Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Return of the Swallows

Most of us are aware of the famed Mission at San Juan Capistrano. More accurately, most people are aware of the return of thousands of swallows during the month of March. March 19th or St Joseph’s Day was the schedule for this event. Today there are very few swallows actually nesting at the mission is the real truth. As a result of the 1812 earthquake much of the roof collapsed. Now left bare and exposed are the two-story arches of the great stone church. During reconstruction the nests were removed to protect the swallows. As luck would have it, the swallows moved to other adjacent locations and created new nests. Few have ever returned to the mission.

Swallows Arrive

Cliff Swallows nest with juvenile peering outThe fabled swallows of San Juan Capistrano still arrive in the area every year though most of their nests are under local bridges or often under the eaves of local establishments. The photos here are from the nearby Tree of Life Nursery adjacent to Casper’s Regional Park. Located off Ortega Hwy it is about 15 minutes east of the mission. (Young looking out of its nest shown on the left)
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OC NABA Butterfly Counts, 2014

Marine Blue Butterfly on OC NABA butterfly count

Marine Blue Butterfly on OC NABA butterfly count

The Orange County chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (OC NABA) held its annual butterfly counts this weekend. Counts took place in Thomas Riley Regional Park and O’Neill Regional Park. It was my privilege to participate in the Riley count and to lead the O’Neill count. We had a pretty much ideal day for them, warm and clear without being beastly hot, though a little more moisture to bring on a bloom of more flowers would have been helpful.

As it was, the diversity of butterfly species was a bit on the low side, while the numbers of some species, notably Checkered Whites and Marine Blues were fairly impressive. We had 35 Marine Blues on the Holy Jim Canyon section of the O’Neill count alone, mostly clustering around wet mud puddles. They were difficult to count accurately since they were always moving, and you had to be careful that you didn’t miss something different hiding amongst them. We had a handful of duskywing butterflies, mostly Funereal Duskywings (photo). Many of these were freshly emergent, so the subtle markings in the upper wings and the white trailing edge of the hind wings were particularly bright and well-defined. Continue reading

Eastern Sierras – Handling the Expanse

An Eastern Sierras Excursion

The Eastern Sierras are one of the benefits of birding in California. They have a wealth of breathtaking scenery that we get to visit or pass. They are easily the equal of well-known scenic wonders like Yosemite, Big Sur, Death Valley, and Lake Tahoe. And these are just a few of the places that inspire awe. Driving around the state, I’ve developed an interest in geology as well, but birding is the main focus of my travels.


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Quick trip to Paso Robles

Fathers day in Paso Robles

Northern Bobwhite in Paso Robles

Northern Bobwhite

For Father’s Day weekend my daughter and I went up to Paso Robles, CA to visit family. It was not a trip where I got much time to go explore or bird watch. We did happen upon a few birds of interest while there. The first of these was a nice Northern Bobwhite. I had never seen a Bobwhite in Paso Robles before. Bobwhites not often seen in the Western US. Experts consider these to be domestic birds that have escaped. Well, escaped or not, she was very beautiful and certainly running around free. I was really surprised when I had trained my Nikon EDG II binoculars on her expecting to see a California Quail. Continue reading

Breeding Mountain Chickadees on the Coastal Plain

Mountain Chickadee below nest

Mountain Chickadee bringing food to its nest

Sometimes the best birding occurs right on your doorstep. While riding my bike to work one morning, I heard the telltale song of Mountain Chickadees (Poecile gambeli). I watched one fly over my head into an alder tree beside the road. On the way home, I stopped in the same location to look for the nest I suspected was there. It didn’t take long to find. On an exposed length of trunk some 25 feet up, a fresh-looking hole with a nice, beveled edge was visible. Moments later, one of the parents followed the other to the hole, and the excited calling of the nestlings anticipating food could be heard. I went home and immediately returned with the camera. Then I sat quietly waiting for the adults to return. Continue reading

