What a weekend for birding this has been; I've added three new species to my life list. First, I took the time while grocery shopping to observe a flock of gulls in the parking lot, and while they were arguing over the scraps of some abandoned fast food, I noted their gray-blue legs, mottled necks, small patch of lower bill color, and wing spotting. Those details were enough to identify them as California Gulls in their winter plumage.
Today, as my husband and I took a leisurely walk along the Provo River, digital camera in hand, I was privileged to spot two additional species to add to my list. The first is the Steller's Jay, the western equivalent to the Blue Jay (which I am very familiar with, having spent my childhood being harassed by their calls just outside my bedroom window too early on weekend and summer mornings). The Steller's jay has a tall head crest, but where the blue jay has white markings, the Steller's jay has black ones. The bird is darker overall, though just as querulous as other jays, including the western scrub jays that are frequent backyard visitors. As I live in a relatively urban area, western scrub jays are much more apt to visit, while Steller's jays are more likely to remain in the mountains and canyons further from human interaction. Nonetheless, it was a treat to see them flitting among the pine trees, breaking nuts free and cracking them to eat. Unfortunately, because of the dense foliage and their hyperactive behavior, I was unable to capture a better photograph, but they are so distinctive that even a poor photo is easily identifiable.
The real treat, however, was the next new bird -- a Golden Eagle. This is one of the largest birds of prey in North America, and the solitary bird is a magnificent hunter. Readily identifiable by his huge size (roughly 30 inches tall with an 80 inch wingspan), his rich brown plumage, powerfully hooked bill and talons, and golden-tinted head and neck coloration, he is a regal and beautiful sight. We observed him for several minutes, first perched on a utility post where he was watching the river carefully, then later after he flew downstream, we were able to get even closer as he perched on a dead tree. Clearly at the top of the food chain, he was unconcerned with several people along the trail who crept closer to see him better, and he calmly continued watching the river for his next meal. He waited, occasionally itched, and once in awhile graced us with a condescending glare. We, of course, were thrilled.
It is amazingly rewarding to see such rich, varied avian life so close to home. While the golden eagle will not become a backyard visitor, that he is nearby illustrates the wonderful birding climate I live in. Any birder can easily discover the wider variety of birds beyond their backyard if they only take the time occasionally to enjoy a lovely walk in an unsullied area, keeping their eyes to the sky for new birds to see.