Thursday, December 29, 2011

Got Crissal Thrasher? Shoshone, CA 92384 - Birding near Death Valley

      Got Crissal Thrasher? ...
Shoshone, CA 92384
 Crissal Thrashers are known for being difficult to get a good look at. They are notoriously hard to photo.
Photo by Colin Wooley
 The two note call that sounds like "dirty birdy" or "chewy-chewy", is definitive.
 Crissal Thrasher is a Shoshone California birding specialty. The Amargosa  River Region is the Northwest edge of their range. Little is known of their breeding habits.   The males begin to sing in early Jan.However even now, in  late December, the males seem to make a shift and change over from using only the 2 note call, to the 2 note call  mixed with some twittering, and rolling versions of the call note. Only the male sings. The female continues the use of the 2 note call throughout the year. The pair maintain contact with the calls. The song of the male  consists of an  intricate  series of phrases and sound clips copied from other local bird species. For example, one of the calls imitated is the call of the Northern Flicker,a large and beautiful woodpecker that breeds at altitudes around 8,000 and 9,000 feet in places like Mt. Charleston.

     Crissal Thrashers breed early. I have found their nests in Feb.Their nests are well hidden, usually in dense  shady mesquite. The parents do not fly directly to the nest,  but usually disappear into heavy cover and run hop and walk to the nest , sometimes over surprising distances. This behavior along with their extreme wariness,and dense thorny mesquite habitat used for breeding, makes finding a Crissal Thrasher nest quite challenging. It can be extremely difficult for the observer to slowly and quietly work his way into their territory, only to be "waited out" by the parents who disappeared during the approach.
                                                                                                                                                                                                 The eggs

one day old

are a spectacular blue, more intense in color than the eggs of a robin. The eggs take 14 days to hatch and 11-16 days later the chicks will fledge. I have only been scolded once by Crissal Thrashers. They pair were scolding loudly at my approach.I quickly, and quietly  vacated their domain.  The 2 young that they were defending were nearly ready to fledge , which they did successfully the next day. Two broods  are sometimes raised and I have found their nests as late as July.
Ready to go! (July 2009)
9-10 days
(Click to watch Crissal Thrasher Video)
The curved beak of Crissal Thrasher is used to toss leaf litter, flip over sticks and leaves, then  grab grubs, bugs, beetles. They may be opportunistic nest predators. I have seen one being repeatedly attacked by a nesting Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.

Crissal Thrashers are listed as  a California Species of Special Concern. Their desert  riparian habitats throughout the Southwest are disappearing.  A patient birder on the Blue Trail or the Red Trail on can wander through the territories of 10-12 pairs of Crissal Thrashers in a morning. The best way to get a close up look is to sit quietly in or near large canopied mesquite groves and wait.This method turns the table on the pair, and often curiosity will get the better of them and the observer will be thrilled by being closely inspected by a breeding pair of this elusive but exquisite desert species. For the less patient,  a stroll from the Shoshone Inn to the warm springs swimming pool,  will often produced a Crissal Thrasher or two in neighborhood shrubs and trees. January and February are excellent months to observe Crissal Thrasher in Shoshone.



Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cooper's Hawk's wintering in Shoshone, CA

 The Cooper's Hawk, a predator of small birds, winters in Shoshone, and several juveniles,(pictured), patrol the village and wetlands.
   In shady secluded spots, they devour their prey,often eating the head first, then plucking the breast feathers for to expose the main course.Their kill spots can be found in such spots and the arrangement of the remaining feathers can give clues as to the identity of the killer.Falcons, owls, and hawks feed in ways different enough to leave evidence. They seem to like to be near water during or right after eating. Kill spots near stream banks are common on Shoshone Wetlands .

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This is a beautiful spot on the Aqua connector trail on Shoshone Wetlands  that I love to take people.There are pockets of year round water that always have birds. In the springtime , there are Leapord Frogs and Pacific Chorus Tree frogs, Purple Hair Streak Butterflies everywhere. In winter, this spot provides food, water and important wind shelter to hundreds of songbirds and some rails and coots too. This time of year, it's a perfect mid-afternoon birding hot spot. The sun angle in winter warms things up just right and birdiness occurs. Take the Red Trail from Shoshone RV Park-Campground, connect with the Aqua connector trail and you'll find this awesome year round private birding spot.Enjoy birding in the sun or shade as you wish, and keep an eye out for almost any kind of raptors overhead.