Saturday, November 30, 2019

Lesser Scaup

Updated: February 3, 2021

Six months ago I signed on to iNaturalist and started submitting my wildlife photos. When I submitted a photo of one of the ducks in this post I labeled it as a greater scaup. Several people disagreed, indicating it was a lesser scaup. Recently, I submitted a photo of a similar duck and labeled it a lesser scaup. Again, people disagreed and labeled it a greater scaup. I decided I really need to figure out how to tell them apart. See my post on the greater scaup for what I believe to be the telling differences. Everything below is what I wrote originally. However, the duck in this post is a lesser scaup and not a greater scaup.  I also changed the title of this post to reflect that fact. 

Until encountering greater scaup, a species of duck, along the causeway to Antelope Island in Great Salt Lake, and looking them up, I'd never heard of them. 
A male and female greater scaup.
Female greater scaup.
Male greater scaup.
The male and female greater scaup look quite different from each other. The male has a bright blue bill, which is why it is also known as a bluebill, yellow eyes, a dark head with green sheen, a black breast, a black tail, a white belly, a gray back and its lower belly a vermiculated gray. The female has a brown body and head, a white facial patch next to the base of the bill, and a bill which is a duller shade of blue than the male's. 
One male (top right) and four females.
Female greater scaup.
They breed in the Arctic Circle, spend the summer in Alaska, Siberia and the northern parts of Europe, and winter along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North America, northwest Europe, and various seas, such as the Black Sea and Caspian Sea and various inland lakes, obviously including the Great Salt Lake. 
Female and male.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Common Goldeneye

The common goldeneye is a medium sized duck. Males and females look different, but have several common characteristics: the golden-yellow eye from which its name derives and orange/yellow legs and feet. Males have an iridescent green head  that often looks black and a distinctive circular white patch between the eye and the bill. The body is mostly white, with a black back. The female has a brown head and mostly gray body with a white strip around the neck. The bill is mostly black, with yellow at the tip. In flight, the female has extensive white on the inner half of the blackish wing. 
A male (front) and female (back) common goldeneye. The eye of the male jumps out at you, but the head looks black instead of iridescent green. 
A frontal view. The white spot on the head looks like bulging cheeks. 
They tend not to mix with other waterfowl and when feeding they often dive at the same time. 
A group of female common goldeneyes. They were much more common than the males, at least in the groupings I saw. 
Females taking flight. 
The white patches on the inner half of the wing really stand out. 
They are found on lakes and rivers of Canada, the northern U.S., Scandinavia, the Baltic States and northern Russia. They are migratory and spend the winter in more temperate zones on inland waters or protected coastal waters. 
A male (middle right) and female (middle left) common goldeneye swim among female greater scaups. 
A male common goldeneye next to a duck that has just dived. 
I saw common goldeneyes along the causeway near Antelope Island in Great Salt Lake. The males are very distinctive and really stand out. The males I saw were significantly outnumbered by the females. 
The reflections on the water were very fun.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Western Red-Shafted Flicker

Northern flicker is a name for a woodpecker that used to be considered two subspecies: the red-shafted flicker and the yellow-shafted flicker. As the name suggests, the main difference is the color under the tail and wings. In the north and east, that color is lemon yellow (the yellow-shafted flicker) and in the west and south into Mexico it is rosy red (the red-shafted flicker). However, it turns out they interbreed where their ranges overlap, so they are now considered one species and called the northern flicker. The northern flicker has ten subspecies and is found in North America, Central America, Cuba and the Cayman Islands. Three of the subspecies are yellow-shafted and seven of the subspecies are red-shafted. 
This flicker stands out because of the red on the tail. I love the striated lines along the shore of Antelope Island faintly visible in the distance. 
The red on the tail stands out. The black dots on the chest were the thing that initially said "flicker" to me, as well as the bill and the shape of the head. It has some red around the eye, forehead and bill that I've not read about. The crescent shape on the upper breast also stands out. 
Last weekend I visited Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake and saw a number of northern flickers. They happen to be the subspecies known as the western red-shafted flicker which is found in western North America. They have: (a) a brown body with black bars on the back and wings; (b) red under the tail, red under the wings and red shafts on their primary feathers; (c) a beige cap (the top of the head); (d) a gray face; (e) males have a red mustache emanating from the back of the bill; (f) a crescent-shaped black patch on the upper breast; (g) a beige lower breast and belly covered with black spots; and (h) a dark tail with a white rump that is conspicuous in flight.
This photo captures the black bars on the back and the beige or brown cap. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Black-Billed Magpie

