Category Archives: Mammals

Of all the classes in the animal kingdom, mammals can be some of the most difficult to find and observe, but they are also crowd pleasers. Just go to Yellowstone National Park in the summer and look at all the people trying to see wolves. Most mammals are shy, so observing with a spotting scope will get you your best views.

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

Spring Pelagic Trip in Orange County

California Sea Lion on the Spring Pelagic Trip

California Sea Lion on the Spring Pelagic Trip

I took the Sea & Sage Audubon spring pelagic trip out of Dana Point on 03-MAY-14. It was a glorious eight hours of birding on a glassy calm Pacific Ocean with cool temperatures and almost no breeze. The trip started with us cruising past one of Orange County’s only nesting pairs of Black Oystercatchers on the breakwater. This young California Sea Lion pup loafing on the rocks was too adorable to ignore. Once out to sea, pelicans, gulls and terns soon began congregating behind the boat. Popcorn works every time! This pelagic trip featured low numbers, but a good variety of birds.


 Gulls and Terns

Three Terns in flight

Three Terns in flight

We had a good variety of terns, including Caspian, Elegant, Forster’s, Common, Least and Black Terns. These terns lifted up off a floating kelp raft. The gulls were fairly mundane, including California, Western, Heermann’s, and Bonaparte’s, with one exception. A group of eight Sabine’s Gulls encountered near Catalina Island gave provided a thrill. The group included three fully hooded adults. Now that’s a snazzy bird! Any day you see a Sabine’s Gull in Orange County is a good day of birding by definition! Hence, this was a very good day.

Alcids and Shorebirds

Red-necked Phalaropes

Red-necked Phalaropes in flight

We did well for true seabirds as well, with a single Black-vented Shearwater, three languidly flying Pink-footed Shearwaters and dozens of Sooty Shearwaters, most of which were in such ragged molt it was a wonder they could get airborne. Unfortunately, we saw only two distant Black Storm-Petrels all day. We observed all three of the expected loon species (Common, Pacific and Red-throated) multiple times. Scripp’s Murrelets, a dozen or so Cassin’s Auklets, and one sub-adult Rhinoceros Auklet represented the Alcidae. Several groups of Scripp’s Murrelets included flightless young ones, though they still dive like pros! We kept running across large rafts of phalaropes, more than 90% of which were Red-necked Phalaropes like these shown here. There were isolated Red Phalaropes feeding on kelp rafts, and occasionally mixed in with the Red-necked.

Marine Mammals

Minke Whale

Breaching Minke Whale

Marine mammals, rather than birds, provided the best show of the day In addition to the California Sea Lions, we also saw Stellar’s Sea Lions, Northern Elephant Seals, Bottle-nosed Dolphins and three different Minke Whales. The first pair of Minke Whales were quite friendly, circling the boat and obligingly surfacing repeatedly for photos. But on the way back to the harbor, we encountered one that got playful with us, dashing under the boat and then fully breaching right up close. Though lots of people missed the original jump, that Minke proceeded to breach 4 more times! What a glorious way to end a trip. I used a Canon EOS Rebel T3 camera and a 100-400 mm zoom lens for these shots.


Featherless Joy of Birding

Birdless Joys of Birding - Desert Bighorn Sheep near Zzyzx.

Desert Bighorn Sheep near Zzyzx.

The joy of birding doesn’t always include birds. We made a successful three hour drive to Baker, California to see a White Ibis. White-faced Ibis are the common species in California. Glossy Ibis is very rare. And this was the first White Ibis I’ve seen in the state in nearly 20 years of birding. We then decided to check some other local spots. We know of several in the area that can often be productive.

One of our favorite spots is the California State University Desert Studies Center at Zzyzx. Formerly a desert resort, this oasis has springs and accommodations that facilitate workshops of many kinds, and on a good day, can have lots of migrant birds refueling in the trees and ponds. Some desert residents even breed there. So, we drove in, parked, and walked around searching for some rare bird to tickle our fancy. We checked the ponds, the tamarisks, the palms, and the willows. We even scanned the rocky hillsides and the salt pan.

Big(horn) Surprise

The place was virtually bird-less. But on our way out, we chanced upon this particular joy of birding, a flock of Desert Bighorn Sheep. These animals are very reclusive, so we stopped to get some photos and video. We shot some rewarding footage recording behavior that very few people get to see. I recorded the video with a Nikon CoolPix P6000 camera through a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope.

YouTube video

We used digiscoping so that we could keep our distance and avoid spooking the sheep. Through digiscoping, we were able to record Desert Bighorn Sheep doing things that are not often seen. Be sure to follow along with the narration in the video. We point out such behavior as the ram asserting his dominance and insisting on submission from one of the younger males.