2 males and 1 female were swimming on a large pond on private property, visible from the eastern edge of Foothill Regional Park along Oakwood Trail. The third picture shows the pond.
Several dozen peeps were feeding in shallow water and on mudflats at a few of the ponds at the Healdsburg wastewater treatment facility. Most, if not all, appeared to be Western Sandpipers - dark legs, pale rufous on scapulars and head, relatively long and slightly down-turned bill.
I found the wings, tail, and scalp of a small owl (comb-like edges on wing feathers) on a dirt road in mixed hardwood-conifer forest; some skull bones and the bill were still attached to the scalp. There was no meat left, and I'm assuming the bird was predated. The feathers on the head seemed to be downy (they didn't appear to be normal contour feathers), and as far as I could tell, the wing feathers had not totally emerged from their sheaths. Therefore, I'm thinking this bird was a fledgling.
I compared the tail and wing feathers with various pictures from USFWS's Feather Atlas (a great resource; see http://www.lab.fws.gov/fa/browse-common.php?Family=Strigidae). The small owls that occur in Sonoma County are Western Screech-Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, and possibly Flammulated Owl (which are very rare if they do occur here). My feathers are a good match for Western Screech-Owl and a so-so match for Flammulated Owl. They don't look like Northern Saw-whet or Northern Pygmy-Owl. I highly doubt they belong to a Flammulated Owl. If that species does occur in Sonoma County, it would most likely be in the higher elevations on the eastern edge of the county.
The only thing that doesn't match Western Screech-Owl is the bill, which was pale yellowish. Western Screech-Owls are supposed to have a dark bill with pale only at the tip. Perhaps the bill is pale because it's a juvenile? But I can't find any good information that backs this up. Also, the forest was more dense and mesic than what I consider to be typical screech-owl habitat in this region. Perhaps the bird was carried there by whatever predator nabbed it. I went out to the same location that night to listen for owls but heard nothing.
The pictures are as follows:
1) My attempt to reconstruct the bird from the four big pieces that I could find - wings, tail, and scalp
2) the top side of a wing - notice the comb-like edges on the top two primaries
3) the underside of a wing - notice how the feathers have not fully emerged from the sheaths
4) the top side of the tail
5) the underside of the tail
6) the scalp - notice the yellowish bill
7) the top side of 3 tail feathers and 3 wing feathers
8) the underside of 3 wing feathers - notice how the feathers have not fully emerged from the sheaths
9) a close-up of the feather sheaths
Buffleheads are rare in Sonoma County in June and July. I imagine this is the same individual that was at the wastewater treatment facility on June 15.
I heard the call first - "tew tew tew" - then saw the bird.
While canoeing down the Russian River, I observed one Osprey sitting in a nest in the dead branches of an oak tree and another sitting a little above the nest with a fish in its talons. I'm pretty certain both were adults as neither showed any white speckling on the wings. I could see no signs of any young in the nest. It seems rather late in the season to have a nest with no young. I wonder what the story is. There was quite a bit of calling coming from the tree - the bird on the nest was definitely doing some calling, and I think the other was calling a little as well. The nest tree was in a narrow strip of riparian woodland along the Russian River, not far downstream of the Alexander Valley Road bridge. The nest is circled in red in the second photo.
Mom with 5 ducklings on the Russian River.
For the Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, I went out looking for evidence of nesting by American Kestrels around Healdsburg on July 3. I was following up on two good leads but was unable to find a nest in either location. Disappointed, I decided to go look for Chipping Sparrows. I drove over to an area where I never spend time, and lo and behold, there were kestrels calling in the distance. I was able to track down the calls to a large valley oak growing along Lytton Springs Rd. It sounded like a young kestrel calling in the tree and I eventually saw one sitting on a branch, occasionally calling. I could hear another kestrel calling in the area, and it sounded different: "klee klee klee" - one of the parents. I saw an adult female fly into the tree and it looked like she might have delivered food, but the view was obscured by foliage. Then she started moving around stealthily and eventually climbed down into a cavity at the end of a broken limb.
