Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus

By Jim Gain

Learn 100 Birds is a photo blog series highlighting 100 common bird species found in California’s Central Valley.

Post #8 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 13/100.)

Common Year-round Resident

Introduction

The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a medium-sized bird of the woodpecker family. It is native to most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands, and is one of the few woodpecker species that migrate.

“Red-shafted” Female Northern Flicker

According to the Audubon field guide, “flickers are the only woodpeckers that frequently feed on the ground”, probing with their beak, also sometimes catching insects in flight. Although they eat fruits, berries, seeds, and nuts, their primary food is insects. Ants alone can make up 45% of their diet. Flickers also eat berries and seeds, especially in winter, including poison oak, grape, and elderberries, as well as sunflower and thistle seeds. Flickers often break into underground ant colonies to get at the nutritious larvae there, hammering at the soil the way other woodpeckers drill into wood. One flicker’s stomach was found to contain more than 5,000 ants!

LEFT Male | RIGHT Female “Red-shafted” Northern Flicker

As well as eating ants, flickers exhibit a behavior known as anting, in which they use the formic acid from the ants to assist in preening, as it is useful in keeping them free of parasites.

“Red-shafted” Male Northern Flicker

Appearance

This brownish-gray woodpecker, larger than an American Robin, has a black-barred back and is spangled below with black polka-dots. Easily recognized as it springs into flight, the flicker flashes a large white rump patch and bright red-colored wing linings and tail feather shafts.

Female “Red-shafted” Northern Flicker

Distribution

The Northern Flicker is the most widespread woodpecker species in North America, found from the northern treeline south through the lower 48 U.S. states into Mexico, reaching into Central America as far south as northern Nicaragua. It is also found in Cuba.

Sub-Species and Intergrades

Ten subspecies of northern flicker are recognized with 4 sub-species in the “Yellow-shafted” form and the other 6 being in the “Red-shafted” form. At one time these two primary forms were considered two separate species called the yellow-shafted flicker (C. auratus) and the red-shafted flicker (C. cafer). But they commonly interbreed where their ranges overlap and are now considered one species by the American Ornithologists Union. The vast majority of Northern Flickers observed in the Central Valley are of the “Red-shafted” form.

“Yellow-shafted Male” Northern Flicker
“Yellow-shafted” Female Northern Flicker

COOL FACT – Tale of a Tongue

The tongues of most woodpeckers are adapted to spear and extract insects from wood, but the flicker’s tongue is a bit different — in ways advantageous for lapping up large numbers of ants.

All woodpeckers have an elongated tongue attached to an arrangement of bones, cartilage, and muscles known as the hyoid apparatus, which wraps around the bird’s skull, ending near the rear of its eye sockets. The Northern Flicker has an extra-long tongue that can extend up to two inches past the tip of its beak. It’s the perfect tool for probing into anthills. This lengthy tongue is supported by an elongated hyoid bone, which extends into the bird’s upper mandible.

Northern Flicker by Ken Griffiths, Shutterstock

Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,

Valley Goldfinches

By Jim Gain

Learn 100 Birds is a photo blog series highlighting 100 common bird species found in California’s Central Valley.

Post #7 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 11 and 12/100.)

This is a three-fer post featuring the three species of Goldfinch that occur in the Central Valley. The first two, American Goldfinch and Lesser Goldfinch are Common Year-round Residents of the valley, while the third species, Lawrence’s Goldfinch is a Bonus Species Rare Year-round Resident here.

AMERICAN GOLDFINCHSpinus tristis

American Goldfinch Feeding on Black Thistle Seed | Photo by Peakpx

Introduction

The American Goldfinch is a Common Year-round Resident. It is one of our smallest bird species and the only pure granivore (seedeater). It is a frequent visitor to home feeders that feature Black Thistle seeds.

Appearance

The American Goldfinch is a sexually dimorphic species in that the males and females sport entirely different plumages. From March through September, males feature a distinctive black forehead, bright yellow bodies, black wings with white stripes and white undertail feathers.

During the same time period, females have a pale lemony head and body with dark wings and white stripes.

In the winter, males lose the black cap and bold yellow body feathers and molt into a pale olive-brown version of the female. Winter females take on an even paler version of the male’s winter coloration.

Distribution

American Goldfinches can be encountered in most wild grassy areas, especially those with thistles. Unlike the southern US, Valley American Goldfinches are sedentary and aren’t know to migrate far away from their wintering grounds.

