Archive for the ‘Bird Reports’ Category

IN THE CROWS PATH

IN THE PATH OF CROWS

I’ve always had a casual interest in crows. Primarily for their social structure and intelligence. But I, like most people, have taken them for granted over the years. This all changed soon after our arrival in Southern California.

We were introduced to the Murrieta Crows Roost early after our California arrival in late 2009. While we were looking for a home we rented an apartment in Murrieta, CA. The apartment complex is located adjacent to the Murrieta Retention Basin. The retention basin contains water year round and is host to the largest contiguous forest of large trees in the area. The trees extend into the apartment complex area and our unit was located under a number of large trees. The retention basin is a terrific birding spot with a trail around its perimeter but the area doesn’t attract a lot of birders since there is a lack of parking in the area.

Murrieta Retention Basin-01-w

It’s easy to see that the large tall trees (pines, sycamores, eucalyptus, and others) provide the perfect place for a communal crows roost.

It rained for three straight days when we moved into the apartment and nothing out of the ordinary occurred, although the local residents thought three straight days of rain was quite “unusual.” At sunset on the fourth day we heard a lot of crows calling. We went out on the patio to see what all the commotion was about. It was quite a surprise as “calling” crows dropped into the trees by the hundreds. The crows would sit for a while then rise up and put down again. This went on for some time before they all settled down in the trees for the night. At sunrise the next morning all the crows were gone.

I asked some of the other residents of the apartments whether this was a regular occurrence and they casually responded, “Yeah, it happens every night!” From then on we witnessed the evening event on a regular basis making sure to get under cover on their arrival. It was common for the crows to “dump their excess baggage” before settling down.

A month and a half later we found a home five miles north of the Murrieta Retention Basin. We moved into our new home under a steady two days of rain. Our new welcoming neighbors remarked about the “unusual” amount of rain. During a downpour our first yard bird at our new home ran around on our front lawn occasionally posing on a boulders. The Greater Roadrunner welcomed our arrival. I took this event as a harbinger of more good birding things to come.

RoadRunner-20100206-02-w

After settling in to our new home, I had more time to start renewing my acquaintance with the western birds and to begin creating my new yard list. I also had time to enjoy the cool evenings in the backyard and immediately became reacquainted with the crows once again. Our new home is located “in the path of crows” that fly to the communal roost each evening from the north to the roost five miles south.

MAP-CROW FLIGHT area -N-w

Since first witnessing the crows roost and now living along the northern route of the crows, I have become interested in learning more about the nature and structure of the roosting crows. Apparently there is little known with regards to why, when, and where crows decide to share a common roost.

The website crows.net lists the number of crows at the Murrieta Crow Roost to be in excess of 3,000 birds. The site also indicates that there are only two crow roosts in Southern California.

I have been at different locations in the Temecula/Lake Elsinore valley in the evening and have observed crows flying to the roost from all different directions. It appears that the northern component (the ones that fly over us) make up at least one third to perhaps one half of the total roost population. This would make sense since Lake Elsinore and the area north of the roost site is more rural than south and east of the roost site. The area west of the roost site is the Santa small numbers of crows heading east to the roost at sunset.

crows at sunset-01-wcrows at sunset-02-w

I have conducted a number of crow flight counts to get an idea and to see if there are any patterns that might be of interest occurring. During the 2012 Christmas Bird Count, I counted 1,268 American Crows (AMCR) heading to the roost. During a BIG SIT in 2011, I counted 1,195 AMCR heading to the roost. I also conducted a 12 day count in 2011 which resulted in a 12 day average of 664 AMCR (9 days of 500 or more, and 2 days of inclement weather). Just this past week I was up early to photograph the full moon setting before sunrise – during that time I count in excess of 700 AMCR heading north from the roost site.

crows passing moon-01-w

It appears that there are three or four distinct flocks coming through each evening from the north. The first flock passes through just before sunset, the second flock shortly after sunset, and the third and fourth flocks closer to dark. There are always a few stragglers bringing up the rear. I’m guessing that the distinct flocks may be related to the distance the crows are from the roost when they initiate their flight (the first flock – closest to the roost, the remaining flocks- further away).

The crows roost essentially ceases to be during the breeding season with the exception a few non-breeding birds that continue to fly to the roost each evening. Soon after the breeding season ends and the young have fledged the numbers heading to the nightly roost start picking up again. During this time there is a lot of “calling” among the crows during the flight to the roost, perhaps the parents trying to keep the youngsters on task.

There appears to be a pre-flocking process that is used from time to time. Prior to initiating their flight to the roost the crows first gather at a staging area. A lot of “calling” takes place during this process and at some point a command is given and the flock of crows begin heading towards the roost site in silence. The staging areas appear to be random and may not be used on a daily basis. The purpose for these staging areas remains unexplained but may be weather related or perhaps staggering the flocks so they don’t all arrive at the roost at the same time.

crows-stormy weather-w

The line of flight of the crows each evening is weather dependent. Generally from our vantage point we can see most of the crows heading to roost each evening even if the flocks choose an alternate route. During inclement weather or heavy winds the flocks may be hard to see. The crows fly low in the valley and blend in with the trees along Murrieta Creek.

We are very fortunate that our new home in Wildomar, CA provides us the rare privilege of witnessing nature’s free outdoor entertainment almost every evening.

