The U.S. has two endemic species. They are both Corvids. They are both California-only birds. Yesterday our PIB trip to the California Coast got close to one member of the Island Scrub-Jay species. This immature bird wanted to be fed in seems. He or she cam overhead and whispered sweet songs to us in the baked scrub on Santa Cruz Island off Ventura.
This incident of gull vs. tourists took place at Limantour Beach, Pt. Reyes, a few days ago.
Today I was leading a group of birders and we stopped for dinner at an outdoor seafood cafe in Ventura. Some other diners left their table and a first-year Western Gull quickly swooped down to empty the small container of tartar sauce left on the table. That very same gull also proved adept at catching French fries with his beak.
Why Ventura? Tomorrow we take the Island Packers boat out to Santa Cruz Island for the endemic Island Scrub-Jay, an example of evolutionary giantism, like the Komodo monitor lizards, but not as dangerous.
If you;re interested in seeing some California specialties, PIB will work with you on a custom trip or you can join one of our standard ones. Just on this first day we’ve gotten California Gnatcatcher, Common Murre, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Royal and Elegant Tern, Black Oystercatcher and Turnstone, Marbled Godwit, Red-necked Phalarope, Heermann’s Gull, Black-bellied Plover and California Towhee.
Is avian keratin disorder headed your way? Here’s a blog I wrote about one case in my garden here in southwestern Oregon…then response from a USGS scientist tracking the problem.
don’t know what’s happened to my Red-breasted Nuthatch. I say “mine” because he seems to live on my suet feeders…and seeing how deformed his beak appears, I can see why.
[SEE BELOW FOR LIKELY EXPLANATION]
How could this poor guy possible pry bugs out of bark crevices when his upper mandible is a half-inch longer than the lower. Any ideas about what’s happened here? Birth defect? Lower mandible appears normal size, while upper toooooo long.
Help me solve the Case of Mismatched Mandibles.
Ornithologist Pepper Trail works at the U.S. Wildlife Forensic Laboratory here in Ashland (the only such lab in the whole world!). He has pointed me to what seems to be the explanation. Click for link to info on Cornell’s great website on birds.
HERE IS SCIENTIST’S RESPONSE:
I am investigating an epizootic of similar bill deformities in Alaska. This epizootic has recently spread to the Pacific Northwest, with a large cluster of bill deformities appearing in the Puget Sound region. Birds affected by this ‘avian keratin disorder’ have bills that are abnormally long and often crossed, such as in this nuthatch. We’ve determined that the keratin layer of the beak (like the material in a person’s fingernails) is growing too rapidly. Despite extensive testing, we still don’t know what’s causing the problem. We’ve documented beak deformities among a large number of species, including chickadees, crows, nuthatches, jays, woodpeckers, ravens, and several raptors. We are very interested in receiving reports of any birds with abnormal bills such as this one. Please visit our website at the USGS Alaska Science Center or contact me directly:
Research Wildlife Biologist
USGS Alaska Science Center
TREES OF WESTERN NORTH AMERICA. By Richard Spellenberg, Christopher Earle, Gil Nelson. Princeton University Press. 560 pages. $29.95. This book was just published.
If you live anywhere in the western U.S. this book has any tree you might see. Whether you’re on the pacific Crest Trail, hiking Glacier National Park staring at some odd tree across the street from your nearest parking lot, the trees you see you’ll see in this book.
All the natives are here, of course. So are all the exotics whether from South Carolina or South Africa.
Good illustrations and range maps. Color depictions of leaves, bark and flowers.
And without all those trees, where would our birds be?
This field guide is small enough to fit into a large coat pocket or any backpack. About the size of the regional National Geographic bird guides. Has the same plasticized jacket so it will withstand your leaking water bottle or a bit of rain.
Here’s a sample of the entries on specific tree species:
The book includes not just towering trees but many woody shrubs such as sagebrush.
This last photo is a madrone going through its annual bark and leaf shedding in late summer. Did you know there are other species of madrone native to the U.S.? I had no idea until I got this book. They are the Texas and Arizona madrones and have tiny ranges compared to “my” Pacific madrone which is found from Big Sur north to British Columbia but never far from the ocean.
Not even the staid New York Times can always resist the attraction of birds and birding. First they run an interview with actress Jane Alexander. What she wants to talk about is birding.
Then the travel section also has a feature piece on travel in Newfoundland. Of course, they can’t write about Newfoundland without putting Puffins into even the headline. Read that one by clicking here.
We’ll know the NYT has finally grown up and gotten serious about the planet when they devout at least half as much space to birds and wildlife as they do millionaires competing in professional sports.
When thousands of birder descend on Magee Marsh each May there are many great birds to be seen: Scarlet Tanager, both cuckoos with some good luck, Eastern Screech-Owl, nesting Sandhill Cranes (we even saw one young colt) and Trumpeter Swans who population is rising, Sora, American Golden-Plover, Upland Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, nesting American Woodcock. But it’s really all about the warblers in fresh breeding plumage. Here’s proof:
American Redstart of the male persuasion. Flashy is the word when he flashes those orange spots on wings and tail. No “red” in this redstart.
Humans and the family Hirundinidae (swallows and kin) have grown to become mutually helpful and even dependent. Without swallows many of our farms and cities would fill with mosquitoes and their ilk. Without man many swallows family members would lose nesting sites and thus diminish in numbers.
In North America the co-operation between humans and members of the swallow family has increased over the past two centuries. In the mid 1800s naturalists noted how the Barn Swallow had begun to nest around buildings in Northern California. Today Tree Swallows and Purple Martins regularly use nest sites provided by people. Sometimes Tree Swallows will appropriate a box first intended for bluebirds. Martins are colonial nesters so they oust House Sparrows and take over the provided tenements. Barn and Cliff Swallows regularly use manmade structures from bridge to barns to porches across their range.
A Purple Martin tenement at Ottawa NWR, Ohio.
Barn Sweallows working on nests on the side of a building.
Many other birds now take advantage of intentional or incidental manmade nest sites: Barn, Great Horned, Great Gray and Screech Owls, European Kingfishers, many raptors nest on pylons or utility poles, Wood and other ducks, nuthatches, chickadees, bluebirds or all three species, phoebes, House Wrens, White-throated and other swifts. In Europe the most obvious building users are White Storks.
All these pictures were taken during a PIB field trip to northwestern Ohio earlier in May.
The Magee Marsh Boardwalk today was alive with feeding warblers as weather and insect activity brought nearly all predators down to lower levels of the forest. Most surprising were the scads of Scarlets who came down with them…Scarlet Tanagars at about fifteen feet above the ground.
Our PIB tour group got twenty species of warbler in addition to many fine views of both male and female Scarlet tanagers during our hours on the Magee Marsh Boardwalk today. Magnolia, Bay-breasted and Blackburnian Warblers drew gasps of appreciation. When two Blackburnians appeared near one another I commented it was a conflagration of Blackburnians (with their flame-colored throats).
All these birds seen in the first two days of the Partnership for International Birding Trip, co-sponsored by Golden Gate Audubon, to northwest Ohio for spring migration. So far we have 109 species for the two days and over 20 species of warblers seen.
Tomorrow we begin the PIB trip to northwestern Ohio, co-sponsored by Golden gate Audubon.