Sunday, June 30, 2019

American White Pelicans ☼ Best Of

Here's a video I put together of my best photos of American White Pelicans. All photos and video were taken with my little Canon SX530 and have not been filtered or altered in any way.

HERE is a link to all the White Pelican sightings on my website.

Friday, June 28, 2019

5 More Birding Tips for Beginners

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Last month, I offered some birding tips to keep in mind while you start the wonderful adventure that is birding. (You can read that post here.) Because this hobby is the ultimate learning experience, I thought of a few more bits of advice that might help...

1. If you find yourself having trouble identifying a bird you spotted, keep in mind that it could be a juvenile. Some species of birds start out looking nothing like the end product. Take, for instance, the Black-crowned Night Heron shown below. Even though their body shape is similar, their markings make them look like completely different species. There is a heron rookery on the auto tour of the Colusa NWR and we're lucky to get to see them in both stages of life.

You might wish the bird to be a different species, just so you can add a new bird to your lifelist, but sometimes it's just a youngster growing into his own. Take comfort in knowing that birds go through that awkward adolescent stage just like humans. For example, it takes Bald Eagles a few years to grow into their regal plumage. So, if you can't ID a particular bird, consider that it might just be a teenage version of one you already know and love.

Get yourself a good field guide and familiarize yourself with the birds in your area and what they look like when they're immature and adult. The one pictured below has birds separated by color which was extremely helpful to me as a beginner. Stan Tekiela has a ton of guides for every different state which you can purchase HERE.

The Merlin Bird ID app has also been awesome for identifying birds I'm not familiar with. It's free and you can download it HERE. The iBird Pro Guide is packed full of information about birds, too.

2. Don't make assumptions. Check again. Even if you think it's "just a blackbird," zoom in and double check for sure. I'll give you two examples of when I was guilty of this and almost missed a sighting. Phainopepla. I thought it was just a blackbird in the distance. Then we saw white on the wings when it flew away and heard another one make a sound we'd never heard before. Luckily there were several in the trees, fluttering from one branch to another, so I could get a closer look. Check it out, otherwise you might miss a great/rare sighting.

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Female Phainopepla (the male is black)
Example number two: My first American Kestrel. I thought it was a sparrow in the top of a tree. Nope. It was an American Kestrel, North America's smallest falcon. I had no idea a bird of prey could be that small!

American Kestrel
Bonus example: Western Meadowlark on a telephone wire. Again, we thought it was "just a blackbird" when we looked up. We'd never seen a Meadowlark on a phone line before and had only ever seen them on the ground and occasionally in trees. Birds will continue to surprise you no matter how long you've been watching them. That's one of the things that makes birding so fun!

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Great Egret

3. Keep track of your sightings. In a journal, a blog, etc. On a really good day at the refuge, you might see dozens of different species in the span of only an hour or two and remembering everything you saw can get overwhelming. And, for future reference, label the folders of photos on your computer by date and location so you can easily refer back to when and where you saw a bird.

4. I found it helpful to switch from binoculars to a camera. Instead of taking the precious time to focus and find a bird through binoculars and try to remember identifying details, now I simply use my camera, snap a few photos, and that way I can identify it later on the app if needed. That's the great thing about digital cameras--the photos are free and you can take as many as you want without having to wait for your expensive film to be developed. There will be plenty of blurry, non Instagram-worthy shots, but no one has to see those!

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Llano Seco Unit, part of the North Central Valley Wildlife Management Area

5. Go on your birding trips whenever you can, all different times of day. Most people recommend spotting birds in the early morning and late evening, but we manage to see them at all times. Find what works best for you and switch it up occasionally for a change of scenery and lighting. Cloudy days are even better than bright sunshiney ones so you don't get that harsh glare from the sun.

All righty, that's it for today. I hope you can take something away from these tips and get the most out of your birding adventures!

Happy Birding!
Rachelle Vaughn

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Spotted Sandpiper ☼ Manzanita Creek, Lassen Volcanic National Park
Just about every time we walk by the spot where Manzanita Creek flows into Manzanita Lake, we see either an American Dipper or a Spotted Sandpiper. Today, we're focusing on the cute little Sandpiper we had the pleasure of watching during our latest visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park.

