Thursday, June 30, 2016

Business, Spring Gulling, and Dreams Really Do Come True

We are in the depths of summer now...there is no doubt about it. You know how I can tell? If I wake up late on a Saturday morning I don't have immediate FOMO, thinking there is some rare bird nearby that I should be looking at. It's a disappointment, and also a relief, but reminds me that I should just be out birding anyways.

I do have some more spring birding to catch up on, so let's get to it. After the Siberians packed up and left, it was out to the Hayward Regional Shoreline marshes to look for some migrant Black Terns and a vague runt Laughing Gull. The crippling Black Terns had packed up and left the night before, but the modest young Laughing Gull was easy enough to find, picking up and periodically flying above a Least Tern breeding colony. This is only the third I've seen in the state away from the Salton Sea, and is an exceedingly good bird in this half of California.

By this time, local breeders were already conducting their reproductive business, while other lingering migrants in the area still had thousands of miles to go before they were in the right business-conducting habitat. Black-necked Stilts had already made their cute fuzzy precious babies.

Black Oystercatchers poke around the rocks at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, in Oakland. They are my favorite resident shorebird. They put a lot more effort into chick-rearing than the other local shorebirds, actually delivering food to their chicks (plover and sandpiper chicks do their own foraging) and continuing to do so for months. Chicks that survive to fledging are thought to migrate with their parents.

That said, I have no idea if the birds present in the bay area through summer are year-round residents or disperse in fall, or both. Our winter climate is pretty tame compared to some of the places they winter, so it seems like there would be a lot of permanent territories here.

This is the view looking west at downtown San Francisco from Middle's not very far away. There are some Red Knots in that shorebird flock between the Canada Geese, which was a nice addition to my patch list.

In late May I went with Billy and several nerds to Point Reyes, with high hopes of eastern vagrants and low expectations to match. Low expectations won out, but it was still a nice day on the point. A couple Rhinoceros Auklets close to shore were a surprise, and hundreds of Pacific Loons migrating past Chimney Rock made for a mellow consolation. The resident Great Horned Owl pair at Mendoza Ranch successfully stopped traffic.

The Common Murre colony below the lighthouse was getting crowded. There is much business to do.

The secret-not-so-secret Western Screech-Owl in Lafayette was still holding it down in May. It's possible this bird did no business at all this year. Here it is dreaming about sitting in a tree cavity all day....luckily for the owl, its dream happens to be its reality.

Earlier in the spring, Billy and I checked out Briones Regional Park after a rain. Other than a Golden Eagle, the birding was pretty weak, so I had to find pleasure in the nonavian. California newts were on the move and provided the pleasure that I was seeking.

One patch along the trail was particularly rife with fungus. I don't know much about fungus, but my friend Christian does...check out his blog! Christian is not just another breed of nerd with a blog though, he just coauthored a pioneering mushroom identification guide that any west coast mycofiend would do well to own. Read all about that here.

I just don't know what to caption a fungal photo with. I know nothing about fungus. This kind likes logs and is pretty.

We better get another bird in here...I don't want ya'll to get intimidated by expertise in mycology. Aside from dipping repeatedly on the gannet at Half Moon Bay this year, I managed to gather up the Kelp Gull to join in my Half Moon Bay Dip Party. The only interesting bird I saw at the mouth of Pilarcitos Creek was this bird on the right. The contrast between the mantle of this bird and the surrounding California Gulls was even starker IRL than it is here. It was so freaking pale...but it was just a California Gull! Gulls continue to amaze and enrage me.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Night Is Dark And Full Of Ptarmigan

Last night I dreamed about White-tailed Ptarmigan. A new population had been discovered in Sierra County, California. There really is a small ptarmigan population in California, but they are introduced. What was odd about this group of birds was that they were located at a mid-elevation site, far lower than they are normally found anywhere in the Lower 48. I got a brief look at one, somehow, even though I had no intention of chasing them. There was a huge crowd of birders gathered to see them, just throngs of them...which I did not understand, because I knew how they got there. You see, all of these birders thought this was a previously unknown naturally-occurring population, and I knew otherwise. They had been put there, Tyrion Lannister. He told me so.

