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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cape May Day

It's been a very birdy week on Bodega Head.  I mentioned earlier that a Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina) had been spotted.  It was seen on 26 September 2012, between Owl Canyon and the Bodega Marine Lab entrance along Westshore Road.

Today I found it (or possibly a different bird, hard to know for sure) in a tree near the Bodega Marine Lab facilities.  This is only the second record for Cape May Warbler in Sonoma County (the last was on 9 June 1977 in the trees near the Bodega Marine Lab housing area).

It was very active, moving around in the upper levels of a Myoporum tree.  But I think you'll be able to see most of the important field marks in these photos.

Look for the yellow throat and underparts, with extensive dark streaking on the breast and along the sides (hence the species name, tigrina = tiger-striped).  The face is also yellow with a gray ear patch.

In the photo above, note the gray crown and the slightly decurved bill.

Below you can see hints of the white wing patches.  The uppermost one is pretty thick (like a white smudge), making me think that this could be an immature male (females have two narrow wing bars). 

And here's a back view with the olive-green back and a tiny glimpse of the yellow rump.  This bird seemed very interested in the Myoporum flowers.

Cape May Warblers nest in boreal coniferous forests in Canada and the northern United States from Minnesota east to Maine.  Their main wintering area is on Caribbean Islands.  This bird is a long way from there right now, but it sure was nice to see it!

P.S.  Photos of the individual observed on 26 September are posted here.  Take a look and see if you think this is the same or a different bird.  (Beware there's one Blackburnian photo in the set.)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Warblers continued

Although I saw a Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica) on 27 September 2012, I wasn't able to get any pictures that day.  Today we found the warbler in the cypress trees near the Bodega Marine Lab housing area, and then later in Owl Canyon.

This is a fall bird, most likely a female, so there isn't any chestnut on the sides where it would be in breeding plumage.  Instead you'll notice the bright green crown and back, and white underparts.  The green color really stands out! 

Here are a couple of views showing the white eye ring.

And one more where you can also see the bold wing bars.

A Blackburnian Warbler continued to be seen in the cypress trees near the BML housing area today.  For the record, here are a few more photos of this rare vagrant.

Both of these warblers have more easterly breeding distributions, generally found in northeastern North America.  Chestnut-sided Warblers winter primarily in Central America and Blackburnian Warblers winter in Central America and northern South America.  They're rare on the West Coast, e.g., in Sonoma County over the past 45 years , there are ~55 records for Chestnut-sided Warbler and ~15 records for Blackburnian Warbler.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Migrant traps

In the 1960s, Rich Stallcup and C.J. Ralph discovered that outer Point Reyes is a "migrant trap."  In Rich's words (from the PRBO Observer, Fall 2009):

During periods of ideal "migrant weather" (light breezes from any direction except northwest and a high, even overcast), an amazing assortment of lost landbirds may gather in the oases of trees and brush that birders call "migrant traps." Because they travel at night, have overshot the coast, and are out of fuel, these off-course songbirds are returning to the continent from the sea. They are tired, thirsty, and hungry and so are attracted to the first vegetation available.

Bodega Head is also a migrant trap.  The prime areas to look for rare migrant songbirds include the trees and shrubs along the outer portion of Westshore Road — Owl Canyon, Campbell Cove/Hole-in-the-Head, and the cypress trees near the Bodega Marine Lab entrance road and Bodega Marine Lab housing.

The last couple of days have produced a number of rare sightings: e.g., American Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Cape May Warbler, and Clay-colored Sparrow.

This morning I caught up with a few of them, and took photos of Blackburnian Warbler (Setophaga fusca) and Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida).

This first photo is a Blackburnian Warbler in a willow near Owl Canyon.  Note the dark ear patch behind the eye and the yellow throat.  (It's an immature bird, so not as bright as an adult in breeding plumage.)

The next photos were taken later in the day in the cypress trees near the entrance to the Bodega Marine Lab housing area.  (Many thanks to Dea for alerting me to this bird!)

In these photos you can also see the two white wing bars and a few dark streaks along the sides (below the wings).  All of the photos below show the same individual.  It's instructive to see how different it can look in various positions and lighting conditions.

The Clay-colored Sparrow was first spotted near Owl Canyon and then spent a little time across the road in the coyote brush along the Bodega Harbor shoreline.

This is a very pretty little sparrow.  Note the distinctive head pattern and the gray nape contrasting with the overall buffy plumage.

There were also a few regular migrants around, such as this handsome Townsend's Warbler (Setophaga townsendi).

This is a moth's-eye view!  (The genus, Setophaga, means moth-eater.)

