Shallow Thoughts : tags : birds

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Thu, 18 Sep 2014

Mirror, mirror

A female hummingbird -- probably a black-chinned -- hanging out at our window feeder on a cool cloudy morning.

[female hummingbird at the window feeder]

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[ 19:04 Sep 18, 2014    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 18 Jun 2014

Fuzzy house finch chicks

[house finch chick] The wind was strong a couple of days ago, but that didn't deter the local house finch family. With three hungry young mouths to feed, and considering how long it takes to crack sunflower seeds, poor dad -- two days after Father's Day -- was working overtime trying to keep them all fed. They emptied by sunflower seed feeder in no time and I had to refill it that evening.

The chicks had amusing fluffy "eyebrow" feathers sticking up over their heads, and one of them had an interesting habit of cocking its tail up like a wren, something I've never seen house finches do before.

More photos: House finch chicks.

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[ 14:40 Jun 18, 2014    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 11 May 2014

Sonograms in Python

I went to a terrific workshop last week on identifying bird songs. We listened to recordings of songs from some of the trickier local species, and discussed the differences and how to remember them. I'm not a serious birder -- I don't do lists or Big Days or anything like that, and I dislike getting up at 6am just because the birds do -- but I do try to identify birds (as well as mammals, reptiles, rocks, geographic features, and pretty much anything else I see while hiking or just sitting in the yard) and I've always had trouble remembering their songs.

[Sonogram of ruby-crowned kinglet] One of the tools birders use to study bird songs is the sonogram. It's a plot of frequency (on the vertical axis) and intensity (represented by color, red being louder) versus time. Looking at a sonogram you can identify not just how fast a bird trills and whether it calls in groups of three or five, but whether it's buzzy/rattly (a vertical line, lots of frequencies at once) or a purer whistle, and whether each note is ascending or descending.

The class last week included sonograms for the species we studied. But what about other species? The class didn't cover even all the local species I'd like to be able to recognize. I have several collections of bird calls on CD (which I bought to use in combination with my "tweet" script -- yes, the name messes up google searches, but my tweet predates Twitter -- a tweet Python script and tweet in HTML for Android). It would be great to be able to make sonograms from some of those recordings too.

But a search for Linux sonogram turned up nothing useful. Audacity has a histogram visualization mode with lots of options, but none of them seem to result in a usable sonogram, and most discussions I found on the net agreed that it couldn't do it. There's another sound editor program called snd which can do sonograms, but it's fiddly to use and none of the many color schemes produce a sonogram that I found very readable.

Okay, what about python scripts? Surely that's been done?

I had better luck there. Matplotlib's pylab package has a specgram() call that does more or less what I wanted, and here's an example of how to use pylab.specgram(). (That post also has another example using a library called timeside, but timeside's PyPI package doesn't have any dependency information, and after playing the old RPM-chase game installing another dependency, trying it, then installing the next dependency, I gave up.)

The only problem with pylab.specgram() was that it shows the full range of the sound, both in time and frequency. The recordings I was examining can last a minute or more and go up to 20,000 Hz -- and when pylab tries to fit that all on the screen, you end up with a plot where the details are too small to show you anything useful.

You'd think there would be a way for pylab.specgram() to show only part of the spectrum, but that doesn't seem to be. I finally found a Stack Overflow discussion where "edited" gives an excellent rewritten version of pylab.specgram which allows setting minimum and maximum frequency cutoffs. Worked great!

Then I did some fiddling to allow for analyzing only part of the recording -- Python's wave package has no way to read in just the first six seconds of a .wav file, so I had to read in the whole file, read the data into a numpy array, then take a slice representing the seconds of the recording I actually wanted.

But now I can plot nice sonograms of any bird song I want to see, print them out or stick them on my Android device so I can carry them with me.

Update: Oops! I forgot to include a link to the script. Here it is: Sonograms in Python.


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[ 09:17 May 11, 2014    More programming | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 21 Mar 2014

Flicker Morning

[Northern Flicker on our deck] "There's a woodpecker sitting on the patio", Dave said, shortly after we'd both gotten up. He pointed down through the gap where you can see the patio from upstairs. "It's just sitting there. You can go down and look through the door; it doesn't seem to mind."

Sure enough, a female northern flicker was sitting on the concrete patio deck, immobile except for her constantly blinking eyes and occasionally swiveling head. Definitely not a place you'd normally expect to see a woodpecker.

Some twenty minutes earlier, I remembered, I'd heard a couple of thumps on the roof outside the bedroom, and seen the shadow of wings through the drawn shades. I've heard of birds flying into windows and getting stunned, but why would one fly into a roof? A mystery, but I was sure the flicker's presence was related to the thumps I'd heard.

I kept an eye out while I made coffee and puttered around with normal morning chores. She wasn't budging from that spot, though she looked relatively alert, keeping her eyes open even while sitting immobile.

I called around. (We still don't have internet to the house -- Comcast keeps giving us the runaround about when they'll dig their trench, and I'm not entirely convinced they've even applied for the permit they said they'd applied for three weeks ago. Maybe we need to look into Dish.) The Santa Fe raptor center had a recorded message suggesting that injured birds be put in a cool dark box as a first treatment for shock. The Española Wildlife Center said if I thought she was injured and could catch her, they could take her in.

I did suspect she was injured -- by now she'd been there for 45 minutes or more, without moving -- but I decided to give her some time to recover before going for a capture. Maybe she was just in shock and needed time to gather herself before trying to fly. I went on with my morning chores while keeping an eye out for coyotes and ravens.

For two hours she remained there. The sun came out from behind the clouds and I wondered if I should give her some shade, food or water, but decided to wait a while. Then, as I was going back to the bird book to verify what kind of flicker she was and what gender, she suddenly perked up. Swiveling her head around and looking much more alert than before, she raised herself a little and took a few steps, to one side and then the other. More head swiveling. Then suddenly, as I was reaching for my camera again, she spread her wings and flew off. A little heavily and stiffly, but both wings looked okay.

So our morning's flicker adventure has a happy ending.

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[ 11:46 Mar 21, 2014    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 02 Oct 2013

Disgruntled by Grackles

On a trip last month, Mesquite, NV gave us couple of avian delights.

First the roadrunner, strutting around a side street poking its head into bushes, hunting as we watched from the car.

[Huge flock of grackles] Then, in the evening, a convocation of grackles -- several hundred of them -- in the tree just across from the third-floor balcony at our casino hotel. All chattering with each other, making an amazing variety of noises as they flew from branch to branch, occasionally bickering or feeding each other or landing on a branch too weak to support them.

Grackles make some amazing sounds. We don't have them at home, so I only hear them on trips, but they always want to make me look for the amplifier and speakers -- it seems impossible that a medium-sized bird could be making all that sound, and such a variety of noise, all by itself.

We stood there for maybe 20 minutes, watching them and listening, shooting photos and video, before the heat (over 100 even after sunset) got to us and we had to go back into the room.

[Don't park under a grackle tree] Unfortunately, in all that time, one thing that never occurred to us was that our car was parked right under that tree. We realized that the next morning.

And we had thought we were so clever, finding the one shady spot in that parking lot!

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[ 14:38 Oct 02, 2013    More travel | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 18 Aug 2013

Learning to Sing

[House finch] I was awakened at 6:30 this morning by what sounded like a young house finch learning to sing, just outside my window. It got me thinking.

Every fall, songbirds which have stopped singing during high summer start up again, briefly, to sing for a few weeks before weather gets cold. A discussion several years ago on a local birding list concluded that nobody knows for sure why birds sing in autumn -- are they confused about the weather and think it's spring again, hoping for a last fling before the cold weather sets in, or what? There's a a wonderful ditty about it, "The Autumnal Recrudescence of the Amatory Urge", apparently written in the 1970s by Susan Stiles.