If you watch Game of Thrones, you can appreciate how absurd this, and if you don't, stop what you're doing and start watching Thrones. Let me make it clear that it was in fact Tyrion Lannister who informed me where they came from, not Peter Dinklage. I also dreamed a non-birding friend of mind showed me a photo of what he claimed was an adult Slaty-backed Gull. The primary pattern looked good but the primary tips were awfully gray (not black), so I thought it was probably a hybrid. This dream was not as good as the ptarmigan dream.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


You might not think that folks try to string Belted Kingfishers into Green Kingfishers like this one...but folks do, trust me. The people who are prone to doing this are, without fail, serial offenders of attempting to make common birds into less common birds. The Great Ornithologist Felonious Jive has broken his long silence at 10,000 Birds and talks about these people...these stringers. But this is no long-winded whinge session...he is trying to bring these hapless stringers into the light of good birding. Read all about it right here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Train Wreck: The Siberian Express Derails in California

Spring is a loathsome time in California when it comes to rare shorebirds...compared to fall migration, they are very, very hard to come by. It is worthwhile to search for the very occasional Hudsonian Godwit or White-rumped Sandpiper, sure, but what about Sibes? It is a sad state of affairs.

Several years ago, while I was out in Texas, a freak Marsh Sandpiper was seen for a couple days in Solano County. A Marsh Sandpiper is a meguh. It's a species birders wistfully look at in their books and think "maybe I'll see one in Alaska some day", or, more commonly, "yeah, right". Being out of state saved me from some of the pain and stress I would have experienced if I was back at home and not seen it, and I just wrote the bird off as one of those things that I will just have to live with. Something to live with, and something to die with, in a nagging, unresolved way.

Earlier this year, the impossible happened...a Marsh Sandpiper was reported less than two hours from my house. In April! An hour later it had been confirmed, and I was on my way. After a short wait, the bird reappeared and provided great looks for the next hour and a half. This was not a life bird I was anticipating to get on this continent, but that is California birding for you.

The bird showed off its distinct white back wedge on a number of occasions. Though it never wandered very close to the birders, it was very cooperative. I couldn't believe my luck. I always thought I would see something like a Spotted Redshank (which is absurdly, painfully rare) in the state before a Marsh Sandpiper, yet here the bird was.

It had something like a Wilson's Phalarope X Lesser Yellowlegs structure. Luckily, I did not have to listen to any birders make the ludicrous suggestion that this is what the bird really was. Yeah, it's gotten to the point where I'd rather hear about blatant misidentifications rather than hybrid conspiracy theories.

This is one of the best birds, in terms of rarity, that I've seen in California over all these years. Considering I really like Sibes and I really like shorebirds, it's a tough one to top (though Common Scoter and Salvin's Albatross come to mind). It's not a flashy species, but damn it was a satisfying bird to see.

What is the deal with Red-necked Phalaropes? They are very pleasant birds. They are shorebirds, but they swim. You can see them way out at sea or far from the sea. They look fantastic in spring and not so bad in fall. Impressive credentials. Photographed at Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.

Red-necked Phalaropes are masters at picking edible crud off the surface of the water, and they make it look good.

Eared Grebes were also in abundance, all in slick black and gold alternate plumage. But Red-necked Phalarope and Eared Grebe were not the bird we were seeking. In a dramatic development, a Little Stint had been found here two days previous. That's right...another April vague runt shorebird...another April Sibe...another bird I had never seen in California, or any other place in my life. What were the chances? We trolled the side of a salty impoundment, back and forth, until finally another birder got all stinty.

Little Stint! Little Stint! Unlike the Marsh Sandpiper, which is unfathomably rare, this is a bird that I had been waiting a long time...a long time. They are pretty much annual in California, but I had never come across one, and my time on Buldir Island back in the day had yielded only (!) Red-necked and Long-toed. The bird foraged earnestly out in the impoundment with a group of Dunlin and Western Sandpipers...this may sound dumb, but I didn't expect it to be so...little. The bill was indeed slight with a fine tip, not at all what I would expect from a Semipalmated...but that seems like something that could be easily overlooked by just about anybody who didn't have spring stints on the brain.

The internet played a big role in developing the story of this rarity as well...Will Brooks, who found it, originally thought (as almost anyone would) that this was a Semipalmated Sandpiper, but the eBird reviewer (I believe it was Marshall Iliff) who looked at his photos thought Little Stint was a better fit. Word got out, and the following day photos were obtained showing that the bird lacked any webbing between its toes. The rest is birding history.

That's it on the left, being dwarfed by a Western Sandpiper. Even in the harsh light at a less than ideal distance, you could make out the rufous edging to the alternate tertials that had recently molted in. I couldn't believe my luck...three consecutive weeks in early spring had bore fruit in the form of Glossy Ibis, Marsh Sandpiper and Little Stint, a state bird and two lifers. This put a temporary end to whisky-fueled nights of screaming unintelligible obscenities and shaking my fist at the night sky.

