August Birding 2017 Week 2

Wednesday morning found me at Southeastway Park hoping to find local birds I missed the first weekend of August. With only a half hour I thought I could make a small loop and pick up a few calling species. And the plan worked with a Northern Parula doing its alternate call which threw me off for a minute. A pair of Wood Thrushes were next along with the local group of Chipping Sparrows. Yellow-throated Warblers are usually present but not this day. A decent start to August Birding 2017 Week 2 I knew would have limited time for birding.

I met up with Mike early Saturday at the local flooded field.  Along with hundreds of Canada Geese and Mallards there were the usual Killdeer, Pectoral, and Least Sandpipers. But nice addictions to the August list were Semipalmated Plover and Short-billed Dowitcher.

I think we had seen most of the shorebird species before a balloon came drifting over the water putting up all the birds. Waterfowl and herons included. After it passed only a few Killdeer returned.

Since I had to leave mid-morning for a four-day out-of-town family trip we decided on the nearby Southeastway Park. Even though it was quiet Mike and I eventually saw most of the expected species. But nothing new for the month.

After leaving Southeastway I still had a little time. I knew some of the needed August species could be found in the small pond behind our residence. So I headed there.

It took a little time but eventually a single Wood Duck popped up on a log.
And eventually a concealed Green Heron flew out from the tangled shoreline.
August Birding 2017 Week 2
This Great Blue Heron seems to be  constantly standing guard over the small pond.

After the short week my Marion County August total was in the high 70’s. And there probably won’t be much movement for another 10 days. Hurry up migration.

Fruitgrowers Reservoir Semi-Arid Water

The flight arrived late-morning, as opposed to the usual one into Denver and the day spent driving to Grand Junction. This forced the problem of where to bird in the afternoon heat? The choices were either the cooler higher elevations or water birds which didn’t care about the heat. Since I’d be going to higher elevations later in the week the water birds won out. But where? The state parks would be full of weekend visitors. This left Fruitgrowers Reservoir semi-arid water.

The advantage of Fruitgrowers Reservoir is no people. None. As I reported two years ago the lake is off-limits do to phosphorous pollution concerns. Plus this would probably be my only chance to see certain water species this year.

That left me to enjoy the water birds on the warm Sunday afternoon.

Fruitgrowers Reservoir Semi-Arid Water
The breeze off Fruitgrowers Reservoir semi-arid water felt good in the mid-90’s heat.
A look to the north showing the semi-arid environment except immediately around the reservoir.
I know it’s not unique to the west but I wanted to show this Killdeer. Is the white material along the shore the phosphorous pollution?
Also not unique but I liked this photo of  a Double-crested Cormorant taking a fish off to eat. A nearby nest?
Every time I looked it seemed one of the local American White Pelican flock was getting up and flying short distances around the lake.
A couple slowly drifted by while I was scanning the lake. The knob is showing on the right hand bird.
Cinnamon Teal were present at two locations on the trip.The female never appeared from the reeds for a photo.
Western Kingbirds were prevalent in all the lower elevations.
As were Black-chinned Hummingbirds. This guy must have liked sitting in the afternoon heat as he never moved.
Another futile effort to turn one of the 40 or so Western Grebes into Clark’s Grebes.
A Willet way out in the grass. eBird has flagged me twice in the last couple of months, both times for Willets. The first time in Marion County, IN in May and this time in Delta County, CO.
Yellow-headed Blackbirds were the stars of the day constantly flying from the reeds to the nearby pasture land. Both sexes kept up a steady flight.
Can you spot the female Yellow-headed Blackbird in the reeds?
I didn’t realize White-faced Ibis were much smaller than Great Blue Herons. I’ll come back to the Ibis on a later post.

Northern Flicker Drumming – Colorado Day 3

The plan was to wrap up the December Colorado trip with one more blog. But after reviewing the photos from the final days I came up with several more posts. A couple travelogue type posts and a couple about things that caught my interest. Day 3’s morning was an enjoyable one in the field with a long walk at a state park. Strictly a travelogue day which means not any one highlight but many good views and observations. I’ll go with a Northern Flicker drumming to show my improving video talent. Ha!