LESSER GOLDFINCHCarduelis psaltria

Lesser Goldfinch – Female and Male

The other species of Goldfinch likely to be confused with the American, is the Lesser Goldfinch. In breeding-plumaged males, the Lesser Goldfinch sports a more extensive black cap that completely surrounds the eye and has a much darker back.

American Goldfinch Photo by Miles Moody | Lesser Goldfinch Photo by Jim Gain

Introduction

Lesser Goldfinches are primarily seedeaters and eat mostly small weed seeds, especially thistle. They eat some small insects in the summer, particularly aphids, which they regurgitate for their young. Lesser Goldfinches are active foragers and form flocks outside of the breeding season. They often mimic short bits of other birds’ songs, and like American Goldfinches, they often call in flight.

Appearance

Lesser Goldfinches are small finches with bright yellow undersides. Males have greenish-brown backs, black caps and wings with two white wing-bars, and a white patch on each wing. Their tails are black with white patches on either side, and their undertail coverts are yellow (contrasting with the white undertail coverts of American Goldfinches). Females lack the black cap and wing-bars of the males, are not as brightly colored, and lack the white on the tail; they do have white patches on each wing.

Distribution

Throughout much of their range, Lesser Goldfinches are permanent residents.

BONUS BIRD: LAWRENCE’S GOLDFINCH Spinus lawrencei

Unique among goldfinches because of its mostly gray body. Male has black forehead and throat, yellow breast, and complex black and yellow pattern on wings. It’s also a nomadic species that moves around at all times of year in search of rainfall, seeding plants, and drinking water. Though still fairly numerous within its range, Lawrence’s Goldfinch is on the Yellow Watch List for species with restricted ranges. In the Central Valley, Lawrence’s Goldfinches are Rare, but regular Year-Round Residents.

Lawrence’s Goldfinch

COOL FACT

Male Lawrence’s Goldfinches don’t get their lemon yellow breeding plumage through molting. Rather, the feathers become yellower as they wear, shedding their brownish color and exposing yellow parts of the feather beneath. No other goldfinches acquire breeding plumage in this manner.

Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,

Loggerhead Shrike

By Jim Gain

Learn 100 Common Valley Birds is a photo blog series highlighting the 100 most common Valley bird species.

Post #6 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 10/100.)

The Loggerhead Shrike is a Fairly Common Resident to California’s Central Valley and can be found in grasslands, freshwater wetlands and chaparral habitats. There are 2 species of Shrike regularly found in the US, the Loggerhead Shrike and the Northern Shrike. However, the Northern Shrike is a very rare vagrant to the Central Valley.

Loggerhead Shrike

Valley Species of Special Concern Series

A Species of Special Concern (SSC) is a species, subspecies, or distinct population of an animal native to the Central Valley that currently is listed as a Federal Endangered, California Endangered or California Species of Special Concern.

Status

Loggerhead Shrikes are currently considered a Bird Species of Special Concern (breeding), priority 2. Over their historic range, numbers are slightly declining overall with a dramatic drop in breeding populations in the southern part of the state. This species was described as common to abundant in the San Joaquin Valley in 1927 by Grinnell and Wythe, but recent Christmas Bird Count (CBC) results show an accelerated statewide decline from 1959 to 1988. (See California Bird Species of Special Concern Report)

Loggerhead Shrike | Photo by Jim Gain

Description

The Loggerhead Shrike is one of two shrikes regularly found in the US, but is the most expected shrike in the Central Valley. Its close cousin, the Northern Shrike is a very rare winter visitor here with only one record in Stanislaus County. Roughly the size of a starling, this gray and white perching bird can frequently be seen along roads hanging on to a barbed-wire fence. Its large head with bold black mask distinguish the Loggerhead Shrike from the similar colored Northern Mockingbird.

Loggerhead Shrike | Photo by Jim Gain

Habits

When disturbed, the Loggerhead Shrike will drop down and fly low along the ground before swooping up to gain another perch on the same fence line. The Loggerhead Shrike is quite the bold predator, often taking on large prey and then impaling it on a barbed-wire or thorn. It has been given the nickname of “butcher bird” due to this curious, yet gruesome behavior.

Loggerhead Shrike | Photo by Jim Gain

Distribution

More common in the winter than in the summer, Loggerhead Shrikes can be found in open areas such as grasslands and wetlands. They can be frequently seen along the grasslands along the eastern valley roads (Merced Falls Rd., Willms Rd., Sonora Rd.) or in the grasslands and wetlands areas (Santa Fe Grade, Sandy Mush Rd.) in Merced County. Check out the eBird Loggerhead Shrike species map.

