Sunday, January 29, 2012

Drake's Beach Birding Photos

Dan Lipp, Cory, and I visited Drake's Beach yesterday.  Nothing too noteworthy except for two Red-necked Grebe and two Black Scoters.  Otherwise it was a pretty typical day birding Point Reyes waters.  
Marbled Godwit, Drakes Beach, Point Reyes, CA
Marbled Godwit, Drakes Beach, Point Reyes, CA
Marbled Godwit, Drakes Beach, Point Reyes, CA
Ring-billed Gull (adult), Drakes Beach, Point Reyes, CA
Mew Gull (adults), Drakes Beach, Point Reyes, CA
Marbled Godwits, Drakes Beach, Point Reyes, CA
Mew Gull (adult), Drakes Beach, Point Reyes, CA
Mew Gull, Drakes Beach, Point Reyes, CA
Western Gull (second cycle) with Mew Gulls, Drakes Beach, Point Reyes, CA
Western Gull (adult), Drakes Beach, Point Reyes, CA
Elk near Drakes Beach

By Luke Musher

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Photo Quiz from 1/26/12 Answer

Well this was somewhat of a hard one, and only a few people got it.  The photo is dark, and this dull bird is definitely a confusing one.  Let's take a look again.
What do we see?  First of all we see a mostly olive-backed bird with a gray hood/head and grayish-olive tertials.  This bird is definitely a relatively slender, small-headed passerine with a medium-sized tail.  We know the bird is in California, but that doesn't rule out a vagrant.  Blue-headed Vireo may come to mind, but they have wing bars (not to mention quite rare in CA in January). They would also show white edging on the tertials, and their heads are usually darker and thus contrast more with the body.  Nashville Warbler may also come to mind and is a frequent vagrant to CA, but depending on age/sex they show some to a lot of bright yellow on the underparts.  They should be much greener above rather than drab-olive like this individual.  They also would be much shorter-tailed.  Female Mourning and MacGillivray's Warblers are also gray-headed but would show extensive bright yellow to the underparts.

This really only leaves a few options.  To me, from the beginning the bird was either a Tennessee or an Orange-crowned Warbler (but then again, I took the photo).  It is relatively slender and small-headed.  The tail isn't all that long, but isn't short either.  Oreothlypus (formerly Vermivora) warblers like Tennessee and Orange-crowned come right to mind because of the lack of wing-bars, gray head, and the overall drabness.  Look closely and see that this bird has some yellow poking out from under the tail (i.e. yellow undertail coverts).  Tennessee Warbler never shows this.  Even if this yellow tinge is an artifact of the lighting, exposure, etc., Tennessee Warbler's tail is fairly short.  This bird is an Orange-crowned Warbler of either the Taiga or Interior West race.  If you still don't believe me, look below.

Timothy Schreckengost - PA
Francesca Massarotto - CA
Drew Weber - PA
Mark Dettling - CA
Andrew Longtin - MN

Thanks for playing!

~Luke Musher

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Photo Quiz

Mystery Bird. Taken January 2012 in Bodega Bay, CA. [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Can you identify this bird?  Give it a go.  Email us at with your answers.  We'll reveal the answer and the winners in two days.

~The BoomCha team

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mouse on the Menu

Mousing is a fairly well-known behavior in some of the larger members of the heron family, Ardeidae.  While we generally think of herons and egrets as being waterbirds strictly eating animals living in water - fish, frogs, crustaceans, etc - herons such as Great Blue Heron and Great Egret are largely opportunistic yet formidable predators, eating just about whatever small animal crosses their path.  It is not uncommon to see either of these two species in farm fields or meadows, far from water, hunting rodents among other small terrestrial vertebrates. Herons, in general, are stalking predators, walking slowly and stabbing their prey in one quick motion with their dagger-like bills - an effective method to say the least.

On Monday, 1/23/12, at Las Gallinas Valley Sanitation District in San Rafael while waiting for the wintering Short-eared Owls to appear after sunset we watched a Great Egret catch at least two rodents in the marsh.  Though dark, I was able to obtain some photos of this interesting behavior.

We first noticed this Great Egret catching rodents just past sunset, so though dark, there was still enough light to get some photos.
A vole perhaps?
It manipulated the rodent in its bill for a short period of time before swallowing.

Check out the lump in its throat.

Got another one!

