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

Friday, February 24, 2017

Owls, hawks and falcons, oh my!


If you've ever wanted to get up close and personal with raptors, check out the falconry experience offered by Adam's Falconry Service on Groupon. For an hour, you'll learn about these incredible birds of prey, watch a demonstration and then glove up for a hands-on encounter.

A truly great experience for an owlaholic like myself. 

Here's the story from Groupon:

Adam's Falconry Service began as a way to use bred and trained raptors control wild-bird populations at beaches, vineyards, landfills, and other places where concentrated avian infestations proved hazardous to human heath. Of course, such a business model requires well-trained birds, and well-trained birds provide a unique opportunity for people to interact with the predators of the sky. During one-hour experiences, the master falconers help visitors learn more about falcons and hawks, hold the birds, and see the hunters in action.

Happy Birding!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Great, Old Bird

Ten-year-old California Towhee banded at the Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary in Orange County.

Reprinted from the Audubon California website:

You never know what you're going to find when you're banding birds.

Last week at the Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary, we came across a recaptured California Towhee that is at least 10 years old. This individual was originally banded in December 2008. It's a little battered, but for such an old bird, it is in fantastic shape. Let's hope it is getting ready to breed and perhaps we'll be lucky enough to catch it again next year.

The oldest California Towhee on record was just over 12 years old.

Happy Birding!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Create a haven for songbirds

Northern mockingbirds are attracted to berry-producing plants and shrubs. Photo by J.J. Meyer

Here's my next column, scheduled to appear in the Orange County Register on Saturday, Jan. 28. 

      Open spaces provide areas for certain species of birds to forage for food. But it can also spell danger. Layering tall, medium and low plants throughout the yard allows birds to take cover when they need it.
      “Planting trees, shrubs and vines in different heights will make your yard more attractive to birds,” said Toni Bancroft, assistant manager of Armstrong Garden Center in Laguna Niguel. “The plants provide food, shelter and places to nest.”
      Trees that invite birds include the Western Redbud, which produces vibrant magenta blossoms in the spring. Many species eat the seeds, while others tap the nectar of the flowers. Dense conifers provide hideaways for the birds, protecting them from wind and rain, as well as an escape from predators. Finches, pine siskins, chickadees and woodpeckers eat the seeds from the pine cones and glean insects from the bark. Oaks produce acorns, an important food source for California scrub jays and woodpeckers.
      California native plants are particularly important because they are closely tied to the needs of the birds in our area, Bancroft explained. Having a diversity of these plants in your backyard habitat will attract a diversity of birds.
      Penstemon, salvia, Lion’s Tail, cape honeysuckle, aloe and milkweed are just a few of the nectar-producing plants for hummingbirds, she said.
      If you’re trying to entice goldfinches, let flowering plants go to seed. The diet of American and lesser goldfinches consists almost entirely of seed. Some bird enthusiasts claim they’re attracted to the color yellow, so add sunflowers, black-eyed Susan and goldenrod if you want goldfinches to flock to your yard. Thistle, grasses and weedy plants are also a draw for these showy birds.
      Birds are beneficial to gardens. “They can be nature’s pest control,” she said.
Don’t be so quick to rake up every leaf in your yard. Insect-eaters, including California towhees and Bewick’s wrens scratch around in piles of leaves to forage for food.
      Fruit-producing natives that grow well in our climate include California wild rose, holly-leaved cherry, wild strawberry, California coffeeberry, California grapes, Western serviceberry and toyon, a small evergreen shrub also known as Christmas berry or California holly.
      Winter berry-producing native shrubs provide sustenance for year-round species including California thrashers, Western bluebirds, American robins, Northern flickers, Nuttall’s woodpeckers and Northern mockingbirds. Berries can also be magnets for winter visitors such as cedar waxwings.
       If you plant blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and boysenberries for food, you’re likely to be sharing them with the birds. Mylar tape, similar to that used in vineyards, can be effective in scaring birds away from the berries until you’re ready to share the crop.
       Armstrong Garden Centers offers free garden classes at all of its Orange County locations, except the Irvine outlet. “Growing Your Own Berries” will be the next topic at 9 a.m. Feb. 4. Workshops on bird gardening are offered periodically. For a schedule of upcoming events, go to armstronggarden.com. No registration is needed.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Where do birds go to escape the rain?

This house finch flew onto our patio to escape a heavy downpour. Photo by J.J. Meyer
A friend of mine suggested that I write about how birds handle the rain.

It's clear that birds act differently depending on the severity of the weather.

I watched a hummingbird taking a shower in the first light rain of the season last year. It had been forever since we had seen rain. Many of the songbirds in my yard were ruffling their feathers, opening their wings, and made no attempt to escape the light shower.

But the birds acted differently in these recent heavy downpours. At one point there were 24 finches lined up on the eaves of our patio to escape the deluge. I watched a flock of white-crowned sparrows ditch into a thick hedge of cape honeysuckle.

A few years ago, while we were staying in an ocean-front hotel during a bad storm, we watched a flock of gulls seemingly having fun flying off the roof into the heavy wind and rain. While many gulls hunkered down on the beach, this small group seemed like crazy teenagers on a dare.

