Thursday, May 18, 2017

Squid, Scum, Styrofoam, Scavengers


It's May. Not much birding lately...except from my exceptional yard. So far this month, I have the best yard list in the entire state, in eBird anyway. What else do you expect from #7? I'm not fucking around over here. Yardbirding has suddenly become very serious. But more on that to come...

Though I haven't been slaying lately, I did bird a great deal this winter and earlier this spring, so let's dip into that, starting with a Squid Crow. I've seen American Crows eat a great many different things, but this is the first one I've seen with a squid. The novelty is compelling; the ramifications are still being fully ascertained. San Leando Marina, San Leando, CA.


This first cycle Herring Gull was pleasantly typical. Novelty may be something worth seeing with Corvids, but not with large gulls. Revel in the simple gulls such as this that do not leave you wanting to reach for the bottle. San Leandro Marina, San Leandro, CA.


Soon, Thayer's (above) and Iceland Gulls may become much less of an identification headache. We are now in the calm before the shitstorm of butthurt that will come ashore when these birds are lumped. Get you shitjackets ready. San Leandro Marina, San Leandro, CA.


Anyone know who is putting field-readable bands on Western Gulls in the last few years? The banded birds from the Farallones typically just have an unnumbered color band as far as I know. San Leandro Marina, San Leandro, CA.


I'm sure something ended up scavenging this hapless scaup. Life is pain. Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA.


Is this what the future of birding looks like? Scum, styrofoam, and a mopey Mew Gull? Perhaps. Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA.


This Glaucous-winged Gull* has beady black eyes. Trippy. It looks possessed. Look away, nothing novel to see here. Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA.

*Not sure if Olympic Gull can be ruled out, but at the very least it presents as a GWGU.


Here is a more typical-looking Glaucous-wing. Not novel. That is fine. Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA.


We get a lot of birds that look like this in the bay in the winter. They aren't very big, and at first glance they look like a good candidate for a Herring or a pale-eyed Thayer's. In fact, with a second or third glance, they still like one of those two. Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA.


Take a look at the orbital ring...it's almost colorless. A grayish pink? It's not what you would expect on either a Herring or Thayer's. I reckon this is a Herring X Glaucous-winged that looks mostly like a Herring. Oh, and it did not show a Thayer's pattern on the underside of the primaries, if you are wondering.


Since we may be saying goodbye to Thayer's Gull, here is another one. So long, old friend. Pacifica Pier, Pacifica, CA.


Few species in the world have had poorer reproductive success than Heermann's Gulls in the last few years. HEEGs drew the short straw as far as fledging chicks goes...we in California can tell because juveniles have suddenly become rarities. Not mellow. Pacifica Pier, Pacifica, CA.


There are a few places around the bay area where Common Ravens are extremely tame. Though abundant and generally bad for nesting birds, they are pretty impressive up close. Look at that profile! Those cankles! Pacifica Pier, Pacifica, CA.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Drown in the soup, in the froth, resurrect": Song of The Setubal

Tomásbirder, surfer, lurker, intertidal scavenger, globetrotter, fungiphile, gourmand, Ween scholar, radio personality.... Attempting to put this man in a box is like trying to put Baby in the corner...nobody puts Tommy in a box. Nobody.

We caught up with TVS at the Coastal Ecology Lab on the shores of Lac Croissant in Olympic National Park, where he was busy installing a new idler shaft on his rock tumbler. 



BB&B: Sorry to interrupt the shaft work. Please state your name/occupation.

TVS: Tomás Vellutini Setubal/ambulant field scribe and lake visitor.

You are currently dating the educational director of the local Audubon chapter. Did you initially start birding to pick up on women?

No. Birding for me has mostly been a solitary venture, carried out most fervently in periods of emotional distress and crippling heartache. Akin to songwriting for musicians. Which I guess eventually gets them laid.

I see. Your Wikipedia page says you grew up in Brazil. What is the national bird of Brazil? 