If you've never seen a Spotted Sandpiper, well, they do this funny butt bop that we like to call The Sandpiper Boogie.

I did a little digging around and the function of the teetering motion hasn't been determined. Apparently, chicks teeter nearly as soon as they hatch from the egg. Whatever the reason, I could watch this bird bee-bop around the creek all day long! This guy even did it while standing on one leg. Shake that rump!

Here's some video so you can get an idea of what the heck I'm talking about...

(You can find my footage of the dancing American Dipper HERE.)

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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Moment of Zen ☼ Snowy Egret

Today's relaxing Moment of Zen is brought to you by two beautiful Snowy Egrets at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge...

Friday, June 21, 2019

Best of Shorebirds Video

It's the first day of summer and I'm celebrating with my favorite shorebird photography!

Birds in the video include: White-faced Ibis, Greater Yellowlegs, American Avocet, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted Sandpiper, Long-billed Curlew, Black Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone and Semipalmated Plover.

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Male Pileated Woodpecker Sighting ☼ Lassen Volcanic National Park

It's always exciting to spot a new bird to add to your lifelist. Especially one you've seen photos of and wonder if you'll ever get lucky enough to take some of your own.

Well, I'm happy to report that we spotted our first-ever Pileated Woodpecker while walking the trail around Manzanita Lake!
I was surprised at the sheer size of this magnificent bird. Like how I didn't realize Red-breasted Nuthatches were so tiny until I finally saw one with my own eyes, this woodpecker is HUGE!
This is a male (you can tell from the red on its cheeks that the female doesn't have) and I could have watched him peck around at the logs all day long. Other woodpeckers peck so quickly that they are practically a blur, and the Pileated chips away at trees like a big hammer. (You can see him in action in the video down below.)
Birding is such a thrill! You never know what new or exciting birds your going to come across in your travels! Of all the places in Lassen VNP we've gone birding, Manzanita Lake is by far the most fruitful. You can read more about the birds we've spotted in Lassen HERE and also over on my travel blog Vaughn the Road Again where I've cataloged all of our hikes around the park.

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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge ☼ Auto Tour

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge California birding hotspot
It's always nice to get out into nature and take a few deep breaths of fresh air. The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge is one of my favorite places to unwind and appreciate the beauty of the wildlife around me.
Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge California birding hotspots
I hope you enjoy today's video of some of the birds you can find on the auto tour route...

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Friday, June 14, 2019

Backyard Birds ☼ New Friends
I'd like to introduce you to my backyard buddy! This Black-chinned beauty has been camped out at my hummingbird feeder, and I have to say that it's comforting to look out and see him there every day.
He's claimed our feeder as his own, and doesn't tolerate any visitors. This immature male Anna's hummingbird was promptly chased away, but not before voicing his protests...
I'm also excited to announce the sighting of our first-ever Ash-throated Flycatcher! At first glance, I thought it was a Western Kingbird, but this guy's yellow belly is more pale and has a peaked crown. "Peaked crown" is what calls it, but I, of course, referred to it as "that kingbird's hair was all messed up."

Let's go birding!
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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Birds and Barbed Wire ☼ Rural Birding ☼ Glenn County, California

As you've probably noticed by now, some of our best (and most memorable) bird sightings have been on the country backroads around the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. So, I just had to put together a little tribute video in honor of my favorite road...

Some of the birds in this video include: Red-tailed Hawk, Western Kingbird, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Belted Kingfisher, American Kestrel, Sandhill Crane, and Cattle Egret.

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Sunday, June 9, 2019

Beautiful Modoc National Wildlife Refuge ☼ Alturas California

Out of the all wildlife refuges I've been to in northern California, Modoc National Wildlife Refuge is my personal favorite. This gorgeous spot in remote Alturas has 360 degree views and hardly anyone around to distract you from getting your nature vibes.