Another cool day began at the James M. Robb part of the Colorado River State Park. Once again I had a park to myself.
The park appears to be a series of reclaimed gravel pits. A cold Great Blue Heron kept guard on the lake.
Even though I’m only a mile from Grand Junction the lone noise was a freight train. Plus, the view was great.
The park’s staff had left several dead trees, this one by a pond where an American Kestrel kept lookout. I think he was hunting sparrows in the brush alongside the pond.
Ruby-crowned Kinglets were prevalent on the trip, something I wasn’t expecting. (The Ruby is barely seen in the photo) I’m going to have a separate blog post concerning Ruby-crowned Kinglets in a few weeks.
Wood Ducks were at the park, also not expected. They’ll be featured in the Ruby-crowned Kinglet post.

There were numerous Dark-eyed Juncos but they too are getting a separate blog.

The call of the Spotted Towhee was perplexing until he popped out of the shadows. The call was much louder and grating than I remembered. Or was it the still morning’s air?

A White-crowned Sparrow Tree.
I’ve learned Song Sparrow’s coloring can vary greatly in the Midwest. This Colorado bird seems to be even redder than I remember at home.
Northern Flicker Drumming
As noted above the park’s staff had left many dead trees for birds, like this Northern Flicker.

Now the following isn’t a good video. I was playing around with the video and thought I had a focused video of a Northern Flicker drumming. Turns out there was a small branch in the way. But I had fun in the field watching and recording.

Turn up the volume to catch the Northern Flicker Drumming.

NOFL Drilling

I wrapped up the morning’s walk with a good mix of species – waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds. I encountered three separate Bewick’s Wrens but like any wren they didn’t come out long enough for a photo.

15 Minutes Can Make a Difference

Early on Saturday morning of Labor Day Weekend I read a post on IN-Bird by Joni Jones about seeing Great Egrets leaving their roost at 7AM. I had planned to go to the local wet area around sunrise at 7:17AM, but changed my plans after reading her post and instead arrived at 6:45AM. And I’m glad I did because those 15 minutes made a difference.

COMBS (1)
As seen on the first photo of the day, the local wet area is packed with geese, ducks, and herons.  6:59AM

Here are counts at 7AM:

  1. Canada Geese – 500
  2. Mallard – 250
  3. Green-winged Teal – 1
  4. Great Blue Heron – 22
  5. Great Egret – 16
CANG FLIGHT (1)
Immediately after the count the Canada Geese started flying east to feed elsewhere for the day.  7:07AM
CANG FLIGHT (7)
In group after group of approximately 25 birds they kept coming off the water.  7:07AM
COMBS (7)
Within 10 minutes the numbers had dropped drastically.  7:09 AM
combs-9 15 minutes
It only took another 4 minutes for the numbers to drop another 50% leaving maybe 10% of the birds which had been present 15 minutes earlier.  7:13AM
COMBS (10)
I stopped by later in the day and there wasn’t a bird present. – 3:06PM

The moral of the story is to get there even earlier then planned because if I would arrived at sunrise I would have seen 90% less birds.

 

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On Labor Day morning I stopped by to check for shorebirds. There were a couple of shorebirds but more unusual was the presence of the resident Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons

And they were sitting!

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When I first pulled up to the wet area there were egrets and herons present, but something didn’t look quite right??
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What made it look unusual was that the Great Egrets were sitting on the ground and on their “ankles”.
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I honestly don’t recall ever seeing egrets and herons sitting on their “ankles”.
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Maybe it was a good way to keep cool and take a nap in the mid-day heat?

In case you’re wondering the heron’s “knee” is hidden up under their feathers. The part they are sitting on in the photos is more like our “ankle”.

