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January 2012 – Chris Llewellyn's "Birds Eye Views"

Month: January 2012

With the Reddish Egret, it all starts like this-

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Reddish Egret



Reddish Egrets are one our less-common Egrets. I know I’ve posted a little about these birds before but I just had to share some action photos with you that Debbie took yesterday at the estero.  We’re gonna’ have to go back there soon.  We saw a flock of birds there that we have never seen in Baja before.  These birds stayed too far away for good photos so be sure to check in another day and you’ll see what they are.

Back to the Egrets.  This is an immature bird.  Breeding adults have long shaggy beards and manes and are a sight to see in themselves.  They are mostly seen on salt pans on the southern coasts where they chase their prey around running on long legs flapping their wings.

The chase is on.                                                       Nowhere to hide.
















Male House Finches around the backyard feeder.

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I was brought up in the San Fernando Valley, Ca.  House Finches were a common site there but I remember the males were red and the females were brown.  Living in Baja Sur I keep seeing these House Finches that are red, orange and red, yellow and red and everything in-between.

House Finch, male



This is the way I remember male House Finches should look.  Always chirping cheerfully, hopping around in little flocks and always red.




House Finch, male variant

Here’s a yellow variant.  I’m connected to birders all over the country by way of birding forums.  Many of them have never seen anything but red males.  Some have seen one or two variants.  Very few and it doesn’t seem to matter where, say they see them often.  Most everyone agrees   the color variations has to do with their diets.



House Finches are common.  In the west they inhabit semiarid lowlands on up to altitudes of 6000 ft.  They are spreading rapidly in the east since their introduction in the 1940s.  These birds feed on seeds and are attracted to feeders containing scratch and/or sunflower seeds.  They are a joy to watch and listen to.

House Finches are susceptible to Mycoplasma gallisepticum or House Finch conjunctivitis.  Two years ago I noticed it a lot around Los Barriles.  Last year I saw a case or two and none so far this year.  If you see a finch with a glob around it’s eyes and nose, that’s it.  Some survive the desease, some don’t.

This is a variant House Finch.  He’s all puffed up to regulate body temperature.


House Finch male variant



Who am I; Northern Cardinal or Pyrrhuloxia?

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Northern Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias  

pyrrhuloxia [pir-uh-lok-see-uh]

are always a delight to see.  Whether when spotted out in the field or when seen around the backyard feeder, field marks make the males of each species easy to distinguish.  The full-body scarlet red of the male Northern Cardinal is unforgettable.  Male  Pyrrhuloxias, sometimes called Gray or Desert Cardinals, are all gray with red on their crests, faces, wings, tails and underparts.

compare Northern Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia females

To distinguish the females (and immature birds) from each other is a little more difficult at first.

Check out the beaks on these two birds.  The Northern Cardinal’s beak is pointy and usually orange or pink.  Look closely at the Pryyhuloxia’s beak.  It’s more parrot-like and usually yellow or gray.   The Pryyhuloxia’s crest is usually, but not always, more pointy.


Female Pyrrhuloxia
Female Northern cardinal


Northern Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias are mostly seedeaters however they do feed on many crop-destroying insects.  The distribution of the Northern Cardinal is increasing due backyard feeders.  Both birds are about 8″.






Gila Woodpecker vs Gilded Flicker.

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Male Gila Woodpecker





A good friend of ours asked Debbie today about differences between Gila Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers.  She is having a hard time telling the two apart.  So let’s have a look.

Male Gila Woodpecker

Male Gila Woodpeckers have a very noticeable red patch on top of the head.  They are about 9 1/2″ in length, have black and white  barred back and rump.  Calls are a rolling Churr followed by yip-yip.  These birds are pretty common and sometimes dominate backyard feeders.  Females and immature birds lack the red head patch.




Male Gilded Flick


Male Gilded Flickers            (11 1/2″)have beautiful red moustachial  stripes.  They have thin back bars and  a white rump.  Gilded Flickers also have a bold black chest patch.    Their call is a wick-er.wicker. These birds are usually seen in pairs.


So basically, Gilas are smaller than Flickers, males have a red patch on top of the head and have a dark rump.  They are usually more numerous, almost pesky, around backyard feeders.  Male Flickers have red moustachial strips, spotted chest with a bold black patch and white rumps.

Female Gila Woodpecker
Female Gilded Flicker

I think she’s pretty, the female House Finch.

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It seems like often when I’m talking birds to someone it’s “oh the males are so pretty and colorful”.  More colorful maybe.  After all, he has to “catch the girl” and draw predators away from the nest with his striking colors.


