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Posts Tagged ‘Fall’

Dear Friend,

Fifteen years ago, I was one of the founding youth members of a youth bird-a-thon team. The team was organized and lead by birding greats Rich Stallcup and Ellen Blustein as the first youth team for what was then, the Point Reyes Bird Observatory and what is now Point Blue Conservation Science (PBCS). It was an amazing experience, and has turned into a recurring amazing experience every year since. We are now preparing for the youth bird-a-thon, again, and since this year is our 15th, it makes it a particularly special one, or at least note-worthy.

Over the past 15 years, this team has taken to the field alongside so many amazing birds as they get restless and begin to move on their fall migration. For the birds, fall migration has been happening almost exactly the same way for millions of years, and it is still a feat that boggles the human imagination. For our bird-a-thon team, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings, fall migration has come to include this exhilarating day to witnesses the birds as they move through central California.

Each year many bird-a-thon teams ready themselves for the fall. These teams pick a day and go out in search of the avian wanderers as they pass by; keeping tallies of who stops to visit. On September 26th 2015, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings will be doing just that, and we are lining up another great group of youths (in age and spirit)!

As in past years, this is not only an opportunity to see beautiful birds, learn as much about migration patterns and identification as possible, and spend time in great company. It is also a time to give. The PBCS is a recognized leader in conservation of avian biodiversity and the ecosystems that they, and we, depend upon. To do this requires money. It takes money to keep the banding stations running as they monitor population trends. It takes money to assess the loss of habitat that urban development causes. It takes money to set aside critical habitat and so insure that future fall migrations will continue this millions-of-years tradition. Funding is often hard to come by, and so we ask you, birders, environmentalists, friends, to become sponsors of our team and PBCS. Now, don’t think we won’t work for those donations. You can pledge a fixed sum, or you can tell us that you will give a small amount for every species we see. That way we will have a large incentive indeed to try our hardest to find every last species we can. In the past we have seen around 150 species, so a pledge of $0.20 per species will mean a total donation of around $30. Any amount that you can give will be valuable and tremendously appreciated, and donating is easy. Just go to: https://www.kintera.org/faf/search/searchTeamPart.asp?ievent=1144989&lis=1&kntae1144989=C5D14E3E269D41A49AD34C0C31A09C59&supId=425784227&team=6495414

and click on the ‘Donate Now’ button on the right side of the page. In this time of drought, the conservation of habitat and bird populations is all the more challenging and critical. Your donation will aid the cause of bird conservation throughout the western hemisphere, and you will join a fifteen year long tradition of helping to inspire the birding leaders of tomorrow!

Thank you for your support,

The members of the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings

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On the morning of the 19th, I was out birding in the early morning along the Clarksberg Branchline Trail in West Sacramento. I was poking around the section of trail just north of Lake Washington Blvd. from about 6:20am to 7:30am. It was one of those morning where I decided to not worry about covering a lot of ground. Instead, I wanted to take my time, relax, and covered the ground thoroughly really investigating each bird I heard or saw and taking my time to enjoy it. I was rewarded by some lovely views and fun finds. My species list is at the end.

Right as I started my walk, I saw a long, slim animal run out from the edge of the blackberry tangle along the trail ahead of me. It stopped out in the open for a short moment and then continued on towards the large pond just east of the trail. To my surprise, I realized that it was a Mink! I have seen River Otters at this location before, but never a Mink. What was it doing here? As I scanned the pond, there were no birds swimming in the water except three domestic ducks that were probably dumped here to become feral. As I stood by the water’s edge, I head several birds in one of the willows that grow right on the bank. I walked that way, and found a Marsh Wren singing in the cattails and my first White-crowned Sparrow of the fall for West Sacramento! It was a really good looking  adult bird that was sitting in, and calling from, that willow. Soon the Central Valley will be covered in millions of White-crowned Sparrows back from their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska to spend a comparatively warm winter in lovely California.

As the sun rose, beautifully tinged blood red by the smoke from the King Fire that is burning just east of Sacramento, I stumbled my way into a mixed insectivore flock. At this time of year, with migrants and vagrants wandering all over the country, mixed insectivore flocks are always worth spending some time with. Often, many birds will come together to forage, and this can attract individuals of species that you might not get to see otherwise. In this case, the bulk of the birds were Bushtits, maybe 25 of them, which were streaming from oak tree to oak tree giving their high pitched contact calls as they told each other where they were. As I watched these tinny birds, I started to notice the other species in the flock. A Western Scrub-Jay, a coupe of Northern Mockingbirds, and a lovely pair of Black-throated Gray Warblers which came low in some small trees and afforded me some great looks! The day ended with a total of 5 of these warblers which is a lot compared to what I am used to seeing in winter, which is just one or two.

