Sunday, March 01, 2015

San Diego in the Rain

Balboa Park Botanical Building
Sunny California, right? Well, they've been in a drought for years, so we couldn't complain much just because it's going to rain for two day. This is the 100th anniversary of Balboa Park's Panama-California Exposition in 1915, and you can find museums, art galleries, the world renowned San Diego Zoo, and countless recreational opportunities just a short drive from downtown. We decided museums were a great way to get out of the rain while on vacation.
Museum of Man bell tower
The Balboa reflects much of San Diego's history.  Most of the buildings are incredibly ornate, as you can see from this photo of the bell tower. The Committee of 100 has worked to preserve the building which were originally built only for temporary use. Huge crowds were drawn to the Exposition's combination of education and balley-hoo, overwhelming the small population of the city. When WWI started, the military moved in. Another exposition in 1935 gave way to the military again when WWII began. The US military still employs 1 of  4 workers in San Diego. Tomorrow we may visit the USS Midway aircraft carrier, which is now retired.
Spreckels Organ Concert
 Even in the rain, the Sunday organ concert played on, sheltered under an overhang. I wondered how they protected the organ from the elements when not being used. As we left at the end of the day, there appeared to be a "garage door" pulled down in front of it. The rain wasn't a problem at all for us, between umbrellas, covered walkways, and all the museums. The Nat (Natural History Museum) is outstanding - we watched a 3D movie on dinosaurs in Alaska. Really cool! By the way, they have a terrific Model Railway Museum here too. Talk about your boys and their toys! My grandson would have loved it!
Orchid in Botanical Building
If you lived here, you could to a different museum every week, and still not see all the exhibits and programs. They've been working on the landscaping for 100 years, and some of the trees are huge.  The gardens seemed to be between seasons, and not up to their peak, I'm sure. I love the faces in these orchids!
California Towhee
After we arrived yesterday (the airport is sandwiched between downtown and the harbor), we went to the site of the San Diego Audubon Birding Festival, which is the reason we are here to begin with, just to be sure we could find it, right? Anyway, I failed to bring camera or binoculars on that short trip, and we saw 28 species, including life birds, in about an hour and a half at the Mission Bay Marina and along the San Diego River!!! I've learned my lesson and took the camera today, so we also got a little rainy weather birding in, including this little California Towhee, another lifer! Look at the rufous color under his tail. See, I've been studying the Western field guide book to be prepared for what we might come across. I plan to return to the San Diego River at Mission Bay to see if I can get photos of the birds we saw, including hundreds of American Wigeons and Brant Geese.
Great Horned Owl
At 5 o'clock, things closed down and we started back to the parking lot, when I heard Whoo Whoo from two different spots in the eucalyptus trees. Dick, I hear owls! and we scanned for a big blob among the trees. Ah, there she is...

... along with about 30 raucous crows harassing the heck out of her! She must have flown away a second time, because they all took off after her, but I couldn't find her again. What a great way to end a rainy Sunday in San Diego!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

See, Share, Save Birds

The Weather Channel loves stormy weather. They send meteorologists all over the country to stand out in the wind, rain and snow up to their arm-pits, and the last month has been just heaven for them. Today, the Weather Channel predicted 20% chance of snow here in Kentucky, supported by a blue blob on the radar.
 Most folks think of February 14 as Valentine's Day, but this weekend is also the Great Backyard Bird Count, during which birders around the world count the birds they see, either from the comfort of their kitchens or out on the trail, and submit that data to Scientists need data to analyze, but gathering it is a time consuming process. Besides, birders always like another reason to see and count birds.
A little snow, of course, never really stops true birders, so after my PowerPoint presentation about common Kentucky birds, a dedicated group headed out into the horizontal snow at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve to see what they could find. I'll confess, I wimped out and stayed behind to do my counting from the warmth of the indoor bird blind. After all, birds at the feeders deserve to be counted too, right?
Don't know why this Junco decided to perch in a tree. All his friends stayed on the ground looking through the seeds scattered beneath the feeders by other birds.
They were joined by other winter visitors such as this White-crowned Sparrow. It was a good opportunity to show our other birding friends the difference between White-crowned...
...and White-throated Sparrows, another winter visitor. They can be confusing for beginners, or anyone who doesn't look carefully. It snowed and blowed all the way home, and the sun came out as we pulled into the garage. I think I'll stretch out for a nap now.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sandhill Cranes Kentucky Stopover