I grew up in the foothills of Salt Lake City, above City Creek Canyon, and had a pet magpie as a youth. It's name was Pica, after the scientific name for magpie: Pica hudsonia. I was probably about 10 or 11. I used to roam through the hills and climb trees to look in the ubiquitous stick nests for magpie babies. Magpies are known as nest predators, eating eggs and young of other bird species. I was a reverse predator.
Black-billed magpie on Antelope Island.
With the help of my kind-hearted and enabling mother, I raised Pica and ultimately allowed Pica to return to the wild. Pica came back to the backyard of our home on occasion, for several years, after I let him go. I got occasional reports of Pica following the mailman. 

I now live in Southern California and we do not have magpies. I love and miss them. So it was with fondness that I photographed several magpies on a recent visit to Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake.
This range map from Wikipedia reveals the dearth of magpies from Southern California. Utah is fully magpie country. 
I've posted on the Russian black-billed magpie, a subspecies of the Eurasian magpie, seen in Uzbekistan, but not the black-billed magpie, also known as the American magpie, which are very common where I spent the early part of my life. 
A solo magpie flies above the striated flats between the island and the shore.
The magpie has a long tail, about half its length. It is black, including feet, bill and eye, with white shoulders, a white belly, large white markings on the primaries, particularly visible in flight (see the photo below), and iridescent dark blue and green wings and tail (see the photo below). 
Beautiful, beautiful wings.
Blue/green color permeates the wings and tail. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Spain - Consuegra, Cordoba and the hill country to Granada

This is a continuation, part two, of our trip to Spain. We are in Toledo. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2005, we got a taxi for Lisa Delong at 7:30 a.m. to take her to the train station for a ride back to Madrid where she will catch a flight home to London. 

We started a long drive south and almost from the beginning we were in fog of varying degrees of intensity which made it difficult to navigate (pre-Google Earth and other internet driving instructions - at least for us). Our first stop was 40 miles south, in Consuegra, the Province of La Mancha, which contains the real castle that the fictional Don Quixote visited. There were approximately a dozen windmills, but it was so foggy that we couldn't see them until we were right next to them.
Windmill in Consuegra
The castle, built in the 12th century by the Knights of San Juan, the Spanish branch of the Knight's Hospitallers of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, looked like it must have some living history performances and there was a lot of construction/renovation going on. 
Andrew in a doorway of the castle. 
Judy on some stairs.
Andrew looking through a keyhole. 
Judy and Andrew with some props.
From Consuegra we drove 168 miles south, then southwest, to Cordoba, one of the previously Muslim  dominated cities of Andalusia. We had a horrible time getting to the old city center and then parking. We visited the Mezquita (Spanish for mosque), originally a Muslim mosque that was later taken over by the Catholics and turned into a Cathedral, now known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, Cathedral of the Catholic Diocese of Cordoba.
Bridge over the Guadalquivir River to the Mezquita.
The Mezquita
The Mezquita from the bridge.
Bell tower of the Mezquita
There are 800 red and white striped arches inside, supported by a vast number of pillars. We loved the ceilings - so ornate with geometric shapes and curlicues. Unfortunately, it was crawling with people, especially school kids, mostly teenagers, which made it less appealing. 
An example of the beautiful striped arches.
Andrew in the Mezquita
The altar
The old mihrab, from when it was a mosque.
Beautiful ceiling. 
The city itself was more tourist-trappy. Judy was nabbed by a woman who handed her a sprig of rosemary, then proceeded to read her palm ("long life, much success, good love..."), then demanded money. We also saw a car crash - one guy rear-ended another with a fair amount of damage to the guilty car. We tried to get into the Alcazar, but it was closed for siesta and we decided to leave. 
Wall to the Alcazar.
We had ice cream in a long, spiky cone (Judy had triple chocolate). The atmosphere is a bit like California - orange trees, wild teens and very warm weather. 

