Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rest in Peace California Towhee

The other day, a bird flew into my house. Before I was able to get him out of the house (and believe me, dear readers, I tried), my dog got to him, and tragedy occurred. I hold myself at least partially to blame; leaving the door open on a warm day, not thinking quickly enough to find another room to lock the dog into, not being able to get the towhee out quick enough. In the end, dogs will kill birds if they get the rare chance to, nature takes its course. Still, I've been a bit sad for the bird ever since, and so in addition to always taking a little bit more care with my back door, I'll do the only thing I can for him, and make a brief tribute on this here blog.

California Towhee
Richmond, California, USA
May 2014
Member of the American Sparrow Family
§A Tangle of Towhees§

~True bird fact~ Kind of a toughy, the California Towhee makes his nest in Poison Ivy. He is so combative that he'll often get into lengthy conflicts with his own reflection in car windows and mirrors.

Personality not speculated upon out of respect, and because it would make me sad. California Towhee, you were a good bird.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sora & Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline

Sora aka. Sora Rail, aka. Sora Crake
Arrowhead Marsh, Oakland, California, USA
December 2014
Member of the Rails, Coots, and Gallinules Family
§An Expression of Soras§

~true bird fact~ Soras are the most widely distributed and populous member of the Rail family in North America. They are also the most frequently hunted. Who knows why people do these things, but anyway, their population has remained fairly stable because of their high breeding rate. Good job Soras!

Silent defender of the marsh
Has an air of knowing everything, but really just does a lot of research
Strongly committed to ethical behavior, sometimes to the detriment of his own life
Never really feels like he has done enough

Other denizens of Arrowhead Marsh at MLK Regional Shoreline, In beautiful Oakland, Califonia:

Great Egret
has put a new focus on spending time with the family

American Coots
heard about a really great sale

Black-necked Stilt chronic single-hood is not as fun as it used to be

Burrowing Owl
on sabbatical to write a book

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter aka. Skunk-headed Coot (colloq... hurtful)
Bodega Bay, California, USA
March 2014
Member of the Ducks, Geese, and Swans Family
§A Raft of Ducks§

~true bird fact~ Surf Scoter has surprisingly low amount of interesting facts about him, so instead have a dubiously sourced list of other nicknames this bird has: Goggle-nose, Horse-head Coot (??), Plaster-bill, Snuff-taker (!!), Blossom-billed Coot, Bottle-nosed Diver and Mussel Bill. Actually, about that bill. All that anyone would want to know about a surf scoter is probably 'what's the deal with that bill?' Well, as the last name on the list suggests, it's a very specialized evolutionary tool for Surf Scoter's preferred prey- mussels. The bill is strangely shaped and very strong so that the Scoter can diver into the shallow surf, right where the waves are breaking, to lift up rocks and pry out the mollusks underneath. Why is it so colorful though? Well, like most colorful things in nature, it probably has something to do with attracting a mate. See below a female Surf Scoter. Not quite as fancy looking.

Wouldn't know what to do with free time, if she had any. Maybe weightlifting?
Buys a ton of groceries all at once, in bulk, to avoid unnecessary trips


A huge doofus. Barely has a brain in his head
Defends women over-zealously. This isn't always bad because sometimes he helps, but often it was not needed
Has gotten his haircut at the same place for his whole, and has kept the same hairstyle too

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ridgway's Rail

Ridgway's Rail (formerly California Clapper Rail)
Arrowhead Marsh, Oakland, California, USA
December 2014
Member of the Rails, Coots, and Gallinules Family
§An Audience of Rails§

~true bird fact~ Ridgeway's Rail is an extremely 'new' bird. How new? He's only been an official bird since July of 2014! What does this mean? Well, every once in a while, the American Birding Association makes some calls about which birds are actually different from each other (and have been all along). You may remember the ABA as the organization that 'recognized' the Purple Swamp Hen from an earlier Am-Ornithologist Exclusive. Presumably someone has granted them the authority to do this, and they do so with their increasing scientific understanding of bird biology and evolution and whatnot. Anyway, it was determined that the Californian sub-species of The Clapper Rail is actually a whole different bird. They live pretty much only in the Bay Area.

Loves to cuddle
Intelligent and sensitive. Curls up with a good book (fiction, poetry)
Privileged (despite the whole 'endangered species thing') 
Doesn't understand this modern violent world. Shakes her head sadly

How Endangered Are They? There are somewhere between 1000 and 3000 of these birds left living in the wild depending upon who you ask. The trusting and apparently tasty Ridgway's Rail never recovered from over-hunting that occurred during California's gold rush, and numbers have been kept low by habitat destruction and non-native predators. This story isn't all sad, however, since as recently 1992 there were only 240 (!) of these birds. Even at the low numbers above, it's clear the rail is making some headway.

Who's this Ridgway Guy?

Robert Ridgway lived from 1850-1929 and was a major modern ornithological presence in America. He worked primarily for the Smithsonian as Curator of Birds, which is quite a title, especially since he held it for 43 years. He also was a founding member and early president of The American Ornithologist's Union. Ridgway was primarily a names and classifications kinda guy and he ended up describing more American species of birds than any other, probably mostly by noticing the minor distinctions that now set this rail apart. Unlike previous 'featured naturalist', the famously wrong WJ Swainson, Ridgway's classifications have stood the test of time so well that modern taxonomist's have a maxim that invokes him "Rule #1: Ridgway was right".