out on harbor seals lying in the mud flats. This was the Pantano Marsh area so I decided to walk the state beach and jetty. 

Sanderlings and marbled godwits are fun to watch as they run toward the ocean water going out, dig into the sand for food, and run back on the beach as the water flows in! At the jetty, people fish for whatever fish they can catch, or so they tell me.

The usual shorebirds were here too, but as I looked over the rocks on the jetty I saw a bird by itself. I knew what a common murre looks like swimming in water since all field guides have that picture; however, this one??? Hmmm… photo taken and later I identify it as a common murre! Another new bird!

Common murre

I ate lunch in my van and worked at my laptop to download photos and identify some. By the time I finished the work, it was time for a bicycle ride. I take the Monterey Coastal bike path from Fort Ord State Park …plenty of sand dunes here … toward Monterey. I start my Garmin to track my ride and “gale warning” is displayed on the Garmin. Ok, let’s get a ride in before that is a major concern!

Sea otter in the area!

I met interesting people today: couple from Oakland, CA because I found the woman again and could direct her to where the sea otter was eating. The woman, her husband and I could comfortably talk about any topic we wished and did so for a half hour. I also directed them to where the sea otter was … yes, only one sea otter and great fun to watch. I eventually direct others to where I had seen the sea otter.

Sea otter rubbing his belly with the clams
Eating one clam and other clam is on the belly of the sea otter.

Another guy from Las Vegas, NV is across from my campsite. He and his wife are winding up 3 month travel pulling their 40 foot trailer. They head to Morro Bay, CA tomorrow for a 10 day stay. I am sure to leave earlier than them  in the morning. I have a long ride tomorrow, but this was a great visit for birding and bicycling. Starting early each day with a gray, misty sky that does not burn off and reveal blue, sunny sky till 1:00pm is a bit of a challenge! Times like this I realize how important sunshine is for me. But tomorrow morning, I will be up and out early despite the lack of sunshine!

Bike and Bird Watch!

When I travel, bicycle riding an area new to me is simple joy. This is the main reason I built an area in my van for my bicycle and gear. Plus, cycling gets me from one place to another faster than walking. The downside to cycling, especially when  birds are in the area, is to observe them while pedaling, especially those flying overhead. I often take time to slow down and observe them. So far, no bicycle accidents while birding!

(This reminds me of a t-shirt I saw a guy wearing the other day, “Sorry I am late, I saw a dog”. A shirt appropriate for me, “Sorry I am late, I saw a bird”. I wonder if anyone makes that shirt?)

Recently I was bicycling around Mission Bay in San Diego, California. The eleven mile bike path winds through parks and passes nearby housing and resorts so an 8 mph bike speed is recommended. Many people were at the beaches, the playgrounds, on the water in all kinds of watercraft, and also pedaling various wheeled vehicles on the bike path.

I like the bike rack!
Paddleboards and boats of all sizes were on the bay, plus swimmers at beaches.

Most of the bike path is not near the bay water’s edge; however, a short section parallels the San Diego River estuary. I saw 3 birds standing on a construction roll where bridge work was happening. The birds were the same type of bird but I could only say they were herons. I photographed them, identified them later in the day, and they were little blue herons! Another new bird for my life list!

They look like herons… but which species?
Little blue heron
I moved closer to photo this bird with hopes it would not fly off.

Most funny moment on this bicycle ride: seeing a jogger with his dog wearing large, sport, mirrored sunglasses! Important to protect eyes! What a fun bicycle ride with a new bird observed and photographed!

Great Blue Heron in Flight!

Quite unexpectedly I was in the right location … meaning light … to capture photographs of a great blue heron before it flew off, as it flew by and then landed.

Heron was hot and trying to cool own.

It was a very hot day and the bird was by a water’s edge and then flew! Quickly I snapped a series of photos as the great blue heron flew past me.

Wow, beautiful wings!
Bird takes off…
Bird passing me…
Where is the bird headed?
Heron lands in a nearby pond to cool off!

Spectacular to see the bird so close to me and with an opportunity to take many photos. It was a hot day so I know it enjoyed the water and I enjoyed watching the bird. Fun fact: Although the great blue heron stands 4 feet tall and is the largest North American heron species, it only weighs 5 to 6 pounds. Why? Just like most birds, they have light, hollow bones! Some days I wish I did too!

Common Gallinule … A “Common” Bird?