It's too early in the year right now for autumnal anything -- it's still quite warm. But lying there in bed listening to the exploratory notes of a bird clearly not yet confident in his song, I got to thinking about how birds learn their songs.

In most birds it's not innate: young male birds learn singing while still nestlings from listening to their father sing, much like human babies learn the rhythms of their native language from hearing their parents talk; and if you raise a songbird in a nest of another species, they will often learn the wrong song, or end up with some hybrid song that doesn't attract females of either species. (A good overview: The Development of Birdsong on Nature.) More recently, there have been all sorts of interesting studies on how young birds learn their local dialect, since a species' song varies quite a bit from one location to another.

But ... not all birds sing much once the eggs are laid, do they? They sing their hearts out while acquiring a territory and trying to attract a female; but once nesting starts, I don't remember hearing much activity from the house finches. Mockingbirds are an exception: I've seen mockers singing day and night even after they're feeding nestlings, though not all male mockers are quite so industrious. But I thought most species stopped singing much once the nest was built and eggs laid.

But if that's true, when do the young males learn their songs? Even if the father does sing a little, off and on, while the nestlings are being raised, that's not very much time to learn. Suppose the adults started singing again in the fall before the family disperses. Wouldn't that be an advantage to the young males who are just learning their songs? If a fledgling, off the nest and mostly able to care for himself, is "babbling", trying exploratory notes while learning what sounds he can make, wouldn't it be helpful to have a few nearby males who occasionally burst into song even if it's out of season?

Maybe the "Autumnal Recrudescence" isn't birds being confused about the weather at all. Maybe it's an evolutionary aid to help the young birds crystallize their songs before heading into their first winter. By singing in autumn, the males help their sons crystallize their songs for the next year, which helps the sons be more successful when it's time to look for a mate next spring.

Just a theory ... but I think it makes some sense, and I'll be listening to this autumn's chorus with new interest.

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[ 11:57 Aug 18, 2013    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 31 Mar 2013

Dinosaur Eggs, Collared Doves and Wildflowers

[Dinosaur egg (okay, not really)] Happy Easter! In keeping with the season, here's a dinosaur egg I spotted on a recent hike.

Okay, or maybe it's just a vaguely egg-shaped rock. But there's been a lot going on this spring now that the weather is turning.

[Eurasian Collared Dove] First, we seem to have Eurasian collared doves nesting somewhere near our house. There's a dove up on the power pole, cooing, most of the day. I know I've heard lots of reports of collared doves around the south bay in past years, particularly down around Morgan Hill, but this is the first time I'd seen more than a glimpse of them here at home in San Jose. It's fun to see new species, though I hope these European interlopers don't push out the native mourning doves entirely.

[Shooting star] In addition, the wildflowers have been great out on the trails, especially around the south end of Windy Hill OSP and Coal Mine Ridge. A hike up there last week revealed nearly every wildflower on my wildflower page that could be in flower now -- California poppy, wild cucumber (intriguingly also called manroot), giant trillium, hound's tongue, milkmaids, the most impressive profusion of Indian warrior I've seen, blue larkspur, miner's lettuce, Sierra suncup, vetch (it's pretty despite the unfortunate name), red maid, wild radish, wood sorrel, broom, and my favorite, shooting star.
[Indian warrior and hound's tongue blooming  in Coal Mine Ridge] Dave had to keep waiting for me while I argued with the camera over macro focus distances. So if you like wildflowers, get out there and take a look!

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[ 17:22 Mar 31, 2013    More nature | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 16 Jan 2013

Bluebirds and phantom horses at Arastradero

[Western bluebird]

The weather was a bit warmer today than it has been, so I snuck off for an hour's hike at Arastradero, where I was amazed by all the western bluebirds out enjoying the sunny day. I counted three of them just on the path from the parking lot to the road crossing. Bold, too -- they let me get close enough to snap a shot with my pocket camera.

Farther up the trail, a white-shouldered kite was calling as it soared, and a large falcon flew by, too far away and too backlit for me to identify it for sure as a peregrine.

[Phantom stump horse] But then I spotted an even more unusual beast -- a phantom horse rearing out of the ground, ears pricked forward, eyes and mouth open and mane whipped by a wind we could not feel on this pleasant, windless day.

Dave always teases me about my arboronecrophotography inclinations (I like to take pictures of dead trees). But how could I resist trying to capture a creature like this?

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[ 20:26 Jan 16, 2013    More nature | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 06 May 2012

Playing an MP3 file from an Android app

I've mostly been enormously happy with my upgrade from my old Archos 5 to the Samsung Galaxy Player 5.0. The Galaxy does everything I always wanted the Archos to do, all those things the Archos should have done but couldn't because of its buggy and unsupported Android 1.6.

That is, I've been happy with everything except one thing: my birdsong app no longer worked.

I have a little HTML app based on my "tweet" python script which lets you choose from a list of birdsong MP3 files. (The actual MP3 files are ripped from the excellent 4-CD Stokes Field Guide to Western Bird Songs set.) The HTML app matches bird names as you type in characters. (If you're curious, an earlier test version is at tweet.html.)

On the Archos, I ran that under my WebClient Android app (I had to modify the HTML to add a keyboard, since in Android 1.6 the soft keyboard doesn't work in WebView text fields). I chose a bird, and WebView passed off the MP3 file to the Archos' built-in audio player. Worked great.

On the Samsung Galaxy, no such luck. Apparently Samsung's built-in media player can only play files it has indexed itself. If you try to use it to play an arbitrary file, say, "Song_Sparrow.mp3", it will say: unknown file type. No matter that the file ends in .mp3 ... and no matter that I've called intent.setDataAndType(Uri.parse(url), "audio/mpeg"); ... and no matter that the file is sitting on the SD cad and has in fact been indexed already by the media player. You didn't navigate to it via the media player's UI, so it refuses to play it.

I haven't been able to come up with an answer to how to make Samsung's media player more flexible, and I was just starting a search for alternate Android MP3 player apps, when I ran across Play mp3 in SD Card, using Android's MediaPlayer and Error creating MediaPlayer with Uri or file in assets which gave me the solution. Instead of using an intent and letting WebView call up a music application, you can use an Android MediaPlayer to play your file directly.

Here's what the code looks like, inside setWebViewClient() which is itself inside onCreate():

            @Override
            public boolean shouldOverrideUrlLoading(WebView view, String url) {
                if (url.endsWith(".mp3")) {
                    MediaPlayer mediaPlayer = new MediaPlayer();
                    try {
                        mediaPlayer.setDataSource(getApplicationContext(), Uri.parse(url));
                        mediaPlayer.prepare();
                        mediaPlayer.start();
                    }
                    catch (IllegalArgumentException e) { showMessage("Illegal argument exception on " + url); }
                    catch (IllegalStateException e) { showMessage("Illegal State exception on " + url); }
                    catch (IOException e) { showMessage("I/O exception on " + url); }
                }
            }

showMessage() is my little wrapper that pops up an error message dialog. Of course, you can handle other types, not just files ending in .mp3.

And now I can take the Galaxy out on a birdwalk and use it to help me identify bird songs.

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[ 14:28 May 06, 2012    More programming | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 27 Oct 2010

Termite Feast at RSA

[trail silvery with termites]

At Rancho San Antonio today (Los Altos Hills), high on the High Meadow and PG&E trails, there's an incredible abundance of termite colonies on the trail -- the trail is thick and silvery with them in places.

