Birdwatching Fieldtrip: Fun in the Rain

We took a hummingbird class at  Los Gatos Birdwatcher last week, then met for a birdwatching field trip over the weekend.  Lead by Lisa Myers of Let’s Go Birding, we drove to the  Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.  Located at the tip of McClellan Ranch in Cupertino, trees, native shrubs and a number of feeders attract resident and migrating birds.  We stood under the awning with a light rain falling, and made like a tree.  Trees with binoculars, that is, and a few cameras, too.

Lisa pointed out that some people ‘bird’, some people photograph and some (raising my hand) try to do both. You can’t do both well, but I tried, knowing I wanted to share as much as I could with you.

Like so many things in life, once you tune in to something, the world opens up.  Lisa called out several species, pointing out gender, mating patterns, feeding habits and other bits of wisdom.  She has a dry sense of humour along with a vast knowledge of native birds, making for an interesting and entertaining morning.

She jokingly pointed out that serious birders will sneer if you mention seeing Canadian Geese and Seagulls.  The correct terms: Canada Geese and Gulls. Conversely, she has to bite her tongue when customers come into the store and swear they saw a canary or an eagle in their back yard.

Although we did see hummingbirds, they were fairly shy.  They didn’t approach the feeder until we were well out-of-the-way.  At home the resident hummers are quite bold, and will buzz up to us on the deck in the summer.  They definitely know the hand that feeds them.

No matter.  We saw plenty of other birds and I came away with even more appreciation of the songbirds in our area.

McClellan Ranch

McClellan Ranch

Male birds flaunt their colorful plumage in order to attract a mate. The female, on the other hand, is nondescript. Since she’s the one sitting on the nest incubating the young, it makes sense that she blends in, keeping her and the nest safe from predators. When I took the picture, below, I didn’t even know that the female of the pair was there.

Male and Female House Finch

Male and Female House Finch

Some of the pictures, below, are clearer than others, but I wanted to give you an idea of the variety on view Saturday morning.

A variety of song birds

A variety of song birds

Upper Left: Black Phoebe, Song Sparrow (?) Woodpecker and Mourning Dove.

I’ve been working from memory and my trusty Local Birds of the San Francisco Bay Area Quick Guide to identify the birds pictured below. I’m going to have to check with Lisa to see if I got it right.

More song birds

More song birds

I’m more confident about identifying this crowd: Behind the stop sign, a House Finch and a Lesser Goldfinch, at the feeder, Lesser Goldfinch, two White-crowned sparrows, and at the top of the tree, a White-tailed Kite.

Do you have a favorite songbird in your neighborhood? Please let me know in the comments below. Sharing of photos encouraged.

Fabulous resources in Silicon Valley:

Beginning Birding: Hummingbird Class

Don’t you just love learning new things?  It’s especially fun when it’s something your passionate about.  We took a hummingbird class at the spectacular Los Gatos Birdwatcher.  This locally owned store describes themselves as

the nature lover’s general store, specializing in everything to do with bird feeding and bird watching.

If you’re local, or planning a visit to the area, it’s a must see. The owners and staff are wonderful people, knowledgeable and helpful in every way.  Their current dog in residence is a chocolate Cocker spaniel named Marley.

Lisa Myers of Let’s Go Birding presented the hummingbird class, then lead us on a two-hour field trip Saturday morning.  We had so much fun.  Lisa leads a variety of birding trips throughout the bay area.  She’s incredibly knowledgeable with a wonderful sense of humour.

Lisa Myers and Freddy Howell

Lisa Myers and Freddy Howell

We’ve been feeding hummingbirds in our garden for as long as I can remember. We have several feeders and hummingbird-attracting plants.

2014, 03-20

Hummingbirds in our garden

I’ve read a number of books and articles over the years, but still found much to learn.  It’s also nice spending time with a group of  like-minded folks.

Here are a few things I didn’t know:

  • There are over 300 species of hummingbirds, but only six or seven in the Bay Area.
  • Hummingbirds are native to the Americas.  They’re not found anywhere else in the world.
  • Yellow attracts bees, red attracts hummingbirds.  Therefore a hummingbird feeder with yellow plastic ‘flowers’ sends out mixed messages.
  • Anna’s Hummingbirds, native to our area, live here year round. There is no need to remove feeders during the colder months.
  • Hummingbirds are the only bird that can hover in the air, as well as fly forward and backward.
Anna's hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

It was fascinating learning about torpor. Hummingbirds enter this state of hibernation nightly to conserve energy.  I found the following explanation at ScienceBlogs™

Even sleeping hummingbirds have huge metabolic demands that must be met simply to survive the night when they cannot forage. To meet this energetic challenge, hummingbirds save enough energy to survive cold nights by lowering their internal thermostat at night, becoming hypothermic. This reduced physiological state is an evolutionary adaptation that is referred to as torpor.