We drove southeast along the N-432 from Cordoba through the beautiful hill country of Spain, to Granada, a distance of 110 miles, passing through small towns like Baena, Alcaudete and Alcala la Real.
A town on a ridge in the mountains. 
One of the small towns was full of British people who spoke English and we stopped in a restaurant there with English speaking proprietors for lunch. Baena, a completely white city that covered a large hill was especially beautiful. 
Baena Castle
We saw miles and miles of olive groves, even high up on the mountains, and yellow fields of blooming mustard dotted with blood red poppies. 
Red poppy
We stopped for gas - 39 Euro to fill the tank about three-quarters, about $52.00. Ouch.

We arrived in Granada and stayed at the Ibis Hotel. We took an evening walk to the Carrefour which had an unbelievable amount of cheese and sausage and 4 to 5 tables of about 50 kinds of fish on great piles of ice.
Sausage at the Carrefour.
Jamul Iberica at Carrefour.
Fish on ice at Carrefour.
We paid 5 Euro for an hour of internet time and Judy wrote to Sam. We are frustrated with American Express which appears to have put a hold on our card. 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Spain - El Escorial, Segovia, Madrid and Toledo

This trip is re-created from a journal Judy kept (although much less detailed from those she has kept in later years), from photos and from memory.

On Friday, April 1, 2005, Judy, our son Andrew, and I checked into a hotel near LAX about 1:00 a.m. We got four hours of sleep before waking up to catch the 6:00 a.m. shuttle to the airport. We didn't record the name of the hotel or the airline we flew on or our flight route, but we had one stop enroute and I was separated from Andrew and Judy, who were together, on both legs. 

We arrived in Madrid on Saturday, April 2nd, about 10:00 a.m. We waited until 11:15 a.m. to meet our niece, Lisa Delong, who flew in from London to spend some time with us. We rented a car at Europecar and were upgraded to a BMW. We drove about 38 miles northwest of Madrid to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the site of the Spanish Inquisition and now an art museum and cathedral.
El Escorial
Andrew and Lisa in courtyard of El Escorial.
We then stopped at a grocery store for bread, cheese and water and continued on to Segovia, about 32 miles north of El Escorial. 
Roman aqueduct in Segovia.
Roman aqueduct later in the evening. 
We walked through Segovia, visiting the impressive Roman aqueduct and Cathedral.
Lisa, Andrew and I outside Segovia Cathedral.
We were exhausted and hungry and discovered that the Spaniards eat very late. We had dinner at 7:30 p.m. in a very nice restaurant  with white linen table cloths and beautiful place settings and we were the only people in the place. It was one of the first of many exotic meals that would follow over the years and I can't believe we took no photos (the trend of taking photos of meals began later). We had cochinillo asado (whole roasted suckling pig with crispy skin and tender flesh inside), roasted partridge, lamb and monkfish. Our dessert was pineapple with a custard sauce in a tall glass. Andrew knocked over his dessert and it went on to the table and floor. The waiters immediately cleaned it up and brought him a new one. Afterwards we walked to the castle or alcazar which was a residence of the kings of Castile. 
The Alcazar
Moat at the Alcazar.
At the castle wall.
View of the 12 sided Iglesia de la Vera Cruz from the castle wall.
View of Segovia walls and part of the Cathedral from the castle. From this view you get the impression that the castle is outside of the walls. It is not, the walls curve in at this point and then curve back out at the castle. 
The Cathedral from the castle. 
Beautiful view from the castle. 
Our BMW was giving us problems. We could hear a noise in the back wheel-well and smelled a burning odor. So we contacted Europecar about a replacement. 
Segovia is beautiful at night. The city walls in artificial light. 
Sunday, April 3rd, we worked to resolve the car issue. The BMW was towed away and we were taken by taxi from Segovia to the Madrid Airport where we got an Audi as a replacement. The car problems cost us several hours. Judy noted I hadn't slept well and was tense driving, but we found our way into Madrid to the Museo de Arte Reina Sofia. Guernica by Picasso was there, one of Andrew's favorite paintings. There were many other Picassos from many different periods, mostly abstract, and paintings by Miro and other Spanish artists. We stopped at a Churreria and had churros and very thick hot chocolate to dip them in. Then we drove to the Museo del Prado and Judy noted I was wearing out fast and left the two of them, with an agreed meeting time of 7:00 p.m. 
The three of us outside the Prado.
Their favorite painting was Roger van der Weyden's Deposition of Christ. Other favorites were Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, as well as Goyas, Velasquezes, Las Meninas, portraits of ugly long chinned Habsburgs, and Zubaran's Lamb of God (a lamb with its feet tied). Around 5:00 p.m. Judy and Andrew went to the Thyssen Museum which is more modern and more eclectic. Andrew liked the two John Singer Sargent portraits, Edward Hopper, Picasso's Harlequin and a Chagall. There were also some Monet, Gaugin, Manet, and Degas. Judy noted that the Prado and Thyssen were incredible, particularly when viewed together. 
Andrew in front of Las Meninas, Spanish for "The Ladies in Waiting," a 1656 painting by Diego Velazquez. 
The Holy Family with a Little Bird by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, about 1650, has Mary winding a skein of thread, Jesus leaning on Joseph as he plays with a little bird and a dog. 
My recollection is that I went through both museums quite quickly and spent quite a bit of time sitting on a bench, exhausted. As I look back, I think this trip had had an impact on Andrew. A year or two later he backpacked through Europe for three months with a friend, visiting many of the art museums of Europe, before starting at UCLA where he majored in Art and became very knowledgeable in art history while beginning his own vocation as an artist. 

