Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Grebes, Herons, and More at the Marsh

Yesterday morning -- again, during a temporary break in the rain -- I went back to the Arcata Marsh. I'm finally starting to take advantage of how close I live to this amazing place! Just like last week, the marsh was hosting lots and lots of ducks, as well as various other birds, including several hunters in a large pool that must have been brimming with fish. I loved getting to see herons and grebes at work, especially at such close range. (I don't know whether it's because of the abundance of wildlife or the abundance of people that hang out in this relatively small area, but the birds at the Arcata Marsh seem especially willing to stay near the paths even when people walk by!)

Two gorgeous Western Grebes were popping in and out of the water:

This grebe is about to slice into the water for another dive:

I've only ever seen these big grebes from afar before, so this was quite a treat. What a bird:

I can't get over those red eyes, and that knife-like beak:

Two smaller Eared Grebes were hunting in these waters as well. OK, wait, these eyes are the best, with that ring of yellow in the middle of the orange-red:

One of the two Eared Grebes was looking especially fluffy, but it was doing just as much diving as its fellow:

A Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret were prowling nearby:

And this turned out to be an amazing chance to watch a Great Blue Heron at work up close. First, I just had to admire this giant bird:

Herons look so funny from the front, but I absolutely love the patterns on this creature's neck and chest:

This heron proved to be an excellent hunter, nabbing a fish every few minutes. (The Great Egret wasn't having quite as much success.) Got one:

Ah, too many eyes!

And down it goes! (Not shown: the fish was still wriggling as it was swallowed.)

And there's another fish soon afterward:

So yeah, I would not want to be a fish in this pond, that's for sure.

In another pond, Green-winged Teal were busy filtering food from the water's surface, motoring around like flat little boats:

A few Lesser Scaup (including some dapper males this time) were in another pond:

And a very sleepy Horned Grebe was floating around as well:

(I also saw a Pied-billed Grebe, making a total of four grebe species; not bad for one visit!)

I can't help taking more pictures of Marsh Wrens when these handsome little birds keep popping up right next to me:

Sing, little Marsh Wren!

I wonder if these birds have started building nests yet, or if they're still working on establishing their territories:

Lovely little bird:

Could this be the same Northern Harrier that flew past me last week, in exactly this same spot?

A Red-shouldered Hawk watched a meadow from a nearby tree:

And a flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows waited calmly in some brambles for me to walk past so they could return to feeding in the path:

And all that in a short visit between rain storms! Hooray for the Arcata Marsh!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

More Raptors on Fence Posts

The Arcata Bottoms really are a haven for raptors (and shorebirds, and geese, and ducks, and so on...). In a previous post, I noted that the many fence posts around these pastures seem to make excellent perches for the wide variety of raptors that hunt here. After new visits to the Arcata Bottoms last weekend and again this morning, I have some more fence post sentries to add to the list, starting with this little American Kestrel (with lounging cows for a backdrop):

American Kestrels are our smallest raptors, but Merlins aren't much bigger, and these fence posts seem to be just the right size for those little hunters as well:

Aren't Turkey Vultures too big for these wooden posts? I guess not:

One Turkey Vulture on a roadside post let me inch up next to it in my car, at least up to a point; I'm pretty sure this is the closest I've been to a Turkey Vulture in the wild, and it took off (to land on a post further away) just after I took this picture:

Wow, what beautiful massive wings, and what a bizarre skull-like head. Turkey vultures are so cool.

While I'm already sharing sights from the Bottoms, how about some water birds? Three male Buffleheads paddled around together (while a group of several female Buffleheads hung out a little ways away):

And a big flock of American Coots demonstrated how cool their black-white-gray outfits look en masse:

We've had rainy and gray weather for what seems like forever at this point, but even when rain threatens at least I can drive through the Bottoms and still get to see new and interesting things!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Checking in at the Arcata Marsh

Have I really not been to the Arcata Marsh since late July? See, this is what I mean about missing my outside time. When I woke up on Sunday morning to bright sunlight rather than the predicted rain, I grabbed my chance and drove the few minutes to this amazing habitat. The marsh was just overflowing with activity -- so many birds, and lots of happy people walking around. It was hard to decide where to look! A pond next to the road was filled with ducks, so that seemed like a good place to start:

A flotilla of Ruddy Ducks paddled nearest to my side of the pond:

A couple of female Lesser Scaup were in the mix as well:

Ruddy Ducks are such strange, dumpy birds, and this is one of the few times I've seen them up close:

Those tails are so cool and strange-looking:

Hello, funny bird. You are very cute:

A male Northern Shoveler mingled with the group as well. Why do so many ducks look so weird?

Green-winged Teal were in several of the ponds. This pair was resting in a nice sheltered spot:

Male Green-winged Teal are exceptionally fancy:

This teal trio made quite the tableau; I love the male's speckled breasts and the female's almost-hidden flash of green:

Here's the trio in another arrangement; the male in the back kept lifting up his head to make a high-pitched peeping call:

Swallows zoomed above the water's surface. (Perhaps I will be able to photograph a Violet-green Swallow sometime before the move. Their costumes are simply amazing.) A Northern Harrier flew low overhead, giving me the rare chance to admire this raptor's belly and wings:

Marsh Wrens sang out from every direction. It's such a treat to see these little birds being so bold:

In a nearby field, Western Meadowlarks flashed their brilliant yellow breasts as they foraged in the grass:

Every few minutes, the small flock of meadowlarks would burst up out of the grass to relocate to a new spot in the field. I felt a bit like I was watching a very quiet and very unpredictable fireworks show:

A tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet foraged in some bushes next to the path and was remarkably obliging with me and my camera:

Later, I even saw the kinglet flash its bright red crown for a moment, but here it's looking typically plain and adorable:

As I was heading back to my car, the promised rain began, but I had to make a last quick stop when I met a Yellow-rumped Warbler on a moss-covered tree next to the path:

Beautiful warbler on branches that look like they will soon covered with leaves:

I suppose there really are seasons here, too, but they're certainly muted compared with what I'm used to in the east. I'm looking forward to seeing what spring in Northern California brings!