Annual Goose Pond Fourth Of July Trip

Another Saturday and I’m up at 4AM so Mike and I can make our 4th Annual Goose Pond Fourth of July Trip looking for species not usually seen in the Johnson County area – MARSH WREN, LEAST BITTERN, LEAST TERNS, COMMON GALLINULE,  and BLACK-NECKED STILTS.

The weather cooperated but the habitat, not so much. Unlike past years the water level was low providing limited habitat for Least Bitterns and Common Gallinules. And where there is water, vegetation has grown to the water’s edge giving limited shorebird access. Compare this year’s photos to last years, when the water level was higher.

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The water levels are low as seen on GP5N.
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There is still enough water in MPE2 for the Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons to thrive. We counted 75 Great Egrets in this group alone.

And enough habitat around to make the day enjoyable.

LETE (3)
The Least Terns were feeding around Tern Island.
NOBO (7)
A Northern Bobwhite ran across the road. I initially thought it was one of the several small rabbits that kept zigzagging on the road.
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We also saw a coyote and a mink family, this being one of the three.
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And of course the Black-necked Stilts kept a close eye on our every move.

BNST (36) BNST (37)

The highlight of the day was finding other shorebirds besides the Black-necked Stilts and Killdeer.

GOOSE POND (1)
On the first stop of the day at MPE2 I saw three large shorebirds in this small pool with the Great Egrets. Through the scope we could make out they were Greater Yellowlegs.
GRYE (2)
We moved on to other areas but in late morning I bushwhacked out to the pool for a closer look.
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Showing the range of the Nikon Coolpix P900 I’m still a distance away from the Greater Yellowlegs and Killdeer.
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Then out of nowhere 4 Short-billed Dowitchers appeared. Beautiful in their breeding plumage.
SBDO (2)
Not sure if they were in the high grass??
GRYE (6) Annual Goose Pond Trip
A group photo but like school children they wouldn’t all stand next together for the photo – Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Black-necked Stilt.

All in all, our Annual Goose Pond Trip was good though it was quieter than years past. We missed on Least Bittern and Common Gallinule, plus no Bell’s Vireo or Sedge Wrens. Hopefully the heavy rain predicted for today will help bring some of the habitat back to life.

Big May Day 2016 Highlights

My portion of the Johnson County Christmas Bird Count IAS Big May Day Count (felt like a Christmas Bird Count) started out and ended well with several surprises in the middle. I’ll stick to the highlights with some follow-up posts over the next few weeks covering a few other things on the day.

Big May Day – The Start

The weather at 5AM was 50F and windy, with light rain. The only thing that changed during the day was the rain stopped. Otherwise the temperature and wind held steady all day. I noticed the temperature on the local bank said 51F when I went by early in the day and said 50F late in the afternoon. I have participated in several Christmas Counts that were warmer.

So I didn’t start optimistic.

But the first bird, a GREAT HORNED OWL, flew off its usual telephone pole as soon as I drove up. There was hope.

I called in an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL and missed on Barred Owl. While waiting in the dark for a Barred Owl a bird flew in with white wing marks like a nighthawk. I didn’t remember those on a Barred Owl?? A couple of minutes it swooped back in – it was a COMMON NIGHTHAWK. Which was reassuring since I didn’t remember a Barred Owl acting that way.

The morning continued on with several FOY. Like CEDAR WAXWINGS.

CEDW (2)
I saw a flock of birds in a tight group fly into a distant tree. I was sure they were Cedar Waxwings but couldn’t tell at this distance. 5/14/16
CEDW (1)
So out comes the new camera for a distant photo showing they were Cedar Waxwings. 5/14/16

Next was one of those county lister things when I found 1 CLIFF SWALLOW mixed in a feeding flock. No photo. Have you ever tried to take a photo of a swallow? A few BANK SWALLOWS were also mixed in for good measure.

BLGR (3)
Mike and I came across the resident Blue Grosbeak at Johnson County Park. 5/14/16

Big May Day – The Middle

After lunch we went out searching for species we’d missed. First we hit one of the local shorebirds sites.

