Hello! Most of my posts take place around San Diego County, (Mostly Lake Murray) unless otherwise noted.
For more posts and photos, I also post on Hubpages, a site that is a bit different than others. Thanks!: Shorebirdie on Hubpages

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nothing clears a neighoborhood like a hawk

Well, the rise in Lake Murray's water levels, the lack of insects on the lakeshore and the presence of hawks seem to have caused many birds to go elsewhere. I know that it will only be temporary, though. As soon as the food comes back, all the insect-eating birds will be back. Of course, the ducks and geese don't seem to be affected.

I did see Tiny and Firecracker trying to feed in Alvarado Bay when I arrived, but Tiny got upset at something and he and his sister flew around the area, calling. I thought they landed on the north side, but when I checked, they weren't there. So, I figured they went to the secret hiding place where their parents and brother are staying.

Tiny on the right, Firecracker on the left

Tiny has gotten huge! He's much larger than his sister and it was really evident when they flew off together. Killer is also not as big as Tiny, too. I haven't seen Martha, but I think Tiny may be bigger than her and his dad, also. That's the power of naming something Tiny.

Tiny is just about the biggest killdeer I've ever seen. I don't think he's stopped growing.

In the ballfields, almost all the killdeer are gone. I only saw the three juveniles I saw last time. One of them, I think it's "Secret" flew off and around the area, calling, but got no response. He ended up flying into a field by himself. I don't know where Mary or the rest of the flock went to. But, they will be back when they're sure the hawk has moved on, or at least stopped focusing it's hunting on their feeding areas.

The hawk was hanging around there because people feed the doves, squirrels, rabbits, starlings and grackles. They would gather in big groups that the hawk couldn't resist trying to catch one. Someone got a rabbit within the last few days, but I don't know if it was a hawk or a coyote.

Also seen: I didn't see anything new or unusual today, but yesterday, I saw three greater yellowlegs all together. I didn't see them today.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Some interesting juveniles

Two young ballfield killdeer, the one on the left looks a lot like Tiny

Today, none of George's family were in the bay, though I did hear Martha's raspy call when a boat got too close to the shore past the fenced off area. So, I'm sure they were there. As I walked around, I could tell that there was no killdeer food at all in their usual feeding area, no fish, flies or ants. All the insect eating birds were also gone. There was some small flies on the north side of the parking lot and a little sandpiper was eating them, but not a whole lot.

In the ballfields, very few killdeer were seen. At one ballfield, I saw a killdeer that looked a lot like Tiny from the side. I went onto the field and this killdeer, along with his companion, were not very afraid and did no alarm calls. I took lots of photos and when I looked at them closely, I could tell they were not Tiny or any of the Alvarado Bay killdeer. The other killdeer could have been another male, or a female, it was hard to tell. It seemed very attached to the one that looked like Tiny and the one that looked like Tiny did not make any threatening calls or trills when it came close.

Nope, not Tiny, but looks very similar

A friendly companion that liked the Tiny look-a-like

A third killdeer, a male, dropped down into the ballfield and called the other two towards him. That confirmed that it was not Tiny in that field as Tiny has been getting more and more aggressive as he gets older and will not tolerate any other male to get close to him even though his brother begs for his attention.

This third killdeer had an odd shaped head and coloration. I don't know if it's just odd-growing feathers or something really is wrong with his head.

The one on the left has something wrong with its head. The one on the right has almost the exact same profile as Tiny

All three appear to be juveniles, but I don't know where they were raised or whose chicks they are. They were at least 6 weeks old, so I know they're not Junior's chicks as they aren't quite at flying age yet. I don't think they're the M6 chicks as two of the three of those were females and I double checked their baby photos to make sure.

Also seen:

A blue heron, possibly the juvenile one who has just molted into his adult plumage. He managed to get something to eat in Alvarado Bay that was black, but I don't know what. Also, I noticed that he got the fishing line off his leg (or it could be a different heron).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tiny gets upset and a new chick?

Today, I didn't see anyone in George's territory when I arrived, but I did see two sandpipers and a green heron fishing for all the thousands of minnows in the area.