 

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A Simple Formula for Nature Discovery

Jim Lockyer
Wildomar, CA
BCDC WESTERN OUTPOST

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” Marl Twain

2012 Stonehurst BIG SIT

Sunday, October 14, 2012

TEAM: Stonehurst
TEAM MEMBERS: Jim Lockyer
TEAM CAPTAIN: Me!

Last year I wrote a brief account of my first BIG SIT event in California and explained the rules and history of the BIG SIT in that account. That information is still available in my BLOG account of the 2011 BIG SIT.

2012 Stonehurst BIG SIT

The scope and camera were setup and ready to go at 7:30 AM, with a cup of coffee in my hands and my bins (binoculars) around my neck I found a comfortable chair. The 2012 Stonehurst BIG SIT was underway. The skies were clear with calm winds and the temperature was a cool 57 degrees.

It wasn’t long before the first bird of the day appeared, a skulking White-crowned Sparrow under the shrubbery gleaning for seeds beneath the feeders. The sparrow was still a bit shy while he waits for more of his comrades from the north to arrive for the winter. Once there is safety in numbers, the White-crowned Sparrows are quite gregarious. The sparrow was quickly followed by two California Thrashers arriving to gather sunflower seeds and drink at the water feature. These two birds were introduced to our feeder/water complex by their parents earlier this year, and have been regular visitors ever since.
 
White-crowned Sparrow                                                       California Thrasher

Other birds began to trickle in here and there but for the most part the bird activity remained relatively slow. The non-resident breeding birds had already left and the wintering birds were just beginning to arrive.

The weather forecast for today was HOT. It’s the middle of October and the forecast temperature for this day was 95 degrees. At 11 AM the temperature had risen to 82 degrees, and still no soaring birds had chosen to go skyward. Twenty-two Bushtits made a brief appearance to glean what they could from the plantings, seldom standing still for more than a second or two. Anna’s Hummingbirds frequented the feeders regularly only to be chased away by the “bully” Anna’s Hummingbird after a brief feed. A single Costa’s Hummingbird made a brief appearance.
 
Bushtits

House Finch

At noon the temperature had risen to 86 degrees. I took a short lunch break from 12:30-1:00 PM to cool off a bit while still keeping an eye to the sky from inside the house. When I returned to my count circle the temperature had reached 91 degrees.

With the sun now on the south side of the house, I moved under our covered patio to take advantage of the shade. We had the patio covering installed last year we wanted a lattice-type covering, but the salesman convinced us that a solid covering would provide more shade and keep things dry during the rainy season. At the time that seemed like a good idea so we went with the solid patio covering. Now after our second summer with the patio covering we are realizing that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all. The south facing patio Alum wood cover serves as a heat trap during cloudless sunny days. After mid-day, the temperature under the patio covering begins to increase at a rate of 5-10 percent over the ambient air temperature. This continues until the sun sets. At 1:00 PM both the ambient and shade cover temperatures had risen to 91 degrees.

Finally a few soaring birds began to appear. A Turkey Vulture flew over and a couple of Red-tailed Hawks rode the few thermals caused by the rising temperatures.
Red-tailed Hawk 
Red-tailed Hawk

At 1:15 PM, a bird or birds caused a shadow to be cast when passing the sun. I jumped up to see what I expected to be a large hawk or vulture, but was surprised when I noticed a flock of 26 blackbirds. They came in from the south passed our home then made a sharp turn to the northeast. They were moving fast but I was able to get a quick look at the birds through my bins as they disappeared out of sight. I was speechless and astonished to what I had just witnessed. As the birds rapidly passed by, the flash of yellow to the throat and breast of these blackbirds left me in awe. I had seen this bird a number of times in the east and Midwest, but usually as a solo bird mixed in with a flock of other blackbirds. I was thrilled to see my first flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. This was also a CA State bird for me. These birds were most likely migrants heading for the San Jacinto Wildlife Area 9 miles to our northeast which was the direction they were heading. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are regular winter visitors at the San Jacinto Wildlife Area.

At 2:00 PM the ambient temperature was 93 degrees as the shade cover temperature had risen to 98 degrees. The afternoon count slowed as the temperature rose. At 4:30 PM the ambient temperature was 95 degrees and the shade cover temperature was now 100 degrees.

I began preparing for the Stonehurst BIG SIT finale, COUNTING CROWS. Each evening at sunset crows from the north head to a common roost site at the Murrieta Retention Basin, 5 miles to our south. Usually the crows fly above the skyline making them easy to count. At 6:00 PM the sun dropped behind the mountains, the winds were calm, and the ambient and shade cover temperature both dropped to a comfortable 86 degrees.

At 6:08 PM the first crows began to appear, tonight with calm winds, they were low below the skyline making counting a challenge. For the next 22 minutes I counted a steady flow of crows. The final tally was 1,195. While counting the crows I noticed two Phainopepla capturing insects at sunset, I clicked another bird species to the total BIG SIT count.

I thought about staying out to see if I could get the Barn Owls that regularly forage in our area, but decided to shut down the 2012 Stonehurst BIG SIT at 6:30 PM, the temperature as now down to 81 comfortable degrees, and we opened the house to let the cool evening air flow in. I do like this Mediterranean climate.

All in all it was a nice relaxing productive birding day! It’s been a long time since I have spent a day totally devoted to a birding activity.