By Luke Musher

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Marin County Year-birding

This stunning male Barrow's Goldeneye was very cooperative for the camera. A real treat.  Rodeo Lagoon, Marin Headlands, CA [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Well, the rain continued on yesterday in Point Reyes.  So Dan, Frenchie and the BoomCha boys made the day our weekly day off to spend some time birding, mostly in Marin County, CA to find some year (and even life for some of us) birds.  We made a loop around the southern part of the county heading first to the Marin Headlands, then briefly in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and then to a few spots in San Rafael and Novato.  Although we got skunked on about half of our target birds, we ended up getting some pretty awesome birds including Barrow's Goldeneye, Golden Eagle, and Short-eared Owl.  See below for our complete species list from the day.
Pied-billed Grebe, Rodeo Lagoon, Marin Headlands, CA
Bufflehead, Rodeo Lagoon, Marin Headlands, CA
Ring-necked Duck and Common Goldeneye, Rodeo Lagoon, Marin Headlands, CA
Barrow's Goldeneye, Rodeo Lagoon, Marin Headlands, CA
Barrow's Goldeneye, Rodeo Lagoon, Marin Headlands, CA
Barrow's Goldeneye, Rodeo Lagoon, Marin Headlands, CA 
Common Goldeneye, Rodeo Lagoon, Marin Headlands, CA
Hooded Merganser, Rodeo Lagoon, Marin Headlands, CA
Spotted Sandpiper, Marin Civic Center Pond, San Rafael, CA
One of the dozens of Mew Gulls in the hundreds of gulls seen in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco on 01/23/2012 
Dan Lipp ran off to get some photos of a SY Cooper's Hawk.  Still waiting to see how they turned out!
Day List (85 species):
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Brant's Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Canada Goose
Cackling Goose
Wood Duck
Northern Pintail
American Wigeon
Northern Shoveler
Cinnamon Teal
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Common Goldeneye
Barrow's Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
American Avocet
Black-necked Stilt
Greater Yellowlegs
Spotted Sandpiper
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Wilson's Snipe
Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Thayer's Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Western Gull
Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon
Great-horned Owl
Short-eared Owl
Anna's Hummingbird
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
Common Raven
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Marsh Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
European Starling
American Pipit
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco
Western Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
House Finch
Purple Finch
House Sparrow

By Luke Musher

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Red-shouldered Hawk Indeed: Gawk at this Hawk

Three days ago we had a post about one of the two Red-shouldered Hawks we caught this past week.  The second hawk, to us banding amateurs with little hand-hawk experience, looked odd especially compared to the first bird we caught (read first RSHA post).  It had features that reminded us easterners of Broad-winged Hawk.  Look at the photos here and see what we mean.  Turns out, after running it by the hawk banders at Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, the bird is definitely within the normal range of variation seen in the California Race of Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus elegans.  Here are some photos taken by Dan Lipp of the overzealous Frenchie holding this beautiful SY RSHA.  

This photo shows the pale grayish brown eye that is typical of a young Red-shouldered Hawk.
An adult California Red-shouldered Hawk would show a nearly solid orange breast with an orange belly with white barring. The brownish barring on this SY RSHA is very reminiscent of a Broad-winged Hawk, and it has a much smaller, streaky bib than our previous SY RSHA. However, this RSHA's plumage is within the normal variation one could expect to see within the California subspecies.
Here you can see the tail with fewer, thicker bands than our first Red-shouldered Hawk, but the California subspecies immature can show a more adult-like tail than the eastern subspecies. 

By Luke Musher and Cory Ritter

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tufted Duck and other good birds at Abbott's Lagoon

Today Cory and I had a day off, and even though it rained, we trekked through wind and rain to hike around Abbott's Lagoon in Point Reyes.  We first arrived at the trailhead around 9:30 in the morning.  We hiked by the lake finding birds such as Mute Swan, Cinnamon Teal, Ruddy and Ring-necked Duck, Thayer's Gull (and six other gull species), Wilson's Snipe, Pacific, Red-throated, and Common Loon and Black-crowned Night-heron among other birds.

Although it was overcast, it was relatively calm and rain-free for the first hour or so of our hike.  Albeit, by the time we got to the lagoon the wind was gusting strongly and whipping rain at our faces.  It was the kind of rain that stings a little as it blows into your face - small, thin drops that come almost sideways.  Eared Grebes were the most common grebe on the lagoon.  American White Pelican, Sanderling, plenty of Ruddy Ducks, Canvasback, more gulls, loons, and grebes, and some American Pipits, Yellow-rumped Wablers, and several sparrow species were all present.  Our main target species, though, was Tufted Duck, and we couldn't seem to find it.

