Saturday, February 27, 2021

American Kestrel

As a boy growing up I found a sparrow hawk nest in a hole in a tree in the front yard of the Brusnahans near our ranch outside Oakley, Utah. I took one of the babies out of the nest and took it home. I'm pretty sure I remember it flying and probably let it go.  

I've been kind of surprised lately to see the sparrow hawk referred to as the American kestrel. The name was changed in 1983 by the American Ornithologists Union. 

It is the smallest and most common falcon in North America. 

I've seen quite a few of them but I've not been getting any good photos. I find they are very skittish and fly before I can get near them. Most of my photos are very fuzzy. I wonder if there is something about their coloration which makes it difficult for the camera lens to focus on them. I finally got a good photo last Saturday which prompted this post. 

Males have blue-grey wings with black spots and white undersides with black barring. The back is rufous, with barring on the lower half. The belly and flanks are white with black spotting. The tail is also rufous, with a white or rufous tip and a black subterminal band. 
This male was photographed near the southern end of the Salton Sea standing on a power line. Note the black spots on the belly and flanks. 
The back and wings of the female American kestrel are rufous with dark brown barring. The undersides of the females are creamy to buff with heavy brown streaking. The tail is noticeably different from the male's, being rufous in color with numerous narrow dark black bars. In both sexes, the head is white with a bluish-grey top. 
This female looks so much different than the males that I thought it was a prairie falcon. Note the underside with brown streaking. 
There are also two narrow, vertical black facial markings on each side of the head, while other falcons have one.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Long-Billed and Short-Billed Dowitchers

When I visited a duck pond at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR Unit 1 it was covered with small brown birds. I just assumed they were least sandpipers and it didn't register until I got home and started looking at photos that there were two (or more) kinds of  birds mixed together, some that had substantially longer bills. 

Then when I looked up the longer billed birds I assumed they were long-billed dowitchers as opposed to short-billed dowitchers, but then later learned that the distinctions between the two are not great and they can be difficult to distinguish. 

According to Wikipedia, the two best field distinguishing marks are their flight calls.  Surfbirds has a detailed article breaking down the differences: 
Head shape:  lb - shallower forehead;  sb - steeper forehead
Lower back:  lb - deeply indented;        sb - less indented
Bill:              lb - straighter and longer; sb - curved down & shorter
Supercilium: lb - straighter & thinner;  sb - wider in front & flared

Well, that's tough. Here are some of my photos:
Bill slightly curved down, steep forehead - short-billed dowitcher. The next three photos are the same bird.

Looking at the front bird. Supercilium looks more straight. Bill looks straight. Perhaps a long-billed dowitcher. The next three photos are the same bird. 

Bill looks curved; steep forehead - short-billed dowitcher. 

The bird to the right looks like it has a straight V on the supercilium - long-billed dowitcher. 

Fun birds. I suspect there is a mixture of the two species. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Black-Throated Sparrow

On a hike to Forty-nine Palms in Joshua Tree NP I had another "first" sighting, that of a black-throated sparrow. It is found in the deserts of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico and likes "arid desert hillsides and scrub" and is often found around sources of water in the desert. It is sometimes called the desert sparrow. 
I found a number of these sparrows at some distance and got some not-so-great photos with my 600 mm lens. The descriptions of where they are found fit where I saw them exactly. 

It has a white stripe above and below the eye and a black throat. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Rock Wren

The rock wren is found in rocky habitats and has a light gray line over the eye, a long barred tail, pale gray underparts with the lower belly a pale peachy color and brown/gray upperparts with small back and white spots. 
We were with Judy's brother David and his wife, Bonnie, at Forty-nine Palms in Joshua Tree NP, a beautiful palm tree oasis in the desert hills covered with rocks. 
I spied this rock wren at some distance from where we were seated eating lunch. It is a bird I've never heard of or seen before. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Lesser Snow Goose

I made a third visit to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR this year and got some more good pictures of snow geese I want to share. My prior posts on the lesser snow goose are here and here.  

The numbers I saw are substantially down from my first two visits. There were only very small groupings at Unit 1 and Unit 2. My favorite photos are of them flying, taken at Unit 1 (from my car). 

This is an immature goose flying.
I also found one in a canal, the first one I've seen on the water. When it saw me it hustled into the reeds. I got a photo of it later and it appears it was shot. I did hear hunters shooting shotguns nearby. 

The red on the side of the body looks like a wound. 
Last, a beautiful standing goose among a number of others feeding. 
At Unit 2 near the visitor center there were two small groups of geese at the far southwestern end of the large pasture. I focused on an intermediate morph and some immature birds that look like they will be blue morphs or intermediate morphs as well. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Ring-Billed Gull

I saw a really beautiful gull near the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR on Saturday. Its yellow bill with a black ring matched its yellow eyes (with a black iris) and legs. Red ringed its eyes and was found at the base of the bill, and when it opened its mouth it was almost a neon red it was so shocking. 
I've seen ringed-bill gulls previously, but not in breeding plumage like this. When breeding it has an all white head, red around the eyes and some red on the bill. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Ross's Goose

Three weeks after my first photo of a Ross's goose, I went back out to the Sonny Bono Salton See NWR, Unit 1 at the south end of the Salton Sea, and got better photos of the Ross's goose

The number of geese at both units of the NWR were way down from three weeks ago, but in some respects that helped with photo taking because I concentrated on small groupings.