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Sunday, September 15, 2013

With flare

Driving in to work around mid-day today, at about the same time Eric and I both said, "What was that?" as a bird flew in front of the car and landed on a nearby shrub.  Eric noticed yellow underneath and I observed white on the outer tail feathers.  We stopped the car and got out to see if we could locate the mystery bird.  We found two of them!  

I snapped a quick, distant photo, but then the birds flew off towards Owl Canyon.  I decided to take a short walk to see if I could find them again for a better look.  

At first I didn't think I was going to relocate them, but then I saw them flying back towards the entrance to the marine lab.  And then Mike and David drove by.  They stopped, I told them about the birds, and we drove back to look for them.  Luckily, they were easy to find and this time I managed a couple of photos for the record.  A team effort paid off!

Western Kingbirds (Tyrannus verticalis) are rare migrants on Bodega Head.  They're more common at inland sites in Sonoma County, but are uncommon along the coast.  Western Kingbirds are neotropical migrants — after nesting in southern Canada and the U.S., they'll spend the winter primarily in southern Mexico and Central America.

Later in the day I encountered one of the kingbirds in a different location exhibiting an interesting behavior (see below).

This is a wonderful position because it shows off an important field mark for Western Kingbirds.  Take a look at the outermost tail feathers.  Note that the outer edge (or web) is white.  The Birds of North America account provides a good description of the behavior in this photo: "suns with body spread flat, neck extended, wings spread out, and tail flared."

You might want to compare these Western Kingbird images to the Tropical Kingbird pictures that I posted last year.  For example, compare the length and thickness of the bill, the color of the upper breast, and the color of the back.  (I don't have a great photo of a Tropical Kingbird tail, but note that they lack the white edges to the outer tail feathers.) Sightings of both species are possible at this time of year.

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