Jim Lockyer

TOTAL COUNT: 26 species (6 more than last year).
EXPECTED BIRDS MISSED: White-tailed Kite, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Barn Owl
OTHER SIGHTINGS: Sky Jumpers, Vintage Aircraft (returning from the Miramar AIR SHOW in San Diego at sunset)
  

© Jim Lockyer, jl-studio 2012
All Rights Reserved.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.  Mark Twain

2011 BIG SIT – WILDOMAR, CA

Wildomar BIG SIT Panorama

What’s a BIG SIT (don’t say these words too fast), you ask? Bird Watcher’s Digest, the official sponsor, describes The BIG SIT as, “A Tailgate Party for Birders!” The original idea began with the New Haven, CT Bird Club 17 years ago. Though touted as an international event its popularity resides primarily in the Midwest and Eastern US.

The rules are pretty simple. The counting team (one or more individuals) must stay within a designated 17 foot diameter circle (you can cram as many individuals, pets, and food in the circle that will fit) to count and tabulate the birds that heard or seen from the circle.  BIG SIT sites can pick their own hours, 24 if they like (12:01 AM – 11:59 PM), but most sites run their BIG SITS from dawn to dusk. For complete BIG SIT “honorary” rule information check out the Bird Watchers Digest BIG SIT RULES.

I must say BIRDERS, when it comes to their birding, adhere and abide by an honorary rule system like no other I have ever seen. Its success is simple however. Avid Birders are extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of their recreation. A single bird species migration dates, range, habitat, most recent sightings, songs, calls, and subtle feather markings are all recorded in the birdalogus portion of left hemisphere of their brain. This establishes an immense database that provides a very strong cadre of individuals with regulatory power to maintain the BIRDERS Honor System. As you might imagine any deceitful, dishonest, or birding braggart that might show up in the birding community is quickly found out and exposed. Occasional bird miss-calls and improper identifications by reliable birders are graciously forgiven. But if a continued pattern of sensational sightings and/or birding claims prevail the reporting party is deemed unreliable and the name of the individual ripples through the entire birding community.

A portion of my 17 foot BIG SIT circle

Hmm, why did I go there? This is somewhat of a stall from reporting my meager results of the 2011 WILDOMAR, CA BIG SIT. Since I was the only one participating in my 17 foot diameter circle in my backyard at Wildomar, CA, as far as I could tell there were probably no others doing a BIG SIT within a 25 mile radius of my location. I had all the opportunity to inflate my count and noone would ever know. Well, noone but myself and the other excellent birders in the area where we now reside!

I was fortunate to be tutored by some of the best birders in the Midwest and East Coast and they taught me well. They have more birdalogus brain matter than I have in my little finger nail and I would never disrespect them by doing something stupid. Plus, I’m a member of the ABA (American Birding Association) and for any kind of fraud I would surely be excommunicated from the organization, unless my dues were paid up, of course.

I woke up on Sunday morning forgetting that it was BIG SIT day. When running through my daily computer stops; CA earthquakes since I last looked the night before, the weather, the news, email, and Facebook – there it was on Facebook. A message appeared that the Rose Tree Park HawkWatch (A location where I spent over 10 years of  hawk watching) BIG SIT was under way.

My BIRDER TAILGATE PARTY started in my WILDOMAR, CA BIG SIT circle at 0800 PDT with me as the single partygoer.

The weather was very nice and the views beautiful with cirrus clouds streaming over the Santa Ana Mountains.

 

NOT FOR ME, THANKS!

The first aerial activity viewed from the circle began at 0930 PST when the first sky dive plane gained altitude over our home before depositing its contents further north. I thought it was a bit early for a drop but once it was made I realized it was some sort of sky dive team doing a rather dangerous maneuver.

Sailplane Tow

At 0945 PDT the first sailplane was observed in tow overhead. By 1030 PDT the winds from the west had increased and the sailplanes called it a day, as did the birds. West winds don’t favor the soaring planes or birds and it seemed to kill other bird activity as well.

I finally decided to make this a SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA BIG SIT so I shut down the circle at 1200 PDT, had a nice lunch – Tuna salad on Jalepeno Cheese Bread, and took a very nice long SIESTA (for those of you who don’t speak Spanish SIESTA=NAP).

At 1600 PDT I reopened the Count Circle for business, well casual business at best. I did pick up two distant soaring birds, one diving on the other.  Putting the scope on the activity it turned out to be a White-tailed Kite diving on a Red-tail Hawk. This turned out to be the best sighting of the day.

I ended up counting a whopping total of 20 species of birds, a reptile and a few insects. Nothing exceptional or not expected were seen. Perhaps the late Black-chinned Hummingbird might be considered unexpected.

It was nice to see the White-crowned Sparrows back for the winter and the 18 soaring Ravens were a morning highlight.

The THREE Stooges - House Sparrows . . . . The FOURTH is sitting in a chair watching them!

I will mark the date on my calendar for next year and do it again. Once you have been infected with the birding bug it is impossible cure.

 

Jim Lockyer

 

 

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.  Mark Twain

 

 

THERE’S FROST on the SCAT. . .

 Frosty SCATFrosty mornings are becoming more frequent these days on the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve (SRP). I have been venturing out just after sunrise in search of wildlife along trails I haven’t yet tried on the plateau.    