A few colonies are flying, and around the flying ones there's a great diversity of wildlife partaking in the feast -- in about five minutes I saw wrentits, juncos, chestnut-backed chickadees, Townsend's warblers, woodpeckers (several flew by too fast to identify), spotted towhees, a Bewick's wren that didn't cock its tail like a normal wren, northern flickers ... plus chipmunks.

And the species that normally hide out in thick brush and resist being photographed -- especially the wrentit and the chipmunk -- were so busy gobbling tidbits that they didn't pay much attention to a photographer snapping away.

Quite a show! The lower parts of RSA were fairly nice too -- I got a good look at a red-shouldered hawk that swooped low across the trail, plus lots of quail, rabbits and squirrels. There's a sign just past the farm warning to stay away from "sick bobcats" (the nature of the disease is unspecified) but we didn't see any cats.

Photos: Termite feast at RSA.

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[ 21:25 Oct 27, 2010    More nature | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 07 Jul 2010

Huge brood of wild turkeys at Rancho San Antonio

[Wild turkey chicks scuffling] Late last week in the field next to the parking lots at Rancho San Antonio we had a chance to watch a wild turkey family foraging in the dry grass. Two adults and twenty chicks -- that's quite a brood!

Two of the chicks got into a scuffle and kept it up the whole time we watched them. The adults didn't seem interested, but some of the other chicks gathered round to see what was going on.

Photos: Wild turkeys.

Meanwhile, in other nature news, the hot weather has brought the odd unidentified chlorine smell back to the redwood forests. On the weekend, when we were having 90-degree days, the smell was very noticable around Purisima and El Corte de Madera, and on a few parts of Highway 9. Today, though the weather is cooler, the smell was everywhere on the Skyline trail at the top of Sanborn. Still no idea what's producing it.

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[ 20:23 Jul 07, 2010    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 11 Feb 2009

Bruny Island night life: penguins and shearwaters

After a week in Tasmania, supposedly the most wildlife-packed state in Australia, without seeing anything besides ducks (mostly mallards) and songbirds (mostly sparrows and starlings), I was getting desperate.

I had one last hope: Bruny Island, touted as the wild and unspoiled place to see wildlife ... though the wildlife touted in the tourist brochures mostly seems to involve paying for a boat ride to see sea birds and fur seals. Nobody ever talks about marsupials wandering around -- are there any? Since it's an island, how would they get there? Nobody ever mentions the intriguing spot marked "penguin rookery" on "The Neck" between North and South Bruny. After last year's tremendous experience at the Philip Island Penguin Parade, I thought it might be worth booking a room on Bruny in the hope of seeing (a) penguins and (b) other nocturnal wildlife.

We booked into the "Bruny Island Hotel", a tiny pub with two lodging units billing itself as "Australia's Southernmost Hotel" (a claim dubious claim -- we saw plenty of lodging farther south, though their actual names didn't include the word "hotel"). We were a little taken aback when we saw the place but it turned out to be clean and comfortable, and right on the bay. And the pub had some wonderful aromas from the daily curry special (which, we found that night, tasted as good as it smelled).

Since we'd caught an early ferry, we spent the day exploring Bruny, including a bushwalk up to Mt. Mangana. The narrow and overgrown trail climbs steadily through thick forest, but the adventurous part of the hike came in one of the few sunny, rocky clearings, where a quite large black snake (something between a meter and a meter and a half long and as thick around as Dave's wrist) slithered off the trail right in front of me. Then right after that, Dave spotted a much smaller snake, the size of a large garter snake, a bit off the trail. Should I mention that all Tasmanian snakes are venomous? (Checking the books later, the large one was a black tiger snake -- quite dangerous -- while the smaller one was probably a white-lipped snake, considered only moderately dangerous.)

After that our appreciation of the scenery declined a bit as we kept our eyes glued to the trail ahead of us, but we saw no more snakes and eventually emerged into a clearing that gave us great views of a radio tower but no views of much of anything else. On Mt Mangana, the journey is the point, not the destination.

On the way back down, when we got to the rocky clearing, both of our colubrid friends were there to meet us. Dave, in the lead, stamped a bit and the larger snake slithered off ahead of us on the trail -- not quite the reaction we'd been hoping for -- while the smaller snake coiled into a ball but remained off the trail. Eventually the large snake left the trail and Dave quickly passed it while I snapped a shot of its disappearing tail. Now it was my turn to pass -- but the snake was no longer visible. Where was it now? I was searching the trailside where it had disappeared when I heard a rustling in the bush beside and behind me and saw the snake's head appearing -- it had circled around behind me! (I'm sure this wasn't a strategic move, merely some sort of coincidence: I used to keep snakes and though they're fascinating and beautiful, intelligence isn't really their strong point.) I high-tailed it down the trail and we finished the walk safely.

That evening, we headed over to the penguin rookery, where it turned out that we had happened to choose the one night when there was a ranger talk and program there. I wasn't sure whether that was a good or a bad thing, since it meant a crowd, but it turned out all to the good, partly because it meant a lot more high-powered red-masked flashlights to point out the penguins, but mostly because the real show there isn't penguins at all.

The Bruny Island penguin rookery is also a rookery for short-tailed shearwaters -- known as "muttonbirds" because they're "harvested" for their meat, said to taste like mutton. Their life cycle is fascinating. They spend the nothern hemisphere summer up in the Bering Sea near Alaska, but around September they migrate down to southern Australia, a trip that takes about a week and a half including stopping to feed. They breed and lay a single egg, which both parents incubate until it hatches in mid-January. Then the parents feed the chick until it grows to twice the size of its parents (some 10 kg! while still unable to fly). Then the parents leave the chicks and fly back north. This is the stage at which the overgrown chicks are "harvested" for meat. The chicks who don't get picked off (they're protected in Tasmania) live off their fat deposits until their flight feathers come in, at which point they fly north to join the adults.

We were there about a week after hatching, while the parents were feeding the chicks. The adult shearwaters spend all day fishing while the chick sleeps in a burrow in the sand. At sunset, the adults come flying back, where they use both voice and vision to locate the right burrow. The catch: a bird that migrates from Alaska to Tasmania, and takes casual flights to Antarctica for food, is designed to fly fast. Shearwaters aren't especially good at landing in confined spaces, especially when loaded with fish. The other catch is that there are many thousands of them (the ranger said there were 14,000 nesting at that rookery alone).

So, come dusk, the air is filled with thousands of fast-flying shearwaters circling and looking for their burrows and working up the nerve to land, which they eventually do with a resounding thump. They crash into bushes, the boardwalk, or, uncommonly, people who are there to watch the show. It's kind of like watching the bats fly out of Carlsbad caverns ... if the bats weighed five kilos each and flew at 20-30mph. The night fills with the eerie cries of shearwaters calling to each other, the growling of shearwaters fighting over burrows, and the thumps of shearwaters making bad landings.

Penguins? We saw a few, mostly chicks coming out of their burrows to await a food-carrying parent, and late in the evening a handful came out of the water and climbed the beach. Penguins normally find each other by sound, and at Philip Island they were quite noisy, but at Bruny most of the penguins we saw were silent (we did hear a few penguin calls mixed in with the cacophony of shearwaters). But we didn't really miss the penguins with the amazing shearwater show.

When we finally drove back to the hotel, we drove slowly, hoping to see nocturnal wildlife. We knew by then that Bruny does have mammals (however they might have gotten there) because of the universal sign: roadkill. And we did see wildlife: three penguins, two small red wallabies, three smaller red animals with fuzzy tails (ringtailed and brushtailed possums?) and one barely-glimpsed small sand-colored animal the size and shape of a weasel (I wonder if it could have been a brown bandicoot? It didn't look mouselike and didn't have spots like a quoll).

