Sunday, August 31, 2008

LA Bird Banding

I found a person who does bird banding in Los Angeles. It's in Zuma Canyon, on the coast, so I decided to join them yesterday. I'm a little out of practice at getting up so early, but I managed to drag myself out of bed at 5:00 a.m., and then drive the hour out to Zuma. I was met there by Walter Sakai, the master bander, and 5 other banders, including myself. There also was a Mom in attendance, who was observing. Here are a few highlights:

Common Yellowthroat. I've always found this name counterintuitive as this bird's appearance is anything but common. They are feisty, too.

One time I went to the net and there was a hummingbird caught in it. Any other time I've seen hummingbirds caught in nets, they have come out pretty easily. This one was quite entangled. It took me a little while to get it (her?) out and she was scolding me the whole time. I discovered just how flexible there bills are; when I had to pull the net over her head and bill, it curved nicely and allowed for an easier extraction. When I got her wings free, she would try to fly and I felt like I had a tiny beater in my fingers. I decided to let her go after I extracted her as 1) the first season (2006) I did Yosemite MAPS we released them at the net, 2) they are very small and need to eat constantly, and that net run we had gone out later than we should have so I was afraid she had been in there as long as 30 minutes 3) she was in the sun, which can be added stress for birds, and had been pretty entangled.

When I returned to the banding station Walter told me that they do process them and that I should have brought her back. Then, we would have been able to discern if it was an Allen's or a Rufous Hummingbird. Oh well, I don't regret giving her her immediate freedom. Walter also said that the birds' bills tend to be flexible when they are young, and become less so when they reach adulthood.

Yellow-Breasted Chat, our largest wood warbler. (This and the Common Yellowthroat are both wood warblers). Although, the Cornell site is saying that recent genetic data suggests that this isn't a wood warbler at all. So, the jury is out. Ah, science - changing its mind when faced with concrete evidence that what it has thought all along is incorrect. Crazy!

Last, the Swainson's Thrush. Fall migration has started! This bird breeds in the Northwest US during the spring/summer (among other places) and then heads to either Central or South America for the winter. I have never seen a Swainson's, but I heard their gorgeous, haunting song when I was in Arcata, CA last spring.

There were a lot of Black-hooded Parakeets in the canyon also. Thankfully none of them ended up in the nets (they tend to fly high). I wouldn't want to face one of those formidable bills! I'd be afraid of losing a finger.

Sunset Saturday night at 854 Hyperion Ave.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I can't get used to working every day at a "real" job that involves sitting at a desk.
I keep thinking about these things.



Marmot Noses

The High Sierra

Fast Rivers

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Woodpeckering: Part 03

Mark and I had a great time in Yosemite National Park with our friends Rich & Amy and their son Jefrey. (More on that later.) We were there until July 20th, at which time Mark dropped me off in Modesto at the bus/train station and he took off for Los Angeles. I waited four hours for my bus to Sacramento. It actually was a pleasant day spent reading and eating a delicious sandwich that I had packed for lunch. The bus finally arrived. I sat next to a gal who was chatty/friendly and she would often talk over me to another woman she seemed to know well. As a result, I overheard all of their conversation. It seemed they hadn't been home for awhile and that people were picking them up from the station in Sacramento. I let them borrow my phone to make calls because the bus was running late. There was a nervous energy about the woman I was sitting next to; she seemed excited and yet anxious about the day's events. Over the course of the two-hour ride, I slowly figured out that they had both just been released from prison in Chowchilla. Eventually, the woman next to me clearly spelled it out. She said, "You are sitting in-between two convicts. Well, ex-convicts." The woman next to me was in for seven months for, I think, a parole violation. Her original crime had been something violent. I never was clear on what exactly it was. She said she needs to lay off - then she made a gesture about sniffing something - and she'll be fine. The other woman was in for extortion, and it was her second strike. She had been in jail for many years. She had a stroke in prison, and had to use a walker to get around. She said that she is done, no more. Both of them said that.

Bob, who was picking me up, called me and told me that he had a flat tire, so was running a bit behind. Plus, it would change up our plans a little. We would have to get the tire fixed before we went on any bad dirt roads. As the bus arrived in Sacramento, I saw that Bob was there and I silently wished the women all the luck in the world as we went to our separate fates. Bob drove us to Lotus, where we stayed for the night at a campground. We had a delicious dinner, then went back to camp and had a beer on the banks of the South Fork of the American River. We saw birds, yes, but also two beavers. They were swimming around in the twilight, flopping their tails on the surface as they dove.

The next day we got up and drove to Auburn to have Bob's tire fixed. After that, we took off for our first fire - the Codfish. Bob had tried to check this the previous Thursday, but a road he needed to take was closed ... because there was another fire. Welcome to summer 2008 in California; everything is burning. Bob was expecting this to still be the case, and it was. So we made a left and wound our way through to Truckee and then into the Tahoe National Forest. We traveled some very rough dirt roads to the Rock Creek fire. There were no close campgrounds, and we had to drive back to Stampede Reservoir to pitch our tents for the evening. In spite of some very loud kids playing, I managed to drop off around 8:30. I was up at 4:45 a.m. to make the drive to the site. Rock Creek was all off trail. It started off innocently enough, but I was soon walking (well, stumbling) through bushes that were waist high. The surprise was that underneath all these bushes were a lot of downed trees. As I could not actually see the logs very well, if at all, it was rough going. There were a lot of birds out that morning, and I scored a few Black-backed Woodpeckers, also. We didn't have to do point counts anymore, so that made the whole process move along more quickly. I was glad we didn't have to do them because I couldn't hear too well as there was a loud wood chipper going almost the whole time I surveyed. They were obviously doing some logging in the area.