Simliar Species

Though very rare in the Central Valley, the Northern Shrike is very similar in appearance to the Loggerhead Shrike. Northern Shrikes are bigger than Loggerheads. Northern Shrikes have a larger, more strongly hooked bill. Other reliable marks include the Northern’s narrower black mask that usually does not continue in front of their eye (or continue above the bill), and the Northern’s more strongly barred underparts. Both these field marks can be difficult to see in the field.

Check out the comparison between the two species below.

Loggerhead Shrike (left) Photo by Jim Gain | Northern Shrike (right) Photo by CheepShot

Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,

Dark-eyed Junco

By Jim Gain

Learn 100 Common Valley Birds is a photo blog series highlighting the 100 most common Valley bird species.

Post #5 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 9/100.)

About Juncos

The Dark-eyed Junco is a Common Winter Visitor to California’s Central Valley and can be found in many habitats. There are 2 species of Junco in the US, the Dark-eyed Junco and the Yellow-eyed Junco. However, the Yellow-eyed Junco is only found in SE Arizona and is not going to be found in the Central Valley. Check out the comparison between the two species below.

(Left) Dark-eyed Junco | Yellow-eyed Junco (Right)

The Dark-eyed Junco is a small, sparrow-sized bird that is in fact, a member of the sparrow family (Passerellidae). Juncos are granivorous (seed-eating) ground-dwelling birds that are almost always found in small flocks.

Dark-eyed Junco – Male

While it is often found in close proximity to White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows at backyard feeders, it is actually more closely related to the more secretive Fox Sparrow.

Dark-eyed Juncos are known as habitat generalists. In the field of ecology, classifying a species as a generalist or a specialist is a way to identify what kinds of food and habitat resources it relies on to survive. Generalists can eat a variety of foods and thrive in a range of habitats. Specialists, on the other hand, have a limited diet and stricter habitat requirements. (National Geographic Resource Library)

Dark-eyed Junco

Appearance

While there are several different forms (sub-species) of Dark-eyed Junco in the US, the form known as the Oregon Dark-eyed Junco is our most common form. The adult male “Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco is easily identified by its all-dark head and brown back, pale bill, white belly and white outer-tail feathers. The white outer tail feathers flash distinctively in flight and while hopping on the ground.

The female and 1st year male “Oregon” Dark-eyed Juncos sport a more medium to light gray head, but otherwise look the same.

Dark-eyed Junco – Female

OTHER JUNCOS

Some of the other forms (sub-species) of Dark-eyed Junco that may appear from time-to-time in the Central Valley include the curious all gray with a white belly Slate-colored Junco or the reddish-backed Gray-headed Junco. In SE Arizona there is a completely different species called the Yellow-eyed Junco that looks like a Gray-headed, but with yellow eyes.

Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,

Western Kingbird

By Jim Gain

Learn 100 Common Valley Birds is a photo blog series highlighting the 100 most common Valley bird species.

Post #4 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 8/100.)

Western Kingbirds are Common Summer Visitors to California’s Central Valley and are one of the earliest returning Neotropic migrants usually arriving from Mexico and Central America in mid to late March. Their sudden appearance along country road fence lines is a sure sign that Spring has arrived.

Western Kingbird

Adult Western Kingbirds are typically seen perching on fence wires where they sally out to snatch flying insects. They are monomorphic (males and females have similar appearance), recognized by their yellow belly, all pale-gray chest and throat and gray-brown back. They will frequently flash their white outer tailfeathers as they fly out from their perch.

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbirds belong to the Tyrant Flycatcher family (Tyrannidae) and are one of 7 kingbirds found in the US. Of those 7 species, only 2 are regularly found in the Central Valley. The other kingbird found regularly in the Central Valley (much rarer) is the Cassin’s Kingbird. Cassin’s Kingbird has white-tipped tail feathers instead of the white-edges. It also has a darker gray chest and head with a bold white chin. Check out the comparison images below.

Left – Cassin’s Kingbird | Western Kingbird – Right

Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,

Common Valley Owls

Learn 100 Common Valley Birds is a photo blog series highlighting the 100 most common California Central Valley bird species.

By Jim Gain

Post #3 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 5, 6 and 7/100.)

