Over the course of the current year, I have been busily photographing
many birds; so many that I have gotten behind in my posts. Over the next few
months I’ll do my best to catch up, interspersed with some other interesting
aspects of nature such as the golden leaves of the aspens along the eastern
sierra. In this post, I’ll start with sharing some birds that I find especially
The Bullock’s Oriole (Icterus bullockii) is found in the
western part of North America. They like open areas near trees where they can
find caterpillars, fruit and nectar.
The Hooded Oriole (Icterus cucullatus) is
found in the southwestern United States. However, in breeding season they
reside in western California also. They live in more open areas, and especially
like palm trees. They like fruit, nectar and the sugar water in hummingbird
The Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorumlives) can be
found across much of the United States. They are social birds that flock
together in trees. Their preferred diet is fruit and berries but sometimes practice
the aerobatics of flycatchers chasing insects. Waxwings get their name from a
waxy substance they secrete from their wingtips.
Here in the Sacramento area, we see the waxwings in the winter and the orioles in the summer.
I have mixed emotions about squirrels. I enjoy watching
these industrious creatures foraging for food. I love watching them chase each
other. I especially like their alarms when they rapidly shake their paw and
cluck loudly. But, they do consume a lot of food meant for the birds at our
backyard feeder. So, for the most part, I enjoy them.
As I have travelled, I have learned there are a large variety
of squirrels. There are tree squirrels like the gray, red and fox varieties who
live in nests in trees. There are ground squirrels who nest in burrows under
the ground. Chipmunks and marmots are a type of ground squirrel. It has been
many years, but I’ve even seen flying, or more appropriately, gliding
One of the more interesting squirrels in this post is the
black morph of the Eastern Fox Squirrel. I’ve done some research on these
squirrels and learned that there is evidence that black squirrels were once the
most common. But as we settled North America and cleared forests, evolutionary
pressure selected the lighter colored squirrels. To me, they are uncommon, but
I have spoken with some folks who are aware of places where they are more
Here are some of the squirrels I have seen in my travels over the past year.
Note: Please click on caption to see image at higher resolution.
We recently spent a few days on the beach at Waldport, OR.
It is located in Oregon Dunes area of the coast. Just outside of town sets a
beach amongst a craggy, old volcanic lava flow. It is a beautiful beach with
many tidal pools left teeming with wildlife as the tide recedes.
On this visit, the birds really took center stage. We saw
some seals, but they were offshore and all I could see were heads bobbing. So,
they weren’t photo worthy. But we found some Pelagic Cormorants (Phalacrocorax
pelagicus); one with a chick on the nest. We found Western Gulls (Larus
occidentalis), many of which were recently fledged juveniles.
The Pelagic Cormorant is found along coastal waters and eats
fish and marine invertebrates. It roosts and nests on steep, inaccessible rocky
cliffs. It swims and dives for food.
The Western Gull is the common gull that you find on US West
Coast beaches. They like fish, marine invertebrates, bird eggs and jelly fish. They
will also scavenge on carrion and human refuse.
Our experience with the Western Gull brought some amusement. The juveniles were in the water and along the shore. When they wandered too far inland, an adult would chase after and send it back to the shoreline with the others. In the early morning, we even saw adults force the young into the tidal pools to splash and bathe. It was great fun.
Note: Please click on caption to see image at higher resolution
I’ve been traveling a lot this year. In my travels, I have seen and photographed many interesting birds. I just haven’t made the time to share them. Here are a few of them. Others will follow.
First up is the Gray Jay. It is a corvid like other jays but
is smaller and has a much less raucous voice. In November 2016 the BBC reported
that Canada adopted this bird, also known as the Whiskey Jack, as its national
The other Jay in this collection is Woodhouse’s Jay. Those of us in the west don’t see Blue Jays; they are eastern birds. Mostly, we see the scrub jay. At one time, the Scrub Jay was just called the Western Scrub Jay. But recently, it was split into 3 separate species: the California Scrub Jay which we see here west of the Sierra Nevada mountains; the Island Scrub Jay which is only found in the Santa Cruz Islands, and Woodhouse’s Jay which is seen between the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Rocky mountains and from Southeastern Oregon into Mexico.
I found the Horned Lark and the Black-throated Sparrow at
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Ash Meadows is an oasis, a marshland in
the Mojave Desert that is fed from springs that draw from an ancient aquifer.
You’ll find it in Amargosa Valley, NV . It is a great place to visit, in the
The Yellow-headed Blackbird is a common bird in much of the western US. It thrives in marshes among the reeds and cattails.
Note: Please click on caption to see image at higher resolution.
This past week, I had the opportunity to visit the Grand
Canyon National Park. While there, I saw a rare site: a juvenile and adult
California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus). This vulture can reach 4 ½ feet
long with a wingspan of nearly 10 feet; 25% larger than the more commonly seen Turkey
What makes this bird remarkable, beside its size, is that it was nearly driven to extinction. Many millennia ago, it ranged across the entire North American continent. By the time European settlers arrived, it was found mostly in the western part of North America.
During the 20thcentury, California Condor populations declined until extinction became extremely likely. In 1987 all remaining 22 wild birds were captured. These birds formed the breeding stock for a federally sponsored program aimed at reestablishing them in the wild. These condors were bred and their offspring released into the wild. The birds have begun breeding in the wild. Captive birds continue to be released. The population is now expanding.
The birds can sometimes be seen in places like the Grand Canyon but seeing them is still the exception rather than the rule. So, I feel blessed to have been able to see and photograph these magnificent birds.
Note: Please click on caption to see images at higher resolution.
In sharing these images today, I am using the common North
American names for these animals. It was interesting learning about these
animals though because, the names are not consistent. Even in North America,
the Elk is referred to a Wapiti, from the Shawnee term Wa Piti meaning
White-rumped. Also, Elk are sometimes claimed to be the same as the European
Red Deer. However, mitochondrial testing in 2004 found that the much smaller Red
Deer is a different species.[i]
To confuse matters further, in Eurasia, the Moose is called an Elk.[ii]
The Pronghorn is sometimes referred to as an antelope but it
is not a true antelope. Unlike true antelopes, the keratin sheathing on its
horns is shed and regrown annually. The pronghorn is also the only animal that
has branched horns.
The Elk and the Moose are members of the deer family, which
means they have antlers made of bone. The pronghorn and true antelope, as well
as cows, sheep and goats have horns which have a bony center covered by a keratinous
Anyway, forget the confusion unless it helps in social
conversation and enjoy these magnificent animals.