Growing up, the Hyacinth Macaw was always talked about there, Arara Azul… an unbelievably blue macaw. Hardcore pet trade victim at one point, and thus a flag-bearer of the conservation movement in Brazil. But I think the national bird is the Rufous-bellied Thrush, the sabiá. Robin-like birdie.The true rockstars of the commons are the Rufous Hornero, a master engineer of cozy cob houses, and the Great Kiskadee, bloodthirsty insect slayer.

Describe what the average birder is to you. What do they look like? What do they think about? Does the average birder vary between countries? What does the Brazilian birder look like? 

Everyone knows the average birder here in the States. A Methuselah-aged seemingly innocent chatty pair of spectacles, unabashed model of the lamest outerwear possible, and proudly anachronistic except for when it comes to tools and technologies that aid in birding. They are white, they are wealthy, and they unanimously exude a deep concern for the state of their feathered brethren, sometimes more so than that of their human brethren. Common as fuk. Boring? Some say so. There’s a school of thought that encourages us to see the beauty in even the most common birders, and I’ve been trying to adhere to that.

Average birders in Brazil belong to a totally distinct class. They are younger, maybe in their forties, but also white and relatively wealthy, therefore far fewer in numbers. They’ve adopted a very European hobby, and must live through ten times the scrutiny of wearing their elitism around their neck or shoulder-strap. Some revel in that uncomfortable reality though, which plagues some areas of Brazilian birding with excessive dick-measuring contests of ocular gear. Because of the gear-centric approach, photography has a much more pronounced weight in birding, and mere accounts or lists may not be taken so seriously. They want photos badly, “registros” or records as they are commonly referred to will really weigh out your “birding” skills. They also wear lame clothing and travel far for bird sightings.

What is the best bird band name out there?

‘King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’ and ‘Cock Sparrer’ come to mind. A stretch? Maybe. Just picture King Gizzard though, the daemonic vulture overlord, and his sorcerous slithering crony. I love it. Both great bands. How about worst bird band name? The Byrds.


Agreed. Pelican is another great band/name. Simple, powerful, big sound. What is the best bird band name that ISN'T out there?

The Cloacas.
Oops nevermind, just googled it, the cloacas are out there shredding. Spitting out impeccable musical guano. Add The Cloacas to the answer above.

How about the Bohemian Waxwings? Seems like an obvious band name. A little hoity-toity perhaps.
I always wanted to start a band called the Chordates. How inclusive is that? Come on feathered ones, titty-suckers, all you herps, fishies, slimy tunicates, brainless branchiostomas, you belong here!

Oh, I get it! And play only power chordates, right? Ugh. Do surfing and birding have anything in common? 

Certainly, both are tiresome attempts at removing oneself from the tungsten, from the neon, from the halogen, from the inescapable humdrum of our anthropocentric existence. This endeavor is of course a fallacy, and thus the birder and the surfer are both fools. Fools fueled by a blind desire to somehow capture a sliver of the overwhelming energy that pulsates throughout this planet independently of our existence. The natural, the holy, the non-human, the earthly, the godly, the divine; all horrible words to describe these slivers that we attempt to find, see, hear, weep from such beauty, write down on our stupid lists, drop in, go up, go down, slash (yeah 
right), get barreled (uh-huh), drown in the soup, in the froth, resurrect, and do it again, over and over.

If you were to only watch Surfbirds (surfbirding?) would that be a close proxy to surfing?

Surfbirds are kooksPelicans on the other hand…

Drugs and birding. Do they mix?

My most meaningful owl encounters have happened while under the spell of some drug. It must draw them in. So yes, absolutely. Songbirding on the other hand is a purifying, sobering experience for me, the antivenin to debauchery. So, both? Day birding vs night birding? How cliché.

Drugs and surfing. Bad idea?

On small days, “wave-enhancement” is a term often used to describe certain substance abuse.

What are your favorite places to bird and why?

Riparian birding is the best. Floating down a river, ever done that? I used to do float surveys on the Trinity River, counting hordes of angry Black Phoebes, flushing Green Heron mothers away from their young. It’s a surreal experience, like birding on a conveyor belt.

Also dig birding in urban parks, seeing who’s braving the oases in the concrete.

