Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Justyn Stahl: Birder, Bird Police, Shrike Savior, God Emperor

A new year, a brand new interview brought to you by The Human Birdwatcher Project! Birders are people too! Occasionally, anyway. It's been too long since we've done an interview, but with such high demand it's time to get out there and talk to the birders of the world. Now, more than ever, The Birdosphere is swimming in mundane interviews, so it's time for a different kind of voice to rise above the masses.

We would like you to meet Justyn Stahl, one of those increasingly rare dedicated bird biologists who is also a dedicated birder, with his fingers (coated in Taki dust?) in seemingly everything...eBird reviewing/policing, California's bird police, the Christmas Bird Count, the San Diego Field Ornithologists, etc. I don't know how he has the energy for all of this; few birders can operate with the weight of this nerd burden without respite, but as you are about to find out, Justyn is no ordinary birder. Join us in a conversation about the birds of San Clemente Island, the journey from nonbirder to birder, and the current state of birding. 

BB&B: For the record, how do we pronounce your name? Some birders are very uncomfortable with your name.

JS: I’m not sure why it’s so difficult for people to wrap their heads around it. It’s pronounced just how it looks: Juh-STEEN. I guess that trips people up.

So what is it you do, exactly?

“It was whispered that while the shamans of the mainland might kill their enemies with poison, those of the islands were fierce wizards who used wolves to carry out their lethal designs.”

My official title is Le Roi D’l’isles Channel, which translates loosely into God Emperor of All Offshore Rocks South of Point Conception. My duties are largely ceremonial, involving the management of the San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike recovery effort. You may have read about it in Ranger Rick in the 90s. Prior to acquisition by the U.S. Navy in 1934, San Clemente Island (hereafter, the island, or simply SCI), was a wool ranch, and prior to that illicit things even too heinous for your dear readers occurred. The ranchers left behind thousands of goats, which went feral and ate pretty much every plant on the island, save for a few trees, and apparently, the box thorn on the west shore. While the Horned Larks and Western Meadowlarks were stoked, most land birds were not.  The Channel Island Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia graminea, extant on Miguel and Rosa) and the San Clemente Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus clementae, extant on Catalina and Rosa) were extirpated, and the island-endemic San Clemente Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii leucophrys) went into that little tree cavity in the sky. Two that squeaked by ended up on the Endangered Species List: the San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus mearnsi), which reached a low of 14 in 1998, and the San Clemente Bell’s Sparrow (Artemisiopiza belli clementeae), which bottomed out at 38 in 1984. Fortunately, the Navy has funded a massive recovery effort involving goat removal (finished in 1991; more than you could ever want to know about that is available right here), habitat restoration, predator control, captive breeding, release, and monitoring. I head up the last two projects: managing a crew of 10 biologists tasked with surveying the island year-round, attempting to find, band, and monitor every shrike and its nest on island, and in late summer releasing captive-hatched shrikes (raised by the San Diego Zoo here on SCI) to help augment the wild population. I’ve been doing this since January 2008 (Jesus, we’re almost up to the 10 year anniversary here), when I decided Jimmy John’s was not the best use of a Master’s degree in ecology.

Let’s just say the subs were too fast for me.

He wasn't kidding about Ranger Rick. This is gold!

How are the shrikes and sparrows doing? What's the outlook? 

I should open this portion of the interview with the caveat that I am not speaking on behalf of my employer or the United States Navy. That said, I was really hoping for a superbloom of shrikes to go along with the wild flowers that really went nuts out in the desert last spring. The stage was certainly set for such an event. As you know, we’ve been crippled by drought the last several years here in Southern California, and many of the storms that hit the mainland just skirted us. Winter 2016-2017, however, was one of the wettest years on record for the island and that should have (based on previous years’ data) meant good things for shrike productivity. Unfortunately, it appears one or more of the predators (seemingly rats) out here also bloomed and we ended up with one of the worst years, in terms of nest success, to date. The current adult population is somewhere around 85. And a poor year like this can only mean a decline into the next, so we’re not pumped for 2018. The sparrows, on the other hand, are thriving, and I hope they can ultimately be delisted. As the habitat on island has recovered, the breeding range of sparrows on SCI has dramatically expanded out of their box thorn refuge, with the last population estimate around 7,000!

San Clemente Island Bell's Sparrow. Appealing to many, seen by few. Photo by Justyn Stahl.

Some believe that the shrikes on Santa Cruz Island are at least as distinct as the San Clemente shrikes, or even more so (i.e., they should be awarded full species status). Any opinions on that?

Let me back up and take the opportunity to thank you for not confusing the taxon we’re dealing with here. When I tell people I live on San Clemente Island, most (non-birders) say, “Oh, I drive through there on the way to work.” Not possible. Most birders are also off-track, “Oh, you work with scrub-jays!” False. I suppose this is not as bad as the tourists up north mistaking Los Farallones for Hawaii, however.

Off the top of my head, I would suspect that being closer to the mainland, the shrikes on Santa Cruz would be less distinct. That land was all connected at some point, and we’re dealing with an uplift out here.  The subspecies occurring on Cruz (as well as Rosa and Catalina) is L. l. anthonyi (the Island Loggerhead Shrike).  A few anthonyi, I believe, have been captured on San Clemente in winter, and I know genetic mixing between clementae, anthonyi, and the migratory migrans was still occurring in the early 20th century.  A recent paper illustrated this...and in re-reading that, it seems that anthonyi is more distinct. Shows what I know. Feel free to dismiss any further claims I make in this interview.

For a birder, you're not exactly old. Do you recall what life was like before birding? What drove you to the feathered ones?

