Sunday, December 22, 2013

It's good to be home

Yes, my first semester of college is over! Wow, it was fun. I can't wait to work even harder next semester. Oh my gosh, what a nerdy thing to say. It's true, though! There are so many fun classes to take and cool things to learn and awesome opportunities to take advantage of at Berkeley. Until the new semester begins, though, you can bet I will be birding my butt off. It's been so hard watching the fall change to winter without going birding. This whole time, I knew that the Tundra Swans and Snow Geese had returned to the Central Valley... And, finally, I made it to their hangout. My dad kindly drove me to some wetlands near our house. It was an incredible morning.

These lovely buggers are Northern Shovelers. I didn't realize until this moment, but yeah, most of today's pictures are in-flight. T he ducks and geese were amazingly active! It's still hunting season, perhaps they've gotten more skittish as a result. This is my first winter with this camera (Nikon D3200), and it was a lot of fun to play with.

As we drove along the road, quite a few White-tailed Kites popped up! This lovely adult put on quite a show, flying back and forth along the road and hovering a number of times. The picture below isn't very good quality, but I love that it shows the gymnastics required for these birds to hover. These movements are not an easy feat. It's why hummingbirds are the only family of birds that can fly backwards -- these acrobatics are difficult!

Yesterday we made a brief stop at these same wetlands and saw huge flocks of birds flying over these ponds farther down the path, so we made a direct beeline for those ponds. We were immediately rewarded.

Those are swans!! This first pond we drove up to was lined with Tundra Swans. They were a bit too far to really get a look at, but I was still thrilled... And, as I was busy being thrilled with the swans, these very intriguing noises began to filter down to my and my dads' ears... (Please click on this next series of pictures so you can see them in full size!!)

There they are...

... next year's Miss Universe contestants...

... thousands upon thousands upon thousands...

...of Snow Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese.

They streamed across the horizon, calling the entire way. They were absolutely mindblowing. I can't really describe what an amazing experience this was. I may have choked up just the tiniest bit. The geese eventually chose a pond that they wanted to rest in, and streamed down out of the sky for about 10 minutes.

Although the majority of the geese settled, some of them still flew around and over us. The above photo is of Snow Geese, and the below one is of Greater White-fronted Geese. These are what their flight calls sound like: Snow Geese vs. Greater White-fronts.

 The geese weren't the only ones flying around. A couple of Tundra Swans did me the honor of flying right at me. The picture below may be one of my favorites I've ever taken. Check out its beautiful wing feathers, the delicate structure of its bones, the buffy coloration on its belly, its silly tongue sticking out a bit (it must have been calling when I took the picture). What a lovely bird. Tundra Swans are cool because they all have unique yellow patches on the base of their bills. If you got close looks at the faces of all of the Swans in a flock, you could tell them apart by their yellow spots.

And I put these two pictures right next to each other so you can compare -- the above one is a Tundra Swan (as we have established), and the bottom one is a Snow Goose. (These are not to scale!! Although the goose is definitely much smaller than the swan.) They're both white birds that like to fly around calling, but there are a lot more differences: the Tundra Swan is way larger, with an amazingly long neck, and the Snow Goose has those black wingtips.

Finally, we leave the realm of waterbirds. As my dad and I drove out of the wetlands, we spotted a raptor up on a sign. A closer look revealed... a Red-shouldered Hawk! I only get to see these hawks a few times a year, so this was hugely exciting. Unfortunately, it flew away, and I ended up with this mouthful of its tail feathers.

What's cool is that you can still identify it as a Red-shouldered -- if you look closely, you can see the distinctive black and white markings on its wing feathers, and the red barring on its underbelly. What a gorgeous raptor.

This morning was a lot of fun! I'm so glad that I got to do some real birding. :)

I don't know if I'll update again in the next few days, so: Merry Early Christmas! I hope all of you, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, have a wonderful week with family and friends.

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