Larus spp.

At least eight different gull species hang out at Malibu Lagoon, and telling them apart isn’t always easy. For starters, they change their colouration every year for the first three or four years, and their summer outfits might differ from their winter ones. But setting aside the juvenile years, I’m going to try to learn how to identify the adults, even if they look very similar to a casual glance. These two, the Western and California gulls, look pretty much the same year round, so I’m starting with them. I’m honing in on the subtle differences between the two, which admittedly can only be seen close up. More pairs to come as I get around to it.

Corvus corax

It’s Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday, and I’ve been reading up on him (and re-reading his most famous poem). Any excuse to paint a raven!

Things I didn’t know about Mr. Poe until today:

  • He was one America’s earliest practitioners of the short story, and considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre.
  • He married his 13 year old cousin when he was 27.
  • He died at age 40 under mysterious circumstances. The cause of his death has been variously attributed to alcoholism, substance abuse, suicide, murder, cholera, hypoglycemia, rabies, syphilis, influenza, and that Poe was a victim of cooping.
  • His character was thoroughly assassinated by a rival after his death.

Falco sparverius

The American kestrel (Falco sparverius), also called the sparrow hawk, is the smallest and most common falcon in North America. They usually hunt by perching and scanning the ground for prey to ambush – that’s what I saw this one doing –though they also hunt from the air. Diet typically consists of grasshoppers and other insects, lizards, mice, and small birds (e.g. sparrows). American kestrels occupy habitats ranging from deserts and grasslands to alpine meadows.

Happy to have spotted my first one today!

Colaptes auratus

I have a new favourite local bird (sorry, Spotted Towhee, you’ve been toppled). Look at that polka-dotted breast!

I saw a Northern Flicker in Topanga yesterday; it was only my second sighting of this gorgeous woodpecker. It is native to most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands, and is one of the few woodpecker species that migrate. According to Wikipedia, over 100 common names for the northern flicker are known, including yellowhammer, clape, gaffer woodpecker, harry-wicket, heigh-ho, wake-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup, and gawker bird.

Sketched from a photo by Ashok Khosla

prosthemadera novaseelandiae

My eldest daughter shares her name with a gorgeous New Zealand bird, so I sent her this painting as a Christmas gift.

The tūī is a boisterous, medium-sized honeyeater, with blue, green, and bronze colouration and a distinctive white throat tuft. Tūī are known for their noisy, unusual, sometimes soulful calls, different for each individual, that combine bellbird-like notes with clicks, cackles, timber-like creaks and groans, and wheezing sounds. They can imitate human speech, along with sounds like glass shattering, car alarms, classical music and advertising jingles.

Merry Christmas, Tui!

Photo reference by Sid Modsell, used under Creative Commons 2.0

Plegadis chihi

I was walking the dog in Legacy Park when I spotted the distinctive shape of an ibis! It’s the first time I’ve seen one in America (they are very common in Australia). The white-faced ibis Plegadis chihi is sighted so infrequently in these parts that my birding apps didn’t even offer it as a possibility. But I checked with my naturalist friend Suzanne, and she confirmed the ID. It was a pretty metallic bronze-green colour. Made my day!