Torpor is a type of deep sleep where an animal lowers its metabolic rate by as much as 95%. By doing so, a torpid hummingbird consumes up to 50 times less energy when torpid than when awake. This lowered metabolic rate also causes a cooled body temperature. A hummingbird’s night time body temperature is maintained at a hypothermic threshold that is barely sufficient to maintain life. This threshold is known as their set point and it is far below the normal daytime body temperature of 104°F or 40°C recorded for other similarly sized birds.

Isn’t that interesting?

Please be sure to check back tomorrow for news and pictures from our two-hour field trip to the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.

Fabulous resources in Silicon Valley:

Tracking Hummingbirds

hummingbird in winter

Hummingbird in winter

About three months ago, I decided to take part in a survey that tracks global hummingbird migration. The tricky part was recording the date two weeks after the last siting. The collected data helps researchers around the world better understand and protect hummingbirds. I’m all for that.

Guess what?

The hummers never left.  In late fall we had an early and unusual frost lasting five days.  The birds remained.  Trees dropped leaves and still the birds remained.  I worried that they were cold.

Then a few weeks ago I noticed our cat Lindy with her eyes glued to the sliding glass door.  She had an eye-level show of a hummingbird splashing around in the frigid fountain outside.  Stunned, I remained with her, eyes transfixed, until the little bather flew away.  I missed the photo-op, but enjoyed the show. I had a good laugh at myself for worrying that they were too cold.

In late March, Mike and I plan to attend a workshop on Hummingbirds through the Los Gatos Birdwatcher.  It’s a two-hour class, with a two-hour field trip the following weekend.  I can’t wait.  It will be fun to learn more about the birds specific to our area.  I’m looking forward to the class and to sharing what I learn with you.

You can read about hummingbird migration at World of Hummingbirds.
The Los Gatos Birdwatcher is one of my favorite shops.  They also offer workshops and services.

On a sadder note, I planned to link to the Phoebe Allen webcam in Southern California. Phoebe’s been nesting in a rose-bush several times a year since 2007. Last winter, several of us had our eyes glued to the nest as she went about the business of raising chicks.  It was incredible. Phoebe laid a brood in late December, but disappeared on January 8th. A bird rehabilitater is raising the chicks till they fledge.

Los Gatos Birdwatcher

What fun it was visiting Los Gatos Birdwatcher this afternoon.  I haven’t been in a while and I’ve missed it.

The store is named for the town of Los Gatos which is Spanish for ‘The Cats.’ You’ll find no evidence of any real cats there, though they have a beautiful statue on display (more on that later.)

Now privately owned by John and Freddy Howell, Los Gatos Birdwatcher offers an array of products and services. I’ve never asked a question they couldn’t answer. I asked for assistance today identifying my little backyard hummer, see below.

This particular hummingbird had a green chest and shorter tail feathers, quite different from the usual feeder crowd. John identified it as a probable female Allen or a first-year male Allen.  Apparently the males acquire color as they get older.

I also learned about a phone app called iBird. It’s an interactive field guide to birds of North America. If you’re a serious birder, this app’s for you.

Los Gatos Birdwatcher has a huge selection of wild birdseed, bird feeders, nesting boxes and assorted tools. They sell gifts and books as well, including jewelry, t-shirts, puzzles and bird-themed cards. I always feel so at home. They even have a corner dedicated to the bird-feeder nemesis, the squirrel, with clever nesting boxes and feeders. If you’re a fan of the furry ones, you can buy 25 pound bags of peanuts in the shell. You’ll have backyard friends for life.

Cutest Bird Nest Ever

Cutest Bird Nest Ever

Gorgeous Nesting Box

Gorgeous Nesting Box

Nesting Boxes

Nesting Boxes

Birdseed Feeders Galore

Birdseed Feeders Galore

The store offers the following services:

  • Feeder Cleaning: No charge, but they ask for a donation to Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley, Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center, Nike Animal Rescue Foundation or Friends of San Martin Animal Shelter.
  • Frequent Buyer Program
  • Seed Delivery in the local area
  • Monthly children’s nature programs: For pre-school through grade 3.
  • Community outreach
  • Backyard Bird Consulting Program

If you’re local to the area, be sure to drop by. If not, you can subscribe to their bi-monthly newsletter following this link.

Los Gatos Birdwatcher
King’s Court Center
792 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos, CA  95032

cat sculpture

The only cat you’ll ever see at the Birdwatcher