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Posts Tagged ‘Sierra Birding’

I spent this past weekend camping with family and friends. We camped at a spot that I have not been before called Upper Blue Lake in Alpine County, California. This site is about 45 min south of Lake Tahoe, at around 8,200 ft in elevation, and just off the Pacific Crest Trail. It is a pretty spot set in pine and fir trees, and we had a really nice and relaxing time.

The birds around the campground were pretty entertaining. We had Brown Creepers, Red-tailed Hawks, Williamson’s Sapsuckers, Audubon’s Warblers, Mountain Chickadees, Steller’s Jays, and a Cooper’s Hawk in the trees surrounding out campsite.

But one bird was particularly memorable. As several of our group were watching a Williamson’s Sapsucker, when I heard a warbler chip in the trees above me. I found the warbler and saw an adult male Wilson’s Warblers flitting in the branches. As I and a few others watched, I noticed that the bird seemed significantly more clumsy than most. It was very active hoping from twig to twig looking for, and catching insects. Each time it landed, however, it would wobble around, loose it balance, and need to flap its wings a bit to regain its perch. I was starting to really wonder about this odd behavior when something caught my eye. As this warbler was just landing on a twig, and attempting to hold its position, I saw that one leg was gripping the twig. There was only a stump where the other leg should have been!

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The one-legged Wilson’s Warbler (photo courtesy of Erin Hess).

From what I could see, it looked like the leg ended cleanly at the distal end of the tibiotarsus, or where the “ankle” joint would have been. Most of the time the tibiotarsus was held up in the feathers, tucked out of sight. It was only visible when the bird lost its balance a bit and instinctively reached out with the incomplete leg. A friend of mine was able to snap a few pictures, and in them you can see the bird standing on a branch and only one foot gripping the bark.

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Clear view of the one-legged Wilson’s Warbler standing on one leg (photo courtesy of Erin Hess)

I have no idea if this was an injury (seems more likely) or a birth defect (seems much less likely especially for an adult bird). Regardless of how it happened, the bird seemed to be doing ok. It was very active, the feathers looked to be in good condition, and it was vocalizing normally as well.

This was an impressive example of how resilient birds are. I have seen numerous wild birds that have injuries that were severe enough to cripple a mammal, but the birds have healed and are still able to function at a survivable level. For how fragile they seem, birds a tough!

 

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This week I began my summer field season. I am planning weekly excursions up into, and throughout, the Sierra Nevada mountains to find Evening Grosbeaks, my study species. My first day in the field was a modest start. I left West Sacramento at 3:00am and drove up highway CA-49 to the San Francisco State Field Campus just outside of the tiny town of Bassetts, CA. When I arrived, at around 6:00, it was lightly misty and on the cold side. I walked around the field camp a little and heard the forest wake up. It was not long before I heard my first Evening Grosbeak of the day and setup my equipment. As the weather cleared, I got some work done testing how Evening Grosbeaks respond to recordings of various kinds, but there were not that many grosbeaks around. There were a bunch of other birds around that gave me some great looks, including several near collisions. At various points in the morning, I was nearly hit in the head by a Western Tanager, a Red-breasted Sapsucker, a White-headed Woodpecker, and a Mountain Chickadee! I also got to see an Osprey circling high overhead with its breakfast, a moderate sized fish, in its talons. But, since the grosbeaks were not especially cooperative I decided to try a new spot. I continued east on CA-49 to Yuba Pass where I was happy to find more grosbeaks along with a few Red Crossbills, lots of Cassin’s Finches, and several Chipping Sparrows, one of which landed on the side of the road not five feet from me and sang and sang. Delightful! After a while, and grosbeaks only showing up few and far between, I headed back down towards Bassetts where I saw Townsend’s Solitaire, which were a real treat for me, and a very lovely pair of Fox Sparrows. Then, after a brief stop in at the Sierra Skies RV Park in Sierra City, I was homeward bound. Odd as it sounds, the RV park in Sierra City was a great field site for me during my Master’s work. All in all, it was great to get out into the field and shake the dust off my methodology. I only got 5 actual trials, and since I am aiming for 10 each day, that was a bit lower than I would like. But there is a lot of summer ahead, so the work will get done. Next week I am planning on heading to the area around Quincy, CA and Bucks Lake to poke around, and hopefully fine more Evening Grosbeaks who will listen to my recordings and let me know what they think of them!

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