I went back a couple times afterward to get better looks at the bird, to no avail. Instead, I got to see these avocets fuck. They sure make it look elegant. Pretty sure people look like trolls in comparison when they do the deed...actually, I am absolutely sure about this.

Even the dismount looked graceful.

Post-coital avocets are just the cutest thing. This is their version of spooning.

Even in the eye of a spring storm of Siberian meguhs, I can still stop and appreciate the rufous and chevrons of a Western Sandpiper. Ignoring Western Sandpipers isn't going to solve anything.

Of course, April birding in the bay area is not all hot-shit vague runts, hell, this might be the first and last time...but there are locally rare my grunts to look for. I live just a couple minutes from Emeryville, so one day after work I lurked over to the Emeryville Marina to check out a Gray Flycatcher that Aaron Maizlish had found.

Aaron was actually leaving when I pulled up, but was kind enough to go back and point the bird out to me. He's a BB&B reader, so naturally he is a good person. The Gray Flycatcher was a nice year bird and addition to my home county list, which I generally am not very excited about. Why that is, I couldn't tell you. Gray Flycatchers are always worth garnering some excitement for, though maybe its just because I don't see them on the regular.

Compared to Dusky vs. Hammond's Flycatchers, identifying Gray Flycatchers is a walk in the park. The bill alone is usually enough to clinch it for me. Grays are rare but regular along much of the California coast; they are much easier to find as my grunts in the desert or breeders (brie duhrs?) in or near patches of sage. If there was a Sage Flycatcher, I think this would be it, but since Gray Flycatcher is a spot-on description (albeit boring), I can live with that.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A State Bird, Spring Shorebirds and a Requirement for Avosex

Early in the spring, I lurked into the Central Valley, where an Emperor Goose would have been a welcomed year bird. Those of you who enjoy their schadenfreude would like to know that the bird decided to leave the night before, but it was a good sunset with lots of Cackling and Greater White-fronted Geese to sort through.

Well, here we are. June. California's best spring in memory has come and gone, with May bolstering the Vague Runt roster with another White Wagtail, Kentucky Warblers, a Buff-breasted Flycatcher, an inner circle Pterodroma caught in a mist net (which is a Meguh) and another mainland appearance by the Kelp Gull. Don't worry, I did manage to at least get out and look for the Kelp Gull...which I dipped on. I also dipped on the Northern Gannet a couple times, which is so unsurprising that it doesn't even bum me out any more. Dip dip dip dip dip dip dip fucking dip.

That said, I did go birding this spring, and I did see some birds, including some good ones.

A friend of mine, "Fob Rowler", is one of the admins of a 5,000+ member birding group on Facebook. His members look up to him like a birding god...and who is to say that he isn't? It often looks like a thankless task, but one day Fob was looking at one of the bazillions of bird pictures that is posted to the group every day and noticed something strange in a flock of flying White-faced Ibis...there, in the corner, was a unmistakable Glossy Ibis. This is a rare bird in that I hadn't seen in the state before. So a week after Fob's Facebook find, it was off to Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, and I have to thank Fob and Facebook for this sexy state bird.

Yolo Bypass has a healthy population of Swainson's Hawks, which I never tire of seeing. I also got my lifer mink that morning, which was a bird I was not thinking I would get that day. Some kind folks pointed it out to me as it swam out to a patch of reeds, but unhelpfully tried to convince me that it was a small river otter with a short furry tail. The nerve!

Every spring I spend some time shorebirding, partially because I am always hoping to find a spring vague runt plover or sandpiper (which rarely happens) and partially because spring shorebirds are really, really good looking birds. Dowitchers suddenly become exponentially more don't have to sweat IDing them by sight, they make weird noises that go unuttered in fall and winter, and they actually are very appealing birds. This is a Long-billed Dowitcher, at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, Oakland.

Here is a Short-billed Dowitcher. Look at that short bill. It's like rosy Jack Snipe.

Another Short-billed. No one thinks of dowitchers as gaspers, but I will argue that they are worthy of the occasional gasp.

I want to be real with you nerds, so here we go...BB&B is one of the only trendsetters in birding. So with that in mind, let me ask you people take pictures of Canada Geese anymore? No? Good...well I'm bringing them back. Soon everyone is going to be posting Canada Goose photos. Cardinals are going to be over, and the masses will instead glorify the majestic Canada Goose.