At the ballfield, I counted 15 killdeer between two fields. I'm sure all three chicks of the M6 territory are there as well as dad, but I can't be certain. However, I did find this curious little guy on a pitcher's mound, watching me. He looked like he still had some down on him, so I estimated that he was less than 5 weeks old. He could fly very well, though. He wasn't afraid of me at all and came really close, trying to get a look at me.

Cute little guy

This female, who looks like the M6 mom, was very concerned about him and called him back to her.

Watch out, it's dangerous there, says this female

This male, who looks like Secret, was concerned about the female who was concerned about the young male. That's Mary in the foreground.

"Secret" and Mary, I think

I'm wondering if the M6 mom was maintaining two different nests about two to three weeks apart. She had three chicks from one, but when the other nest started to hatch, she took one chick and paid attention to the other new hatchlings, going back between the two families. So far, I only see one chick of that age there.

They (the possible mom and the young killdeer) took off across Del Cerro Bay along with Secret and I think Mary, too. Suddenly, two of the killdeer abruptly changed direction near where the hawks like to roost. Two went to the south and I think the other two ended up on another ballfield. I didn't see any hawks, but they could have been there. I hope there weren't any hawks, especially if it's the little guy's first day out.

I heard a killdeer flying around from the north to the south side of the main parking lot in the south, making alarm calls. I heard two to three responses to it, but I couldn't tell who it was that was flying over.

On my way back around the lake, I found and heard a strange call of a nervous bird who didn't stay still on the north side of the parking lot. Finally, it stopped and let me take photos of it. It was a greater yellowlegs.

Look at me, I am pretty, right?

The yellowlegs went around to Alvarado Bay. Shortly after it arrived there, I heard a killdeer alarm call, then a territorial call, and a trill. Then, it was quiet for a while. When I arrived, the only killdeer I saw was Tiny, all alone. He seemed very upset and nervous. While I was there, he was quiet, but when I started leaving, the yellowlegs started to call and Tiny began making alarm calls. I don't know if Tiny was trying to warn the rest of the family I was coming, or if he was really upset about the yellowlegs. It's possible that he was trying to scare it away with the trill and the territorial call and when it didn't go away, he started to do alarm calls. The yellowlegs responded with his own call.

I don't know what that is, says Tiny

I watched through my binoculars and could see Tiny watching the yellowlegs as it approached him while he stood on a rock. But, the yellowlegs was only interested in the minnows and didn't bother Tiny at all. So, Tiny began to calm down and was fine when I left. He probably figured that this wasn't a killdeer after his territory or was going to hurt him.

It was the first time that I've heard any of the chicks make an alarm call while still on the ground.

No sign of the rest of the family, but they've gotten good at hiding in plain sight around there. I thought I heard them calling from across the bay in the fenced area.

Also seen:

A juvenile green heron early in the morning:

Lots of song sparrows as always. This one has a seed in it's mouth.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hawks, snakes and a sora

Tiny, all alone in the morning

Tiny was all by himself when I arrived. When I made him nervous, he began calling for his mom, but no one called back. I left him alone to go find everyone else, but found no other killdeer in the area.

On the other side of the lake, the ballfield killdeer were acting very nervous, constantly flying around into different fields. Several blackbirds, starlings and doves were also doing the same thing. Starlings are naturally more flighty than killdeer, but sometimes if the starlings fly off all of a sudden, the killdeer will follow. Other killdeer were hiding on the shoreline and the various points and I could hear them calling. I could hear two killdeer calling from the M6 area, possibly Shy (who has not been seen as an adult, yet) and her dad.

Three killdeer, I think the one in front is Mary

I found this young male with a really long tail at one of the ballfields, possibly the third chick from the M6 area, "Secret". A killdeer that looks like Mary has taken an interest in him. I hope that means that Mary's lonely days are going to be over.

Male with a long tail, possible young "Secret"

This could be the reason for the nervousness. At least two Cooper's hawks are perusing the area where people usually feed squirrels, waiting. After the person who feeds them leaves, the hawks try to catch the squirrels and the grackles. So far, I haven't seen the hawk catch any killdeer and just about all killdeer are accounted for each time I visit the lake or they show up later.

