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.
Was out trying to find some owls. Found this guy instead.
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.
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.
There were 4 male Northern Shovelers and 2-3 females (at least one pair) swimming on the largest pond at the Healdsburg wastewater treatment facility. This pond is fairly deep and has no mudflats or emergent vegetation, just a black synthetic liner that covers the steep dike slope. The birds were primarily floating with bills tucked in, but the pair was foraging in a separate area of the pond. According to various sources, shovelers are rare in the North Bay during the breeding season. This is actually the first time I've ever seen this species around Healdsburg, but I don't spend a ton of time around ponds and have only been visiting the wastewater treatment plant during this breeding season and the last one.
There were 5 Black-necked Stilts at the Healdsburg wastewater treatment plant, primarily hanging out in and around a shallow pond with areas of exposed mud, dry shoreline, and a few patches of weedy vegetative cover. When I arrived, they were foraging and flying around a bit. However, when I started walking toward one of the patches of vegetative cover, they started to get agitated (the calls of one seemed especially upset) and engaged in a sort of communal distraction-display behavior. This consisted of some wing-flapping while sitting and standing, and false-incubation displays in which individuals would repeatedly sit (as though incubating) and then stand in a given spot. The wing-flapping was somewhat like the broken-wing display that Killdeer do, but the acting wasn't as good. The false-incubation displays were given on shore, in shallow water, and on a wood baffle in one of the ponds (the latter two locations were obviously no good for nesting). One individual's false-incubation display was pretty convincing - it walked behind a clump of vegetation, then proceeded to sit with just its head peeking out from behind the grasses. After less than a minute, it stood and then sat again; this was repeated several times. When I walked over to that location to see if there was a nest, all the commotion died down and the stilts seemed quite content that they had fooled me into going over there. A few hours later, I walked past the same patch of vegetative cover and got the same response. It's pretty clear that they're nesting in that area (distraction display counts as evidence for a confirmed breeding observation for the Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas).
I've posted two videos on YouTube that show the wing-flapping displays, for anyone who's curious to see them. The quality is pretty bad because I lost the toilet paper tube that I attach to my spotting scope to take pictures (so high tech!). They can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnQAHOhCEIA and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2_OAgRe850.
I observed a Killdeer doing the broken-wing distraction display, an indication that it was nesting somewhere nearby.
Hanging out on the shore of one of the treatment ponds. It disappeared into the water as I tried to get closer, and I never saw it again.