A nearly black Swainson's Hawk Dark Morph sitting beside an intermediate morph Swainson's Hawk is a rare sight to behold. Filmed at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge in California in April this was a first time species for me. This is a classic sit and wait position for these hawks of the open country. Like many big raptors they could care less about the humans staring at them.
Swainson's hawk is a raptor and a medium-sized member of the Buteo genus. It broadly overlaps in size with the red-tailed hawk (B. jamaicensis), a related species found as a breeding resident almost throughout North America. Swainson's hawk is on average a little shorter in length, 43–56 cm (17–22 in) long, and weighs a bit less, 0.5–1.7 kg (1.1–3.7 lb). However, Swainson's hawk has a slightly longer wingspan at 117–137 cm (46–54 in), with more slender, elongated wings, than the red-tailed hawk. Female Swainson's hawks, at an average weight of 1.15 kg (2.5 lb), are somewhat larger and heavier than males, at an average of 0.81 kg (1.8 lb). Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 36.2–42.7 cm (14.3–16.8 in), the tail is 18.5–23.4 cm (7.3–9.2 in), the tarsus is 6.2–8 cm (2.4–3.1 in) and the bill (from the gape) is 3–3.5 cm (1.2–1.4 in). In flight, Swainson's hawk holds its wings in a slight dihedral; it tips back and forth slightly while soaring.
There are two main color variations. Over 90% of individuals are light-morph; the dark morph is most common in the far west of the range:
Light-morph adults are white on the underparts with a dark, reddish "bib" on the chest and a noticeable white throat and face patch. The underwings, seen as the bird soars, have light linings (leading edge) and dark flight feathers (trailing edge), a pattern unique among North American raptors. The tail is gray-brown with about six narrow dark bands and one wider subterminal band. The upperparts are brown. Juveniles are similar but dark areas have pale mottling and light areas, especially the flanks, have dark mottling. The chest is pale with some darker marks. The subterminal band of the tail is less obvious. Birds in their first spring may have pale heads because of feather wear.
Dark-morph birds are dark brown except for a light patch under the tail. There is a rufous variant that is lighter on the underparts with reddish bars. The tails of both these forms resemble those of the light morph.
Eared Grebe feeding on surface insects and brine shrimp at Owens Dry Lake, California filmed in early April 2017. Birds are starting to return to Owens Lake now that some shallow water remains in it. This time of year it is unusual for a single grebe to be hanging out. A very unusual looking bird with striking red eyes and head feathers.
Steller's Jay scavenging food from a wildlife refuge parking lot near Flagstaff, Arizona. A stunning bird very similar to the Blue Jay, but with black head and white eye lines. I was surprised to encounter this bird primarily as a scavenger hanging around public areas of western national parks. I have not seen Blue Jays back east exhibit this type of behavior that is more often seen with Grackles.
The Steller's jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) is a jay native to western North America, closely related to the blue jay found in the rest of the continent, but with a black head and upper body. It is also known as the long-crested jay, mountain jay, and pine jay. It is the only crested jay west of the Rocky Mountains. While it does not have as prominent a crest as the Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) it can be found west of the Rockies especially in south east British Columbia.
The Steller's jay shows a great deal of regional variation throughout its range. Blackish-brown-headed birds from the north gradually become bluer-headed farther south. The Steller's jay has a more slender bill and longer legs than the blue jay and has a much more pronounced crest. It is also somewhat larger. The head is blackish-brown with light blue streaks on the forehead. This dark coloring gives way from the shoulders and lower breast to silvery blue. The primaries and tail are a rich blue with darker barring.
It occurs in coniferous forest over much of the western half of North America from Alaska in the north to northern Nicaragua completely replacing the blue jay in most of those areas. Some hybridization with the blue jay in Colorado has been reported. The Steller's jay lives in coniferous and mixed woodland, but not in completely dense forest, and requires open space. It typically lives in flocks of greater than 10 individuals. In autumn, flocks often visit oak woods when acorns are ripe.
Desert Cottontail Rabbits filmed in a variety of habitats. They have many threats and Coyotes and Hawks were sighted nearby. Not too unlike the eastern Cottontail, these rabbits tend to be very wary in desert scrub habitat and more communal and social where food is plentiful and deep cover is nearby as you will see in the video.
Filmed at Merced NWR and Mojave Desert in California.
The desert cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii), also known as Audubon's cottontail, is a New World cottontail rabbit, and a member of the family Leporidae.
The desert cottontail is found throughout the western United States from eastern Montana to western Texas, and in northern and central Mexico. Westwards its range extends to central Nevada and southern California and Baja California. It is found at heights of up to 2,000 m (6,600 ft). It is particularly associated with the dry near-desert grasslands of the American southwest; though it is also found in less arid habitats such as pinyon-juniper forest.