It's such a thrill to hear Sandhill Cranes calling ka-roooo from high in the sky as they migrate over Kentucky. If you look online, most of the articles are about the Greater Sandhills which gather in such large numbers along the Platte River in Nebraska.
Decent numbers of Lesser Sandhills migrate on an easterly path over Kentucky and Tenneessee too, and many are now stopping in Hardin County, KY, just south of Louisville. It's an easy hour's drive to see them.  The small community of Cecilia has a bank, two churches, and railroad tracks running through the closely clustered houses. When you reach the firehouse, you are in Crane Country!
Kentucky has a Sandhill Crane hunting season and 96 Sandhill Cranes were reported killed this year (Dec. 13 – Jan. 11). 400 are permitted by law. The Cranes have always know to stick to the middle of the fields. A good birder friend says you won't see them in soybean fields, so we looked more in the corn stubble. These fields aren't particularly marshy, and Cranes favor wetlands. You can usually find them around drainage ditches between the fields though The problem is finding a safe place to stop your car. The local folks drive pretty fast, and there aren't any shoulders on most of the roads. Of course, you can't pull into someone's driveway either, since that's private property. One year I got lucky and they were right up next to the fence and I could get close photos without leaving my car.
Dick and I speculated about how the Cranes decided to forage in one field instead of one right next to it. If it were sunny, I'd guess they might see kernels of corn shining in the sun. But it was cloudy and very windy on Sunday. Maybe they just remember from year to year. The omnivorous birds dine on grains, plant tubers, mice, snakes, insects and worms. Farmers like them because they probe into the soil and aerate it. If they are migrating, how do they know when or whether to move farther north. We haven't had any snow to speak of, but it's deeper nearer the Great Lakes. I guess they'd go south for a while if the food supply became frozen here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Walk While the Sun Shines

Gadwall male
In the winter, I just lose all interest in going outside on a cloudy, gloomy day. "Gloomy" is the key word. Go out for a walk when the sun is gone and the wind blows down my neck no matter how tightly a scarf is wrapped? No thanks. I'll just sit in my lounge chair wrapped in my favorite fuzzy blanket, reading a book or watching old movies. Of course, that also leads to excessive snacking, but that's what winter is about, right?
Mallards in head bobbing - courtship behavior
But the sun has been out this week, and the temps are up in the 40's and 50's - very pleasant weather for January - so I actually went for a walk along the Anchorage Trail this morning. It is paved, and I won't end up tracking a lot of mud home with me. All the little winter birds sang as they darted around unseen by me. It's always good practice to recognize them by sound alone. The ice on the lake was partially melted inviting several Gadwalls and a pair of Mallards to swim around. The Mallards were head bobbing at each other, then the male climbed on top of the female. Seems a little early for such behavior to me, but they know what they are doing. A pair of Kingfishers called to each other from the other side of the lake.
A flock of, say, 30 or so Canada Geese squabbled at each other while grazing in the nearby soybean field, then flew back to the lake. Some landed on the water with a splash, while others landed on the ice instead. All stood on the edge of the ice for a drink of cold water before hopping in for a little swim.
Hornet Nest
One tree had two hornet nests, with all the hornets safely inside, I hope. Don't they look like big skulls? In colder climes (according to National Geographic), hornet nests are abandoned in winter and only new, young queens (and their eggs) survive the season by finding protected areas under tree bark or even inside human dwellings. In the spring, such a queen will begin a new nest, and soon her young will become workers and take over the chores of the new hive—leaving the queen to tend to reproduction. She will produce more workers to expand the hive and then, before she dies, yield a breeding generation of new queens and males (drones) to restart the cycle of life.
Red-shouldered Hawk keeping warm
 As I headed back towards the car, I heard the repeated call of a Red-shouldered Hawk. I know they live around the trail, it's perfect habitat and I've seen them before. But lots of Blue Jays were out and about today, and they always mimic this hawk and I always fall for it. OK, let's walk in that direction and see if it really is a hawk or not. Yeah! There she sits on one foot, with the other curled up under her fluffed out feathers, trying to stay warm while keeping an eye below for something to eat.
Isn't she beautiful? Yes, indeed, I like taking walks when the sun shines!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Winter Woodpeckers

