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January 2016 – Chris Llewellyn's "Birds Eye Views"
 

Month: January 2016

What a day can bring for these Baja birders.

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My darling Debbie and I took a ride in the car up San Antonio road the other day.  This road turns south off the highway at the bridge “Agua Blanca”, maybe 5 or 10 miles east of San Bartolo.  The road runs through the Sierra de Laguna Biosphere.  Birds are everywhere.  Large flocks of Brewer’s Sparrows, Clay-colored Sparrows, Lark Sparrows and Morning Doves were all over the place.  Debbie was taking photos of a Red-tailed Hawk when it landed not far from us.  We could see it had twigs in it’s bill for nest building when all of a sudden—

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

the hawk sees something that freezes it like ice and then w-h-a-m-m-o!  It pounces on a nearby branch.  Watching in quiet amazement, we can see the bird drop the twigs and clutch at something all in one motion.  Check out Debbie’s photos.  The Red-tail caught a snake, looks to me like a gopher snake (Debbie noticed the tail hanging down, bottom right), and starts eating the critter right before our eyes.

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

Yum-Yumm

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

After all that excitement, I need to rest up a bit.  We stop at one of our favorite places, an arroyo at Km 23 or so, (has a large biosphere sign in the middle of it).  Debbie isn’t up for a long hike today so she stays near the rig while off I go.  I do keep close enough to keep an eye, or ears, on her (remember the Bob Cat attack?).  Often, I like to do a little bird calling using my ipod which is loaded with bird calls.  Setting up with the sun to my back, I hang the little wireless speaker on a branch. In a perfect world, the birds will land nearby and pose for a brief photo-op in the sunlight.  I start with a Western screech Owl call and later change to a Black-capped Gnatcatcher.  Other birds like to join gnatcatchers to mob owls.  The idea is to chase the owl away.  I hear a bird in the bushes BEHIND me, in the shadows.  Not great for photography because of the low-light, but it’s close enough to shoot this pretty Lincoln’s Sparrow.  Good bird for Baja Sur (meaning “not seen very often ((by me anyway)).

Lincoln's Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow

And then a bright patch of yellow catches my eye.  Oooooo… a Wilson’s Warbler, nice—

Wilson's Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler

I’m day-dazing a little bit and for a moment, I think I’m back in Oregon.  That’s because there’s a bird calling, this sound like a zipper with a cold that I often hear in our backyard back home and never heard here on the East Cape before.  Take a look at what came to join the gnatcatchers— a Spotted Towhee.  Now how cool is that?—

Spotted Towhee
Spotted Towhee

Next, a fidgeting Cassin’s Vireo is hopping around in the background.  This little bird often goes unnoticed  due to it’s size and ultra-shy manners.

Cassin's Vireo
Cassin’s Vireo

Across from me on my right, back aways from the speaker sits a Yellow-rumped Warbler. You can see why they are called yellow rumped and they seem to be enjoying the abundance of prey the lush habitat affords.  This is the “Audubon’s” variety, I can tell by the very yellow throat, wich would be more white in the “Myrtle”  Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler

A seldom seen Warbling Vireo joins the show embarrassing the other birds  with it’s singing-

Warbling Vireo
Warbling Vireo

As we say good-bye, we watch an Acorn Woodpecker thats’ obviously enjoying the day.  The Oak Trees that grow at this altitude provide acorns that many animals depend on.  These nuts are stored in leks to help some birds get through the winters.

Acorn Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker

“till next time, buen dia from Chris and Debbie and by all means-like us on facebook.  It helps us alot.

Baja birders find this interesting!