I grapple with being 37. I still self-identify as young, but realize I’m somewhere in the realm of middle age at this point. Gray hairs. Back pain. Unexplained rashes. My employees not knowing who Kris Kross is. I think my behavior at times is confusing to older birders. Life before birding (1980–2002) revolved almost exclusively around punk (and later hardcore) and skateboarding. I went to as many shows as possible, occasionally touring with bands that friends were in. I worked at a radio station for 4 years. I suspect few birders came out of that environment. You and Dipper Dan did, I believe. The birder-photographer Rick James’s punk roots run deep. I was straight edge for 7 years. As for my origin story, it’s not the typical “ever since I was 4, I’ve been attracted to nature and birds” bullshit, no offense. I, admittedly, got in late. In my senior year of college, I needed a biology elective, so I took ornithology. I bought some cheap binoculars and had the eastern Peterson. I’d basically just go what I think we call bird watching; walking the trail at the nature center with the paper checklist from the kiosk, and seeing the same Black-crowned Night-Herons every time. When I got to grad school, I met a guy, Chris Burney, who is probably the real reason I got seriously into birding. I think he had asked me how many birds I’d seen, which I didn’t know was a thing, but I had checked them off in the guide (in the actual checklist in the back). 157. Chris, having been to Peru, Mexico, and South Africa was over 1000. I was like, “Whoa.” We started birding a lot together, seriously neglecting our graduate studies to catch migration at a few places around Gainesville. That winter we drove through South Texas and into Tamaulipas and spent a few days at El Cielo/Gómez Farías. I don’t recall the actual moment, but at some point I was surrounded by birds I’d never even heard of and that was probably the moment that I was like, “OK, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” So I guess the bullshit spark story happened for me too, just much later.

Since transitioning, I’ve had fewer ankles injuries and no run-ins with skinheads, but I’ve found several parallels between birding and skating. California is clearly one of the best places to pursue either, often in the worst neighborhoods, and some of the best spots are kept secret by locals. Both have had very influential clothing styles, and there is strong mistrust of rollerbladers throughout both demographics. One major difference, besides the age distribution, is that I’ve never witnessed a former birder stumble out of a bar drunk, grab someone’s binoculars, and attempt to show off in front of his buddies. I mean, I’ve certainly been birding drunk, but I’m still actively birding. Speaking of drinking and birding, we need to hang out more often.

Since that fateful road trip, Justyn birds the Neotropics regularly. He photographed this Black-faced Antthrush (a bird I have on my stupid heard-only list - ed.) at Calakmul, Mexico.

The Human Birdwatcher Project has documented a noticeable increase in the number of younger (for birding, that means <40) birders in recent years. Why is birding no longer only the realm of stodgy geris?

The strange thing is I’m not witnessing this increase in person. Between San Diego and Los Angeles, there’s what, 10 million people? I can count on two hands the number of relatively active birders I know that are my age or younger. But with the frequency the phrase “Young Birder” is thrown around, you’d think the streets would be crawling with them. Where are these people? On that topic, I don’t really like that “Young Birder” phrase. What is that even supposed to mean? I can understand wanting to have a club or camp and not have geris show up, but I don’t know, saying “I am a Young Birder” makes me uneasy. Just be a kid.  I guess it’s not as bad as self-identifying as a “Hipster Birder” or a “Jeopardy Winner,” however. Or an “Oregon Birder.”

They are out there...the kids I mean. I see them on the reg. They are probably reading this post. When I was a childbirder, it was just me and one other kid in all of southern California, as far as we knew anyways. Maybe you are shielded from them by some kind of inner circle…but I’ll ask you about that in a minute.

You do most of your birding in Los Angeles County, even though you live in San Diego. How do you like it? 

I pay rent and get mail in San Diego, but 20 days a month I’m out here in Los Angeles County. Due to the nearest point of land, San Clemente Island is considered to be in LA, but that really only matters to birders, the fire department, and the sheriff’s department. But it certainly matters to birders. Aside from being an above average location to find Vague Runts, it also hosts introduced/established populations of Chukar and Gambel’s Quail. I get complaints from mainland birders about the rarity scene out here, but I suspect the daily/hourly eBird Needs Alerts for the game birds must really drive them up the wall. As a wise man once said, “Anyone who subscribes to hourly Needs Alerts deserves what they get.” I know one chemist who counts a mainland LA Chukar, though.

I know very little of the Los Angeles birding scene. I know there are a few people there in perpetual Big Years as there are here in San Diego. The traffic there is heinous. I’ve attempted to go there a few times, only to sort of flail around in the heat of the day, get stuck in traffic, and then just give up and go get a donut before driving back south, generally without whatever I was chasing..although immediate success was just had with a White-eyed Vireo on my last trip up there. It’s fucked though. I’ve seen the only two Common Redpolls, the only Smith’s Longspur, the only Bluethroat, the only Red-flanked Bluetail, etc. etc. in Los Angeles County but not a GREAT HORNED OWL.

But I spend most of my time off in San Diego missing whatever rarities are around by a day or two.

Much has been said of San Diego's powerful and secretive Inner Circle, who are alleged to control all of San Diego County birding. Is it a drunken, fanatical conspiracy theory, or are the rumors true?

Let me start off by congratulating Todd Ingess on his full recovery. The San Diego birding community almost lost one of its longest resident members. Not many people knew of Todd prior to the Great Sparrow Incident of 2013 (he had been hospitalized since a car wreck in 2001), but he is known to those in the Inner Circle. I had assumed the worst, as I’d not heard from him since his last plea for “one of those special birds [to] fly up to [his] window and bless [him] with just a few moments of its life.” But in December 2016, at an Inner Circle Ceremony prior to the Anza-Borrego CBC, there he was, back on his feet and healthy as ever. 

But yes, there is an Inner Circle. There are Inner Circles, I suspect, in many bird communities. Or at least every one that takes itself seriously (i.e., I doubt there is one in Oregon). If you look for and find rare shit, are willing to chase other people’s shit, and aren’t a dick/stringer, you can find yourself on the fringes. You can’t get upset when you don’t get a call or email about stuff though. Sometimes birds show up in sensitive areas and hordes can’t be allowed in. Sometimes you get a rep for being a jerk and you aren’t getting a call then. But no one is suppressing stuff to hurt non-assholes. Shockingly, those completely outside of the Circle often find Vagues that no one else sees (to wit, the Swallow-tailed Kite in San Diego) or that everyone but one Platinum Diamond Select™ Inner Circle member sees (to wit, the first chaseable White Wagtail in San Diego).

I really shouldn’t be talking about this…but one more thing needs to be said. In middle school, there was a sale on cassette singles at the music store at the mall: three for $10. One of those purchased by a young me was “Bad Boys (the theme from Cops)” by none other than Inner Circle.

A horrendous and shameful photo of a monumental rarity. Photo by Justyn Stahl. How embarrassing.

Let's face it, with the birds you've found or helped document on San Clemente Island (Los Angeles County's first Smith's Longspur and second Dusky Warbler most recently), you are one of California's unsung birding heroes...you get little credit for your constant coverage of a fascinating migrant trap because none of the birds you see, which have included staggering megas, are chaseable.  What affect has this had on your self-esteem, on your relationships with friends and family?

