January 3, 2014
"175," responds Kimball Garrett, the Museum's ornithology collections manager and resident bird nerd, when someone asked him how many birds he's documented around the Museum. In the last few days of 2013 Kimball checked off another bird that had never before been documented in Exposition Park, this brought Kimball's ever growing list to its current pinnacle.
Kimball behind the scenes in Ornithology
Although Kimball has been keeping track of birds in Exposition Park for 30 years now (WOW), this is nothing compared to his track record for Los Angeles. Kimball grew up in the Hollywood Hills where his parents had a bird feeder in their backyard. As a teenager Kimball would explore further and further afield, all the while documenting his bird observations in a journal.
Here's one of my favorite stories as recounted recently by Kimball:
"Growing up just a stone’s throw from Griffith Park’s Brush Canyon, I regularly escaped into that nature-filled canyon as a young teenager. Among my many memories of watching birds and other wildlife in that area, one stands out in my mind. Winding my way up a narrow trail in the canyon bottom, not far below what I called “the waterfall” (I doubt it was more than about 8 feet high, but it seemed impressive at the time), I came around a bend and staring down at me from a dead oak snag was a King Vulture! Menacing, big, and very much out of place. I assume this bird had escaped from the Los Angeles Zoo (just a couple miles north, over Mount Hollywood), and I couldn’t have known then it portended an interest I would develop in the non-native bird species (including parrots, mannikins, and doves) that are now among our most commonly encountered birds in urban habitats in the region."
Unlike the out of place vulture, the bird Kimball found on December 27 is a not that uncommon in our region. It was a Golden-crowned Kinglet (GCKI), Regulus satrapa, flitting around in a deciduous tree next to the pond. Unfortunately the bird was too fast for Kimball, and he was not able to snap a recognizable photo. However, he recorded the find and went back to his office. When he checked his Exposition Park bird list, he found that this was the first sighting of a GCKI! Though according to Kimball, we've had lots of sightings of its very close cousin, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula, which "is a common fall migrant and winter visitor to the park." In comparison the GCKIs are "scarce and irregular winter visitors to the lowlands of Southern California; this has been a better than average winter for them in the region."
This is what a Golden-crowned Kinglet looks like, photo courtesy of Dick Daniels.
Maybe you can spot your own GCKI if you go out birding this weekend! Or if you are a novice, you could join a FREE L.A. Audubon bird walk this weekend and get some help.
Happy Birding in 2014!
October 26, 2012
Yes, the first Goatsucker has been found in our new wildlife gardens! No, I'm not talking about a weird new species of goat parasite, I'm actually talking about a type of owl-like bird. Goatsuckers, a.k.a. nightjars, are members of the family Caprimulgidae, which comes from the Latin word Caprimulgus, literally meaning goatsucker. The Latin name came about because of the mistaken belief that these birds would swoop under milking goats to steal milk from the teat!
Common Poorwill, Phalaenoptilus nuttalli,
found on North Campus
Here's what Kimball Garrett, our awesome Ornithologist, has to say about the Common Poorwill (the specific type of Goatsucker) we found:
"It certainly appears that October is the month to find Common Poorwills (Phalaenoptilus nuttalli) around here. The previous two Exposition Park records are for 1 October 1973 (a specimen in the collection), and 12 October 2005 (a bird seen by me and some of my volunteers along the NW wall of the Rose Garden),
Poorwills catch insect prey (mainly moths and beetles) by sallying from the ground up into the air, especially from dusk through the evening. They’re often seen on paved roads on warm summer and fall evenings – presumably taking advantage of the warmth retained in the asphalt and perhaps elevated numbers of insect prey in that warm microenvironment. The species is named after its call, often heard on warm evenings on the breeding grounds.
Although some individuals seem to be year-round residents, others individuals (especially those from more northerly or interior breeding populations) are migratory. Observations and specimen evidence suggest that the main fall movement into/through the lowlands of the Los Angeles Basin occurs in October. The nearest breeding areas are on dry chaparral slopes of Griffith Park and elsewhere in the Santa Monica Mtns. (and poorwills are even more common in rocky desert and mountain areas farther inland). In some parts of their range poorwills are known to undergo torpor on cold winter nights, some even hibernating for extended periods."
