Posts tagged “Golden Gate Park

Feeding a Fledgling

Most of the time I’ve seen prey delivered to a fledgling Red-tailed Hawk it’s dropped off and the kid is left to sort it out. This was the first time I’d seen a parent feeding a young bird who had already fledged. It was a sweet moment.

In Perfect Feather

A brand new Red-tailed Hawk that hasn’t even scuffed a tail feather yet. Sharp. Very sharp.

Owl and Flowers

Golden Gate Park.

The Joys of Nesting Season

What’s Up?

Looking up.

Speaking up.

Staring up.

Sizing me up.

Greening up.

Cantankerous Coots

American Coots are nothing if not full of character with their grunting calls, territorialistic temperament, dinosaur feet, and determination to dive – plump and buoyant as they are.

When you see this agressive stance you know a chase is imminent.

And away they go…

back and forth across the lake. They never seem to tire.

But eventually, after re-establishing the hierarchy, they settle down and get back to feeding.

Searching the lake floor for food.

Diving to the bottom takes more commitment.

Finding the surface again is easy… just stop what you are doing and a second later you pop back into the world above.

Oh the rarest of sightings… a Coot in actual flight. I think I might have hallucinated this right into the camera.

Grebe Frenzy

I was watching the Coots running around like mad but never expected to see the Pied-billed Grebes at North Lake adopt the water sprinting behaviour. Very cool.

Each little foot pounds the water’s surface for a split second and the pitter patter can be heard clear across the lake.

The Grebe begins to transition into torpedo mode…

And just that quickly the Grebe pops below the surface and then rises as if nothing had happened.

Pied-billed Pellet

Hanging out at North Lake in Golden Gate Park last Sunday I watched the Pied-billed Grebes meandering around in all their fuzzy glory, chasing each other and delineating their territories. This one took a break from the festivities to bathe, have a drink, and then do something I’ve never seen a Grebe do… expel a pellet.

Here is the preparatory stage… working it up the gullet.

And there it goes! The orange color must be exoskeletons of crustaceans?

And were back to fuzzy cuteness again. Watching them this breeding season should be great fun.

bird LIGHT wind

Golden Gate Park. These images are from North Lake, a few blocks from the ocean in San Francisco’s wonderful city park.

Pond light.

Spiderweb light.

Mosquito light.

Mosquito bites.

A Second Chance

A young Red-shouldered Hawk I found below a nest years ago. It had been reared by a very young mother, a second year bird whose molt had stopped during breeding and left her with both juvenal and adult plumage. Her nest building skills were subpar and the nest failed to hold her two chicks, one of whom perished. This pre-fledged bird was checked out at a local rehab facility then returned to a basket in the tree. He fledged 2 weeks later. Now I know that when I hear a Redshoulder screaming right in front of me and I still can’t locate it, I should look down.

Slow Owl Day

I dropped in on the Golden Gate Park Owls and it seems that two of the four kids have dispersed. I found the remaining pair and a parent in full sleepy-time mode.

Here is the full scene. It’s easy to walk by them if you aren’t looking for them. Usually the 10-20 telephoto lenses point out the owls for you but it was quiet last Friday.

Just a full wing stretch before turning around, tucking up a leg, and dozing off again.

Kid Cooper’s Hawks

This newly fledged female Cooper’s Hawk is mantling to show her sibling it is time to back off. The two of them have been chasing each other through the trees and play time is over. Raptors usually mantle over prey that they want to hide from others. It makes them look bigger, more threatening, and covers up their meal. So it is a bit unusual to see this behaviour from below. I’m amazed at the feather tracts on the back of the head and neck. What a moment.

Is it some kind of woodland peacock or a Cooper’s Hawk? She kept it up for a solid minute, hopping gradually down the branch.

Here she is transformed into a different creature. She is still keeping an eye on her sister though. There are 4 fledglings, 3 females and a male. The females are busy chasing each other and constantly begging. The male is further along – out on his own, hunting, flying with purpose as he patrols a different patch of the arboretum. I think the males develop more quickly because they are smaller. It is probably advantageous to leave the nest before your three gigantic, voracious and, fierce sisters get their act together.

Here is the male out on patrol. Gaze fixed firmly on a distant hedgerow full of songbirds.

One of the females swoops overhead screaming all the way.

Another sister gets in a little quiet flight practice near a reservoir. Photographing Coops is challenging. They are so quick and unpredictable and once they get a little sense they become nearly invisible. I never once saw the parents who keep a very low profile. I hope the kids stick around awhile.

