Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Sierra Nevada & The Pacific Ocean

I'm back in school! It feels like every time I get around to updating this blog, I'm somewhere new. It must feel like time travel to you readers who don't know what I'm up to every day. Anyways... Yes, school.

I'm taking this really cool environmental studies course that's a combination of environmental science and English. In the very first lecture of the class, the professors challenged us to write extra credit responses, with 2 copies of a very special book as prizes for the fastest answers. I loved the challenge itself, but of course the book was an added incentive - David Lukas' Sierra Nevada Birds. I won't bore you with the details of the response, but I'll give you this hint as to how it went:

One of the copies is MINE, and it's wonderful. This is the first bird guide that I've had that's more than just plates of images, descriptions of field marks, and range maps. Those field guides have their value, of course, but this is a whole new breed of book. Lukas writes about each of the species' natural histories. I'm learning about the birds' breeding habits, food preferences, and way more. And much of the information is collected by Lukas himself, after 15 dedicated years of hiking the Sierra Nevada. It's so good!! If you're looking for a fun & educational read about birds you can find in California, I highly recommend this guide.

In terms of real birds, I was also lucky/stubborn enough to find the time to go down to the bay this morning. It was an overcast morning - just like every other morning has been this past week. I'm starting to like the overcast quite a bit. And the birds don't mind it, either. The very first bird I came across (besides the gulls, who are always everywhere) was this Pelagic Cormorant!

I haven't seen a Pelagic Cormorant in something like 2 years. They're real cuties! I should have realized that they would be around Berkeley. This babe was on a rock right at the water level and occasionally a wave would surge up and catch its feet.

I'll have to pay more attention to the cormorants around the Bay Area, because originally I was assuming that they were all Double-crested Cormorants, which you can see below. Even from these handfuls of pictures, you can see big differences between the two species. The Pelagic Cormorant is a slick black color all over its body, with some greenish sheen to its feathers, where the Double-crested is brownish with a paler belly. The Double-crested has its famous yellow face - no other cormorants have that yellow on their faces. And their bill shapes are very different. The Pelagic has a black bill that's super thin, which makes it look way longer, while the Double-crested has a sturdier yellow bill.

And I'm just including this next picture because the cormorant looks ridiculous, and birds looking ridiculous are maybe even better than them looking elegant.

Another really fun bird surprised me when I walked around the other side of the parking lot... Two Spotted Sandpipers! The little brown and white sandpipers with their white facelines looked immediately like Spotteds, but the clinching field mark was their bobbing walk. These sandpipers wag their butt up and down enthusiastically with every step. It looks like they're tripping all over their feet everywhere they walk. They moved a bit too fast for me to get good pictures, but this picture shows the energetic butt-waggle pretty well.

There were a number of other species around the bay, such as Black Phoebes and Red-winged Blackbirds. But the most visible species of all were the gulls. I don't put even 1% of effort into identifying gulls these days, but there is one species whose adults I will always recognize... The elegantly gray Heermann's Gulls.

This was a really nice day, and I'm glad I made it out for a spot of birding, because I'm not sure how often I'll be able to go out once the school year really gets going. :P I hope all of you have been doing well! Happy birding!

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