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Off to the lagoons with my sweetheart we go.  I’m thinking there must have been a lot of people out here over the weekend as there are few birds to be seen and tire tracks all over the beach.  I do see a small flock of ducks fly in with a plop (some duck species glide on top of the water to a smooth landing and some just go PLOP!)  I recognize these daphy’s as Lesser Scaups.  I see a few Lessers here every year but there is one duck that stands out in the bunch.  It’s a Greater Scaup!  Actually flagged by eBird as a Rare bird here.  I get so excited that if I had any hair, I’m sure it would be standing straight up!  I’m very lucky to get a comparison shot for the two ducks.  Click on this link for more info on Scaups.

Greater(left) and Lesser Scaups
Greater(left) and Lesser Scaups

I move on so as not to make the birds nervous.  I saw what looked like a piece of trash on one of the islands earlier and now it’s gone.  I take a look with my binoculars and “while I’ll be!”, just off to the right I can see a goose-like bird paddling through some water-weeds.  I guess that was the “trash” I saw.   This is another lucky day for me.  Besides having darling Debbie making it out to bird with me I see another rare bird.  Now, I saw a flock of these guys here a month or two ago but now there’s a single Brant and it flies away as soon as I see it.  I get one or two quick shots.

Brant
Brant

Moving along through the muck that is the border of the lagoon, I see a white “thing” in a bush across the water.  Binos up…how cool!!  A Black-crowned night Heron.  The bird looks like a little white piece of paper in the brush.  Steady the camera on the mono-pod.  Its got  it’s eyes closed.  Thats not good for a photo-op so I meow like a kitten.  The sound works and it opens it’s eyes, I fire away.  Not a bad photo for about one hundred yards away.

Black-crowned night Heron
Black-crowned night Heron

Back at home Debbie and I are going over a few shots she took.  She always has the eye for composition in her photos.  Here’s a female Lesser Scaup cruising the calms…

Lesser Scaup, female
Lesser Scaup, female

And the shot-of-the-day!!!  A Great-blue Heron watching us watching him.  WOW!!!

Great-blue Heron
Great-blue Heron

Okay, everybody have a great day from Chris and Debbie.

Let’s Go Birding, chemo style

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September, 2015

Should I laugh? Should I cry? I didn’t know which. The true experience of mixed emotion slaps me right in the face, hard.

“Do you want to go birding?” my wonderful husband Chris asks. It used to be a simple “yes!” and we grabbed our gear, made sure Kitty was set and took off. Since I’m back in chemotherapy, it’s a different story.

As of this writing, I am a 10 1/2 year survivor of stage IV ovarian cancer. We are a month into a clinical trial with a new drug (trametinib) and I am having all kinds of side effects that we are trying to control while still maintaining a sense of normalcy in our lives. For us, birding is a normalcy. So…let’s go birding, chemo style.

After saying “yes!”, I start getting ready. Make sure I take all my drugs on time and in the right order. Shower with tepid water as no hot water is allowed and blot dry. We don’t want to irritate the rash and blisters any more. The rash is like a really bad case of the zits. Brush my teeth but not too hard to irritate my gums. Apply anti biotic topical cream on the rash on my face, neck chest and upper back, then face cream, then healing cream then sun screen.  And most of all, be sure and brush your teeth before applying creams or you have to do it all again. Then lotion on the rest of the body as the trial drug dries out all of my skin. I don’t have a small body…

I’m tired out by this time so have to stop and take a rest. I sit down and Chris lovingly covers my big toe blisters on both feet with triple antibiotic ointment and gauze so they don’t become infected.  

After resting a bit, I start again. My hiking shoes won’t fit because of the edema in both legs so flip flops it is. They don’t do so well in the blackberry bushes but I’ll be careful. Good thing we covered the toe blisters.  Chris helps me and we carefully put on a rash guard long sleeved top so as not to wipe off all the lotions or you have to reapply them, and a floppy hat to protect the rash on my head, face, neck, shoulders, chest and upper back.

Sun screen is the worst for your optics as it eats away at the rubber.  I have to apply sun screen to all uncovered skin…which means my hands as well, especially since I have blisters on them too.  So..I have to be very careful and TRY and not get any sunscreen on my optics!!!!  Yeah, right. Maybe my spendy Leica’s will last as long as I do.

