Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sketching at Famosa Slough

I'm taking an online watercolor and sketching class. The idea is to go out on location and sketch and paint what you see. This week's lesson was to do animals. I decided the birds at Famosa Slough woild be perfect!

Though the Slough wasn't as birdy as other times, an American Avocet and a couple of American Coots cooperated by staying fairly close, though I still needed my binoculars, which added a degree of difficulty! The Marbled Godwit will be added at another time.

It was interesting to learn how many little details I wasn't aware of until I had to draw these birds. No wonder David Sibley is such a good birder--though I'm not in any way comparing myself to Sibley.


-- Posted from my iPad!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Duck Hunting

While I'm out in San Diego, I subscribe to and read SDBIRDS, the San Diego Birding List. People post the locations of interesting or rare birds that they see. For the last couple of weeks, people have been posting about a Long-tailed Duck in Mission Bay, right where we're staying.

I don't normally "chase" birds, as it's called, but this one was tantalizingly close. And so many were seeing it. And it would be a life bird (meaning I hadn't seen it yet). The long-tailed duck summers and breeds in northern Canada and in Alaska. It winters along both coasts, but I hadn't yet seen one in Virgina. For you old timers, until 2000, the long-tailed duck was called the "oldsquaw."

(I think I probably saw it earlier in the week, before I read the reports. I had seen something that generally looked like a pied-bill grebe, way off in the distance, but with a lot more white on the head, swimming with a flock of surf scoters in the bay. Couldn't get a picture and didn't have my binoculars, so at the time I chalked it up to one of those mystery birds I would never identify.)

Fred humored me in my quest by going out three times to look for it. The first two searches, in two different parts of Mission Bay, proved fruitless. Chasing one bird in an area the size of Mission Bay is a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack. I pretty much didn't think that I would ever see it, and thought of giving up. But those reports of sightings kept coming!

So we went out a third time. I looked for specks of white in the Bay. Lots of loons, buffleheads, surf scoters...wait--what's that white thing? Get the scope! There it is--the long-tailed duck, swimming just a bit too far out for a good picture, but I did get this record shot of a female, winter plumage, long-tailed duck.

I was glad that my hunt was successful. Fred was glad that he didn't have to go out looking for the duck again. It was a good day for both of us!

Next: Sketching Birds at Famosa Slough....

-- Posted from my iPad!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bewick's Wren at Marston House, Balboa Park, San Diego

Fred and I went to the Marston House to look for the Hepatic Tanager that had been reported there. No luck, but I did get a couple of record shot of this Bewick's Wren. Not a great shot, but the wren is identifiable!

Also saw a whole mess of bushtits. Where there is one bushtit, there are a couple of dozen more.

-- Posted from my iPad!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Famosa Slough, San Diego (Friday, Feb 4, 2011)

I've been meaning to post about our trip to Famosa Slough. Here it is, better late than never! For more about our trip to the Slough, see my trip blog.

The Slough is one the San Diego's birding hotspots. I can't believe I hadn't been there before this. Here are pics of some of the birds we saw. (I didn't realize some of the settings on my camera were off, resulting in some over exposure, sorry!)

Snowy Egret:

Belted Kingfisher (female):

A scaup parade led by an American Coot. I think that the 3rd scaup from the left is a greater scaup, the rest definitely are lesser scaup.

Black Phoebe:

Little Blue Heron:

Lots of ducks: Coot, American Wigeon, two Gadwells.

(We also saw northern pintails, ruddy ducks, blue winged teal, northern shovelers and some mallards.)

Say's Phoebe:

Red-tailed hawk:

Great Egret:


Greater Yellowlegs:

Pied-billed grebe and horned grebe:

Blacknecked stilts, american avocets, northern pintails among others. The stilts and the avocets have successfully bred in the Slough the last few years.

Aside from the birds already mentioned, we also saw:

Anna's Hummingbird
Marbled godwit
House finch
House sparrow
Song sparrow
Orange crowned warbler
Yellow rumped warbleer
Northern mockingbird
Mourning dove
Western gull

It was indeed birding heaven. If you are in San Diego, definitely worth a visit! See their website for more information.

-- Posted from my iPad!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Birding San Diego

No photos to post yet of birds, but I have seen a few of the usual San Diego suspects. I haven't really done any birding yet, these are just in passing.

First bird in San Diego (woohoo) was a house sparrow. *rolls eyes*

black phoebe
double-crested cormorant
brown pelican
anna's hummingbird
western gull

We've also had fun watching the pelicans dive in the channel outside the condo with a gull in hot pursuit, in case the pelicans surface with something!

And, not a bird, but I saw a seal swimming by in the channel this morning.

-- Posted from my iPad!

In San Diego and not a minute too soon!

We had a pleasant flight out to San Diego from Baltimore on Southwest Airlines. Our rowmate was a young mother with a 13 month old boy named Adam. He really was quite good. By far not the worst rowmate we've had. (Did I ever tell you about the woman who was concerned that the change to daylight savings time would cause the earth to wobble on its axis?)