Success! A spectacular evening.

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[ 12:24 Feb 11, 2009    More travel/tasmania | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 30 May 2008

The falcon, the owl and the chickadees

We went for a little afternoon walk at RSA yesterday. I was out of the car and waiting for Dave when I saw motion out of the corner of my eye and heard a thump! of something hitting the ground a few feet away. Maybe something fell out of that tree? It sounded like it fell right ... there ... what's that? It looks almost like ... a bird? But why would a bird fall out of a tree? Is it dead?

And then the bird came to life, stretched its wings, and turned into a kestrel that exploded off the ground and flew away. I never did see if it caught whatever it was after, but I'm happy to have had the chance to see the little falcon make a strike so close to me.

[small owl, maybe a young screech owl?] Later, on the trail, a spotted towhee burst out of a tree and flew past us. Then a small woodpecker emerged from the same cluster of branches the towhee had just left. As we drew nearer we could hear quite a commotion up in the branches ... a dozen or more small birds, mostly chickadees, chattering and darting in and out like bees around a hive. It seemed centered on ... that unmoving spot there ... wait, doesn't it look a bit owl-shaped to you?

I snapped a few pictures, but none of the small owls in the bird guides have a facial pattern like this. It was smaller than a screech owl, but young screech owl is still my best guess.

[bullfrog] And as long as I'm posting nature pictures, the bullfrogs are back at the Walden West Scum Lake. Just floatin' there, though ... they weren't making any noise or moving around.

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[ 23:18 May 30, 2008    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 12 May 2008

Oak wants to be a quail, or maybe a wren

[young mockingbird who thinks he's a quail or a wren] The young mockingbird fledgelings have decided they like us. Oak in particular took a liking to our backyard, and particularly the lawn. It seems he wants to be a quail when he grows up: he loves to run (not hop) around the yard, and flies only when threatened (though once he gets going, he flies quite competently). When he's not being a quail he practices being a wren, cocking his tail up the way wrens do. I managed to get couple of pictures of Oak.

Cedar likes the backyard too, but stays above ground in the chinquapin or the orange tree. In the evenings, they sing a duet, somewhat lower EEPs from Cedar and higher ones from Oak (Oak can sing two notes, but when Cedar's singing Oak takes the soprano line). Holly remains in the front yard, a distant third EEP. [goldfinch and two house sparrows at the thistle sock]

Meanwhile, I've finally managed to attract some goldfinches to the thistle sock hanging outside the office window. Photos (not good ones) here.

Update: Oak continued to play quail in the backyard for the next week, gradually spending more time flying and less time EEPing for his parents. The turning point was when Oak and Cedar discovered the sweet petals of the guava tree's flowers. It takes some flying skill to get into a guava tree: you have to hover a bit while you pick your entry spot, then power your way in. The chicks begged their parents to get them guava petals, but when the petals didn't materialize fast enough they got motivated to improve their flying skills to get their own petals. By May 22 they were pretty much fending for themselves, emitting an occasional half-hearted EEP but mostly foraging for themselves. I see them both most evenings, but I never see three chicks at one time; I may have been wrong about there being a third chick, though it certainly seemed that way on that first day.

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[ 21:46 May 12, 2008    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 08 May 2008

Feeding Fledgelings

After I wrote about the mockingbird fledgelings the other day, someone asked me how long the parents keep feeding them. I checked past blog entries -- that year they fledged on June 25, were still being fed on July 10 and were still EEPing but no longer being fed on July 20. A little over two weeks.

Two of this year's chicks, who fledged four days ago, can fly pretty well now for short bursts, but they tire very quickly and can't stay up for a long flight.

Just now, at sunset, Oak (I'm naming them for to the trees they ended up in when they fledged) flew from the oak over to the back porch roof and spent ten or fifteen minutes begging from there, in nice view of my office window. He was EEPing louder than the other chicks, and both parents were feeding him as fast as they could find bugs. Oak is as big as a towhee, and fat and fluffy, with a spotted breast and a short stubby tail less than two inches long. He still has some of that scrowly wide yellow bill that says "Feed me, mama!"

At one point a parent showed up with a pyracantha berry, but Oak was already being fed. The parent tried a little squawk, maybe to see if Cedar wanted anything, but almost dropped the berry in the process. So with an air of "oh, what the heck!" it swallowed the berry.

Then Cedar started crying from the chinquapin (or whatever the weird tree in the backyard is) and drew the parents' attention away from Oak. After another few minutes of fruitless eeping Oak decided to get some of that action and joined Cedar. Then they both flew down to the lawn, where for the first time I could see both at the same time. Cedar is a lot slimmer than Oak, but with a longer tail, maybe half the length of an adult's.

Oak was in the wildflower bed, actively hunting for food and occasionally finding something to swallow, though I don't have a lot of confidence that they were insects rather than dirt clods. Cedar wasn't hunting for food very actively, but took a few desultory pecks at the pavement and once picked up and swallowed something (a piece of a leaf, I think). Every now and then one parent would glide in from the front yard, and whichever chick noticed it first and eeped would get fed.

I haven't seen Holly today. I thought I heard some eeping from the direction of the holly in the front yard, but never definitely located the third chick.

The evening wore on, though, and the chicks have found trees to roost in for the night and have finally stopped eeping. Mom is taking a well-deserved break while Dad sings the family a lullaby.

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[ 22:00 May 08, 2008    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 04 May 2008

Chicks everywhere

It's definitely spring now! The air is filled with the cheeping of baby birds demanding feeding.

I thought we didn't have a nesting mockingbird pair this year, because there's been almost no singing. I've heard chicks cheeping from the yard across the street, but nothing in our yard.

Until today, that is. This morning, there's a mocker chick in the holly tree in the front yard and another one in the red oak in the back yard, both making noisy demands to be fed. The parents are having a hard time, between hunting and flying back and forth between the two chicks.

The chicks are staying too high up for any good photos, but they're easy to see in binoculars. They're a bit bigger than house sparrows, but still very baby-like, with short tails, fluffy spotted downy chests and big wide yellow bills. They can flutter from branch to branch pretty well, but aren't comfortable going farther than that, especially on this windy morning. I wonder if the wind explains how the two fledgelings ended up in trees so far apart?

(Update a couple of days later: turns out there are actually three chicks. One of them is confident enough to fly in the open and perch on power lines; the other two haven't moved from their respective trees.)

I'm hearing lots of California towhee pings, too (they make a noise like a submarine sonar ping) and there's a towhee pair foraging more actively than usual in the garden, so I'm pretty sure there are some towhee chicks somewhere nearby, getting ready to fledge.

After watching the fledgelings in the yard for a while, I decided to take a peek at some Peregrine falcon webcams. The IndyStar falcon-cam is easy -- two views to choose from, and it pops up a window with an image that refreshes every 30 seconds. Works everywhere. The San Jose falcon-cam is a lot trickier, since their page is loaded with elaborate "pop up the Microsoft Windows Media Player plug-in, and if you don't have that, you're out of luck" code. But Sarah and I and some folks in #linuxchix worked it out a few months ago before there was much to see: it's actually a Realplayer stream, which realplay itself can't play but vlc sometimes can: vlc rtsp://bird-mirror.ucsc.edu/birdie-sj.sdp

It doesn't work every time -- I have to try it five or six times before I get anything. I'm told that this is a common problem -- RTSP streams are notorious for having problems with NAT, so if you're anywhere behind a firewall, keep cheeping with vlc and eventually the server will feed you some falcon images.

