[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – Early this morning 11 April 2015 I spotted a very fast moving pack of shorebirds heading my way at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego County. Looking rather bicolored against the sun I thought perhaps they were Black Turnstones, but the wings looked too long and the size was a little large for that species. Turned out to be a flock of 33 Surfbird Calidris virgata crossing over the peninsula! These birds were moving fast, I can see how those long wings carry them to the southern tip of South America and back!
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – It was barely getting light this morning when I spotted a small white-bellied duck careening wildly along the edge of the kelp beds at Pt. La Jolla. It looked interesting so I leveled the camera on it and snagged a dozen shots as the duck pulled up and stalled to sit down on the water outside of the kelp. It was 7:01 a.m. to be exact and my Canon 7D camera sensor was having trouble capturing images at all, even at ISO 3200! From the camera back the duck appeared white collared and distinctively white bellied. It also had a dark crown and cheek patch kind of extending as a rear strap behind the face. Finally, the wings were entirely blackish both on the upper and under surface, in particular the striking dark underwing coverts were noticeable. Evidently my hoped for Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis had appeared as early in the day as possible! I guess I should not complain about poor lighting for photography, birds just come by you when they want to as a rule! This is my first Long-tailed Duck of the 2013-2014 winter period. Unfortunately, given the very choppy water conditions and poor lighting, other birders were unable to relocate the stationary duck in the immediate vicinity with their field scopes.
Buoyed by the early morning success I waited out the seawatch a few more hours but could only add a very nice looking adult basic plumaged Mew Gull Larus canus to the list. The Mew Gull flew south around the point just a short distance from the rocks and almost escaped attention. Actually this individual appears to be in fresh looking “adultlike” plumage having completed third cycle prebasic molt with just a few black feathers in the upperwing marginal coverts and slightly reduced white tips to the outer primaries.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – I made an early stop at Mount Soledad this morning to check out what migrants might be making their way over this coastal La Jolla peak. The Santa Ana winds were mild but the temperature sure was climbing quickly! There were not too many birds but the diversity of species was good. I have been trying to improve my “birds-in-flight” (BIF) photography techniques and this site is a real training ground. Small passerines mostly appear in flight from the south, often flying on a beeline, and rapidly pass by heading northwards. Using an effective telephoto lens length of 640 mm to find small moving objects is challenging, not to mention hoping that the Canon 7D autofocus locks onto the subject! I managed to catch a reasonable number of species in flight shown below. Needless to say there were a few mystery birds that got away. One of the challenges of this genre of bird photography is that there is no time to look at the birds with binoculars! However the 640 mm telephoto lens gives a magnification of about 12X looking through the camera viewfinder. So if the camera can snap on to focus then you get a great look at the bird!
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – I visited the Dairy Mart Ponds at lunch time today and ran into visiting birder Jennifer Larson from Sierra Vista, Arizona. Together we checked out the two viewpoints over the main pond although not finding many birds. While we were walking back to the parking area I spotted two medium sized hawks, beating along against the wind, coming straight towards us and at low height. My first impression, looking at the leading bird, was they might be Broad-winged Hawk Buteo platypterus. As they came by I managed to come to my senses and hoist the camera for some flight shots, just catching the second bird! I have been meaning to program a custom function button on my camera body to a setting where images are shot one-stop over-exposed – how I wish I had done that earlier now! The slightly under-exposed images show a well marked light colored first-cycle Broad-winged Hawk. The bird still retains all its very worn, tattered in places, juvenile flight feathers although perhaps molt has begun with one inner primary missing on the left wing. The first and second images below are identical but the second has brightness and contrast adjusted. The two birds appeared pretty much identical to me although I focused in on the second one as it lagged behind the leader.
Spring records of Broad-winged Hawk in San Diego County seem to be much rarer than fall records, although even the latter have fallen off in number in recent years based on the San Diego County Bird Atlas (Unitt, 2004). Only three spring records are documented in the bird atlas, all in April and with two late in the month, so this record would seem to fit quite well in this pattern of occurrence. San Diego Field Ornithologists considers this species to be a Category B rarity in the county.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – Today the flower beds of “Pride of Madeira” Echium candicans at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery were alive with hummingbirds. Numbers and diversity went up several notches in the last couple days. I found Anna’s, Costa’s, Black-chinned, and Rufous partaking of the purple boraginaceous flowers. There were probably some Allen’s mixed in there too. My clear favorites however were these Calliope Selasphorus calliope which dived in when the more aggressive species were off taking a break someplace. I photographed at least three different males and one or two females and suspect the true number I saw may even be higher.
Female Calliope are certainly a bit tricky to pick out. Studying the structure and GISS (general impression of size and shape) of the males can be helpful to pick out a female. I think the real key is recognizing the tail size and shape, it looks like someone took a bite out of the middle, together with the impression of tail to body length ratio. They also hold the tail a little cocked some of the time appearing almost like a Christmas tree ornament hanging by a thread. The female photographed below rotated in flight around a flower head in front of me. It showed off the short squared-off tail which, apart from the bold white tips to the outer tail feathers, is mostly black looking. The shape of the central tail feathers (r1) is also diagnostic being wedge-shaped at the end. You might never see these features with the naked eye and binoculars but digital photography provides it!