The frosty mornings announce that winter has arrived at the SRP which is also being validated by the settling in of SRP winter birds including White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and others. The resident Acorn Woodpeckers have been actively caching acorns in their granaries while constantly challenging, contesting, and intimidating their fellow kind with their constant “waka, waka, waka, waka” calls as they establish and defend their acorn caches. White-tailed Kites have recently been observed exhibiting mating behavior on the SRP also marking the arrival of the SRP winter season. When hiking from the oak woodlands to the open grasslands the beautiful melodic song of the Western Meadowlark welcomes your arrival.   

 

Bobcat Tracks

The SRP scat producers appear to be in abundance. Their scat, tracks, and sightings indicate that there is a healthy population of coyote, bobcat, deer, skunk, raccoon, and numerous smaller rodents.   

Recent storms have crossed our area dropping 12+ inches of rain. These rain events unfortunately required the SRP to close the preserve due to the extensive damage to the trails and bridges which have caused dangerous conditions.   

   

You can still drive the northern and western perimeter of the SRP to enjoy the SRP from the outside looking in. I am sure the wildlife has enjoyed roaming their special place sans humankind. The rain has brought a winter coating of snow to the mountains to the east of the plateau (San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and San Jacinto mountain ranges) resulting in a beautiful back drop for the plateau.  

The rains have also filled the vernal pools that lie along the western edge of the SRP and the waterfowl have arrived to take advantage of the pools offerings. Winter has indeed arrived to the SRP. We are fortunate to have a second straight season where the vernal pools will be full. In drought years the pools often remain dry. 
 
  
We’ve been at our new home for almost a year now and are beginning to learn the subtle and magnificent seasonal changes in our area. 

 

   

 

 Jim, Judy, and VELCRO Travel is fatal to bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and prejudice. Mark Twain    

In late May I headed to the extended backyard (X-BY) for a hike. When reaching the X-BY from the path behind our home several crows were giving warning calls from a nearby tree. I thought there must be a predator nearby. I slowly moved in their direction hoping to catch a view of their concern. As I got closer the volume and repetition of the calls increased. That’s when I noticed one of their own was lying dead below a power pole. The calling crows left as soon as they realized I had located their concern.

Looking at the top pole, directly above the location of the dead crow, I noticed a matrix of uninsulated wires and concluded that the crow probably met its demise by electrocution. I felt bad, but then it was just a crow I thought, and I continued on my hike in the X-BY. On subsequent X-BY hikes I made it a routine to check the area below the pole . . . . . just in case. As the weeks went by no more bird electrocutions were noted and I began to feel that he crows electrocution was probably just an isolated incidence.

Just before sunrise on July 20, 2010 we lost power to the house for about 45 minutes. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Two days later I headed to the X-BY for a hike. My pole checking routine was now ingrain and I headed first towards the power pole . . . . . . just in case. As I came closer to the power pole I noticed something lying beneath the pole that blended into the ground. The closer I got to the pole the features of the bird lying below the pole became apparent. This bird was lying on some of the remaining crow’s feathers where it fell several months earlier. I was devastated to see this beautiful expired Barn Owl at the base of the pole. The Barn Owl had been electrocuted. I concluded that the power outage two days earlier was probably the result of the Barn Owl’s demise.

The crows had already warned me two months early to do something about the pole, but I didn’t heed their advice then. It took the Barn Owl to motivate me to see if something could be done.

During my X-BY hike that day I was not able to get the Barn Owl out of my mind or the crow’s earlier warning for that matter. I returned to the pole before heading home to view the tragedy again. I wondered if there was anything I could do.

Arriving home at mid-morning I looked for some place to report the problem. I entered the Southern California Edison (SCE) website and was impressed by its content and ease of use.  There, at the top of the website was an ENVIRONMENT tab. A power utility company with an ENVIRONMENT tab on its website was unbelievable to me having lived in the east coast power gird for the last 30 years.

I pushed the ENVIRONMENT tab! Listed there was a list of SCE’s environmental programs, including one for AVIAN PROTECTION. The contact list for the SCE Environmental Staff listed Archaeologists and Biologists, I sent an email to the Senior Biologists explaining my find and asking whether anything could be done.

That afternoon I received an email from the SCE Senior Biologist advising me that my report was a valid concern and that she was directing my email to Kara, the biologist in charge of the Avian Protection program. The following day I received an email from Kara asking for more information regarding the pole location and pole ID number. I provided the information to Kara and she responded informing me that an inspector would check to pole.

I received a message from Kara several days later advising me that the pole would be retrofitted to prevent anymore bird electrocutions and said a work order had been initiated. She would notify me when the work would be scheduled.

A couple days later I noticed a SCE vehicle parked on our cul-de-sac which overlooks the power pole. When I went out to talk to the individual he had already left. While hiking in the X-BY, later in the week, I encountered Kevin who was walking down one of the roads in the X-BY. Kevin was the SCE trouble-shooter who was parked briefly on our cul-de-sac earlier in the week. I introduced myself and he explained he was surveying ways to get the SCE trucks into the area to do the work. With two locked gates along the road he explained the possible difficulties of getting to the pole. He told me one way or another they would get the work done. He advised me that the work would be completed within 30 days.

The power pole in question is the last overland pole before the power is directed underground into our development. We were heading into the hottest time of year when we received a POWER OUTAGE NOTIFICATION mailer from SCE on August 3, 2010. It announced that a power outage would occur on Tuesday, August 17, 2010. The notice included SCE preparation tips for the long outage and stated that the power to our neighborhood would be shut-off between 9:00 AM and 3:30 PM . . . . . . Oops!  

