Posts Tagged ‘Black-crowned Night-Heron’

California Patch

California Patch

When my friend Myrna asked me to visit her in her new California home, of course I said “yes”. I had birded Southern California in April a couple of years ago, so I didn’t expect many new birds. It would be fun just to see Myrna and explore her new part of the country together. I flew to Palm Springs on March 31 and we checked out her Sun City Palm Desert neighborhood that afternoon. The lakes were still covered with ducks and coots. The ducks included American Wigeon, Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks, Mallard, and a single male Red-breasted Merganser. Evidently, the merganser was a bit unusual for this location as it required quite a few emails messages with the eBird reviewer to convince him of our sighting.

Myrna and I found the Black-crowned Night-Herons more interesting. First, we found this cooperative juvenile.

Black-crowned Night-Heron (juvenile)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (juvenile)

A couple of days later, we found the first summer bird and the adult in the photos below. It’s a very common bird, but it was fun to compare the three different plumages.

Black-crowned Night-Heron (first summer)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (first summer)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (adult plumage)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (adult plumage)


On our first full day, we went to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park . Myrna had been there two weeks before my visit and witnessed the spectacle of wildflowers, White-lined Sphinx Moth caterpillars, and hundreds of migrating Swainson’s Hawks feeding on the caterpillars. But, in the California desert, all life depends upon the unpredictable seasonal rains. Alas, there had not been recent rain when I arrived, so we saw no caterpillars nor Swainson’s Hawks and few wildflowers. Regardless, we had a wonderful day exploring the gorgeous desert.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

White-lined Sphinx Moth caterpillar

Our favorite birds that day were Rock Wrens. We’re pretty sure that they were building a nest in the crevice in these rocks. I had a very difficult time taking photographs in the bright desert sun, but if you look closely, you can see a wren on top of the left rock. In the same very dry desert area with the wrens, we also found a Black-throated Gray Warbler, Brewer’s Sparrows, and the ever-present White-crowned Sparrows.

Rock Wren nest

We walked the trail to Pena Spring, also dry desert, and found a Phainopepla, Cactus Wren, more Brewer’s Sparrows, and the most orange House Finch that either of us had ever seen.

Myrna at the Pena Spring trailhead

Myrna at the Pena Spring trailhead

The Anza-Borrego Visitor Center is a little oasis where we were pleased to get great looks at Nashville, Orange-crowned, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

We took it easy the next day and stayed close to Myrna’s home. On Friday, we had another big day at San Jacinto Wildlife Area, a 19,000 acre site with 9,000 acres of restored wetlands. As expected, the water brings in the birds and this was the birdiest place that we visited. Most were common western birds, with Eared Grebe in breeding plumage a highlight.

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

We also enjoyed close looks at a very cooperative American Pipit.

American Pipit

American Pipit

Myrna saved the best for last and on Saturday we visited Big Morongo Canyon Preserve and Covington Park. These parks consist of both desert and woods, but most of the birds that we saw were in the wooded areas. A pair of Vermillion Flycatchers thrilled all the birders in the park that day. We were just as happy to see a pair of Phainopeplas cavorting in the trees. Lesser and Lawrence’s Goldfinches presented themselves for comparison as well as Hooded and Bullock’s Orioles. Three species of hummingbirds charmed us – Costa’s, Anna’s, and Black-chinned. These parks are also home to both Ladder-backed and Nuttall’s Woodpeckers and we were told that many of the birds there were hybrids. And, here, we finally got our Swainson’s Hawk.

Phainopepla pair.  Photo by Larry Noelker.

Phainopepla pair. Photo by Larry Noelker.

Back at Myrna’s, most of the ducks and coots had left, but the Verdins and White-crowned Sparrows in Myrna’s yard were a constant delight. These White-crowned Sparrows are the Gambel’s subspecies, different from the birds that we normally see in the east. Note the pale lores on Myrna’s bird.

White-crowned Sparrow (Gambell's subspecies) on Myrna's feeder

White-crowned Sparrow (Gambell’s) on Myrna’s feeder

In four and a half days, we had seen 85 species of birds and Southern California habitat ranging from desert to oasis to mountain forest to wetlands. Myrna and I had a wonderful visit and fun exploring this beautiful part of the country that she now calls home.

