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.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Best Spring In Memory?

Vague Runts. Rarities. Drifters. Overshoots. Birds that make the jaw clench, the teeth grind, the hair stand on end. Most birders, to varying degrees, love Vague Runts, and I am one of them. One does not simply bird for 22 years without developing a taste for the rare.

In the U.S., there are a handful of states that are known for being the best places to find birds that do not belong...Alaska, Florida, Texas, Arizona come to mind, and of course California. That said, California differs significantly in one major way from all these other states...if you are hoping for rare birds, spring is not the time to be here. Sure we get a smattering of eastern passerines in late May/early June, but spring migration in most of the state lacks the rarities, the excitement and the sheer numbers of birds that much of the country gets to experience this time of year.

But not this year...not by a long shot. Something special is happening this spring. In all my years of birding in California, no spring has been the equal to this one as far as the number of MEGAs that have shown up. There have been birds of the Atlantic, birds of the southeast, birds of South America, and of course birds of Siberia. Absolutely brilliant.  Here is a quick run-down of the highlights...

Emperor Goose - A bird showed up in Sacramento County and stayed in the area for much of March. This lovely sea goose, known to some as "The Warden of The North", is not an annual visitor to the state, and rarely ventures this far south and inland.

Petrels - The last time El Nino struck, the waters off the California coast were plied by ridiculous numbers of Cook's Petrels the following year. Recent repositioning cruises have reported impressive numbers of them up and down the coast, as well as Murphy's and Hawaiian Petrels (now expected). Will Pterodroma cookii have another banner year?

Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel - A deceased bird was found on a beach in Humboldt County. Several of these ABA MEGAs were found in the state last year, will pelagic birders turn more up this fall?

Northern Gannet - I hate the gannet, as you probably know. This bird (literally, this individual) is my Nemesis, and refuses to have anything to do with my state list. Still the one and only ever to be seen in California, it is currently hanging out in Half Moon Bay. And yes, I did just dip on it, again.

Swallow-tailed Kite - A fantastic bird on this side of the continent. The second state record was seen both in southern and northern San Diego County on the same day in April, never to be seen again. Maybe by now it is busy crippling birders in a place where it belongs.

Marsh Sandpiper - We love our Sibes here in California. This cooperative bird stuck around in Yolo County for a whole week and, as the saying goes, was enjoyed by many (WEBM). California now has three state records, all within the last three years. The rest of the Lower 48 has yet to get a single record...SORRY NOT SORRY.

Purple Sandpiper - A Rock/Purple Sandpiper was discovered at the Salton Sea in March, and by the time it disappeared most birders seemed to believe it was a Purple Sandpiper, a first for California. A more obvious Purple Sandpiper (which may or may not have been the Salton Sea bird, in more advanced alternate plumage) was then discovered hundreds of miles north in Marin County. It had a wing injury and was a one day wonder, so it either got eaten or used magic Purple Sandpiper healing powers and continued on its way.

Little Stint - No one is looking for stints in April, but perhaps they should be. A bird molting into alternate plumage hung out in Santa Clara County for several weeks and WEBM, thanks to an assist from eBird.

Little Gull - I envy birders who get access to large flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls, since that is what you need to find a Little Gull, a gull I hold in an esteem disproportionate to its size. Little Gulls are found on the California coast very rarely, so a spring bird in San Diego County was likely delicious to behold (it was too far for me to behold).

Kelp Gull - California's first Kelp Gull was found last year, and has recently returned to the Farallon Islands. We hope it can be relocated somewhere on the the last year, it has been found in three different counties!

Red-throated Pipit - This is not a species that is heart attack rare in California, but there are very few spring records compared to fall. Multiple birds were seen in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties on the same day, both on San Clemente Island and on the mainland.

White (Black-backed) Wagtail - Yet another Sibe that is not at all expected in spring...have you noticed a pattern here? A crippling bird in alternate plumage was a one day wonder in San Luis Obispo County, and provided a first spring record for the state.

