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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Down jacket

Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus), in the early morning near Mammoth Lakes, CA, on 8 October 2015


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

At the base of the mountains

We were in meetings for most of the day, but I snuck in a few pictures.  Here are three of my favorites from today:

Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli)

Least Chipmunk (Tamias minimus)

Shadow of a Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) on an aspen trunk (with sapsucker holes)

East of the Sierras

I'm at a meeting near Mammoth Lakes, CA, for a couple of days.  Here are a few pictures from the drive yesterday (taken from Route 89 and Route 395):

I stopped briefly to stretch at ~8,000 ft. along Route 89.  When I stepped out of the car, I heard Townsend's Solitaire's (Myadestes townsendi) singing!  (See one perched above.)  The next bird I heard was a Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana), and then a Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli).  A nice trio!

Cloud shadows

This damselfly flew in and landed in the parking lot at a rest stop in Antelope Valley (Mono County).  It's either a Great Spreadwing (Archilestes grandis) or a California Spreadwing (Archilestes californicus).  It flew off, and I couldn't find it again, so I'll need to check in with some experts to see if they can identify it from this photo.

 Mountain snow 

Mono Lake

Monday, October 5, 2015


Okay, I'll admit it.  I have a new addiction I'm fascinated by kite roosting behavior.

After my first post about this on 17 September 2015, I've continued to watch these White-tailed Kites come into roost in the evenings and leave the roost in the mornings.

I have lots of questions about this phenomenon.

Although the light levels are dim, when I've been able to see the birds well enough, it appears that many of the birds have orange markings on their breasts, indicating that they're juveniles.  Is the roost site made up primarily of juveniles, or is it shared among different-aged birds?

It appears that some of the kites perch in the tallest trees near the vicinity of the roost before actually entering the roost (see example below).  Does the availability of high perches nearby play a role in the choice of a roost site?  How many kites do you count in the next photo?  [Click on the photo for a larger version.]

There are at least five, and probably six, White-tailed Kites in the photo above.  Two are obvious in the upper left; there's one in flight; one perched below the bird in flight; and there's one perched on the far right.  I think there's also a hidden bird behind the foliage just to the right of the two birds perched up high.

The crows won't let these kites go by without many minutes of harassment (both entering and leaving the roost).  Sometimes there are eight or more crows chasing one kite!  (However, I've also noticed that some crows don't bother with the kites and fly directly to their own separate roost site.)  It seems like being harassed every night and every morning could get tiring, but perhaps the kites are used to it?  Why are the crows so concerned with the kites?  Or is it more of a "game" to them?

It's hard to count the kites, as many of them come to the roost in a very short time period.  I've seen them choosing a few different roost trees.  Do the same individuals roost in the same trees?  Or do they switch, and use different roost sites on different nights?  Tonight many of them chose a roost site that I hadn't seen them use in weeks, and they all seemed to fly directly to it.  How did they all know to use that particular roost site tonight? 

How will the number of kites change through the fall/winter?  Does weather affect the choice of roost site?  Does the type of tree matter?  Do the surroundings matter?  How far are they coming from?  Does a daylight cue trigger their arrival/departure to the roost? 

I have so many questions about this that I started doing some research.  Interestingly, one of the first articles I came across was an article by Gordon Bolander and John Arnold describing a White-tailed Kite roost in 1964 in Cotati! 

They observed kites coming to roost on several different dates, e.g., Oct. 24 = 75 birds, Oct. 25 = 156 birds (!), Oct. 28 = 85 birds.  Gordon Bolander and Mike Parmeter found the birds using a "walnut orchard" as a roost site.  I don't know if there's still a walnut orchard here, or if the walnut orchard used to be close to where the kites are roosting now?  Could this roost site be a traditional site, passed on through many generations?  I'll have to ask Mike where that walnut orchard was.

P.S.  The article cited above is: Bolander, G.L. and J.R. Arnold.   1965.  An abundance of White-tailed Kites in Sonoma County, California.  Condor 67: 446.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


Bell's Vireo (Vireo bellii), at Campbell Cove on 4 October 2015.  This is the first record for this species in Sonoma County.

Gene Hunn spotted this bird on 2 October 2015, so I felt lucky that it was still there today.

Bell's Vireos breed in the central and southwestern U.S. and winter in central/southern Mexico and in Baja California.  They're rare in northern California.  This individual appears to be the eastern subspecies (Vireo bellii bellii), which is even rarer in California.  This subspecies is greener above, yellower below, with shorter wings and shorter tail.

The next picture shows the green coloration above.  Although there isn't much in the picture for scale, note that this vireo is small ~4.75 inches (120 mm) long.  [The Birds of North America account mentions that Bell's Vireos are sometimes called "greenlets" probably due to their greenish coloration and small size.]

Note also the two wings bars, with the lower wing bar being more obvious and the upper wing bar being very faint.

There is a narrow white eye ring and a pale stripe above the lores (between the eye and the bill), giving the appearance of "spectacles" from certain angles:

This bird was very yellow below...had thick, gray legs and feet (in contrast to a kinglet)...and was very actively feeding low in shrubs — primarily Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis) and California Wax Myrtle (Morella californica).

What a nice way to be welcomed back to California!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Bites not bytes

Strong northeast winds (15-25 knots) continued in Massachusetts today.  Although it was blustery, I had about an hour to spare (to avoid busy traffic), so I decided to go for a short walk on Humarock Beach where I grew up.  

Here's a view looking out to sea: 

My first memories of tidepooling come from here.  Before heading out to explore, my mother always reminded us to beware of "barnacle bites."  The rocks are slippery, and a fall would often result in scrapes from barnacles.  (Decades later, I still hear her warning in my head.)

Today I wandered out and found a few old friends:
Acorn barnacles (Semibalanus balanoides)

Dog whelks (Nucella lapillus) and periwinkles (Littorina littorea)

Forbes' Sea Star (Asterias forbesi

Around the corner from this rocky point, there's a stretch of sand and cobble.  It's mostly cobble at this time of year, but the strong winds were blowing light sand across the stones.

Some low intertidal sand was exposed.  We used to find sand dollars here, so I started looking and was happy to spot one nice example:

Common Sand Dollar (Echinarachnius parma

I made my way back between a low sand dune and a salt marsh, remembering all of the time spent exploring these habitats with family and friends.

Recently, I've been thinking about how times have changed how many people now spend more time with electronic devices than they do outdoors.  While walking the beach in the storm this morning and reflecting on my childhood, I felt very grateful that I grew up thinking more about "barnacle bites" than "megabytes."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Persistent northeast gales

It was windy today, but the rain let up.  We didn't let the marine forecast for "persisent northeast gales" deter us.  We went for a short walk along the south side of Morris Island in Chatham, Massachusetts.  Here's the view from Morris Island looking south towards South Beach (below).  A lot of sand has shifted and things have changed quite a bit since I was last here in 2013!

We encountered a nice flock of shorebirds along the shoreline, including this Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus):

And a few juvenile Dunlin (Calidris alpina):

(With a Sanderling on the left for comparison)

 We were sad to leave Cape Cod, but we'll be back!