I guess the female House Finch can look a little drab.

Female House Finch

But she does have the selfless job of sitting on the nest, keeping the eggs and chicks at the the right temperature and watching for danger.  Cats, Common Ravens, snakes, Shrikes and Jays are just a few of the predators she has to watch out for.




Female House Finch nesting in abandoned Hooded Oriole's nest

This Finch is using an abandoned Hooded Oriole’s nest to lay her eggs in.  She has probably lined this nest with soft material like maybe threads from the towels hanging on your clothes line.


Male House Finches feed momma while she’s on the nest and also help feed the young.   After the chicks can fly, we see them following papa around chirping and shaking their wings begging for a meal.

Male House Finch feeding baby

House Finches are omnivorous.  They will feed on pesky insects and weed seeds.  Residents of  Western  America, caged birds were released in the East where they are becoming a common sight. 5-6″

I think this female House Finch is a very lovely lady.

Today is Debbie’s Birthday, my sweetheart.

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This is our favorite guide, Jeff.  More on him later.  Debbie and I visited the Galapagos Islands a while back.   There we snorkeled with Hammerhead, reef, and other types of sharks.

Hammerhead Shark
Chris & Debbie on Galapagos Islands







Seeing the birds like the Nazca Booby, Flightless Cormorant, Galapagos Penguin and many others was life-changing.

Nazca Booby
Red-Footed Booby
Galapagos Flightless Cormorant






And then there was Africa.  This is Debbie microflying over Victoria Falls.


Wild Dog of Africa

Gray Lourie or Go Away Bird

Africa is a beautiful country.  Full of birds and danger everywhere in the jungles.

And then there is Costa Rica.  WoW and more Wow.  Birds, birds, birds.

Green Parakeets

Some guides are fantastic.                                          Ouch!Some are not too smart. Ouch!





Debbie took this shot of a lifetime.  No, I guess these aren’t Baja birds today but Debbie is the Best Baja Gal around!

resplendent quetzal


White-necked Jacobin

Happy Birthday Debbie!


As we hit the surf my first thought is “this is a real dive”!

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We were attracted by all the goin’s on at the Lord of the Wind Fair.  Great fun for sure.



Everybody is watching the kite-boarders and wind surfers and girls and girls and something else catches my attention.  Sometimes I’m a real stick-in-the-mud.  Dog- gone it any way.

So now I ‘m distracted by these Brown Pelicans diving  for baitfish right down in front of where they’re playing music. Fish love good music. First I see the pelicans flying.

Brown Pelican

And then I see them starting to dive.

Brown Pelican Diving

And then they decide on a target!

Closer yet;

And then the pelican is completely under water!

Brown Pelicans can hold up to three gallons of water and fishes in their pouches.  After they dive they squeeze the water out and swallow down  dinner.  Different from White Pelicans which do not dive, (instead they scoop their prey from the water surface), Brown Pelicans are almost never seen inland, accept the on Salton Sea.


In Baja Sur we may see Killdeer wherever there is water.

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Or at least, water nearby.  This little beauty is the Killdeer.  This is our largest ringed (9-11″) plover.  As you can see, Killdeer are brown above, white below and have two black bands across the chest  area.  The bands are good field marks when trying to distinguish these plovers from others like the Semipalmated plover, which have only one.

In Oregon, we see these birds in plowed fields, golf courses and grassy parks.  In Baja Sur, we find them near estuaries or even up arroyos wherever water may be.  Killdeer lay 3-4 eggs but it’s hard for the little chicks to survive to become adults.  Mom and pops try their best to keep predators away.

When danger approaches a nest or young chicks, good ole dad will pretend to be an injured bird.  He’ll start making a loud racket, act like he has a broken wing and lure the danger  (like a fox or bobcat) away.  When dad (or mom) is far enough away from home, he’ll fly off singing Killdeer-Killdeer, dee-dee-dee!






Baby chicks cannot fly for quit a while so they depend on the smarts of their parents and their own speed to survive.  Killdeer breed in both North and South America.

Killdeer Chick

Here’s looking at you in Baja California, Sur.

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Looking thru some recent photos this morning I couldn’t help but notice the different looks birds give us.

This White-crowned Sparrow is just sitting there looking kinda cute almost like a kitten.  White-crowned Sparrows are one of our more common types of birds in the Sparrow family.  There are several “races” spread out over much of North America.  Their song is a single, thin note follow by a whistling trill.




