"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

An Anna's hummingbird steals the show

A female Anna's hummingbird flies in to feed her nestlings.  Photo by Kim Michaels
Here's my latest column, scheduled to run Saturday, Feb. 6 in the Orange County Register.

       Nature photographer Kim Michaels discovered a hummingbird nest quite by accident one chilly February morning while on a bike trail in Laguna Niguel.
      “I heard the sounds of male hummingbirds that were showing off for some finicky females,” Michaels said. “And this led me to an area where a female was building her nest. “
       Intrigued by the tiny bird, she set up her camera. These initial photos led to a six-week project in winter 2013 that would eventually document the successful breeding cycle of the bird. Three to four days a week, she propped herself in a nearby tree for hours to capture the best view of the nest.
       By the time the babies fledged, Michaels had taken more than 5,000 photographs and 300 videos, which were edited to create a documentary titled “Hummingbird Nest Story,” a 45-minute multimedia presentation that she shares with community and nature groups.
      “I tell the story of a female Anna’s hummingbird, one of nature’s hard-working single moms,” Michaels said. The female builds the nest and cares for the young without any assistance from the male.
      Before each presentation, she gives each member of the audience a plastic quarter with two Tic Tac mints glued to it. The quarter is the same diameter as the inside walls of the nest. The mints are similar in size to the eggs.
      Her story begins with photographs that show how the female built the tiny nest. Its intricate construction included using spider webs to allow the nest to expand for growing chicks. Designed to regulate the temperature, the nest was built lighter in color and thickness on the sunny side and darker and thicker on the shady side. Final touches of lichen and moss helped the nest blend into the surrounding foliage.
      The mother hummingbird incubated the eggs, which hatched about a day apart after 13 days. Michaels watched as the bird removed the eggshell pieces one by one. The mother fed the helpless babies every 20 minutes. Photographs showed how quickly the chicks developed.  Pin feathers appeared in about a week and their eyes opened at about 10 days. Because of their large throat feathers, she determined that both chicks were male. These feathers would become colorful gorgets in a few months.
      Michaels said she kept her distance from the nest. “I tried not to be an intrusion,” she said. But on several occasions the mother hummer flew directly at her camera as if to say “enough.”
      “And that’s when I would pack up and leave,” Michaels said. “It was definite communication.”
      Michaels learned much about these remarkable birds over the six-week period of filming. And she had several favorite moments, including the first eye contact and awareness with the older chick and the first airborne moment as he lifted briefly off the branch that held the nest. He then climbed back into the nest completely exhausted, she said.
      “Female hummingbirds dictate when the chicks must fledge,” she said. “Mom came up behind the older one and nipped at his tail. It was time and he knew it.”
      When Michaels returned to the nest site on the 25th day, the older chick was gone. The younger chick fledged later that day.
      And so the story ends with the babies sitting on a branch near the nest. The mother hummingbird took the chicks farther away with each feeding. Finally the birds were gone. Generally, the mother will continue to care for her fledglings for about a week, she said.
      For more information and a list of future programs, go to KimMichaels.com, or write to her at Kim@KimMichaels.com.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Southern California Bluebird Club meets Feb. 6

A male Western bluebird feeds its young.  Photo by Ken Carrier

The Southern California Bluebird Club needs nest box monitors for the upcoming nesting season.  
To learn more,  attend the next meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 6 at the Irvine Ranch Water District, 15500 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine, or go to socalbluebirds.org. 

Happy Birding!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Flycatchers snatch insects in the air

Say's phoebe -- Photo by J.J. Meyer taken 1/29/16 in Mission Viejo
Black phoebe -- Photo taken by J.J. Meyer on 1/29/16 in Mission Viejo

When I saw a flash of rust in the distance at a park today in Mission Viejo, I first thought it was a female Western bluebird.  But once I got closer, it was clear that the bird was a Say's phoebe.  A black phoebe also shared the same park. Apparently there are enough insects to support them.

Say's phoebes and black phoebes are both tyrant flycatchers.  These species are easy to identify by their behavior.  These birds typically dart from a fixed perch to catch insects right out of the air.  They can perform incredible aerial acrobatics, which make them fun to watch.

Happy birding!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Count birds in your pajamas

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count, which runs Friday, February 12 through Monday, February 15. Everyone, from beginner birdwatchers to experts, can participate. 