I'm hip to the Float and Bird, yes. Makes me thirsty just thinking about it. If you could only have 3 birds and 3 books on a desert island, what would they be?

Books and birds. I see. You want emotional value, rather than utilitarian. Here you go, there’s some mystical connection to each:
1)     House Wren. East of Eden by John Steinbeck.
2)     Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell.
3)     Yellow-breasted Chat. Tintin in Tibet by Hergé

Heavy. HEAVY. SPIRIT BIRD?

RED-EYED VIREO. Dope migration pattern!



Favorite tasting bird?

Guineafowl, no doubt. Beautiful bird, love their calls, and they are simply the tastiest.

Yum. Let's stay in this vein. If you could eat any bird, guilt-free, no judgement, what would it be? How would you prepare it? With fruits/vegetation from the birds preferred habitat?

I would have a platter of deep-fried Bushtits. Dip ‘em in thimbleberry ranch. Damn.

Damn. DAMN. 

And thus another installment of the Human Birdwatcher Project's highly-acclaimed interview series is shelved. Remember...birders are people too! Some of them anyway. Hopefully our continual quest of understanding the Birdwatcher in all its myriad forms has been enhanced. Thanks to TVS for taking time away from his Eternal Search for the Barrel of Immortality to share some wisdom with BB&B.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Puerto Rico Winter Tour Y2K16: Bosque Cambalache, Camuy, Trip Wrap Up


This is it...the last Puerto Rico post! I'll go over the last day of our trip (very good birding), mistakes that were made, and general comments and recommendations for those of you thinking about birding there in the future.

The main destination for our final morning was a spot I knew almost nothing about. While doing research before the trip, I was trolling through eBird, looking for good sites for quail-doves...clearly one of the most dependable spots for both species found on "mainland" Puerto Rico was Bosque Estatal de Cambalache, in the Arecibo area. This site was not mentioned in any trip report I could find, but clearly this was a Geotrygon stronghold, so why not bird it? A Mangrove Cuckoo greeted us in the predawn light.


After a spell of no quail-doves at all, we began hearing Key West Quail-Doves and flushing unidentified quail-doves from the road...without being able to identify them of course. This would happen over and over again, even though we were moving painstakingly slowly to avoid it. Mercifully, a Key West Quail-Dove cooperated for good looks, relieving Dan and Adam of their itchy and sore grip-off episode I dealt them the previous day at Bosque Susua. A tiny anole cooperated for even better looks.


A few minutes later, our bitternish pace on the trail rewarded us with distant looks at a Ruddy Quail-Dove, which was a sweet sweet lifer for yours truly. And under the watchful gaze of terrestrial snails, we got great looks at a second individual shortly afterward. Fuck yes.

Our eBird checklist from the site is here. Note that we did not include several unidentified quail-doves that flushed from the road before we could get bins on them. Though not a super birdy site, we did have a good mix of native birds and great success with KWQD and RUQD, so I would definitely recommend birding here if you get to this part of the island.


Hacienda Esperanza was another site in eBird that boasted a healthy site list, and many potential trip birds were on the menu. However, when we arrived a guard at the gate told us we needed reservations, which was railer. We tried another access point to the east though, and a guard waved us through. Some nice beaches here and a few much-appreciated trip birds, though we didn't see anything very exciting.

If you care about seeing exotics, I would definitely recommend birding the open areas of the access road to Hacienda Esperanza....there are flocks and flocks of exotics here, the most interesting of which were these Monk Parakeets.


Don't worry, you will see plenty of Gray Kingbirds along the road as well.


At this point we had only one last target bird of the trip to go for, so we headed west toward Camuy. A roadside pond halted our progress and yielded a flock of Glossy Ibis.


Pile of turtles, pile of ibis.


The most exciting bird here was, believe it or not, a Ring-billed Gull. I have never been so happy to see a Ring-billed Gull before. This was only the second individual gull we saw on the trip.


Alas, we left the Ring-billed Gull behind and finally arrived at our last birding destination of the entire trip, a medium-sized farm pond with a great number of birds. White-cheeked Pintails were one of the most abundant species.