The SCE Power Outage Notification listed the reason for the shut-off as:  Upgrading aging infrastructure or completing other repairs to make needed improvements.” Fortunately SCE didn’t reveal the real reason by stating:  Your new neighbor at 23045 Sweetbay Circle found a couple of : dead birds below a power pole and we are interrupting you creature comforts for 6.5 hours during one of the hottest days of the year!”

It was already HOT at 9:00 AM on Tuesday, August 17, 2010, when the SCE trucks rolled towards Pole Number 4061682E. I told Kara, the SCE biologist, that I would take some photos of the retrofitting operation. I went to the X-BY as the trucks began setting up. I introduced myself and mentioned to the crew to please don’t tell the neighbors that I was responsible for the power shutdown. I stated that I wasn’t sure all the neighbors would understand the reason for the inconvenience. Fortunately for me, the crew indicated that they were unable to get the power shutoff. They were going to complete the job by working around the live wires. The SCE crew was great and after 2.5 hours had retrofitted the pole working around live wires with temperatures in the mid-90’s.

  
  
Click on photos for a larger image

The next day I received a call from Kevin at SCE who wanted to let me know that the job had been completed. He said they almost canceled the work because of the heat but decided to get the work done.

Pole # 4061682E is now hopefully bird safe as of August 17, 2010.

Will I still maintain my routine of checking the pole when starting my X-BY hikes?  Yes, I will, . . . . . . . just in case!

I have been totally overwhelmed and impressed with the rapid response and timely action of  SCE to address and correct a seemingly small problem in the context of their entire responsibilities. Everyone I came in contact with at SCE, from my initial contact regardng the problem to the crew who retrofitted the pole, were highly professional, courteous, and friendly. They are a dedicated and passionate group of people. Many thanks to all! 

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO

Travel is fatal to bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and prejudice. Mark Twain

FORKED-TAIL

Fork-tailed (on branch upper left) guarding feeder complex

I’ve noticed the activity at the hummingbird feeders has recently dropped off dramatically. Rather than filling the six feeders on a daily basis, I am now filling them every two to three days.  Initially I attributed the decline of the feeder activity to the hummingbirds moving on elsewhere. However, the more I began watching the feeders I noticed that a single male Anna’s Hummingbird was taking it upon himself to chase the other hummingbirds away from the feeders.  He is very aggressive and has established three distinct perches created with mathematical precision forming a triangular perimeter to defend his claimed feeding grounds. I am quite impressed, but also somewhat discouraged as I watch the other hummingbirds being chases away from the feeders.

  

As it turns out I had photographed this hummingbird several times before. He was easy to identify since he is missing several tail feathers.  After one of his first photo sessions I named him “forked-tail” (FT).  It wasn’t until I started observing the feeders to learn the cause for the diminished feeder activity that I realized FT was the tyrant. Since FT was around during the heavy feeding activity, I’m still convinced that many of the hummingbirds have departed.  With fewer hummingbirds to deal with it is now just easier for FT to control the feeder activity.

It has been interesting to watch the strategies of the hummingbirds attempting to use the feeders. Some come in low out of the view of FT, while others would come in pairs. As FT gives chase to one the other feeds quickly. FT feeds occasionally in between chase episodes. He seems to be doing a good job of protecting his feeding complex.  FT most often gives chase to an incoming hummingbird before it reaches the feeders making it a real challenge to photograph the interactions.

  

There have been several other interesting FT encounters.  A Lesser Goldfinch occupied one of FT’s three mathematically placed perches. FT tried without success to chase the goldfinch off the perch by repeatedly diving and hovering over the bird. FT chose one of the other two perches until the goldfinch left. I have not been immune to FT’s aggression. While standing too close to the feeders FT flew over and hovered near my knees, while moving back and forth horizontally in front of me while making repeated clicking calls. Obviously FT is unaware of who is refilling the feeder complex he has claimed as his own. Or perhaps he actually did know who filled the feeders and was just scolding me for not keeping them filled. Several of the feeders were empty at the time.

I’ve thought about spreading the feeders out making it more difficult for FT to defend them all. Noticing that FT was also chasing hummingbirds off the oriole feeder located some distance away, I realized that would probably not be a satisfactory solution.

It is obvious that such aggression and control is not an easy job at all. FT is in constant patrol mode from dusk til dawn daily.

 

KARTER

VELCRO (inside) and KARTER (outside)

Our cat VELCRO has befriended our next door neighbor’s cat KARTER. Our neighbor advised us earlier that KARTER had adopted them not visa-versa. They warned us that we should not let KARTER in our house or he would adopt us as well. VELCRO and KARTER have been meeting on a daily basis now through screened windows or doors. They usually meet nose to nose at the front window with KARTER on the brick ledge and VELCRO inside looking out.    

 

Recently other neighborhood cats have been showing up to visit VELCRO but usually stay below the brick ledge of the front window. Several days ago I heard VELCRO making a tender “cooing” meow and went to see what was claiming his attention. Looking up at VELCRO from below the brick ledge was a beautiful black cat with green eyes. Hmm, I thought surely it must be a female cat based on the way VELCRO was acting. Of course, VELCRO being neutered, declawed (he was a rescue cat), and an indoor cat . . . . unfortunately for VELCRO, only in his dreams. 