Both hands in the “U” area between my index fingers and thumbs are covered in blisters so…I double the sunscreen on them, all the time wondering…how the heck am I going to carry my mono pod with my camera on it, which is hard for me to do in the first place let alone carry it without getting any sunscreen on everything!!  I must look into some kind of UV protective gloves.

After an hour and a half of getting lathered in creams and lotions and getting dressed, we get my bag, water, fanny pack, camera, mono pod, binoculars, hat, iPHONE and pink bean (for calling the birds)…and we are ready to go! So much for the early birds!

We chose to do the clinical trial in Santa Cruz, CA out of several hundred locations in the U.S. as it was geographically favorable to us than any other. When driving back and forth from the RV Park to my doctor appointments in town, we had seen a sump that looks like it had a lot of bird activity. The sump is located on a produce farm and is fenced and gated. We pull into the outlet where the farm sells their produce along with fresh baked pies (yum) to ask for permission to bird the sump. The owner is gracious and allows us to do so.

We park at the highest end of the sump. I ask Chris to back in so I can sit in the Jeep if I get tired and still be able to photograph and use my “bins”. The bank is steep and only enough room for me to stand outside the Jeep on either side.

Chris grabs his gear and takes off to the far side of the sump. We are hoping to get a photo of the Virginia Rail today. I peer down into the tule bushes that surround the open water.  There are several Mallards and coots and I see a Black Phoebe hawking insects over the water.  Other than that, it’s pretty quiet.  

We had shot Sora the day before, until my hands got so frozen from the cold north wind I couldn’t move my fingers any more and Chris took me home. With no protection, the wind howls through this open red and green terrain of strawberry fields and it’s cold, even in September. Of course, we’ve also noticed that I am constantly cold since I’ve began my fifth go at chemotherapy.

I see Chris down at the other end of the swamp.  Looks like he’s just shooting away.  Lucky guy’s probably in a flock of Virginia Rail’s.  He’ll be back with the award winning photo of one before I snap my first photo since it takes me ½ hour to get everything set up without getting any sunscreen on anything and keep everything from blowing away, sync the bluetooth between my pink bean and my iPHONE and get the call going….ahhhh…finally…now, all I need to do is get that “just right” photo.

I get out of the JEEP, strap on my binoculars and fanny pack over my heavy fleece jacket and add my floppy hat. I get my mono pod adjusted to the right height, camera settings adjusted, lens fully extended to 400mm, AF, and focus on the tule bushes where I figure the Rails are hiding.

My binoculars that I’m reluctant to touch are now dangling from my chest, my floppy hat is fastened down securely, my pink bean audio device is dangling from my fanny pack mid waist and synced with my iPHONE. I open up my trusty birding app, select “Virginia Rail”, tap “sounds” and start calling for the Virginia Rail, ready for action.    

And then it hits me. All of a sudden, out of nowhere..the BIG “D”. Another side effect of the chemo. I won’t describe what happened then altho I contemplated long and hard about it as oh boy, was it a scene. The passing traffic probably had a few laughs over it. Twenty minutes later and several Wet Ones, I get back in the car and waited for my wonderful Chris. An hour later, he came rambling back to the JEEP, no Virginia Rail but he had a big smile on his face.

Should I laugh? Should I cry? I choose to keep laughing and keep looking for the Virginia Rail.

Virginia Rail
Virginia Rail

Just another birding adventure from Birds We See. Happy birding from Chris and Debbie.

1/21/2016  I am doing much better controlling my chemotherapy and we are happy to report my condition remains “stable”.  Eleven years ago on January 14, 2005, they gave me 5 months to live.  Hang in there fellow survivors!

Birds We See around the water in Baja Sur.

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Manual told me the other day (and he’s lived here all of his life), that all the birds on the shore look the same to him.  “The big ones are older and the little ones are babies”.  I asked him to watch for our next blog.  Maybe he will look a little closer, next time.