One morning Billy and I cruised to Bedwell Bayfront Park in San Mateo County to look at Pacific Golden-Plovers, a decent bird almost anywhere in the bay area and rarely encountered in alternate plumage. They had been roosting on a salt pond for some time, and we found them just hanging out and looking great. This species is a pain in the ass to photograph though, at least in this state...go to Hawaii if you want to crush them, as they are a lawn bird there. It's really trippy.

A rare (for me) spring visit to the Radio Road ponds in Redwood Shores was productive. Short (front) and Long-billed Dowitchers provided a great comparison when we showed up. If only it were always this easy to tell them apart.

There probably isn't a better place in the bay area to see breeding Forster's Terns, which nest on the small islands here relatively close to the edge of their favored pond. On this visit, there was a lot of courtship going on and a lot of birds on nests already.

As always, American Avocets were around, sporting the buffy heads required to convince each other that they should have avosex. The bay area has both long-legged shorebirds in abundance.

This is the other long-legged shorebird, obvi. Black-necked Stilt is another signature, sometimes-annoying shorebird species of many of California's marshes. Like the avocets, they are resident year round and are common breeders at many marshes around the bay. The debate continues over which nesting shorebird is more annoying to be around...Killdeer (dee dee dee dee), avocet (kleep kleep kleep) or stilt (yap yap yap yap yap yap yap).

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The One Bird Theory

Prothonotary Warblers are great...I was more than happy to see this one in Goleta, in Santa Barbara County, last fall on the way to visit friends/family/birds in Ventura. In 2015, eBird has records for Prothonotary Warblers from 10 different locations in California. Could this just be the same bird wandering around? Of course not, but birding is rife with empty questions like this.

According to The Great Ornithologist Felonious Jive, there are more birders now than ever. I am inclined to agree with him. Birders are birding harder than ever before. Birds, in much of the country, are really getting birded.  Perhaps as a result of increasing coverage over the years, I am constantly hearing the same thing...the one bird theory.

The one bird theory is simple, though a bit cumbersome to explain. If a Ruff is seen in Oregon one day, and another Ruff is seen in Washington a few days later, birders will wonder if it is the same bird. If a Common Crane is seen in New Mexico, and a Common Crane is seen in Texas a few days later, birders will wonder if it is the same bird. If an Emperor Goose is seen in Humboldt County one day and an Emperor Goose is seen in Sonoma County the next day, birders will wonder if it is the same bird. So rather than assuming or deducing two different individuals are involved, a birder will wonder (and that is the key word here) if the same individual has been found in both places.

Now some of you might think they know where I am going, that I think the one bird theory has nothing to it. That is not true. The one bird theory turns out to be correct quite often. What does bother me is how often I hear or read the phrase, "I wonder if the [Species Blablabla] seen at [Location A] is the same bird that was found at [Location B]." It is usually just left at that, without any discussion. Well friends, you don't have to just put your wonderment out there for the world to behold, you can actually have an informed could even decide yourself!

But how can one do this? Why think when one can wonder? Examining the one bird theory is not so difficult, it just comes down to considering a few factors and asking a few questions.

Elegant Terns are obvious know when they are around. It is important to know when birds are around, and when they are not.

Were they seen at the same time?

Overeager birders who quickly spout their one bird theory hypothesis often don't even check to see if the different individual sightings involved were actually happening simultaneously. A bird can only be in one place at a time, not two. Do your research people, don't make others do it just to answer your own question.

Migratory habits of many North American species are well understood. Black Terns go south in winter, north in spring. Not too complicated.

What direction is it going?

This question is especially important to consider during migration. Let's revisit our Ruff example from above. Let's say the sighting happens in October. In October, shorebirds migrate south. If a Ruff is seen in Oregon, it is incredibly unlikely it will turn around during the height of fall migration and show up in Washington. The Ruff will not suddenly figure out it is in Coos Bay and then try to hightail it back to Siberia in order to find the correct continent before it continued its southward migration. So, keep migration and dispersal patterns in mind when pondering the one bird theory.

Cassin's Finches, like several other high elevation species, periodically "invade" unusual places every few years in search of food, which can take them to unusual habitats and places where one would not expect them. When such patterns are evident, one need not spend much time contemplating the one bird theory.

Is there a pattern?