I went back the next day and there were two males on telephone poles within 100m of the tree. They were doing the same begging call that I had heard the day before. Eventually, they ended up on the same telephone pole. After waiting 45 minutes or so, the mother finally started hunting over the nearby grassland and bringing in food. Two times she flew to the telephone pole and apparently delivered something to one of the fledglings, who then scurried a few feet away, huddled over his prize with a protective stance, and gobbled it up. The second time this happened, he was followed by the other fledgling who jumped on his back and tried to take away whatever the mother had brought. After another hunting trip, the mother flew to the oak tree and at least one fledgling flew over there. At this point, I had to leave.
The adult male was nowhere to be seen on July 4. I think it might have been somewhere in the area on July 3, but I'm not sure. I wonder if maybe the pair has started a second brood and the male was incubating? It seemed odd that I couldn't hear any young calling in the cavity when the female climbed down in there - it seems like they would have been calling if there were any young in there. Maybe she was just trying to distract me from the fledgling? I'll have to check on this tree later this summer.
You can see a short video of one of the fledglings begging at http://youtu.be/_WTYF7yIZd8
My husband and I heard a Common Poorwill calling at night in chamise-dominated chaparral along Pine Mountain Rd in southern Mendocino County (accessed from Cloverdale). We first heard it calling from quite a ways away (at least half a mile, as the crow flies) and were able to track it down to within 25m or so. It was calling pretty loudly below the road. Another could be heard calling in the distance, toward the north.
I've uploaded a video to YouTube at http://youtu.be/g274PF7l80M that captures the calls. You can't see the bird, but it should be good enough to confirm the id. The bird was close enough that we could hear a third syllable at the end of the call: "poor-will-ow". That's the first time I've ever heard that. You can just barely make it out in the video.
This male Gadwall (on the right) was hanging out with a bunch of Mallards at the Healdsburg wastewater treatment plant. Perhaps he was transitioning from breeding plumage to eclipse plumage?
Quite a few jackrabbits hanging out within a couple hundred meters of the buildings on this private ranch.
There were two-striped skunks traveling down a dirt road on a private ranch. I was only able to get a picture of one of them. This guy actually started running toward me when I was attempting to get a picture of the other one. I imagine it would have sprayed me if I hadn't retreated into the car.
During the first half of yesterday, a pair of mockingbirds was acting really agitated whenever my husband, I, or our cats set foot outside our front door. I hadn't even noticed this pair around our house until yesterday, so I thought it was strange that they were so agitated all of a sudden... unless they had a fledgling nearby. And finally, in the late afternoon, a fledgling started calling. It was hanging out in a salvia bush near our front porch. Its wings and tail were very short, and it was incapable of flight. I imagine it fledged very recently. The parents were coming in to feed it every so often. I can still hear the fledgling in the same location today, but I can no longer see it. I guess the cats will be staying inside for awhile.
I first found this Anna's Hummingbird nest on March 29 when I heard the female buzz above my head and then saw it fly up to sit on a nest in a leafless blue(?) oak. At some point, the female left and later returned with a small feather, which it quickly worked into the rim of the nest. On April 7, the female was sitting on the nest when I first arrived. She came and went a few times. I believe she sat on the nest for awhile each time she visited, but I didn't record the details in my notebook. One time she seemed to be working something into the rim of the nest. When I arrived on April 12, the female was again sitting on the nest. She left a few times and returned. She was either working something into the nest (I didn’t see her bring in any nest material) or feeding very small young. I suspected the latter. It had been raining in recent days so it would make sense if she was brooding the young in between feedings. I checked the nest again on May 2, but it looked like the nest had been predated. The feathers in the cup were visible and looked like they had been loosened.
The nest was covered in lichen and expertly camouflaged. It looked very similar to another Anna's Hummingbird nest that I found in an oak last year. The nest was on a limb overhanging Westside Trail.
The first two pictures were taken on April 12, and the other two were taken on April 7. The last picture shows the nest-site; the nest is circled in red.
Was out trying to find some owls. Found this guy instead.
