Thursday, January 7, 2016

Shoshone is alive with birds . All of these pictures were take today!Then rain came again for the third time since summer. The river is full. The sun causes insect hatches when it warms the wet vegetation, and old wood, where the eggs of insects  are laid.
Finally A Ruby Crown!
Today, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet was flycatching and preening along the Shoshone Spring at it’s confluence with the Amargosa River. Kinglets have always been difficult to photograph because they never stay in one place very long, always flitting, mothing, and butterflying, around. They breed in the nearby Spring Mountains, in coniferous forest. Their presence there is amazingly dense. It seems that they have a territory in almost every other tree. There must be tens of thousands of them breeding around Mt. Charleston. From mid fall to early spring, Ruby-crowned Kinglets are present throughout the Amargosa River, in riparian bird habitat.
          At the same spot, a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher joined in on the flycatching.Black-tailed Gnatcatchers are permanent year round resident birds in Mesquite habitats throughout the Desert Southwest. They stay in pairs year round. The males lose their black cap in winter and to tell male from female, behavior, and sounds, must be observed.
Western Bluebird takeoff.
Female Phainopepla takes a hard right while chasing bluebirds.
Western Bluebirds are everywhere.They roam around mesquite-lands raiding clumps of Desert Mistletoe from Phainopeplas who territorially defend them from other Phainopepla as well as Northern Mockingbirds, American Robins, and Cedar Waxwings.
Song Sparrow
The rains seem to stimulate birds to sing. In October, on a warm sunny day after a major flood, like today,male  Song Sparrows, Bewick’s Wren, and Crissal Thrashers, were singing along the River. Today, Song Sparrows were “counter-singing” where males take turns singing against one another. Counter-singing is territorial and usually reserved for breeding season.
Crissal Thrasher males often begin to song in late December, and are very early breeders. I have found Crissal Thrasher nests in February.
       Another extremely early breeder is the Loggerhead Shrike. Shrikes are also year round permanent resident birds throughout their desert habitats. They can nest in early February. They often nest in a lone tree.
       Anna’s Hummingbirds nest locally as early as late January. The males claim the best territory that they can and mate with females that enter the territory. Females build a nest and raise the chicks elsewhere, without male assistance.
Northern Harrier
  On Tecopa Marsh, at least two Nothern Harriers (Marsh Hawks) patrol daily, for any type of small to medium prey. Their piercing high pitched one note call can usuall be heard when both birds are present. Most years, a pair of Northern Harriers nest at Tecopa Marsh. The sky-dancing Male courts the female while calling repeatedly the kek-kek-kekk-kek, call. If she accepts him, they perform a mutual soaring display over the entire territory. The twist and turn simultaneously as they ride the same piece of wind together, like surfers sharing a wave.
                  Common Ravens are already mutual soaring over their territories in Shoshone, and have instituted a no-fly zone for any other large birds.
             Gopher Mike told me he has seen a falcon taking American Coots at the Shoshone Bird pond. No wonder there are only two left.

It seems that the Vermillion Flycatcher has left town. No one has seen him for over a week. I really will miss that guy and hope another will take a territory around Shoshone Village. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Shoshone bird pond has been filled for a few months now.  A former commercial catfish pond, dry for years, now has been refilled. Eventually, native trees, shrubs and water plants will line the banks. Maybe even a bird photography blind or two will be placed. For now my car has been serving as an excellent photography blind.
       This female Hooded Merganser is just an example of the array of birds that have been using the pond.

A small flock of Ring-necked Ducks have been diving, feeding, preening, and resting on the pond. There are now 4 females and 3 males. They spin in the wind as they preen on the pond, their feathers act as a small sail that catches the wind, while one foot is used in preening, the other for a keel or rudder so that when the wind blows against the feather direction, and lifts the feathers enough to move the bird, it spins in the wind, maintaining a relatively stable position on the pond, thus preening while resting. VIDEO OF RING NECKED DUCKS.
Grebes are not ducks. Their feet are not webbed, their toes are lobed, for ease in paddling. Their legs are mounted so far back on their bodies that they cannot walk, and occasionally

land and become stranded on a lawn of parking lot, mistaking the flat surface for water, probably in the dark.  They can dive, or partially submerge, head or eyes only above the surface. The Pied-billed Grebe has been on the bird pond now for around three months.
   Smaller Eared Grebes stopped briefly after the recent flood.

At nearby Salton Sea, and Mono Lake, Eared Grebes can sometimes be counted in the hundreds of thousands! Even a larger Western Grebe made a brief post mid flood appearance.
Local   Birding has been great for those with patience. An Evening Grosbeak
, Red Crossbills, a Painted Bunting, Vermilion Flycatcher,
Brown Creeper, and a pond full of wild ducks, have kept it exciting. Year round permanent resident Loggerhead Shrikes,

Loggerhead Shrike
Preening Shrike
Male Ring-necked Duck
American Pipit

Add caption

Verdin a  year round resident.

