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Wild [Backyard] America: Breakfast With A Peregrine Falcon

Shortly after sunrise this morning, I glanced out the window to see if my daily breakfast crew (a flock of American and Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches, White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos and Mourning Doves) had arrived at the backyard feeders yet.  But my attention was caught by a dark form perched in the pecan tree: a Cooper's Hawk.  (That explained why the bird feeders were empty!)

Cooper's Hawks are fairly common around our neighborhood, and neighborhoods across most of the United States, but since they're not an everyday occurrence in our backyard, I pulled out my camera and snapped a couple of photos.  Then I noticed something else - bigger, darker, even more interesting - perched at the top of a nearby Deodar Cedar.  I brought my binoculars up, expecting to see our neighborhood's overwintering Red-shouldered Hawk, but instead, was amazed to see something much more exciting: a Peregrine Falcon!

Absolutely thrilled, I watched the Peregri…

A Winter Morning Visit From an Orange-crowned Warbler

The joys and delights of replacing our lawn with a garden of California native plants are many - and ongoing!  From reduced water use and maintenance, to the fragrance of Salvias and the beauty of year-round blooms, we couldn't be more pleased with the outcome of our project.

And the best part?  The neighborhood birds certainly approve of our plant pallet!

Just recently, I glanced out the kitchen window on a cold, cloudy morning and spotted this little ray of sunshine, an Orange-crowned Warbler, foraging for tiny insects in a 'Pozo Blue' Cleveland Sage.  He hung around long enough for me to snap a few photos through the window.

Orange-crowned Warblers are one of our winter warblers here in the Central Valley of California, but they are not nearly as abundant as Yellow-rumped Warblers.  Small insectivores, they are usually seen hopping around in shrubs and low trees, gleaning insects from the foliage.  Their "orange crown" is seldom visible, and perhaps the best f…

12 Monthly Tips to Up Your Birding Game - January: eBird Quizzes

A new year - a new decade, even - is upon us!  Perhaps a New Year's resolution of yours is to be more active outdoors this year, to walk more, to travel, or to learn something new.  If so, birding might be just the thing for you!  (If you have no idea what birding is or why it's so great check out my list of the many joys and benefits of birding.)

Whether you are brand new to birding or a seasoned pro, we can always learn new things and improve our skills.  This year, I have a few birding goals in mind, along with plans I'd like to implement in order to improve.  (Seabirds, for example, are a group of birds I plan to work on!)  So, each month throughout 2020, as I learn and develop my birding, I will offer a tip for how you too can become a better birder, naturalist, and citizen scientist. 

January in Central California tends to be foggy and cold, with stretches of dreary and dismal gray days punctuated by spells of bright sunshine and biting wind.  Even so, the weather i…

Favorite Birds of 2019

2019 has been an excellent year of birding.  In California, we trekked from the lofty mountains to the rugged coast, as well as back and forth across our Great Valley's grasslands and wetlands.  Beyond our state's borders, birding trips led us from the deserts and sky islands of Arizona to the Low Country of South Carolina, as I tallied up nearly 100 "lifers" in the last 365 days.

In Southeastern Arizona, a birder's dream destination, we spent time in the Santa Rita and Huachuca Mountains, enchanting places of unexpected natural beauty that boast a never-ending assemblage of incredible birds.  Some of my very favorite and most exciting birds were Elegant Trogons, Elf Owls, Whiskered Screech-owls, and Rivoli's, Broad-billed and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds.

Other lifers in Arizona included: a flock of Neotropic Cormorants; Zone-tailed and Gray Hawks; Chihuahuan Ravens and Mexican Jays; Lesser Nighthawks and Mexican Whip-poor-wills; Inca Doves; Gilded Flickers, …

The Long-tailed Duck of Moss Landing Harbor

Sea ducks of the far north, Long-tailed Ducks are not all that common along the coast of Central California.  Nearing the southern extent of their winter range here, just a few individuals are spotted every winter along the coast, usually singly or mixed with flocks of other sea ducks, like scoters.  According to eBird records, this particular Long-tailed Duck, which we encountered last Friday while birding along Moss Landing's Jetty Road, has been hanging out in Moss Landing Harbor since May, which is quite unusual.

Long-tailed Ducks breed in the Arctic, where they build their nests near the water's edge along ponds, streams and northern wetlands.  Winters are spent on the open ocean or freshwater lakes; they are often found on northern bodies of water, like the Bering Sea, Hudson Bay, Puget Sound and the Great Lakes, favoring waters off of sandy shores.

Diving deeper than most other species of diving ducks, Long-tailed Ducks can reach depths of 200 feet while foraging, thoug…

12 Days of [a California Birder's] Christmas

Between Christmas, December 25th, and Epiphany, January 6th, lie twelve days traditionally set aside for feasting and celebration, forever memorialized in a popular song: The Twelve Days of Christmas.

I'm sure you know the song - and have heard it played a couple dozen times since Thanksgiving - but this year Eric and I made up our own lyrics.

So, without further ado, enjoy my little bit of Christmas corniness!

On the first day of Christmas, my birder gave to me, A Pine Siskin eating thistle seeds.

On the second day of Christmas, my birder gave to me, Two Mourning Doves, And a Pine Siskin eating thistle seeds.

On the third day of Christmas, my birder gave to me, Three Marsh Wrens, Two Mourning Doves, And a Pine Siskin eating thistle seeds.

...And on it goes...

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my birder gave to me, Twelve Dippers diving, Eleven Plovers piping, Ten Larks a-peeping, Nine Lazuli Bunting, Eight Marbled Murrelet, Seven Tundra Swans, Six Ross's Geese, Five Goldfinches…

Meeting the American Pipit: An Introduction to Birding

This little brown bird, the American Pipit, was first introduced to me four years ago by the leader of my California Naturalist course, during a birding outing at Merced National Wildlife Refuge.  

Four years ago, I was fairly new to the idea of serious birding.  I have been acquainted with our local California Scrub-Jays, Yellow-billed Magpies, Mourning Doves and Northern Mockingbirds as dear friends since childhood, and could even name them by their songs and calls.  I met Ospreys and Steller's Jays while hiking in the Sierra, Western Gulls and Sanderlings while bare-footing on the coast, and made the acquaintance of White-crowned Sparrows and Ruby-crowned Kinglets in my parents' Central Valley backyard (during winter, of course).  
Later, ill-planned adventures ("dates") with my then-boyfriend (now husband) Eric into wetlands and wildlands of the Valley left me in awe of Sandhill Cranes and Tundra Swans.  College zoology classes introduced me to an even wider arr…