Last evening I noticed VELCRO and KARTER were engaging each other but KARTER was staring out away from VELCRO and VELCRO was looking intently out the side window. I approached VELCRO and began to pet him when he started hissing and growling while intently looking down out the window. Through the bushes I noticed an orange cat, then another. Out the front window two more cats arrived slowly walking across the grass heading towards KARTER and VELCRO. It was an amazing assemblage occurring all at the same time – like a scene from the movie Eclipse. All the time KARTER sat at the edge of the brick ledge overlooking the cats as they assembled on the yard below him. It was as if KARTER had called for the meeting to introduce VELCRO to the other neighborhood cats, or more likely to show off his harem and subjects to VELCRO. KARTER was also probably advising VELCRO to quit cooing with his green-eyed black cat lady friend. She was not present at this gathering.

". . Oh, those green eyes!"

I imagine keeping all the neighborhood cats in line is no easy task either. It is apparent that KARTER is the Top Cat in the neighborhood as we expected him to be the first time we met him. Now he’s proven it!

 The adventure continues . . . . .

 Jim, Judy, and VELCRO

* STONEHURST is the housing development in Wildomar, CA where our home is located.

 I noticed several weeks ago that the hummingbirds were showing a preference for the vertical feeders over the flat feeders with a perch.  With the garden beginning to take shape and plants being moved around I relocated the bird feeders to minimize their interference with the planting scheme. I took the opportunity to retire the flat hummingbird feeders and replace them with two more vertical feeders which bring the total number of hummingbird feeders to six.

 

I fashioned a new hummingbird feeder pole by binding two separate poles together using several self-locking plastic-ties. The result was a single stand with four hanging hooks. At the time I didn’t have a tool to cut the plastic-ties flush to the pole which left a 6 inch plastic-tie extension out from the pole. I reminded myself to take care of the cosmetic work later.

Several days passed and I kept seeing the plastic-tie extension and kept reminding myself to cut that thing and clean it up. As I was about to do just that, I noticed a hummingbird which had been feeding at one of the feeders flew down to the plastic-tie and promptly took a seat, looking around like he had just been upgraded to first class. “Wow,” I thought, “take a look at that!” The more I watched the plastic-tie I observed a number of hummingbirds taking advantage of the plastic-tie perch. Being a well-trained American with deep roots in, “more is better,” I had an obligation to add more plastic-tie roosts.

     

The plastic-tie in question is blue in color, so of course, I thought it would only be appropriate to add a plastic-tie in the hummingbird’s favorite color – RED! Instead of locating a pair of scissors to trim the blue tie, I located the package of plastic-ties and promptly grabbed a red one and headed for the feeder. The pole presently only has two plastic-tie perches. To date the BLUE tie is preferred over the RED tie by the hummingbirds. This could however be a placement issue rather than a color issue. The blue tie is located below the hanging vertical feeders whereas the red tie is located higher on the pole amongst the hanging feeders. I suspect that the red tie amongst the feeders is not an ideal location since every inch of that area is viable contested air space by the territorial hummingbirds. I speak from experience having been in the middle of such contested air space while refilling the feeders. My head seems to be a favorite gathering point for hummingbird conflicts with hummingbirds setting up on either side of my head while they determine their individual strategies.  It has become aware to me that the hummingbirds know who their feeder re-filler is. Now when I refill the feeders the hummingbirds merely work around me on the other feeders, unless of course, some kind of disagreement is occurring at the time. I plan on relocating the red tie to a closer proximity to the blue tie. I promise not to get carried away with, “more is better,” by placing a plastic-tie every three or four inches up and down the pole.

The hummingbirds have also been using the oriole feeder on a regular basis. A pair of Hooded Orioles are now making brief daily visits to the feeder. They are very wary but seem to becoming more comfortable with the feeder.

FATHER’S DAY BIRD COUNT

I spent several hours last Sunday morning doing a Father’s Day Backyard Bird Count. I had hoped to capture all the seen or heard birds with a photograph as well. In the two hours of counting and photographing I was able to record 25 species photographing 21 (List below).

BIRD LIST (Bold-faced font indicates photographed bird):
Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Turkey Vulture, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, California Quail, Mourning Dove, Anna’s Hummingbird, Costa’s Hummingbird, Western Scrub Jay, American Crow, Common Raven, California Thrasher, Violet-green Swallow, House Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Lesser Goldfinch, House Finch, California Towhee, Black-headed Grosbeak, Hooded Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird.

NOTE:
Now, I’m not saying that all the photographs are post card quality, but in just about all the cases the birds can easily be identified. Below are some of the photographs representing the range of quality and representing 12 of the 21 photographed.

  
 
   
  

The Adventure Continues . . .

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO

CA Quail feather & Ant in our Extended Backyard

We are still in the settling-in process and have been working on the house and gardens. We are fortunate that there is no timetable or schedule for the completion of our settling-in to our new environment or for anything else for that matter. It is surely a nice feeling, I must say. I’m enjoying the casual approach while making new discoveries that draw me away from the daily unscheduled settling-in chores.

Our extended backyard (X-BY) has become a wonderful study area for my settling-in distractions. I’ve been visiting the area several times a week to see if I can locate any new critters or plants, and to note the changes that have occurred since my last visit. On my visit yesterday I was particularly interested in seeing if the Dudleya flowers had come into bloom since my last visit. The flower stalks had been developing for over a month and on my last visit earlier this week the buds appeared to be on the verge of blooming. It was nice to see on this visit that both the Chalk Lettuce (D. pulverulenta) and the Lance-leaf Dudleya (D. lancelota) flowers were in bloom and accepting the visiting Anna’s Hummingbirds harvesting their subtle reddish flower clusters.  