Working on SCI has taken a serious toll on my family life. My mom disowned me when I sent her the shitty photo I had of the Bluethroat. I’d documented California’s first fucking BLUETHROAT with a point and shoot camera. Like 4x even. It was embarrassing and a shame on the family. I think they were evicted from their house and all manner of misfortune followed.  “You mean Red-flanked Bluetail?” No, that was years later, and found by Jethro Runco, with his beautiful mustache and extremely tight Wranglers. That bird got a metric shit tonne of attention, so much so that I nearly lost my job. Someone somewhere thought that “rare bird” meant endangered (or even extinct?) and thought I’d spoken to the media about it without going up the chain of command.

Side note: one thing that’s frustrated me year after year is how few field biologists are really into birding. Working out on the island, all you have to do is have functional vision or hearing and you can (and will) find good shit. You find more if you really try but the birds are there, just look at them. Very few people have, over the years, had any interest in it. Which is fine, I suppose, that’s not their job, but I treat it, for myself, as an obligation at this point...out here with the torch keeping the darkness away. I worry that if/when I depart, the fire here will go out. There have been a few people willing to put in work though, most notably in recent years: Nicole Desnoyers, Ben Sandstrom, Jimmy McMorran (an annual fall migrant), and the enigmatic Johnny Galt.

In recent years, I’ve gotten more credit, I suppose, recently being deputized by the Bird Police, which led to higher than normal feelings of imposter syndrome, and eBird review privileges. I must say, truly, I was honored to be asked to do this interview as well.

Describe what the average birder is to you. What they look like. What they think about. What keeps them up at night.

The average birder? The average birder, to me, is still that caricature that everyone pictures: geri, Tilly hat, bino bra, zip-off tan quick-dry pants. You know, the group photos in all the bird tour catalogs. They show up in hordes at the Biggest Weak. They sit at feeders in Madera Canyon for hours. They probably actually think about things other than birds, but pursue it as a hobby. I doubt they stay up too late.

Are there any tendencies or recent trends with birders that rub you the wrong way?

How much space are you willing to set aside for this answer? In no particular order: tagging whoever the current Big Year birder is on every ABA rarity on Facebook; referring to eBird as Ebird, e-bird, or ebirds; incidental eBird reports of crows and grackles from the highway in your home state; the need for an ABA [field] guide to every state; unidentifiable photos submitted to eBird; those “me too” posts of photos to listservs for the latest low level rarity; the proliferation of Red-tailed Hawks and female Brown-headed Cowbirds in bird identification forums;  a general unwillingness to explore new areas, but instead just going to the same rarity trap over and over...I don’t even want to think about this question anymore.

Justyn and Dipper Dan bravely head offshore to take terrible bird photos to pointlessly upload to eBird checklists. Someone has to do it!

Speaking of recent trends, I wanted to ask you about eBird, since you are heavily involved with it these days. How do you think eBird should treat chronic stringers? Should eBird continue to tolerate them in an attempt to be open to everyone, or should they show they actually care about data quality and ban some users from contributing to public output?

A timely question, as big changes are allegedly afoot for data quality in eBird. Chronic stringers, I believe, are excised like the cancer that they are. The problem, however, is proving that they are stringers. Good birders can smell one a mile away. Most cannot. There are a few I’d like to see outed, but it’s outside my jurisdiction. The plebes hold these metastasized humanoids up in high regard, largely due to social media presence. I think actually proving the stringing can be difficult, though. Being a bad birder is acceptable at eBird, however. But they’re supposed to be working on an eBird-lite for those folks.

Interesting. I am under the impression that most chronic stringers not only get to submit data to public output like the most skilled contributors, they actually can get reviewer privileges. But enough of eBird, big years are as popular as ever as well. It's becoming increasingly predictable to do a big year then write a book about it. Does this hold any interest for you?

I haven't read any big year books except Kingbird Highway and The Big Year. Just because you’re a birder doesn’t mean you are a writer. For that reason, I would really doubt that any of those Big Year books are any good. But that’s just my prejudice. The Big Year (the book) was fun, but written by a writer. The movie was shit. As for doing a big year? Sure, why not, especially, since it’s now possible to just crowd-source the funding for it. But big year birding, at least in the ABA area (however you choose to define that), seems so passé. Granted, a lot of birding is just chasing, but an ABA area big year is almost exclusively chasing. But once you do one, you’re somehow held up as some sort of expert, regardless of how much you actually know.  I’ve been saying it for years, if people want to really throw down, do a Total Ticks Big Year. No sleep. No blog posts. No wasted time on Attu. You’d need a damn stenographer to keep up, but if you survived it? Props.

The game of Pocket is a cherished pastime on birding trips. Do you have any experience with this that is appropriate for public consumption?

I will say only this: I had not eaten Takis prior to that night. I may again someday, but I can say with almost absolute certainty I will never again watch a grown man eat them out of someone else’s hand like a baby deer.

My friend, it has been a pleasure (cueing up Avail 4 AM Friday). Congrats on the child. I look forward to seeing you in a few weeks. I think the last time was looking at that bastard hybrid shrike in Mendocino. Saludos.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Bat Falcon!

Bats! Fuck! What is the deal with bats???? Well, bats aren't exactly a scientific enigma, but I don't see a whole lot of them. I was birding the Los Capitancillos Ponds recently when a big bat flew by in broad daylight. It was a hoary bat, one of the big bat species found throughout the United States. They stay active throughout the winter in the southern part of their range (many other species hibernate). I'm not sure what this individual was up to exactly, but it's diurnal adventure suddenly veered toward disaster right in front of my eyes.

The local American Kestrel that has been wintering here decided that the bat was a prey item - it went in for the kill! I was shocked. Kestrels typically seem so focused on little things on the ground, not this sort of hairy flying thing.

I rarely see kestrels go after anything as big as a hoary, and as you can guess I'd never seen a kestrel go after a bat of any kind. Even a kestrel in frenzied aerial pursuit is rare to see, that's much more of a Merlin thing.

This wasn't a playful chase on the kestrel's part, it was definitely a concerted effort to take the bat down. Horrifying for the bat, no doubt, but awesome to watch!

