Saturday, October 31, 2009

Birds I'm Watching: Shollenberger Park, Ellis Creek, Las Gallinas

Spent much of the day birding again today. Visited Shollenberger park in the morning. Saw the family of white-tailed kites that has been there the past few days, on the Adobe Creek side of the area. Also saw: Black phoebe, coots, black-necked stilts, northern shovelers, killdeer, Western meadowlark, red-winged blackbirds (lower photo; technically, I think the ones we have around here are the "bi-colored" form that lacks the yellow wing bar, like the bird pictured), mallards, song sparrow, Western sandpiper, and willets. On the other end of the park, saw: Shovelers again, avocets, black-necked stilts, marbled godwits, coots, Canada geese, dowitchers (probably long-billed), Western gulls, ring-billed gulls, turkey vultures, plovers, and blue-winged teals (upper photo)--this last a first sighting for me.

Then drove over to the Ellis Creek ponds. Saw: Red-winged blackbirds, Anna's hummingbird, cedar waxwings, Canada geese, scrub jay, and house finches right in the parking lot. In and around the ponds, I saw: Cinnamon teal, coots, black-necked stilts, northern shovelers, Canada geese, greater yellowlegs, mallards, pied-billed grebe, killdeer, a Wilson's snipe, dowitchers again, yellow-rumped warblers, great egret, black phoebe, blue-winged teal, a kestrel, a marsh wren, and what turned out to be a couple of female greater scaups, also a new bird for me.

Finally, ran down to the Las Gallinas sewage treatment ponds. I actually found them this time. Saw: Snowy egrets, great egrets, black phoebe, northern harrier, shovelers, avocets, crow, Canada geese, willets, black-necked stilts, white pelicans, northern pintail (a first sighting for me), green-winged teal (likewise), dowitchers, wigeons, gadwalls, Western grebes, bushtits, yellow-rumped warblers, and a white-crowned sparrow.

A tiring day, but got four new species, bringing my total to 182 and my Sonoma County total to 130. Saw a total of 42 species, if I've counted correctly.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Birds I'm Watching: Home

The number of bird species living in and around my own garden is sometimes astounding. I had counted 24 before noon today just standing in the driveway and walking around the garden. The highlight was a red-breasted sapsucker I could see in the neighbor's yard. It was only the second time I've seen one and the first time in Sonoma County. That raises my county total to 128 species. Birds seen from home today included: Turkey vulture, crow, scrub jay, lesser goldfinch, American goldfinch, house finch, golden-crowned sparrow, black phoebe, bewick's wren, oak titmouse, ruby-crowned kinglet, California towhee, dark-eyed junco, Anna's hummingbird, Northern mockingbird, cedar waxwing, Northern flicker, acorn woodpecker, Nuttall's woodpecker, Canada goose, mourning dove, yellow-rumped warbler, and European starling. Nothing very unusual except the sapsucker and the cedar waxwings, but still impressive for not even trying.

Wines I'm Making: Racked Zinfandel

I did a paper chromatography test on all the wines yesterday and found that the malolactic fermentation was mostly finished in the Zinfandel, so I racked the wines, sulfited lightly (to about 50ppm) and added medium toast French oak staves to both the three- and five-gallon carboys. The Cabernet needs more time and the second-press Cab still shows a lot of malic acid, so I will wait to rack both those wines. The "fake" Cab is too acidic because I accidentally added more acid blend than I had intended. I'm hoping further malolactic fermentation and then some serious cold to precipitate tartrate crystals will help soften it. The Sangiovese rosé I moved into the garage where it's cooler. Will have to rack that wine soon, too.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Miscellaneous: Honey Harvest

Harvested 33lbs of honey on Sunday. It's considerably darker this year than it has been in the past. Most of it got made and stored away fairly early in the season. I'm not sure exactly what kind of nectar the bees were getting, but it's tasty. With that, most of the seasonal work is done. The wine is made--more or less. The honey is harvested. The figs are mostly finished. We have tons of apples and pears and a lot of basil for making pesto. Maybe we should get some chickens?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Birds I'm Watching: Ellis Creek Water Treatment Ponds

Just to report a sighting yesterday of a Swamp Sparrow at the Ellis Creek water treatment ponds, in Petaluma, California. It was my first visit. I hadn't realized how much space is there--easily as big as Shollenberger Park, next door. Turns out the Swamp Sparrow is a moderately rare bird in the state. My report of it has caused a bit of a buzz among local birders. Adding the Swamp Sparrow to my list gives me 127 species in Sonoma County, about 31% of all the species that have ever been recorded here (438)--although that total includes a fair number of extremely rare and unlikely-to-be-repeated sightings. I'm hoping to get to around 150 over the winter.

[Update: As of Jaunary 12, 2010, I'm already at 160 for the county. Based on subsequent research, it sounds like 375 birds are regulars in Sonoma--or at least not so rare that there is little hope of ever seeing them here.]

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Birds I'm Watching: Pt. Reyes, Shollenberger Park

Spent the day yesterday out at Pt. Reyes and then stopped off at Shollenberger Park, in Petaluma, on my way home. There wasn't a lot to see at Pt. Reyes. At the lighthouse there were a couple of Common Murres in the water, saw a Savannah Sparrow on the way up to the light house, along with a lot of White-crowned Sparrows, but that was about it. I did bump into a geology class, however, and very much enjoyed listening to the teacher explain the very interesting swirls of sandstone and conglomerate at the point. Always wondered about the formations there. I think I've posted about them here before. On the Chimney Rock side of the point, I saw a lot of Surf Scoters, Western Grebes, and Eared Grebes. Saw a Brown Pelican, four Pacific Loons, a Golden-crowned Sparrow in the trees by the residence, Crows, a Turkey Vulture or two, and, more interestingly, a Western Meadowlark on the drive out again.

There were many raptors around. The only one I could identify was a Red-tailed Hawk. There were several smaller birds, all motionless, expertly using the updrafts from the coast to stay still while searching the ground for prey. They had brown heads, were pale underneath, but had a tracing of brown under the wings and speckles at the "wingpit." The tips of the wings were very dark. I got a very good look at the birds, but could find nothing in the book that seemed right. Closest was a Ferruginous Hawk, but, the book says they should have distinctly dark legs, which these didn't and that their heads should not have been brown. Another interesting feature was apparent from above. The last third of the wing (but not the primaries) had an almost transparent look. Very frustrating not to know what this was. Still, it was fun to watch them hunt.

At Shollenberger Park, I saw Black Phoebes, Greater Yellowlegs, Coots, Ring-billed Gulls, Western Gulls, Mallards, a single Canada Goose, Black-necked Stilts, Avocets, four Long-billed Curlews, a Marbled Godwit or two (I think--they were very far away), and Northern Shovelers in large numbers--perhaps 200 of them. A new bird for me. (Pictured above; these are males and females, the juveniles, with the black heads, are going from juvenile plumage to winter plumage). Other birds were mostly in their confusing winter plumages, but I believe them to have been long-billed dowitchers. Also saw many Black-bellied Plovers in winter plumage.
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