This Northern Cardinal is giving me a pretty mean look like “don’t mess with me”!  Northern Cardinals are finches that are considered non-migratory.  We missed the sights and sounds of these birds (sounds like cheer cheer cheer, purdy purdy purdy) for a few years after hurricane John damaged their population here in Los Barriles.



Then there’s the always photogenic White-winged Dove.   By the looks of the crop (some say craw), of this bird I think it has had plenty to eat for now.

And lastly, this Pyrrhuloxia has a look maybe you can describe for yourself.  These birds have a stronger, more curved bill when compared to the Northern Cardinal.  Pyrrhuloxias are primarily seed eaters. 8-9″








Birding Adventures TV host James Currie

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Harris's Hawk

We wanted to let you know about this upcoming TV show.  It will include several of the birds we see in Baja California Sur.


Dear Debbie,BE SURE TO CATCH THE PREMIER OF “AERIAL ASSASSINS”, NIKON’S BATV HOST JAMES CURRIE’S LATEST SHOW ON THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC WILD CHANNEL ON FRIDAY THE 20TH JANUARY AT 10.00 PM EST.Just like lions or wolves, Harris’s Hawks can hunt down prey in packs with brutal efficiency – which goes against the long-held thinking that they were solo hunters. Now, we’ll venture into the hostile Sonoran Desert using radical tracking techniques to witness this remarkable behavior. Big game tracker and professional birder James Currie must track them down, but there’s no guarantee when and where they’ll hunt.

The show also features great Sonoran Desert birds like Roadrunners, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Red-tail Hawks and Great Horned Owls

For a sneak preview of the show, click HERE.

The full schedule on Nat Geo WILD is as follows:

Friday 20th January at 10.00 pm EST

Saturday 21st January at 1.00 am EST

Friday 27th January at 3.00 pm EST

Stay tuned for more adventures in the world of birding.Feel free to contact us with any questions or suggestions at info@BirdingAdventures.comHappy Birding,

James Currie
Birding Adventures TV

L.B.Js. No, not the president just “little brown jobs”.

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I’ve always noticed that I’m kind of “alone in a crowd” when it comes to enjoying sparrows.  Like the times when I’m driving in the car with someone (other than Debbie) and point out a “little brown job” off on the side of the road.

Black-throated Sparrow

Whomever is looking where I’m pointing is at first, a little disappointed.  I’m sure they’re hoping to see an eagle or something like that but no, it’s a sparrow.  In this case, a Blackthroated Sparrow.  Just look a little closer and anyone can see the special features of these little guys.  They have black lores (the area between the bill and the eyes) and a triangle black patch on their throat.  They also have a distinguishing white eyebrow and submoustachial stripe on a dark head.  Their song is a clear, high-pitched two notes followed by a rapid trill.  Beautiful!

And then there’s the Lark Sparrow.  These little birds have a face that looks to me like someone painted it for a carnival.

Lark Sparrow

Unlike the Black-throated Sparrow which hops from low-lying bush-to-bush and bush-to-ground to feed, the Lark Sparrow has long legs and mostly runs, instead of hops, along the ground.

Lastly for now we have the White-crowned Sparrow.  This is a young bird.  The brown stripes on it’s head will turn black as the bird matures.

White-crowned Sparrow

Most sparrows feed on seeds, small berries and some insects.




Debbie and I did a little bird counting today

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Living on the East Cape of Baja Sur, we have these electrical “brown-outs” every now and then.  We had one this afternoon so we took a break from work and had some fun on the back patio. (don’t get smart!)

Hooded Oriole

The south patio is one of our favorite places to be when the wind is howling.  It’s actually an after-construction improvement we made when we discovered how the wind blew much of the winter-time in Los Barriles.  This area is well protected from the north winds.  Lucky for us, that’s where the birds like to be when it’s blowin’ like all get-out.  We had a lot of fun counting the different species we could see from right where we were sitting.  So here it goes.  First (above) was a Hooded Oriole.


Scott's Oriole
Black-headed Grosbeak




















Northern Cardinal


Cactus Wren






We counted 25 species of birds in about one hour!  Following is a list of the other birds we saw;

#s 7 – 25… House Finch, English Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, White-winged Dove, Common Ground Dove, Turkey VultureZone-tailed Hawk, Magnificent Frigate-bird, Osprey, Yellow-footed Gull, Herring Gull, Costa’s Hummingbird, Cassin’s Kingbird, Common Ravin, Lesser Goldfinch, Gila woodpecker, Brown Pelican, Brandt’s Cormorant and an American Kestrel.