Spring is not over yet! There has been an awakening...have you felt it? If you are going out this week to flog your normal spring vagrant traps for warblers, don't stop there. Go to the lakes, the ponds, the ocean.  Scan those shorebirds for Asian strays like it was fucking September. Punish yourself with gull flocks like it was February. You just might be rewarded.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Black Oystercatcher

Swooping in on the coattail feathers of a recent Haematopussed post by the inimitable SteveGull, here is my humble first offering as staph writer at BBB. Happy to be here. Honored I am. Luminous beings are we.  Cass

For months we called this place Dead Seal Beach. The first time we came here the gulls were probing the eye sockets of a bloated elephant seal. Weeks later, the color of the seal skin was that of the other materials in the wrack line and the body was difficult to pick out at a distance. Later still, while watching a black oystercatcher hammer something to death in the nearby intertidal, my daughter pointed out that I was standing on the baked, deflated carcass.

On a map, this place is labeled Point Pinos and if you were standing here on the late afternoon of October 12, 1997, watching oystercatchers pick through the tidepools while picnic blankets were laid and wine glasses held up to the light, you would have seen Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. bank steeply out of the sky and bury himself into Monterey Bay.

Once while standing near the dead seal, watching the oystercatchers, unable to look away from their fleshy legs and lipstick bills, a woman started talking at me. Sitting in her car smoking a joint, she told me she was here when the plane went down. For many weeks after the crash she gathered pieces of the plane off the beach. Again and again, the plane crashes in her dreams.

She is there now, at the beach, smoking still. Her life on a endless loop of falling sky and rising vapors. Of wading through small scraps of memory in the sand.

On my last trip to this place, I brought my friend Cyrus. He is a Persian James Dean.  Like the late great actor he has a weakness for booze and motorbikes. Unlike the meteoric movie star, he is anchored to this earth like a cypress, and he will live to be an old and beautiful man. And as an old man, with a head full of flowing white hair, he will tell the story of John Denver’s body as it was told to him from a diver, a man we met at the this place. With the sun behind him and the oystercatchers hammering away in the gentle surf beyond.

A team of rescue divers was sent to the crash site for to retrieve the body. They shone their lights in the darkness scanning the shallow sandy bottoms. Gardens of brittle stars carpeted the sea floor, their ghostly arms waving to the men from their burrows. The divers gulped air, and their exhalations formed great shimmering bells in the water column as they rose to the surface. No body could be found even though the crash site was fairly protected from heavy surf and strong tides. The dive team had responded quickly to the crash.

What they did find was a large pile of sea stars. Bat stars. Patiria miniata, the ‘tiny father’. The body beneath these animals, this star buried in stars, had already been consumed beyond recognition. The divers unable to speak their horror, their breath bells larger coming more quickly now, looked away from the body and into the abyss and then back to the body. Back to the abyss.

Already, the body was coming apart in pieces. The tiny fathers had been busy.
No one knew how to proceed. Finally, after a series of confused hand gestures and head shaking, someone found the left hand of John Denver and slid the wedding band off his ring finger.

The men follow their bells towards the surface above.
The crushing weight of the ocean spills off their shoulders as they ascend.
The reflected stars scatter as they are born again in the night air. These fishers of men.

Monday, May 2, 2016

An Ancient Harlan's Hawk, Newt Problems, Shades of Merlin

As any California birder knows, Humboldt offers a lot more than just the (very) occasional Great Gray Owl. There is no shortage of good birding spots to scour during the winter, so of course I had to check some other shit out while I was up there. I birded Arcata Marsh, since it is conveniently located right in town and just about anything can show up there...the dependable Swamp Sparrows I was looking for were not very dependable on this day, but the much more range-restricted Golden-crowned Sparrows were there in predictable abundance.

Unlike most birding spots, the marsh continues to grow in size and simply gets better and better when it comes to shorebirds and waterfowl, possibly to the detriment of the local Short-eared Owl population. This Greater Yellowlegs was feeding right in the face of this Green-winged Teal, foraging on little inverts the teal was stirring up with its bill. When you have a height of only a few inches it must be strange to have a yellowlegs looming over you, but the teal did not seem to mind.

This was apparently a successful foraging technique, as the yellowlegs did grab something while I was watching.

Over on the V Street Loop, this Great Blue Heron had gotten a hold of a much more interesting prey item...a large newt.

