Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cliff Swallow (and nest)

Cliff Swallow
El Sobrante, California, USA
Member of the Swallow Family
§A creche of young swallows§

~true bird facts~ Cliff swallows show a lot of interesting social characteristics. They usually live in colonies, which, out west, can be up to 3700 nests. When a swallow finds a source of food (they eat flying insects, mostly), they sometimes call out to their colony using a special cry, alerting them of the meal. Swallows also sometimes raise each other's young, placing one of their eggs into another swallow's nest. Let's not speculate on the rational or evolutionary reasons for these behaviors (like many other websites) and just assume that swallows are really into communal living.

Has been through some stressful times, but is doing great now

Open to new experiences
Very into the colony, makes good use of the considerable support they provide
Likes physical closeness

Nest Details
Construction: Mud pellets, which the swallow caries from up to a mile away, one mouthful at a time. A nest is made up of 900-1200 mud pellets. Inside it is lined with grasses or vegetation.
Location: The San Pablo Reservoir recreational area, under the awning of a restroom.
Occupants: A pair of cliff swallows, their young. A male swallow sometimes begins construction of the nest before he finds a partner, but they build it together for the most part. While the swallows only have one partner that they raise young with, they continue to "frequently mate outside of the pair bond". Thanks for describing bird polyamory in such a dry way, allaboutbirds.org

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bay Area Birds Calendar 2015

So, like all good birders based in the bay area, your amateurnithologist is a member of the Golden Gate Audubon society (best of the Audubon societies). Recently, they announced that they were looking for photo submissions for an annual calendar they put out- Birds of the San Francisco Bay
 Area. After thinking long and hard, I decided to enter. My logic went something like "I want to be in a calendar!" I reviewed my past few years of birdtography with an eye for things I thought might look ok in a calendar, and actually found quite a couple. The GGAS was only accepting three submissions per person (otherwise it'd just end up being an amateurnithologist calendar natch), but I found a lot more pictures I thought were worth considering. 12 actually, or exactly enough for a calendar. That's what I present to you today- a highly speculative look at what a calendar composed of my bird photos (limited to bay area birds) would look like. Many of these are never-before-seen on this blog, and I tried to choose ones that represented their month appropriately.

A Western Grebe at Lake Merritt. Many waterbirds winter at this lake, which has become something of a vacation hot-spot for birds. This Grebe is wondering whether all of the hard work and hours he has put into supporting this kind of lifestyle for his family has been worth it. Would they not have been happier, he wonders, if they were poor but closely connected?

These two Red-masked Parakeets are at Coit Tower in San Francisco. They are very in love and are happy they are legally allowed to marry now. Both Parakeets are from families that they have no contact with any longer, through death, tragedy, or irreconcilable differences. They do not care that no one will be at their wedding; they will create their own family.


It is the start of spring and here is a Western Bluebird at Point Pinole. He is responsible for spring starting, and he has to go around to each plant and tree and land on it a certain number of times to ensure it will bloom. He knows the right number and it produces a lot of stress for him if he touches something the wrong number. Is this some kind of compulsion or does it really work this way?


Spring Break!!!! This American Avocet has his best breeding colors on at the Berkeley Marina. Factually, this is not the time of year Avocets breed, but he's got to have his swag on. American Avocet has made a lot of new friends lately and really wants to impress them, so it's possible he'll get in over his head during this vacation. It's part of growing up.


Love is in the air for these Anna's Hummingbirds at Lake Merritt. Well, maybe. The lady hummingbird is on a reality dating show and she has to decide very quickly whether or not she would like a date with the male hummingbird. He is showboating for her, but it betrays little about him as a long term prospect. She is leaning towards 'no' even though he is very handsome.


The Great Blue Heron is glad it's summer. He has gone to the San Pablo Reservoir to go fishing. This is what he does to relax and clear his mind. Great Blue Heron had a hard year, but he doesn't want to talk about it. No, all he wants to do is fish and find some peace and quiet. He will think of his father while he drinks a beer. This is how he liked to relax too.


July is this Green Heron's favorite month because it is a very patriotic month. At the Berkeley Aquatic Park he will have no trouble seeing the fireworks. It's the only time of year where people are allowed to show any kind of pride in America any more, he opines. Where has his country gone, he wonders, as he sees a larger and larger number of people from other countries, people who look different from him, moving into his community. Is Green Heron a racist? He doesn't think so. But the answer is yes.


