More bits and bobs

17 07 2012

Ash-throated Flycatcher – Luke Tiller

A few photo’s from the California trip before I wend my way back to Connecticut. As tempting as it was to play a few tricks on friends back in the Nutmeg State about where I had snapped the Ash-throated pics, I decided that the Canyon Live Oak backdrop probably wasn’t going to double very well for any spot in Allen’s Meadows. I guess i’ll have to see how the Elegant Tern at ‘Grace Salmon’ works out ūüėČ

Checkered White – Luke Tiller

As well as the birds there were plenty of other cool things to photograph including bugs of various kinds, lizards and butterflies. I haven’t even worked out how many ‘lifer’ butterflies I saw but it was safely into the lots category. Most hoped for, but not¬†achieved, was an encounter with a Mountain Lion (preferably from inside a car), a good reason to come back I guess. I knew the odds were long, but they are up in the San Gabriels somewhere.

Wrentit – Luke Tiller

Favorite birds of the trip were the owls in general and the Western Screech in particular for putting on a good show a few times. Pushing the screech hard though would have to be the lifer Spotted Owls, which sound like Barred, but to use the cliche, on LSD. Now back to Connecticut for shorebird madness. There have been plenty of Ruff’s and Stints around so far this year – perhaps it’s time to go find one…

Hummers 2

14 07 2012

Black-chinned Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

Yesterday was cloudy and overcast, not great for photography in a traditional sense, but there were lots of hummingbirds milling around the feeders so I decided to switch on the patio lights and try use that light to get some snaps of them. After the first shot I realized I wasn’t going to get anything in the way of your standard ‘bird porn’ shot, but had stumbled upon something kind of beautiful in and of itself.

Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

The combination of outdoor lights and flash was creating some really cool images, so I just kept snapping away. I love the etherealness and movement the ghosting of the image captures in the bird. Quite lovely, even if I do say so myself.

Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

Towards the end of shooting the light had improved enough that I was starting to capture more of a ‘standard’ bird photograph, so I gave up. I’m not sure quite how I would recreate the conditions that created these pictures but it was nice to have something so beautiful come out of something essentially going ‘wrong’.


7 07 2012

Allen’s Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

Spent a morning wandering the rather beautiful Los Angles County Arboretum. With all the amazing plantings the place seems to be a hotbed for humming bird action. It’s also pretty good for butterflies as well it would seem. If it’s introduced species you are looking for there are plenty of tame Indian Peafowl meandering around the grounds, a few Mandarin Ducks on the lake and a host of cheeky Red-whiskered Bulbul. It’s weird to see birds that seem to essentially be thriving but aren’t actually ‘worth’ anything list wise (like the bishops at Bolsa Chica). I guess the local birding community is feeling pretty burned by the currently ‘countable’ but rapidly declining Spotted Dove. It’s a conundrum when a seemingly naturalized species starts to disappear, something that British birders are all too familiar with Lady Amherst’s Pheasant.

Anna’s Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

I can see why this spot is a favorite during migration – who knows what the Madagascar Garden might attract as it flies over the LA area? With a couple of lakes and an abundance of amazing plantings it is apparently a great spot to find waif and stray eastern warblers amongst other things. For me personally it’s fun to be in a part of the world generally where there is more than one possibility hummingbird wise. It gives you an appreciation of how tough ID’ing fast moving hummers can be though. Even when they aren’t moving so fast the females aren’t always easy. I’m still not 100% on this one that we found perched on a nest yesterday – leaning towards Black-chinned but not certain it isn’t an Anna’s.

Hummingbird nest – Catherine Hamilton

The Arboretum has a useful website and even a checklist of birds that have been seen in the park (about 230 Рnone too shabby) which you can check out on their website here. For the film buffs out there, Los Angeles County Arboretum has been used in any number of movies, probably the best of the bunch the Alfred Hitchcock flick Notorious. Cool to think of Hitch once roaming the same paths as you currently are. I might have to watch the movie again just to see if I can recognize the arboretum!

Eaton Canyon Randoms

5 07 2012

Western Whiptail – Luke Tiller

Whilst kicking back in LA my local patch has become Eaton Canyon (great website here). It’s a beautiful little spot with a nice mix of Californian bird specialties and some other cool breeders (Canyon Wren, California Thrasher, Wrentit). Catherine (Birdspot) Hamilton was lucky enough to grow up just a stones throw from the place and it feels like the kind of thing every kid should have access to as they grow up. Although now heavily trafficked (which can make bird (or anything else that moves) photography tough some times it’s great to see so many people getting out to enjoy some nature.