The kestrel did make contact with the bat at one point, but the bat persevered and was able to escape with its life. Kestrels are known to prey on bats, but this is the first time I'd seen it. Good aerial drama at the local patch!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Risky and Embarrassing: Ten Years of BB&B

This is a 2008-quality photo. Clearly, it leaves a lot to be desired...but it's a Burrowing Owl that lives under a big shoe! Burrowing Owls are great. Taken somewhere in the Imperial Valley, CA.

In July of 2008, one strange and humble birder began a blog. A blog that was meant for birders, yes, but aspired to be something different. Now this wasn't the birder's first blog, he had actually blogged successfully before, and was told by more than one person that he was actually a decent writer. But he wrote about friends, about music, about politics, about gossip, about raging...the exact sorts of things that bird bloggers not only don't write about, the majority of them don't even seem to have any personal experience with these concepts. Well, to be fair, birders gossip ceaselessly, but the human element was (and is) largely absent from both birders and their blogs.

The birder was acutely aware that he didn't fit in with most of the birders he had met over the years. How many other birders had to regularly cancel birding plans due to hangovers? How many other birders found themselves constantly annoyed by other birders? How come 90% of bird blogs he came across seemed like they were written by the same person? Did any other birders worship Greg Graffin as much as he did? Were there other birders out there in the Birdosphere that he would like to get to know? To find both a love of birding and a sense of the absurd cohabitating within a single soul was rare then, and it still is now. These are some of the notions that the birder had running through his head when he embarked on the saga that is BB&B. The birder had an angle on things that he felt was shared by few others of his nerdy ilk. He would blog birds, but he would do it differently. It was a risky venture, not to mention embarrassing. Would anyone ever notice? Would anyone care? On his deathbed, a wise ancient with great tufts of ear hair had warned him..."Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny".

And so, in July of 2008, Bourbon, Bastards and Birds quietly hatched. For years the birder toiled in relative solitude, with only a couple dozen regular readers and some unremarkable camera gear to help illustrate his posts with. It was rough going, but rewarding. The birding got better as time went on...he took bird jobs at Midway Atoll, Pennsylvania, southeast Arizona, the Aleutian Islands, Mexico, North Dakota...he had a lot of good material to work with. He was getting a lot of lifers. He only had to work half the year; the rest of the year was spent on a Perpetual Weekend. That left a lot of time for both birding and blogging.

In the winter and spring of 2010, the birder spent a lot of time in eastern Mexico, where Aplomado Falcons still have a stronghold. He still didn't have great camera equipment to work with, but birding there changed everything for him. Things have never been the same. Photographed in Alvarado, Veracruz, Mexico.

Eventually, at a point he cannot identify (2012-2013 maybe?), the birder and his blog went from obscurity to...to whatever is slightly more noticeable than obscurity. Semi-opaqueness? He befriended other bird bloggers. Random birders he would run into while in the field would recognize him from his blog (which the birder has never gotten used to, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't talk to him). A couple years after that, it all finally came together...when Dipper Dan the Global Birder Ranking System upgraded his status to #7 birder in the whole country, the glory and fame peaked, along with the drug abuse (not use, definitely abuse), outbursts of violence, sexcapades, general depravity, attempts at becoming an artist, etc. Eventually, he was committing acts so bizarre and vile that the birder himself could not deny the fact that he had become morally bankrupt and rotten to the core. This carried on for quite some time, though he managed to keep birding and blogging through it all.

The BB&B saga took a couple of dramatic turns in April of 2016, when the birder impregnated someone named Billy, and in the same week (the same day?) officially brought his famously fertile friend (and vastly superior writer) Cassidy Grattan in to the BB&B fold. Coincidence? Impossible. Slightly over 9 months later, the birder found himself to be a father. Though no longer a surprise at this point, it was still an extremely interesting turn of events.

And here we are, at the dawn of 2018. If you are wondering, the birder is not Felonious Jive, it's me, Seagull Steve. The Great Ornithologist Felonious Jive is now our only staff writer who is not a father, which is probably for the best considering he still does big fat rails of white stuff off his scope this time of year, and I'm not talking about snow! I don't think Annabelle will be doing Christmas Bird Counts with him any time soon.

Ah, the Iceland Gull...in 2017 we said goodbye to Thayer's Gull, effectively retiring one of the continent's most vexing ID problems. More than a few birders were unhappy about this lump made by the AOS, and the world's smallest violin got a lot of use for a few weeks. Lump or no lump, it's a bummer to not be close to the bay's classic herring run sites any more, but now I've got a huge gull roost within walking distance of Rancho de Bastardos.  Fingers crossed for a good gull at my patch in the next few months. Photographed at the Los Capitancillos Ponds, San Jose, CA.

Now on the other side of 2017, I'm happy to report that I'm somewhat settled into my role as a father. The constant exhaustion of the early months of raising Annie has morphed into constant distraction instead. Bourbon, Bastards, and Birds really does sum up much of my life now. Well, it always has, but now the definition of "bastard" has switched from the informal use to the strictest sense of the word...I spend most of his time with my lovely bastard girlfriend and our wonderful bastard daughter, and several times a week see my old friend Whiskey. My 2017 year list finished at 350 species (320 in California), which I figure to be the lowest total I've had since 2006, or some other year in the pre-blog daily binge-drinking era...The Ashtray is gone, but not forgotten.

Why such a low and embarrassing total? I had a baby, obvi. But on top of that, I saw almost no mountain birds (no Sierra trip this year), and had only a handful of dedicated birding days outside of California. That said, 2017's Lower 48 list (aka the whole year list) was actually better than 2016's Lower 48 list, and I got each and every expected "local" California species that I humiliatingly did not see in 2016 - Tundra Swan, White-winged Scoter, Sandhill Crane, Glaucous Gull, Prairie Falcon, Blackpoll Warbler. Eight new birds for the California list was a fantastic total though, and matched 2016's total of additions to the precious state list. I'm not optimistic that I'll be able to match that pace of state birds this year, or ever again.

Lifers were few and far between in 2017, but Great Cormorant finally ended up in the proverbial bag after all these years. This wasn't a nemesis bird by any means, but it was my easiest remaining Lower 48 bird. To me, Great Cormorant has one of the strangest distributions of any North American species...they are a cold water seabird on the east coast, but you can also see them in equatorial Africa, hundreds of miles from the coast. Weird. Photographed at Bass Rocks, Rockport, MA.