Desert Cottontail in Myrna's neighborhood

Desert Cottontail in Myrna’s neighborhood



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Snowy Owl on the beach at Cape Hatteras

Snowy Owl on the beach at Cape Hatteras

Seeing the Snowy Owl could not have been easier.  We parked at the Cape Hatteras campground, walked the quarter-mile trail over the dunes to the beach, and saw the beautiful owl perched on a piece of driftwood.  The hard part had been convincing everyone to go for it.  It was the first day of the Thanksgiving OBX trip for our group of eight from the Piedmont Bird Club.  When we had first talked about the owl, everyone was agreeable to what everyone else wanted to do, but no one expressed a desire to change our plans to see the owl.  So, we had intended to stick with our itinerary and go to Lake Mattamuskeet NWR on Thanksgiving, the only day that weekend that it was closed to hunting.  But after a friend called me at 7:30 on Thanksgiving morning and said, “We just saw the owl, you don’t even have to walk down the beach,” everyone was willing to change our plans.  The Snowy Owl was a life bird for five of our group and a state bird for me.  And, it was gorgeous!  After admiring the owl, we started back towards our cars and had a wonderful surprise – an American Bittern right out in the open in the middle of the path.

American Bittern

American Bittern at Cape Hatteras

We birders had a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day. And, it was still early so we continued on to Lake Mattamuskeet.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Second year Black-crowned Night-Heron at Lake Mattamuskeet NWR

It was full of birds as expected, especially ducks and Tundra Swans, the real stars of wintertime coastal North Carolina along with thousands of Snow Geese.  Other highlights were Marsh Wrens and seven Black-crowned Night-Herons.  The group of Night-Herons included individuals of various ages.  It was the first time that I can recall seeing a second-year bird – no longer spotted like a juvenile, but rather dull and dusky with the bill still partially yellow.  I had seen both Tundra Swans and Snow Geese before, but enjoyed the opportunity to really study them and note details like the pink bills of the juvenile swans.

Tundra Swan family

Tundra Swans at Alligator River NWR

Snow Geese in flight

Snow Geese at Pea Island NWR

Friday brought more good birds at Pea Island, Bodie Island, and Alligator River NWR.  The highlight for that day may not have been a bird at all, but the Black Bear that we found shortly before dark in a field at Alligator River.  Although this was a large wild animal, there was something very cute and appealing about him as he moved about in the field munching on vegetation.

Phyllis me Bear

Shelley, “Bear,” and Phyllis

We had another “bear” for the weekend when a friend of Emily’s cousin showed up unexpectedly with his large dog to spend the night at the condo where most of our group was staying.  I was glad that I was sharing a room with Phyllis as otherwise it might have been a little crowded on the sofa at the condo.  Phyllis quickly became Bear’s new best friend when she took him for a walk, but I shared my lunch with him, so I think that he liked me, too.

Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbird at Alligator River NWR

On Saturday, our last full day of the trip, we went to Alligator River NWR again.  And, the bird that I most remember?  A Red-winged Blackbird!  I should be embarrassed to tell this story, but I’m blessed with the ability to laugh at myself, so here it is.  As we were driving out, a bird the size of a large sparrow flew in front of our car and then perched in a shrub on the side of the road.  We stopped, admired the bird, puzzled over its identity, and I took dozens of photos.  We saw only the back of the bird and the face.  The pattern on the back and wings was intricate and beautiful; the orange on the face was gorgeous!  We thought that it must be a rare sparrow that we just couldn’t identify.  After puzzling over the photos for a while, we realized what it was.  A very common bird that I thought I’d learned years ago – a female Red-winged Blackbird.  I love the never-ending lessons of birding.  I don’t need new life birds when I can’t remember the birds that I’ve already seen!

After a stop at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head and another at Bodie Island Lighthouse & Pond, the trip was over all too soon.  Our final birds of the trip were a few gulls and at least 75 Northern Gannets that Phyllis and I saw from our sixth floor ocean-front balcony the next morning.  It was peaceful yet thrilling to watch the large group of gannets soaring, gliding, swooping, and diving.  I felt totally happy and content, lost in the moment, while watching those gorgeous birds.

Emily Tyler did an excellent job organizing and leading the trip and it was great fun sharing the experience with new friends.  I’m looking forward to the next Piedmont Bird Club trip.

Pintail pair

Northern Pintail pair at Bodie Lighthouse pond

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