P.S.  If you have a serious interest in Sonoma County bird records, I highly recommend Birds of Sonoma County California by Bolander & Parmeter, along with the recently published updated edition by Parmeter and Wight.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pickles and cactus

I couldn't resist taking a few photos of Pickleweed (Salicornia pacifica) in the salt marsh near Doran Beach last weekend.  

But I'm not sure how to explain the range of colors in patches right next to each other.  How many different color patches do you see in the photo below?


To my eye there were at least three or four colors — red-purple (left), yellow-green (right), ashy-green (foreground), and pink (back left).  I have no idea what causes the color differences.  Elevation?  Moisture?  Salinity?  Nutrients?  Age?  Does anyone know?

Here's a close-up of the red-purple and yellow-green patches. You can see the tall, narrow, fleshy spikes.

Pickleweed is one of the dominant plants in local salt marshes.  It flowers in late summer.  If you haven't seen the flowers yet, here's a hint about what to look for:

Sometimes I think Pickleweed looks like miniature saguaro cactus!  I read that saguaro cactus grow side branches to enhance reproductive capacity (more tips = more flowers and more fruit).  Perhaps that's also true for Pickleweed?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Partial to pines

A movement caught my eye this morning and I looked up from my desk to see a Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) foraging along the edge of my office window.  I didn't have my camera at the time, but later I encountered another nuthatch searching for food (e.g., insects or spiders) along a crevice in a vertical wall on a nearby building. 

Note the dark crown, white eyebrow stripe, and dark eyeline.  Below you can see the contrast between the black crown and the gray back, indicating that this is a male (females have gray crowns).

After work I stopped at Owl Canyon briefly and found one foraging in the pines. 

The next picture illustrates the nuthatch's climbing technique.  Unlike creepers and woodpeckers, it doesn't use its tail as a prop against the tree trunk.  Instead, nuthatches have very long claws that grip the bark.  This allows them to walk in both directions (up and down) along the trunk (or along any surface at any orientation!).

Red-breasted Nuthatches are uncommon migrants on Bodega Head.  Two other species of nuthatches have been recorded, but are considered rare migrants.  Do you know which ones?  (Answer at bottom of page.)

It was relatively quiet bird-wise in Owl Canyon, but I heard a loud chip note and turned to see this immature female Hermit Warbler (Setophaga occidentalis).  Note the bright yellow face, darker crown and ear patch, and mostly white underparts with very few streaks.

Red-breasted Nuthatches and Hermit Warblers both prefer conifers.  In other areas they can be found in Douglas-firs, true firs, and spruce, but on Bodega Head you're more likely to spot them in pines.

[Answer to nuthatch question:  The other two nuthatches include Pygmy Nuthatch and White-breasted Nuthatch.]

ADDENDUM (26 September 2012): 

For anyone wondering about the location of Owl Canyon:  Owl Canyon is along Westshore Road just before you get to Campbell Cove. Watch for the tall pines and eucalyptus. There's a large dirt pull-off along the side of the road where you can park (on the opposite side from Bodega Harbor).

Madrone Audubon has a map showing Owl Canyon.  And Colin Talcroft has provided an aerial view with a written description.

Monday, September 24, 2012

I spot eyespots

This photo is from Bodega Head earlier in September, but the flight season of American Ladies (Vanessa virginiensis) can be year-round in California.

In the photo above, look for the orange patch with a small white dot in the center (one on each forewing).  This character is helpful when identifying American Ladies.

It's even easier when you can see the two large eyespots on the underside of the hindwing (see next photo).  The other ladies in this area have four eyespots instead of two. 

American Lady caterpillars feed on everlastings (Gnaphalium, most local species are now in the genus Pseudognaphalium) and Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis). 

P.S.  Did you notice that it looks like this butterfly has 2 pairs of legs?  Most insects have 3 pairs.  The other pair is actually present in this butterfly, but the legs are much reduced — you can see the first pair of legs held close to the butterfly's body just below the eyes (they're very fuzzy).  

Because these shorter legs are sometimes brush-like, butterflies in this family are called brush-footed butterflies (it includes groups such as the admirals, anglewings, checkerspots, crescents, fritillaries, and monarchs).

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Merlin and a Pec

Well, when you're trying for a photo a day, you don't always end up with a great photo.  But these two species are relatively uncommon in this area, so I thought it would be worth mentioning them.

I was watching shorebirds on the harbor side of Doran Beach today.  The mixed flocks of sandpipers and plovers were acting pretty nervous.  A Peregrine Falcon dove at them first, and just after they had settled down on the tidal flats again, a Merlin (Falco columbarius) decided to take aim.