After I left the mixed flock, I walked out into an open field that had been mowed and tilled. As I walked along the line of tree that marks the edge of this field I was treated to a fast triple-raptor encounter. First, a Swainson’s Hawk took off from one of the tree tops and doove down into the field. It pulled up before landing, apparently the prey animal it had seen got under cover in time to avoid becoming breakfast for the hawk, and returned to its perch. right after that a Red-tailed Hawk came barreling of the line of trees and cruised over the field and away. As I was watching the Red-tail, a Red-shouldered Hawk started calling behind me. It was circling at about tree top level and proclaiming dominion over this patch of ground. The Red-shouldered Hawk is a resident bird that I see almost every time I bird this area. The Swainson’s Hawk breeds nearby somewhere, but then leaves, with the rest of it’s species members, to head south in winter which is something that will be happening soon. The Red-tail could go either way in that it could be a resident or a migrant just here for the summer. How these different hawks interact and adjust to one another is a question that has long interested me. Take the Red-shoulder, for instance. It has a territory that it defends year-round. Suddenly, in mid-March this Swainson’s Hawk shows up trying to find a place to settle and nest. How does the Red-shoulder respond? Does it simply move out of the larger hawks way? Do the birds compete and adjust their territory boundaries to one another? Do these birds eat different enough foods that they don’t really care about each other? And then, how does the Red-tailed Hawk fit into all this? How resident birds adjust to the comings and goings of migrants is not something that has gotten a lot of attention and I think could make for a really cool research project.

Looking at the open field with the naked eye, I did not see anything out there, but just on a whim I decided to give it a scan with my binoculars. As I looked slowly across the field I saw no less than 15 Killdeer scattered about foraging. So much an empty field! It reminded me that a lot can be hiding and go unnoticed when only a cursory inspection is done.

This was a really nice morning birding. I saw some beautiful birds that got me thinking about interesting ideas and taught me a thing or two all at the same time.

Double-crested Cormorant (1)

Turkey Vulture (1)

Canada Goose (12)

Red-shouldered Hawk (1)

Red-tailed Hawk (1)

Swainson’s Hawk (1)

Killdeer (15)

Western Gull (3)

Rock Pigeon (70)

Mourning Dove (20)

Anna’s Hummingbird (3)

Belted Kingfisher (1)

Nuttall’s Woodpecker (4)

Black Phoebe (3)

Western Scrub-Jay (11)

American Crow (12)

Oak Titmouse (4)

Bushtit (25)

Bewick’s Wren (3)

Marsh Wren (1)

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1)

American Robin (5)

Northern Mockingbird (2)

European Starling (30)

Cedar Waxwing (8)

Orange-crowned Warbler (5)

Black-throated Gray Warbler (5)

Spotted Towhee (2)

California Towhee (1)

White-crowned Sparrow (1)

Red-winged Blackbird (30)

Mink (1)

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It is almost here. The time of year when birds poise themselves on the brink of migration. The time of year when we birders poise ourselves on the brink of madness. That’s right, it’s Bird-A-Thon time!

The birds are getting restless and are already beginning to move, setting in motion that awesome event, the fall migration. It has been happening almost exactly the same way for millions of years, and it is still a feat that boggles the human imagination. Here are birds, far smaller than you or I. They have no machines to aid them, only muscle and sinew. They have no maps to guide them, only the stars. They go. Many of them will travel vast distances in the next few weeks, leaving their nesting grounds in the north and heading to warmer, food abundant climates to the south. And we will be there as witnesses.

Each year teams of birders ready themselves for the fall. These teams pick a day and go out in search of the avian wanderers as they pass by; keeping tallies of who stops to visit. On September 27th 2014, we will be doing just that. We are the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings, the youth Bird-A-Thon team of Point Blue Conservation Science (PBCS). This year will be the fourteenth year that the Sanderlings have taken to the field, and in the past they have been wild successes. This year the team will include Ellen Blustein, Aaron Haiman, Pierre Beaurang, Alexandra Beaurang, and Lyell Nesbitt.

As in past years, this is not only an opportunity to see beautiful birds, learn as much about migration patterns and identification as possible, and spend time in great company. It is also a time to give. The Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly PRBO) is a recognized leader in conservation of avian biodiversity and the ecosystems that they, and we, depend upon. To do this requires money. It takes money to keep the banding stations running as they monitor population trends. It takes money to assess the loss of habitat that urban development causes. It takes money to set aside critical habitat and so insure that future fall migrations will continue this millions-of-years tradition. Funding is often hard to come by, and so we ask you, birders, environmentalists, friends, to become sponsors of our team and PBCS. Now, don’t think we won’t work for those donations. You can pledge a fixed sum, or you can tell us that you will give a small amount for every species we see. That way we will have a large incentive indeed to try our hardest to find every last species we can. In the past we have seen around 150 species, so a pledge of $0.20 per species will mean a total donation of around $30. Any amount that you can give will be valuable and tremendously appreciated, and donating is easy. Just go to: https://www.kintera.org/faf/search/searchTeamPart.asp?ievent=1118295&lis=1&kntae1118295=89648BD5B2F64505AD1AABAC044E8624&supId=411570464&team=6077664 and click on the ‘Donate Now’ button on the right side of the page. Your donation will aid the cause of bird conservation throughout the western hemisphere, and you will help to inspire the birding leaders of tomorrow!

