Sunday, February 19, 2006

28. Cooper's Hawk Back to 27

The juvenile hawk that sits across the street from us on a powerline, staking out our 40? He's a Cooper's Hawk. Thank you, David Sibley.

Yesterday I saw him careening down Page Street in pursuit of a pigeon. It was a pure white pigeon, one of our favorites, largely because it's so distinctive and doesn't look like it has, you know, leprosy. It seems to lead the flock it flies with most of the time. I call it the pigeon king. Harper, being sexist, refers to it as the pigeon princess. So, after seeing a few white feathers in the street and missing the outcome of the aerial battle that went down on our victorian lane, I was releived to see the pigeon king princess eating and pooping all over our roof again today.

As to the poor confused young Cooper's Hawk; I'm not sure what he would have done with it had he caught it, the Pig Goon being about 3/4 the size of the young Cooper's. Still, it was interesting to see the drama of nature unfolding here in the middle of the city.

Alas, I have grown unsure of my little hawk, after seeing photos of a Sharp-Shinned that very much resembled what I thought to be the Cooper's. Could I still count it as a Cooper's? Sure. Could I change it to a Sharp-Shinned and move along? Yes.

But the whole point of this exercise is to be sure. And I'm not sure. So until I am, I'm afraid that it's back to 27 for me.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

27. Red Shouldered Hawk

We arrived home from Tiburon, and I set about loading our pictures onto the Mac Mini while Harper went in the bedrooom to lie down. A bit later, as I was playing around, trying to stitch together a panorama of Tiburon, I heard her get up to get something to drink, and she called me into the kitchen.

There, off in the Panhandle below us, was a hawk in a treetop. As previously noted, we get quite a few hawks, but they are typically flying overhead. This one, however, was in the treetop, the very tip of it, and was sitting more or less in plain sight. At least from our vantage from up the hill.

It was a Red shouldered hawk. A gorgeous bird. It took us a while to be sure. I looked her over very carefully with the binoculars, and even used Harper's camcorder, which has an 800 x digital zoom, to crank way in on her. It was clearly the California variety.

While the European Starling is vulgaris, the California Red Shouldered is, properly, Buteo lineatus elegans. And is it ever.

What a fine bird to cap off a big weekend of birding.

26. Lesser Scaup

Going to the Richardson Bay Audubon Center was a great idea. We stopped on the way back from Tiburon. Harper can't be on her feet very long, so we were very time limited. Nonetheless, I was able to positively identify four new birds (plus I saw some repeats) within about 20 minutes.

Of those, I was happiest to see the Lesser Scaup. Not only does it make a nice match with my Greater Scaup, but it also makes me realize how much better my skills have gotten in a short period of time.

There is very little variation between the two species, you really have to look at them hard. The determining factor is head shape. I knew what I was looking for in this case, and I was able to clearly distinguish the Lesser Scaup. Bang. 26.

25. Bufflehead

Photo by Heizenberg.
Also at Richardson Bay, I bagged a Bufflehead. This is another highly distinctive bird, due to the coloration on its head, as you can see illustrated here. There were quite a few of these out there of all different ages and both sexes.

Also, I'm one-fourth of the way to my goal.

24. Western Grebe

Western Grebe. Yes. A Western Grebe. Swimming with its head back, like a gangster.

23. Ruddy Duck

I bagged some water birds at the Richardson Bay Audubon Center. It was a glorious day. Harper and I went to Tiburon for the weekend. It's a short enough drive that we could get her over there without too much pain (she has to lie flat in the back of the truck, it's quite the scene). RBAC has a pretty gentle slope leading down to the water, so with caution, we were able to approach the overlook where we could spy a huge number of birds in the water.

The Ruddy Duck is quite distinctive. It's a diving duck with easily identifiable white markings on its head. But you can almost tell these birds at a distance without binocs, thanks to its highly distinctive tail. One of the "stiff tailed" ducks, the Ruddy often holds its tail straight up, as it did when I saw it.

22. Pelagic Cormorant

We spied a Pelagic Cormorant by the water's edge in Tiburon, fishing. It let us get quite close, and just went about its business, dipping under the water and back up out again.

21. Western Gull

You see Gulls everywhere when you live near the water. I see them daily. But Gulls are hard to identify. I mean, hard. I've puzzled over numerous Gulls now, but I'm only positive about one, a Western Gull. I checked him off in Tiburon this weekend, looking at two bird books at once to be sure.

20. European Starling

The Latin name for these birds is Sturnus vulgaris. Vulgaris. I think that about sums up the Starling's reputation. It runs poor Purple Martins from their territory. It pokes around in piles of trash. It seems to be unable to care less whether it is in an open field, or an urban wasteland. They are pests. Flocking together in the millions. From a mere 100 birds imported into New York City just over 100 years ago, there are now more than 200 million.

Okay, Okay, Okay.

But it's not really the Starling's fault, is it? We were the ones who imported them. Idiots.

And every morning lately, when I duck out for coffee, there will be a few scampering about on the roof of the house on the corner, singing their robotic songs. And thanks to the Eurpean Starling, I'm one-fifth of the way there, and it isn't even March.