Year round resident Crissal Thrasher

Verdins, Crissal Thrashers, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, and Bewick’s Wrens can always be found with due diligence. Phainopeplas are now saturating Shoshone Wetlands and other Amargosa mesquite with mistletoe valleys, like Chicago Valley, China Ranch, and Resting Springs.
Brown Creeper
    The streets around Shoshone Village are filled with birds.  Northern Flickers are common but nervous, and difficult to get close to. The lawns harbor Western Meadowlarks, American Pipits, Western Bluebirds, and stacks of sparrows, mostly White-Crowned Sparrows but look through them carefully for Golden Crowned Sparrow or a White-throated Sparrow, both are very close looking to White-crowns. The Brown Creeper continues to appear on mesquite tree trunks around the pond, the Death Valley Academy, and the Shoshone Campground. Common Ravens provide endless entertainment with aerial battles and territorial displays, and sounds.  The Hummingbirds are returning. Both Anna’s Hummingbird and Costa’s Hummingbird are in the Area and can be seen on mesquite perches as well as local feeders.

  On Tecopa Marsh, a juvenile male Northern Harrier in regularly escorted out of the area by a much larger adult female. A few Greater Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitcher,
and Killdeer can be found here and there on the flats. Several Great Blue Herons, and a year-round pair of American Bitterns and a nice selection of ducks have been around all week.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Painted Bunting in Shoshone VIllage

Patrick Donnelly first reported this bird in his yard in Shoshone last week, it was subsequently photographed by John Sterling. I still have not seen it and I'm hoping it may still be around. Painted Buntings have been reported in this area only a few times.

Shoshone Days Birdwalk

Shoshone Village was full of birds for Shoshone Days. There were 17 participants for the bird walk! We simply walked up to the Pupfish Creek and back to the Crowbar Cafe, and over two hours, saw an excellent selection of birds. Everybody got a great look at the male Vermilion Flycatcher, which was putting on an excellent flycatching demonstration at the Shoshone Pond, and campground. Hopefully he's still around this week after a big wind! Thank you to Martin Powell for not only photographing, but spotting most of the good birds that day.( I was probably lecturing too much instead of birding!) Martin has kindly shared the following photos.
Vermillion Flycatcher photo by Martin Powell

White-throated Sparrow photo by Martin Powell

This White-throated Sparrow,rare in the west, was in with a bunch of common White-crowned Sparrows eating fallen dates below the date palms. Yellow-rumped Warblers were doing the same and Elena Esparza was able to get this awesome shot, as well as the great shot of the group. Thank you Elena for all your help and photos.
     Martin Powell spotted and photographed this sneaky little Brown Creeper,
Brown Creeper photos by Martin Powell

next to the Shoshone Pond, normally a dark woods tree trunk bird, they are occasionally found along the Amargosa in the winter. Martin also spotted and photographed this Marsh Wren, another winter visitor that is extremely difficult to get a good look at!
Marsh Wren photo by Martin Powell

A great aerial battle by Common Ravens, and a flyover by an Osprey were also highlights.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Raptors of Shoshone Tecopa and the Amargosa River
      Just about every type of  Vulture,Hawk, Eagle, and Falcon appear in our area at some time .
Here are a few of my favorites.

Northern Harrier (juvenile plumage)
Northern Harriers breed regularly in Shoshone, and Tecopa Marsh. On the first night that I arrived here from Maine  in 2009, I witnessed the “mid-air food toss” at sunset of the male Northern Harrier dropping a fresh prey item in flight to the female who swooped up, grabbed it easily and disappeared back down into the nest area. I have been hooked on Harries ever since. They are present year round in Tecopa Marsh but the birds are not necessarily the same individuals year round.  On Tecopa Marsh, Harriers often easily move Coyotes away from the nest area by landing near the Coyote, allowing it to approach, then moving to an enticing nearby spot, and repeating the process until the Coyote is out of the Harrier territory.  Northern Harrier is a “California Species of Special Concern” due to marsh-like habitat destruction throughout California. 
Adult female Northern Harrier
      In the spring, as early as February, the sky-dance of the male Northern Harrier begins. He can be heard over Shoshone Wetlands or Tecopa Marsh, calling rapidly while making rapid ascents and descents . Usually he is displaying to the female, but I have observed a male sky-dancing another male apparently as a territorial display, laying claim to the prime Harrier habitat, not to mention the female therein. Males are known to have more than one female, sometimes several, correlating to his ability to provide. Reverse sexual dimorphism is very apparent when the pair is seen together. The female looks almost twice as big as the male. 

Their plumages are completely different. Northern Harriers are easy to identify with a little practice, and can be found in marshes from Alaska to Central America.
                   There are 13 Species of Harriers in the world.  Our Northern Harrier is extremely closely related to the Hen Harrier which occupies similar habitat types throughout the Northeastern Hemisphere, from Portugal to Japan.

