On Display—The Western Tanager, by Tina Mitchell

An amazing variety of birds in the western hemisphere are called “tanagers”—estimates range from 300 to 400 species in all.  During breeding season, the U.S. routinely hosts only four tanager species, all closely related congenerics:  Western, Summer, Hepatic, and Scarlet. Westerns are by far the most common in this county; the San Diego County Birding…

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This Neighborhood Jukebox Plays for Free — The Northern Mockingbird

“Hush little baby, don’t say a word.  Pappa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.  If that mockingbird won’t sing, Papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.”  Northern Mockingbirds pretty much do nothing but sing.  So you can kiss that diamond ring goodbye.  A loud and indefatigable songster and consummate mimic, a Northern Mockingbird structures his song…

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Buena Vista’s Charming Symbol, The Ruddy Duck

Sporting a dapper black cap, a sky-blue bill accentuating a chestnut-brown body, a gleaming white cheek patch, and black perky tail feathers, a male Ruddy Duck in breeding season assumes an entirely different bearing from his nondescript winter alter ego. All in all, with its small size, broad flattened bill, disproportionately large head, and distinct,…

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The Cuckoo in the Coal Mine

Yellow-billed Cuckoos (Coccyzus americanus) are fairly common in the eastern U.S. But in the last half-century, they have become rare in the West. Over the past 10 years in San Diego County, eBird shows unique sightings only 15 times—almost always a single bird in June or July, at Lake Henshaw, Lake Hodges, the Anza Borrego…

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Under the Mistletoe—Phainopepla

A member of the silky-flycatcher family, the Phainopepla inhabits the Southwest and Mexico. The male has a thin frame; shiny black plumage; piercing crimson eyes; and a sparse, cow-lick crest. In contrast to the male’s shimmering plumage, the similarly shaped female sports sooty gray feathers with the same crimson eyes and wispy crest. In flight,…

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Our Friend Flicker

Late one winter when we lived in Colorado, a female American Kestrel had roosted for several weeks on a ledge above our neighbors’ garage.  Thinking perhaps she might consider breeding there, my husband built a nestbox for the neighbors to install.  Alas, she moved on.  But a month or so later, a pair of Northern…

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Doing Just Fine, Thank You—The Black Phoebe

“Hey—grab the scope! What’s that bird?” I pointed to a small, dark bird with a distinctly dipping tail, sitting upright on a distant branch overhanging the river. For the Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas, we were surveying our block of pinyon/juniper, high-altitude conifers, and a short stretch of the Arkansas River in central Colorado, to document…

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A Joy to Behold— San Diego’s Spotted Towhee

When I started working at the wildlife rehabilitation center 15 years ago, I knew nothing about wildlife rehab.  But as a birder, I knew birds and their habitats. The staff knew a lot about healing birds but they weren’t birders. So when they asked me to check on a Spotted Towhee they were worried about…

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The Greater Roadrunner Beep! Beep!

A “tall, thin tramp in a swallow-tailed coat.” A “long striped snake on two legs.” A lanky, blue and purple cartoon character with a flopping crest, constantly foiling Wile E. Coyote. What do these descriptions have in common?  They all belong to the Greater Roadrunner. A large, loping, ground-loving member of the cuckoo family, this…

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Like Rogers and Astaire The Western Grebe

I had done my homework before releasing a Western Grebe from the wildlife rehabilitation center. “Western Grebes are incapable of walking on land,” due to how far back their legs are set on their bodies. Even the ultimate resource, the Sibley Guide to Birds, agreed. I’d need to wade a few feet into the reservoir…

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