Cooper's hawk in tree at Cowel's Bay

When I saw the hawk suddenly dropped to the ground near the water's edge, I went to go make sure that she didn't get a killdeer or a duckling. I didn't really think that she did as a killdeer would have let out a scream at the last moment before trying to fly away. But, as I went towards the water, a long rattlesnake was stretched out over the road. I walked as far as I could around it as I knew it couldn't strike me with it's body all stretched out. It flicked it's tongue when I went by and realized that it didn't want to deal with me, so it began to coil up and go into the brush. I was more concerned about getting past the snake and not taking a photo of it that by the time I wanted to take a picture, he had gone deep into the brush. I didn't want to pursue him because it was too dangerous.

I never did find the hawk wherever she landed.

When I was leaving, I found George's three kids playing together.

You can see a similar long tail on Killer, who is standing on a rock, to what was on the other male across the lake. That makes me think, even more, that the male killdeer is "Secret" one of the three chicks from the M6 territory as they are exactly the same age.

Killer showing off his longish tail

The two boys decided to fly off on their own, leaving Firecracker by herself. But, she decided to go join them later on.

Tiny and Killer together

Hey, where'd everyone go?!

Also seen:

A sora. I heard a report that one was spotted last weekend and I used to hear someone talk about one all the time in the area where the Hawk Food ducklings lived. Well, here's a photo of it, seen today.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hawks and Tiny's "Talent"

"Killer" watches out for hawks

Today, when I arrived at the lake, I think I saw Tiny and his mom, Martha, together, sleeping. They woke up and flew to another part of the bay. Tiny and Martha look so much alike in many ways, their breast bands are very similar and Tiny sometimes can look female in direct light, except you can see a little bit of a mustache growing. They have slightly different shaped heads, but are pretty close to the same size.

Tiny in the morning

Tiny and his mom

Hawk Scare

When I went to the ballpark area, I only found 7 killdeer and I think they were all adults. They were doing alarm deets and looking at me standing outside the fence. This was unusual as they don't usually get upset when I stand where I was standing. They were also hardly moving and then they began laying down in the grass. This is a sign that they are hiding from a visual predator such as a hawk. So, I looked around and found a Cooper's Hawk right above me. He swooped down to catch a grackle, who got away, and then perched right above my head. I thought of taking a photos, but decided not to.

I went away to check on the duckling, but he was not there, again. In fact, almost all the ducks were gone from that area save a couple of males and one female, not the duckling's mom. There were about twenty ducks laying on the shore in a closed area. I figured the duckling and his mom just went somewhere else due to the heat we've been having.

When I came back, the hawk was gone and so were all the killdeer and other birds. One male killdeer was there, alone when I went onto the field, but he flew over towards George's territory. Other killdeer were heard on Del Cerro and Cowles Point, most likely the adult chicks and, possibly, their mom.

When I was leaving, I was hoping to see George with Firecracker and Killer, but, instead, found the two brothers, Tiny and Killer comforting each other without a parent in sight. When Killer got a little nervous because of a dog passing by, he chirped to his brother and began walking towards him. Then, Tiny met him and did a trill, a greeting that I've heard the brothers do before. Trilling is usually associated with an angry killdeer, but I think, in this case, this was a happy sound they made to make sure neither of them wanted to fight.


His brother, Tiny

Tiny's "Talent":

I've heard of killdeer eating dead minnows before, but Tiny seems to have a knack for catching live ones. I've caught him, at least twice, catching minnows and even have a photo of him doing so:

Look! I caught a fish! Now, what do I do?

He seems to bite them through their middle, but the tail parts of the fish wrap around his nostrils and upper part of his bill. I believe he waits until the fish dies, rinses his bill and eats the remaining parts as they wash off. I never see him do anything different than any other killdeer in catching them, yet he seems to be able to. He must move quicker than the eye.

When another group of people walked by, including a little girl who was not very respectful of wildlife, they flew off. As I was leaving, I heard the aggressive deet sound and saw one killdeer chasing another. I think it was George chasing away one of the seven killdeer, most likely the lone bachelor, sending him back to the ballfield area. He even took a swipe at the intruder. I would bet that this male got a look at Firecracker and may have tried to steal her away, but dad said "no". Apparently, Firecracker said, "no" also as she didn't follow him.

