Author Archives: Dan Lockshaw

About Dan Lockshaw

Dan is the owner and president of Optics4Birding. An avid nature lover and traveler he has ventured into some of the most remote regions on the planet. As author of the website he has spent years promoting the conservation of nature. In contrast he comes from a long career as a senior Program/Mfg engineer in Aerospace design and development.

Gray Jay – Perisoreus canadensis

Gray Jay in forest habitat

The Gray Jay ranges from east to west across the northern boreal forests of America. “Camp robbers” are what they are popularly know as. They may even fly onto someones hand or head for food.

Description and Family

Gray Jay is unique in appearance, relative to the other crow, jay, and magpie members of the Corvidae family. Its small black bill is the most notable difference.  This gives it the appearance of an over-sized chickadee.

The Gray Jay is medium size and fluffy. It is a pale gray jay with a light underside and no crest. All races have black eyes, feet, legs, and bill. In North America there are three readily distinguishable populations of Gray Jay. The photos here show the Rocky Mountain version or color pattern. Pacific birds have a darker head and brownish tinged backs. Taiga (northern) populations are grayer above and have a slight grayish belly. There are eleven races within these three color forms. Continue reading

Magpie – Black-billed and Yellow-billed

Magpie Origin

Black-billed Magpie

This Black-billed Magpie was photographed in Denver Colorado. It is common to see either of the American Magpie species walking on the ground foraging for food.

The magpies of North America are very visually distinctive from other birds and thus easy to identify. Although the Black-billed Magpie is very similar in appearance to the European Magpie, it is larger and genetically unique. DNA analysis places our two magpies as separate from the European Magpie. DNA distinctions caused the AOS to divide the American Magpies from the European Magpies. The same logic should apply to the Korean subspecies. The ancestral magpies, after dispersing across Eurasia and becoming isolated in Korea, then crossed over the Bering Land Bridge into the Americas at about 3 to 4 million years ago.Strictly speaking, using DNA comparisons, the AOS (American Ornithological Society) could potentially merge our two magpie species. Continue reading

‘I’iwi (Scarlet Hawaiian Honeycreeper)

'I'iwi on Maui, Hawaii

‘I’iwi feeding on ‘Ōhi’a Lehua tree in Maui

‘I’iwi distribution

The ‘I’iwi (pronounced ee-EE-vee) is an endemic Hawaiian honeycreeper. We recently photographed this spectacular scarlet colored bird on Maui. It was once widely distributed throughout the Hawaiian Islands. The big island of Hawai’i accounts for 90% of today’s their population. Most of the remaining population in Eastern Maui and Kaua’i. Very small groups of this bird are also present on the islands of Oahu and Moloka’i but their numbers are extremely low (below 50 birds). Continue reading

American Pika – unmercifully cute alpine furballs

American Pika in Sierra Nevada Mountains

American Pika in Sierra Nevada Mountains

Finding American Pika

On a quest for the American Pika (referred to below as just Pika) we recently hiked above the tree line into the alpine zone of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We chose the high elevation region near Conness Lakes just outside Yosemite National Park for our search. Our arduous hike to almost 11,000 feet was rewarded with the bustling activity of the Pika (Ochotona princeps), preparing for the rapidly approaching winter months. Continue reading

Orange Bishop

Male Orange Bishop along San Diego Creek in Costa Mesa, California

Male Orange Bishop

Since we recently wrote a post related to the unusual occurrence of a Yellow-crowned Bishop it seemed logical to also address Orange Bishop here too. It is also native to Africa, yet in the case of this species it is already well established and fairly common here in Southern California. This bird is certainly no less striking than the Yellow-crowned Bishop although its behavior is quite different. Fortuitously, Orange Bishop was in the same location along San Diego Creek as the Yellow-crowned Bishop. Continue reading

Jamaican Owl

Jamaican Owl

Jamaican Owl

We made a recent excursion to Jamaica in search of the endemic Jamaican Owl. We focused our efforts on the eastern side of the island since our time was so brief. Having read that the Hotel Mockingbird on the north-east side of the island had resident Jamaican Owls made this our first destination. The hotel is a wonderful place to stay. We did hear the Jamaican Owl although never actually saw any while we were there. Adjacent to the hotel are big trees. There may indeed be Jamaican Owls roosting in them. These “wise old owls” are certainly becoming aware of the folks who come to see them. They were unfortunately not out on open branches showing off to the tourists.
Continue reading

Fireworks in Laguna Niguel Regional Park

Happy 4th of July 2014 fireworks

We went to see the fireworks near Laguna Niguel Regional Park for 4th of July. Optics4Birding is located in southern California in the city of Irvine. I live about 15 minutes from work and near the Laguna Niguel Regional Park. The hills surrounding this area open the possibility for seeing many of the firework displays in South Orange County.

From where we were we could see four different shows at once. It was really impressive. I have never tried to take photos of fireworks before so it also became a learning lesson. A little reading on the internet gave me instructions for doing this. Shortly before dark we hiked up a dirt road in the hills next to our local high school and setup my camera on a tripod. Next year’s photos promise to be much better now that I have a bit of experience with this.

Since I do quite a bit of photography at night for our web site, I hoped that this would not be too difficult. Still this is a very different type of photography. Photographing the owls at night is done at closer range using a flash. Photographing the fireworks require extended shutter times with a camera on a tripod. All considered, this is just one more method of taking photographs.

I tried several different settings to do this. The best results came from setting my ISO between 100-400 and taking a timed photo of 5 to 8 seconds. I used my 100-400mm Canon lens so I could shoot some of the distant fireworks too. The shots were taken with the aperture set at 5.6. For a first try at this, the photos were just fine and I was happy.

Happy 4th of July to all from Optics4Birding. We hope to see many of you out looking at nature this upcoming year. Enjoy the photos and try to get outdoors as much as you can. We believe at Optics4Birding that if we all enjoy the outdoors, we will protect it and its precious life.

4th of July 2014 Fireworks in Laguna Niguel

Click image to enlarge and see more photos


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)
Continue reading

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

Broad-tailed Hummingbird – The last California Species


Broad-tailed Hummingbird

In our recent series of posts about breeding California hummingbirds Broad-tailed Hummingbird is the final species. It is also the most difficult to find. Although he is the most common breeding hummingbird in the Rocky Mountains, here in our Sierra Nevada Mountains he is much less frequent. After an unsuccessful trip into our mountains to search for this bird over Memorial Day weekend I finally decided to head across into Nevada to hopefully find it with, supposedly, greater ease. Continue reading