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[ 13:24 May 04, 2008    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 11 Apr 2008

A booth with a view

A local chain Mexican restaurant, Acapulco, has window booths that overlook a tiny fake pond belonging to an apartment complex. The pond is popular with mallards and Canada geese, birds that don't mind making their home in the back yard of an apartment complex. If you get there early enough to get a window booth, you can get a nice view of the birds over your meal.

I love watching the mallards splash down. Ducks are heavy birds, with fairly small wings. They have one flying speed: fast. So landing can be a bit tricky. Generally they come in with a long, shallow glide, big webbed feet outstretched. The goal is to get the feet down smoothly and use them as waterskis until you've bled off enough speed to drop down into a nice, sedate swimming position.

This is just as hard as it sounds, and the young ducks aren't too good at it, so over the course of a meal you get to watch lots of crash-landings where the waterski technique doesn't quite work and the duck goes splashing face-first into the water.

A couple of weeks ago, I got an interesting view of another aspect of duck life: sleeping. A mallard pair floated together, side by side. The female had her nead neatly tucked backward into the top of one of her wings, but the male had his head in almost a normal swimming position. The clue that he, too, was asleep was that the head never moved. But as he drifted closer, I could see something else interesting. His eye (the one on our side -- I couldn't see the other eye) alternated every two seconds between fully open, and closed with a nictitating membrate. So the eye would be open and dark for two seconds, then cloudy blue for two seconds, then open for two seconds ... quite odd!

Last night, we had an even better view than that. On the tiny rock in the middle of the pond sat a Canada goose, and next to her (I say "her" as if I could tell the difference) were goslings! Tiny, yellow, fluffy ones, lots of them, too many to count. And they must have been just hatched, because there was at least one egg still visible in the nest. The goslings were active, swarming around the mother and climbing around the rock.

But one of them was bolder than the others -- it wasn't on the rock, but in the water next to (I can only presume) the other parent. The adult goose glided sedately across the pond, the tiny gosling keeping up without seeming to try very hard.

Eventually they got to the edge of the lake, where the parent got out of the water and walked up the rocky beach to the manicured grass, where he sat down to rest. The gosling followed, clambering energetically up the rocks of the beach. But when the older goose settled down in the grass, the gosling wasn't content. It climbed up and down, from the water's edge to the grass and back to the water's edge, for the next fifteen minutes while the parent rested. Finally the adult got up and went back to the water, closely followed by the chick, and they went back to tandem swimming.

Meanwhile, the goose on the rock had settled back down on the remaining egg, and the rest of the goslings quieted down and cuddled up next to her. A lovely and tranquil scene.

South bay bird fans, check out Acapulco. Maybe the last egg has hatched by now! I never expected to wish I'd brought binoculars to a Mexican restaurant ...

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[ 10:46 Apr 11, 2008    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 15 Apr 2006

Peregrine Cam Only Available to High Bandwidth Microsoft Users

Today's SF Chronicle had a story about the nesting peregrine falcons on a building in San Francisco. In past years, they've had a "Peregrine Cam" allowing people to watch the falcons as they raised their chicks.

Well, this year the Peregrine Cam is back -- only now it's streaming video that requires a fast broadband connection and Microsoft's Windows Media Player.

If you just want to see the falcons, you're out of luck if your connection isn't up to streaming a full video feed, or if you're on a platform like Linux where Windows Media Player isn't offered.

Linux does have several video player applications which can play WMV format, but that's not enough. When I visited the page, what I got was a streamed video advertisement for the company that provides the streaming technology (in stuttering jerks that left no doubt that their bandwidth requirement is higher than the wimpy DSL available in this part of San Jose can provide). But that was all; the video ended after the ad, with no glimpse of falcons.

(I suppose I should be grateful that their Viewing FAQ even mentions Linux, if only to say "Linux users can't view the Peregrine Cam because it needs WMP." Other folks who can't use the camera are people with earlier versions of WMP, Mac users using Safari or Opera or who don't have Stuffit, and people behind corporate firewalls.)

The site doesn't have a Contact or Feedback link, where one might be able to ask "Could you possibly consider posting an photos, for those of us who would love to see the falcons but can't use your whizzy Microsoft-dependant streaming video technology?" Not everyone even wants high-bandwidth streaming video. Alas, the closest they offer is the 2006 Diary, updated irregularly and only with 200x200 thumbnail images.

Update: mplayer users with the appropriate codec can view the camera with the following command:

mplayer "http://powerhost.live.powerstream.net/00000113_live1?MSWMExt=.asf"
Thanks to Guillermo Romero for poking through the source to find a URL that works.

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[ 12:25 Apr 15, 2006    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 05 Aug 2005

Second Round of Nestlings

Both the mourning doves and the mockingbirds snuck in in a third round of nesting this year. Rather than make lots of little entries, I kept the timeline all in one (long) file. If nothing else, it's easy to skip for anyone who doesn't like "bird columns" (taking a cue from Jon Carroll and his "cat columns").

Jun 24:

There's a little drama going on on the roof of the house across from the office window. a pair of doves showing extreme interest in the rain gutters at the corner of the porch and above it at the corner of the house (flanking the tree where they raised their chicks last month). She (I assume) will fly to the porch gutter, snuggle down in the gutter for five or ten seconds, then appear dissatisfied and fly over to the other gutter, do the same there, fly to the ground, fly up to the roof, coo for a while, then repeat the process. Meanwhile her mate flies from the roof to the ground to the power line, cooing the whole time.

At one point, one of the dovelets flew to the roof just above the gutter and started pecking for gravel, and mom chased him away furiously. No more parenting for you! Get your own place! Get a job, why don't you? And cut your hair!

The scaly dovelet still looks scaly. I wonder why? The other chick looks like a miniature adult.

Unfortunately we had to disturb the little episode because the porch gutter the dove kept landing on had come loose. Dave went out with a hammer and hammered it back into place, but I guess that spooked the doves. Which may be just as well -- an exposed rain gutter really doesn't seem like a good place for a nest, especially since the youngsters seem to avoid sun, fun though it might be to have the nest right out in plain view of the window.

Jun 25:

The doves seem to have been scared off by the hammering of the rain gutter, and are looking elsewhere for a nesting site. There's lots of ooohaaahing going on while they're up on the power lines, and once I saw the male trying to mate (the female flew away). Haven't seen the dovelets since mom chased one off the roof.

Jun 28:

The doves are back, cooing and nestling in the gutter. Looks like she really likes that site.

Jun 29:

She's given up on the roof and gutter and has decided to nest in the old nest site in the guava tree.

July 2:

One dove now stays in the nest at all times -- I suspect there's an egg there -- while her mate furiously brings her sticks one after another. When he's not bringing sticks for the nest, he's up on the wires singing Oooaah, oooh oooh oooh!

July 3

Turns out there's a mockingbird nest in the pyrocanthus just outside the kitchen window. We can see it from the sink. The mocker hardly spends any time there, though. The dove is still sitting patiently in the nest.

July 5

Dave cleaned the outside of the kitchen window so we could get a better view of the nest. Haven't seen the mocker since; we may have scared her off.

July 7

The mocker wasn't scared off after all. I saw her perched on the edge of the nest, poking into the nest. I couldn't tell if she was rearranging eggs or feeding chicks. No chick noises, though. The dove still sitting. Of course, it's impossible to tell when dove chicks hatch since they are silent and motionless until nearly ready to fledge.

July 10

Mocker perched on the edge of the nest again, but this time we saw the chicks. She hunted about four bugs for them in quick succession, then disappeared. Amazing how little time the mocker spends in this nest compared to the dove, who's always there.