2017 will go down in my personal history book as the year Annabelle was born, and the year of the Ross's Gull - what is dead may never die! I could do a nice post to wrap up all my birding from this year, but let's face it...I'm hopelessly behind and time is of the essence. So we must look ahead. Cherish the birds of 2017, but don't cling to them. Try to process the daily horrors of a president that makes George W. Bush seem meek and innocent in comparison, of a soulless and revolting congress, of the tragedies wrought by the hurricanes in the Caribbean, of the catastrophic Thomas Fire that ran amok in my home county and is now the largest fire in California's history. To top it off, December saw a return of grim, drought-like conditions to the state...but will things turn around? How will 2018 be different?

How about this for starters...BB&B will be turning TEN YEARS OLD. Can you believe it? I can't. We will be celebrating. We will be birding. We plan on bringing you lots of special content...more interviews, more features from The Human Birdwatcher Project (the original birding project), and plenty of the classic birding and birder coverage that has kept you coming back all this time. I may not be able to effortlessly churn out 1-2 posts a week anymore, but BB&B intends to not finish 2018 with a swan song and a death rattle, but with the violent and victorious bellow of a well-oiled blogging machine! Or something along those lines.

Thanks to everyone who has read us over all these years, see you again soon!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Rarities Return, Featuring: Parakeet Auklet, Little and Red-necked Stints!

Every now and then a birding community will be struck by a rarity so bizarre and unlikely that we are left running around slamming into walls, foaming at the mouth, bleeding from headwonds, uttering incoherently about needing to be somewhere, at any cost. A Parakeet Auklet in July (July!) in San Francisco did exactly that, smashing the 2017 summer doldrums into oblivion and sending birders scurrying to SF. The story of how this vague runt was found was truly unlikely; a birder found it in the water off Sutro Baths in the summer of 2016, but it was never seen again...a year later, the same birder relocated the bird while kayaking less than a half mile further up the coast. This time, the bird was seen sitting on seastacks and cliffs, which as far as I know is the first time a healthy individual has been seen on solid ground in the state. There is a good chance the bird was doing the same thing the previous year, but no one saw it!

I appreciate a good Parakeet Auklet, and this being a good Parakeet Auklet (and a state bird) I dragged the family up to the city kicking and screaming for a chance at this bird...but despite staking it out for hours, it never showed. It was a tough dip to swallow, and most everyone who actually dips will tell you that all dip is tough to swallow to begin with...I'm talking about chewing tobacco of course, but hey it applies to birds as well.

While doing the drive of shame back to San Jose, I analyzed my chances of getting the bird the next morning if I made another chase attempt and decided against it...which I immediately regretted the next day when the bird was relocated quickly. My heart was filled with hate. By mid afternoon I was twitching uncontrollably from the constant updates of resightings, said "fuck it" and rocketed back north. This time I found the bird in about 30 seconds, circling behind Mile Rock. It eventually landed on a distant rock just a stone's throw from the shoreline, which I pointed out to several birders who were clearly there for the same reason as me.

Incredibly, one of the birders I updated totally ignored what I had just said, and instead told me that he believed the bird was currently sitting on a seastack right below us. Keep in mind I had a spotting scope and he did not, so I must have seemed absolutely incompetent to him. Friends, do I give off an air of complete ineffectiveness? For those of you who haven't met me, next time you encounter a birder in the field that you believe has utterly no idea what they are doing, just go ahead and assume it is Seagull Steve.

I had to look at this man's auklet, of course. It turned out to be not a guillemot, or an oystercatcher, or a black bird of any sort...it was a shadow. A shadow.

I booked it to where the actual bird had been sitting and eventually ended up below it, as it had flwon from its rock and was roosting high up on a cliff. Talk about something I never expected to see outside of Alaska. July in San Francisco? Get out of here. State bird! Though California has accrued quite a few records now, this is a very unreliable bird to see anywhere in the state....as Flycatcher Jen would tell you, good times.

July isn't all state birds and Parakeet Auklets though. Least Sandpiper is much more typical birding fare around these parts, and much more confiding as well. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.

My god...could it be? SHARP-TAILED GROUSE???

No, it can't be, but this Least Sandpiper is striking a pose remarkably similar to what displaying Sharp-tailed Grouse are known for. This bird was having a territorial dispute with another Least.

Remember the barren dowitcherless times? It sure is nice to have dowitchers again, especially pink and orange ones. I think these are all Long-billed.

On another July day, I was out birding and saw a report of an alternate plumage Little Stint that was within easy driving distance. It wasn't a lifer/state/county bird, but seeing as I had gotten to look at all of one (1) before, I picked up the scope and hustled back to the car. The instincts that made me the Global Birder Ranking System's #7 US birder made me stop and scan a blackbird flock just long enough to find my county Yellow-headed Blackbird on the way back, and I was still able to make it back to the car quickly. Things were going splendidly. Unfortunately, at that point my instincts ceased to serve me well...in my haste to get on the road, I broke off TWO door handles to my car. What the fuck?! Who does that? This wasn't even for a life bird. That's what those two gray things are in my palm, freakin door handles.

And to top it off, later that day I was playing bass and I ripped off the plug to the amp from the power cord. Nerd strength was just pumping through my veins that day.

But hey, I saw the Little Stint! Talk about a completely rubbish photo (digiscoped). The light wasn't great and the bird wasn't very close, but I did get really nice, prolonged views. Lifer plumage! Year bird! It was nice to continue my long running streak of taking terrible stint photos.

A few days later I went back to see if the stint was still around (it was not), but I did find a very interesting peep that had me confused for a bit. Not that you can tell, but the bird's back was very bright and boldly marked, with lots of orange and red tones. With the short, straight, tapered bill, it was an intriguing combination, but at the end of the day it was just a Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Just a Semipalmated Sandpiper? That's a bit of an understatement...despite a great deal of looking at peeps all around the bay for many years now, until this bird I have never been able to find one in any bay area county. Anyone who has birded much around here would find that baffling, and they would be right. This was a hard-won bird, thus you are forced to look at a photo (digiscoped) so awful that it is, in fact, art. It was also the most colorful individual I have ever seen, but again you cannot make that out whatsoever. Because art.

Sorry about the run of appalling photos. Here is an alternate Western Sandpiper pondering life in its reflection. This looks to be a male, judging by the relatively short and straight bill.

This adult has already acquired a lot of basic plumage, but retains some old summer chevrons on the breast. More of a femaley bill on this bird.