For various reasons (often unexplained), a region will occasionally experience an irruption of a vagrant species, such as with Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, seabirds and northern finches. So when a lot of Common Ground-Doves sightings are popping up in the Midwest, which happened last year, there is obviously no reason to think it is just the same bird miraculously choosing to stop in heavily-birded vagrant traps and being found repeatedly.

An out of range Western Gull would be a worthy candidate of the one bird theory. They are not highly prone to vagrancy, and would stand out in a lot of places. A bird wandering around the east or the interior west could definitely be found in more than one place.

How rare is it?

There are rare birds, and then there are rare birds. If two Golden-cheeked Warblers were seen in two different places in California in one year, one should rightly consider if the same individual is is just incredibly unlikely one would get here in the first place (and we do have a record!), let alone two around the same time. However, if two Chestnut-sided Warblers show up in different places in California in the same season, the idea of them being the same individual would be a ridiculous notion unless both birds were melanistic or banded or something like that (we will get to that soon). Chestnut-sided Warblers are not at all unexpected in California, and the state gets many records every year, up and down the state. It's quite rare for the one bird theory to be in effect when a "expected" species is involved.

In the eastern United States, there is no shortage of habitat a wayward Western Tanager could use spring through fall. How many Western Tanagers are eastern birders missing? Probably hella.

Think about birder coverage.

In most, not all, parts of the country, birders are not covering all available habitat very well. Most is inaccessible, due to lack of birders, roads, trails, or because land is private or government property that the public can't get to. When this is the case, think about all the area where birds are being missed...what are the chances that the subject of your one bird theory will somehow be found in more than one place, and somehow not vanish into the abyss that is all this other unbirded habitat? Think about the odds...they usually are not very good.

Ah, the Common Nighthawk. An easy bird to see in some places, but how many of the Common Nighthawks out there are people really seeing? Nightjars are hard...they can be hard to identify, but just finding them is typically the problem. Finding them roosting is blind luck, and birders can't see them foraging in the dark. The unfortunate truth is that the vast majority of nightjars go completely undetected in their normal range, let alone as vagrants! 

Think about detectability.

Some birds are easier to see than others. An Ivory Gull is easy to see. A Common Poorwill is not. A Ferruginous Hawk is easy to see. A Gray-cheeked Thrush is not. A Long-billed Curlew is easy to see. A Wilson's Snipe is not. A Black Skimmer is easy to identify. A Common Sandpiper is not. A Laysan Albatross is easy to pick out. A Tristram's Storm-Petrel is not. When birds are hard to find due to their habits or simply hard to identify, you can bet that a lot of these birds are going undetected, even when they are right in front of us! Then there is the fact that most birds in our area go undetected because they are in places where we don't bird, or because they fly right over us during migration...when birds migrate, they don't stop in every single county on their way to their destination. Think about this: a Yellow Rail seen in one place is practically guaranteed to never be seen in another. So to put it all together, one must ask how many of a certain species we are missing in a certain area. This has everything to do with likelihood of the one bird theory holding up for a vagrant. Keep these things in mind when the one bird theory is wracking your brain...the more you think about the detectability of a species, the more the one bird theory has a tendency to lose water.

This Pink-footed Shearwater is a good example of what a bird can offer that would help identify it on an individual level. This bird has a lot of molt going on in the flight feathers, definitely something to key in on, and the underwing pattern is a great thing to examine as well.

What does it look like?

I saved the one of the most obvious things to consider for last. These days, many rarities are photographed well. So before you put your public wonderment out there, see if you can compare photos of the bird(s) in question. You can compare age, plumage, sex, molt, wear, patterning, bands, etc. This is what typically provides a definitive answer when questioning if the same bird is involved.

And there you have boils down to knowing status and distribution, what the birds look like, and some focused questions about the odds of the same bird being found twice versus the odds of a different individual being involved. The one bird theory will always be out there, and for good reason, but now you are equipped to test it. You are ready. Wield the hammer of this knowledge in listservs, forums and Facebook groups, and you too can make birders better.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Winter Ends Icily...Not Your Golden Guide's Swallow...Screech...Carnage at Heather Farm

It was the end of February. Winter Vague Runt season was drawing to a close, and March loomed large...March is traditionally not a particularly rewarding month in the bay area, unless one can squeeze out a juicy amount of pleasure from returning swallows and Selasphorus hummingbirds. Rare birds are few and far between, and the bulk of spring My Grunts have yet to arrive. But I feel like I go on and on about this every year so I'll leave it at that.

