Friday, July 18, 2014

Stop and Enjoy.... (Blog Short)

The fighting and blundering of Cassin's Kingbirds is super fun to watch. However, most birders don't give the common birds a second glance. 

Often when you're birding, another birder will come along and ask the dreaded question, "See anything good today?" or "What have you got there?"

And most of the time, I answer "no," because really, I have no idea what they mean. I used to give answers like "Oh today, I found a cool bluebird nest," or " Lesser Goldfinch fledgeling begging from random goldfinches and getting rejected. Cutest thing ever!" but noone seems to care about these things. Only when I say: "Two Williamson's Sapsuckers are just a couple yards down the path," do birders suddenly pay attention and listen in on every single one of my words like their life depends on it.

A year or two ago, someone asked the question "What makes your day a good day?" I was startled to read that pretty much everyone said that they were only happy if they got a species count higher than 40-50, or in the extreme cases, 80. 80???

80??? Don't get me wrong, those rocking days where I get 100+ species always get me warm and excited on the inside, but all it takes for me to be happy is to see a little wildlife!

Grackles are passed off by many as "trash birds." I don't think they ever get old for me, with their beautiful iridescent purples and blues. 

Next time you go birding, don't just focus on getting lifers or yearbirds... stop and admire the beauty, behavior, and bounty of common ones.

Happy birding,


Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Beetle in The Hand...

A Beetle in The Hand...

Note: Extreme animal people who get mad when someone touches an insect might get offended by this post. If you are one of them, proceed with caution. Also, please do not comment on how holding the bugs is hurting the insects and scaring them because it isn't. All beetles and butterflies were perfectly at ease and not showing any signs of struggle.  

This morning, I had just refilled the finch socks and was trying to avoid accidentally hitting the flegdling Lesser Goldfinches flying right next to my head jostling for the seed. I don't even know why they like that seed. It's almost six months old--all dried out and old.  Fledglings. They have bad taste.

Suddenly, my dad called me over to look at a dead Green June Beetle.  Naturally, I wasn't too excited since he said it was dead, but still, a Green June Beetle is a Green June Beetle is a Green June Beetle. It was on a rose, too. HAHA Get it (OK, that was a really bad one. Sorry.)??

It must have been frozen or something because it didn't move after I picked it up for a good five minutes, even though Southern California nights are like 70 degrees at lowest.

After a while, it started to uncurl its feet and crawl over over my brother's hand like it owned the hand. Then it must have farted, because this absolutely DISGUSTING smell started to leak from the beetle's butt. It smelled like gasoline mixed with baby vomit and cow dung.

Close-up of the beetle midsection. Awesome-looking beetle! 

Front view. This guy looks like a gaudy caravan for the Beetle Circus. 

Green June Beetles aren't the only june beetles to get up close and personal. This Ten-lined June Beetle landed on my brother's pants to rest during a camping trip. They don't smell as bad as the green guys. Pictures of this guy and the butterflies are from my brother.  

A better back view of the brilliant beetle. 

Butterflies are easy to get on the hand too. All it takes is a little sweat and they'll readily sit on your hand to drink that stuff (yeah, that's kind of disgusting). We've gotten butterflies from skippers to ladies to fritillaries to sit on our hands. 

No butterflies were harmed in this process-- hold your sweaty fingering out in an offer to the front of a landed butterfly and most of the time, it'll step right on! 


Monday, July 14, 2014

Endangered Creature Feature: Snowy Plovers!!

At first glance, a Snowy Plover will look like just another large rock on the beach. But on a closer inspection, the rock will turn out to be a little round bird with an gentle grey back and a tiny smile on its petite black beak. 

The soft plovers sit quietly with their fellow plover friends on  sandy West Coast beaches. They are unobtrusive and observant, and they seem to be serious and laidback at the same time. Truly, finding them is a serendipitous moment. 

Watching the Snowy Plovers sit and sit and sit in the wind, with their feathers blowing wildly in their face, so blissfully unaware and yet observant of everything, is a life-changing experience. Seriously.

Snowy Plovers are an indicator species-- their populations are indicative of the health of the entire beach ecosystem as a whole. 

Many, many years ago, seeing the fluffy cute Snowy Plovers was a familiar sight. But--as with the Piping Plovers, the East Coast Snowy Plover equivalent-they are in fast decline and need of protection in most areas throughout their range. 

Despite many regulations in place to protect the plovers, marauding dogs and cats and humans taking over and claiming beach habitat are destroying the plover population. Unfortunately, such horror stories of humans destroying plover nests to eat the eggs and placing their beach chairs on plover nests are not uncommon.