Oh why hello RED-NECKED STINT. It sure is nice to see Red-necked and Little Stint in the same week! That's California birding for you. This one was at Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary in Alameda. As I mentioned back in 2015, this place had been due for a great bird! As with my other Red-necked Stint experiences in California, nice prolonged looks at a spiffy alternate bird that was either distant or in crap light. Not sure how that keeps happening, but when one is looking at a stint one cannot complain. But now I really, really need to get a good photo of some kind of stint eventually...

Although they don't inspire the panic of a stint, Baird's Sandpiper is a refreshing fall migrant that only has a short window here. They are refreshing birds in and of themselves, but their presence is always a tasty precursor of things to come...if you are looking at a Baird's Sandpiper in California, chances are you are only a few weeks away from experiencing that holiest of months, SEPTEMBER.

I know, I know, you can roll your eyes, we are far removed from September, but I'm getting there! I won't say that blogging is hard (it isn't, despite everyone who starts one and then gives up), but I will tell you that blogging with a baby is hard. As Corey Finger rightly pointed out to me last year, it's not that you won't have time to bird anymore once you have a baby, it's that you won't have time to blog. This is true.

Refreshing birds are often found in disgusting places. That's not a gross mudflat the birds are on, it is a much filthier floating mat of algae. Juvenile Least Sandpiper on the left for comparison.

Has any bird mastered the filthy floating mat dance like the Baird's Sandpiper? Unlikely.

Ok, I'll throw in a token resident bird, and one that BB&B doesn't cover much. This juvenile California Gull was also holding down the algae mat along with the peeps. I know birders in most states don't get to see this short-lived plumage very often, and we are balls-deep in gull season right now, so enjoy! The Baird'seses and the gull were at Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont, CA.

Monday, November 27, 2017

On Summer Sorrows (Doldrummer)

One day last summer, one of Rancho de Bastardo's Mourning Doves would repeatedly raise one wing above its head - it looked like some sort of display. It was bizarre. Did it think it was a Rock Sandpiper, or was this a cry for help? Even Mourning Doves need to be rescued from triple digit temperatures and drearily slow birding.

With Thanksgiving just behind us, I think now is a good time for a little reflection. A facet of life that I always want to improve on is appreciating experiences; not taking the positive aspects of my life for granted. So much of what we experience on a daily basis falls on the mediocre or crappy side of things (life is pain) that I try my best to not let those better moments go by without looking them in the eye, even if just in passing.

So what am I thankful for this year? Well, Annabelle is doing great, so that is awesome. I work from home, which is fantastic. There is a really good bottle of mezcal in the kitchen. I still get to see friends, despite being banished to the bowels of San Jose. But inevitably, the subject of birding must be broached. Of course, now that I am a father (which is still weird to say) I don't have nearly as much time to blog as I used to...BUT I still get to bird hella, and that is something I can really appreciate. The freedom to go flog the shrubbery and indulge my most basic nerd instincts is near and dear to me.

Oak Titmouse is a pleasant, dependable bird, always hanging tough through the summers.

Another thing I'm grateful for is the good birding around here. For months now, I get to see something rare/interesting pretty much every weekend. I don't take this for granted at all, I'm pretty lucky. What has made me, the #7 birder in the United States, so modest and humble? What has given me the ability to relish fall birding in the bay area?

It wasn't some epiphany, a major breakthrough, a conquering of the urge to loathe the familiar. The answer is simple...summer. I have been forced to spend a number of summers in the bay area now, and the birding can be so dull that as I write this sentence my mind is trying to think of something more interesting to focus its energies on. Will Giancarlo Stanton be traded to the Giants? Is Repeater still my favorite Fugazi album? If I really needed to obtain heroin for some reason, how long would it take me? Tacos sound good right now...mmmm, tacos.

Like the dove and the titmouse, some cheerful Bewick's Wrens holds it down at Rancho de Bastardos over summer. However, I am beginning to detect some sort of a pattern here...

As I don't live in northern latitudes and am without mountains of appreciable elevation nearby, the summer birding doldrums are not to be scoffed at. I'm not just talking about the dearth of warbler species that breed in Santa Clara County, or even the massive urban sprawl that eats up habitat like a disease. There are other factors at work. Unlike here, Californians living near the immediate coast experience the following conditions during the warmest months of the year: Graypril, May Gray, June Gloom, Gray Sky July, and Fogust. I long for that kind of summer. Where I live, we have no such luck. Overcast days are rare and precious, and there was not a lot of that going on in June or July. San Jose is sunny and hot as fuck, which is maddening considering there is an ocean nearby. Silicon Valley is not where you want to find yourself those months unless you are bringing home a staggering paycheck from a tech firm...or southbound shorebirds have returned. Climate change is a bitch, but so is geography. San Jose is on the hot side of the coastal range, and when migration is seemingly at a standstill, the summer doldrums are real.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow, another common bird of summer here at Rancho and across the state. Wait a second...why is every bird I've posted so far gray and brown? Is that seriously what all of our summer birds look like? That is awful. I can't tell you the relief I felt when we got a couple weeks into July and the shorebird floodgates opened up.

Well, maybe not all our summer birds are dirt-colored. Caspian Terns and their horrific, violent calls helped get me through to the other side. I've said it before, but it bears repeating...this is a nice yard bird.

A lot of our resident Anna's Hummingbirds were doing some pretty intensive molting in July. I'm glad we have them of course, but it will be a triumphant day when a second hummingbird species is added to the yard list.

I was a bit surprised to see this fledgling Tree Swallow (oh great, a new brown bird to recruit into the current brown bird population) at the Los Capitancillos Ponds, considering they are far outnumbered here by the other expected swallow species. I'm not sure if it was hatched here or wandered from another part of the south bay.

Thankfully, Calocortus rages against the dying of spring long after many other wildflowers have withered under the relentless sun. Canada del Oro Open Space Preserve, Santa Clara County, CA.

Now this is a brown bird of summer I can really back - Common Poorwill! I went some years without seeing any...though it is a pleasant heard-only, I'm glad that drought is over. Thankfully, there is a dependable area for them just a few minutes from Rancho. Brown it up! Photographed along the Calero Creek Trail in San Jose, CA.

Every year, early in July, the bird gods open the spigot of the shorebird tap. Least Sandpipers are one of the first species to return, and though they are still brown brown brown as can be, these first returning birds are a sight for sore eyes. Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, CA.