SEPL (2)
Another FOY was a Semipalmated Plover. 5/14/16
SEPL (1)
The plover was hanging out with Least and Solitary Sandpipers. 5/14/16
SOSA (1)
Did you ever notice you hear Solitary Sandpipers before you see them? They always seem to be calling. 5/14/16

Then I visited a spot which previously had a SORA calling and at that time I thought I had heard a portion of a calling VIRGINIA RAIL. Yesterday no Sora but 2 Virginia Rails called. Johnson County #214.

I added a few more species we had missed in the morning like GRASSHOPPER SPARROW, WILSON’S SNIPE, and PIED-BILLED GREBE. Not the same grebe from my previous story. But I was still glad to see one late in the day.

Big May Day – The End

When the Worthsville Road exit on I65 was recently added it opened up observation to a flooded field I thought might be good for shorebirds. Well it hasn’t panned out for shorebirds. But I still made it my last stop of the day yesterday.

Once again there were no shorebirds however there was a distant piece of white trash.

No, looking again the trash looked like a gull.

Assuming it was a Ring-billed I got out the scope to confirm. The bird was walking away but I could still see the small black bill, gray ear patch, and yellowish legs. A Bonaparte’s Gull in Johnson County in May. Who would have thought? (Yes, eBird flagged it if you were wondering)

BOGU (19)
Testing the zoom of my new camera this photo of a Bonaparte’s Gull is taken at 450 meters in windy conditions. 5/14/16
BOGU (2)
Note the small black bill and grayish ear mark, field marks for a Bonaparte’s Gull. 5/14/16

And for fun a departing photo, to make up for the lack of photos from another dark Saturday.

GBHE - Big May Day
Not sure I have ever seen a Great Blue Heron on a guard rail. 5/14/16

Mainly the Same but Not Quite

I have admittedly been doing too much easy birding.  Getting started later and later on Saturday mornings and not staying out as long. And as my last post suggested, I was blaming the consistent weather for the SAMENESS of the birds. Maybe the amount of traveling I did for work in October contributed, but I was in a rut.

Time for a change.  So I decided I needed a day of birding like I used to do every Saturday to break the rut. Make a plan, up early, and get out the door. See what’s out there. So that is what I did.

Pre-Sunrise – Great Horned Owl

I started an hour before sunrise and drove the road south of Franklin to see if the GREAT HORNED OWL was on its usual telephone poll.  And sure enough silhouetted in the glow of the town lights it sat. I drove by and stopped a little further down the road to look back. We watched each other for a bit before the owl decided I might be trouble and flew off to the woods to the east.

And with one exception that was how the day would go. Many of the expected birds were on their “spots”.

GHOW 101109
I’ve used this photo before but it is one of the few Great Horned Owl photos I have and I feel I should post a photo since I’m talking about it. A sleeping Great Horned Owl from Middleton, WI. 10/11/09

Sunrise/Early Morning – Ring-billed Gull 

The first few hours of the day were spent at Driftwood SFA. And as usual it had birds in the trees plus birds in the air. The first bird I saw on the morning was a RING-BILLED GULL.  Not that unusual elsewhere but uncommon in basically waterless Johnson County as seen by this being only my second sighting this year. I assume it had been following the adjacent Flatrock River.

A little later I saw a juvenile BALD EAGLE which was definetly following the river’s course.

Passerines

Not any unexpected passerines at Driftwood.  The day startled at sunrise  with EASTERN BLUEBIRDS, CEDAR WAXWINGS, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, and DARK-EYED JUNCOS in the same tree.

Various Driftwood SFA
I like this photo because it shows how similar in size different species can appear in the field. Cedar Waxwing (upper right), Eastern Bluebirds (center), and Yellow-rumped Warbler (lower-left). Lower center bird is another Cedar Waxwing. I really had never noticed that these different species seem similar in size. Driftwood SFA 11/07/15
DEJU EABL Driftwood SFA
And a comparison of Eastern Bluebird and Dark-eyed Junco. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15

Sibley lists the following sizes:

Eastern Bluebird – 7″

Cedar Waxwing – 7.25″

Yellow-rumped Warbler – 5.5″ (seems bigger, plump shape?)

