Sunday, April 25, 2010

Birding on Mt. Davidson

Photo by Donna Dewhurst, courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
I had a great morning birding today with a group organized by Nature in the City. There were about a dozen of us including expert birder Dominik Mosur and a couple of other highly knowledgeable birders. Normally when I bring my binoculars up there to look for birds, I see hawks and lots of hummingbirds and white-crowned sparrows, but I've been unsuccessful at seeing the smaller birds in the trees and thickets. Today I learned to concentrate on the edges of the forested areas, and watch the patches of sunlight because that's where the insects are and thus the birds. I also learned that the best time for seeing spring migrants is when the wind is from the east, blowing the migrants off course toward us. I watched Dom listening for birds and then locating them visually. I also learned that I probably need to get better binoculars.
We saw many birds, some residents and some of them migrants on their spring migration, headed north. First off, we heard a winter wren singing off the forested path. The expert birders located it and Dom set up his scope, so we all caught a glimpse of it singing, beak open. Further along we watched the fierce Anna's hummingbirds defend their elderberry bush, and then Dom found a lazuli bunting in some Scotch broom. He set up the scope again and we all gazed at it. Here's one that's a bit more blue than the one we saw:
Photo by Dave Menke, courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
We saw a red-tailed hawk like the one below, as well as red-shoudered hawk, Cooper's hawks, and sharp-shinned hawks. I can recognize the first two kinds on my own, but not the Cooper's or sharp-shinned.
Photo by Lee Karney, courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
We saw a large flock of cedar waxwings catching insects and being chased off by the hummingbirds, and a pair of band-tailed pigeons. We saw a Wilson's warbler darting around in a bush (that's the yellow one at the top of this post).
We watched an olive-sided flycatcher (one of the migrants) on a dead tree swoop off repeatedly to catch an insect, and return to his perch, for about 15 minutes. I learned that they wipe a bee's stinger off on the branch before they eat it! You don't see it in the photo below, but the feathers from the back are iridescent emerald green, which probably helps them blend in to the central American jungles where they winter. They are a threatened species, mostly because their forest habitat is being clear-cut. This photo does show its distinctive shape of the head.
No photo credit, from a Canadian government website
We also saw an orange-crowned warbler, a tiny thing with no particular markings to distinguish it, as you can see from the photo below. This is a bird that I would never ever have found with my own eyes or even my own binoculars, since I could barely see it even with my binocs. In the scope, I could even see the tiny orange patch on the back of its head, which you also can't see in this photo.
Photo by Donna Dewhurst, courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
I did not mess around trying to get any of this with my camera. But I do have a better sense now where to look when I go up to Mt. Davidson on my own.
Note: Jeff, a fellow birder on the walk, also blogged about it and found some even more gorgeous bird photos here.

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