Merlins are uncommon migrants and winter visitors in Sonoma County.  They actively hunt shorebirds and songbirds.  They're smaller than Peregrine Falcons and larger than American Kestrels, and they always seem like they're up to some sort of mischief.

When the shorebirds took off, their vocalizations revealed the presence of a few Pectoral Sandpipers (Calidris melanotos).  [A Pectoral Sandpiper is sometimes casually abbreviated as a"Pec"].  Pectoral Sandpipers are uncommon migrants in this region.  I heard and observed at least three individuals today.  Two are in the image below.

The call of Pectoral Sandpiper is a good one to know, as it's often your first clue to their presence.  It's a quiet, subtle call, but I'm hoping you can hear it on the recording below.  Although there are other birds in the background, listen for the soft churrt notes.  It's the first call you hear and then is repeated 7-8 times.

Pectoral sandpiper by nhbh

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Horseshoes, foxgloves, and tigers!

Just a few more photos from our last day on Cape Cod.

A view looking along the outer beach on South Beach in Chatham, MA.

The inside of South Beach is much more wave-protected. There we encountered lots of juvenile Atlantic Horseshoe Crabs (Limulus polyphemus) creating trails on the surface of the sandflats.

A kettle pond on the Outer Cape.

Some of the plants along the shorelines of these coastal plain ponds are adapted to fluctuating water levels (similar to vernal pools).  One of these is Purple Gerardia or Purple False Foxglove (Agalinis purpurea, formerly Gerardia purpurea).

We also spotted a few tiger beetles in warm, sunny spots along the sandy edges of the pond.  Below is a photo of a Bronzed Tiger Beetle (Cicindela repanda).

Note the large eyes and very long legs.  Tiger beetles are active predators, running after prey such as ants and flies.

Earlier in the day we found a different species, a Margined Tiger Beetle (Cicindela marginata) near a salt marsh in Wellfleet.

The sickle-shaped and serrated mandibles of tiger beetles are a little frightening when seen up close (next photo), but they're generally not strong enough to hurt people.

Here's a Western Tiger Beetle (Cicindela oregona) photographed in the Bodega Dunes in April 2006.

The maculations (markings) on the wing covers are important for identifying tiger beetles.  If you see one, pay close attention to the sizes and shapes of the stripes and spots.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fiddlers in the marsh

It’s still warm enough in September for fiddler crabs to be active in salt marshes on Cape Cod.  Fiddler crabs are generally subtropical and tropical, but a few species occur in temperate regions.  Although there are salt marshes in Bodega Harbor, there’s only one fiddler crab (Uca crenulata) found in California and it reaches its northern limit in the southern part of the state in Los Angeles County.

This is a Mud Fiddler Crab (Uca pugnax) photographed during low tide in Wellfleet, MA, on 20 September 2012.  Males have one small claw and one much larger claw.  This is called extreme cheliped asymmetry (cheliped is the scientific name for a claw).

The smaller claw is used for transferring mud to the mouthparts where they will scrape organic detritus off of the mud for food.  The large claw is used for displaying to females.

In contrast, females have two small claws. 

In both males and females, note the tall, elongated eyestalks.  In some of the photos you may notice irregular compacted balls of mud; these are created when the crabs excavate their burrows.  You may also spot a few burrow entrances.

Here's a view of the salt marsh where these photographs were taken.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Combs and mullets?

On 19 September 2012, we were walking through Woods Hole, MA, and noticed some interesting animals in the water below.

The first was a pretty ctenophore or comb jelly, probably a species of Mnemiopsis (sometimes called a sea walnut).  The individual below was ~4 cm long.  Instead of pulsing like jellyfish, ctenophores use rows of "combs" to move through the water.  The comb rows look a bit like stitches.

The ctenophores were mostly transparent, but they had a slight pinkish hue, which was helpful when trying to locate them in the water.  

We were traveling, but had an empty mason jar in the car (thanks to some salsa!), so used the jar to scoop up one ctenophore for a closer view.  Here are a few photos for scale.

Although this ctenophore is not found in the Pacific Ocean, several other species can be seen near Bodega Head.  I posted about one called a sea gooseberry in February.

While scanning for ctenophores, a small school of fish swam into view.  The fish themselves were ~8 inches long.

Many of the fish had flashing blue tails with a dark black line along the posterior edge (see next photo).

A few of the fish appeared to have narrower snouts, more golden coloration on the back, and black spots along the sides (see next image).  I'm not sure if this variant was a different species, or a different stage of the same species?

We're wondering if the dominant fish is a species of mullet, but we're really not sure, so we're looking for input.  We'd be grateful for any assistance!