19 August 2012

Fiery Skipper

Ever wonder what those small 'orange moths' are that you see in the lawn and garden?  They are a type of butterfly called a skipper, and one of the most common is the one shown below, the Fiery Skipper. 

Skippers don't look like what most people think of as butterflies, but they can be fascinating and fun to photograph none-the-less.  The fiery skipper is very territorial and fast moving, feeding on the nectar of various flowers.  One key aspect of its habitat (like many skippers) is grass, which is why they are at home in many suburban yards.  They are, however, partial to bermuda grass.  And whether this is cause or effect, they are unlikely to stray into the colder climates of the USA.

The photo above was on our 'Chocolate Flowers', which do indeed smell like chocolate.  These are an excellent native flower of the western USA - highly recommended.

12 May 2012

Snowy Egret Rookery

The Palo Alto Baylands happens to be about 10 minutes from where I work, so I occasionally drive up there on days I arrive at work extra-early.

The Baylands have been interesting - the only place I've seen Clapper Rail, and the easiest spot to see Pheasants up close.  But aside from that, they have seemed to take a backseat to the closer Shoreline Lake and Charleston Slough, which consistently have yielded more birds and other animals.

Well, I decided to visit the Palo Alto Baylands again recently, and was surprised to see a large Snowy Egret and Black Crowned Night-Heron rookery (community nesting site).  Suddenly I have regained interest in the Baylands!

The Snowy Egret breeding plumage is amazing:
The "spikey hair" and long wispy feathers really stand out.  The birds lores are usually yellow, though in this case are pink/red, which is more common in breeding season.  Apparently stress and/or fighting can cause their lores to turn red other times of the year as well.  I noticed that this (and other) birds feet were more reddish than usual as well.

The Egrets perform an interesting courtship display, tipping their heads back and slowly moving it upwards towards the sky.

With so many competing birds so close, there were a few skirmishes, such as these two fighting for position in the tree:

The rookery spans multiple trees, with probably 30 Snowy Egrets currently there.  Before leaving I snapped a couple more shots:

And a silhouette:

Oh, I mentioned the Black Crowned Night-Heron rookery.  They, in fact, shared a lot of the same tree space as the Snowy Egrets.  I didn't spend much time photographing them, but did take a couple of shots:

07 February 2012

Surf Scoter

When I moved to California, some birders I know said "my condolences" when I mentioned I'd lived in Arizona before.  Arizona's reputation for being a wildlife mecca is well known, and the locals here in the Bay Area look on with envy at the rare tropical species that the southeast Arizona sky islands bring in.

But I have to say that I've enjoyed the local wildlife here in NoCal quite a bit so far.  Just since Jan 1, I've already tallied about 140 bird species in my county alone - I haven't even made a coastal trip or a trip to higher than 1500' altitude.  There are so many habitats close by that I can spend much more time 'in the field'.

One of my local favorites so far has to be the Surf Scoter, a winter resident along the west coast.

Surf Scoter (male) at Shoreline Lake, Mountain View, CA
Surf Scoter (male), Shoreline Lake, Mountain View, CA
The photographed Scoter above is a male seen on Shoreline Lake.  As I understand it, Shoreline is a reliable location for Surf Scoters in the winter, and this year there are at least 15-20 on a daily basis.

The multi-colored bill is striking and unique - Eiders and Puffins are perhaps the only other species that compete.  The bill - short, hard, and with a unique wave, is thought to have evolved to pull shellfish that have wedged themselves into rocks and other tight places.

Female Surf Scoters are much less flashy - generally a grey with a few white-ish accents, and a similar shaped bill with a touch of yellow on the end.

Surf Scoter (female) at Shoreline Lake, Mountain View, CA
Surf Scoter (Female), Shoreline Lake, Mountain View, CA
Surf Scoters breed in northern Canada and the Arctic - so I expect that they will depart sometime after late March.

05 January 2012

Great Blue Heron - Land Feeding

Recently I stumbled upon a Great Blue Heron.  OK, that's not uncommon - Great Blue Heron are common across much of the USA, and especially areas with lots of lakes, ponds, streams, and marshes.  But this Heron was having a leisurely stroll across a dry field.  That was odd.

Many bird species stick very close to their preferred habitat.  In fact, certain species can ONLY be seen in very specific habitat.  And herons are known for standing like a statue in shallow water, waiting for a tadpole, fish, or other aquatic meal to swim by, at which time their lightning-fast reflexes snatch it out of the water.

Great Blue Heron

This heron was exhibiting some of the same stalking behavior in this field. And after a few minutes, it snapped at some sort of rodent on the ground. For some reason the Saturday Night Live skit involving the 'Land Shark' came to mind. :)

Apparently land feeding by Great Blue Heron is not totally uncommon. Places with lots of rodents and few predators provide a good option for an opportunistic heron. For what its worth, this heron was stalking the grounds of McClellan Ranch Park in Cupertino, CA.