“Blue” Goose

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Both Ross’s geese (Chen rossii) and snow geese (Chen caerulescens) exhibit “blue” morphs or color variants. The dark forms of these two Arctic white geese are very uncommon. After Leonard and I found a blue morph Ross’s goose earlier this … Continue reading

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Siskiyou False Rue Anemone

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Blossoming between February and April, Siskiyou false rue anemones (Enemion stipitatum) were one of the first flowers I found this spring. (See First Spring Wildflowers 03-20-2017) An uncommon plant, the Siskiyou false rue anemone is native to and only found … Continue reading

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First Spring Wildflowers

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Each spring Leonard and I enjoy searching for the first wildflowers of the season. The “winner”, of course, depends on where and when we are hiking – definitely not a scientific determination. Often a buttercup, violet or cutleaf cinquefoil is … Continue reading

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Horned Lark in Winter

Horned Lark

Populations of horned larks (Eremophila alpestris) that breed in northern North America move south to the United States during the winter. Other horned lark populations are year-round residents throughout most of the states. These brown birds with black and yellow patterned heads and black feather “horns” can be found from sea level to 13,000 feet in altitude.

Horned larks are social birds and outside of the breeding season are often found in flocks (often mixed flocks). Their preferred habitat is bare ground or very short, open vegetation where they creep along the ground searching for seeds and insects.

Here in northeastern California horned larks are permanent residents. Yet I always think of them as a”winter” species. In the depths of winter when other birds are scarce and snow covers the landscape, horned larks often are seen on the road and along road edges. They search for food and grit where snow plows cleared the road and road shoulders. The sun’s radiant energy also thaws the snow on the roads and the bare, black asphalt may warm the horned larks during periods of bitter temperatures.

This horned lark was in grass along the road to Pilot Butte at Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Modoc County CA).

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White Alder Flowers

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White alders (Alnus rhombifolia) flowers bloom in mid-winter on naked twigs before the leaves make their appearance. The red-gold of white alders in bloom adds welcome color to a dull landscape of white, grey, black and brown. Alders have male … Continue reading

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Favorite Winter Visitor

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I cannot let winter pass without again mentioning one of my favorite cold-weather visitors, the rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus).  Soon this distinctive hawk with the white head and cape and feathered legs will head back to the far North. Rough-legged … Continue reading

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Feeding Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

Winters, particularly ones as severe as our winter was this year, are hard on birds. The deep snow can make food inaccessible, while the bitter cold increases energy requirements. During storms Leonard and I often find birds that are too weak to even fly.

Lesser goldfinches (Spinus psaltria) usually remain year round throughout most of their range – broadly, the southwest quarter of the United States, Central America and a few locations in South America. Lesser goldfinches in the coldest parts of their range do move to lower elevations in the winter or will migrate short distances. The winter migration patterns of the lesser goldfinch are not well studied or understood.

Last week the ground at Baum Lake (Shasta County CA) was covered with snow. Yet I did see a few lesser goldfinches. The pictured bird was working hard to find seeds in the dry foliage sticking above the snow. Lesser goldfinches primarily eat seeds, particularly those of the sunflower (Asteraceae) family. A goldfinch will use its bill to pry open the outer covering of the seed, shake its head to loosen the seed from its covering and then swallow the released seed. Lesser goldfinches will also occasionally eat insects (of which there were few) and tree buds (a more promising prospect in early spring).

I described the lesser goldfinch more fully in a previous post: Lesser Goldfinch 04-22-2012.

I hope this pretty little bird found enough seeds to survive the latest wave of snowstorms.

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