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Posts tagged ‘Bird Watching’


The first time I visited Gray Lodge Wildlife Area north of Sacramento was in February 2019.  It was a great day with lots of birds:  geese, ducks, herons, egrets and even sandhill cranes and swans.  Since the area is a wetlands that supports birds all year long, I figured the best way to really know the area is to visit it several times throughout the year.

This time, I visited in early October.  The area showed the beginnings of fall colors across the landscape.  There were some birds, but nothing like the numbers from my earlier visit.

Still, it was a great leisurely afternoon! I saw a few others out at the site, but mainly I was on my own on the dirt road scenic drive.

Birds were around, but most were either overhead or out on the water.

Sometimes, my closeup lens would let me get some birds in focus, even though the colors often stayed muted.

Northern Pintail

Common Egret

Great Blue Heron

I did not notice the spider until later

Snow Geese Dark Phase (I think)

Black Necked Stilt

This green algae was all over one of the waterways

This Great Blue Heron was hard to spot even with a closeup.

American Coots

A Common Egret playing hide and seek.

Lesser Yellowlegs

I don’t know what there are, but they sure are pretty!

I dropped by Sutter National Wildlife Refuge thinking I might see some more birds, but the road at this access point was roped off.  The area did have pretty golden fields.

It was a great afternoon.  I’ll have to visit again, maybe in winter–or early spring.

Sandy Taught Me about Bird Watching

On her blog Classroom as Microcosm, Siobhan Curious posted the third prompt in her Writing on Learning Exchange:  Who Taught You?  My answer to that topic is given below.  To see all the answers provided or to provide your own, visit her site.


Learning goes on everywhere.  And some of the best learning happens outside of a classroom as you encounter new people and new experiences.  When I look back on my life to reflect on who taught me what, lots of people come to mind.  My sister Barbara has taught me what it really means to be a friend and how small words of encouragement can have a big impact.  One of my leadership mentors taught me how important it is to appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of the individuals on your team.  My mom taught me to love animals and to always extend a helping hand.  Others in my life have taught me the sort of person I do not want to be!  Lessons are everywhere!

When I try to settle on one person who taught me something concrete, I think of Sandy Tomlinson.  I met Sandy when I moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1980.  We both taught writing at Del Mar College.  Her friendship helped make Corpus Christi feel like home.  I learned many things from her about teaching and friendship.  But Sandy also introduced me to Bird Watching.

Jabiru, Photo from Wikipedia

Jabiru, Photo from Wikipedia

Bird Watching is one of those activities that you will never fully understand until you participate as a bird watcher.  South Texas is a migratory path for hundreds of birds, so it was a great place to be introduced to this life-long activity.  I could look out in my backyard and see not only sparrows but also such colorful birds as indigo and painted buntings.  We could go to the coast and see Whooping Cranes, roseate spoonbills, and a variety of gulls.  Once, we even saw a Jabiru!  This bird is typical to South America, but it had somehow gotten off course and spent a few days in Corpus Christi.

I did not just learn to marvel at the wide diversity of birds that were around me.  But I learned the best guide books, the best binoculars and scopes, and some key locations where birds could be found.  Making identifications was not an easy task.  It helped to know what details to pay attention to, including but not limited to the shape of the beak; facial, tail, and wing markings; differences between male and female and adult and juvenile birds; typical habitats; flight patterns; and vocalizations.  Before I knew it, lots of these details were second nature to me as I watched birds in the field.  We took several trips to locations specifically to find birds we had not seen before.  I even started a life list—and got up to over 100 different birds recorded before I drifted away from taking regular birding trips.

Laughing Gulls

Laughing Gulls

Red Winged Black Bird

Red Winged Black Bird



Western Grebe

Western Grebe



All these details I learned are still there, waiting to be called upon every time I stop to marvel at birds wherever I am traveling.  I surprise myself sometimes when I make an identification or at least know what details to monitor for when I can check my sighting against a good bird book.  I think of Sandy whenever I am watching birds.  She died years ago, but lives on in my heart, in the birds around me, and in the many lessons she taught me about birding, enjoying nature, and living life to the fullest.

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 I hope you love birds too.  It is economical. It saves going to heaven.  Emily Dickinson

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.   Chinese Proverb

Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no bird sang there except those that sang best.  Henry Van Dyke

No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.  William Blake

As long as I live, I’ll hear water-falls and birds and winds sing.  I’ll interpret the rocks. Learn the language of the flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.  John Muir

No bird, but an invisible thing, a voice, a mystery.  William Wordsworth

In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.  Robert Lynd

The Common Starling Is Really Rather Marvelous!

I am a birder.  That means I am a bird watcher.  Not just noticing birds everywhere I go—even though I do that—but consciously looking for them, admiring them.  I have binoculars and bird guides in the car, I keep a life list, and I stop along the roadside after spotting a good bird-viewing opportunity. It has been awhile, but I even go on vacations specifically to see birds I have not seen before.  I started this hobby in Texas, where I had the luxury of many, many birds living and migrating through the area.  Although I have not been birding a lot lately, several of my goals for this year would be well served by scheduling a birding trip (treks to nature, photographing nature).

Another of my goals for 2013 is to “express gratitude and appreciation more.”  This one I can address right now—without scheduling a trip—by sharing the video posted below.  I do not have to take the photos/videos myself to be amazed at the wonder of Nature being shared.  This video was shot in November 2012 by Wildlife in Cornwall and captures the phenomenon of a large flock of birds dancing across the skies.  Such a video is not new.  Many have captured this vision over the years in many locales, and those videos can be found on YouTube as well.

But this video—“The Ultimate Starling Murmuration”—is one of the best I have seen, and it was taken fairly recently.  This sighting was captured in Cornwall, England, where Starlings are natives. There are many types of Starlings, so I am not certain what type is captured in the video.  If the video had been shot in the United States, it would be a fair guess that the birds are European Starlings, also called Common Starlings.

Here is a little background information on the bird itself in America:  Today, Common or European Starlings are fairly common across the United States.  They are considered an “invasive species” because they are not native to our habitats.  In 1890, several hundred were released in New York’s Central Park by the American Acclimatization Society—and the many, many flocks have grown since then.  The Society explained that birds mentioned in Shakespeare (specifically Henry IV, Part I) should be evident in the United States, so they took action!

If you live in the United States, I am sure you have seen Starlings in your area.  These birds are roughly 8 inches long with a glossy black plumage.  At times during the year, white spots can be seen on the plumage as well.  Beak color varies from black to yellow as well.  They mainly eat insects and fruit.  They group together in a large flock called a murmuration.  Although they prefer open fields, I have seen them in front yards and gardens as well as at places like zoos, where they can pester visitors for food with all the other birds.  I have seen small flocks of birds in the fields performing their own ballet—they could be Starlings.  Probably are. But nothing I have personally seen is as wondrous and detailed as shown in the video:  “The Ultimate Starling Murmuration.”  ENJOY!

BTW:  Wildlife in Cornwall is a great website.  When you visit there, you will discover many wildlife videos as well as tips on where to go to see the images yourself.  As the website explains, “’Wildlife in Cornwall’” has been created to help people discover the best locations in Cornwall to see birds and wildlife. It has been created so locals and visitors can explore the wonderful wildlife of this beautiful part of the world.”  Do yourself a favor and go visit this site—and then get to Cornwall eventually too

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