Whew!  Sometimes it seems we just take things for granted.  Just take a good look around.  Something moves or maybe seems out-of-place, take a second look and be rewarded with the “Birds We See” in Baja California Sur.

A magnificent bird-of-prey, The Osprey.

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I know you’ve seen these beautiful, inspiring raptors either perched or soaring thru the skys of Baja Sur.  This is the Osprey.  As you can see, these birds are dark brown above, white below, with a white head that has a prominent dark eye-stripe.

Ospreys dive feet first to catch prey, mostly fish.  Once they spot a potential meal they often seem to freeze in mid-air above the unlucky snack.

And then the dive begins!   This is a sight to see.  The Osprey folds it’s wings and down it goes fast.  Big splash and up the bird comes.  When the Osprey is successful, which pretty often it is not, it will fly off the water, shake off and then straighten out the fish pointing it dead (sorry) ahead.

Ospreys populations were in steep declines due to the the use of certain pesticides like DDT in agriculture.  Fish absorbed the chemicals and passed them along to these and other raptors causing their egg shells to thin and collapse.   Osprey population are once again becoming strong.  You may see nest boxes on top of power poles near but away from some coastal towns in Baja.  This practice encourages Osprey to nest where they are not so likely to be harmed.








Another invasion!

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One of our birding forum members spotted an Eurasian-collard Dove at his feeder today.  This is the second sighting of this bird I’ve heard of this year.  I guess it was just a matter of time.  You see, these doves are non-native and considered by many as pests.

Eurasian-collard Doves are related to African- collard Doves that were released from cages in the Bahamas in the late 1980s.  From there they spread to Florida.  Now they flock, sometimes by the thousands, over much of North America.  Many states have no closed hunting season and no limit on these birds but they just keep coming!  It is yet to be understood the harm these birds may cause to our native populations of Mourning Doves,

White-winged Doves and

Common-ground Doves.

Non-native European Starlings made it here three or four years ago.  Baja Sur resisted them for a long, long time.

I hope Eurasian-collard Doves never fill the skys of Baja Sur like

Starling murmurations.

The wind is blowing again in Baja Sur.

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Imagine that!  Everybody is looking forward to the www.Lordofthewindbaja.com competition to begin.  So I’m sure the wind is a great thing to have right now.  They have one of the competition buoys anchored right out in front of our casa so I guess we  will have some front-row views.

While we are waiting for the fun to begin I’m keeping an eye on the bird feeders.  I’m really hoping for a good/great shot of a female Scott’s Oriole today.  She is very camera shy.

A regular at the hummer feeders is the Orange-crowned Warbler.


There are numerous species of Warblers, about half of them found in North America.  These are really fun birds to watch at the feeders.  They constantly chirp, hang upside down and get chased away by agressive Costa’s Hummingbirds.




Orange-crowned Warblers on the Pacific side of Baja are often more yellowish in color.  Our book, “Birds We See” in Baja California Sur is a great coffee table book where you will see photos of these Warblers and 80 other birds of Baja.


Wanna go for a walk?

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Morning! Fresh ground coffee on the terrace overlooking the calm Sea of Cortez and watching the beautiful sunrise. Is this heaven?

What’s on the agenda today miel? Kayaking? Fishing? Birding? Swimming? After several minutes of discussion and watching the weather….guess which option is taken? Right..birding! Perhaps a little swimming and badminton this afternoon.

We set out on foot today, heading north where the steep cliffs meet the tranquil Sea of Cortez. We are in search of water birds, so we are looking to the southeast. We are above the sea, thirty or forty meters in some places. I’m spotter today so I have the Licas. Chris has the Canon 100-400. We stop just outside the gate to knock termite tunnels off the outside of our walls… pesky little things they are, even on concrete! Looks like mud lines on our cooling green paint and that’s exactly what it is! With termites inside! Isn’t that something?

On down the road, un medio kilómetro mas o menos, I spot our first subject. Ohhhh…he’s so pretty! WOW! What a shot….get him…it’s a great shot! Get him!  Now!  And guess what….Chris got him good. The Red-tailed hawk. You can sure see his red tail in this shot!


Fifty photos later, are you ready to move on?  Yeah..ok…let’s go.  It’s really hard for me to leave such magnificent beauty but we have the shorebirds to check out!  Off we go….oh look!  A Says phoebe!  He was a real pretty one (aren’t they all?) but he didn’t stick around long enough for us to get his photo.