It's simple.  Just count the birds according to species in your backyard, local park or your favorite birding spot.  Then submit your findings.
Each checklist submitted helps the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Studies Canada and the National Audubon Society learn more about how to protect birds and the environment.

Find easy instructions at Great Backyard Bird Count.

Happy Birding!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Has spring sprung? Mockingbirds think so

A Northern Mockingbird in Mission Viejo, CA.  Photo taken 1/22/16

I heard a Northern Mockingbird singing yesterday in Mission Viejo.  It was a beautiful warm day, perhaps he thought it was spring.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, males begin to sing as early as January in southern populations and in February in northern regions. Females rarely sing during the spring and summer.  So I'm assuming it was a male. And he is apparently on time with his serenades. 

Since this bird has taken up residence in our back yard, we can expect to hear his beautiful songs until August when breeding is over and molting begins.

For more on mockingbirds, go to my Backyard Birder column at The Orange County Register.

Happy Birding!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Keep bluebird boxes up year round

A Western bluebird checks out a nesting box. Photo by J.J. Meyer
Here's my latest column, scheduled to run in Saturday's Orange County Register: 

Though it’s too early for Western bluebirds to be nesting, they’ve been recently seen going in and out of area nesting boxes.
“During the winter they seem to periodically check out the nesting box they’ve used in the past,” said Bill Wallace, president of the Southern California Bluebird Club.  “And in cold weather, they will roost in them.”
            Therefore, it’s important to keep the nest boxes up all year, he said.  
Bluebirds generally begin nesting in early to mid-March, though they’ve been known to begin as early as late February, he said. They typically have two broods, or nests with chicks, but if they start early enough they can have three.
Western bluebirds are easy to recognize. Males have brilliant deep blue plumage on the head, neck, wings and tail with a rusty red belly that can extend to the shoulders and back.  Females are less colorful with a grey throat and belly with blue tinges in the wings and tail.
These birds are year-round residents in Orange County. They’re typically found in parks, cemeteries, golf courses and greenbelts with large grassy areas where they forage for insects.  Berries including juniper, elderberry, mistletoe, raspberries and blackberries are also an important part of their diet. These birds are very social, so it’s not unusual to see them in flocks at backyard birdbaths or at feeders offering mealworms. 
            Audubon California recently named the Western bluebird as bird of the year for 2015 and designated the species as climate threatened, as it is predicted to lose about 60 percent of its winter range by 2080.
Declines in Western Bluebird populations have prompted conservation groups such as the Southern California Bluebird Club to provide nest boxes as a way to increase local numbers.  A nest box mimics their original nesting habitat.  Bluebirds are cavity nesters, which means they build their nests inside an enclosed area such as a hole in a tree.  But since there are limited natural cavities, such as woodpecker holes, bluebirds have adapted to the nest boxes.  And they’re not the only bird species that appreciate a safe and functional home to raise their young.  Other species that nest in these boxes including wrens, nuthatches and tree swallows.       
            “While bluebirds have adapted well to the boxes, it’s an artificial population,” Wallace said.  “The real solution is to maintain natural nesting spots. And that means saving dead and dying trees.”
A cavity conservation initiative has grown from the local bluebird organization to address this issue with arborists, landscapers and officials from city and county parks.          
The local bluebird club needs nest box monitors for the upcoming nesting season. Those interested can attend the next meeting at 9 a.m. Feb. 6 at the Irvine Ranch Water District, 15500 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine, or go to socalbluebirds.org. 

Happy Birding!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Snowy owl photobombs Montreal traffic camera

 In a sea of white, one thing stood out on a recent snowy Montreal morning: a snowy owl in flight, soaring toward a fortunately placed traffic camera.

The majestic creature is seen flying toward the traffic camera, which sits atop the intersection of Autoroute 40 and the Boulevard des Sources in Montreal's West Island.

During an interview with CBC, McGill Bird Observatory director Barbara Frei posits that the creature was likely looking for a place to perch.

"They like to get a good lay of the land and the high lamp posts or other posts that they can perch on while hunting just suits them perfectly," she explains.

Fittingly, the snowy owl is the provincial bird of Quebec. The small creatures are found throughout North America and Eurasia, feeding on small rodents. The owl is known to swallow its prey whole, digesting its unlucky meal with its potent stomach acid.

From Discovery.com

Happy Birding!