From the auto tour route, you can blindly stick your camera out the window, snap a photo and it's guaranteed to be amazing! I literally did that very thing, and when I went through my photos after we came back home, I couldn't figure out which photo it was.
Tricolored Blackbird

There is a paved walking trail, viewing blind, and the Visitor Center is shiny and new after being completely rebuilt after a fire in 2015. The staff is very friendly and helpful.
Tree Swallow

During our visit, we spotted Northern Shrike, American Kestrel, WilletNorthern Harrier, Black-necked Stilt, Sandhill Cranes, Cinnamon Teal, Marsh Wrens, among dozens of other birds. I made a video of the refuge which includes--you guessed it!--a 360 pan of scenic gorgeousness. I also threw in some dashcam footage of the auto tour and boundary roads, a Northern Harrier in flight, and a Willet with its wings spread...

Visit the Modoc NWR refuge website here.

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Friday, June 7, 2019

10 Best Things About Birding

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Why do I like birds so much? Why do I blog about birding and post my bird photography on social media? Why do I look forward to the weekend when I can go on new birding adventures and look for more birds even though I've already seen hundreds? All will be answered in today's post! Here are my 10 Best Things About Birding...

1. They're always on the move. At least some of them migrate, anyway. You can see different species during different times of the year depending on their migration habits. Birding is a hobby that offers a nice variety and I like looking forward to the different seasons when I'll see new faces in my corner of the Pacific Flyway.

2. The thrill of spotting something new (or rare to the area you're in). Who needs to go skydiving when you can get an adrenaline rush from seeing your first-ever Phainopepla?

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Red-tailed Hawk, Sacramento NWR boundary road

3. Finding the same birds in the same places. We always look forward to visiting the Kingfisher of Road P. and the Merlin I've spotted in the same exact tree on several different occasions on County Road Z. And I can't leave out the Peregrine Falcon who hangs out at the Sacramento NWR! Learn where certain species live and congregate and then you can revisit old friends when you're in the area.

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Northern Flicker, Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge

4. You never stop learning. First their names, then gradually you learn about their habitat, behavior, range, etc. And then comes their sounds and songs. Learning the many different songs that go with each bird opens up a whole new world. Then, when you're walking through the forest and hear yank-yank, you immediately know there are Red-breasted Nuthatches nearby. Same with the delightful waka-waka of Acorn Woodpeckers. I could go on and on...

5. Every time you step outside or simply look out your window, it's like you're on a scavenger hunt. What will I see flying by or perched in a tree today? Will I get lucky and finally spot a (insert elusive bird here) today? What a wonderful reason to get up in the morning! birder blog
Great Blue Heron, Gray Lodge Wildlife Area

6. It's addicting. Once you take that first drive through the auto tour route at your local wildlife refuge, you'll want to turn right back around and go again. As far as addictions go, it's a great one to have. I constantly want to go out and find new birds for my lifelist. Don't even get me started on doing a Big Year! If only I had an endless amount of gas money...

7. Birding get's you out of your own head. It's nice to have something positive to take your mind off of whatever problems or ailments you're dealing with at the moment. Spending some time out in nature is a great way to focus on the beauty around you and the birds going about their business, flying and foraging and hunting for the sake of survival.

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Cooper's Hawk, my backyard birdbath

8. You don't even have to leave your house. But, if and when you do, the possibilities for bird sightings are endless. Birds are everywhere and you don't have to go far to find them. Sure, they're abundant in nature, but I've spotted some cool birds in plenty of parking lots, too.

9. It can be a solitary endeavor or fun to share with others. I was into birding long before my hubby. He enjoyed the nature aspect of it, but it wasn't until after my first Big Year that he became interested in the birds themselves. Now he's my right hand man in every way, and eager to set out on birding trips to see what exciting sighting we can share and what different species we can find and take photos of.

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Western Meadowlark

10. Birdsong is relaxing. Even if you can't identify the birds through all the leaves in the trees, or they're moving around too quickly, it's still nice to stop and listen to them chatter away and sing their beautiful, unique songs. Being serenaded by a Western Meadowlark is one of my favorite things in the world!

I'm sure I could come up with at least a dozen more reasons why I love birding, but we'll save those for another time. Here's to spotting something rare and having the time of your life watching the beautiful winged creatures I happily consider friends...

Happy Birding!
Rachelle Vaughn

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