Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bad-Ass Urban Bird

Who's the baddest mother in the ID? This red-tailed hawk, indifferent to a mob of nearly a dozen crows.
 A high point of urban birding this morning: while finishing up my shopping at 12th and Jackson (one of the dirtiest, grittiest areas in Seattle which, I admit, isn't saying much), I looked up to see this juvenile gliding around, unperturbed by its corvid harassers and vigilant for potential prey on the ground. The theme from "Shaft" comes to mind:
Who's the cat that won't cop out
when there's danger all about
Right on
You see this cat Shaft is a bad mother--
(Shut your mouth)
But I'm talkin' about Shaft
(Then we can dig it)
12th and Jackson is right next to I-5, where red-tails are not uncommon, so I think s/he must have glided west a bit on this exquisitely gorgeous fall morning. Note the two hallmarks of juvenile status: a pale, non-red tail and yellow eyes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Anna's and Acorns

There's been a birding hullabaloo in Seattle the past few weeks as an Acorn Woodpecker has been hanging out in Magnuson Park--a good one to two hundred miles north of its typical range. I made an unrequited pilgrimage to the parking lot where it has been documented. No sign of its clowny face.
But this bad luck was offset by seeing dozens of them in Carmel, California this past weekend. In fact, it was the very first bird I saw as we checked in to our cottage on Friday afternoon.

They are among the most winsome of birds--anyone seeing an Acorn for the first time will unequivocally and delightedly state that they look like clowns--due the black, white and creamy yellow patchwork on their faces. Noisy and social, they are much more like parrots than woodpeckers, who are generally pretty solitary outside of the breeding season.

Another species I saw in spades was Anna's Hummingbirds, which are definitely part of the Seattle ornithological landscape. 
This one let me get within an arm's length of it for quite a few minutes. In fact, I had to move back a bit in order to focus on it as I was too close, which is a pleasant but rare occurrence when shooting birds! I think its lack of wariness was due to its juvenile status.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Anatomy Lesson

When I lived in NYC, I occasionally went to Jones Beach for the day. I felt sorry for the old grey-mottled sea gulls who, unlike their younger, pristinely white compatriots, were spackled and speckled with grey marks. Their bedraggled state struck me, the hippy chick from Oregon, as yet another sad manifestation of the city's grime and decay.

WRONG. The speckled and strippled sea gulls are in fact the juveniles while the unblemished, snowy-white birds are the adults; it takes a few years for gulls (like eagles) to achieve sexual maturity, which is indicated by the snow-perfect appearance.
Thanks to expert bird spotter AZ, I shot these adorably spotted nestlings next to a ferry dock on Whidbey Island in late July. The charming polk-a-dots will have morphed into unsightly streaks by now.
Another interesting phenomenon in some young birds is beak size.  I posit that some birds' beaks grow faster and disproportionately--sometimes reaching full size--before the rest of their bodies do. Case in point is this juvenile (note the fluffy down on its belly and head) brown creeper whose beak appear just a bit out-sized for its body.