Digiscoping is the act of connecting a camera to a spotting scope to take photos or videos of subjects that may be too distant for conventional camera lenses, or require getting so close to the subject that it ceases the behavior you want to capture.
One of the most amazing migratory flights is that of the Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus. This pipit breeds primarily in eastern Europe and Asia, almost completely above the Arctic Circle, and on the Kamchatka Peninsula. There are also some breeding grounds in Alaska’s northwest coast, Bering Sea islands, and possibly also in the Yukon.
Most Red-throated Pipits migrate down the western Pacific and winter in China and as far south as Australia. Some of the more eastern breeders take a more easterly route. These 6-inch passerines fatten up on the islands in the Bering Sea and then head off on a 3,000 mile flight across the Pacific Ocean to the California coast. While annual each October in southern California in small numbers, mostly on sod farms, Red-throated Pipits are almost unheard of much north of the San Francisco Bay Area. This tells us that they rarely follow land and fly straight across the ocean. The Red-throated Pipits that migrate through SoCal winter in Baja California. eBird records show them wintering near La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Continue reading →
The Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) is a large North American dragonfly. Typically, Variegated Meadowhawks range across Canada from British Columbia to Ontario, and most of the U.S. from California to Florida. Averaging 1.5 – 2 inches in length with a wingspan of 2.5 – 3 inches, scientists classify Variegated Meadowhawks as medium-sized dragonflies. These highly migratory dragonflies sometimes turn up on Caribbean Islands and even in eastern Asia. Typically, they often cruise over dry land as often as in the vicinity of ponds and streams. Variegated Meadowhawks are “sally hunters”. That means they launch on feeding sorties, and return to the same spot, much like a Western Wood-Pewee. Thus, sally-hunting makes these dragonflies much easier to photograph than many subjects. And well worth it. Continue reading →
The Wandering Skipper (Panoquina errans) is a small butterfly that lives only in coastal saltmarsh. They range from Santa Barbara County, California south to northern coastal Baja and the Sea of Cortez. Their range is a narrow band close to the ocean. This is because this butterfly’s larval food plant, saltgrass, only lives in coastal salt marsh. Wandering Skippers fly in late summer and fall, usually in two broods.
Finding Wandering Skipper
As it happens, one of the largest Wandering Skipper colonies is right here in Orange County at Upper Newport Bay. References said that they were present in the highest density in the vicinity of Big Canyon. So we started to look for them in late July. They weren’t easy to find! It wasn’t until August that we found a single individual, nectaring on the tiny purple flowers of European Seaheath (Frankenia pulverulenta). We went back several weeks later and found a fair few more of them, again feeding on the Seaheath. Continue reading →
When people find out I’m a birder, one of the most frequent questions is “What’s your favorite bird?” Sometimes I’ll give a flippant answer such as “My next life bird.” Other times, I’ll say that I love all birds and can’t pick a favorite – that each is special in its own way. I do have an affinity for Magnificent Frigatebirds, because seeing an adult male flying fifteen feet over my head while standing on a dock on Key West was the experience that triggered my choice to actively pursue the hobby of birding. But there are in fact some birds that are definitely cooler than others, be they prettier, uglier, sweet singers, or just plain quirky. One of these is the Reddish Egret (Egretta rufecens).
Reddish Egrets, once rare in Southern California, have been moving gradually up the coast. They now inhabit estuaries from San Diego through Ventura. Recently, they are visiting Santa Barbara. At Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, they are breeding. Birders frequently report sightings of 2 or 3 individuals. Continue reading →
Blue-eyed Darners (Rhionaeschna multicolor) are common throughout California. This dragonfly is a mosaic darner. This mosaic darner family contains at least 10 species, all of relatively similar size and coloration. Hence, mosaic darners are often quite hard to tell apart. The family gets its name from the beautiful pattern of coloration on the abdominal segments. The broad distribution of Blue-eyed Darners extends from central Canada south, across most of the United States and all the way down to Panama in Central America. Furthermore, the completely blue eyes and absence of a black line dividing the face distinguish Blue-eyed Darner from all other members of the family. They also differ in the shape of the abdominal appendages. Continue reading →
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 →
The Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) bears several distinctions among North American shorebirds. In addition to being the largest common sandpiper on the continent, it is also the one with the largest bill. The bill size of the Long-billed Curlew is quite variable, with females generally having notably longer bills than males. The two genders have different shaped bills as well. Male Long-billed Curlew bills show nearly continuous curvature along its length. But the female’s overall flatter bill terminates in a sharply hooked tip. Note how this bird’s lower mandible is distinctly shorter than the upper, falling short of the often sharply curved tip.
Finding Long-billed Curlew in SoCal
Long-billed Curlews are common wintering birds in southern California, gathering in huge numbers on the agricultural fields of Imperial County, and in smaller numbers at Bolsa Chica Preserve and Upper Newport Bay here in Orange County. A certain small number of Long-billed Curlews do not migrate north to their breeding grounds each year, meaning there are some individuals present year round at locations like Bolsa Chica. Continue reading →
Female Roseate Skimmers are common Salton Sea dragonflies
We took a trip to look for Salton Sea dragonflies and birds during the first week of August. Stop and think about that: the Salton Sea in August! Are we nuts?! Probably, but there are some things you can only find there in the summer, and the Salton Sea seems to always be good for odes (dragonflies and damselflies).
Mindful of the fact that it can easily top out over 120°F there in the summer, we took a lot of sunscreen and water, started well before dawn, and planned on leaving early. By 7:30 it was unpleasantly hot; by 8:30 it was sweltering. But we were finding birds and bugs so it was all good. We had the company of our good friend, Bob Miller, a local birding and odes expert who lives in Brawley, and who knows where to find everything worth seeing in terms of local wildlife at the Salton Sea. Continue reading →
A male Yellow-crowned Bishop (Euplectes afer) recently made news in Orange County. Part of what makes this unusual is that Yellow-crowned Bishop isn’t a wild bird. It undoubtedly is a released or escaped cage bird. Originally, Yellow-crowned Bishops come from Africa, and inhabit nearly every sub-Saharan country. So what’s all the fuss about? Well, for starters, he’s a cracking bird!
Where to Find Him
Moreover, this bird is just fun to watch! Present in San Diego Creek just upstream of Audubon House at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, this Yellow-crowned Bishop is very territorial. He perches high in clusters of sedge and aggressively chases virtually anything that comes near – Scaly-breasted Munias, Common Yellowthroats, House Finches… whatever! He doesn’t just chase them though; he puts on a show! First he puffs his feathers up and half opens his wings, about doubling in size. Then he launches at the intruders with rapid shallow wing beats looking like an angry little quail in hot pursuit. All the time, he utters a high-pitched, metallic, plinking call. His turf protected, he returns to his previous perch high in the sedge.
Almost any exotic escaped cage bird can become established in the southern United States. People who said the Pin-tailed Whydah would never become established in California are looking a bit foolish right now! You just never know. Continue reading →
The old saying goes “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” But we who study butterflies, dragonflies, or other small creatures, know that many other things need proximity. Getting close looks at and/or photographing them requires optics that let you see these beauties in enough detail. That means being able to focus at very short distances. On the Optics4Birding website, a binocular’s close focus distance must be less than 8 feet to be considered close-focusing. I photographed these butterflies with a lens that allows close focus as well. All these images are full frame. I have not cropped the photos, only resized them to fit our page format. The Painted Lady (above) was feeding on nectar from these flowers. Continue reading →