  
Chalk Lettuce flowers, Lanceloate-leaf Dudleya flowers – Click on photo for larger image

 
Anna’s Hummingbird feeding on Chalk Lettuce (D. pulverulenta) flowers. Click on photo for larger image.

Now when exploring the X-BY I am hoping to hear a fire engine heading up Clinton Keith Road in my direction. Yesterday there were several distant fire engine sirens heard but none were close enough to elicit a response from the resident coyotes. After being surprised and startled during my first close encounter with the coyotes and their reaction to the fire engine siren, I have been looking forward to hearing coyotes up-close again. One morning last week as Judy and I were getting in the car when a fire engine with its siren blaring passed close by and we clearly heard the coyotes in the X-BY yelping and howling in response.

I have been spending more time scanning the hillsides and canyons on my X-BY visits now that I know both coyotes and at least one bobcat are residents. I’ve met several other neighbors recently and all have mentioned the bobcat which apparently roams freely in the neighborhood when it chooses. None of the neighbors had seen the two cubs that paid a brief visit to our front porch before being scurried off to safety by mom several weeks ago.

A pair of Costa’s Hummingbirds arrived at the feeders yesterday for the first time. They are now visiting the feeders on a regular basis after spending some time observing and learning the pecking order at the feeders. They seem to have overcome the constant intimidation by the surely disrespectful Anna’s Hummingbirds. It was interesting to note that the female Costa’s HB was the first to arrive and put up with the Anna’s HB abuse. Once she started feeding on a regular basis, the male proudly showed up and commenced feeding. . . . Go figure?  We also added another bird to our yard list this week – A Prairie Falcon flyover, a handsome bird indeed.

  
Female Costa’s Hummingbird – Click on photo for larger image.

 
Male Costa’s Hummingbird – Click on photo for larger image

 
Boreal Bluet Damselfly & Acmon Blue Butterfly – Click on photo for larger image

Our newest settling-in distraction is absolutely wonderful. We finally found someone to look at the above spa that came with the house. We know nothing about spas and weren’t sure it even worked. After checking the spa out, Paul from Breeze Pool Service, deemed the spa to be in working condition. Two days ago the spa was initiated as we watched our first sunset from the spa – Very Nice!

VELCRO is doing fine and beginning to return to a more comfortable level now that most of the major work on the house and yard has been completed. All the noises and activity that come with repairs and installations were keeping VELCRO hidden in the deepest part of the deepest closet in the house during those activities. VELCRO and KARTER seem very comfortable with each other though their relationship is an inside/outside – looking-out/looking-in situation – kinda like ying & yang, I suppose!

The adventure continues . . . . . .

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO

The Anna’s Hummingbirds have picked up their feeding activity in recent days as they introduce the newest members of their family to the feeders. It has been interesting to watch the adult/offspring dynamics with regards to the feeders. Occasionally a young bird failed to display its respect to the adults and would occupy a feeder when it shouldn’t have. The adult birds would promply chase the youngsters off the feeder scolding them as they vanished out of sight.

In one incident where a youngster fed out of order an adult bird chased the youngster off, but this time, the adult continued to hover over the youngster and kept the young bird well below the feeders. This action continued and as the young bird attempted to move towards the feeders the adult lowered and guided the young bird away from the feeders. I suspect that the adult and young bird were probably related. This appeared to be a case of mom teaching the youngster a few table manners.   

  
 

The adult  female Anna’s Hummingbird drinking water at the fountain almost appeared to be more for sport than necessity since a bird bath full of water was only a few feet from the fountain. The bird would position itself in various positions around the falling water seemingly to calulate the angle of attack and capture. After much analysis the bird finally made a number of passes successfully capturing the water.

   

One of the youngsters held at bay by the adults took refuge in Judy’s HarryLauder Walking-stick tree blending in quite well with the disruptive background of the tree.

 

 

OTHER FEEDING STRATEGIES

A new combination take-out restaurant opened close to our home recently – Kentucky Fried Chicken/Long John Silver’s . . . . YUM, YUM!

After a long day today, Judy asked if Kentucky Fried Chicken sounded good to me for dinner. I gave my standard answer, “I don’t care!” A response which provides no answer or information to the question asked.

We have been very good about eating healthy since our arrival in California. When we first arrived we gorged ourselves on In-and-Out burgers and fries since Judy could order gluten-free items there. It is a great franchise  and we highly recommend In-and Out, we simply have burned-out from overuse.

I gave Carl’s Jr, Jack-in-the-BoxDel Taco, and Der Wienerschnitzel each a one time try soon after our arrival to California. All of those venues immediately fell into the YUCK! category and there will be no return visits.

I arrived at Kentucky Fried Chicken/Long John Silver’swith only one customer in front of me. She was taking an enormous amount of time ordering and I kept thinking here is another unorganized individual that can’t make up their mind and requiring a lot of coaching. As she finally finished her order she asked the clerk if they had a take-0ut menu so she wouldn’t take so much time next time. The stoic-faced young male clerk simply said, “No!” I mentioned to the woman that there was a menu online and she thanked me. After all, Icame prepared to make my order simply and quickly with my printed-out online menu. I had done my research – I was ready!

