June 30, 2011

Nest-building: Western Wood-Pewee

I love this photo. [And I owe you one like this, after the previous post.] Click for big. Pamela Kling took this shot of a Western Wood-Pewee putting the finishing touches on her nest of grasses and moss and spider webs, high in the elbow of a pine bough in the San Bernardino National Forest. [Photo used with permission.] Spotted the nest  on the north shore of Bluff Lake, where everything is green and beautiful, as you can see from my snapshot below. As I've said a few dozen times, the difference between the west [green] end of the Big Bear Valley and the dry, near-desert east end never fails to impress.

Killing at Arrastre Creek

There they were, a beautiful big family of Mountain Quail — adults and a dozen young 'uns, recent hatchlings — crossing the dry creek bed a few steps ahead of us, and the next thing we knew, one quail chick was down, doomed, kicking and thrashing in those remorseless jaws. Poor little tyke died before our eyes. Field trip leader Pamela Kling of Pomona Valley Audubon took the photos you see here, posted with her permission. Click on the photos to make them [very] big.

This is the deal about birding [and my friend and birding idol Gene Cardiff says it's the best thing about birding]: you get out into some beautiful country, and you see all kinds of things.

Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes are a common sight along Arrastre Creek. Mountain Quail, not so much. A rattlesnake killing a Mountain Quail is a rare sight indeed — and one of those events that might make you think a bit more carefully about where you put your feet for the rest of the hike. [Remember that as long as you don't pick one up, the odds of a rattler biting you are slim.]

I'm sure the rattlesnake at Arrastre was aware of our presence, though he never displayed any agitation that I could see. Once the quail chick stopped moving, though, the rattler worked his jaws around to the head and dragged the chick out of sight: a concession to us nosy humans.

For more about our local rattlesnakes, check out this post. And man, it was piteous listening to the quail babies calling from the shrubs next to the creek that whole time, let me tell you. [Mom was stuck on the other side.]

For more on California reptiles:
California Herps: A Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of California
And at the link above, check out Rattlesnake Signs and Art for your rattler signage fix o' the day.

Green-tailed Towhee

Favorite photo of a beautiful bird: a Green-tailed Towhee takes flight, photographed on the road to Arrastre Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest by Sandy Remley [on Flickr].

I've seen this smallest towhee at Bluff Lake and Metcalf Meadows near the cabin. The more I see [and hear] them, the more I like these great-looking little birds. Check out the one-wing-at-a-time territorial display in this most excellent Flickr video.

June 22, 2011

On the road to Fish Creek

A look back at the meadow below Heart Bar, around 7:00 PM on June 20. Found our Flammulated Owl at 9:30 or thereabouts — the forest was black and the night sky was incredible... so full of stars. The Flammulated is a tiny owl, about the size of a White-crowned Sparrow. Take a look at this shot on Flickr by bird bander Marissa B, and you'll see what I mean.

Birds and bikes on the road to Bluff Lake

Snapped a Western Bluebird by his nest in what's left of a dead tree on June 19, off Forest Road 2N10 on the way to Bluff Lake. Click to embiggen, and take pity on my antique point-and-shoot. The little Black Oak our bluebird perched on isn't dead - it just hasn't leafed out yet. Spring was cold this year. Over Memorial Day Weekend, temps at the cabin were in the mid-20s F, brrr. Today's temps were in the 80s, and all the oaks around the cabin are filling out beautifully.

Stopped at the spring off 2N10 and found a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets, Red-breasted Sapsuckers and a Brown Creeper, among other sightings. The Steller's Jay nest is still sitting on top of the spring.

Birders heading to Bluff Lake always share FR 2N10 with a few mountain bikers, but Sunday was extreme. Race day!
This past Sunday cyclists came from across California, Oregon, South Africa, Mexico and beyond to compete in the Kenda Cup Team Big Bear Mountain Bike Race Finals in Big Bear. This event was also part two in the Conquer the Cub and Conquer the Bear series, part of Open Air Big Bear. The event had a special element to it this year, incorporating a 50-mile marathon race, along with the standard 18 mile and 24 mile course loops. 
I was birding with Linda G. from Lake Arrowhead and some nice folks from one of Sylvia Gallagher's great classes down in Orange County. On the way up to Bluff we pulled over while a hundred or so mountain bikers flew past us going downhill — very cool. Some irate chucklehead in a vehicle behind us marched up to my truck window to steam about his rights to drive anywhere unimpeded at any time, yadda yadda, and Laurel [OC birder] and I were like, dude, get over yourself. [This bike race is held once a year, and it's not like the whole thing wasn't publicized. Sheesh.] Check out this race photo from Big Bear News:

So we were held up a bit, but no biggie, and Laurel and I made great time on the way back. Too great, actually... The other birders drove more slowly and kept their eyes open and were rewarded with the only White-headed Woodpecker sighting of the day.

I really want to take some of Sylvia Gallagher's classes now.

Conquer the Bear, from Big Bear News
“Conquer the Bear” Mountain Bike Race, from the Big Bear Blog
Bird Classes for Adults, Sea & Sage Audubon Society

June 21, 2011

Happy Solstice to all

It's summer! I've been chasing, and just chillaxing. Heard a Flammulated Owl last night, at the Mission Springs Trail Camp south of Heart Bar — and saw a Western Tanager, male, gorgeous, at the cabin this morning. A first visit by my heart bird to the place I love most, how cool is that.

Our local mammals [lightweight division] include Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels, Merriam's Chipmunks, Lodgepole Chipmunks, and a rare visitor: the San Bernardino Flying Squirrel. That's Rocket J. himself checking out a suet feeder in the photo above.

The San Bernardino Flying Squirrel is a California Species of Special Concern, "included on the Special Concern list because of its occurrence in restricted, disjunct populations, a lack of information on the two smallest populations, comparatively low densities of individuals in populations that have been studied, and ongoing habitat fragmentation as a result of development and forest practices within the species range." [Source] Can't tell you how good it is to catch a glimpse of one of these little guys in the forest around the cabin.

For some excellent reading and informative graphics on our flying squirrel, check out the following:

San Bernardino flying squirrel [from Terrestrial Mammal Species of Special Concern in California] [pdf]
Climate change threatens flying squirrels
Petition to list the San Bernardino Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus californicus) as threatened or endangered under the United States Endangered Species Act [pdf]