Dark-eyed Junco – 6.25″

So not really all that close in size but puffed up in the early morning chill they can appear similar from a distance.

Other Species

Over the next couple of hours I would see my first non-Mallard/Wood Duck waterfowl of the fall – RING-NECKED DUCKS. And I ended up with a slightly uncommon YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, my first in Johnson County for the year.

I ended up having a productive two hours at Driftwood which says something about getting up and out the door.

In a couple of days I’ll post about my late morning and early afternoon adventures.  And some changes at Laura Hare Nature Preserve.

Other Photos

Beaver Driftwood SFA
Two beavers were working the north portion of the lake. I forget how big these guys are. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
EABL Driftwood SFA
Two Eastern Bluebirds showing their color. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
GBHE Driftwood SFA
A Great Blue Heron basking in the morning sunlight. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
PBGR Driftwood SFA
A group of Grebes (say that 3 time fast) swimming away. Pied-billed Grebes at Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
FALL COLORS Driftwood SFA
A beautiful fall morning to bird. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15

 

 

An Easy Weekend

With the weekend being sandwiched between weeks of traveling for work, last Saturday I looked forward to an easy morning of walking and enjoying the outdoors.  Since sparrows should be moving through and since hunting isn’t allowed there, I headed to my favorite sparrow spot – Johnson County Park.

Trail JCP
Walking the paths on a beautiful Saturday morning. Johnson County Park 10/10/15

Basically I took my time and enjoyed the birds, the changing trees, and the easy walk. I didn’t see any uncommon sparrows but I did see most of the expected fall sparrows. The closest I had to an uncommon sparrow was a Chipping Sparrow that wanted to be a Clay-colored Sparrow for several minutes.  It was always back-lit so I never could get a photo.

EABL EAPH JCP A
One of those times that the birds actually sat in a tree together for more than few seconds. I don’t know if they were talking but both the Eastern Phoebe and Eastern Bluebird were calling while sitting in the tree.  JCP 10/10/15
WCSP JCP B
A Swamp Sparrow really didn’t seem to be in any hurry to move on. He gave good looks including the one I used in the blog header photo. JCP 10/10/15

WCSP JCP A SWSP JCP

WCSP JCP
A little further down the path a White-crowned Sparrow sat somewhat out in the open. JCP 10/10/15
NOMO JCP
Come on now. Why do Northern Mockingbirds always seem to think they can’t be seen? JCP 10/10/15

I ended up seeing Eastern Towhee, Chipping, Field, White-crowned, White-throated, Song, and Swamp Sparrows on the day.

An easy blog post for an easy day of birding.

And now a few photos from earlier in the month from the area by my place.

NOFL MC
Not a good photo but I really liked the brightness of the yellow shafts showing on this Northern Flicker. South Indianapolis 10/11/15
GBHE MC
Who says a big bird can’t use its colors for camouflage? If this Great Blue Heron hadn’t called I would have walked right by it. South Indianapolis, Early October 2015

An August Dickcissel

Now a Dickcissel in August doesn’t sound that exciting for someone living in Central Indiana. But in North Central Illinois in August it can be hard to find.

As I recalled in a November 2013 post that in late July 2012 I decided to bird everyday in August 2012 and to see how many more birds I would see than my normal August birding. I knew from past experience that I would probably need to see Sedge Wren and Dickcissel the first week.

I started the month by birding the places that both species had been in July. Sedge Wrens were still holding on at the same spot at Matthiessen SP, but Dickcissel were notably silent at Matthiessen, a spot they were usually reliable year after year and had been in July.  So I checked a couple of other reliable spots. Same thing, quiet.  And it was like that for the rest of the month.  The Sedge Wrens though hung on until mid-August.