July 12

One mockingbird chick tentatively seen on the edge of the nest.

July 13

The mockingbird chicks have fledged. I say "chicks" but I've actually only seen one, hopping around the upper branches of the pyrocantha. It doesn't seem to be able to fly yet, and still looks very fuzzy and short-tailed.

And the dove-mom, never flitting,
Still is sitting, still is sitting ...

July 14

Drama outside the bedroom window this morning. Apparently there was a chick down in the neighbor's back yard, and I was awakened by squawking as both mockingbird parents buzzed something in the yard just on the other side of the fence.

This went on for about an hour, with breaks for a few minutes every so often. Then the harrassment abruptly stopped. I don't know whether whatever it is they were attacking (a cat? I didn't hear any barking, so I think the dogs were away) went away, or got the chick. But it's possible the chick may still be okay. A little while later I heard some tentative singing, and about an hour later there was a little bit of squawking aimed at a different part of the neighbor's back yard. My hope is that the chick is slowly making its way out of the yard.

July 17

I haven't seen any more sign of mockingbird chicks, but I heard outside the living room window something that sounded remarkably like a mocker chick and an adult talking to it. So I think at least one chick survived.

The dove, incredibly, is still sitting on the nest. It's possible that there are chicks in there too, but I haven't been able to spot any.

July 25

Incredibly, I think there are actually dovelets in the nest. I had pretty much decided that it must be time for the dove to give up sitting and go get a life, but I'm seeing vague signs of movement in the nest, and slightly different behavior from the sitting dove. Doves sure are patient.

July 26

Tonight when we got home from dinner, we were greeted at the gate by a baby bird hopping around on the driveway. In the dim light it was hard to tell what it was, but probably a sparrow or house finch -- too small for a mockingbird fledgeling.

And fledgeling it was: after regarding us for a short time it flitted unsteadily into the top of a nearby bush, which seemed to us like a much better place for a birdlet to spend the night than the driveway!

There are indeed dovelets in the nest. Looks like two again, though it's hard to see them clearly. The parents look tired; one of them spent part of the afternoon sitting on the deck, out in the open, and didn't move when we walked by. (It wasn't hurt, though; I kept an eye on it through the office window in case I needed to shoo away cats, and it eventually flew weakly up to join its mate in the guava tree.)

July 31

The dovelets are sitting up in the nest and looking very alert. Probably only a few more days left to fledging. The parents are no longer sitting with them, and are up cooing on the wire.

August 2

No dovelets in the nest! I found them in the corner of the yard, the same corner that the previous pair liked so much. They stayed there all morning.

Like the previous pair, there's one that looks like a miniature mourning dove, and a second with a scaly pattern.

But in early afternoon, they were gone. A whiff of cat poo in the air suggested doom.

August 3

There was one dovelet in the corner of the yard this morning. I haven't seen the other, but at least one (the scaly one) survived.

August 5

Haven't seen any dovelets since the morning of the 3rd.

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[ 23:15 Aug 05, 2005    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 18 Jun 2005

Dove Chicks Fledged

The two dove chicks fledged yesterday, early in the morning. By the time we were up, they were out in the yard, walking behind one parent and play-pecking in the weeds. They can fly: Dave saw them fly up to the fence once, then back down.

That didn't last long, though; after about fifteen minutes of activity they found a corner they liked, under the blue borage, planted themselves there in the shade of the fence, and didn't move until afternoon when the sun hit their corner and they went off in search of shade. They definitely prefer shade to direct sunlight (even on a cool and windy day). The parents came to feed them periodically.

They're still eerily silent. They never call for food, or for anything else. Very different from last year's mockingbird chicks. When they fly they make the normal dove squeaky noise that the adults make, but that's the only sound I've heard out of either one.

They look quite different from each other: one is a miniature adult, while the other is a bit smaller, usually more ruffled, and has a "scale" pattern in its feathers. They apparently spent the night somewhere high -- we saw them fly up to the roof a little after sunset, then they walked over to where we couldn't see them any more.

In the morning, they were back in their corner, still content to sit in the same spot all day. I spooked them once doing some garden work in that corner of the yard, and one of them flew across the yard and landed on the fence, and spent the next hour or so there before flying back to the normal corner. Later, the other flew up into the atlas cedar for no apparent reason, then spent a while trying to figure out how to get a solid perch on the swaying, uneven branches.

Meanwhile, the house sparrows were doing bushtit imitations all over the tree, hanging upside down while pecking at the needles. I'm not sure if they were after the cones, or actually eating bugs for a nesting season protein supplement, but it was fun to see a flock of house sparrows acting like bushtits.

A few photos of the dovelets.

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[ 20:36 Jun 18, 2005    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 16 Jun 2005

More Baby Birds

The mourning dove chicks by the back door remain amazingly quiet. They're growing fast, nearly half the size of an adult dove now, with fairly adult looking feathers, the characteristic wing spots of their parents, and eyes that are starting to show a blue ring. There are only two of them, not three as I'd originally thought. They move outside of the nest onto adjacent branches, fiddle, flutter a little, and preen a lot. Yet they never make any noise. Quite a change from the noisy, demanding mockingbird chicks last year!

A female Nuttall's woodpecker showed up in the backyard yesterday. I heard her drumming this morning. Maybe she'll stick around. I put out a peanut-and-sunflower cake that woodpeckers are supposed to like, though birds in this yard never seem to like the foods the books and bird feeder companies say they will.

The towhee and house finch families still seem to be raising their young, but I haven't gotten a glimpse of any chicks yet. The mockingbird who shunned us earlier in the season seems to have moved into the atlas cedar for his second nest (or is it a third?) and is singing in the morning and squawking at jays by day.

Meanwhile, I dropped by Shoreline around lunchtime today and got some photos of a pair of avocets with one chick, including the rare 4-legged avocet (where the chick hides underneath mom, so only his legs are visible). I also got a couple of nice shots of a stilt flying at Alviso.

Other neat sights: a nesting colony of great egrets in a tree outside a business park, a bedraggled but still pretty snowy egret at Shoreline Lake, and the terns banking ten feet away from me as they fished in the shallows of the little lake.

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[ 19:50 Jun 16, 2005    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 11 Jun 2005

Baby Birds

On a hike a few days ago we saw a baby swallow on the trail. So cute! He didn't appear to be hurt, but wasn't moving, either. It was soo tempting to move him, or take him home and feed him. But adult swallows were flying all around, and he was old enough that he had all his feathers (probably old enough to fledge) so we left him there and hoped someone would take care of him.

Meanwhile, back at home, house finches are raising a family in the Italian cypress outside the office, and a pair of mourning doves has taken over the nest the mockingbirds built last year in the guava tree outside the back door. It doesn't look like they rebuilt or improved the nest at all: the mockingbird-sized nest looks very small under a big mourning dove.

The chicks hatched several days ago, but I didn't realize it for at least a day, because the dove chicks are quiet and motionless, not at all like the active, noisy, demanding mockingbird chicks were. The dovelets act just like eggs, except they're fuzzier and occasionally I can catch a glimpse of wing feathers. I think there are three.

The adult doves are a lot calmer than the mockingbirds were, as well. The mocker parents would get angry any time they noticed a human trying to watch them through the window, and would hop up to the window and glare and squawk until the person went away. It was tough to catch a glimpse of the chicks.