Whoa! Did Kimball just say these birds hibernate? Remember that tidbit for your next trivia contest!
But wait there's more! Did you know birds pant sometimes, to keep themselves cool just a like dogs do? To be more precise, scientists call it gular fluttering and Sam Easterson caught a video of it:
Wow, that's an impressive gular you have there
October 6, 2012
This week I got another e-mail from one of our scientists. This time it was from Kimball Garrett, our amazing Ornithology Collections Manager. He found another bird for our Exposition Park bird list, and my isn't it cute? Here's Kimball's communique from October 3rd at 1:24pm:"All,Canada Warbler, Cardellina canadensis [= Wilsonia canadensis] along the south edge of the Rose Garden just now. First for the park, and brings the wood-warbler (Parulidae) list for the park up to 22 species and the park list to 171 species. Sorry, no photos obtained."But wait, Kimball, never to be outdone by a bird, sent me this e-mail at 4:38pm that same day:"Lila,I went back out late this afternoon and had much better studies of the Canada Warbler and managed to get a few (lousy) photos. Here's one:"
Wow look at that eye ring! Thanks Kimball.
June 8, 2012
170 and Counting...
Late last week, Kimball Garrett, NHM's Ornithology Collections Manager, spotted a new species for our Exposition Park bird list...drum roll please!
It was an Indigo Bunting, Passerina cyanea. Although Kimball had his camera with him, he was unfortunatley unable to snap a picture. Here is an image of a male Indigo Bunting, so you can at least get a sense of what they look like.
Wow, those are some seriously blue feathers!
You can also check out what they sound like from the Fish and Wildlife Service.
If your browser does not support HTML5 audio, you should upgrade. In the meantime, you could listen to it here instead.
Here's what Kimball has to say about these birds:
The Indigo Bunting is a migratory songbird that breeds commonly in the Central and Eastern United States and adjacent Canada, and in small numbers west to Arizona. A few have summered and bred in Southern California, but the handful of Indigos that turn up annually in Los Angeles County are presumed to be off-course migrants.
A male seen in the xeric garden south of the California Science Center on June 1, 2012 was the first to be found in Exposition Park; the Indigo’s close relative, the Lazuli Bunting (P. amoena), is occasionally noted as a migrant in the park, mainly in August and September (as can be seen from the seasonal bar charts based on data from the eBird website). A third member of the genus Passerina, the Blue Grosbeak (P. caerulea) has been recorded only once, in May.
Seasonal bar charts from eBird
In addition to the brilliant blue plumage of the male, Indigo Buntings gained fame as the subject of pioneering studies of celestial navigation by night-migrating songbirds by Stephen Emlen in the late 1960s . Emlen placed caged buntings in a planetarium setting to study the directionality of their migratory responses when exposed to both accurate and manipulated celestial cues. Although we now know that star patterns are important in the navigation of such migrants, the occasional appearance of an individual well away from its normal geographical range shows that such navigation is not without errors!
Thanks Kimball, that was fascinating!
February 17, 2012
American Goldfinches, Spinus tristis, have found our bird feeders! Flocks of them have been visiting the nyger seed feeders that the Museum's live animal caretakers fill on an almost daily basis.
