Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bulletin #4 - Monterey CA #3

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas

Bulletin #4 – Monterey, California – part 3

Hello friends,

OK, I know, you want colorful birds, and Bulletin #3 just showed birds that were black and white.

So let’s start with a breeding American Goldfinch. We seldom see this plumage on the Texas coast as the birds usually head north before molting. I have only seen 1 in 16 years here.

There are 2 other ‘goldfinches’, Lesser and Lawrence’s. Both also occur in Monterey, but I got photos only of the Lawrence’s. Here is the breeding male Lawrence’s Goldfinch.

There are several members of the Sparrow family. I got a photo of a male Black-chinned Sparrow – only the second time ever to see this bird.

Some members of the sparrow family aren’t called sparrow. There are 2 towhees and a junco.

The first is a pretty brown bird – the California Towhee.

The other towhee is the beautiful Spotted Towhee. Here is the male. I had tried to photo this bird last year, but was frustrated as they would not come out of the deep brush. This bird flew up and posed for 10 minutes until I had taken all the pictures I wanted and he was still there!

The junco is the Dark-eyed Junco. This bird has several color variations in different parts of the USA. This female is the so-called ‘Oregon Junco’. Here she is gathering nesting material on the ground.

Next we have 2 birds that are similar in color, but in different families.

This male Western Bluebird is in the thrush family.

And the Lazuli Bunting is a finch – same family as Indigo and Painted Buntings. Here is the male. Notice he has white wing bars unlike the bluebird above.

Lastly, we all love hummers. There are many hummingbirds in the western USA. In the east we generally only have a single species.

2 species nest in the Monterey area. The first is a male Anna’s Hummingbird. He is the only North American hummingbird to have a red forehead as well as a red throat. Here are 2 different birds.

The other local nester is Allen’s Hummingbird. I was able to have a juvenile male sit and pose for me. You can see the downy feathers on his breast. Notice the green back but rufous rump. The similar Rufous Hummingbird has the whole back rufous. This juvenile male just has a few red feathers on his throat. The adult male would have an all red throat.

I have only ever seen a Bobcat 3 times. My guide Rick Fournier ( saw this Bobcat in a field while we were birding. The cat was about 50-60 yards away, but I was able to get some reasonable photos before he left the area.

My birding guide in Monterey was Rick Fournier. His web site is Monterey Birding Adventures.
and his email is

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy Birding,David McDonald

photos copyright 2007 David McDonald

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bulletin #3 - Monterey CA #2

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas

Bulletin #3 – Monterey, California – part 2

Hello friends,

There are many shorebird and seabirds in California. One family of seabirds is the Alcids (alcidae). These are mostly black and white pelagic seabirds that occupy the same ecological niche in cold northern oceans as the penguins do in the southern oceans. However, they are in different families – not related. There are 21 species world wide in 10 genera. Unlike the penguins , the alcids can fly. But the Great Auk, the largest of the alcids was flightless. Because of their inability to fly, they were rounded up and herded to their deaths for the down feather industry. The Great Auk went extinct in the 1840’s.

Because of the warm Gulf Stream up the Atlantic Coast in USA, no alcids are found south of the Virgina. However, the Pacific is very frigid and alcids of many species are found as far south as Baja California in Mexico.

Monterey is a main port for pelagic trips to see alcids as well as shearwaters, petrels etc.

Some actually get close to shore especially with strong onshore Pacific storms. The Pigeon Guillemot is regularly found on rocky islands close to shore, in summer. On this trip actually I found another alcid, the Common Murre swimming off Carmel River beach.

This breeding plumage Pigeon Guillemot is a pretty black bird with a big white wing patch and bright red legs.

Here he is taking flight, showing his colors.

This breeding plumage Common Murre is black & white.

There are 3 phalarope species, the Wilson’s Phalarope is regularly seen on the Upper Texas Coast in spring. The other 2 are more common in California. The Red-necked Phalarope is a regular, but the Red Phalarope is a pelagic bird that sometimes is blown ashore with storms. My expert guide, Rick Fournier(, had found several Red Phalaropes ashore and was able to show them to me. They are currently in the sandpiper family, but in the past have been classified as a separate family.

As you know, phalaropes are unusual in the bird world in that the female is the brighter colored bird. The females also leave the nest after laying the eggs. The males have to incubate the eggs and raise the young alone!