When you say that’s a common bird, I think common raven, common grackle, common loon, or common yellowthroat. Or simply a common bird in my neighborhood: Greater roadrunner, lesser goldfinch or house finch. So it is interesting to me when the name of a bird includes the word “common”. I am sure not to think of a common gallinule! 

In some areas the more common rail species is the American coot with its white frontal shield … they are common here. However, recently I could not miss seeing a Common gallinule with its bright red frontal shield. Look at this bird pictured in the photo below!

Common gallinule

A common gallinule loves the well-vegetated wetland, such as in our Sweetwater Wetland area in Tucson, Arizona. I love seeing this bird which is truly not common for me to see. I have to catch sight of this bird on land and look for its yellow legs! Some day … and in the meantime, I’ll enjoy what birds I do see! I hope you are outdoors, enjoying the air and water with birds too!

The food this bird loves from a wetland.

How Herons Cool Off, Really?!

Birds have no sweat glands, but need to regulate their body temperature like you and I on a hot day. The other day I saw a great blue heron in a wooded area by a pond’s edge, yet could not get a photo so I walked the trail and looped back 50 minutes later to see if the bird emerged. It did!

The great blue heron had its wings open to catch a breeze. I could understand the need to cool off in the almost 100 degree air temperature, but I actually had never seen a bird doing this behavior. The bird held his wings open for 8 minutes.

A cooling technique.

Then the heron closed its wings and opened its mouth as shown in this photo:

Heron trying to cool itself this way.

Birds open their wings to circulate air to their hot skin and lower body temperature. Passerines or perching birds will pant to lose heat through their respiratory system, but a great blue heron is not a passerine. It will lose heat through a rapid vibration of their upper throat and thin floor of their mouth. I was across the pond from the bird; however, I could see the bird’s throat vibrating. Eleven minutes later the bird had its wings and mouth open.

Bird really wants to cool down, wings and mouth open, throat vibrating.

This bird was working hard to cool off. It had been a half hour observing this bird, so this was the last photo I took … I needed to cool down my own body too. Fun fact I learned while researching birds cooling themselves: turkey vultures urinate on their legs to capitalize on evaporative cooling … what? really?, wow! Isn’t it fun to learn something new everyday?

Still cooling down… it’s been a hot day!

Please, Give Me A Minute!

How am I to identify this bird if it does not stay at least a minute for me to get a good look at it? I am so impressed with fellow birders who look in the sky at a bird flying overhead, often simply seeing their silhouette, and can identify the bird. Truth be told, I cannot dismiss their identification because I have no idea what the bird is! No doubt, they are correct … and then onto the next bird …

A bird pops from behind a branch. This bird is new to me so I really want to photograph it … and I must do so quickly! I capture its eye ring in a photo; that will be a helpful clue when identifying the bird. Then I notice how it sits on the tree branch… its body shape, color of feathers, so many helpful clues … and then it is flying off! Do I have enough information to identify this bird?

Yes, I was in a good location to photograph it, plus with enough seconds for me to capture photos and clues for identification … thank goodness! This new bird for my life list is a plumbeous vireo! I love adding life list birds with a photo; then I know for sure I have seen and identified the bird correctly.

It was a fast minute; thanks for hanging around!

Visit Presque Isle in Pennsylvania to See Birds!

In my last post, I might have sounded like I was complaining about the weather; well I was! And when I saw there was no chance in the weather changing, I cut my Ohio time short and moved on despite knowing the whole east coast of the USA was with lousy weather. I decided to find a place where I could hang out for a day and observe birds in between raindrops! What was funny though (because one must laugh about it all, which I did find myself doing), by the end of the day I had rain, sleet and hail to contend with as I looked for birds. Then if I wanted a photo of the bird, I waited for it to fly off or take its head out from under its feathers! Five hours later I saw 3 new birds for my life list and about 20 other species of birds. Interesting and challenging day!

I was at Presque Isle State Park, Erie, Pennsylvania. This park is a peninsula on Lake Erie and quite a place for birds to flyover or land in any of its lakes and wetlands. I drove the peninsula a couple of times because I was looking for a particular bird which unfortunately I never found: red-throated loon. A couple of guys I spoke with had seen one! I had no luck finding it, but my 3 new birds for my life list: red-breasted merganser, common loon, and greater scaup. Photos are below. 

The common loon is only new for my life list started a couple of years ago with eBird. I first heard and saw the common loon when canoeing to an island in Stillwater Reservoir in New York State’s Adirondack Park in the 1970’s. Their eerie call at night will always be remembered. I had also seen a loon nesting at a lake about 4 miles from where my Adirondack place was, so seeing these loons in open water was a treat!