I am not sure what was different that year.  I was out every day in prime habitat.  And in previous years they would hang on until mid-August. Another one of those bird mysteries.

So now anytime I see a Dickcissel in August I always think back to the summer of 2012.

DICK 1
A distant photo of a local Dickcissel this August. Greenwood Loop 8/9/15
Dickcissel - Female
A much better photo of a female Dickcissel from Matthiessen SP IL. 6/19/10
DICK WPH 062412
And a singing male – McCune Sand Prairie, Bureau County, IL 6/24/12

And a few more photos from Driftwood SWA a week ago.

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There were several Baltimore Orioles out early at Driftwood SWA. 8/8/15
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A Cedar Waxwing checking things out. I stood by this tree for a while and had several birds fly in to get their picture. One of them must have passed the word around. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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Eastern Kingbird. Same tree. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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Gray Catbird. Ditto.
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Probably the bird of the day. I first heard and then saw 3 Red-headed Woodpeckers including 2 juveniles. Including this one. This is only the second time I have seen Red-headed Woodpeckers at Driftwood. 8/8/15
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A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher playing peek-a-boo. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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And here is more typical view. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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A Brown Thrasher watching me but I don’t think he knows I see him. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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And one of those surreal moments when I’m just standing watching things and a Great Blue Heron lands in a tree about 20 feet away. I slowly walked away after a while and it didn’t fly away. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15

 

And Now for Something Completely Different – Lake Birding in an Arid World

After wrapping up at Colorado National Monument I had the choice to either try for cooler (as in temperature) birds at elevation or spend the afternoon at the only large lake in the area. Since a breeze had picked up I figured it wouldn’t be so warm around the lake. I was kinda right.

It took about an hour to get to Fruitgrowers Reservoir outside Delta, CO.  I know I said I didn’t want to drive that much but not really many options if I was going to beat the heat. The lake tuned out to be good-sized with absolutely no people around.  None. Just like the morning it was quiet but in a different way.

Then I read a sign that explained why. There was to be no water contact by people – no swimming, no fishing, no boating.  The lake has a high level of phosphorous pollution and from reading on the internet it has for some time.  So why is safe for birds? I don’t know.

But even though it was polluted and it was quiet, there were birds. The lakes’ north end had a road that cut off the lake from a low area that was a large cattail marsh.  So I walked the road observing grebes, pelicans, and gulls to one side and blackbirds, coots, and herons on the other side.

The road had very little traffic and it made for a wonderful afternoon. Even in 100F temperature!

And it reminded me of when we lived in Illinois.  I have written how I would go to LaSalle Lake almost every summer afternoon and watch the gulls. Often in 90F or higher heat. So this brought back pleasant memories and reminded me how much I like the heat.

Seriously.

And just like those Sunday afternoons of searching through all the Ring-billed Gulls for Laughing Gulls or searching the Caspian Terns for a Royal and usually coming up short, I never could turn a Western Grebe into a Clark’s.

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Fruitgrowers Reservoir looking from the road over the lake.
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Looking SE at a group of American White Pelicans in the distance.
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The view to the north over the marsh area adjacent to the road.
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Western Grebe and family. How do they choose which young one gets to ride on Mom? First come? First serve?
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So I guess I did get a closer photo of a Black-chinned Hummingbird.
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I initially thought the 5 gulls hanging around were Ring-billed Gulls but after a closer I’m pretty sure they are California Gulls. I did not spend a lot of time studying them with all the other species around.
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I had the best views of my life of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. There were numerous male and females flying around. The males did not appreciated me and kept giving their strange call.
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Definitely the best looks of female Yellow-headed Blackbirds.
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More babies. There were a couple of American Coots around and this one came out with her red-headed young.
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And at the end of the road the American White Pelicans were feeding in a small pool surrounded by Great Blue Herons. I never did see any shorebirds even though there was good habitat.

And reaching the end of the road and being out for more than several hours in the heat it was time to head back.