Even though our neo-tropical migrants have flown south for the winter, Yosemite is still a great place to go birding. Many bird species spend the winter in the park, some moving to lower elevations as snow blankets the high country.
Cook's Meadow Loop is an easy and accessible trail near Yosemite Village. The meadow is also near a variety of bird habitat, making it an excellent place to go birding. Here are a few of the birds that were spotted near the meadow this week.
This adult red-shouldered hawk was spotted perched near the edge of the meadow.The hawk is identified by the zebra stripes on the tail and wings and the rusty color of the chest and shoulders. The red-shouldered hawk can often be seen soaring in high, wide circles but is also at home flying through the forest below the canopy. Small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles all make up this raptor's diet.
The Merced River edges the meadow on the south side, which is the perfect place to spot a belted kingfisher. This female (males lack the rusty brown belly band) was patrolling the river in search of food. Water clarity is very important to the kingfisher so it can readily spot its prey, aquatic insects and small fish. The kingfisher is easy to identify, with its distinctive shaggy crest, long bill, and loud rattling call. Common near lakes and streams throughout the Sierra, this bird does retreat to lower elevations in the winter to avoid frozen waters.One of the most fascinating facts about the belted kingfisher is that it nests in a burrow, often three to six feet deep into a sandy bank.
A group of ten or more bluebirds were making their way around the open meadow, possibly looking for late season insects on a mild November day. The red-orange chest of the western bluebird distinguishes it from its close cousin, the mountain bluebird, which is usually at higher elevations in the summer and not common here in the winter. The western bluebirds will travel far and wide this winter in search for their favorite foods, mistletoes and other berries.
If you are interested in birding in Yosemite, you are in luck. Every year since 1932, Yosemite has participated in a Christmas Bird Count. The count for this year is scheduled for December 16, 2012.