Newport Back Bay Science Center

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow sunning

We visited the Upper Newport Back Bay Science Center recently, looking for dragonflies and butterflies. Despite a pleasantly warm morning with relatively little wind, there were very few flying insects out on Father’s Day. The Newport Back Bay Science Center is an educational facility located on Shellmaker Island in the California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s 752-acre Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve. While lacking a visitor’s center, this facility is open to the public on a limited basis. They have regular education programs for 7-12th-grade students and other research opportunities, as well as general public visitation hours. There is a lab with multiple tanks of fish and invertebrates like an octopus, starfish, sea urchins and so on. Out back, they have petting tanks with more starfish, small sharks and rays, and flatfish like turbot and halibut. It’s a really neat place! Continue reading

Zeiss Victory SF Experience Tour, Part 4

Lesser Grey Shrike

Lesser Grey Shrike on Zeiss Victory SF tour

Our final day of the Zeiss Victory SF tour started on the bus at 4:30 am. We drove for over three hours to a site well south of Budapest, Hungary. The border stop provided us with our first good looks at Crested Larks. These attractive larks commonly inhabit the fields and roadside edges. There was little time to look at them though as we continued the long drive. Our first stop was a great one. We parked along a rural road just outside a tiny town. There we immediately found several Lesser Grey Shrikes. These birds look much like our Loggerhead Shrikes, except they are warmer grey tone in the back and crown. They also show a distinct pinkish wash (photo) to the belly and upper chest.

Also present there were a few European Rollers. These handsome birds are overall sky blue color, slightly darker than Bee-eaters with contrasting reddish-brown wings and back. Rollers are fairly large, being slightly bigger and rather stockier than a Western Scrub-Jay. They are named for their looping roller-coaster-like display flights, which we got to see briefly, sadly only at great distance. Also present at this site was a hunting Little Owl that kept popping up onto a distant fence post. A pair of lovely Stonechats flew about the margins of a rough field edge. Continue reading

Zeiss Victory SF Experience Tour, Part 3

Hungarian Village in Zeiss Victory SF tour

Hungarian Village on the Zeiss Victory SF tour

The next day’s Zeiss Victory SF tour activities started later in the morning. However, some of us were unwilling to let the best birding of the day slide by unused. So a few of us rose at 5:00 am to walk to reedy marshes that spread like fingers into the edge of town. What a great decision! Our first reward was a brief but definitive view of Savi’s Warbler on the marsh edge. Loudly singing its distinctive low-pitched hum of a song; easily overlooked if not focused upon.

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Zeiss Victory SF Experience Tour – Part 2

Eurasian Spoonbills on the Zeiss Victory SF tour

Eurasian Spoonbills on the Zeiss Victory SF tour

Neusiedler See

For our first day of birding on the Zeiss Victory SF tour, we boarded the bus in Vienna at 6:30 the next morning and headed for Neusiedl am See, our base of operations for the rest of the tour. Neusiedl am See is located on a large lake, the Neusiedler See, in the southeastern part of Austria, nestled in the wine country near the Hungarian border. This lake has extensive marshy edges, making it a haven for waterfowl, herons and shorebirds. With laudable directness, we drove right past our lodgings and got straight to the birding, traveling clockwise round to the southeastern shore of the Neusiedler See. Continue reading

Zeiss Victory SF Experience Tour, Part 1

Zeiss Victory SF tour group in Wetzlar, Germany

Zeiss Victory SF tour group in Wetzlar, Germany

I just got home from attending the Zeiss Victory SF Experience tour. This press event celebrated the release of their new world-class SF Binocular. Zeiss took us on a tour of their factory in Wetzlar, Germany. There we saw how they assemble their new Victory SF binoculars. The extensive testing they do ensures a high level of quality control. That visit impressed all of us! Between traveling and a tour of the lovely old town section of Wetzlar Germany, we birded little on our first day.

Much of our birding time there involved common hedge and garden birds. Anyone with much European birding experience knows these birds intimately. Since I’d not previously visited continental Europe, these common birds delighted me! I enjoyed common birds like Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Black Redstart, Short-toed Treecreeper, Fieldfare, Serin and others. It was also a chance to get to know my fellow trip participants. There were a lot of really good birders on this trip, and I benefited greatly from their experience and knowledge. Continue reading