Owl Encounters

The young Great Horned Owls at Golden Gate park continue to amaze and delight visitors. Please be respectful of their space and comfort. None of these images were taken by encroaching on owls and making them uncomfortable. Many portraits show owls staring at the camera (like they might if they were alarmed), but these were just a few curious glances during what was un-manipulated natural behavior. Close-ups are made possible with a long lens, careful attention, and a bit of wonderful luck. I’m glad to be able to share such a thrilling set of encounters.

(above) An intense focus permeates every flight as they fixate on their destination.

Waiting out the daylight and watching the hillside for any signs of movement.

Spotting prey on the hillside behind me, the owl leaps into action.

Leaving to reunite with its siblings.

Slightly off kilter but still curious about a Downy Woodpecker foraging just above my head.

Even when preening owls stay on the alert.

Their flight skills are finally well honed – much more graceful with fewer clumsy landings.

Wind-blown, this owl glances down at me as we both listen to Red-tailed Hawks screaming in the sky above.

Perched with the reservoir beyond, a squirrel hopping over my feet attracts attention.

Cruising around the park in late afternoon light.

It still amazes me how silently they can float through the trees.

Plenty of toppled trees mean lots of places to perch and preen.

When they are comfortable they often look comical or curious rather than fierce, though they can revert to fierce in an instant.

Squirrels keep tempting fate. This one actually charged the owl causing it to lose balance.

Leaping into the air with authority.

*Bonus Behaviour: This young owl started grasping and plucking the nearby tree branch. Confusion? Vegetarianism? Actually I think it was just getting in little practice at plucking prey. I never actually saw it ingest leaves, just rip the branch to shreds.

Golden Gate Park Owls

The four young Great Horned Owls of Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake are on the verge of dispersing. They have been the darlings of bird watchers and photographers for the last few months. Now capable of catching their own rats (the squirrels seem too elusive for the moment), they are becoming competition for their parents and will eventually leave or be escorted from the area. I haven’t been out to see them much this season but I did spend an evening with them last week.

Owls often look fierce but this one just looks frustrated. I’m guessing this isn’t the first time it has been tormented by the squirrels.

Stretching in the early evening light, the owls prepare for nightfall.

This youngster stays tucked in the longest. Perhaps it had a mid-day meal and is in less of a hurry to hunt. Below, one of its sibling has other ideas.

Success! An almost casual hop into the grass produced a large rat. After making quick work of its meal, the owl settled in for a rest (below).

The squirrels were pressing their luck and tried to sneak down the trunk past the resting owls. The result was this lunging dive straight down the trunk in an attempt to pluck the squirrel off the tree. You can see it escaping down the right side of the trunk.

Having missed its target, the owl pulls out of its dive and, while I’m not one to anthropomorphize, I sense frustration.

This is the same evasive little squirrel. As comfortable with people as with owls I guess.

It really is wonderful to get the chance to see them at close range. There is something to be said for urban birding. The close quarters brings its own challenges but also creates a familiarity/comfort that is hard to find among birds in far flung wilder places. I guess this reverts once you get so far away that lack of exposure brings a comfort aided by ignorance (i.e. the Dodo).

In the dying light I managed this shot of one of the owls rejoining its siblings. They were now very active and calling from all over the hillside but with no light and a long commute I called it a night.

Bonus Bird: Things often happen when you are waiting for birds to do something interesting. This little Downy Woodpecker landed about four feet from me while I was watching a motionless owl. It flitted about for two minutes softly tapping the branch and then jumped into a cavity to roost for the night. While this was going on, the motionless owl executed a beautiful full-body wing stretch that I could only watch from the corner of my eye, my camera settings having been changed to accommodate the woodpecker. A lesson learned…


Redshoulder Fishing

A Red-shouldered Hawk goes fishing! The first photographic documentation of this behaviour.

Evening Redtails

A friend and I went to Stow Lake to see if we could get a glimpse of the normally cooperative owls on Strawberry Hill. The fledglings have grown old enough to disperse and the parents were making themselves scarce so we struck out on Golden Gate Park owls. But much of bird watching is about what you see when you are waiting around for other things to happen, and last night was no exception. We had been tracking a female Redtail who was sitting near what we think is an active nest. The male arrived with a recently caught squirrel and she set off in pursuit to relieve him of his meal. He managed to escape long enough to perch and spend about 10 minutes dining on a nicely exposed branch. Once the female made up her mind, she stopped making her persistent yet quiet begging calls, and launched off her perch, diving toward the male with great intent. He fell over backwards trying to escape his larger and stronger partner and she took over what was left of the squirrel. Above, she relocates with her prize. The squirrel may be hard to recognize because it has been, err… rearranged.


Great Horned Owls

Spring seems to be the time for seeing Great Horned Owls in and around the city. Tennessee Valley has always been a reliable place to spot them. I had walked to the beach and back with no luck last week when this owl finally appeared just as I was getting back to my car.