I could hear nestlings calling in a cavity in a small hardwood snag along Old Felta School Rd. As I was checking out the cavity, a fairly old Northern Flicker nestling briefly looked out. The cavity was only about 8-10 feet off the ground. I waited in the area for about 15 minutes but the parents didn't show up. Later, as I was driving by, I was able to get a few pictures of the mom visiting the nest. If you zoom in, you can actually see the nestling looking out of the cavity in the first picture.
On June 15, there was a female Bufflehead (or possibly a subadult male - check out the picture) swimming on a large, deep pond at the Healdsburg wastewater treatment facility. According to Bolander and Parmeter's "Birds of Sonoma County, California: An Annotated Checklist and Birding Gazetteer" (revised in 2000), Buffleheads are quite rare in June in Sonoma County - there were only two June records as of 2000. Last year, there were two female or subadult Buffleheads at the wastewater treatment facility on May 27 (also unusual; Buffleheads normally leave Sonoma County by early May).
This is the second time I've seen a Caspian Tern at the Healdsburg wastewater treatment facility. The last time was April 19, 2011. Note the dusky tip on the bill.
As I was walking on the bridge over Felta Creek on Felta Rd, I noticed what I thought to be a young cat headed for a patch of blackberry bushes. "Hi kitty," I said, and then it looked up at me. Oh! That's not a cat, but rather a gray fox pup. It then crept into the blackberries. And then I noticed a second pup curled up in the sun on the dry creek bed. I think my eagerness to get out my camera was a little much for it, and it too crept off into the blackberries. I was able to get a few pictures of that one, but none of the face. There was no adult in sight.
This Red-tailed Hawk was hanging out near the "Bodega Farm Pond", located on Bodega Hwy east of the town of Bodega, on January 1, 2012. It was eating what appeared to be a coot, based on the leg/foot structure (all that was left). The hawk had a rufous tail and rufous leggings, which were quite striking in the field. I've been told by a few Bay Area birders that it's a dark intermediate (dark rufous) morph.
I first found this nest on April 23 when I visited the Villa Chanticleer to do some birding. When I first arrived at the Villa, I heard some calls in the woodland on the steep slope behind the upper parking lot. The calls sounded a bit like low-pitched squeak toys. It wasn't the typical "kek-kek-kek" call of a Cooper's Hawk, but it was similar enough that I thought it might be one.
As soon as I stepped into the woodland, a Cooper's Hawk landed in a nearby tree. As I was maneuvering to see it (my view was blocked by the trunk of another tree), a second Cooper's Hawk flew in. They flew at each other and then perched in different trees. The first bird, a female subadult with vertical streaks (female based on events described below), started eating something; I could eventually tell that it was a small passerine when I saw a dainty pinkish/orangeish leg. After a minute or so, the second bird (a male with adult plumage) came and very briefly hopped on the back of the female, but it seemed too brief for exchange of any bodily fluids. The male then flew to a few spots before semi-stealthily flying over to a nest, which it sat in for no more than 30 seconds or a minute. It then flew back down to the female. Copulation ensued for about 10 seconds, with the adult-plumaged bird on top of the sub-adult-plumaged bird. One of the birds called repeatedly during the act but I couldn't tell which bird was making the noise as neither bird was opening its beak.
The male flew out of the area soon after. It seems that the female just stayed in the woodland, quietly hanging out. I never saw it go to the nest, but I heard it call several times - about 5 minutes after the male left, and then about 30 minutes later when a Pileated Woodpecker flew into the area and there was a brief skirmish between the two.
It took me awhile to figure out what the relationship between the two birds was because one of them had the immature plumage and the first interaction where they flew at each other seemed somewhat antagonistic. But I think the male probably brought food in for the female as some sort of courtship offering, and then the first copulation attempt just didn't work. However, it was pretty clear that copulation was happening after the male visited the nest. The Birds of North America account for Cooper's Hawks says that breeding by 1st-year birds is not uncommon. Aha.
I have visited the nest several times since then. On May 4, there was nobody visible on the nest. The female was on the nest on May 20 and June 7, presumably incubating eggs. The pictures of the female on the nest are from June 7. The third picture shows the habitat, with the nest circled in red.
