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I'll end this protracted essay with a few final observations and photographs of the group of birds that's been most enjoyable for me to observe - the passerines. Though keeping track of species diversity, abundance, and behavior of these little scudders was not one of the main goals of my censusing activities, it turned out to be the most consistently rewarding. Emeralda is, simply put, a great place for dickey birds. Below is a sampling of some of the these tiny birds I was able to observe and photograph in the last month or so of 2000.
From the top, we have blue-headed (solitary) vireos, a palm (left) and yellow-rumped (right) warbler, blue-gray gnatcatchers, and ruby-crowned kinglets. I first learned the alarm call of the blue-headed vireo this year; it's a distinctive, nasal/electronic sounding buzz, uttered as single notes every second or so. Very different from the call of the related white-eyed vireo, which is harsher, more rapid, and more insistent. I was usually able to detect the presence of blue-headeds by sound before I ever saw them coming into screech owl tapes. The yellow-rumped and palm warblers have returned to their previous winter's status as the two most easily observable warblers among the winter fauna. Blue-gray gnatcatcher numbers seem a bit lower this winter than last. I hope I will always remember the day a couple of weeks ago when I watched a blue-gray gnatcatcher harass a moth cocoon for about 5 minutes, finally dropping it and following it to the ground where he continued to pick at it. This engaging little fellow then flew back up into the tree, and when a fellow biologist walked up the road towards him, he flew INTO MY CAR. He fluttered around in the back seat and near the rear window for a minute or so, and then relatively calmly flew back out the driver's side window past my head. He just seemed to be checking out the car. The ruby-crowned kinglets have been more abundant on most days this winter than the gnatcatchers, but far less cooperative as photographic subjects. They just won't sit still, and when they do, it's always with a branch or two between them and me. They are persistent and reliable mobbers, though. Getting them close is not usually the problem; it's getting the photograph I'm having trouble with.
|The top two birds in this group are a male (left) and female common yellowthroat. They are still quite common and conspicuous, and should soon begin singing their wicheri wicheri songs and staking out territories. Next are a gray catbird (left) and a hermit thrush, both of which will occasionally come in close when I play the owl tape, but tend to remain obscured by foliage. Next are a house wren (left) and their very shy, but common marsh-dwelling cousin, the marsh wren. I bet I've heard 10 marsh wrens for every one I've seen.|
Finally, above left is a white-eyed vireo in the process of dismembering and eating a big dragonfly.. Though they are at times bold and inquisitive mobbers, they have been strangely silent and hard to find for the latter part of fall and early winter. They are certainly present in the flow-way at this time, but prefer to keep their own company. Just one more of the small mysteries of bird behavior that arise nearly every week during my bird-counting efforts. One could probably spend a lifetime trying to figure out the subtleties and peculiarities of the behavior of just the dickey birds inhabiting this amazing area. Each and every one of these wonderful little birds has a style and personality all its own - I've been extremely fortunate to get to know them all a bit better in my first year at Emeralda.
Has it really been a year? Seems like the blink of an eye...
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