Today’s post is another three-fer offering that includes the three owls that most Central Valley Visitors are likely to encounter in an urban setting; Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl and Western Screech-Owl. There are other possible owl species that one might come across in the grasslands and foothill woodlands away from town. One of those, the Burrowing Owl, will have its own future post and the others are considerably less likely to be observed.

GREAT HORNED OWL

Introduction

The Great Horned Owl is a Common Year-Round Resident in the valley. A large, powerful nocturnal predator, it is equally at home in any valley habitat taking a wide variety of prey.

Great Horned Owl, Male | Photo by Jim Gain

Appearance

The Great Horned Owl is characterized by its ear tufts, white throat and barred brown tan and white body. Their hooting can be heard throughout the year mostly at night, but in the breeding season, may continue through the morning.

Great Horned Owl, Female | Photo by Jim Gain

Distribution

A nighttime expedition to the riparian woodlands of any of the parks along the creeks and rivers that run through the Central Valley will likely result in an encounter with this nocturnal hunter. Careful springtime explorers may encounter a Great Horned Owl’s nest with the curious owlets peering out.

Great Horned Owlet | Photo by Jim Gain

BARN OWL

Barn Owl | Photo by Jim Gain

Introduction

The Barn Owl (Tyto Alba) is a Common Year-Round Resident in the valley and is a bit smaller than the Great Horned Owl. It is the most widely distributed species of owl in the world and one of the most cosmopolitan (widespread) of all species of birds.

Appearance

Barn Owl | Photo by Jim Gain

Lanky, with a whitish face, chest, and belly, and buffy upperparts, this owl roosts in hidden, quiet places during the day.

Distribution

By night, they hunt on buoyant wingbeats in open fields and meadows. You can find them by listening for their eerie, raspy calls, quite unlike the hoots of other owls. Due to the large number of rodents they eat, farmers welcome the Barn Owl and often install nest boxes on their properties.

Barn Owl | Photo by Jim Gain

Cool Fact:

The Barn Owl has excellent low-light vision, and can easily find prey at night by sight. But its ability to locate prey by sound alone is the best of any animal that has ever been tested. It can catch mice in complete darkness in the lab, or hidden by vegetation or snow out in the real world.

WESTERN SCREECH-OWL

Introduction

The Western Screech-Owl (Megascops kennicottii) is a small owl native to North and Central America and is a Fairly Common Year-Round Resident in the Central Valley. It may be encountered in urban parks with mature trees or in riparian woodlands.

Western Screech-Owl | Photo by Jim Gain

Western Screech-Owls nest in the cavities of large trees and typically lay three to five eggs in late March.

Western Screech-Owlets | Photo by Jim Gain

Appearance

The Western Screech-Owl is a pint-sized, cryptically patterned gray owl with fine streaks of black and white and short ear tufts.

Western Screech-Owl | Photo by Jim Gain

Distribution

Found in a variety of wooded habitats, but favors riparian and deciduous areas. Can be found in urban areas and parks. Feeds mostly on small mammals, birds, and insects. Nests in cavities. Listen for its voice at night: a series of short whistled notes that accelerates at the end.

Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,

Common Valley Hummingbirds

By Jim Gain

Learn 100 Common Valley Birds is a photo blog series highlighting the 100 most common Valley bird species.

Post #2 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 2, 3 and 4/100.)

This is a three-fer post featuring the three most common hummingbirds, Anna’s, Black-chinned and Rufous that are likely coming to your feeders right now (summer). When viewed in direct sunlight with their resplendent gorgets in full glory, few birds elicit a reaction quite like hummingbirds do. The hummingbird represents an ancient symbol of joy and happiness. Its colorful appearance brings good luck and positive energy to our lives.

Let’s start with the most common one, Anna’s Hummingbird.

ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD

Anna’s Hummingbird – Male

STATUS

Anna’s Hummingbirds are Common Year-round Residents of the Central Valley and are frequently found at backyard feeders. Like many hummingbird species, these three are sexually dimorphic with the males having the boldest and easiest to identify markings. At 3.9 inches in size, Anna’s Hummingbirds are the largest of the three hummers in this post.

IDENTIFICATION FIELDMARKS

Adult male Anna’s Hummingbirds feature a bold pinkish-ruby gorget (throat patch) that is subtended (bordered along the bottom) by a grayish-white breast. The pinkish-ruby feathers also appear on the top of their head.