American Goldfinch (upper left) and Lesser Goldfinch (lower right) feeding on nyger seedLike most finches, American Goldfinches are primarily seed eaters, making them some of the most readily-attracted birds to feeding stations. They are fond of the small seeds of grasses and annual plants, especially a type of thistle seed called nyger. Within 24 hours of putting up our first nyger feeders, we recorded both American Goldfinches and the very closely related Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria. Of the two species, Americans are slightly larger and more numerous, but are usually only present in Exposition Park from October to April. Thanks to Museum ornithologist, Kimball Garrett's hard work (uploading his regular Exposition Park bird lists), you can explore the seasonality of birds around the Museum. Check out the seasonal abundance charts in eBird; you'll find the goldfinches at the very bottom of the chart.In the spring when American Goldfinches leave the park, they often head over to nearby streambottoms to nest. Some do travel a bit further afield, heading all the way to northern California or beyond. In contrast the Lesser Goldfinches can be found hanging around the park year-round. We haven't yet documented any nesting here, but now we have planted the North Campus, we hope to observe some soon. In an effort to record the birds at our feeders and in the newly planted areas of the North Campus, this year we are participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). So this morning at 10 am Kimball tromped around the Museum's grounds and counted all the birds he could find. This is what he recorded:1 Western Gull 1 Rock Pigeon1 Mourning Dove3 Yellow-chevroned Parakeet4 Allen's Hummingbird (one female nest building)1 Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker2 Black Phoebe3 American Crow10 Bushtit6 Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler20 House Finch13 American Goldfinch15 House Sparrow
Kimball Garrett and Briana Burrows checking out the finches
Kimball Garrett is one diligent bird list maker!Feeders and seed are generously donated to us by Wildbirds Unlimited in Torrance, CA
January 27, 2012
Sam Easterson has caught a relatively unusual occurrence on camera. On New Year's day Sam's camera trap discovered a Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) skulking behind one of our sheds (I should add that this is the same shed the opossums have a den underneath). It is relatively unusual only because of the season, this is only the third time a Common Yellowthroat has been sighted here in winter!
New Year's day sighting of female Common YellowthroatAccording to Kimball Garrett, our Ornithology Collections Manager, the Common Yellowthroat is a widespread North American wood-warbler, breeding in marshes and wet meadows and scrublands over most of the continent. In Exposition Park, Kimball usually observes yellowthroats in the Rose Garden, where the dense beds of roses provide good places to hide. Of course we hope that as the vegetation in the North Campus becomes established we'll begin to find them here too.
Same bird caught on camera 14 days laterAll told Kimball has spotted the Common Yellowthroat 66 times in Exposition Park since he began surveying the area in 1984. Sixty-two of those sightings occurred during the bird's fall migration, between 27 August and 2 December. Kimball has also recorded two additional sightings during the bird's spring migration in April. Prior to this year's winter sighting, Kimball has observed the yellowthroat twice in mid-winter – on 27 January 2010 and 6 January 2011. This is why it was a bit of a surprise when Sam's camera trap recorded the visit of a female Common Yellowthroat earlier this month. According to Kimball, "modern technology is clearly better than an old human field ornithologist in keeping track of more secretive birds!" Regardless of the mode of sighting this record is good news. It suggests that the plantings in the North Campus will provide an important habitat that is lacking in the urban core. We are planting dense low vegetation that is the domain of wrens, Geothlypis warblers, various sparrows and other bird species that are rarely seen in your common urban park that is dominated by trees and lawns.Thanks Kimball for your detailed bird records and natural history information of the Common Yellowthroat!
November 29, 2011
Mystery abounds in the North Campus, for who's been leaving scat under the footbridge? I discovered a vast array (about 10 pieces) of scat while I was searching for fungi a few weeks ago, and of course I snapped some pictures to try and identify our most recent visitor.
Who does this scat belong to?
My gut told me the scat belonged to either a Virginia Opossum, Didelphis virginiana, or a Raccoon, Procyon lotor. To get a definitive answer I did two things. Firstly, I sent this picture to Jim Dines, the Museum's Mammology Collections Manager. Secondly, I put Sam Easterson on the project to set up a camera trap.
Almost caught in the act!
The trap that Sam put up over the Thanksgiving Holiday recorded at least one, if not two Virginia Opossums under the bridge! Although, we didn't capture footage of an opossum in the act so to speak, I am pretty confident we've discovered our scat provider! In concurrence was Jim, "You're right that it's probably opossum. They can have such varied diet that their scat can be hard to identify."
On the subject of scat, I have one last thing to show you! Unlike the Virginia Opossum, the Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia, we saw last week was caught in the act!
Aside from an in-depth view of owl bowel evacuation, this footage shows how Burrowing Owls are adept at standing on one leg. This isn't a circus trick, it actually allows the bird to keep the other leg warm in the feathers and only allow precious warmth to be lost from one leg at a time!