The doves, on the other hand, spend a lot of time out of the nest now that the chicks have hatched (though before they hatched, there was always a dove on the nest: the sitting dove wouldn't leave until its mate arrived to take over) and even when they're there they're pretty calm, keeping an eye on anyone who tries to look through the window but not seeming too upset about it. I can't tell if they're frightened by being watched, but I try not to watch for long when an adult is there. (That's easy since there's nothing much to see anyway.)

I haven't seen any feeding yet, or other interesting behavior. Maybe they'll get more active when they're a little older.

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[ 13:28 Jun 11, 2005    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 27 Mar 2005

Future Naturalists

I took a respite from wrestling with broken motherboards on Thursday for a short mid-day walk at Shoreline, looking for birds.

What I found instead was schoolchildren, everywhere!

Maybe 20 different groups, each consisting of about 10 kids (perhaps 5th grade or so?) and 2-3 adults. The students all carried binoculars and bird books; some of the adults carried scopes.

With so many people in the park, the birds weren't as plentiful as usual, but I didn't mind: it was fun to see how interested the kids were and how much fun they seemed to be having. One group spotted a hummer six feet off the trail in a bush; binoculars came up, pages flipped, faces concentrated, and there was a chorus of "Anna's hummingbird!" and "Ooh, look, he's so beautiful!"

Really fun. Watching kids get excited about learning is more fun than watching birds!

(Reminds me of Ed Greenberg's comment at an SJAA star party: "The only thing cooler than Saturn is a kid looking at Saturn.")

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[ 10:27 Mar 27, 2005    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 14 Jan 2005

Bobcats and Roadrunners

I visited Fremont Older for the first time in a while. We were coming back from Maisy's Peak, looking for the falcon I'd seen earlier when we were coming in, when we ran into a friendly couple also looking for the falcon, and had a delightful chat about falcons and bobcats -- in which subject they were quite expert. We learned quite a bit about the local bobcat community, and will have to go back and look for some of those cats! (The falcon turned out to be a kestrel; I got a better look and a photo while walking back to the car.)

The next day, I paid a short lunchtime visit to Alviso Marina to look for the roadrunner rumoured to be frequenting the parking lot. (Roadrunners are fairly common in desert areas, but uncommon here, especially near the bay.)

The regular (no parking) parking lot was full of construction workers engaged in noisy activities, and I found myself disinclined to spend much time there. I rationalized to myself that any self-respecting roadrunner would feel the same, and headed in the other direction to see what might be hanging out in the marshes.

Crossing back through the temporary parking lot, I struck up a conversation with a photographer who had seen the roadrunner the day before (in said noisy parking lot) and was returning with his good camera. We wished each other luck, he went off to construction worker central, and I went the other way, pausing part way to watch a Yellowthroat (a first for me), beautiful in his yellow plumage and black pirate's mask, though too quick for my camera.

As ironic luck would have it, the roadrunner was in the marshes. I saw it as soon as I climbed the levee, and watched for a while. Eventually the photographer I'd met in the parking lot appeared on the levee, closely followed by a binocular-toting birder. I pointed, and before long we had four or five people surrounding the bird's marsh. Quite the party! I almost felt like one of the birders from The Big Year.

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[ 22:11 Jan 14, 2005    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 06 Jan 2005

Anna vs. Phoebe

Vignettes from a couple of short walks today ...

First, an exciting chase: a series of gulls loudly chased a crow which was carrying something large, orange and amorphous in its bill. I would have expected a crow could hold its own against a gull, being nearly as large, heavier, and smarter; but the crow obviously just wanted to escape with its prize, and ultimately did.

Later, on returning to the car, I had just spotted a black phoebe sitting on a branch near the road, when I saw something buzz past the corner of my vision. It was a male Anna's hummingbird rocketing straight up in what looked like a courtship display (in December?)

But it wasn't a courtship display: the hummer then sped straight down and arced past the phoebe, crying a short TCHEE! at the bottom of its arc when it was closest to the intruder.

I watched for maybe five minutes, fascinated, as the hummingbird repeatedly dove on the phoebe, never getting closer than a couple of feet (perhaps avoiding the branches of the bush in which the phoebe perched). The phoebe paid no attention, and didn't even flinch. It did change its perch to another bush once during the time I watched, and the hummer promptly shifted its attack to the new location.

A fellow hiker/photographer, returning from her walk, joined me for a minute to watch the show. She said she'd read recently in the paper that Anna's hummingbirds were due to start mating flights in mid-December. We both thought midwinter was an odd time to nest, especially for a bird so small that it has to worry about maintaining body heat. But if it's true, this male may have been defending a nesting territory, though I didn't see any female hummingbirds nearby.

This evening, a sunset walk along Los Gatos Creek revealed a first for me: a muskrat!

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[ 22:11 Jan 06, 2005    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 24 Dec 2004

Winter Yard Birds

There's still a hummingbird (male, Anna's) hanging around the feeder! Last year, all the hummingbirds lost interest and left my yard in October, so it's nice to see them staying through December this year.

We also have a lovely black phoebe who has adopted the yard, and flycatches from the power lines most of the morning.

The mockingbirds have finally left -- their renewed singing in late October had given me hope they might stay the winter, but it looks like they were just readying their traveling tunes. Long trips are so much nicer when you have good music. 300 miles south, at my mom's house, mockingbirds are still singing sporadically -- I thought I remembered them remaining in LA all year, unlike the bay area, and so indeed they do.

Audubon's (yellow rumped) warblers have been a nice surprise this year. Perhaps they've been here every year; I joined a few local bird-watching mailing lists, which has been great for helping me notice birds I never noticed before. It turns out the birds I used to see in Los Altos which I thought were pine siskins were in fact Audubon's warblers (I found an old photograph); but even so, I'd never seen them in San Jose before.

I used one of the warblers for this year's Christmas card, with the colors desaturated, and a nice colorful autumn leaf stapled to each card. (Watching Rivers and Tides must have gone to my head; I saw the striking leaves beneath a neighbor's tree and knew I had to use them for something.)

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season on this Christmas Eve!

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[ 13:49 Dec 24, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Tue, 16 Nov 2004

Wood Duck!

I biked down to the perc ponds today (the Los Gatos Creek Percolation Ponds, a part of the local water storage system where creek water percolates down through layers of sand, clay, and rock into the aquifer) to look for birds. Rumour had it that there was a female wood duck hiding out among the mallards. I'd never seen a wood duck, so I hoped to find her.

Not only did I find her, but she has a boyfriend! Or, at least, there's a male wood duck in the perc ponds as well as a female, though they weren't hanging out together -- she was consorting with the mallards (and a curious ground squirrel) up by the trail, while he was out swimming in the pond.

I also saw some gadwalls (a new duck for me) and got better pictures than I previously had (for my bird photo project of several birds, including a belted kingfisher (always a tough subject). Nifty! Today's pictures are here.

Yesterday we went for a short hike at Alum Rock, and saw some more turkeys and even more deer, including a magnificent buck and a couple of little spike bucks, and lots of young deer play-butting each other. They've been added to the older Alum Rock turkey/deer photos from a few weeks ago.

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[ 21:14 Nov 16, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 11 Oct 2004

Migratory birds singing in autumn

For the past week, the mockingbird and the hummingbirds have suddenly begun singing again -- the mocker only in the morning, the hummer sporadically all day. October seems like a strange time to be singing. I wonder if it's related to the decision whether to migrate? Both Anna's hummers and mockingbirds are inconsistent about whether to winter here or migrate south: some years they stay, some years they go.

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[ 14:23 Oct 11, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 18 Aug 2004

Hummer nectar changes hummer behavior

I made a new batch of nectar for the hummingbird feeder. Now most of them are hovering at the feeder, rather than perching. They mostly seem to be taking shorter drinks, as well. I wonder why?