                                                American Kestrel

At 7.5”-8” this is the 2nd smallest of all the worlds’ 39 Falcon species, all in the genus Falco. Only the Seychelles Kestrel is smaller.American Kestrel has a huge range. It covers most of the Western Hemisphere from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.. They are beautiful, graceful, and take a variety of prey from grasshoppers, dragonflies, to lizards, and small birds.
                Locally, Kestrels are often seen in  winter hunting from power poles and wires around Shoshone, and a pair is often found around Tecopa Marsh, and or the Amargosa Canyon during breeding. Kestrels will use a nest box of the following dimensions.

                                 Prairie Falcon

             Prairie Falcons are our year round resident falcon. They do breed in this area, I have found their nests more than once. They breed up on high cliffs. Prairie Falcons average only slightly smaller than Peregrine Falcons. Reverse sexual dimorphism is apparent in the size differences between males and females. According to “Falcons of the World” by Tom J. Cade, males weigh as low as 17.5 ounces and at the most 22.5 ounces, females as much as 34.5 ounces.  Imagine a 17.5 ounce male and a 34.5 ounce female! When seen as a pair they seem almost a different species. Prairie Falcons can take a great variety of prey items from large insects and small birds to Chuckwallas Desert Iguanas, Desert Cottontails, Black-tailed Jackrabbits, and any type of rodents.
See the powerful legs of Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon putting on the brakes

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrines are occasionally seen in Shoshone and Tecopa in the non-breeding seasons. Over the last few years, a pair has been seen during June, which indicates possible breeding somewhere in this area. The closest known breeding pair is Mt Charleston in nearby Spring Mountains.
        Peregrines, are mainly bird catching machines. They use many different hunting strategies.

 Peregrines the fastest known birds, when diving, called the stoop, from amazing heights at even more amazing speeds! Although average prey sizes are not quite so dramatic, even the 6 foot wing-spanned Great Blue Heron is not safe from a Peregrine. Imagine a 47 inch tall Great Blue Heron a formidable predator, being hit by the talons of a 53 ounce Peregrine Falcon from behind in the neck at 275 miles per hour!

Peregrines reverse sexual dimorphism is exaggerated with males weighing in from 24.5 to 30 ounces and females up to 53 ounces.
 Weight References: Falcons of the World ,by Thomas Cade

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawks are also year round resident species.  Locally they are known to breed on the high walls of the Amargosa Canyon, and occasionally in rare, tall isolated trees or groves of trees. The Amargosa Canyon sometimes has two pairs of Red-tails nesting in the cliff faces. Dark plumage varieties of Red-tails as well as typical “western” plumage forms are found in the Amargosa Canyon. 
Chocolate plumage Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawks take a variety of snakes, big lizards, rodents, rabbits, road kill, and road injured animals and birds of any type. Many Red-tailed Hawks are injured or killed in collisions with vehicles.
In 2012 as Staff Naturalist for Shoshone Village, I helped kids at Death Valley Academy in Shoshone, make wildlife videos as a joint project with Partners for Fish and Wildlife. Check this one out” Red-tailed Hawk eating Coot brains, a Death Valley Delicacy” by one of the kids in 10th grade at the time.

Red-shouldered Hawk

   Red-shouldered Hawk
   Juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawks often winter in Shoshone. They do breed locally as close by as Pahrump, NV. 27 miles away. It is not known whether the Red-shouldered hawks that often arrive in Shoshone are dispersing from Pahrump or whether they are from far away. 
This Juvenile Red-shoulderd Hawk has been hanging around the new Shoshone bird pond for a few weeks.

More raptors soon!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

                                       The rain came.

PHOTO. The last good rainfall in Shoshone Village that amounted to anything was in late December of 2010. This was nowhere near that volume. In 2010 the dry lakebed between Tecopa and the highway to Baker, was filled with water, the Amargosa River breached the road below Tecopa post office, and the road from Shoshone to Pahrump was briefly impassable. Last weekend felt substantial, but like half of all that.
     It was beautiful to see waterfalls cascading down the normally dry rock mountains while driving through Chicago Valley.PHOTO

   In Shoshone, the dried sections  Amargosa River filled with fast moving muddy water. At the confluence of Shoshone Spring and the Amargosa River, the elevation drop made for high adventure in this normally tranquil spot. CLICK VIDEO.

Great birding has followed the rain.

As the land warms and dries, insects are hatching everywhere.  The birds have been lining up along the new Pupfish Creek Trail

to feed on them. This short lovely trail not  only  has excellent birding, but butterflies, damselflies, and dragonflies abound. If you park in the parking area next to the campground, then walk up the road between the school and the swimming pool, you’ll see the new pupfish pools, trail, and the creek which connects them.
The only time I've ever seen a Verdin flycatching!(repeatedly catching insects in mid-air and then returning to the starting perch to feed)
 There are Coyote Willows, Goodings Willows, Honey Mesquite, and Screwbean Mesquite. The bulrushes, and other creekside plants give insect eating birds and excellent habitat to eat, drink, bathe, and preen.

Come and see Shoshones' Pupfish Creek for yourself!

Len Warren
Staff Naturalist
Shoshone Village, CA 92384