The desert cottontail is quite similar in appearance to the European rabbit, though its ears are larger and are more often carried erect. It is also social among its peers, often gathering in small groups to feed. The desert cottontail uses burrows made by rodents rather than making its own. Like all cottontail rabbits, the desert cottontail has a rounded tail with white fur on the underside which is visible as it runs away. It is a light grayish-brown in color, with almost white fur on the belly. Adults are 33 to 43 cm (13 to 17 in) long and weigh up to 1.5 kg (3.3 lb). The ears are 8 to 10 cm (3.1 to 3.9 in) long, and the hind feet are large, about 7.5 cm (3.0 in) in length). There is little sexual dimorphism, but females tend to be larger than the males, but have much smaller home ranges, about 4,000 square metres (1 acre) compared with about 60,000 square metres (15 acres) for a male.
The desert cottontail is not usually active in the middle of the day, but it can be seen in the early morning or late afternoon. It mainly eats grass, but will eat many other plants, herbs, vegetables and even cacti. It rarely needs to drink, getting its water mostly from the plants it eats or from dew. Like most lagomorphs, it is coprophagic, re-ingesting and chewing its own feces: this allows more nutrition to be extracted.
Many desert animals prey on cottontails, including birds of prey, mustelids, the coyote, the bobcat, the lynx, wolves, mountain lions, snakes, weasels, humans, and even squirrels, should a cottontail be a juvenile, injured or docile. Southwestern Native Americans hunted them for meat but also used their fur and hides. The cottontail's normal anti-predator behavior is to run away in evasive zigzags; it can reach speeds of over 30 km/h (19 mph). Against small predators or other desert cottontails, it will defend itself by slapping with a front paw and nudging; usually preceded by a hop straight upwards as high as two feet when threatened or taken by surprise.
The young are born in a shallow burrow or above ground, but they are helpless when born, and do not leave the nest until they are three weeks old. Where climate and food supply permit, females can produce several litters a year. Unlike the European rabbit, they do not form social burrow systems, but compared with some other leporids, they are extremely tolerant of other individuals in their vicinity.
Beautiful Western Kingbird on the lookout for flying insects. A large flycatcher similar to the Great Crested Flycatcher of the Backyard in size and appearance, but without the crest. Filmed at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge, California in April, 2017.
The western kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) is a large tyrant flycatcher.
Adults are grey-olive on the upperparts with a grey head and a dark line through the eyes; the underparts are light becoming light orange-yellow on the lower breast and belly. They have a long black tail with white outer feathers. Western kingbirds also have a reddish crown that they only display during courtship and confrontations with other species. The Western Kingbird is very similar to and easily confused with Cassin's kingbird, Couch's kingbird and the tropical kingbird, all of which overlap the western kingbird's range to some extent. The western, however, is generally lighter in coloration and can be distinguished from these species by the black squared tail with white outer webs, as well as voice.
Their breeding habitat is open areas in western North America. The increase in trees throughout the Great Plains during the past century due to fire suppression and tree planting facilitated the range expansion of the western kingbird as well as range expansions of many other species of birds. Kingbirds make a sturdy cup nest in a tree or shrub, sometimes on top of a pole or other man-made structure. Three to five eggs are laid and incubated for 12 to 14 days.
The name kingbird is derived from their "take-charge" behavior. These birds aggressively defend their territory, even against much larger birds such as hawks.
These birds migrate in flocks to Florida and the Pacific coast of southern Mexico and Central America.
They wait on an open perch and fly out to catch insects in flight, sometimes hovering and then dropping to catch food on the ground. They also eat berries.
The song is a squeaky chatter, sometimes compared to a squeaky toy. The call is a sharp loud whit. It occasionally sings before sunrise.
A Bachelor Group or Band of male Colorado Bighorn Sheep ranging from youngsters all the way up to the mature male leader. Their gray coloring makes them very hard to see among the boulders and sparse vegetation around 8,000 feet elevation. Filmed near the Arkansas River in Cotopaxi, Colorado.
Bighorn are social animals, maintaining order through a strict hierarchy. Through much of the year, the rams live in bachelor
“bands” or groups. The ewes, lambs and immature animals live in nursery bands led by a dominant ewe. During the mating season, late fall through early winter, the groups join each other on a common courtship ground. Two subspecies of bighorn live in Colorado.
Most familiar to viewers, Rocky Mountain bighorn
inhabit the foothills and mountains. Smaller in size and slightly lighter-colored, desert bighorn sheep live in the canyon
country of western Colorado.
Bighorn sheep are native to Colorado.
They live on sunny mountain slopes, usually above 8,000
feet, where there is plenty of grass and a clear uphill
escape route. Stocky-bodied with strong legs, bighorn
sheep are well-designed for bounding over mountain
slopes. Their flexible hooves are equipped with soft,
spongy pads to help cling to rocks. Even newborn lambs
can follow their mothers over the rugged terrain within a
few days of their birth.