A good thing about crows:

Crows have a bad reputation and I have to admit that they quite often deserve it. They attack and tease other birds for no reason. They also eat eggs and chicks and sometimes kill adult birds. But, one thing crows are good for is keeping birds of prey out of the area. A red-tail hawk was circling around George's territory, probably looking for squirrels or rabbits, but the crows attacked him. And, crows seem to know the difference between a hawk and a vulture, too. Two vultures were flying nearby, un-harassed, but the hawk was definitely unwelcome in the crows' area.

Also seen:

Cute, cute, cute: A sanderling family of 4!

They were adorable, bathing and being cute. I think two are juvenile.

Sanderlings are brave and not afraid of larger birds. I've seen them attack killdeer, who often gang up on them. They aren't even really afraid of people and not shy at all. And, they can be cute, too!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Brothers and Sisters, Mom and Dad

All the chicks seem to be fine, that I could see. Sometimes, it's hard to tell who is who when I see them, even with binoculars. So, I take photos of them and look at their breast bands and faces more closely for the subtle differences. But, when I first shoot those photos, I don't always know who is actually there.

In the morning, it looks like I first stumbled upon Tiny and his mom all puffed up and possibly sleeping. They flew away to another part of the same area and when I went over to that side, I assumed they were the only two killdeer there.

Martha and Tiny

The problem is that on a brown surface, like a lakeshore, killdeer almost become invisible. Luckily, they often stand by the water which makes them more visible against it. So, I shot pictures of what I thought were the same two killdeer. But, when I went home and looked at the photos, I could tell it was not the same two. The second set of photos I took look like Martha and Killer. Tiny was probably standing nearby, but I didn't expect to look for three, so I didn't see him or where he went. Therefore, when I witnessed some affectionate chirps between one and another, I originally thought that the brothers were getting along great, but it was really one chick calling after his mom and wanting to be with her.

Martha and Killer

Another photo of Martha and Killer

Later, dad was on duty along with Firecracker and Killer. All three look very similar with their markings except that one was a female. But, sometimes with shadows and if the light is in a certain angle, a female can look like a male and vice-versa, especially when there is high contrast. Dad always stays close to Firecracker, but watches over both chicks.

George watching over his children


Firecracker hiding behind a rock (sorta)

Killer trying to hide behind a rock, also.

When dad gets too close to one of his male chicks, he gets called at almost with a "kill-dee" sound, but not quite. It's almost like a territorial yell, but the notes aren't right and it's stopped short. There's no clucking or threat calls at all and no one gets chased. It may be a special call pleading for the resident male to not hurt him as he's just a baby and he's not a threat. When both brothers are together, it sounds closer to a territorial call, but always stopped short like it's saying "hey, you get out! Oh, sorry dad, didn't recognize you.".

I assume that whomever is missing is with the other parent.

A hawk scare?

When I was almost about to leave, the two young killdeer started making alarm calls and flew off, going around in a circle around the bay. I also saw several other birds like pigeons and grackles fly away from that area really fast. A few seconds after the young killdeer started flying around, I believe dad started after them. Two of them landed near where they were before, but one landed near a grassy area and the geese. Then, after a minute or two, the geese started running to the water. I didn't see anything other than a vulture fly by and the killdeer rarely react to them. Once in a while they do, but rarely, even the babies.

After it was all over, a killdeer chirped for everyone to get together (I assumed it was George calling for Firecracker, whom I think was the one who landed far away). I didn't go check on them as I was sure they were alright as they were the first to react to whatever it was. If it was a hawk, it probably made its strike and got what it wanted or moved on. It does bother me that the young killdeer were the first to fly off because it makes them easy targets for a hawk who likes to catch its food in the air. Maybe that's why George went after them to bring them back to the ground. Hopefully the killdeer moved out of the way of the panicking geese.