I will keep this state park in mind for future visits. Here are some photos from there when the weather cooperated for a few minutes.

Red-breasted merganser
Common loon … looks like a wooden one I received from a Cincinnatus colleague.
Greater scaup, male
Greater scaup, female
canvasback
Wood duck

I Never Saw This Bird Behavior First-hand!

I watch many nature programs on television and am in awe when a photographer captures fish swimming in schools. The photographer is in the water and using a video camera to capture their movement. Recently I was walking to an area to observe sandhill cranes and had a camera with a zoom lens on it. All of a sudden I observed hundreds of yellow-headed blackbirds! Fortunately for me the birds landed on the ground or up in a tree so I could identify them.

What I had never seen firsthand was a large flock of birds moving as one from the ground to a tree, to another tree, and in a formation that blackened the sky and other moments looked like a flowing funnel. My photos do not capture the awe of the 15 minutes while these blackbirds remained in their flock.

Yellow-headed blackbirds basically form large flocks in winter for the same reason as fish form schools, smaller odds of getting eaten by a predator. Scientists report blackbirds being good communicators and will share food information with each other during this season. Wow, what a sight to see and after seeing a Cooper’s hawk and northern harrier in the area, the yellow-headed blackbirds are smart to flock!

Overnight #1 With My Van … “Glorified Tent”

Recently I was thinking about camping transitions I have made in my life. My parents encouraged travel when my 3 siblings and I were young. Many school holidays throughout the year we traveled from New York State to Florida or northward to Canada. We had a couple of camper trailers: a pop-up tent trailer and later a hard-top trailer towed by a station wagon. Each of us were provided a small box to pack our clothing in; everything had a specific place for it to be stored. Our collie, Ginger, traveled with us too. I have many fond memories of various trips and especially the 10 week trip around the USA.

As years went by and I continued my travel adventures, I often backpacked in NYS’s Adirondack Mountains, and also ventured on trails in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Virginia, Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona. The simplicity of carrying all my gear on my back was what I really enjoyed. In the 1970’s one sister of mine and I added a new dimension to our travel by bicycling from Miami to Homestead, Florida which is at the southern tip of the Everglades National Park and then across the state of Florida to Fort Meyers. The bicycling and tenting bug hit me again in 2018 when I bicycled 600 miles solo and self-contained from Minnesota to Indiana. 

In 2021 I built a bed platform, for rainy and quick night sleeping, in the my Honda Element and tented as I traveled 9300 miles around the USA. I also began to realize Covid-19 might be an international concern for a few more years and purchasing a van may allow me to roll off a bed mattress rather than crawl out of a tent each night. And that’s how I have Ram Promaster 1500, low roof, 118 wheelbase van now!

My first overnight went okay! I was at Whitewater Draw in Arizona to see sandhill cranes, more about that in my next blog post. To watch a sunset, cook and eat meals outdoors, hike as I wished to view the birds was great fun. I refer to my van as a “glorified tent”. There is so much in it that I need to chart where certain things are … much more complicated than knowing where in each pocket things were in my backpack … or even in my Honda Element! I have tried to keep it all simple and will tweak some things before my next adventure. But overall, I was a happy camper! I am looking forward to more adventure in my van, meeting new people, seeing new places, and enjoying the great outdoors!

Sunset!
Camping at Whitewater Draw – is in a parking lot!
We are here to see thousands of sandhill cranes!

Thirty Minutes with a Bittern

Last year I was reading eBird, where birders submit checklists of birds seen, and I saw an American bittern was in a nearby wetland. Unfortunately I never did observe the American bittern last year. It can be a difficult bird to find as it stands in marshy reeds. Its back is a brown color and its front has stripes, so always meshing in to look like reeds! None of my trips proved successful.

Recently, I went to the wetland and did ask birders if they had seen the American bittern as they walked the trail. Fortunately one did and gave me an approximation of where to find the bird. It was a challenge to see the bird with its back to me!

I spent 30 minutes observing the bird. It did finally turn around. It spent time looking into the water in front of it and then into the reeds nearby. I kept hoping it would pounce on whatever was drawing its attention, but it never did! After 30 minutes I moved on, but I hope my next visit I can see it again.

Here are the photos taken during my 30 minutes with this American bittern:

Brown colored back of the American bittern
Finally turns around; check out the stripes on its body!
Something exciting is happening below
No, more exciting to the side.
American bittern wants to look a bit closer
Can anyone see what is so exciting to captivate this birds attention?