RUDU-WCPI takeoff combo? I'll take it.


Ducks are cool and all, but we had come to this random pond for one reason...AMERICAN FLAMINGO. This Vague Runt has been on the island for years and only occasionally moves around; it is usually found at this pond. What a ridiculous, impressive, and unbelievable bird. I've never really taken one in before, if we are being honest here (but not literal), they really walk the line between being completely crippling and profoundly absurd.


This is not a bird to be taken lightly. It is too outlandish. Too good. Too pink. It's bill is incomprehensible. What a marvel.

This was the last group lifer of the trip. Note that our eBird checklist features Mallard! This is a good spot for waterfowl, in addition to the famous resident flamingo.


At this point we decided to do the unthinkable...go somewhere for reasons other than birds/food/beer. The Arecibo Observatory is a scientific behmoth that borders on being a monstrosity. Definitely a tourist trap, but it is too grand a thing to not see in person. If you are a space nerd, you would love this shit. If you are not a space nerd, it's still hard to not be impressed. It does, for good or ill, give you a moderate Death Star vibe. Yes, that is a lip of the giant dish carved into the earth that you can see at the bottom of the photo, but so far it has yet to be used against rebellious planets or Mon Calamari cruisers.


The trip was a great success. Not a shitload of birds, but many lifers. The lifer-to-bird ratio was very solid, in fact. Good people. Good vacay. Some pocket. Great pinchos. Not quite enough rum. Annabelle does not have microcephaly. Winning.

Comments:

We took a leisurely 8 days to bird the island; most birders are usually only hunting endemics, and take less time to bird Puerto Rico...though I'm not sure where else they are planning on seeing something like Antillean Crested Hummingbird anytime soon. Anyways, we were going for all the Caribbean specialties in addition to all the endemics, and we did really well with our target birds, so I think ours was a quality timeline. I got 46 lifers...phenomenal. Around 40 were native birds, not a bad ratio considering the number of bizarre introduced species in Puerto Rico. We got to see a lot of the island this way as well, instead of just being relegated to the southwest corner where most endemics are easiest.

We planned our route and chose our hotspots using trip reports (very helpful), tips from a couple of former Bird Police (very helpful, thanks Tom and John), eBird (quite helpful), and A Birdwatchers' Guide to Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the Caymans (somewhat helpful). We found the book to be, well, not very well-written, especially when it comes to giving directions. That said, it was still useful, but you don't need to have this book when birding Puerto Rico.

We had a 4x4 Jeep. We did actually use four wheel drive several times, it came in handy! If you go during the rainy season and want to access places like Laguna Cartagena and other spots in the Lajas Valley, I would recommend you do the same. If you are prone to getting lost, it can help you out.

As I mentioned before, Google Maps led us astray repeatedly. It can help you get places here, and it can help you get lost. Don't put all your birding eggs in the Google Maps basket.

We stayed at Ceiba Country Inn and two different Airbnbs, one just outside of Guanica and one near Arecibo. Ceiba had decent rooms, decent birding on site (we got visuals of Puerto Rican Screech-Owl nowhere else), but poor breakfast for the price. Not a bad place for a birder to stay though, if you get to the east side of the island. Nice dogs.

Misses:

White-tailed Tropicbird is an easy bird in spring along the northwestern coast, but considerably more difficult to find in early winter. However, I think we could have gotten one if we devoted some time to seawatching, which we did not attempt.

Masked Duck is not only my Nemesis Bird, I think it is fair to say that it is also Dipper Dan's Nemesis Bird, so of course we weren't going to see one despite lots of effort in lots of good places. However, we can completely blame Officer Searcy for our failure to find this bird, as he claimed we would see one...this is a grave mistake, do not do this if you are hoping to see a Masked Duck. Looking at eBird, it looks like they started showing up at Laguna Cartagena after our trip. Typical.

We were bummed to miss the local Sharp-shinned and Broad-winged Hawk subspecies. The local Sharpie is critically endangered and not at all easy to see though.

