Monday, March 3, 2008

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Rare(ish) Moments

Today started with a lovely gathering at the botanical gardens. Everyone who showed up for the bird walk, led by Allan Ridley and company, was greeted by the Red-shouldered Hawks - one slung low in a tree outside the gate, the other bathed in morning sun on a branch in the large beehive-laden tree just inside. Also inside:
The rare Golden-crowned Song Sparrow, suffering a pollen induced identity crisis.

After the Arboretum I checked out Corona Heights Park in hopes of something interesting and tested my reflexes against this White-crowned Sparrow. The rare part of this moment is it stayed in the frame, in good light... that was worth the expedition up the hill. (click the image to see the details - this small version has many compression artifacts)

Then to North Lake for 30 minutes of looking before other engagements called. I found a pair of Pied-billed Grebes and settled in to watch them. They resumed their fishing and about 5 minutes later one came scooting out of the reeds at top speed, running on the water, out into the open to deal with its catch. The last rare moment of the day. Definitely click on these to see the larger versions.

Moments after the catch, the grebe takes a break before attending to the fish.

Now properly oriented after an initial attempt at swallowing it failed.

Down the hatch.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Corona Heights, Strybing, and the Sutro Duo

Around 11:30 the wind picked up and the male Kestrel showed up at Corona Heights to hunt. The resident Red-tail was only seen briefly and was chased off by two determined Ravens. The Kestrel caught several insects and a spider, all eaten on the wing.
Heading back to base. The Kestrel takes frequent breaks in the pines.

Floating with apartment windows in the distance.

A spider just taken from the right foot.

In the Arboretum the Red-shoulders were audible but only glimpsed in distant trees. The Great Egret allowed a very close approach and fished contentedly, pond to pond.

One of the Sutro Red-tails was kiting when I arrived and as is often the case, as soon as I got out of the car it disappeared like a shot over the pines to the north. Undeterred, I followed and found the male kiting over iceplant covered cliffs near pockets of wind-blown pines. After some attempts at evasive gophers, the hawk switched from the cliff faces to the upper fields and I lost it behind a tangle of pines. I raced up through the dark hollows that hikers and homeless have created in the trees, heading toward a triangle of light that I thought might give me a better vantage point. When I emerged from the trees I was out of breath and there was no hawk in sight... until I looked up.

It was kiting 20 feet above my head and descending rapidly. A few adjustments in flight and the talons emerged and the body pivoted into that familiar committed posture.

It slammed into the grass just 6 feet in front of me. I didn't realize how close it was until I took the camera away from my face and saw it in the grass, wings out, head down, focused on its prey.

Then it turned sharply toward me, grabbed the gopher and everything around it, and took off, ripping away the surrounding vegetation.

A few deft transfers of the prey from foot to foot allowed the grass and plants to fall away and the hawk just floated away.

I found the pair in the trees about 200 feet south, and it was the female that was eating the gopher that the male had just caught.

He coughed up a pellet while she dined. (you can see it falling just below the branch)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Red-tails in the Sunset

With only 20 minutes of light remaining in the day, I decided to get to Sutro Baths to see what might transpire. Upon arrival the scene was quiet but the setting sun seemed to hold promise. A moment later two specks over the distant pines banked in unison and within seconds the resident hawks appeared over my head and hung motionless. Flickering primaries and focused scanning ensued, the pair seemed intent on finding something before night fell. Then the male approached the female in a slow glide with his legs extended and she quickly angled her wings and banked away. She was apparently not interested in his advances and he seemed distracted. His attempts at hunting were hurried and scattershot. She, on the other hand, stayed over one area for a long time. When she committed to her attack the sun had already set on the ocean and it quickly set for her prey, a 2-3 foot snake. Apparently she grasped the wrong end because as she flew away, the snake's head was free and one of the photos shows it, mouth agape, still struggling. When the city is consumed by encroaching night, there is still light to be had near the sea. Even 20 minutes can be revelatory.
The kiting hawks arrive.

The male in orange light.

When kiting turns to diving.

Stretching a leg.

Over the horizon with a hard-won meal.

Grainy, but you can clearly see the snake's mouth open.

Earlier, a freighter came by with precious cargo. That must be how they get that thing back to the east.

After sunset you can reclaim the day with a 40 second exposure, gathering the light and turning the waves into a creeping fog.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Great Blue Heron Review

On occasion, I'm going to post visual reviews of particular species and their behaviours. Photographs that I've taken over the past 2 years. Starting us off is the ubiquitous Great Blue Heron. **Warning** not for the squeamish. (As always, click the images for the juicy details.)
Dressed alike.

Non-serious nest building at the Palace of Fine Arts.

Crissy Field night fly-by.

Predators have forward facing eyes.

A large-mouthed bass fished from the Palace of Fine Arts Lagoon. 10 minutes of thinking, 2 minutes of swallowing.

Sunset illuminates a heron with gopher hunting history evident on its bill.

7 foot wingspan.

Balancing at Lake Merced.

On the hunt, with a stylish bracelet on to boot.

Lovely profile.

Top view of head and dagger-like bill.

Nesting for real at lake Merced.

Gopher for dinner.

This took many minutes. The heron kept dunking the gopher to make it slide down a bit easier.

15 minutes later and almost done, when the resident Great Blue came charging in and scared it off.

Flying away with the gopher still in progress.

A more manageable morsel.

In flight with a profile on the wing.

Cruising past the footbridge.

Chased off at Crissy field.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Red-shouldered Hawks Entertain

If you have to wait for an estimate on your car's brakes, find a mechanic near the park... then eschew the waiting room for the arboretum. The Red-shouldered Hawk pair were calling and I found them in the cloud forest. This one plummeted down at an astounding rate to land in a little creek - not even a creek really, the water was a millimeter deep. But apparently that is deep enough to hold a fish.
Click for the detailed view.

Next was a plunge into a marshy deeper area. Here is the hawk emerging from the water...

and eating a frog...

Seeing the world through frog-footed glasses. (they are rose coloured, I guess) Click the image for better detail.

A gull as seen via its reflection.