Anyway, my next O.C. Register column talks about how to layer plants in your yard to help the birds escape when they need take cover.

Happy Birding!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Photographing hummingbirds can be tricky

A rufous hummingbird stretches for a landing. Photo by Steve Kaye
Here's my next column, scheduled to appear in the Orange County Register's Home & Garden section on Jan. 14. 

      Hummingbirds can fly at speeds up to 60 miles per hour, their tiny wings flapping about 80 times per second. They dart forward and backward, changing direction so quickly, it’s difficult to follow them.
      So how do professional photographers manage to capture stunning, close-up images of such fast-moving targets? It takes more than a long lens and a fast shutter speed, according to Placentia-based nature photographer Steve Kaye.
       His technique for capturing the perfect shot involves a great deal of patience, along with hours of watching and studying the birds.
       Kaye works without a flash, using only natural light. His premise: “Cause no damage, no disturbance,” he said.
       “I don’t want to want to startle or harass the birds in any way.”
       So he waits for the perfect shot.
       He took one of his favorites on a trip to Madera Canyon in Arizona. “It was after dinner at the Santa Rita Lodge and the light was just beautiful on a patch of thistle with purple flowers.”
       There he captured a resting male Magnificent hummingbird with its purple crown and metallic green gorget, or throat, illuminated in the light. Magnificent hummingbirds are a species that migrates to limited area of southern Arizona during the spring and summer breeding season.
      “I had to wait an hour for that prize,” he said.
      Photographers can plan their shots at home by planting a hummingbird garden with native plants in an area with good lighting. When the flowers start to bloom, set up the camera and wait.
      “Find where they like to perch,” he said. You can easily determine this if you watch them for a period of time, because they often return to the same spot.
      “Hummingbirds are easier to photograph than other birds, because they are quite tolerant,” he said. “Instinctively, I think they know they’re faster and more agile than others in the sky.”
       Kaye will share more of his photography secrets at the next meeting of Sea and Sage Audubon, the Orange County Chapter of the National Audubon Society, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20. His presentation, “Catch Me If You Can: How to Take Photographs of Hummingbirds,” includes a primer on basic photography with more than 100 still shots and several videos to illustrate the techniques.
       He originally developed this presentation for the Sedona Hummingbird Festival, sponsored by the Hummingbird Society, in 2015. The photos chosen for the talk were culled from thousands taken during multiple trips to Arizona. Since then, he’s been taking the material to camera clubs and Audubon chapters where he shares his photographic skills.
       Kaye’s nature photography can be found on his inspirational blog at stevekaye.com. And three of his photos appeared in the “Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America” by Stephen Shunk, which was released in May.
       The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held in the Duck Club at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, 5 Riparian View, Irvine. For more information, call 949-261-7963 or go to seaandsageaudubon.org.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Check feeders for moldy seed

We've been having some wet weather in California, so it's likely your bird feeders have gotten soaked. 

You might still be able to save the seed, if it's not moldy. Mold is not healthy for the birds, so it's best to put moldy seed in the trash. The birds are likely to reject it anyway.

To save wet seed: spread it on a cookie sheet and place in the oven at a low temperature for about 10 minutes or so, just enough to dry it out.  Stir the seed and cool.

Now that your feeder is empty, it's a good time to clean it; birds pick up diseases at dirty feeders. Use a 10 percent bleach solution to sterilize. Make sure the seed completely dry before replacing it in the feeder.

Happy Birding!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Drum roll please, California Audubon's 2016 Bird of the Year is...

Northern spotted owl  Photo courtesy of Audubon California
Members of Audubon California chose the Northern Spotted Owl as the 2016 Bird of the Year, and that’s the second big win this bird had this year. Now those wins are facing threats.

In August, this iconic bird was placed on the California Endangered Species List by the State Fish and Game Commission, thanks to the thousands of Audubon advocates who made their voices heard in response to the petition filed by EPIC. This adds much-needed protections to those the bird received when it was placed on the Federal Endangered Species List back in 1990. But these protections won't mean much without funds and people to protect them.

According to Audubon, we need to do more:
  • As climate change threatens to reduce the Northern Spotted Owl’s range, we will continue to push for stronger measures to address global warming.
  • We’re fighting for adequate funding for state wildlife management, because these new protections won’t mean much if there isn’t money to sustain them.
  • With California forests so vital for birds, we will continue to advocate for sensible forest management, not just in the Pacific Northwest, but in the Sierra and elsewhere. 
The new state listing should result in greater scrutiny of logging, forest management, and development within the bird’s range, increased coordination among public agencies and the possibility of additional funding for protection and recovery efforts.

Audubon California is ready to go to bat for owls and other threatened birds. They are ready to fight hard to defend sensible forestry practices and adequate funding for wildlife and environmental management.

Protections for Northern Spotted Owls have benefited hundreds of other species – birds, reptiles, mammals, fungi and plants have all been protected from destruction when the forests were left in peace.

To support these efforts, go to: Audubon California.

Happy Birding!