Wondrous Wild West Birds!

This is a bird that I've always wanted to see!  It's a Magpie! The Black-billed Magpie is so common in Nevada that my friends couldn't believe I would bother to take it's picture.  Are they kidding?  These are Corvids,  which means they are very smart birds like their relatives the jays and the crows.  Magpies  are also gorgeous at rest and in flight.  There were half a dozen magpies hanging around a flock of mule deer.  It possible they were with the deer because they like to eat ticks off of livestock and other large animals.  Wouldn't that be a nice species to have around here in Lyme disease country?

The Common Raven is a corvid, also.  Ravens are few and far between in Framingham, but they are everywhere out west! You hear their loud croaking wherever you go!  This magnificent fellow and his mate were cleaning up a picnic area in Yosemite National Park.  Ravens are the very smartest birds found on planet Earth.  They solve multi-step problems and even enjoy puzzles and games.  And they are simply MASSIVE, which is something you can't tell from a picture.  An all around cool bird!

Here's something you definitely won't see in Massachusetts: a California Quail.  Actually, we saw these birds in Nevada rather than in California, but they are all over the west coast.  This photo was taken in my friend's backyard!  Wouldn't you like to see that when you glanced out the window of your house?

These male and female California Quails were walking down the side of the street like they owned it.  In fact, these photos were taken from inside of a car.  I think they are tremendously regal-looking with their fancy headdresses and all.

Believe it or not, I think this rather plain little bird was the highlight of the trip for Pete.  It's  a Black Phoebe, and my son was a bit disappointed when I failed to become feverishly exited upon seeing him.  It's a life-lister for me, but my true passion is for big and dramatic birds.  We saw an Anna's Hummingbird in Pacifica, California that was simply breathtaking (and way too fast to capture with a camera.)  Yet even that glorious little bird didn't excite me as much as the pelicans did.  Sad, but true!

I've barely made a dent in the list of western species that we saw on our trip, so I'll have to finish up in a later post.  In the meantime, I'll put together a list of birds that are equally at home on either coast - and that is a long list, too!


Pelicans or Pterodactyls?

Pelicans are really common birds in many parts of the country, but to a New Englander they are extremely exotic!  I lived in Southern California years ago, but I was still in awe of these strangely prehistoric looking birds.

In the United States, there are both Brown Pelicans and White Pelicans. Despite his white head feathers, the pelican directly overhead is a Brown Pelican.  Brown Pelicans are the only US pelican that dives headfirst into the water to catch fish - which we watched this bird do over and over again!

Also, Brown Pelicans are rarely if ever found far from the coast.  White Pelicans are often seen in inland waters, where they hunt communally by standing in shallow water and herding the fish into their bills.  White pelicans are larger, but I think these Brown Pelicans are magnificent!

 Their aerial antics are a wonder to behold - espescially when they fly in formation (see below).

We even saw a whole group of migrating pelicans flying in a V formation - right from our hotel window!  That was simply unbelievable!

We saw the larger American White pelicans in Nevada, but I was too far away to capture good images.  One reason they were staying well away from humans was the fact that hunting season had started the very day we arrived.  We were birding to the sound of rifle retorts, which explains why we didn't get many waterfowl images up close and personal!


Bird in Distress in Carmel, CA

I honestly thought I was seeing a penguin for a second or two.  Then I realized that was absurd, but I still had no idea what I was looking at.  If my son, Pete, wasn't there I might have said I saw a Puffin!  What we actually saw was a fairly rare and almost endangered Common Murre.

Even if I knew what a Murre was supposed to look like, it would still be tough to ID this fellow when he was standing up.  In this pose his unique markings are more recognizable

If the brown spotty patch on his chest throws you off, it should.  It's not his natural coloring.  Murres are threatened by oil spills and other pollutants, and It looks like this little guy has managed to get himself oiled up somehow. 

It seems his wings are affected as well. What a disaster!  It is very difficult for these birds to swim with oil soaked feathers. 

It's no wonder this guy cannot keep his eyes open for more than a few seconds!  He is too tired to do anything but sleep, even if sleeping out in the open puts him in danger.  The poor thing!  I can't stand it!  If only I had recognized his problem before it was too late to call someone for help!


Gull Swallows Salmon!

What does this gull have in it's mouth?  A really large salmon, that's what.  Furthermore, he is going to choke that big fish down in about two seconds.  It was a sight to see, I'll tell you!

We were lucky enough to arrive at Lake Tahoe (at the border of Nevada and California) right when the salmon were running upstream.  A hotel employee said that people were seeing bears eating the salmon, so our Nevada friends met us at the mouth of the stream to see them.  As it turned out, there weren't any bears that day, but it was an amazing experience nonetheless.

One of the most incredible sights was a gull chowing down on a salmon as large as he was - maybe larger.  It seemed a physical impossibility for the bird to make that fish a meal.

One should never underestimate a hungry gull, however.  They can consume unimaginable things!

At this point, he has swallowed most of the fish.  He's eaten so much that he is actually sitting lower in the water because of the added weight!

He's got all but the tail of the fish inside of him, but look at the size of his neck! Surely he can't survive with that massive thing inside him!  He looks as if he will explode any second!

A moment later he has consumed the whole fish, and even his neck is somewhat smaller than it had been seconds earlier.  Yet it still seems to me as if he couldn't possibly fly with that huge wriggling fish inside him.  Even if the fish is now dead, surely it is too much 'deadwieght' for the gull to get airborne. Once again, though, this plucky gull will prove me wrong.  I turn away for just a moment, and when I look back the bird has flown - salmon and all!


Wildlife in Nevada and California

I spent the last few weeks driving across the country with my daughter.  Driving from coast to coast is a marvelous adventure that I would recommend to everyone. Since we were on a pretty tight schedule, I didn't take out my camera until we met up with my son in Nevada.  (My daughter captured some lovely landscapes along the way, though.  Thank goodness for that!) In Nevada and California I managed to see quite a few examples of western wildlife, such as the Brown Pelican pictured above. I'll go into more detail later, but this post is just a quick taste of the exiting sights out in the wild west.

This coyote is not much different than the ones we are used to seeing, but wait until you hear the story behind this image.  It will amaze you, I'm quite sure about that!

I thought this little bird was a miniature Eastern Towhee or something.  In reality, this is an Oregon Junco.  It's the size of a junco, all right, but I would never have guessed his species by his coloring!

The sea otters in Carmel, CA were just adorable.  We saw other amazing sights in Carmel that I'll post about very soon.

There were literally thousands of Brewer's Blackbirds everywhere we went.  Prior to this trip, I had seen exactly one!

Of the four or five species of grebes we saw, the Western Grebe was by far the most exotic.  But all the Grebes were life-listers for me, so I couldn't be happier about seeing them.


Guinea Hens and Guinea Fowls

This is how Guinea Fowl look when bug hunting.  More or less like cute brownish blobs!

I still don't know if it's male or female, but check out that horn!

Although it's hard to tell from the photos, the horns are different shapes, too. What exactly are these guys?


Cock a Doodle Doo !!!

There were also chickens (and Roosters) at the farm.  Isn't he a beauty?  Rhode Island Red, maybe?

All the Roosters were handsome. Many, many colors and sizes,  All of them crowing to beat the band, too

The smaller ones crowed with a higher pitch than the big guys. 

Check out this guy high stepping it!

Honestly?  I like the bigger ones better. Not too much into the 'cute' thing, I guess!