Last year (2014) the oaks in our area produced very few acorns. As a result the local acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) population plummeted. In areas where we would normally see large families of acorn woodpeckers there were none, or perhaps only one or two. I missed these clown-like birds.
This season the oaks produced large, if not abundant, numbers of acorns. The acorn woodpeckers are back in force.
While at Crystal Lake (Shasta County CA) recently I heard a cacophony of sound from an acorn woodpecker granary tree. About thirty acorn woodpeckers were flying about the granary and nearby ponderosa pines. They appeared to be “attacking” each other. When one woodpecker would alight on a branch, another would quickly push the first bird off the branch in a flurry of beating wings, all the while making their raucous calls. I have no idea what was happening, although I speculate the returning acorn woodpeckers were determining their family territories. I watched until the sun set, but the woodpeckers never stopped that behavior. These two began to tussle immediately after I snapped the picture.
On my next trip to the same granary tree all was quiet with only a few acorn woodpeckers in sight.
Our local oaks are predominantly California black oaks (Quercus kelloggii) and Oregon white oaks (Quercus garryana).
Beechey Ground Squirrel
We have both Beechey ground squirrels and Oregon ground squirrels (Citellus beldingi) near our home. Although both types of ground squirrel are active here in the spring and early summer, Oregon ground squirrels begin their winter hibernation in late July or early August leaving Beechey ground squirrels as the only ground squirrels visible throughout fall. The Beechey ground squirrel (Otospermophilis beecheyi) is also commonly known as a California ground squirrel.
Beechey ground squirrels have bushy tails, a buff belly and brown/grey upper parts flecked with white or buff.
I was surprised to learn that some adult Beechey ground squirrel populations in California have varying resistance to rattlesnake venom. Rattlesnakes are a primary predator of ground squirrels.
Spermophilus was the former name for Beechey ground squirrels.
This Beechey ground squirrel was photographed at Ashland Pond in Ashland OR.
The band-tailed pigeon (Patagioenas fascita) is a “cousin” of the rock pigeon (Columba livia), which is familiar to most urban dwellers. Band-tailed pigeons live in the mature conifer forests of the Pacific Northwest and in oak/conifer woodlands in the Southwest.
Blue grey above and purple grey below, the band-tailed pigeon has a white crest at the back of the neck. In flight its long tail has a distinctive wide pale band at the tip.
Band-tailed pigeons form large flocks. When flushed their wings make a loud clapping sound. I find band-tailed pigeons to be quite wild, very difficult to get anywhere near without the entire flock flying off with a clatter. Additionally, when perched in a conifer, the band-tailed pigeon is well camouflaged and difficult to see, much less photograph. Therefore I was delighted when this band-tailed pigeon alight on a snag near Medicine Lake (Siskiyou County CA) and did not immediately fly off. It may not be a good photograph, but I finally got a band-tailed pigeon picture.
This breeding season was a good one for American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos). Many juveniles are swimming among their elders at Baum Lake (Shasta County CA), where this photograph was taken.
Like adults, a juvenile American white pelican appears entirely white when swimming, except the juvenile’s head, nape, neck and upperwing coverts are a light, dusky grey.
American white pelicans breed in shallow inland wetlands and winter in coastal bays and estuaries throughout Southern North America and Central America.
These huge summer visitors to our area will soon be leaving for their winter ranges.
Osprey Carrying Fish
One last osprey picture for this season: Most osprey (Pandion haliaetus) that breed in North America winter in Central and South America. Almost all of the osprey that I followed this summer have departed, with only one or two stragglers still around.
Osprey eat a diet consisting almost exclusively of live fish. They can often be seen carrying fish. Osprey fly with the fish aligned head first to reduce air resistance. While watching the osprey, I would see birds carry a fish to the nest and then carry it away again. During migration, osprey will sometimes carry a fish with them – a meal on the wing.
I always anxiously await the spring return of osprey to Crystal Lake (Shasta County CA) where this photograph was taken.
Juvenile Green Heron
The green heron (Butorides virescens) looks dark at distance. However, closer and in good light this short, stocky heron is beautifully colored – green on the back and chestnut on the breast and throat. A juvenile green heron, like the pictured bird, is browner than the adult with buffy marking on the wings while the sides of its face, neck and breast are heavily streaked. This picture was taken at Ashland Pond (Ashland OR) on an overcast day.
Green herons are one of the few birds that use “tools”. (Humans, as I was taught years ago, are not the only species utilizing tools.) The green heron will place feathers, twigs, insects and other objects on the surface of the water. When an unwary fish comes to investigate, the green heron quickly captures its curious prey by quickly grasping or spearing with its bill.
The diet of a green heron is composed primarily of fish, however they will take invertebrates and some small mammals.
This gallery contains 3 photos.
Also known as fern bush, desert sweet (Chamaebatiaria millefolium) is the only species in its genus. An upright, many-stemmed shrub, desert sweet is a sticky plant with fragrant foliage. The alternate, leathery leaves are fernlike. In warm climates desert sweet … Continue reading