Rampaging humans and their feral pets aren't the only major problem, if you'll believe it-- Black-crowned Night-herons and Gull populations that have boomed due to changes brought about by humans are also posing a problem! 

Do your own part! Inform others about the Snowy and Piping Plovers and their dangerous predicament (Last year I was pleased to see local elementary school kids petitioning to preserve a local beach for the Snowy Plovers)! 


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Science of Hummingbirds

Sometimes, when I'm scoping for MacGillivray's Warblers or peering in bushes looking for Wrentits, out of nowhere there'll be a "ZEEeeeert!" loud enough to make me jump out of my binoculars. It gets me every time, and after a closer look, the culprit-an Anna's Hummingbird- will always be sitting smugly nearby. "Darnit!" I will curse. "Hummer got me again!"
I've always been fascinated at how hummingbirds-  birds that weigh not much more than a penny, require a ridiculous amount of energy to function, and are small enough to fit in a chicken egg-manage to survive the various strains and stresses of migration, caring for young, cold nights, food, and making noises loud enough to scare humans. So I set out to reserach, google, read up, and observe on how hummingbirds survive and other interesting tidbits!


Are humans going the way of the hummingbird? 

A couple months ago, I read a little snippet in the Orange County Register that said something along the lines of "the hummingbird is an example of what humans are becoming. Us humans are increasingly speeding up and being constantly busy, and cities all over the world have already sped up. In the very near future, we might easily fall into the evolutionary trap of the hummingbird."

Read on to see if that theory is just a far-fetched crackpot idea, or if it actually has some credibility.

Anatomy and the Hummingbird

One may ask, how does the hummingbird manage to do such awe-inspiring tricks like flying backwards, hovering precisely, and doing figure eights at thirty miles per hour through flaming hoops (have you ever been to the Buffalo Bill's Wild Hummingbird Show?) The answer is so ridiculously simple that you all already thought of it: it's all in the anatomy. In addition to having sockets (basically, sockets are sock rockets) that can rotate backward, most hummingbirds beat their wings at more than 130 times a second. The only thing that I can do 130 times per second is.... well, nothing.

Not just another pretty face. 

Energy Expenditure

It's hard to believe that hummingbirds almost entirely subsist upon the sugar in nectar. I'd like to know how they manage to avoid getting diabetes after all that sugar. Then consider that experiments studying the energy expenditure of hummingbirds show that hummingbirds have the highest energy expenditure and some of the highest relative body temperatures of all creatures in the entire Earth, and things get interesting. How do hummers even manage to survive?

According to the amazing book that everyone should check out, The Private Lives of Garden Birds, a hummingbird has to average about one meal per 11 seconds. Some quick calculations will tell you to keep itself from starving, an average hummingbird just trying to keep itself alive has to visit more than 3000 flowers during the daytime only-add in the factor that most flowers take hours to replenish their food supply, and that most food supplies outside of a hummingbird's territory are zealously guarded by rival hummingbirds, and the task of surviving becomes even more difficult for a hummingbird. Ugh.

If they don't drink, they die.

A bird the size of a small watch loses heat incredibly quickly-on any night less than warm, a hummingbird would quickly die, if not for torpor. Birds in general have been known to frequently fall into torpor , and sometimes even hibernation in extreme conditions, but the hummingbird in particular relies on torpor to survive every night.


Hummingbirds may not travel the longest-distance migration like the Arctic Tern, but they do embark on one of the most implausible, amazing journeys of bird-dom. Every year, instead of taking the long way round the Gulf of Mexico, many Ruby-throated Hummingbirds desperate to get to their summer location as fast as possible fly across the gulf nonstop, a journey of more than 600 miles and fraught with danger for the tiny hummingbird.

I have a secret theory that migrating Gulf hummingbirds actually ride on the back of bigger birds. Sounds legit.

In order to build enough energy for the incredible journey, a little hummingbird must build up a large fat reserve. In weeks before migration, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can increase their weight by as much as 50% ! They must have a lot of McDonald's in South America. Still, even after they build their fuel, an average Ruby-throated Hummingbird still weighs a pitiful 0.20 ounces, and not even all the energy can be used. Apparently, this source is still more than enough to drive a hummingbird over the 600 mile gulf.  As soon as a hummingbird reaches the other side, it must eat like a beer bear on a tattle pin in order to survive. What the heck is a beer bear on a tattle pin? I have no idea

Creature Feature:

Orange-throated Hummingbirds?

It may surprise you, but many renowned ornithologists and not-so renowned birders believe that male hummingbirds have an "alternate," plumage like goldfinches! 

