Mother of all Mountain Quail

28 07 2016
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Mountain Quail – Luke Tiller

Mountain Quail must be right up there with one of the most sought after species in Southern California, so when I took some friends from the east coast out birding today I had hoped that we might manage to have a brief encounter with a bird or two. Instead we had an incredible and prolonged encounter with at least a half dozen birds.

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Mountain Quail – Luke Tiller

Even if you are lucky enough to run into Mountain Quail, views are generally brief as they dash across a road or disappear under brush as they scarper away up a nearby slope. If you are a tasty looking little chicken sized bird it is probably good to be pretty wary and these birds generally are.

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Mountain Quail – Luke Tiller

It was interesting though to note that even in the relative open these birds blend quite nicely with their surrounds. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to show this beautiful species to numbers of tour participants in recent years but this encounter is probably the most spectacular. You can find out how to join me on my trips, tours and private guiding page.

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Mountain Quail – Luke Tiller

Of course being friends with incredible photographers online means that I know that these shots aren’t perfect, but considering I have just a 300mm lens I’m pretty ecstatic with how they turned out. We also picked up a bunch of other goodies but after the quail experience it was hard to get motivated to take more photos. Amazing to think this is all just a stones throw from LAX!!!!

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Mountain Quail – Luke Tiller





Pasadena Audubon Society Ode Walk

25 07 2016
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Red Rock Skimmer – Luke Tiller

Following David Bell’s talk at the Pasadena Audubon Society monthly meeting this past May we decided it would be nice to follow that up with a walk introducing PAS members to the world of dragonflies and damselflies (odanata or odes). This trip was scheduled for 10:00am Sunday July 17th and lead by Kimball Garrett and David Bell.

Unlike birds, dragonflies are not early risers, so those that hadn’t spent their morning on the LA River (see previous post) got a rather more leisurely start time for a PAS walk than usual.  Participants met at the new (and rather attractively laid out) Oro Vista Park in Sunland/Tujunga and even prior to the official start David had managed to both point out and explain the differences between a couple of glider dragonflies (Wandering and Spot-winged) that were milling about near the park parking lot.

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Flame Skimmer – Luke Tiller

After the group assembled we made a two minute drive down to Haines Creek a weedy, riparian area created by runoff from the local neighborhood. Here we picked up a few relatively common dragonfly and damselfly species that often inhabit these kind of habitats including a brief sighting of a Cardinal Meadowhawk before it was unceremoniously grabbed from its perch by a passing Black Phoebe! Among the common species we managed to work on a few basic ID challenges: Neon vs Flame Skimmer and Western Pondhawk vs Blue Dasher.

As well as having a nice mix of odes at Haine’s Creek we also had a couple of interesting  bird species to look at and listen to including a European Goldfinch (which I’d photographed here a few days before). Most exciting though surely was a Golden Eagle that was being initially harassed by a Red-tailed Hawk as it soared over us and slowly glided away. Haine’s Creek is an interesting riparian pond area that has hosted a number of interesting birds in migration and is one of those sites I’m contemplating for my series of local free walks this fall (details here).

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Sooty Dancer – Luke Tiller

 

With a nice selection of odes under our belt our next stop was a at Wildwood Picnic area in the Angeles National Forest. Here we hoped to pick up a few species along the creek that required slightly different habitats and water. The initial immediate hit here were the incredible views of arguably the regions prettiest damselfly: American Rubyspot (images and information here). As well as the rubyspot we also managed to find a number of other species of damselflies including three species of dancer: Vivid, Lavender and Sooty as well as two species of bluet: Northern and Arroyo.

Some of these damselflies are much easier to ID in the hand than they are in binoculars and David managed to skillfully net a couple to show people up close in the hand. Even more impressively a couple of the PAS Young Birders Club were quick enough to carefully grab a couple from the rocks with their bare hands!

As well as the damselflies we picked up a few nice new dragonflies at our second stop including a Pale-faced Clubskimmer and a couple of Red Rock Skimmers.

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Serpent Ringtail – David Bell

Our last stop for the day was at Stonyvale Picnic Area a little further up Big Tujunga Canyon. Here we found two neat new odes for the day. Perhaps the hardest to find on the day simply because of its minute size: Desert Firetail, a truly tiny but beautiful little ode (more here) and the rather neat Gray Sanddraggon (photographed below).

In the end we tallied an impressive twenty three species of dragonfly and damselfly on the day somehow missing perhaps one of the regions commonest: Variable Meadowhawk. You can see the PDF list put together by Kimball here: ODONATA FIELD TRIP DB edits. I think everyone had a great time, enjoyed seeing some beautiful insects and learned a great deal about our local odonata. Thanks to Kimball Garrett and David Bell for their expert guidance. If you want to learn more about dragonflies then Odonata Central is a good place to start (link here). David’s company put together their recently released  iPhone App which you can download for free!

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Gray Sanddragon – David Bell

 





LAR Peeps

17 07 2016
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Semipalmated Sandpiper

A couple of meh digiscoped pics of a couple of vaguely interesting shorebirds prior to the PAS Dragonfly walk today down on the Los Angeles River. A Semipalmated Sandpiper (I think we ruled out something more interesting) and a crazily bright Western Sandpiper. Why when I was looking on the East Coast didn’t all Western Sandpipers look like this? Talk about making life easier.

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Western Sandpiper – Luke Tiller

 





Summer of Snakes?

1 07 2016

A couple of days ago I was reading an article about an abundance of rattlesnake sightings in yards in Southern California . The suggestion in the article being that the drought is pushing them into closer contact with people? Perhaps mere coincidence, but in the last two days I have encountered two Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes in Eaton Canyon where in normal years I’m lucky if I see one anywhere.

At least one of my encounters was on a busy trail where I might have stepped on it without a little less care and attention. Though thus far they have seemed very docile, during interactions, it is making me more and more aware of where I and Possum the wonderdog are putting out feet while we are hiking.

The first one I ran into was pretty small – maybe 2 1/3 feet the other one was significantly larger. There’s loads of great info on local snakes on the California Herps website (here). They even have recordings of their rattle!

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Pacific Southern Rattlesnake – Luke Tiller

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Southern Pacific Rattlesnake – Luke Tiller

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Southern Pacific Rattlesnake – Luke Tiller

These first three images are of the smaller individual that I found while hiking down from the bridge that goes across to the Mount Wilson Toll Rd. The images below are of a much larger individual found near the nature center. I’m sure everyone knows you can’t age rattlesnakes by the number of rattles, that’s just an old wives tale. Apparently size and perhaps darkness of coloration might be a better clue.

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Southern Pacific Rattlesnake – Luke Tiller

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Southern Pacific Rattlesnake – Luke Tiller

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Southern Pacific Rattlesnake – Luke Tiller