Check out those bushes; I know they look innocent, but they are several feet tall, and covering lots of logs.

You can hear a Fox Sparrow singing in this clip and see the dastardly shrubs. The microphone did not pick up the Black-backed piking, but I could hear it.

After Rock Creek we drove north 4 hours to the Boulder Complex fire, which was near Antelope Lake. I can't remember quite when, but at some point on the drive north we ran into a lot of smoke. (We later found out this was the Canyon Complex Fire. Fire crews were being staged out of Quincy.) We reconnoitered "our" fire by driving along the road (always nice when a road runs through a fire) that runs around Antelope Lake. We camped at Lone Rock Campground. The fire seemed to have just missed the campgrounds. A lot - rather, most of the area around that lake was scorched. We later figured out that the next fire we had to survey (the Moonlight) was all around the southern and western edge of the lake. The Boulder was on the northern and eastern shores. The next morning I got to survey walking the road.

Here you can easily see the road and hear many birds singing, among them the Western Wood-Pewee, Oregon Junco and Olive-sided Flycatcher. Not the best quality video (or videography!), but you get an idea of the areas I work in.

A road makes the going easy, plus there isn't a lot of traffic on a Wednesday at 5:30 a.m. I had ten Black-backed Woodpeckers! The sunrise was weird because of all the smoke. It didn't get warm until almost 10 a.m.
When I caught up to Bob, I found out his truck had died. So, we tried to push it and jump start it and that didn't work because we couldn't get it far enough up an incline to get the run we needed. We hung out until the next truck came by and we got a jump start.

We again spent the night at Lone Rock. At sunset, I went out to the lake and watched 3 beavers play around. There were a lot of Canada Geese there, too, eating grass and making some noise. It was very cool to see Violet-green Swallows skimming the surface of the lake to grab a drink of water.

The smoke was a little better on Thursday. My survey area in the Moonlight fire was again along a road, but this time it was the dirt/logging type. The blue lines mean those trees are going to be salvage logged. You can hear a Hairy Woodpecker piking towards then end.

This fire seemed like it must have burned very hot. Everything was incinerated; what soil was left was mineral soil. The Moonlight Fire was massive - there was no way we could survey even 10% of it, let alone the whole thing. So, we settled for doing as much as possible along a few logging roads.
Bob dropped me off and went farther into the fire. I actually ended up with even more birds than the day before - 13. At the time, I felt like the place was crawling with BBWO. I think a lot of them were juveniles, also, but I found it difficult to positively ID them. Both juveniles and males have yellow on their heads, but in different areas. Considering that these are birds that spend their lives on burned trees, and, therefore, tend to get blackened by the soot, it can be difficult to see where exactly the yellow is. The soot can obscure plumage.

The rest is a bit of a blur. We drove to Salmon Creek Campground in some national forest. Sierra Buttes were visible from the road that ran along the Bassett's fire, our next one. The Buttes were visible from the fire area, too. A lot of it was salvage logged.

This fire was off-trail and very steep. I needed to go west to stay in the most severe burn area, and that was straight uphill. Nevertheless, it ended up being one of those lovely mornings, in which the sun comes up and hits just right and the birds are everywhere and in the midst of ashy destruction there are these little bits of life reemerging. Natural magic.

In this movie, you can near a Black-backed Woodpecker piking. It also is making a semi-rattle noise that Bob and I were thinking might be a juvenile vocalization.

Here is where they were replanting trees. It's a nice idea, but leads to stands that are all the same tree and the same age - a monoculture.
I actually fell in the above area (also depicted in the first photo with the Buttes) because it was all downed trees and scrap branches from the logging. It was a mess, and very uneven going. And steep. This led to a resounding thunk as I hit the ground and scraped my arms up. I was almost finished, so persevered, made it to the road and walked to Bassett's Station, thinking about breakfast the whole time. I saw Bob's truck, so knew he must be around somewhere, so I decided to just go into the store/restaurant at the station and have some coffee and breakfast. And there was Bob, just finishing up his breakfast (he said he tried to wait, but couldn't make it) and reading the Bee.

Later that day we packed up and headed towards Auburn. Our last task was to try to check out the Codfish fire - again. It was a blazing hot ride on the 49, so Bob had the brilliant idea of stopping by the Yuba River for a swim. The South Fork of said river is the greatest swimming hole ever. The water level was so low that you could actually swim at the surface through tunnels of boulders. It was crystal clear and had large (at least 6-inch) speckled fish swimming around.

Once we got back to where we started, we found we could make the turn to the Codfish Fire. Then we made a few more turns down increasingly bad dirt roads until we were stopped by a deluge of signs that boasted of large dogs and guns. When we saw
Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again.
we decided that woodpeckers, while very lovely, were not worth our lives. Bob did some amazing reverse driving (the road was so narrow and steep there was no way to turn around) and we departed. My woodpecker adventures ended sooner than anticipated, and we made our way back to the airport in Sacramento.