I won't say much about the weather we found when we arrived in San Diego, because I know you don't want to hear it. But a picture is worth a thousand words, they say...

Above, waiting for the rental car shuttle. Below, after picking up the car, we went off to lunch at the Prado in Balboa Park.

The Prado has wonderful fish tacos, I wish I'd taken a picture...but here's a picture of the flan we had for dessert.

-- Posted from my iPad!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

More Winter Birding with Renee

There had been reports of a Lapland Longspur (click on link to see a photo by Dave Boltz of the bird in question, at Occoquan) so Renee and I decided to put the long underwear on again to check it out. It was positively balmy by our standards, only 27 degrees when we got out ot the car at the Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge, about 20 minutes south of my house.

There were lots of birders, but no Longspur in sight while we were there. Renee did find a wild turkey roosting in a tree (digiscoped pic below)

It was beautiful and peaceful. We walked to one of the river overlooks and scanned the ice and mud packs. We saw several eagles. Two were roosting in a tree on a little island well out into the river. I digiscoped a picture:

One eagle is at the very top, another is on the right middle part of the trees. A gull is flying by on the left side. The river was incredibily beautiful, snow and ice and all the shades of silver.

It was a great birding morning. We stopped for a light breakfast in the town of Occoquan (I recommend the Blue Arbor) and did a last bit of birding on the river in town.

Here's our list for the day:

Northern Harrier
Golden crowned kinglet
Bald eagles
Cooper's Hawk (I think)
Sharp shinned hawk (Certain)
Song sparrows (Renee says I should put this down twice, there were so many of them)
Savannah sparrow
Northern Flicker
Red winged black bird
Canada geese (one with a almost entirely white head)
Gulls. I'm terrible at gulls.
Red bellied woodpecker
Downy woodpecker (Renee saw these)
Carolina wren (heard)
Great blue heron--several

On the way to breakfast
Black vultures--about 30 of them roosting in light poles and a tree just next to Route 1)
Turkey vultures--flying with some BVs in the same area
White throated sparrows

Occoquan village
bald eagle
Black vulture
Great blue heron
Gulls--Greater Black Backed, Herring, Ring-billed

-- Posted from my iPad!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Omigawd it's cold--wait, was that a catbird?

My friend Renee and I had arranged to go birding this morning so she could try out my old scope with an eye to buying it. This had seemed like a good idea earlier in the week when we had planned it. Last night, when it was heading to 20 degrees F, it seemed less so. But, given our history of birding together, somehow appropriate. (Renee and I always do a Christmas Bird Count together. Some years, it's the only birding we do together. Last year, it was in the 'teens for the CBC and there was a foot and a half of snow on the ground. This year's CBC seemed balmy, being just under 30. Fred thinks we're both loony.)

So, when Renee arrived this morning promptly at 8:30, we packed the gear in the boot of her Prius and duly headed off to the Jackson Abbott Wildlife Refuge, a little park about five minutes away on Ft. Belvoir's piece of the local wetlands. Despite it being 24 degrees.

It was a short walk through the woods from the parking past the small frozen pond to the wetlands Not surprisingly, no one else was at Jackson Abbott. None of the usual dogwalkers, fishermen or friendly winos were there. Can't imagine why.

There used to be a platform to allow one to study the wetlands, but at some point this summer it was burned rather completely by vandals. Renee and I set up next to the remains of the platform. Here's Renee trying out the scope with the wetlands in front of her and the platform's skeleton next to her. (Click on either pic for a full sized, higher resolution view.)

In between bouts of shivering, we had a pretty good hour of birding:

golden-crowned kinglet in some pine trees to our left
two red shouldered hawks across the wetlands, digiscoped below:

an obliging song sparrow
a downy woodpecker
several white throated sparrows
many juncos
a crow
the ubiquitous canada geese, titmice and chickadees
blue jays (heard but not seen)

and the bird of the day as we walked back around the pond--a catbird, which Renee first spied in a brush with a bunch of sparrows but which I saw too. We are on the far western edge of the catbird's winter range, so that's a pretty good sighting!

(Renee, did I leave anything out?)

Our fingers were numb so we called it a day! I was hoping for some bluebirds, we see them often around the pond, but I'll have to settle for yesterday's sightings in our neighborhood.

-- Posted from my iPad!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Bluebirds aren't just over the rainbow!

Fred and I went out for a walk in the neighborhood today to enjoy the 1/2" of snow while it lasted, and saw three bluebirds hanging out in a yard a few blocks away!

We've not seen bluebirds in our neighborhood before, let alone in the winter, though we're not far from Huntley Meadows, where they are common. They were with a few house finches, which were what originally caught my eye.

So, I learned that they stay here year round (confirmed by the range maps in my birding app.)

A good winter's walk!