Musings of a roaming nature nerd

Archive for July, 2014

River of Birds

During a cold, sunny October two years ago, Jason and I witnessed migration as never before. Atop a rickety wooden tower, on a pine ridge, in the middle of an isthmus, at Poland’s boundary with the Baltic Sea and Russia, we spent days mesmerized by a river of birds flooding over our head. Hundreds of thousands passerines and thousands of raptors winged their way toward the Mediterranean and Africa. Completely awed, we wondered if we would ever see such an event again.

Yesterday, here in California we once again observed a river of birds in motion. Black-vented Shearwaters are a species of seabird that nests on islands south of southern California, off of Baja Mexico. Only occasionally seen from land, these pelagic birds are most often found miles out at sea. And though their migration does not follow the traditional north-south-north pattern we think of for many birds, they are indeed moving in search of food, which is the reason why many birds migrate at all.

This year an El Nino event is developing in the Pacific and one possible result of that is a massive push of anchovies toward the coasts. In the wake of the anchovies are hungry birds, dolphins and numerous other sea creatures. Observing the movement and frenzied feeding of 20,000+ Black-vented Shearwaters was incredible. And not only were the Shearwaters in motion close to shore, but dozens of other species. Elegant Terns streamed overhead, every single one with beak-fulls of anchovies. Marbled Godwits and Long-billed Curlews foraged in the surf. The early morning sea air hummed with the energy of thousands of wings, churning waves, and the feverish excitement of a few SoCal birders!

(Thanks to Brandon “Babe Lee” Miller for the scope videos)

 

The crew

The hero crew

Black-vented Shearwaters with the Coronado Islands behind

Black-vented Shearwaters with the Coronado Islands behind

Terns with anchovies

Terns with anchovies

Heermann's Gull

Heermann’s Gull

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Jolly birders!

Jolly birders!

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Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover

Hi!

Hi!

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew

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Willets and Godwits

Willets and Godwits

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The frenzy

The frenzy

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

The hero crew: JP, Babe Lee, A-WOL, and PJ

Happy hero crew at the end of a long day


Revisiting Bird Banding

In 2011 I posted about the process of banding birds.  I have decided to post again because it’s a fascinating and exciting process to handle birds and learn about their physiology, behavior and migration through true hands on experiences.

A few photos below show some of the birds in hand we banded this season and the two videos found provide a closer look at the process itself. This Spotted Towhee Banding video was taken at one of our MAPs (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) banding stations. I do not manage to explain things very well because I was kind of distracted and questioning myself too much, but at least it’s a representation of what we’re doing!

 

With an Anna's Hummingbird

With an Anna’s Hummingbird

 

Wrentit with the mist net behind.

Wrentit with the mist net behind.

 

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

 

Baby and Papa Nuttal's Woodpeckers

Baby and Papa Nuttall’s Woodpeckers

 

Hooded Oriole

Hooded Oriole

 

Bullock's Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

 

Rufous-crowned Sparrow (and Brandon)

Rufous-crowned Sparrow (and Brandon)

 

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

 

Western Scrub Jay

Western Scrub Jay

 

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

 

Color bands on a Least Bell's Vireo

Color bands on a Least Bell’s Vireo

 

Least Bell's Vireo showing active molt in its flight feathers

Least Bell’s Vireo showing active molt in its flight feathers

 

This Nestling Banding video shows Jason handling a 6 day old, Least Bell’s Vireo chick that he’s just removed from the nest in order to put a colored and numbered band on its leg. He’s trying to work quickly so that the parents are not too upset by the absence of their baby. He places the band on the bird, weighs it and will then (after banding its siblings) take it back to the nest right away.

 

Jason with a teeny tiny nestling!

Jason with a teeny tiny nestling!

 

 

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Banded siblings (Anne, David and Brian?!)

Banded siblings (Anne, David and Brian?!)