How often have I heard something like “ugly as a Coot!”, especially from duck hunters, which I used to be.  Me, myself, I don’t see anything “ugly” in this photo my darling Debbie took.

American Coots
American Coots

 

 

Sometimes I’ll be walking along the sandy beach without a bird in sight.  I’ll take a look behind me and, as if by magic, a flock of Snowy Plovers will appear.  These tiny, little birds blend in with the color of the sand so well they are easily overlooked.

Snowy Plover
Snowy Plover

Snowy plovers are small shorebirds that dash in and out of waves at the beach. While it looks like they are playing, these chunky little white birds are actually chasing after a meal of small insects and crustaceans.

Manual, if you are reading this blog, please pay attention.  The Snowy Plover is not a baby of the following bird just because it’s smaller.

The Tri-colored Heron visits local shores, especially estuaries in Baja Sur from time to time.

Tri-colored Heron
Tri-colored Heron

The tricolored heron wades in the water in search of prey. Most of its diet is made up of fish, but it also will eat amphibians, insects and crustaceans.  Not to be confused with the Little Blue Heron-

Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron

A small, dark heron colored in blues and purples, the Little Blue Heron is a common but inconspicuous resident of marshes and estuaries in the Southeast and sometimes visits Baja Sur. They stalk shallow waters for small fish and amphibians, using a quiet, methodical approach that can make these gorgeous herons surprisingly easy to overlook at first glance. Little Blue Herons build stick nests in trees alongside other colonial waterbirds. In the U.S., their populations have been in a gradual decline since the mid-twentieth century.  How sad!

The Solitary Sandpiper is not a “baby” of the big birds either.  I haven’t seen many of these sandpipers here so it’s always a pleasant surprise to come across one.

Solitary Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper

Almost all sandpipers migrate in flocks and nest on the ground, but the Solitary Sandpiper breaks both rules. In migration, as its name implies, it is usually encountered alone, along the bank of some shady creek. If approached, it bobs nervously, then flies away with sharp whistled cries. In summer in the northern spruce bogs, rather than nesting on the wet ground, the Solitary Sandpiper lays its eggs in old songbird nests placed high in trees.

The Snowy Egret, a strikingly-beautiful bird, was probably saved from extinction by the Audubon Society.  In the early 1900’s, these birds were killed in great numbers for their feathers.  As I understand it, the Society lobbied congress for a moratorium on the taking of these creatures and their numbers have recovered.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

Snowy Egrets wade in shallow water to spear fish and other small aquatic animals. While they may employ a sit-and-wait technique to capture their food, sometimes they are much more animated, running back and forth through the water with their wings spread, chasing their prey.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s blog—Happy Birding from Chris and Debbie    and…If you like us, then like us on facebook.

 

Baja birders don’t have to go far-

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Don’t have to go to far to find something special, something really cool to see, almost any day.  Had a few hours open so I took a ride up the Buenos Aires Arroyo yesterday.  I’m still searching for that very special Western Screech Owl I heard last week by our casa.   Stop by a very brushy area where I can find some shade.  I have a wire-less speaker to set-up away from me so I can have some control of the settings.  The owl only has to call a few moments and I’m surprised to see an absolutely beautiful Lazuli Bunting.

Lazuli Bunting
Lazuli Bunting

The Bunting takes a quick look and leaves.  Then I see a bird wagging it’s tail up and down just above where I placed the speaker.  That “tail action” tells me this is some kind of flycatcher.  Through the lens of the camera I’m pleased to see a Pacific-slope Flycatcher.  Notice the bi-colored bill and the tear-drop eye ring.

Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher

I’ve already stopped the calling but the Orange-crowned Warblers are still jumping all around the place.

Orange-crowned Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler

I can hear a Canyon Wren calling from, where else, up the canyon.  Click on the link and you can hear it’s awesome call.  I call twice and it flies over near the speaker to see what’s up.