Hiking around the lagoon was arduous to say the least, and the apprehension of missing our target bird almost caused us to turn around at several points.  Instead we complained profusely about the rain, wind and long walk through soft sand.  However after walking all the way around the lagoon and scoping time and again, but not seeing anything that so much as resembled a Tufted Duck (except one Ring-necked Duck which caused us to doubt the presence of the bird at all!), we came to a bench.  So we sat and scoped.  Visibility was moderate at best, but we scanned across our side of the lagoon looking at Common Goldeneye, Canvasback, Green-winged Teal, and the lone Ring-necked Duck.  Finally we spotted the bird.  "Oh my god," I said, "I'm looking at the Tufted Duck!"  The bird was diving actively, spending only a few seconds above water at a time, making it extremely difficult to follow, and get Cory on.  Eventually we were both looking at the bird.  A small, although obvious, tuft hanging off the back of the head, whitish-gray flanks with a dark-brown to black back were the field marks we used to ID this bird.

We sat for a while in the rain, water soaking through our rain gear in parts, and watched the Tufted Duck.  Eventually we stood up and hiked all the way back around the lagoon.  On the way back a flock of Black-bellied Plovers set down for a few minutes on the beach.  Finally we got back to the car exhausted and soaked.  On the drive out we had a Ross' Goose and four Snow Geese in with a flock of  Canada and Greater White-fronted Geese.  Then we headed to Marin Sun Farms in Point Reyes Station and ate the best cheeseburgers of our lives!!!

Good birding!  Sorry about the severe lack of photographs but unfortunately cameras and rain don't mix too well.  Our complete list is below.

Pt. Reyes--Abbotts Lagoon, Marin, US-CA
Jan 19, 2012 9:20 AM - 1:35 PM
Protocol: Traveling
2.5 mile(s)
Comments:     Rainy, windy, and poor visibility, but we still managed to find some good birds!
61 species (+2 other taxa)

Greater White-fronted Goose  15
Snow Goose  4
Ross's Goose  1
Canada Goose  75
Mute Swan  1
Gadwall  2
American Wigeon  10
Mallard  20
Cinnamon Teal  1
Northern Shoveler  20
Northern Pintail  7
Green-winged Teal  50
Canvasback  40
Ring-necked Duck  10
Tufted Duck  1     small, though obvious, tuft, whitish flanks, dark back, no spurs - originally found on Point Reyes CBC (?)
Surf Scoter  35
Bufflehead  40
Common Goldeneye  10
Red-breasted Merganser  6
Ruddy Duck  150
California Quail  1
Red-throated Loon  1
Pacific Loon  1
Common Loon  5
Pied-billed Grebe  10
Eared Grebe  25
Western Grebe  5
Western/Clark's Grebe  15
Double-crested Cormorant  1
American White Pelican  19
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Turkey Vulture  2
Osprey  1
Northern Harrier  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
American Coot  50
Black-bellied Plover  20
Killdeer  1
Sanderling  18
Wilson's Snipe  1
Mew Gull (American)  3
Ring-billed Gull  5
Western Gull  20
Western x Glaucous-winged Gull (hybrid)  2
California Gull  40
Herring Gull  10
Thayer's Gull  2
Glaucous-winged Gull  35
Northern Flicker  6
Black Phoebe  2
Western Scrub-Jay  20
Common Raven  1
Bewick's Wren  1
Marsh Wren  2
American Robin  23
European Starling  4
American Pipit  16
Yellow-rumped Warbler  10
Spotted Towhee  2
Song Sparrow  12
White-crowned Sparrow  25

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

By Luke Musher and Cory Ritter

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More Like Boom Red-shouldered Hawka

Generally speaking, only birds up to a certain size will get caught in mist-nets meant for trapping passerines.  That size constraint is usually around the size of an American Robin, or the occasional male Sharp-shinned Hawk--as you have seen.  Birds that are any larger will usually not get tangled in the small-sized mesh of the mist-net, and are able to free themselves with a little struggle--or simply break through the net if large or strong enough.  So then, on Saturday, Dan and Cory were pleasantly surprised when they were on the closing net run and came upon this SY Red-shouldered Hawk in one of our nets. It was barely caught, so we were lucky that she didn't free herself before Dan and Cory were able to grab her. 
SY female Red-shouldered Hawk

Luke and the RSHA
Dan with the RSHA. They both look pretty confused.

Cory and the RSHA
After processing and banding the bird we did a quick search through PRBO's data and found that there have only been nine individual RSHA banded at Palomarin in the forty-six years of its existence, and only 12 captures total (i.e. some were recaptures of the same individual).  We are pretty lucky.  Even luckier was the fact that yesterday Dan and Frenchie caught another most likely second year RSHA, this time a male, at one of our offsites, Pine Gulch.  That makes two RSHA in three days (needless to say Cory and I were pretty jealous)!  To make matters more interesting, the bird has features that are quite similar to Broad-winged Hawk.  We are currently trying to confirm this bird's identity, and although we are leaning towards RSHA, it is certainly an interesting bird.  We will have more on this within the next few days.

By Cory Ritter and Luke Musher
Photos mostly by Dan Lipp