The Eaton Canyon site was mentioned in the LA Weekly blog post about birding in LA that did the rounds a month or so ago (here). It’s great to see such a diverse mix of people in age, ethnicity and interests hitting the spot to just get out and enjoy some nature. It seems like we in the birding world are always banging on about recruiting new birders, but to be honest birding is my thing. I care not whether anyone else at Eaton Canyon is there for the birding, more important is that they are outside and seeing the value of saving these kind of places from development, even if it’s just so they can get out and enjoy a walk on the 4th of July. I think Ken Kaufman once said something along the lines of that we don’t need thousands of people who can age gulls we just need an army of people who¬†recognize¬†the value of having open spaces for people to enjoy for whatever reason be it birding, horse riding, hiking or whatever.

Acorn Woodpecker – Luke Tiller

In the canyon there’s a great nature center, which has a nice shop (but maybe needs a coffee stand as well to make it just perfect) and just beyond it below the freeway is a weird arroyo/flood management site which I haven’t quite worked out if you are allowed to hike through or not. For that reason I couldn’t possibly tell you that there are cool Blue Grosbeaks or bizarrely introduced Nutmeg Mannikins and Red Bishops hanging around in there. It’s also home to some neat butterflies and lizards and all kinds of other critters. A great little patch and one that I’d really like to explore in migration.

Recently I’ve been spending more time looking at butterflies that I have looking at birds. I guess the thing I like most about birds is the randomness of it all. The not knowing what you might see when you head out. I guess that explains my antipathy towards twitching and birding in summer (when all you are really finding is expected breeding birds at any one site). It’s the surprise that I love about birding and I guess not knowing that much about butterflies means that virtually everything I find when I go out is a surprise – especially here on the west coast.

Dainty Sulpher – Luke Tiller

Bolsa Chica

4 07 2012

Long-billed Curlew – Luke Tiller

With LA being a nightmare to traverse traffic wise on normal days we used the holiday to scoot across town to do some birding down at Bolsa Chica. It was actually the second time I’ve been but the last time we didn’t quite make it before the sun had essentially set. A sweet idea of Catherine’s post arriving at LAX, but ¬†it just didn’t go quite as planned due to traffic. Still after getting a flavor of the place I was desperate to get back and have a rummage through the shorebirds and stuff.

Obviously a couple of lifers in the form of Reddish Egret and Elegant Tern were a big highlight but to be honest I think my favorite birds (beyond the abundant and¬†accommodating Marbled Godwits and Long-billed Curlews)¬†were the Western Sandpipers. These birds were in such spiffy breeding plumage and marked such a contrast to the generally ratty versions we get out east as ‘strays’. Absolutely stunning little guys. Hopefully there will be some opportunity to do some more shorebirding before I head east – at the moment my eye is on Imperial Beach in San Diego.

Swapping birds for butterflies?

3 07 2012

Gulf Fritillary – Luke Tiller

Summer tends to be a bit of a doldrums for birding, even when you are on a whole new coast. The number of new things you can go look at or for tends to run out rather quickly when you are limited mainly to breeding birds. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule but between the beginning of June and the end of July I often find it hard to get motivated to go out birding. I guess that’s why butterflies have become popular with so many birders. They are out in summer when there isn’t much to look at bird wise, they sure are pretty and some of them offer the same challenges to identify them as birds, but with the bonus that they usually sit still long enough to get a photograph (well mainly).

Fiery Skipper – Luke Tiller

Talking of difficult to identify butterflies I spent an hour or so shooting mainly skippers yesterday at Lacy park in San Marino. Fiery Skipper ¬†is a species I have seen in CT and has to be one of my favorite skippers as it is so brightly and distinctively marked. It’s all kind of relative though. According to Wikipedia there are 3500 skipper species across the globe and most of the seem to be a couple of centimeters long and be some variation on black, brown and orange. They are pretty much the shorebirds or gulls of the butterflying world: at times interesting and frustrating.

Umber Skipper – Luke Tiller

As with anything new there is always an element of learning process where you¬†realize¬†that you spent ages looking at something and still didn’t actually pick up on the salient field marks, the good thing about butterflies is that they usually give you enough time and allow close enough¬†approach¬†to get a decent reference photo. Although they aren’t going to surplant my love of birds any time soon butterflies at least make for a welcome summertime distraction.

Marine Blue – Luke Tiller