May I have your order please, here or take-out,” the expressionless clerk asked? “Ah, take-out,” I stated. “Order please,” the monotone personality asked? After looking up at the very confusing order menu, split down the middle, Kentucky Fried Chicken on the left and Long John Silver’s on the right with “SIDES MENU” bridging the two exclusive entities I realized that my printed-out online menu was going to be no help at all.  I crumpled it up and placed it back in my pocket.

Judy wanted some Kentucky Fried Chicken so I placed that order and selected the “sides” and drink and HAL(2001 Space Odyssey) spoke once more, “Anything else?” Since I hadn’t ordered my meal and was leaning towards the fish side I said, “Yes!” I explained that I would like to order a fish platter and what were the options? “Do you want to pay for this order first, and your next order separately,” HAL asked? “No,no one order please, and where do I find the sides for my fish order?” I was instructed that the sides were the same for both the chicken half of the menu and the fish half of the menu. That’s when I recalled that the sides menu did bridge the KFC/LJS selection menu apparently it had a purpose. Both the KFC and LJS menus offered chicken, but it wasn’t the same chicken. The KFC chicken looked like chicken, bu the LJS chicken looked like the fish, which really didn’t look like fish at all. I finally finished placing my order, after taking up just as much time as the woman ordering before me had, and paid for my order, HAL handed me my receipt, “YOU ARE ORDER #38, THANK YOU, NEXT!

Judy’s selection was typical KFC and looked delicious. My selection was “fried stuff” and once I found the fish and removed it from its encrusted case of fried stuff,  it was somewhat edible. I always thought Hush Puppies were shoes that I wore and had to buff up with a special little bag. I’m sure the shoes were named after hush puppies food item (similar color and shape?) and I don’t find the food version to be something I would go out of my way to seek, but then I don’t like hominy either. If there is a next time I will stick to the KFC side of the menu!

Perhaps simple sugar water presents the best feeding strategy but then that seems to come with its own complicated set of rules and hierarchy.

The Adventure Continues

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO

Yesterday afternoon, while waiting for the arrival of our son Jason and his girlfriend Rita for a visit, I looked towards the plateau and immediately called Judy to come take a look. A smoke plume had just begun to rise above the La Cresta community which is adjacent to the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve. I knew it couldn’t have been a prescribed burn since the humidity was too low and the winds were substantial. The plume was rapidly becoming larger as sirens began to be heard in the distance coming from all directions. The ground fire equipment continued to  roll towards the plateau.

As the fire plume continued to grow, the first plane flew overhead from the east heading towards the fire. It apparently was the scout plane which flew high over the fire plume assessing the situation. Then a fire-retardant tanker flew overhead at a lower elevation heading towards the fire, followed shortly by another. A water-drop helicopter soon appeared on the scene as well. The scout plane, now the command plane, continued to circle the fire high overhead directing the plane drop aircraft below. The fire retardant tankers made several test approach runs before dropping down and releasing the retardant on the fire. After dropping all of  its load one of the tankers headed back east to refuel. I soon returned with a new load of retardant. The fire was under control only after an hour and a half. It consumed only 10 acres and there were no injuries or loss of structures. After the fire was completely extinguished by the ground crews the road closures were reopened within five hours.

   
 
Click on photo for larger image

I was very impressed watching the speed, efficency and effectiveness of the air support operation in addressing the emergency. This positive public servant response by the Riverside County and CALfire personnel was inspiring. In contrast this comes at a time when the world continues to watch the ineptness of  BP trying to react to an emergency for which they apparently had no viable plan to solve should it occur. BP is obivously motivated to capture as much oil as it can (=money) at any cost . . . . . . any cost . . . . any cost! On the other hand, the public servants that we entrust to protect us and our properties are motivated to just that, our protection. It was pretty obvious to me that the public servants also had a viable plan for the fire emergency and executed it successfully, as planned,  in a very short time.

Jason and Rita arrived after all the fire excitement had subsided. They had returned earlier this week from attending our niece Suzanne’s wedding in Puerto Vallarta and we were happy to see them and anxious to see their photos. They had a great time and saw some pretty cool birds. Magnificent Frigatebirds were apparently everywhere. They also saw the Great Kiskadee (I haven’t seen one) and a mystery Shroud bird of Puerto Vallarta. Jason described the funny bird as “running, strutting” across the beach with a light spot on it’s forehead. Jason captured a photograph of the bird although it was a night photograph. The enhanced photo didn’t provide much more evidence.

The only bird, one that I have not yet seen myself, that I could think it might possibly be was the Northern Jacana. I located a photo of the bird I thought it might be on Wipikedia and showed the photo to Jason, His response was, “that’s it!”

My brother Steve whose daughter Suzzane was being married, and the reason for the Puerto Vallarta gathering,  has become a birder in recent years. Steve sent me an email telling me that he had observed the Magnificent Frigatebirds as well as others. He told me that he had once seen a picture of the Great Kiskadee in a bird book and thought, “Wow, how great it would be to see a Great Kiskadee!” Well, he did!” Puerto Vallarta sounds like a travel place that perhaps we should consider.

   
PHOTO CREDITS:Magnificent Frigatebirds (Jason Lockyer), Northern Jacana (Wipikedia)

We had a geat visit and time with Jason and Rita before they had to head back north to LA this afternoon to fulfill other commitments.

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO  – the Adventure Continues!