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. The ones on left are"breeding plumaged,"-April and the ones on right are in "alternate plumage."-Oct-Nov

Image credits:  http://www.sibleyguides.com/wp-content/uploads/Archilochus_colubris_MCZ_20110715_107_web.jpg

If you would like to join in the discussion about this theory, then go to the above link.

So are humans going the way of the hummingbird? You decide for yourself! 


Oops, wrong Hummer.

Orange-throated Hummingbirds
Hummingbird Energy Expenditure

Image Credits
Hummer (truck)
Map (Don't judge me.)

And all the other tidbits in the article came from various lectures, books, and websites that I can't remember.

Note: I know a lot of these images are rehashed from previous posts but I don't have any other ones so deal with it.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Tern-riffic Terns!

I think I may have set the world record just now for "Worst Pun Ever," in that title.  Hopefully, my humor will take at " Least a Tern," for the better, but f-tern now I think it'll just stay ternrable as evtern.

Enough of the blabber.

Have you got what it takes to be a tern?

1. Super Eyesight

Spotting a fish the size of a potato chip from two stories above doesn't sound too hard. But spotting it in a almost pitch-black body of water six foot deep ? Sounds pretty difficult!

2. Super Flying/Diving Skills

Once terns spot their possible dinner in the water, they have to be able to hover right above it before plopping into the water and grabbing it out. How in the world they manage to pick out their prey while doing that is a question I'll never know the answer to.

Cute to you, deadly predator to fish.

3. Super Stamina

Terns undergo some of the longest migrations in the Animal Kingdom. Some Arctic Terns migrate from the North Pole area to the South Pole every spring and fall- an extremely tough journey.

A group of Royal Terns. Royal Terns don't migrate very far, but they are cool-looking. 

A tern.

4.  Super Criminal and Defense Skills

 I have seen and heard of terns stealing (or at least trying to steal) everything from everyone: fish the size of pancakes from cormorant's mouths, paperclip-sized fish from other terns, fish fillet sandwiches from humans, you get the idea. But in the fishy (Haha get it?) criminal world, you have to be on the lookout too- skuas and large gulls all bully terns into giving up their food all the time.

5.Super Social Skills

Most terns nest in huge colonies-they're not afraid of each other, unlike many humans.
If you think the crowds at Thanksgiving parades are aggravating, wait until you see the crowded conditions of a tern colony.

Video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

My own cruddy picture of a (much smaller) tern colony. This picture only shows a small section of the entire village. 

Happy 4th! Hope you enjoyed today's post. School is out and summer is in, so I'll be able to get the posts going more often!


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Red-winged Blackbirds


One of my absolute favorite sounds of spring and summer is the dissonant, cranky call of the Red-winged Blackbird. "Conk-a-REE!" the males grumpily call, sounding like someone woke them up too early and there was no worm. GET IT?  The early bird gets the worm?

It was a typical spring SoCal Sunday morning at Laguna Niguel lake- it was sunny, and hot. Almost unbearably hot. Even the blackbirds were squirming under their feathers from the heat. I watched as a male Red-winged Blackbird viciously fended off two other males trying to steal his precious territory in a flurry of pecks. The male finished chasing off the intruder males. He clambered onto a reed and glared at the fishing boats going past before letting out his raspy "Conk-a-REE!" call, the proud gloat over being the owner of the best nesting territory on the lake.

The desirable territory all seemed to be on the left side of the lake, where it was marshy and contained much of the food the blackbirds favored. Most of the blackbirds who had claimed the best pieces of the marsh had arrived earlier than all the other blackbirds. I had seen them three months ago letting out weak conk-a-rees in the cold misty morning, being the sole blackbirds in the entire lake.

Late stragglers, inexperienced first-year or second-year males, and just plain horrible-at-defending blackbirds get stuck with lame territories. 

I had to settle with this horrible photo because I don't have another one of a FY male. This guy was stuck with a super lame territory and had no nesting females.

Why go through all that trouble to gain territory with more food on it? Red-winged Blackbirds are polygamous. The more  food a male has on his territory, the more females will choose to nest on it(for obvious reasons), and more offspring with his genes might be produced that year.

 Male Red-winged Blackbirds may not help build the nest or rear the young, but they expend a tremendous amount of energy patrolling their territory and chasing out anything that gets too close to his nest(S), dangerous or not.

"I am the magical Fly Head with Feet! Be afraid. Be very afraid!"

So next time you see a Red-winged Blackbird, don't just shrug it off as another "regular" or a "trash bird!" There's more to them then what first meets the eye.

Hope you enjoyed this weeks post!


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