Few visiting birders make the effort, but if you take the ferry to Vieques, you stand a strong chance of getting Bridled Quail-Dove if you can make it to the right part of the island. We did not undertake this journey.

It turns out Black-whiskered Vireo is quite rare in December; we missed this species entirely despite looking for them constantly. They are much easier later in the winter (February) when migrants arrive.

We were aware that Antillean Nighthawk and Caribbean Martin are spring birds, not to be expected in early winter. We saw neither.


We left Puerto Rico with 137 species in the bag, a good avian haul I reckon. Thanks again to MAX REBO BIRDING TOURS for making this all possible!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ross's Gull, Avian Heroin

I've been waiting to write this post for months...this thing is so big, it's a daunting thing to even think about writing. This is about the best bird I have ever seen. Until I saw this bird, I never knew you could see a bird and say, "That bird. That bird there. That is the best one." Learning that I really could say this now was no small revelation. How can one do such a bird justice? I don't think I can...but I will try.

It all began on a Thursday in January. Now, this Thursday was not like any other day...a massive series of storms had just finished pummeling northern California, and I had decided that I would take the day off to do my Five Mile Challenge (5MC). The 5MC had been going well enough...I had clearly already beaten Flycatcher Jen by a wide margin, and I had just gotten my 86th species for the day. I had consciously decided to take a break from compulsively checking Sialia (which collects all of northern California's many birding listservs in one place) for breaking news of rarities that day...after all, I had shit to do. What in the holy fuck could possibly make me abandon the 5MC, something I had been waiting to do for weeks? Of course, the one day I decided to ignore the local birding scene would turn out to be a day most unlike any other.

At 2:30 PM, as I was scanning through shorebird flocks at the Albany Mudflats, I got a text that struck me down with such force that I had to spit out some teeth after I read it. Here is the actual screenshot from Samantha's phone.


Of course, I knew that the 5MC was over at that point. This bird could not wait, would not wait. Even with some traffic, I could still make it to Princeton Harbor in an hour and a half and have some time in the area before sunset. I didn't think the bird would be there of course...my luck could not be that good...but not going for the bird was completely unacceptable.

Why would this be unacceptable? Ross's Gull is one of the best birds you can find in the United States...well, the North American continent...ok the Northern Hemisphere. They are not a well-known bird, and the only reliable/accessible place to see them in North America is Barrow, Alaska, in fall. Due to the extremely remote nature of Barrow, basically it costs thousands of dollars to look for a Ross's Gull...and there is no guarantee you will see one. Can you imagine spending the money to get to Barrow, freezing your ass off and not seeing this incredible gull? This archetype of Good Birds? They were formerly reliable in Churchill, Manitoba, but not in many years...if you want to have a reasonable chance of seeing a Ross's Gull, you are going to be somewhere above the Arctic Circle.

Of course, they do come south. Many U.S. states have records...but there is no pattern really, except they come in winter and are most likely in higher latitudes. They do not occur in the Lower 48 every year, and most years none are found at all. In November of 2006, one showed up at the Salton Sea, flabbergasting all California birders. I did not chase it (I lived way up in Humboldt County at the time), something I never regretted, as the bird disappeared the day after it was found and I would have surely missed it after making the 14 hour drive. Those who searched for the bird and missed it do not even try to hide the fact that this dip severely traumatized them, and scarred them forever. If only...

I managed to beat traffic and make good time to the harbor...but 10 minutes out, the inevitable happened...the report came out that the bird had flown south and disappeared. I showed up at the harbor anyways, not knowing what else to do...this was all just so typical. I did have a plan though...refresh Sialia every freaking minute. It's not much of a plan, but it is better than no plan at all...and it worked. The bird had been refound! But the message was short and vague...something about a parking lot...well where the fuck is that? The only parking lot I could think of was an incredibly unsuitable place for a Ross's Gull...but next to the unlikely parking lot out on Highway 1 there was indeed a huge throng of birders, and I managed to score an unbelievably good parking spot within sprinting distance. And just beyond them sat The Bird, The Holy Grail of Vagrants, the Ross's Gull.


Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. It was pink, it was blue, it was gray, it was white, it was some intangible color in between. It's head was round and friendly with a little tiny nub of a bill...it resembled some kind of mystical plover more than a gull, sitting absurdly in a small pothole. Best of all, it was right there in front of me. Why did it decide to sit in this weird, rutted parking lot where no waterbird would ever want to alight in? The harbor was a much more suitable place. Was it fucked up? Or just totally unaccustomed to the area?

The bird sat there for a number of minutes, just absolutely melting my face off even though it was doing nothing at all. I got the distinct feeling that my entire birding life had been leading up to this moment. This bird was too good to be real...everything they say about this bird is true.

Suddenly, it took wing, crossed the highway and flew out over the ocean. I thought that would be the last I would see of it, but as it turned into a speck in the distance, I saw the bird come down to the water. It landed right next to a surfer, so it was easy to keep track of.


Here is the Ross's Gull in the lineup with some grom. I scoped the bird for a lengthy amount of time...this may be the last Ross's Gull I will ever see, so I am going to stare at it for as long as possible, poor looks and all. It was hard to see much on the bird at this distance, except that it was not bothered at all to be sitting 20 feet away from some surfers, who were puzzled to see this little blue/white/pink/gray thing aggressively ignoring them. Mercifully, the bird took off again, and flew right back to the parking lot! YESSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!




Unreal. I could not have asked for better looks at the bird. The gull darted back and forth across Highway 1, perilously low and close to traffic, just over the heads of the assembled group of drooling birders. It was stressful to watch, actually. At that point I realized that the bird was probably quite healthy, it just didn't have any clue about how to navigate in a world shaped by man. It had probably never seen anything like "civilization" before...this is a true arctic species, after all...most Ross's Gulls probably never even venture south of the Arctic Circle. It also didn't behave like it expected to have any predators around, which was also disconcerting.

The bird landed extremely close by, so I happily unleashed a torrent of crushes. As the sun sank behind the sea, the bird continued to periodically pick up, fly around the neighborhood (deftly avoiding the many powerlines in its path), landing back in the parking lot and even the bike path across the highway. The bird left my brain drowning in gallons of adrenaline, serotonin, dopamine...I had been drugged! I left the Ross's Gull that evening in a waking dream. This was true, pure, uncut avian heroin that I just had, and I still wonder if seeing any bird will match that special high.



The gull would remain in the area for several more days, happily feeding on the abundant earthworms that were present. Rumours of the bird being weak and sickly were circulated by jealous birders who were unable or unwilling to make the effort to come see it; in reality, the bird energetically frolicked in its little rain puddles to gobble the abundant earthworms, which it slaughtered without pause and without mercy. Part of me wanted it to leave for its own good though...I got the distinct feeling while watching the bird that death by car or death by raptor could be in its future if it did not leave.

Of course, you all know how the story ends...I'm just glad that I wasn't there to see it. Peregrines eat birds all the time, this is perfectly normal and the way it should be...but I would be lying if I said I wasn't bummed. After all, this was the best bird I have ever seen. At least it left this world honorably.


The Ross's Gull came to us from some distant and unknowable place; cold, barren, unforgiving, and likely seen by few men. It was a true bird from the north, and few others of its kind will ever make such a brave foray below The Circle. It flew far, and foraged fiercely. Melted faces as best it could. We shall never see its like again.

And now its watch has ended.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Las Gallinas - Zono Zone, Let The Kinglet In, The One You Least Suspect (LISP)


Sorry for the lack of output lately buddies. Unsurprisingly, it becomes harder to blog when you are hanging out with a baby all the time. I've gotten plenty of good birding in this winter/spring though, so I have no shortage of material to work with...shit, I even have flowers.  But before I could even blog it, the Quasi-Perpetual Weekend (QPW) has come grinding to a halt...it's back to work for me. I've been off since my daughter was born in January, so this is going to be weird.

One of the things I've been able to take advantage of during the QPW was my proximity to Marin. Among northern California birders, few counties hold the appeal that Marin does. While I've lived in a number of places in the bay over the last ten years, I've never managed to live in Marin, which is widely considered the best birding county. That said, my current home in Albany is just a quick 15 minute drive over the Richmond Bridge to the Promised Land. I've spent a great deal of time birding in Marin since last fall, which has paid no end of dividends in terms of rarities and quality outings.

