Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Backyard Bird Up-date

Red-breasted Sapsucker YB#79
Master Woodworker

Since I last blogged about my back yard bird list in May 2013 I've added 5 new species to the list. Here are the latest additions, Say's Phoebe, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Mallard, Belted Kingfisher and most recently Red-breasted Sapsucker. 
The discovery of the Red-breasted Sapsucker has been very informative and rewarding in many ways. It is working a walnut tree in my yard, making geometric excavations in the bark of several branches. I don't know how long this have been going on, but I only became aware of it when the leaves of the tree started to fall revealing the handiwork of the sapsucker. What was surprising to me was that two other bird species were also interested in the flow of sap, the Yellow-rumped Warbler and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, see photos. I've heard the term sapsucker but now that I've seen one in person, I have a better understanding of how one operates. 

Yellow-rumped Warblers winter in the Bay Area and leave for Canada/Alaska in late April. They are the most common warbler on the Farallon Islands. I most frequently see them at Pillar Point Harbor catching kelp flies. I've also seen them with a brownish substance around the base of the bill which has been mistaken by some folks as oil. However this is apparently residue from Eucalyptus flowers, so I've been told. This species can also digest wax so that wax myrtle and poison oak berries are also on the menu, not a common diet for bug eaters! Finally I was surprised to see a Ruby-crowned Kinglet feeding on the sap as well.

Like many birders, I’ve just started documenting a back yard bird list for my house in Moss Beach, California. I’m pleased to report after 4 years in this location I have 80 bird species so far. My good friend Pete of Martinez California also has 74 bird species for his location. We are in a friendly completion and are currently in a dead heat.

Yellow-rumped Warbler YB#47
Mining Sap
Ruby-crowned Kiglet

Great-horned Owl
Back yard bird counts usually involve counts made from a specific point, residence, gallery, or business. One such location is the resident quarters at the Farallones Islands which as of 2010 has a bird species count of 360. This is believed to be the most prolific in the United States. Paul Leham of New Jersey claims 300 + at his residence. The Farallones Islands have been criticized because the count is compiled by many individuals keeping records over a long time frame. However Peter Pyle a biologist who spent significant time at the Farallones claims 324 species documented by him alone on his visits to the Farallones.

#74 Hooded Oriole 5/3/13
# 73 Western Tanager 5/2/13
So my 80 species count is pretty modest in relationship to other bird spots, but it’s always fun to add a new bird to the list. Most of the birds on my list are common birds found in this area, Brewer’s Black Birds, House finches and sparrows, Scrub Jays, Dark-eyed Juncos, Mourning Doves, California Quail and Ravens. Some of the slightly unusual birds have been an Osprey, Kestrel, Killdeer and my favorite occasional visitor, Great-horned Owl. Some of the recent additions have been Cedar Waxwings, a Hooded Oriole and a beautiful Western Tanager.

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