We met up at 7:00 p.m. and wanted to eat dinner near the Plaza Mayor, but traffic was very congested and there was no parking. So we returned to our hotel and had a grossly overpriced and mediocre meal.

Monday, April 4th (Judy's birthday), we drove from Madrid to Toledo. We got on a loop that encircled the city and stopped at several viewing areas for "Kodak moments" with its huge cathedral and Alcazar topping the hill and and a river surrounding the city like a moat. That is the memory stuck in my head - Toledo on a circular hill above a river - absolutely stunning.
Overlooking Toledo
The Tagus River and Toledo, Spain.
The Alcazar.
The Cathedral.
A bridge over the Tagus River.
Looking down at the road.
We found an underground parking lot outside the city wall, then entered via a massive "esclera automatica" or series of about six escalators cut into the side of a hill and almost invisible from the road below. Toledo reminded us of Mont San Michel in France and Assisi in Italy - steep narrow streets with fun shops and many churches. 
An entrance gate into the city.
Toledo is known for its marzapan and it is sold everywhere. It is not as moist or as sweet as the German version and not usually covered in chocolate, but Judy noted it was "yummy nevertheless." 
A replica of the Cathedral in marzapan.
We paid to go into a church where we climbed to the top of the bell tower (which happened to be the highest point in the city and provided great views and photo ops). 
One of the things I loved most was the tiled roofs.
We tried the cathedral, but it was siesta time and it was closed. We decided to eat lunch at Casa Aurelio, recommended by Rick Steves. We had a very good appetizer of cold venison and turnips and the rest of what we had was just okay. Several of us tried Sopa Castellano (a recommended dish) that had a poached egg, diced ham and garlic bead in a broth. Judy and Andrew had roasted partridge, Lisa had fish in a garbanzo sauce and I had leg of lamb. Lunch took over two hours and cost 120 Euro plus tax. It wasn't worth it. We got into the cathedral and it was massive and beautiful with a dark interior. It had amazing art, with 20 El Grecos, a Rubens, a Caravaggio and others, pretty terrific for a church. 
The Cathedral spire to the right.

The Alcazar is a huge fortress that was inhabited by kings during the glory days of Toledo, but it was closed for renovation. 
An olive tree in the courtyard of a museum.
So we went shopping instead. Judy purchased a wood carving of Don Quixote, a red flower pendant and a gold collar. Andrew bought his girlfriend, Susan, a hair barrette and I bought a pocket knife made of Toledo steel. We also visited a potter and purchased a clock surrounded by tile and a beautifully detailed cup which Judy will use to hold pencils. 
Potter and pottery shop.
For dinner we ate at a sandwich shop and had sandwiches with firm meats and cheeses on good bread, with very little spread. We got to our hotel late at night, about 11:30 p.m. Judy and Lisa shared a room and Andrew and I shared a room.