Canyon Wren
Canyon Wren

Goes to show that if you have just a few minutes of free time, there’s a lot to see.  Just grab the binos and go!

Happy Birding from Chris and Debbie!

 

These Baja Birders and a few small birds.

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My darling Debbie and I took advantage of a windless morning yesterday and took the quads up back, behind the casa a mile or so.  I check the oil, gas and air-pressure in the machines—all good. “Grab the binos and the canteens and let’s go!”.

First thing we see is an adult, male American Kestrel or “Sparrow Hawk” as some call them.  That slate -blue color on it’s head and wings is a give-a-way, distinguishing male from female.  Also, the female’s head appears to be smaller and round-looking.  Check him out-

American Kestrel
American Kestrel

We pull up to some tall brush where we can get some shade to do some “calling”.  Looking around, not a bird in sight.  I turn the Western-screech Owl call on for a little bit, then stop.  “right over there, Debbie” but I can see she’s already frozen-with-her-camera pointing at a Gray Flycatcher.  Notice the fairly long, bi-colored bill?

Gray Flycatcather
Gray Flycatcather

I call for a few more seconds and I hear a bird moving in.  That call!, not unlike the wheezing of a heavy smoker after a jog.   These birds flick their tails constantly as they feed on tiny insects in the brush—California Gnatcatcher.

California Gnatcatcher
California Gnatcatcher

Not to be confused with the more common Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  one of which also flew in to see what the racket was all-about.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

I leave the call off.  Its important to remember that calling birds can upset their daily routines and defense mechanisms, some say.  No need to call more anyway because now, where there were no birds visible when we got here, birds are mobbing us!  We see a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler

And a Brewer’s Sparrow that looks like it’s having a bad hair day.

Brewer's Sparrow
Brewer’s Sparrow

An Ash-throated Flycatcather flies by with a call that sounds to me like a “coach’s” whistle.

Ash-throated Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher

I see a Butcher-bird, (Loggerhead Shrike) and can’t resist taking this back-lit photo-

Loggerhead Shrike
Loggerhead Shrike

Now I can’t resist the sight of our hammock staring at me so that’s it for today.  From Chris and Debbie—-Happy Birding                  please don’t forget to like us!

 

 

 

Baja Birder at the San Bartolo Arroyo.

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Took a short quad ride up the arroyo to see what birds might be hiding out in the desert scrub.  I parked the rig under a bush for shade and looked around.  Not a thing in sight, so I decided to do a little calling.  I’ve heard a Western Screech-Owl calling at night from time to time and that’s the call I played on my ipod.  Right off, 4 or 5 Ash-throated Flycatchers flew in to challenge the owl.

Ash-throated Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I stop the call for a while so as not to bug the birds too much and then I see a curious Black-throated Sparrow.

Black-throated Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow

After a bit, I start up the quad and move on.  The birds are getting a little agitated, I think. They’re wiping their beaks on branches like they want to bite someone.   At the new spot I use a call of a Black-capped Gnatcatcher.  We don’t have any of these birds here but I’ve found other birds like the call.  Here comes a Brewer’s Sparrow.

Brewer's Sparrow
Brewer’s Sparrow

And right along side of it is a House Finch.  Where’s that call coming from?  Pretty bird!

House Finch
House Finch

As I’m heading home, I see up ahead, a bird I can’t I.D.  Hmmmm.  Well I’ll be…. It’s a Lark Bunting.  Never saw this bird in Baja before…

Lark Bunting
Lark Bunting

When I was leaving the lagoons a few days ago, I saw a Common Loon.  I’ve seen these birds up north quit a bit but when I checked the ABA (American Birding Association, which we are members of) records, I found this bird to be listed as “rare” in Baja Sur.

Common Loon
Common Loon

That’s it for today, from Chris and Debbie—Happy Birding!!!!!!