What are those birds in the water down there?  I pull up the Licas about the same time Chris says, “grebe”.  Yep, it’s a grebe.  Too far away for a shot tho.  Maybe later.  Look up there…what’s that?  Ah, it’s the pretty little Verdin.  You can almost always here them before you see them.  They are very busy and make a fast chirping sound.  Almost seems as if they really want you to know they are around.




Ok…next?  Is that Mockingbird posing for you?  I think he is!  Click…click click click..click.

On down the winding dusty road, well miel, how much further do you want to go?  He wants to go on down to where there’s a path to the beach and perch ourselves near the waterline.  After all, we are in search of water birds today!  Ok…on down we go and perch on a pile of rocks.  Hmmm…funny…seems as tho this is getting more uncomfortable in my mid age!  Soon enough tho, you forget about comfort and look around you…such awesome scenery we have here in Baja California Sur.  Bait fish jumping high above the water trying to escape the mouths of the Skipjacks chasing them.  Crabs a plenty crawling over the rocks.  Fishermen putting slowly by and …. and….  what are those?!  It’s the grebes!  Eared grebes to be exact!  We sit quietly while they paddle slowly towards us.  We sneak a move or two when they dive.  Closer…closer….closer…can you get them?  Yep.  Maybe just an ID photo but, we got them!  We didn’t have them in our Baja Collection yet but guess what…we do now!

Sun and sea birds, on Baja Sur’s coast.

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The winds have died down, sounds like for a few days.  Debbie and I decided to take a long walk along the coast road and see what we could see.

The sun was all wrong for bird shots but we just made the best of it.  We find a rock with Brown Pelicans resting.  As you can see in the photo below, there were adult birds with white necks and heads washed with yellow.  There were also some young birds that were brown in color.  Brown Pelicans take about three years before they reach their adult colors.


Looking out to sea against the sun we saw a bunch of diving birds swimming closely together.  They would all dive at once only to reappear at the surface all at once again.  Thin, slightly upturned beaks; kind of pointy heads and thin necks.  The classic GISS (general impression, size and shape) of Grebes.  These are Eared Grebes (photos taken into the sun, sorry).  Winter plumage of these birds is nothing to write home about but their breading head dress is beautiful.  Adults have a golden “ear” fanning out behind their eyes.  WOW!  Grebes do not have webbed feet but they do have lobed toes that aid in propulsion under water.

And lastly, we found a young looking Brandt’s Cormorant.  We most commonly may see either Double-crested Cormorants  or Brandt’s Cormorants in this area of Baja Sur.  A distinguishing feature is the Brandt’s Cormorant’s buffy chin (which turns blue in breeding adults).  These birds are common and gregarious often feeding in large flocks and nest in colonies.

One good Tern deserves another?

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When we go birding in the lagoons and estuaries of Baja Sur; sometimes we get extra lucky and see some Terns.  The Tern on the left is a Caspian Tern and on the right we have a Royal Tern.

The Caspian Tern has a thick, coral red bill and is a stockier built bird than

the Royal Tern (pictured below).

Terns can be distinguished from gulls by their long, pointed bills, pointed wings and feeding behavior.  Most Terns plunge-dive into water to catch prey.


In Baja Sur we are fortunate to have many different shorebirds.

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This bird is a Black-bellied Plover.  We see these birds as we stroll along the beaches or lagoons of  The East Cape.  They are such speedy little shorebirds.  We watch them dart across the sand, stop, then take off running again.

These birds nest on the Arctic Tundra.  That’s why we don’t see the males in their black and white breeding plumage here in Baja (I haven’t).  Wintering birds have grayish coloring with streaked underparts.  Note the light supercilium ( I call the eyebrow line).  These 11″ birds seem to tease us as we try to photograph them.  Just when we’re close enough for a good shot they run (sometimes fly) 30 feet further down the beach, stop and look back at us like they are urging us on.



Take it easy on you

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I’m sure that this blogging and posting website stuff is going to need continuous updating.  We will continue to try to take it easy on you, the subscriber.  We have recently added a feature that will automatically (I hope) send you an email when we have a new post on our site.

We have had several requests to keep people updated with new sightings so we figured this is the best way to do it.  We would encourage any of you to click on “New Topic” and create your post if you indeed have a new bird sighting, or if you would like to ask a question or just post a comment, whatever you would like to do.  Our FAQ’s page will help if you have questions on how to register, make a post, yeah…those kinds of things.  You may also want to check your settings you have enabled on your “Profile”.

And an important note, please let me know if you see any of the birds on my 2012 Wish List!  Thanks everyone for your patience.  We hope you will come visit often and start posting away!