Below is the breeding plumage female Red-necked Phalarope. Notice the red comes around the front of the neck.

The breeding male Red-necked Phalarope is below. There is no red around the front of his neck – just a patch on the nape of the neck.

Here is the breeding female Red Phalarope. The male is identical, except the breast is a more orange color. The white patch on the face is diagnostic of this species in breeding plumage.

The western oystercatcher is the Black Oystercatcher. He has the characteristic orange bill of this family.

There were 4 gull species. The normal summer coastal breeders in Monterey are Western Gull and Ring-billed Gull. The California Gull breeds inland, but a few were still on the beach. Also some lingering sub-adult Bonaparte’s Gulls were present.

Here is the breeding adult Western Gull. It is a large (25”), dark-winged gull distinguished by red spot on bill and pink legs. The eye may be dark or pale yellow.

Here is a close up of the facial detail.

This breeding adult California Gull is smaller (21”) with gray wings, yellow-green legs, and both black and red spots on the bill. The iris is dark.

Here is a close up of the facial detail.

The Bonaparte’s Gull is a small (13”) dove-like gull. He is still in the 1st winter plumage with brownish patches on wings and a white head. However, he is starting to get some black feathers on his head. The black bill, pink legs, and dark spot behind the ear are the field marks to ID this gull.

I didn’t take photos of the Ring-billed Gull as I already had some good ones in my files. So, for completeness, as some readers are novice birders, I’ll show those photos as well.

This photo is of a non-breeding adult Ring-billed Gull. This is a smaller (17”) gull. The diagnostic marks are the black ring around the yellow bill, pale yellow eye, and yellow legs. In breeding plumage, the head would be pure white. On the Texas coast in summer, it is the common white headed gull.

As man cannot live by birds alone, I also photo other wildlife when present.

The ‘rock-star’ of Monterey wildlife is the Sea Otter. This amazing animal was hunted to almost extinction for its fur. It has been protected for a long time now and is starting to come back. When my wife and I started going to Monterey on vacation 25 years ago, it was a lucky trip if we saw one or two of the otters from shore. Now, they are more common and in some locations such as the harbor at Moss Landing, there were over 100 on a recent count.

These photos were taken at that location.

My birding guide in Monterey was Rick Fournier. His web site is Monterey Birding Adventures.

and his email is

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy Birding,David McDonald

photos copyright 2007 David McDonald

Note – photos with the name preceded by an asterisk (*) were updated for this blog and the text was edited accordingly

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Bulletin #2 - Monterey CA #1

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas

Bulletin #2 – Monterey California – part 1

Hello friends,

I had the pleasure of a trip to Monterey CA over the week of Memorial Day. I did a lot of photography by myself, but also had an excellent guide for a day who, showed me many more birds than I could ever have found myself in a whole week. His name is Rick Fournier(website and email at end of bulletin) if anyone needs a good guide out there.

There were very few late migrants still there, so I concentrated on the summer resident birds.

Here is the Violet-green Swallow (male). In my opinion it is the most beautiful North American Swallow.

A California endemic is the Yellow-billed Magpie. I’m sure many of you have seen the Black-billed Magpie in the Rockies, but this bird in confined to central California. Also note the patch of bare yellow skin below the eye.

Another local specialty is the Tricolored Blackbird. It is similar to our Red-winged Blackbird (RWB), but it has a white wingbar below the red. The male has a ‘milk white’ strip on his wing and the red epaulet is usually hidden. The female is much darker than the female RWB.

There are also a pair of orioles resident there. The first is the Bullock’s Oriole. This is the bird that was once lumped with our eastern Baltimore Oriole(BO) as the Northern Oriole. It was later split again. Notice the mostly orange head and the large white wing patch on the male. I didn’t get photos of the female. This male is very different than the male BO.

The other local oriole is the Hooded Oriole. It is known for nesting in palm trees. I did manage to get 3 different plumages in photos. The male is first.

The second is the 1st year male which is similar to the 1st year male Orchard Oriole with the black throat patch. Here he is in a palm tree!

And lastly, the plain female resembles other female orioles.

My excellent guide was Rick Fournier. His web site is Monterey Birding Adventures.

and his email is

Happy Birding,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2007 David McDonald