Seeing your first mixed shorebird flocks in July is the light at the end of the summer tunnel of darkness. A lot of the avocets are probably locals, but the dowitchers came from afar.

Hint: If you want people to think you are god's gift to bird photography, don't ever post photos this bad (this was digiscoped). It's embarrassing...but I am not embarrassed to say that this is the weirdest avocet I've ever seen. It was essentially all white except for its primaries, giving it a Snow Goose look. Rad.

Yip-yip-yip-yip...father stilt made it very clear to me that he does not want me near his chicks, although he is always right next to the boardwalk so I don't know what he expects.

Stilt offspring! I usually see them when they are younger and fluffier, this inbetween stage (apparently characterized by fat cankles) does not last very long. I like the brown covert edgings.

Anise Swallowtail, I reckon. You know, for all the great success Rancho de Bastardos has had with birds, it has been completely miserable for butterflies. I'm not exactly happy about that. I guess I am doomed to start attracting them to my yard, as geri birders like myself tend to do.

Great! I think this post pretty much recounts falling into, and climbing out of, 2017's summer doldrums...covering those are always a tough blogging assignment every year, because it's basically a bunch of whining and some pictures of common birds. Better to limit that, eh? 

Monday, November 20, 2017

California Birds: The Newest, The Next, and The Blocked

While the occurrence of many rarities can be predicted, some just seem to fly in from left field. Earlier this fall, one Adam Searcy found himself entombed in a deep and birdless fog on top of Southeast Farallon Island. The last thing he expected was a first state record to Kermadec Petrel to uncloak itself and make a couple passes before heading back out to sea. What will be the next bird to join the ranks of California's long and lovely state list? Photo by Adam Searcy.

California. With 665 species on the official state list tenderly and affectionately curated by the California Bird Records Committee (CBRC), California has the largest state list in the country. This has been made by possible not only from California's size, but because of its habitat diversity and unique location; species from the Old World, the far north, central and eastern North America, Mexico, and all over the Pacific make their way here on a regular basis. To give you a sample of the sometimes bizarre diversity of birds California gets, my last five state birds were Red-footed Booby, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Scarlet Tanager, Parakeet Auklet and Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay. Sometimes (like when I wrote the previous sentence) I feel extraordinarily lucky to be a birder here. But just like birders everywhere, I am sometimes left wondering what will be next? What mega will leave me in utter shock and disbelief?What is the next bird that will set off statewide episodes of catatonic grip-off?

Maybe if we take a look at the newest species the CBRC has accepted to the state list, that will give us an inkling of rarities to come. Beginning with the most recent additions, they are:

1. Buff-breasted Flycatcher
2. Purple Sandpiper
3. Kelp Gull
4. Common Scoter
5. Tundra Bean-Goose
6. Salvin's Albatross
7. Nazca Booby
8. Marsh Sandpiper
9. Common Swift
10. Great Black-backed Gull

Recent, well-documented sightings of Kermadec and Jouanin's Petrels, Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, and Eurasian Wryneck are likely to be accepted by the CBRC as well.

I think \these additions are a good representative sample of our vagrant composition - on the continent, California is the best state/province for seabird diversity, hands down, so it makes sense that so many of our recent state additions are ocean wanderers. We also get more Old World species than any state outside of Alaska (usually "Sibes" found in eastern Russia), so the goose and Marsh Sandpiper fit in with that pattern; the scoter and swift were shocking though. Great Black-backed Gull is a bird that seemed inevitable, but Kelp Gull was comparatively surprising - this Southern Hemisphere resident is rare north of Ecuador, so it is fitting that the bird that visited California (and seen in multiple counties!) was found by a gull expert who also spends lots of time south of the equator. With past records of Belcher's and Swallow-tailed Gulls, the Kelp Gull record does fit into a pattern of sorts.

A spring overshoot Buff-breasted Flycatcher really caught us with our collective pants down, but California does bring in a modest number of migrants/vagrants from Mexico or even further south - for example, Greater Pewees, Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Tropical Kingbirds, Painted Redstarts, Grace's and Red-faced Warblers all occur with some regularity. Purple Sandpiper was a longshot to get here and a longshot to identify correctly due to the presence of Rock Sandpipers, but since it first appeared at a very unusual location (the Salton Sea), suspicious birders were able to eventually able to identify it correctly.

So with those birds in mind, what are the next state firsts? In no particular order, here are my Top 10:

1. Taiga Bean-Goose - Many birders believe that there has already been a well-documented bird in the state, but it was ultimately accepted (not without controversy) by the CBRC as Taiga/Tundra Bean-Goose. Luckily I did not see this bird (after trying and dipping for days on end) so I don't have to attempt to come to terms with that label. Anyways, a Taiga Bean-Goose will eventually be sucked in to the California vagrant vortex and provide redemption for us all. Or the record will be recirculated.

2. Arctic Warbler or Kamchatka Leaf Warbler - Ok, this is two species, so I might be cheating, but hear me out...before these species were split, California had a number of Arctic Warbler records. Of course, once they were split, the CBRC realized that they could not prove with complete confidence which species were involved with any particular record, which at present even includes this bird (left) that was in hand on Southeast Farallon Island. Vocalizations are the key. Only a couple months ago, an Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf Warbler was seen in San Luis Obispo County, but frustratingly never called. Photo by Dan Maxwell.

3. Juan Fernandez Petrel - Honestly, this entire list could be comprised of tubenoses and it would be pretty reasonable still, but that is boring so I'm just going to pick one. It is bizarre that Arizona would get a species of seabird before California, but birds do bizarre things, particularly when hurricanes are involved.

4.Olive warbler - As with tubenoses and Sibes, there are many vagrant candidates from Mexico. It was tough to settle on one, but for my Mexico pick I'm going to draft Olive Warbler, which are actually found with regularity in the mountains of western Arizona, intriguingly close to the state line. Olive Warblers are not long-distance migrants prone to overshoots, but they are close by, migratory, and easy to identify. There also should not be any provenance issues with this species.

5. Siberian Accentor - There are a number of scattered records north of California, and this species will come to feeders.  It's also one of the most distinctive Sibes we can possibly get; most birders will know that an accentor is, at the very least, something special when it pops up in front of them; the same can't be said about many of the other Sibe passerines. I'm waiting for one to put in an appearance in the northern half of the state (hopefully not on Southeast Farallon Island).

