#463 Verdin at St. Barnabas

Friday, March 13th, 2009

By the time we left the California Overland Tour, the sun was setting; but we decided to drive through town on the way back to the hotel. (Not a lot else to do in Borrego Springs after dark.) Beth spotted a church off in the distance, and wanted to check it out. In fact, she spotted several. About four are lined up in a row along Church Lane. However we parked at the Episcopal Church and walked around a bit. House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches were both present in some small abundance.

As Beth was checking out the labyrinth, I was walking around the other side of thee church and spotted another small bird in the back of a small but bushy tree. I thought it was just another finch, but after putting my binoculars on it, I decided it was something else. A kinglet maybe, or perhaps a Gnatcatcher. A Gnatcatcher out here could well be a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, which would be a life bird for me. So I’m looking closely at the tail, trying to figure out if it’s more white or dark underneath, all the while the bird is moving around in the back of a tree I can barely see in the fading light.

Then all of a sudden the bird turns into my field of view, and I’m looking at its head instead of its tail. Damned if the head isn’t yellow. Gnatcatchers don’t have yellow heads, but Verdins do. The bird flies off, and the light was far too gone to hope for a photo, even if it had stayed. However, the yellow head is pretty distinctive, #463, Verdin.

The next morning we did find several more Verdins at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitors center, this time in light good enough for a photo. Here’s one:


However the lifer was at St. Barnabas Church.

#462 Black-throated Sparrow in Hawk Canyon

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

After leaving the Tamarisk Grove campground, Beth and I arrived in Borrego Springs with just enough time to drop our bags off at the hotel and meet our tour group around noon for a more challenging trek into the desert than our little Prius could handle. After forty minutes of wandering around the parking lot looking at House Finches and a couple of Say’s Phoebes, we piled into two Army surplus six-wheel trucks, and drove out into the desert. The desert wasn’t quite blooming yet, but flowers were starting to pop out.

Anza-Borrego Desert

We spotted a few birds from the trucks, but couldn’t really identify any of them. It was a four hour tour, but IMHO too much time was spent driving and not enough walking. That meant we saw more of the park, but had relatively little time to really explore and look closely at the flowers and the desert.

White lily blooming in desert

How Macro is This Lens?

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Allegedly my Tamron zoom lens has a 1:3 macro capability. That is, at maximum telephoto and minimum focusing distance (0.49 meters) objects should be imaged on the sensor at 1/3 their actual size. Let’s check that out.

The sensor in a Canon EOS 50D is 22.3mm by 14.9mm. A U.S. quarter has a a diameter of 24.26 mm. I extend the lens to 300mm and switch it to manual focus. Then I set the focus on the lens to 0.49m (the minimum). I move the camera until the quarter comes into focus and snap.

United States quarter macro

At 1:3 the quarter should occupy 24.26/3 mm == 8.087 mm. 8.087 mm/ 22.3mm = 0.36, just a tad more than a third the width of the picture. Actually it could be a little smaller than that if I didn’t shoot it head on. The raw image is 4752 pixels wide, so the quarter should be about 1710 pixels wide. Let’s open it up in Photoshop and find out.

Moth Monday: Unciella primula

Monday, March 9th, 2009

The moths are starting to wake up from the brief Southern California winter (Actually, some never went to sleep, but they didn’t make good pictures.) so let’s see what’s on the memory card. First up we have a beautiful Unciella primula from the Tamarisk Grove Campground in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park:

Patterned black and white moth
Unciella primula – Hodges#10111

This seems to be a little known and perhaps uncommon species. This was BugGuide’s first record, and the first live image for the Moth Photographers Group. I have not been able to find much information about it. Butterflies and moths of North America doesn’t list any records. It is in the California Moth Specimens Database under its previous name, Oncocnemis primula.

Great Blue Heron

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, 2009-03-08

#461 Costa’s Hummingbird

Friday, March 6th, 2009

You don’t usually think of California as a desert state like Arizona or Nevada, but once you cross the first mountain range heading east, it really is. In the southern part of the state, there’s only a thin strip along the coast that’s verdant, and even that is heavily irrigated.

Beth and I have been in Orange County for a little over a year now, and we’re starting to get our car legs so we’re wandering a little further afield. Last weekend we decided to drive over to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in eastern San Diego County to see the desert bloom, not to mention find what birds and beetles we could.

We dropped the dog off at the vet about 7:00 A.M. and headed South on I-5, then over the mountains on CA-78. The roads were more circuitous than expected, so we didn’t get to anywhere interesting until about 10:00 and skipped a possible side trip to Lake Henshaw. Instead, our first stop was at the Tamarisk Grove Campground at the intersection of Yaqui Pass Road an CA-78, at about 1400 feet. I’m not sure if it’s a natural; or an artificial oasis–I suspect the latter–but it does have a reputation for attracting birds. Not surprising: it’s the only green patch for miles around.

No sooner had we parked the car and crossed the road than I heard a distinct “cheep” coming from a hummingbird perched on a cactus. In Orange County, hummingbirds don’t go “cheep”. They go “Pfft-pfft-Pfft” (Anna’s) or “Bzzzzz” (Allen’s). Could it be? yep, it was number #461, Costa’s Hummingbird.

Costa’s Hummingbirds do pass through Orange County regularly but not at any predictable location or time; and you have to be lucky to find one. If the birds aren’t coming to you, you just have to go to the birds. In Anza-Borrego, they are by far the most common hummingbird, and we would see many more throughout the trip, including this gorgeous male collecting nectar in Hawk Canyon:

Male Costa's Hummingbird sipping from flower