The sun is shining, and it's not too cold, so I joined the Beckham Bird Club for their trip to Cave Hill Cemetery this morning.  We probably heard more birds than we saw, but the woodpeckers were active and came out of hiding.
That stiff tail gives this Red-bellied Woodpecker good support on a vertical tree trunk.
Hmm, sap holes... I'll investigate. Time for something sweet!
The Downy Woodpeckers called and looked for bugs.
Ah, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, making more and more holes in the same tree. Maybe if it warms up more this afternoon, some sap will actually rise into them. Rats, thought I had another close shot of him, but I can't find it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Goose, Goose, Goose

Ducks and geese winter at Ballard WMA in varying numbers every year. The first time we went, we saw about 70,000 Snow Geese, but this year, the numbers were down. Maybe the weather isn't bad enough up north yet. No matter how many Snow Geese there are, it's always a thrill to watch them come in for a landing in the field. White bodies, black tipped wings, and blue morphs give them wonderful protection from predators. It's really hard to find an individual bird.
In flight, they don't use the classic "V" formation of other geese, but fly in waves.
Not all Snow Geese are white. They have a blue morph where the body is blue/gray and the head white in adults, or dark in juveniles.
Flocks of White-fronted Geese gathered at the WMA too. They are dark gray, with a patch of white on their heads by pink bills. I noticed all of them looking in the same direction and the bus driver said they were getting ready to take off. Small numbers of Canada Geese stayed apart from all the others. We couldn't get close enough to the open pools to actually see any ducks though.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Gathering of Eagles

We saw lots of variety and action among the eagles this weekend in Western Kentucky. KY Fish and Wildlife has been putting radio transmitters on some eagles in the last couple years to see where they actually go, and they have gotten good data, but sadly, the birds don't seem to be living very long, something NOT related to the transmitter, but something that can be recorded accurately with the transmitter. In 2014 they found 131 active nests in the state, and everyone's very excited with the numbers. Young birds travel in all directions, some up north, even as far as Canada, and some going to the south. The one mature bird they tracked had a large territory (about 15 X 16 miles). There were other pairs there as well, and he always flew wide of their nests to avoid attack. We especially enjoyed the many varieties of brown and white in the immature birds until they get their white heads and tails at age 5.
If you can find two birds sitting side by side, like this, you can guess their gender just by looking - the larger bird on the left is the female. But it's hard to catch them like this!
We saw some really good activity among the eagles. These two are definitely love birds!
Next they will work to improve a nest from last year, or maybe start a new nest. It's amazing to watch them select and carry the sticks to the nest site.
It's early in the season, but we did see one bird on the nest already, unless she's considering new wallpaper patterns!
I love the flight patterns. Total count for our weekend - 8 birding on Saturday morning, 38 from the boat that afternoon, and 82 at Ballard WMA this morning! Woo-Hoo! 128 altogether!
This morning we took an early van ride from the park to Ballard Wildlife Management Area. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife manages this area along the Ohio River near the confluence with the Mississippi (and many others across the state), not for the benefit of the wildlife, but for the hunters who pay fees for licenses. It's been pretty cold all weekend - down in the single digits most mornings - and the shallow ponds were frozen, except for a few open areas where all the ducks congregated. Yes, that's where the eagles gathered too! At one point we found 22 eagles gathered around an open pond to hunt for ducks. Some were even standing around on the ice! Of course, you could only get photos of this from the other side of the school bus we rode, but I sneaked a few views between all the heads.