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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Nerdy Birdy: Big Morongo Nature Preserve

This morning I woke up early. And no I am not talking about early for me, which would be 7:00 am, I am talking about early for the planet... like before the sun comes up, which was 3:30 am. That’s right I woke up before dawn so I could get in the car, drive to Morongo Canyon, and be there in time for their 7:00 am bird walk. Morongo was my first stop on a three day trip in the desert to do some spring birding. Surprisingly I didn’t get tired driving like I normally would, I think I was simply too excited about all the birds I would hopefully be seeing during this time of spring migration. Oh and the amazing sunrise also helped, there is nothing like watching the sky light up with pretty colors to make the soul happy.

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Morongo has some of the best birding. In spring during migration this little desert oasis with water year round is the perfect layover stop for birds to rest before continuing on their way. It also has quite a few different habitats, from riparian to desert this basin gets a ton of wing action making it a favorite spot for many birders.

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I got to the meeting spot a little early, I had intentionally built in a buffer time just in case, so I swung by the feeders and water fountain to snap a few birds getting their early morning fix. I love starting at the feeder here, it gives me a good chance to get warmed up and make sure the settings on my camera are good for the day AND these birds get so close the photos always turn out incredibly sharp. In face in some cases these birds were TOO close.

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OAK TITMOUSE

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EATTING BLACKBERRY JAM

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AT ONE OF THE MANY WATER BOWLS

A really unique bird I got to see also happened to be a pretty common bird. At first I thought this little guy was something new but then I found out that he is a variant orange house finch. PRETTY NEAT!

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HOUSE FINCH ORANGE VARIANT

Once the group started getting together I stopped at the feeders and headed over to mingle. I am always the youngest one by a good fifteen years at least but in turn I think it makes everyone even more helpful and tolerant of my hundreds of questions. These people are SERIOUS birders, most of them have been doing it for years, and I always learn so much.

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Within the first few minutes of starting out we started pointing out birds. I found and pointed out the Brown Crested Flycatcher, a new bird for me to cross off the Nerdy Birdy List - HURRAH!!! And with the early morning light I was able to get a pretty fantastic photo. What a beautiful bird.

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BROWN CRESTED FLYCATCHER

In fact we were able to find quite a few flycatchers. The Olive-sided Flycatcher was also a new bird for me. Many of the flycatchers look alike but this little guy has a grey vest or grey sides. It makes him easily distinguishable from the others.

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OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER

Later we found the last new flycatcher of the day for me, the Grey Flycatcher. I actually broke off from the group at this point, they all moved on and I slowly got closer and closer to the Grey. He was super cooperative and maybe even a little curious and I got some great shots of him before I left to catch up with everyone else.

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GREY FLYCATCHER

The park next to Morongo Canyon, Covington Park, is a great place to see the Vermillion Flycatchers. A pair has been breeding here every year for a long time, and since it was spring they were nesting. Not only did I get great shots of mom and dad I also got to see the ity bitty nest! Out of all the flycatchers the Vermillion Flycatcher is so gorgeous with his bold red color.

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VERMILION FLYCATCHER MALE

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VERMILION FLYCATCHER MALE

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VERMILION FLYCATCHER FEMALE

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VERMILION FLYCATCHER FEMALE ON NEST

Also in Covington Park is the usual Red Tailed Hawk family. Once you find momma you just have to follow her to her nest this year. We found her roosting on a tree only about 10 feet up and I was able to get my closest shot of a Red Tailed Hawk yet. I just wish the light would have cooperated a little more. And then she did the WEIRDEST THING. She flew straight into an old palm tree and instead of catching a bird like many in the group thought she was going to do she started ransacking the House Sparrow nests.

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RED TAILED HAWK SEARCHING FOR BREAKFAST

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RED TAILED HAWK STEALING EGGS

We watched her eat a slew of eggs while the House Finches screamed their protests. I guess something purely unique, no one in the group could ever remember seeing a Red Tailed Hawk steal eggs, including the leader. After she was finished we followed her to her nest. These babies were much older then when I visited last time. I saw a group of babies in April of 2010 and they still had all their white down, see the photo here. The babies this year feathers were already looking like mommas. Sure they still had some growing to do and some filling out but I loved seeing them at a different age.

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RED TAILED HAWK FLEDGLINGS

Another adorable baby I found was a House Finch Fledgling that was trying to either learn how to fly OR he fell a little bit out of his nest. He was still high enough off the ground not to be in danger, and his momma thankfully was still feeding him. He was so adorable with his oversized beak and his baby down feathers sticking up all over the place. Hope he makes it!

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HOUSE FINCH BABY

We left the park to head back to Morongo and we stopped at some TALL TALL trees that were chattering full of birds. We found Orioles, Grosbeaks, Tanagers all tangled up in the trees. Although it is never easy to get in a position to photo birds so high up it was cool to see such a variety in such a small place.

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SCOTT’S ORIOLE

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WESTERN TANAGER

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HOODED ORIOLE

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BLACK HEADED GROSBEAK MALE

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BLACK HEADED GROSBEAK FEMALE

And then just as we were about to leave I spotted something a little different up there. YUP it was another new bird, the gorgeous Summer Tanager. There are not that many really RED birds in the US and I was super excited to have seen two of them in one day!

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SUMMER TANAGER

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SUMMER TANAGER

Then there were the usual suspects, the birds that I see more often and those that I don’t normally focus on as much anymore. But just because I see them often doesn’t mean that they should be ignored. There is also the fact that I get better and better with my photography every year and some of the birds that are usual I don’t have as GREAT of a photo as I could. So here are two usual suspects, which are new Kodak shots I am adding to the nerdy birdy list.

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CALIFORNIA THRASHER

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NUTTALL’S WOODPECKER

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NUTTALL’S WOODPECKER

It was a fantastic day of birding in Morongo with FOUR new birds to cross off the Nerdy Birdy List. I was so excited. However the sun canceled out my plans for the rest of the day. You see by noon I realized that I should have used a stronger sun block. Instead of spending the rest of the day at Morongo I had to modify my plans. I decided to leave early and take a roundabout drive through some of the more birdy locations of Joshua Tree on my way to my next location Idyllwild.

2 comments:

paul peggy zeus said...

GREAT photos, thanks for sharing! We LOVE Big Morongo Preserve too. Especially love the babies.

Jennifer Arens said...

I bet you would name your daughter Tanager :) Incredible shots!

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