6. Gray-streaked Flycatcher - Not as obvious as a Siberian Accentor, but again, certainly a species that would stand out more than some other Sibes that could potentially occur. Common Sandpiper looks like Spotted Sandpiper, Temnick's Stint looks like Least Sandpiper, snipes look like grass, Phylloscopus warblers look like each other and stay hidden, Pechora Pipit looks like Red-throated Pipit...you get my drift. Most California birders would not be able to identify a Gray-streaked Flycatcher reflexively, but a lot of us would at least be able to call it an Old World flycatcher and go from there.

7. Black-tailed Godwit - Gotta have a shorebird in here. Despite being a fairly regular migrant in Alaska, this is not a bird showing up anywhere on the west coast south of there. Yet. California happens to be a lovely place to migrate through, if you can get past all the Peregrines.

8. Acadian Flycatcher - Like a certain warbler that dwells in the east, I don't think there is any reason one of these will not be found in California - we have records of pretty much every other eastern neotropical migrant. They are a common and broadly-distributed bird through much of the eastern U.S., and one is destined for the California state list. Maybe a vocalizing bird at Butterbredt in a future spring? Caught in a mist net on Southeast Farallon Island? The Acadian above was photographed on South Padre Island, TX.

9. Swainson's Warbler - I think we are going to get one. I feel strongly about this...it's just a matter of time. Their powers of skulk are not to be underestimated, but California is due for this bird. If we can get a Golden-cheeked Warbler, we can get a Swainson's. This is BB&B's official position on the matter.

10. Red-bellied Woodpecker - Probably not on a lot of people's radar, but even Oregon has a recent record. A bird particularly stricken with wanderlust could make its way to one of the northernmost counties. 

How about some wildcard honorable mentions that are really against the odds? Pure speculative fiction? It doesn't hurt to prepare for Waved Albatross, Gray Heron, Eurasian Hobby, Brown Noddy, or Rose-throated Becard.

What do you think? Am I crazy? What's on your Top 10? I'm sure I'm missing an obvious bird or two. But we're not done yet...almost as drool-worthy as the new state additions are the blockers - birds that have occurred in the past, often repeatedly, but have been absent for so long that newer birders never got to see them. There are a great many species that belong on this list, but to make it more interesting I omitted the birds with only a single record (i.e. White-tailed Tropicbird, Greater Sand-Plover) or were not chaseable (e.g. Ringed Storm-Petrel, Least Auklet, Buff-collared Nightjar). Oh, and I have not seen any of these species in the state.

1. Whooper Swan - There are a modest 11 accepted state records, but just one in the last 10 years. What gives? My Sibe intuition tells me that one will show up again sooner than later.

2. Baikal Teal - Few waterfowl can wonderfully assault the eyes with the force of a male Baikal Teal. There are 7 records, one in the last 10 years...I believe that bird (in Humboldt) was shot, if I recall correctly. Seeing one of these would only feed the Sibe Fever I've been suffering from for years now, but that is a risk I am willing to take.

3. Streaked Shearwater - With 18 accepted records, it's safe to say that Streaked Shearwater was considered a regular bird in California for some time. However, there have been none since 2008, even though there are now more pelagic trips than ever. What happened? Hopefully population declines won't keep them away for good.

4. Anhinga - Five accepted records...but again, no records in the last 10 years. Unlike Streaked Shearwaters, there are a lot of Anhingas to go around, and their return to California is overdue. I'm looking at you, Imperial, Riverside and San Diego counties, to make this dream a reality.

5. Eurasian Dotterel - Want to know something odd? When I was a young birder, I always thought I would see a dotterel in California one day. That said, no one has ever said adolescents have a very well developed ability to see into the future. Not only has this not happened, there has only been one in California seen this century, which was never reported to the public. I'm still waiting patiently for this bird, my favorite plover that I have never seen and a bird that just generally makes me froth at the mouth.

6. Bristle-thighed Curlew - There are two accepted records from 1998, an invasion year, when this species appeared all over the Pacific Northwest. Two other reports from that time period were considered "credible" but were unaccepted. This species could easily slip by undetected - most birders would not know if they were looking at one. My understanding is that these birds arrived on our shores as a result of unusual Pacific weather patterns...the perfect storm for Bristle-thighed Curlews. With enough sacrifices to the bird gods (in the form of cats?), maybe one will blow our way in May, 2018. The birds above were photographed on Midway Atoll.

7. Steller's Eider - Three records from the state, including two wintering birds that were seen by many. The most recent accepted record in California is from 1992. I long to meet this exotic northerner. Past records were in Del Norte, Humboldt and Sonoma counties, and those are all perfectly good places to look for another. Del Norte County actually has records of three eider species!

8. Red-headed Woodpecker - Though declining in some areas, this bird is still fairly common in much of the country, but the last accepted record for the state is from 2000. If one of these popped up in the state right now (which could seemingly happen anywhere), there is no doubt in my mind that birders would go absolutely apeshit.

9. Violet-crowned Hummingbird - It's time for California to get another earth-shaking hummingbird species, and I think this bird is ready for a triumphant return. There are 6 records, none in the last 10 years. Xantus's Hummingbird may be a more classic blocker (I was too young to see the one in Ventura, though at the time I lived only a few minutes away!), but I would be pleasantly stunned if a Violet-crowned did not reappear here first. The bird above was photographed in Florida Canyon in southeast Arizona.

10. Black Rosy-Finch - It hasn't been that long since the state has had one of these cripplers, but how many California birders are looking at rosy-finches in winter? Hardly any. Out of all the species mentioned in this post, this one seems most likely to be found far away from population centers. Predictably, the last records are from Aspendell, and the next record may come from there as well.

11. Eastern Yellow Wagtail - I was going to stop at ten, but I 'm really feeling this one. Migrants of this species are very much expected on a number of Alaskan islands, and they breed on mainland Alaska. No wagtail this fall...yet...but sticking with our theme, it's been ten years, and I don't think it will be much longer.

If you've made it this far, thanks for nerding out with me. I know this read was intense, prolonged, and most of all, genuine. I'll end it all on this note...if I could have gotten this post out a couple weeks ago, Sedge Wren would have been #1 on the blocker list, but freaking Adam "Kermadec Petrel" Searcy just found and photographed this one on Santa Barbara Island. Ugh.