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 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, NHMLA'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!
July 8, 2011
It never fails. Every year we have the same problem with dumpster divers. No it's not the hipster artist looking for obscure objects for his next sculpture, and it isn't the local freegan looking for her next luncheon. It's actually Western Gulls, Larus occidentalis.
Here's an image I captured on my way back from lunch on my smartphone.
It follows the same routine every weekday. Soon after the field trippers have exited the building they descend to the lawns and eat their lunches. About this time the gulls appear in a massive flock, like a reenactment of Hitchcock's, The Birds. The gulls around here are not as aggressive as others I've seen on my high school campus in the Inland Empire, or those at Seaworld that literally snatch burgers out of patrons' hands! Instead the gulls of Exposition Park wait for our school children to "finish" their packed lunches and put them in the trash. Soon after the gulls go to work on the overflowing trash cans. Garbage is strewn left, right, and center as the gulls are looking for a tasty morsel. All those half eaten sandwiches, leftover lunchables, and wayward McDonald's French fries, are consumed and the packaging is left behind as an unsightly reminder of the carnage.
The Western gull’s willingness to consider our trash its treasure illustrates a common trait of urban animals. Creatures who are able to thrive once their native habitats have been altered by humans do so in large part because they are adaptable. While bears and mountain lions have been pushed to the fringes of the city, animals that make the most of what is around them become successful urbanites. If you’re willing to eat trash—a plentiful commodity in urban settings—you’ve got a lot more options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
Have you seen any wildlife dumpster divers in your neighborhood?
March 9, 2011
If you read the previous post, you already know the basic idea of the North Campus. Now let's talk more about citizen science. We have three citizen science projects, what we like to call Community Science, that anyone can participate in. They are the Los Angeles Spider Survey, Lost Lizards of Los Angeles (aka LLOLA), and the Lost Ladybug Project which we host in partnership with Cornell University. All these projects help us collect data about what's living here in L.A. today. For instance, recently a LLOLA participant found a new lizard lounging in the Chatsworth area of L.A. Now when I say this lizard was lounging, I'm serious, they hang out by porch lights and wait for flying insects to be attracted. When a moth, or some other unsuspecting insect flies in, the lizard pounces and gobbles up the delicious treat. These Mediterranean House Geckos had never been found in L.A. County before, so it was a new record for science, and discovered by a tween no less!
Immature Mediterranean House Gecko, found by LLOLA participant Reese Bernstein and family.