This batch might have been a little weaker than the usual. (I made it on a hot day, and added extra ice to cool it down faster so I could put the feeder out again, and figured that weaker solutions are probably better on hot days anyway.) I might have guessed that stronger nectar would lead to shorter stays, but I wonder why weaker nectar would?

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[ 20:03 Aug 18, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 22 Jul 2004

Beta sighted

Saw a chick in the front yard last night, hopping around on the ground and playing with a branch. This chick still has a striped breast; the chick on the wire the previous day didn't. Looks like both Alpha and Beta have made it so far. Hooray!

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[ 10:55 Jul 22, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Tue, 20 Jul 2004

At least one chick still okay

Saw one mocker chick yesterday and a couple of times today. It flies well but still has trouble balancing on a wire when the wind is blowing. It still CHEEEEEEEPs instead of making noises like the adults, though I haven't seen anyone feeding it. It landed on the house roof today and did an odd sideways dance, combined with the trademark mockingbird wing-opening ritual, then hopped into the gutter and rooted around there before flying off.

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[ 23:02 Jul 20, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 10 Jul 2004

Chicks flying

I spotted one of the mockingbird chicks this evening, first sighting in several days (though I've heard cheeping so I was pretty sure at least one was still healthy). I'm not sure which one this was, but it flew like a pro, sat on the house roof cheeping to be fed, then swooped down to the lawn and pecked for bugs (cheeping occasionally; I guess it's still easier to have mom feed you than to hunt your own insects). It has a long tail now, and white wing patches just like the adults, but a spotted breast and that funny wide yellow "baby bird" bill.

I got a few pictures.

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[ 20:00 Jul 10, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 04 Jul 2004

Chicks are growing

In mockchick news, we haven't seen either chick for quite some time, but until yesterday we were still hearing regular cheeping from two directions. Today I'm only hearing cheeping from one tree; it may be that Alpha has graduated to bug hunting, and even Beta doesn't seem to be begging quite so often.

Update: a few minutes after I wrote that, I saw one of the chicks up on a wire, cheeping to the parent sitting next to it. The chick is almost as big as an adult (and fatter), has a tail that's almost as long, and flies quite strongly now (flew off before I could get to my camera, alas). It didn't look like the parent actually fed it anything; I suspect they're mostly hunting their own food now.

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[ 20:00 Jul 04, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Tue, 29 Jun 2004

Alpha is flying

Beta still lives in the pyrocanthus, and is getting fairly good at hopping from branch to branch, fluttering at the right time now. We weren't sure it was Beta, since we hadn't seen Alpha in a while and were getting a little worried that something bad might have happened ...

But tonight after sunset, I saw Alpha perched up on the wire! After a feeding by one of the parents, Alpha actually flew down off the wire. Hooray!

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[ 21:30 Jun 29, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 28 Jun 2004

Beta comes for a visit

This morning, I was organizing the mockchick pictures into a web page when I heard a lot of adult squawking in the backyard. I turned, and saw a chick (probably Beta) sitting on the sill of the office door, looking at me. Eventually the chick jumped off and hopped across the walk and under the deck, not to be seen for a few hours.

But this afternoon, there was chick activity in the front yard, moving between the atlas cedar and the pyrocanthus. The chick is now settled down for the night at the top of the pyrocanthus. The parents are still feeding it. It's hopping from branch to branch pretty well, using its wings a little bit, as an afterthought. I don't think it's getting much help from its wings yet, but it's getting used to the timing of when to flap them.

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[ 18:00 Jun 28, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 27 Jun 2004

Beta out of the tree

Beta chick left the nest today, late in the day, and made it to the juniper in the front yard, where he/she spent most of the day, being fed by mom. But late in the afternoon, somehow Beta appeared in the rosemary, where I was able to get a couple of nice, sharp pictures with no window in the way. Strangely, the parents didn't even dive-bomb me during this.

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[ 18:00 Jun 27, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Beta out of the nest

Beta chick was out of the nest by early morning, but still afraid to leave the tree. All day it hopped from branch to branch, but never flew. The parents are still feeding it.

Alpha chick still seems to be safe, in the trees across the yard. The parents feed it occasionally, but not nearly as often as Beta.

Fired up by the PenLUG talk, I tried getting swsusp working on blackbird. No dice: it's still not at all obvious how to initiate a suspend (except for echo S4 > /proc/acpi/sleep, which obviously isn't very helpful on non-ACPI machines). The kernel Documentation file power/swsusp.txt says to use the acpi method for the "old version" of swsusp, echo disk > /sys/power/state for the "new one". But echo disk > /sys/power/state does nothing. swsusp.sourceforge.net says nothing about this "new version" or anything else modern; it offers a pair of patches against 2.6.2 (or comparably old 2.4 kernels) and says to use the suspend.sh script. But suspend.sh complains at install time because it can't find /proc/swsusp.

Linuxchix get-together tonight in SF -- saw Pearlbear again and met xTina. Didn't see Erin (meara) -- apparently she was there !? but we never recognized each other. Bummer!

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[ 00:00 Jun 27, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 25 Jun 2004

Mocker chicks fledged!

One of the mockingbird chicks fledged today! I didn't think it was ready, but the parent mockers were unusually aggressive this morning, dive-bombing Dave or me whenever we went in or out of the house, which made me wonder if a baby had fallen out. Scanning the tree, I discovered a chick out of the nest and sitting on a branch right next to the porch (I took a few pictures on my way past).

Then a few minutes later, I looked out the office window and there was a strange looking bird sitting on the back porch. The chick had fallen or fluttered there from its perch. It hopped around a bit, and fell into the recycling bin. There ensued a few minutes of concerned conversation between parent (perched on the edge of the bin) and the unseen chick, punctuated by occasional aluminum can rattling sounds. I was just about reaching the point of rescuing the chick and putting it back in the tree when it succeeded in hopping out.

It then hopped decisively down the walkway toward the back of the yard, paused briefly at the dirt patch where the lawnmower is parked, then hopped into the patio. The parents followed its progress from on high, but didn't interfere. They were obviously afraid to follow it into the patio, but paced the wires outside, nervously wing-fluttering and head-cocking.

That was the last I saw of the alpha chick. Later in the afternoon, the parents have been aggressively protecting the orange tree outside the patio, and occasional cheeps sound from roughly that direction, so it looks like the chick probably did manage to fly up into the tree. I hope it's out of reach of cats.

Beta chick is still in the nest, showing not much interest in flapping, exploring, or leaving. It looks quite a bit smaller and fuzzier, and the parents are still feeding it.

Photos here.

In between mockwatching, I went over to Sarah's and we attempted to install various distros on her machine, with no success:

She may end up going back to RH8. Sigh.

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[ 17:00 Jun 25, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 24 Jun 2004

First blog entry. Let's see how this goes.

We've been watching the mockingbird chicks in the nest outside the laundry room for about a week now. The chicks (two, I think, but it's possible there's a third) are growing fast, and at least one is starting to grow some normal feathers on its back. That must itch: yesterday the baby was wiggling around in the nest, stretching, and preening itself madly.

I hear at least two different voices from the nest. One sounds almost hoarse, the other is clear and high pitched.

The parents are getting increasingly agitated. Today I got dive-bombed repeatedly while I was checking plants in the garden, despite being careful to stay away from the guava tree where the nest is. I keep wondering if somehow one of the chicks fell out and is hiding in the rosemary, since the parents get so agitated when I'm near there; but I never see them flying to the rosemary, and the chicks are obviously far too young to fly yet.

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[ 17:00 Jun 24, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

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