I've been trying to track down a California Thrasher in one of my Breeding Bird Atlas blocks since early last year. I heard one singing multiple times last year and knew in my heart that it was a thrasher. However, there were several mockingbirds present in the surrounding area, including one that was using the same patch of scrubby habitat. The habitat seemed OK for a thrasher, but not great, so I really wanted to see one before I put it on my species list.
I finally saw one walking around on May 31. While I was visiting that area today (June 11), I was excited to see a thrasher walk out of a small thicket just 10-15 feet away from me. It proceeded to forage and eat whatever it was catching. "Hmm, I guess it's not going to do anything interesting," I thought. But then I noticed it trying unsuccessfully to carry a forked stick. It disappeared behind a shed, and then I noticed a second thrasher about to disappear into the thicket with a few small sticks/twigs in its bill. The first thrasher then reappeared also carrying sticks/twigs. It, too, disappeared into the thicket of blackberry, wild grape, toyon, and young live oaks and valley oaks. I was able to see one of them carry nesting material into the thicket one more time, and then they flew off in a different direction and didn't come back while I was there.
I could tell where they were taking the nesting material (based on the sound of rustling) and it wasn't far from the road. I'm hoping I'll be able to hear the young calling in a month or so. How cool would that be! I love thrashers!
If you look carefully in the first picture, you can see a short stick in the thrasher's bill. The third picture shows the habitat in the general area.
On 6/7/12, there were incredibly cute Cassin's Vireo young in this nest. They were practically pushing each other out of the nest and looked like they would fledge fairly soon. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to get pictures and hoped they would still be there a few days later. No luck. Three days later, when I took these pictures of the nest, the young were apparently gone (unless they were hunkering down in the hot afternoon, but I doubt it).
The noise of calling young clued me in to this Dark-eyed Junco nest. I wasn't able to find it, though, until I watched the parents carrying food down to the nest-site. The nest was on the ground, nestled within the leaf litter and hidden by some plants in the understory. I didn't bother to get a picture of the parents, so you'll just have to believe me on this one. If you look closely in the first picture, you can see the open beak of a nestling in the lower left half of the white circle; a fuzzy body is to the right of the open beak. The second picture shows the habitat around the nest, which was only about 5 feet from the trail (but very well hidden!).
I observed an adult female Hairy Woodpecker and a fledgling male. For the most part, the fledgling was staying out of sight while the mom foraged, but one time I was able to get a great look while the mom fed the fledling. The red on the fledgling's head was duller than what you'd see on an adult male, and the bill was relatively short. The habitat in the area is mesic mixed-hardwood forest.
I watched Acorn Woodpeckers bring food to this nest cavity in a black oak multiple times. The young were squealing, which seems to be typical for this species (they don't sound much like the various other woodpecker young that I've heard). There was a moment of panic when a Cooper's Hawk flew into the area and chased after one of the adults, then perched near the granary tree (too bad I didn't have my spotting scope set up yet - damn!). But after a minute or so, it left and the woodpeckers carried on with the task of feeding the nestlings. I was interested to see them nesting in the same cavity as last year. I've included a picture of the nest tree. The nest cavity is near the top of the tree and is circled in white.
Female Violet-green Swallow looking out of a cavity. There's probably a nest in there.
There are a good number of Grasshopper Sparrows on this private ranch. They were around last year as well.
There were 4-5 Mallard females with ducklings at the Healdsburg wastewater treatment plant. Two females had one duckling, one had three ducklings, one had eight, and there may have been one with two. All of the young were pretty small and downy (gray-brown and yellow) except for the group of eight, which were a little older and may have had their juvenal plumage. Most of the young were seen in a pond that has wooden baffles/walls and some vegetative cover on the shore. However, one duckling and its mom were in a bigger, deeper pond that has no vegetative cover (just a black synthetic liner that covers the steep dike slope). The females were generally keeping the young along the wood baffles, so they were hidden from view much of the time. When I would move into a spot where I could see ducklings, the mom would generally shepherd them onto the other side of the baffle out of my view. I also saw one take her young into some vegetative cover and then stand on the edge of the pond, keeping guard. I've included pictures of two different broods.