The end of winter (as North American Birds defines it) was ushered in by a ponytailed visit to Stafford Lake in Marin, where a Tufted Duck had stopped in. I like year birds, particularly Siberian ones. After walking around a bit and spending time with the drake Tufted, it was off to Lucchesi Park in Petaluma, a famed gull spot. I hadn't been there before so thought it could be a good time to squeeze in some gulling at the close of the season. Turns out Lucchesi Park is a pretty shitty place, but it did cough up one interesting bird for me...a bird that bore more than a passing resemblance to a first cycle Iceland Gull (kumlieni of course, one of the most hated subspecies on Earth). It wasn't a white, no-brainer of an Iceland Gull, but a very convincing bird nonetheless. More photos are here...its fate is in the hands of the Bird Police now.

At Coyote Hills in Fremont, the Glaucous Gulls that occasionally show up were predictably nowhere to be found, but a large swarm of newly arrived Tree Swallows were fun to hang out with.

Tree Swallows...are they the Blue-and-white Swallows of the north? Or are Blue-and-white Swallows the Tree Swallows of the south? These are the questions that keep no one up at night.

A gaggle of Barn Swallows tripped the eBird rarity alert. This is usually something birders brag about. Make no mistake, seeing Barn Swallows is not worth bragging about. I did enjoy getting to see so many different plumages at once though...standard model adults, intermediate birds, and a young brown and white bird that ignores the field guides.

That bird on the right is not what people think about when they think of a Barn Swallow. Note the new dark blue feathers coming in on the wings and head.

The best bird in March, for me, was not a Vague Runt or a newly-arrived My Grunt, it was a lowly permanent resident...this Western Screech-Owl. I haven't seen one of these in a long time...a long time. And never in daylight. And never at don't-give-a-fuck range, which is my preferred range for viewing birds. My luck with owls, which is traditionally terrible, has really turned around since Mexico...lifer Great Gray, lifer Saw-whet, successfully ignoring a Snowy Owl, and now my first look at WESO in years. Chuffed I am, just chuffed.

This confiding bird had been using this hollow as a roost for many weeks. I dipped on it a couple times, but on the third try the bird was right where it was supposed to be. Fantastically, I did not have to endure the company of other photographers in order to hang out with the bird. It mostly slept (shocker), but did some enthusiastic scratching and preening. If you have not seen the ears of a screech-owl before, this is what they look like. If you have not seen the underside of a screech-owl foot before, this is what that looks like.

Owls are goofy. For a moment, ignore the less-than-inspiring look on the bird's face. Note the lack of any thick horizontal marks on the breast...that is meaningless here in the bay area, but is a very good field mark to look at when in places where Whiskered Screech-Owl is found.

Occasionally a birder will make the always questionable decision of betraying an owl roost or nest to the public...which is how I got to see this bird. Questionable because birders, and especially photographers, will often show up in masses. People love owls. Attention often does not bother the birds very much, but sometimes it does, and can lead to a bird choosing a new roost site, or abandonment of a nest. What is a constant in these situations nowadays is that someone will publicly condemn whoever reported the bird, which is what happened to this screech-owl. While I think the concern is valid, it was not justified in this case...the bird's roost is right next to a paved trail, and hundreds of people walk, jog and bicycle past the bird every day.

After leaving the peaceful screech-owl, I found myself birding Heather Farm Park in Walnut Creek. I'd never been here before and didn't know what to expect. The last thing I expected was a Black Phoebe cutting loose an unearthly bellow directly above my head. Enduring such sonic power is not something the human body is built for...I thought my brain was beginning to seep out of my ears. No worries though, it was just blood.

You wouldn't think that a Black Phoebe is a bellower, but check out the width of that bill. Built to bellow.

The carnage continued after the phoebe. Here is something all you hybrid fetishists can get off on. That is not fighting. That is fucking.

Eventually things subsided when this docile Cackling Goose distracted me from the brain seepage and large fowl raping.

If you don't live in a place with many Cackling Geese, here is a crush to hold you over until next year.

While walking around the pond, I heard a foreign but familiar twitter in the distance. Could it be? Though the bird didn't call again, I listened to my instincts (Obi-Wan has taught me well) and eventually tracked down the source...a Tropical Kingbird! Not a bad bird at the end of March, especially at a relatively inland site.

TKs are a low-end Vague Runt in the region in fall and winter, but they typically don't linger this late into the spring. I wonder where the bird is now...Mexico? El Salvador? Let's say Guatemala and call it a post.