I go birding in California several times a year and I have to say, there is one bird that I seem to see far more often than any other…
It’s the Allen’s Hummingbird. When he shows his colors, they are a very bright and flashy orange.
There range is from southern Oregon down into Mexico. They seem to follow me around everywhere I go birding in California. Often times I’ll hear them buzzing around in nearby trees, only to look up and see one posing for a photo shot.
They are similar to the Rufous Hummingbird, the males have green on their backs, but the females and juveniles of both species are identical, so the location where you see them is the only sure bet to identifying them.
This is a Snowy Plover… they are only between 5 – 7 inches big and very very cute!
Mostly found in the US along the West Coast down into Mexico and along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida.
They feed mostly on tiny crustaceans, mollusks and marine worms. Often seen running a few steps, then pausing, running, then pausing, etc, etc, etc…
You really need to be careful when walking the beach, these little guys are so small and the same color of the sand. They blend in and can be easily missed or disrupted while trying to nest. Often they will nest on the open bare ground without any cover.
So keep your eyes open for them and enjoy watching them running around, but please do so from a distance… 🙂
On a recent trip to California, I did some birding along the coast. One day I went out specifically looking for the Pacific Loon (which unfortunately I did not see on this trip). 😦
Anyway, I did find a couple of Black Oystercatchers on the rocks of a small jetty just off of the beach.
It was the first time that I had seen this bird for this year, so I was happy to see and add them to my yearly bird count… Often times when I go looking for them I will hear their loud call first, then see them flying around the rocks.
They usually forage around low tide, then they will rest at high tide. When they eat, they actually eat the mussels out of the shell, but leave the shell in place.
The Black Oystercatcher can be found on the entire West Coast of the US.
While on the beach birding the other day I came across a strange sight… this Surf Scoter was walking up the beach… I know that they love the water so I found it rather odd that he was just wandering around that cold windy day on the sand!
At one point he turned and looked at me before continuing on his journey…
The Surf Scoter breeds in Alaska and Northern Canada and winters along both coasts of Canada and the US down into the Mexican coast.
They eat mostly mollusks and forage by diving underwater being propelled by their feet.
In this photo the Surf Scoter is swimming around near a breakwater in the Ocean, this is where I expect to see him… not walking on the beach!
The American White Pelican is a very large bird, growing to be around 55 to 70 inches with a 9 foot wing span! Pretty much unmistakeable, this bird can be found throughout parts of Canada, Mexico and most of the US.
They forage by swimming on top of the water and sticking their bill down underneath, pulling up fish in their pouch. Sometimes they will work together as a group to gather fish together for all to catch. They have been know to line up and swim towards shore, moving the fish ahead of them just to scoop them up when they get closer to shore.
Last year at a small pond I came across a group of American White Pelicans foraging for fish. After watching for a few minutes, I saw them gather together in a circle and swimming closer together making a tighter circle. They all then tipped upside down, putting their heads and bills under water, all their tails up in the air! I wasn’t sure just what they were up to, but after researching their foraging techniques I’ve learned that they were just collectively fishing for their next meal…
Check out the photos below to see the American White Pelican doing their foraging dance…
South Polar Skua
So, recently I went on a pelagic birding trip off the coast of Southern California. Luckily the waters were extremely calm for our 11 hour trip. I have motion sickness, so to say I was a bit nervous about the trip would be an understatement! But with a little help from my wrist pressure bands and staying outside with the air blowing on my face for most of the ride, I had a wonderful time…
The above photo is of one of my new lifers that I saw on the trip. The South Polar Skua actually nests in Antarctica then migrates far north, passing off the coasts of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on their way. It feeds on fish, which it sometimes plunges into the water from flight to catch, but often it just steals food from other seabirds. We saw several of them harassing groups of shearwaters and trying to take their catch…
This cute little bird was giving us the slip most of the day! Each time we tried to slowly cruise up to a pair of Cravers’s Murrelets they would fly off, but finally after hours of seeing and chasing and being disappointed, we got up close to get a great look! I think that we probably tired them out!
They nest on islands off the west coast of Mexico. In the late summer/early fall they venture further away, up off the coast of California.
So far this year, I’ve been on the East and West Coast. I have seen over 215 birds, 4 new lifers! Above and below are photos of lifers I’ve seen on the West Coast…
The California Condor looks pretty much like a oversized Turkey Vulture. I saw some at a state park feeding on a neighboring cattle farm’s dead cow carcass! There were also Ravens, Turkey Vultures, Red Tail Hawks, American and Golden Eagles and 1 fat coyote feasting on the poor cow.
While checking out a new birding site, I met a professor who asked me if I had seen the Ruff. I hadn’t, so I thought, since I didn’t know that there was one in the area and really didn’t know much about it. Well he informed me that it was last seen in the shallow pond hanging out with the Long billed Dowitchers. I went home and studied up on the bird, so that the next time I went back there I was able to spot him easily! Though the bright orange legs do help do give him away amongst the Dowitchers!
Another day, another park in California… this time I was there looking for this bird and luckily I found it fluttering around in the tree tops.
These birds can be found from the northern parts of western Canada down south into Central America.
Take a closer look at this photo and you will see the insect which the bird is eating. I think it may be an ant or possibly a spider. Insects are their preferred diet, but they also eat fruits.
In the early part of the twentieth century, these birds were thought to pose a huge threat to the commercial fruit crops. In 1896 one person wrote that “the damage done to cherries in one orchard was so great that the sales of the fruit which was left did not balance the bills paid out for poison and ammunition.” Luckily today we have found ways to protect the fruit crops from birds and it is also illegal to shoot native birds, so the Western Tanagers are safer now!
The photos above and below are of Grebes that were once thought of as the same species. Up until the 1980s, the Clark’s Grebe was considered a “white morph” or a paler version of the Western Grebe. After some closer study of the two species, they were found to be definitely two different species.
The major difference between these birds is around the eye. Can you see the eye or is it hidden by the black or dark gray? The Clark’s Grebe has a red eye that is surrounded by white, the black or gray area stops above the eye, while the Western Grebe has red eyes surrounded by black or gray that stops under the eye!
If you are out west and you come across one of these grebes and you are just not quite sure which one it is, since in winter the gray on the western grebes can become much lighter and make identification difficult, take a close look at their bills. The Clark’s Grebe has a bright yellow dagger-like bill while the Western Grebe’s bill is darker, somewhat olive-green or grayish. So look closely and you should be able to identify just which species you are looking at.
These birds can be found in North America from British Columbia all the way south into Mexico. They can be found on lakes or in wetlands, I’ve often seen them in the ocean just offshore the California coast.
They prefer to eat fish, but can be opportunist when it comes to the food they eat, and have been know to eat insects, worms, crustaceans and salamanders. Usually they will dive down into the water to forage for small fish.
So don’t panic if you see one of these grebes out west, just take some photos, take some field notes. If you can’t identify the species right there, then go home and do some “homework,” study your photos closely and you should be able to identify.
Have fun and happy birding!