Anna’s Hummingbird – Male

Females and first-year male Anna’s Hummingbirds are more challenging as they lack the pinkish-red gorget and head feathers.

Anna’s Hummingbird – Female

BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD

STATUS

The Black-chinned Hummingbird is a Fairly Common Summer Visitor, arriving in mid-April and hanging around the Central Valley until mid-September. At 3.5 inches, the Black-chinned Hummingbird is slightly smaller than the Anna’s Hummingbird. The Black-chinned Hummingbird is the second-most likely hummingbird that residents will encounter of the 6 hummingbird species that have visited the Central Valley.

Throughout the Central Valley, this species is widespread in many habitats at low elevations, often coming into backyard gardens and nesting. Other hummingbirds may stay through the winter, at least in small numbers, but the Black-chinned Hummingbird is almost entirely absent from the valley in winter.

IDENTIFICATION FIELDMARKS

Black-chinned Hummingbird – Male

The Black-chinned has a thinner, longer and straighter bill than both the Anna’s and Rufous hummingbirds. It is metallic green above and dull grayish-white below. They are best identified by their smallish gorget that is bordered by a pure white throat. Their gorget tends to look solid black unless viewed straight-on in good light when the lower edge takes on a glowing purple hue.

Black-chinned Hummingbird – Male

As with the other hummingbirds featured in this post, females and first-year males lack the colored gorget and make identification a challenge that is best left for the experts.

Female, Creative Commons Image by VJAnderson

RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD

STATUS

The Rufous Hummingbird is a Fairly Common Spring & Fall Migrant as it travels between its wintering grounds in Mexico to its nesting territory in Canada. It can be seen visiting feeders in March to April and again on its return journey from mid-July to mid-September. At 3.3 inches, the Rufous Hummingbird is the smallest of the three hummingbirds featured in this post.

The Rufous Hummingbird is North America’s “extremist” hummingbird, venturing far from the equatorial tropics, it reaches the northernmost latitude of any hummingbird (61° N). (From Birds of the World)

IDENTIFICATION FIELDMARKS

Rufous Hummingbird – Male

The Rufous Hummingbird stands out from Anna’s and Black-chinned by the bold rufous coloration on its belly, back and tail feathers. It has a white throat and adult males have a brownish-red gorget.

Rufous Hummingbird – 1st Year Male

First year males tend to have greenish instead of rufous feathers on its back.

Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,

California Scrub-Jay

By Jim Gain

Learn 100 Common Valley Birds is a photo blog series highlighting the 100 most common Valley bird species.

Post #1 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds, species 1/100.

In California’s Central Valley, almost anyone can learn 100 local bird species. Especially since on a daily basis Valley Residents come in contact with at least a dozen species that most recognize, but may not know the name of. Few things on earth fill us with as much delight as birds, and knowing them by name only adds to our pleasure. The intent of this blog is for followers to learn about and be able to identify 100 common valley birds.

Eazy Peazy First Bird

(You probably already know this bird.)

From James Whitcomb Riley’s poem, The Jaybird
The Jaybird he’s my _favorite_
Of all the birds they is!
I think he’s quite a stylish sight
In that blue suit of his:

And from George Parsons Lathrop’s Poem, O jay
O jay —
Blue-jay! —
What are you trying to say?
I remember, in the spring
You pretended you could sing;

Just remember one thing, it’s a Scrub-Jay, NOT a Blue Jay. Blue Jays have a crest and live back east. Our beautiful jay is a California Scrub-Jay.

All About This Bird

California Scrub-Jays are medium-sized members of the Corvid Family sharing similar characteristics with their other family members, the crows, magpies and ravens.

California Scrub-Jays are easily identified by their blue upperparts, dusty-white belly with a grayish-blue back. They have a medium-sized straight bill with a hooked tip and sport a white supercilium (eyebrow line). Depending on the light, their blue feathers may range from pale blue to almost iridescent bold blue. Unlike their Blue Jay cousins back east, they do NOT have a crest.

California Scrub-Jay

California Scrub-Jays can be found just about anywhere in the Central Valley. They are what ornithologists (bird scientists) call a year-round common resident and your backyard may even be a favorite spot for one. They are omnivorous and will eat bugs, lizards, berries and even other smaller birds (ouch!). Males and females are monomorphic, meaning they pretty much look the same. The opposite of monomorphic, where the males and females look totally different, is called sexual dimorphism. (Think of male vs female Mallards.) 

