Three New Birds

(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) Jack Hayden photo

Jack Hayden, the sharp-eyed bird spotter who saw and photographed an extremely rare Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the park two years ago, and then photographed an uncommon Pacific Slope Flycatcher here, has scored again. Earlier this week he saw this Horned Lark in the central area of the park, and then photographed two geese flying overhead, a Snow Goose and a Greater White-fronted Goose. All three of these birds are new to the Chavez Park Bird List on this website.

The central meadow of our park in winter is the kind of habitat the Horned Lark prefers. Bare ground, short and sparse vegetation. They breed in that kind of country, scraping a bowl into the ground for a nest. Recently burned-over areas or grounds newly recovered after strip mining attract them. Tall grasses, forests — not for them. They breed all over North America, including the high Arctic. Chances are that this individual, probably a male, migrated here from a northern territory that’s now covered in snow and ice. They’re true larks, unlike our Western Meadowlarks, which are blackbirds. They get their name from a set of feathers that males can erect on the top of their heads, or not, as they choose. This one chose not. The Horned Larks eat mostly seeds, except when raising young, then insects. Read more about them on Wikipedia or Cornell.

Snow Geese (Anser caerulescens) are among the most abundant waterfowl in the world. They breed in huge colonies in the Canadian Arctic and migrate in dense high-flying flocks to destinations all over North America, with big flocks spending the winter in our Delta and Central Valley, where they forage for waste seed and low vegetation in fields of grain crops after harvest. This one probably got lost or is on an exploration of its own. They can fly long distances and have an excellent sense of orientation. Like other geese, they pair up for life. They are one of the few bird species whose population has increased by big amounts during the last 50 years. Conversion of forests and prairies to agriculture, which has destroyed the breeding habitat of many species, has created abundant foraging habitat for the geese, and many conservationists believe the current population is unsustainably large. Maybe we’ll see some on the North Basin one of these days. More about them: Wikipedia Cornell.

The Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons) that we see here breeds in northern Alaska and migrates to spend the winter in our Delta and Central Valley and along the Gulf of Mexico. It is a strong flier, and may take wing from Northern Alaska to the Sacramento River Delta nonstop. Like the Snow Goose, it forages in winter in fallow agricultural fields, feeding on waste grains. It maintains pair bonds and family groupings longer than other geese. Its population is much smaller than the Snow Goose. The Tule Goose is a subspecies that is a bit larger and darker brown, but even less numerous than the main species, and considered vulnerable. Both the Snow Goose and the Greater White-fronted Goose often mix with other goose species, including the Canada Goose that is a year-round resident here. So far neither of the geese that Jack Hayden photographed in the air has been seen on the waters surrounding Chavez Park, but we can hope. More about the GWFG: Wikipedia, Cornell.

Thank you, Jack, for sharing these images.

Burrowing Owl Update

The owl’s anxiety of yesterday seemed forgotten this morning. The Burrowing Owl shuttled back to Perch B, near the big fennel bush, where at least its head can be seen from the paved perimeter trail. With my tripod set at maximum height, I was able to get an almost full frontal portrait, see below. While I and other park visitors watched it, the owl appeared relaxed and at moments half sleepy, with its eyelids lowered to a slit.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Nov. 27 2022

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