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Old Dec 19, 2008, 3:09 PM   #1
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I stayed home today with the idea that I'd take some snow pictures around my neighborhood and go snow shoeing. I ended up being more interested in the birds I spotted while walking around the block. Those of you who post perfect bird picture after perfect bird picture amaze me - most of mine were pretty poor quality.

While I've identified some of the birds I saw, there is one that I have no idea what it is, and another I'm pretty sure I know what it is (but someone at the San Diego Wild Animal Park said I couldn't possibly have seen in the wild). So I'm hoping that Penolta will be by and give me a positive identification one way or the other.

First - we have two main types of jays that live here year round. While I saw a couple of Stellars Jays, I didn't get a picture of one. The other common jay is a Scrub Jay, and I thought this was a cute picture:

Next, a rather cold full-time resident - a Brewers Blackbird. They aren't usually this fluffed out.

Both these birds are common to our area, the Junco is easy to identify. I'm not sure of the identity of the bird on the right - it looks like a finch to me, and I think it might be a Cassin's, though the Purple Finch are supposed to be in this area and appear to be more common through the area (going by the two maps in my field guide). I'm such a poor birder, for a long time I thought this was some type of sparrow.

Next is the bird I have absolutely no idea what it is. It's not the sharpest picture in the world, but thought it was good enough that someone would be able to identify it:

I'm hoping that Penolta will confirm the identification of this bird. There was a pair of them soaring way above the valley and subdivision where I live. These are 100% crops taken hand-held with a 300mm lens - and the birds were little more than black spots in the sky (which means the quality is poor). At first I thought they were our normal ravens, but a closer look shows quite a bit of white on the wings. I'm not much of a birder, but I can only think of one bird with the white on the front side of the wing, instead of the back side, like the turkey vulture. But I could easily be wrong. So am I right or what kind of bird is it?

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Old Dec 19, 2008, 4:38 PM   #2
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Hi Harriet,

My guesses -- certainly not definitive

I'd say male House Finch for the first, female Gilded Flicker for the second, and Califonia Condor for the third.

Since the last two will never come close to my location, these are obviously from looking at books. I'm pretty confident about the House Finch -- the brown streaking on the breast is a distiction from the Purple Finch.

I've been wrong before, so I'm not accepting any bets. . .:lol:

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Old Dec 19, 2008, 7:45 PM   #3
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I don't blame you for getting interested in the birds. You saw some nice ones. I agree with Scott on the female Gilded Flicker and really like this shot and the one of the Scrub Jay. It's hard to imagine being lucky enough to watch a condor soaring, but your shot looks exactly like the one in my Kaufman guide. That guide notes that all known California condors were captured in 1987 for captive breeding programs, but that a limited number have since been released into the wild.

Nicely done,

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Old Dec 19, 2008, 10:45 PM   #4
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All the identifications are correct, except the Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker. The Gilded Flicker is a bird of the southwestern deserts, not extending into California except for a small area around the Colorado River.

Harriet, you are near the Sespe Reserve and its Hopper Mountain caves, which are historic Condor breeding places. This was the last place they were found in the wild before they were removed for the captive breeding program, and the first place releases of captive bred birds and rereleases of older birds were made. There is a trail to the top of Mt Pinos, which for a long time was the most reliable place to see the last of the wild ones before their removal. It is not surprising that you would see one or two once in a while. It takes more than 5 years for a bird to reach adulthood, when the patches under the wings would be immaculate white, and the head multicolored, so this bird is still immature - I would guess 3 or 4 years old. Each bird is tagged (you can see the tag on the right wing, but I cannot read it clearly - maybe number 72 ?) with on or two wing tags and probably also a radio tag, so each can be followed and identified. If you see them again, see if you can get a better read on the numbers with binoculars. In a case like this, even a blurry picture can be of value!
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Old Dec 19, 2008, 11:20 PM   #5
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Thanks for the ID on the birds, especially the red-shafted flicker. I'm not sure I've ever seen one, certainly not this clearly. And I wasn't sure about what type of finch it was - I had originally thought it might be a House Finch, but then thought the head didn't look quite right.

I was pretty sure that the last one was a California Condor. When I was at the San Diego Wild Animal Park last year, I mentioned that I thought I had seen one on Lockwood Valley Road, not far from the Sespe Wilderness area. The docent said it must have been a turkey vulture. It's nice to find out that I really did see a Condor in the wild.

I've been up to the top of Mt. Pinos quite often - there's a bench near the top at a spot that overlooks the Sespe Wilderness area. It's marked as the Wildlife Viewing area and there's a big sign with a number of animals that are common to the area, including the Condor. However, I've only managed to see Chickadees, Juncos and Stellars Jays around there (and one distant hawk).

Thanks Penolta for pointing out that the tag is almost readable in the picture - I think you are right about it being 72. I'll have to keep an eye out in the mornings for them - maybe I can get a picture of the second one's wing tag or a clearer picture. While the A*300 is a good lens, it's not quite long enough for high soaring birds like these.
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