Ballpark killdeer flock:

Today, there were two killdeer missing when I first saw the group, but they were both on Cowels and Del Cerro Point. Later, one other killdeer flew away, making the total 8 when I left. It's hard to approach them close enough to get photos unlike when they are near water, so I have a hard time identifying individual ones. When I first arrived, I did see a young killdeer, a male, foraging in the field. I think that could be "Secret" and "Secret" is a male--not a female. It's possible since I never got to see him as a chick. This can be good, we've got two males and a female on one side of the lake and two females and a male on another. Maybe they'll get together.

Also seen:

Flycatcher, the almost grown duckling was seen today. I think I may have even seen a sibling or two of hers show up on the scene, also. However, the young duckling, who would now be two weeks old, was not seen. I was really sad as I look forward to him coming up to me every time I'm there. But, the weather patterns have changed and I think a lot of ducks have gone elsewhere for shade and to keep cool. Hopefully the little duckling is still around. I thought I saw his mom, but she would have come up to the shore when I threw some peas in, so I don't think it was her. A lot of ducks were missing this day, probably due to the hot weather.


Two sandpipers were seen and they were fighting. I've never seen two sandpipers at this lake together. They were still in their breeding colors, but are starting to get grayer.

Monday, August 16, 2010

More "chicks" come out of hiding

Martha was alone when I first arrived

Today, when I first arrived at the lake, the coyotes were having a howl fest. I don't know what their problem was, but it was way past their bedtime of 7AM. It may be due to the fact that the construction work in the M6 area has begun again. And, it is LOUD! Good thing that all the chicks can fly away now.

Today, there was another "extra" killdeer in the ballfield. I suspect that Digger has made her way on the killdeer social scene with her appearance there. I can't really tell for sure as I didn't see her when she molted and got her adult feathers and colors, but I really suspect that she may be there. And, I think her sister, Secret is becoming less afraid. I don't think I've seen Digger's dad or her sister Shy there, yet. But, they may be on their way.

Digger? I'm not really sure, but could be

Could this be young Secret? I'm not sure, but maybe

The reason why I am still holding out for Shy is that Killer, the third of George and Martha's chicks has come onto the scene in Alvarado Bay. I know it's Killer and not Tiny because the one that I think is Tiny has the same forehead marks that he had when he was a baby. Killer is much smaller than Tiny (go figure, you call something Tiny and it grows big), but just as feisty.

Tiny and, I think, Firecracker. Tiny is playing "King of the Mountain" with his sister

Tiny on left, Killer on the right

Killer and Tiny like to fight with each other. They posture, call and chase each other around. I don't think they're serious, but this is good play for them. Firecracker watches and tries to follow, but they often fly around from place to place and she can't keep up.

Mom, on the far left, is watching over them

Martha in front, Tiny in background

Firecracker in center, Killer on left and a pigeon on the right

At first, I thought Mom was the only adult there and she flew off with the boys leaving Firecracker alone and calling for companionship. But, when I looked through my photos, one of the killdeer I thought was Firecracker was actually George, the dad. But, Firecracker was still very lonely and called for her brothers.

George the dad watches over Firecracker

Wait for me! says Firecracker

While I was looking over my photos, a noticed that either Tiny or Firecracker almost got snagged in some fishing line.

This killdeer was walking right through fishing line

I went back later in the late afternoon and it was all cleaned up. All three chicks were playing with one parent watching over them as they dodged loose dogs and people walking by. Luckily, they can fly away from danger now. I don't know which parent was watching them at that time as I didn't have my binoculars. I think it was dad because he was keeping his distance from them, probably trying to stay out of the fighting.

Dad doesn't seem to be aggressive towards his sons one bit, but stays on the sidelines, watching out for hawks, humans and dogs as his kids play. Perhaps having a sibling along will keep the male chicks' raging hormones directed at each other rather than their father.

George's previous male chick didn't have a brother to spar with and ended up picking fights with older males and getting hurt, not to mention attacking his dad who didn't want to be near him because of his aggression. It might have put Junior at a disadvantage, socially.

Also seen today:

Several Bushtits:

The little duckling (10 days old now)

A couple of Say's Phoebe (sorry about the branch over his eye). It could be a kingbird, but the bill and wing-shape were different as was the call.

A spotted sandpiper

I think this might be a pair of yellow warblers, a female and juvenile being fed.