Bighorn once ranged from the high mountains to
the prairie near the foothills, moving downslope
in winter. Settlement brought fences, roads, ranches and towns
that disrupted the sheep’s migration patterns. Fire
suppression reduced sheep habitat by allowing forests
to expand into mountain grasslands. In addition,
unregulated hunting in the 1800s and introduced
diseases reduced the number of bighorn in the region.
Today bighorn are mostly restricted to foothills,
canyons and high mountains.
Sheep do not pioneer new range or move to new
habitats easily, even those adjacent to areas in current
use. Limited habitat can lead to overcrowding, stressing
the animals and spreading disease. In the last half of the
20th century, sheep management focused on restoring
bighorn to their historic range by transplanting some
from larger, stronger herds. Today wildlife managers
emphasize efforts to maintain healthy populations
by enhancing habitat — through methods such as
controlled burns — and managing disease. Keeping
domestic sheep separate from bighorn populations
reduces the risk of transmitting non-native diseases to
wild sheep. Hunting is also used as a management tool
Beautiful and majestic Upper Yosemite Falls near maximum power and encases in ice spray! The snow melt from record snowfall this winter will make for dramatic falls this spring. Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in Yosemite National Park, dropping a total of 2,425 feet (739 m) from the top of the upper fall to the base of the lower fall. Located in the Sierra Nevada of California, it is a major attraction in the park, especially in late spring when the water flow is at its peak.
The falls consist of three sections:
Upper Yosemite Fall: The 1,430-foot (440 m) plunge alone is among the twenty highest waterfalls in the world. Trails from the valley floor and down from other park areas outside the valley lead to both the top and base of Upper Yosemite Fall. The upper fall is formed by the swift waters of Yosemite Creek, which, after meandering through Eagle Creek Meadow, hurl themselves over the edge of a hanging valley in a spectacular and deafening show of force.
Middle Cascades: Between the two obvious main plunges there are a series of five smaller plunges collectively referred to as the Middle Cascades. Taken together these account for a total drop of 675 feet (206 m), more than twice the height of the Lower Fall. Because of the narrow, constricted shape of the gorge in which these drops occur and the lack of public access, they are rarely noted. Most viewpoints in the valley miss them entirely. Several vantage points for the cascades are found along the Yosemite Falls trail. Several hikers climbing down from the trail towards the cascades have required an expensive helicopter rescue due to steep and slippery terrain and features.
Lower Yosemite Fall: The final 320-foot (98 m) drop adjacent to an accessible viewing area, provides the most-used viewing point for the waterfalls. Yosemite Creek emerges from the base of the Lower Fall and flows into the Merced River nearby. Like many areas of Yosemite the plunge pool at the base of the Lower Fall is surrounded by dangerous jumbles of talus made even more treacherous by the high humidity and resulting slippery surfaces.
In years of little snow, the falls may actually cease flowing altogether in late summer or fall. A very small number of rock climbers have taken the opportunity to climb the normally inaccessible rock face beneath the falls, although this is an extraordinarily dangerous undertaking; a single afternoon thunderstorm could restart the falls, sweeping the climbers off the face.
Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) on the run! These large Hares have black tails and ear tips and absolutely stunning eyes! You will appreciate just how hard they are to see at the beginning of the video as they blend in with their habitat. Fortunate to have a rainstorm ending which brought out the animals in the late afternoon. Filmed in April 2017 at Merced National Wildlife Refuge, California. Enjoy!
The black-tailed jackrabbit has long ears with black tips and very long front and rear legs. It is about 18-24 inches long and weighs four to eight pounds. It has peppery brown fur and a black stripe that runs down its back. The black-tailed jackrabbit is not really a rabbit; it is a hare because its young are born with fur and with their eyes open. Males and females look alike, but females are usually larger.
The black-tailed jackrabbit can be found in the western United States from Washington south to California and east to Nebraska and Texas. It is an introduced species in Kentucky and New Jersey.
The black-tailed jackrabbit can run at speeds of up to 30 miles an hour and it can jump a distance of about 20 feet. When it is trying to evade predators like coyotes, foxes, bobcats, badgers and weasels, it moves in a zig-zag pattern. It flashes the white underside of its tail when threatened by a predator. This warns other jackrabbits or danger and can also confuse the predator. It can also swim by dog-paddling with all four of its feet. It is most active at night. It usually spends the day resting in a scraped out hollow in the shade.
American Avocet feeding and preening. An unusually beautiful and elegant shorebird with a long narrow upturned bill that it sweeps side to side in the shallows looking for food. Usually seen hanging out in numbers this was a rare loner at the Merced NWR, California.