 Thank you for your support,

 Aaron Haiman and the members of the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings

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Tower Bridge at sunrise (photo by Aaron N.K. Haiman)

This morning I birded River Walk Park along the West Sacramento side of the Sacramento River. This was my first visit to River Walk Park, so I was not sure what I would find. I decided to start at the Yolo County Park near 4th and B St. and head south as far as the Tower Bridge. I parked at 6:15am and started off. The first thing that struck me was how many feral cats were hanging around. There must have been at least 15 cats just around the boat launch area! Not good news for the birds.

But, cats not withstanding, I did have a very nice morning with a bunch of great birds (see below for a complete list)! Some of the highlights were my first Townsend’s and Black-throated Gray Warblers of the fall. The Black-throated Gray was a really pretty adult female that gave me a really good look as she foraged in the top of a sycamore tree. Another fun bird was hatch-year Black-headed Grosbeak that was flying among the little tree right in front of the Ziggurat Building. Another particularly fun moment for me was as I stood under a small group of oak trees. I was trying to see a small bird that was flitting around in the foliage high above me. I finally got a good look at it and found that it was a Wilson’s Warbler. While not rare, these bright droplets of sun-gold feathers are always nice to see. As i watched it flew into a different group of oaks, and then another golden droplet followed, and then another, and another. In total, the group was comprised of six Wilson’s Warblers, probably a family group. I don’t get to see that many of these birds together like that very often, so this was a real treat.

The area that I walked through began in a very unkempt riparian habitat that obviously had a lot of human use which includes people spending the night in the thickets and probably a lot of other not-quite-legal activities. It is very obvious that this stretch of land gets little or no care. Overall, this part of my walk was more wild with rocky and uneven dirt paths, lots of undergrowth, and lots of trash as well. The more southern part of my walk today took me into a part of the park that is the exact opposite. Perfectly manicured green lawns, with nice paved walkways with landscaped plants, and no trash at all. The boarder between these two areas was the I street Bridge which is where a set of train tracks crosses the Sacramento River. If you stand below the tracks and look one way and then the other you see these two very different worlds, just look at the two photos below.

Looking south from the I Street Bridge (Photo by Aaron N.K. Haiman)

Looking south from the I Street Bridge (Photo by Aaron N.K. Haiman)

Looking north from the I Street bridge (Phtot by Aaron N.K. Haiman)

Looking north from the I Street bridge (Photo by Aaron N.K. Haiman)

It seems like some effort should go into cleaning up the northern part of this area. It would make the place much more inviting. When I see areas like this one, it makes me want to organize a clean up day. Even if I don’t organize a clean up day for others, I will start bringing trash home on my own when I visit in the future. The birding was definitely worth returning in the near future!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the species list, with numbers of individuals in parentheses ().

Brandt’s Cormorant (1)

Great Blue Heron (1)

Mallard (12)

Spotted Sandpiper (1)

Western Gull (5)

Rock Pigeon (20)

Anna’s Hummingbird (4)

Nuttall’s Woodpecker (1)

Black Phoebe (3)

Western Scrub Jay (12)

Yellow-billed Magpie (7)

American Crow (25)

Barn Swallow (16)

Oak Titmouse (6)

Bushtit (35)

House Wren (2)

Northern Mockingbird (1)

European Starling (9)

Black-throated Gray Warbler (1)

Townsend’s Warbler (1)

Wilson’s Warbler (9)

Spotted Towhee (2)

California Towhee (1)

Black-headed Grosbeak (1)

Brewer’s Blackbird (1)

Lesser Goldfinch (1)

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The Arrival of Fall

A shift in the weather was taken place here in West Sacramento, CA!  For one thing, the temperature has dropped suddenly and dramatically.  Two days ago, it was an uncomfortably warm 95 degrees F, but yesterday it was about ten degrees cooler.  This difference in temperature was accompanied by a constant, moderate strength wind from the west all day long.  And, so far, today seems to be bringing more of the same.  There is certainly a weather system being driven this way by a significant change in atmospheric pressure.   These changes likely signal a final end to summer in central California and the beginning of fall.  It is extremely odd that this should occur as late as October, but it has finally happened.  One of the things that make it so impressive is that it occurred so quickly.  This year, there is no doubt as to the day on which fall began.  It may not have coincided with the autumnal equinox, or the calendar date for when fall was supposed to start.  Nature does not work that way.  But this year, fall did arrive on a particular date, at least here in central California, and that date was the 4th of October.  Happy fall everyone!

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