The Las Gallinas Ponds is a default birding location on the Marin bayside...you can rack up over 60 species pretty easily for much of the year, it has rarity potential, and a lot of the birds are highly crushable. Indeed, if you enjoy running into photogs who can't identify the birds they are shooting (who doesn't?!), then spend some time here!

Marsh Wrens are extremely common here (not unusual), but there are so many of them that you are bound to get good looks at a couple (unusual).


Common Gallinules are a highly local species in the bay area, and there is no better place to see them than at Las Gallinas. They are totally fearless here, even more so than the coots. Close observations of gallinules will lead you to conclude they are more interesting than coots in almost every possible way, except their feet are not as cool. Coot feet are hard to top. I'm not sure why gallinule feet are so simple in comparison, considering their niches and behavior overlap so much.


Did someone say "common"? Oh good, now I have a reason to post a White-crowned Sparrow. We have them year-round here, but they still are very much a scourge of winter.


Your friend and mine, the Great Egret.

This photo begs a question...without googling, does anyone know what bird species has the longest neck? Either in proportion to its body, or actual length? This seems like important trivia to know.


Don't worry locals, I managed to slip in one rarity in this post. After a substantial time spent dipping on this bird, eventually I connected with the Harris's Sparrow at Las Gallinas. Though not a MEGUH by any means, this is a solid rarity in California, and since I didn't see any last year it made for a fine yankee bravo, as well as a Marin County bird. Unfortunately it disappeared after about 30 seconds, and I was left wallowing around in more common birds...


Golden-crowned Sparrows are abundant and often very confiding...too bad most of them don't look very impressive until April or so. But what they lack in aesthetic appeal, they make up for in humble plumpness.

Wow, did I just throw up pics of three Zonotrichia? Perhaps it is time to brush up on these horsemen of the apocalypse.


Unlike Zono sparrows, Cooper's Hawk is not a bird I encounter up close very often. Practically everything at Las Gallinas is begging for merciless crushing.


I am not above posting the occasional House Finch photo...and by occasional, I mean this is the third one BB&B has ever posted since 2008. It was time. Come on, I know you are programmed to not even look at it, but it's a pretty bird, admit it. It looks good with that lichen...this is something you and I have to accept. Hey, if you are ever going to find that vagrant rosefinch, you're going to have to look closely at some House Finches.


Now that we got that out of the way, we can let this Ruby-crowned Kinglet into the empty cavities of our hearts. Don't be afraid...just let it in.


This is, without doubt, the best Ruby-crowned Kinglet photo I have ever taken. This is not a boast (that would be embarrassing), just simple fact. I dig how yellow the tail looks on this individual, that's not something I notice in the field very often.


Lincoln's Sparrows often fit the descriptions of murderers that you hear about on local news stations...they are quiet, nice, keep to themselves. Wouldn't harm a fly...or so you would think. No one would ever suspect them of breaking the law at all, let alone capable of killing nine people.


This is definitely a species pulling stakes right now; I've probably seen my last of the spring already. I've mentioned here before how they never sing at wintering/stopover sites in California. Do they just fail horribly the first few times they sing each year? They are probably spot-on, but I like the idea of them having to sing out the rust.


A few minutes away from Las Gallinas is the Marin Civic Center. There's a big, weird artificial pond there which attracts some gulls and ducks and has pulled in a couple interesting birds in the past. I recently discovered that it has tame Common Mergansers, which is heck of novel to me.


I've never seen them so close before. That is probably an odd notion to some of you, but now you know you can become #7 without ever getting close to Common Mergansers. As you definitely can tell, they were looking for delicious bread handouts (that's why they evolved serrated bills, obvi), but they are pretty striking birds regardless of the lowly intentions of these individuals.

Ok, I think I used up all my blog stamina. I've got to save energy for the next post, as that will deal with something I've been needing to tell you about for a long time....a long time.