It is August and it is so hot out that California Quail can hardly breath, especially since she is wearing her best suit out to Pinnacles National Park. But this is what she has to do, since she is running for office. She is posing for a newspaper picture here and it is taking too long. She has already given up on some of the things she hoped she could change by getting into politics, out of pragmatism. Inside she doesn't even know if she really wants to win. This is what she is thinking as she is smiling and posing in the hot, hot sun.


These White Pelicans at Lake Merritt do not know each other very well, but they are family. Their great grandmother, who was something of a matriarch figure to their family, has died and some aunt has organized a huge family gathering in response. There is a big barbeque and someone even made shirts. "Do I have to wear this shirt?" asks a White Pelican. The other White Pelican commiserates and they begin to chat. They find they have more in common than they thought. They will stay in touch after they both go home.

Acorn Woodpecker is getting ready for the winter at his home in Pinnacles National Park. He works for a tech company, that is getting bought out. He's a low level employee, and he's getting fired, and he's not supposed to know yet, but he does. He has been shoving acorns into everything, now, while he still can. It is Halloween and little Acorn Woodpeckers will come and ask for acorns. He pretends he is not home.


Black-capped Chickadee always gets nostalgic around november and he doesn't really know why. He went out for a stroll around Point Pinole and is thinking of places and people he has left behind and is regretting. His life is better now than it has ever been, by any meaningful measurement, but still he thinks about the past sometimes, when he has that luxury. Black-capped Chickadee's melancholy reverie is brief and he will shake it off soon. There is the future to consider.


Burrowing Owl has taken up his yearly post at Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley. He will live there for a few months and during this time other birds will come to him seeking prophecies and advice. Burrowing Owl has visions and a connection to the bird afterlife. His stint here is short, because other places need his gifts as well. Burrowing Owl's connection to the spirit world is taxing, but it is a burden he must bear.

And that is what an Amateurnithologist calendar would look like! I guess that's why they don't give people like me calendars to be responsible for. I will keep you updated on the results of the contest- fingers crossed for a bird picture getting in. Which pictures were your favorites? Sound off in the comments if you want.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Common Gallinule and Purple Gallinule

Today on amateurnithologist we bring you two similar members of the rail family who are, in fact, different birds. Looking at these two, you might not see how a mistake could be made, since once is so much more colorful than the other. However, these are swamp birds, meaning you're often going to be observing them under less-than ideal conditions. If you've got poor light, or the bird is covered with muck, or hiding among reeds, you might miss the Purple Gallinule's distinctive iridescent green and blue feathers, especially if you've seen a dozen Common Gallinules already that day. Or maybe you're trying to identify juvenile birds. Who knows what you're doing out there in the swamp. Amateurnithologist doesn't judge you.

Let's look at these birds
Common Gallinule aka. Common Moorhen aka. Florida Gallinule aka. Swamp Chicken (colloq.)
Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray Beach, Florida, USA
Member of the Rails, Gallinules, and Coots Family
§A Plump of Moorhens§

~true bird fact~ Like another bird he is commonly confused with, the American Coot, Common Gallinule has some neat feet.  They lack webbing and have long toes, which they can use just as easily to swim as to walk atop floating vegetation.

Starts every morning with a cup of coffee
Gets impatient with wishy-washy people
Likes hats

Purple Gallinule aka. Yellow-legged Gallinule
Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray Beach, Florida, USA
Member of the Rails, Gallinules, and Coots Family

~true bird fact~ The fact that Florida even has Purple Gallinules at all is a testament to their incredible powers of travel. Although they look like kind of dopey fliers, they must have something going on. They're essentially a South American bird, but regularly make it all the way to destinations like Canada, the Northern US, South Africa (?), and Europe (!?).

Expects a lot from her friends
Has a sensitive heart
Good taste, but doesn't need things that are 'fancy'
Lives out her ideals in a way that most don't
So how do you tell these guys apart? The easiest way, as I alluded to before, is not always the color. You need to get a really good look to tell the difference in real life, when you're far away. A good thing to look for is the beak, especially the extended plate-y part above it. If it's just red, you've got a common Gallinule, if it's pale or light blue you've got a Purple, and if it's not there at all you're looking at a coot. Another distinguishing feature is that the Common Gallinule has a white stripe along her side. I hope this helps you next time you have to pick a Gallinule out of a police lineup or something.