November 18, 2011
Yesterday ,we recorded the first owl in the North Campus. This adorable Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia, was observed perching on the footbridge surveying the patrons in the Museum Cafe. However, this is not the first time a Burrowing Owl has been recorded at the Museum. A few years ago, a Burrowing Owl actually roosted in a T. rex skull that was stored on our fourth floor patio. According to Kimball Garrett, the Museum's Ornithology Collections Manager, "these owls are migrants that are coming in from more northerly or interior breeding areas – the breeding population in Los Angeles Basin is gone, or virtually so."
Coincidentally, yesterday was also the date of Kimball's annual bird walk in Exposition Park. Between 8:10 and 9:45 am the group recorded 27 species of birds including the second ever record of a Wilson's Snipe, Gallinago delicata, for the park. Not that I registered that the brown blur flying away from me was a Snipe, let alone a bird, but I took Kimball's word for it!
Looking at American Goldfinches on the Museum Feeders
(photo courtesy of Brenda Rees)
Here's the entire list including numbers of individuals seen:
Merlin (Falco columbarius) 1
Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata) 1
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis) 6
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) 8
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 22
Yellow-chevroned Parakeet (Brotogeris chiriri) 4
Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna) 3
Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) 4
Nuttall's Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii) 1
Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) 5
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 10
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 1
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus) 20
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) 1
Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) 7
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 6
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) 4
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 8
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) 20
Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata) 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) (Setophaga coronata auduboni) 20
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) 1
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) 1
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) 10
Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) 1
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 20
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 10
Other notable sightings:
Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) 2
Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) 5
Korean Air Airbus A380 1 (It seems Kimball is adept at identifying aircraft also!)
September 29, 2011
Soras, Porzana carolina, seem to be really poor fliers. So much so that last week one flew into the side of the Museum and killed itself. This brings the Exposition Park Bird List, maintained by Kimball Garrett, our Ornithology Collection Manager, up to 167 species. "But wait," I hear you crying, "what about bird number 166?" In my previous post New Bird For North Campus List, it clearly stated that the Rufous Hummingbird was species 165. No I didn't forget to tell you about bird 166, and no Kimball didn't miscount, funnily enough bird 166 was documented the same exact day the Sora died. Bird 166 is in fact a Swainson's Hawk, Buteo swainsoni, that Kimball saw migrating overhead.
Sora, Porzana carolina, ready to be prepped in the bird lab
Sora study skin after being prepped and accessioned into the collection
Soras are secretive yet fairly common birds in the rail family. They live most of their lives in the dense vegetation of freshwater or brackish marshes, and are usually thought to be reluctant flyers. However, in the spring and fall they take to the wing, some individuals migrating up to hundreds of miles. During these times they are often found after colliding with various built objects such as communication towers, wires, and buildings– just like the one we found in the loading dock!
Swainson's Hawk, Buteo swainsoni, surveying the land
(note this is not the individual documented for our bird list)
As with Soras, Swainson's Hawks aren't very visible in the urban core of Los Angeles. However, they can easily be seen migrating along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains during their fall and spring migrations. The individual Kimball spotted over the Museum was on its way south to its overwintering site. Although we don't know where this individual will stop, we do know it will be somewhere between western Mexico and Argentina.
Thanks to Kimball for providing natural history information and pictures of the birds and also to Michael Wilson and Jerome Brown for finding the dead Sora!
April 1, 2011
165 and Counting...Earlier this week, Kimball Garrett, NHM Ornithology Collections Manager, spotted a not-so-common sight, a pair of Rufous Hummingbirds, Selasphorus rufus, in the Rose Garden. This hummingbird species is now number 165 on Kimball's Exposition Park Checklist. Over the last 28 years, Kimball has been keeping track of all the birds he sees in Exposition Park, even those that are just doing a fly-over!
Male Rufous Hummingbird An Annual MigrationMost of the year Rufous Hummingbirds cannot be found in our region, but in March and April they are often seen passing through. Every year this bird makes an over 3,000 mile migration from its overwintering grounds in Mexico to the Pacific Northwest. It is easily confused with one of our local hummingbirds, the Allen's Hummingbird, and so is often missed in species counts (maybe that's why it has only just made it onto Kimball's checklist). Males of both species have red-brown markings on their sides and tails, but only the Rufous Hummingbird also has them on its back. If you have a hummingbird feeder in your yard, keep your eyes open for this hummingbird stopping by to fuel up!