California Scrub-Jay

California Scrub-Jays have strong bills which they use to break open and eat acorns. Acorns are held by the toes of both feet and are hammered with their bill until they break open and can dig out the meat.

California Scrub-Jay

After completing this first post in the series, you are now on your way to Learn 100 Birds! These ubiquitous birds may be found in our backyards, on power lines or flying overhead on a regular basis.

Other posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,

Rosy-Finch Rendezvous: Stop 10 – Bodie State Park

LAST CALL FOR THE ROSY-FINCH RENDEZVOUS ADVENTURE

By Jim Gain
Rosy-Finch Rendezvous Birding Adventure Series

6/15/2022

This would be the last stop of our three-day adventure to the Eastern Sierra Nevada and would prove to have the fewest bird species. However, our main purpose to Bodie was to take photographs of the old ghost town and if really lucky, maybe a more cooperative Greater Sage-Grouse.

A short distance from the entrance kiosk, we had 5 Sage Thrashers right along the road.

Sage Thrasher

At the kiosk, the attendant informed us that the Sage-Grouse would be more likely to come down into town a little later in the summer. So, while we dipped on the Sage-Grouse, we did see lots of swallows and some Mountain Bluebirds.

Violet-Green Swallow
Violet-Green Swallow
Cliff Swallow

I took many photos of the historic buildings and vehicles and I made a photo gallery of just those images. The link to those photos is at the very bottom of the post.

P.S. TWO ADDITIONAL SPECIES ADDED ON OUR RETURN

As we drove through the outskirts of Bridgeport heading home, we noticed several Yellow-headed Blackbirds on the fence and a little late, 2 Black-billed Magpies. This brought our total Rosy-Finch Rendezvous total species count to 75.

Rosy-Finch Rendezvous eBird Trip Report

P.P.S. Link to my Bodie Ghost Town Photo Album

Rosy-Finch Rendezvous: Stop 9 – Cottonwood Canyon

A LITTLE MAC AND GEEZ…

By Jim Gain
Rosy-Finch Rendezvous Birding Adventure Series

6/15/2022

This morning’s route was going to take us away from the Sierra Nevada landscape and into the Great Basin and Range geography that dominates much of Nevada and Utah.

Creative Commons Image by KMusser

Today’s target birds were species such as Juniper Titmouse, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, Pinyon Jay and other desert-type birds. We had barely pulled off the Pole Line Rd onto Cottonwood Canyon Rd when I heard the mechanical tinkling calls of Black-throated Sparrows. We observed several over the first couple of miles.

Black-throated Sparrow

A Red-tailed Hawk was not the least bit concerned by us as we slowly drove past it.

Red-tailed Hawk

As we got out to photograph the hawk, I could hear distant Pinyon Jays in the not too distant hills and a couple of singing Brewer’s Sparrows hiding in the sage. Soon one of several Lazuli Buntings made an appearance, posing close enough and long enough to snap a decent photo.

Lazuli Bunting

As we paused on the road at a spot next to the creek with a good stand of willows, I heard a different warbler singing nearby. I stopped and scanned the willows, not finding the warbler. But it was loud and incessant and very nearby us. I finally spotted it, not in the willows, but 40 feet above us on the telephone line.

Low and behold, it was a MacGillivray’s Warbler and he was putting on quite a show.

GEEZ! How Close Can it Get?

I admit that I made a playback call from my Sibley’s Bird App and it came down to check us out, landing right next to us. Using the car as our blind, we took dozens of images while the bird made sure that we knew that this was his territory. Typically, this species is a skulker, staying hidden among low shrubs and trees. This guy was not shy at all and gave us the best Kodak moments I ever had with this species.

MacGillivray’s Warbler

Keeping our visit as short as possible we moved on and the bird immediately flew back up to the wire to continue its buzzy song as if nothing had happened. Next up were several Green-tailed Towhees, each one singing from a different snag, in slightly different spots. One popped up off to our side and promptly began singing its heart out.

Green-tailed Towhee
Green-tailed Towhee
Green-tailed Towhee

Soon we came upon a nice-looking bird box that had a baby Mountain Bluebird peeking out.

Baby

Immediately first one adult, and then another took turns bringing in snacks for junior.

Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird

We arrived at a particularly rich vegetative spot along the creek and spotted what I first thought was a Dusky Flycatcher, but further analysis of the enlarged photos showed that it was a Willow Flycatcher.

Willow Flycatcher

Next Stop: Bodie State Park