The heron did not appear to have a good idea of how to go about eating the newt, repeatedly dipping it in water, bashing it against the grass and not giving attempting to swallow it at all while I was there. This is an awkward thing to prey on at best, extremely toxic and deadly at worst. Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest used newt juice as a poison...

On the far side of the loop a cooperative Merlin was posted up on...a post. This bird struck me as being fairly pale, with no mustachial the field I thought it was a female, but looking at the photos now I don't feel so sure about that. Interesting bird, I'm not quite sure what to make of it as far as age/gender/subpecies.

Elsewhere in the bottoms, I came across another, especially confiding Merlin. This bird was noticeably darker with heavier markings on the breast and belly than the first Merlin of the morning, but I'm not enthusiast about pulling the trigger and calling it a "Pacific" Merlin (I would expect a darker face and even more streaking/barring on the breast and belly). The vast majority of Merlins I've seen over the years usually zip by, giving shitty looks...I'd like to have more time to watch these birds and get to know each subspecies more.

For all you robin-strokers out there, here is an American Robin. There are thousands in the Arcata Bottoms in the winter. It is known.

Much, much more interesting than the area robins was this Harlan's Hawk. This bird has been wintering along the Highway 101 corridor between Eureka and Arcata for over a decade (!), usually near the Jacoby Creek Cutoff. In the past, I had only seen it while on the freeway, getting a quick naked-eye glimpse of it perched on a billboard or something and thinking "Oh, that was probably the Harlan's", but I finally managed to get great looks at the bird on this trip.

The bird is extremely dark, lacking any "warm" tones whatsoever. Fitting for an Alaskan bird. The uppertail (not visible in any of my photos) appeared dark gray without a hint of red, with a prominent dark subterminal band.

Although I never saw it fly, this bird definitely provided the best looks I've had of any Harlan's. Hopefully it will make it back to Humboldt this fall once again.

It was a relatively quiet winter in Humboldt as far as rarities go, but with a Snowy Owl (that I gleefully did not chase) showing up shortly after I was up there, the winter Vague Runt season ended for local birders on an extremely high note. What will show up next winter? Steller's Eider? Gray Wagtail? Black-tailed Gull? Siberian Accentor? The possibilities boggle the mind.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Half Dome In Humboldt

In January, I posted about the Great Gray Owl in Humboldt County. I wanted to go north for this bird, but had severe anxiety about reliving the Brambring experience. But the owl continued to be seen at Elk Prairie, so (no surprise) I made my way up north after obsessively checking the listserv and eBird on a neurotically frequent basis. Of course, I was not surprised when the inevitable happened...the day I arrived in Arcata, the bird had gone missing. After being reported every day for weeks on end, the bird was dipped on by everybody.

The next morning I braced myself for the worst and gathered up the Cassowary from his Bayside abode and headed north. I warned him in advance that if he went with me, we would be glued to the prairie for the entire day if that's how long it took to see or, as I thought, thoroughly dip on the bird. We arrived at the parking lot next to the bird's preferred spot, and waited. And waited. And waited. We wandered around a bit, but there was not much to see in terms of birdlife. Eventually, the gang of photographers camped in the parking lot disappeared, and we had the place to ourselves. There was much of friends, nudibranchs, Star Wars, Mexico, etc. Finally I decided we needed a break from the depressing monotony and headed up the freeway to check some of the owl's alternate spots (without success), and then down to Orick for breakfast at the Palm Cafe, which is one of my favorite restaurants in the world. And if you think I'm crazy for saying are missing out on many of the good things in life.

After late breakfast, we lurked back to the prairie to continue our wait. People came and went. Not one, but two birders I knew separately found me and brought up the fucking Brambring, which was fitting considering The Brambring Incident had happened almost exactly a year before and we were currently in the process of dipping on the Great Gray a la of them had even seen me in my suffering on that awful weakend, slumped over on a curb of that goddamn cul de sac.

They too came and went. It was getting later in the day...finally some elk came over, which provided something to look at.

Elk train.

Sparring elk.

Elk clash.

Covert elk.

After I couldn't take the elk madness for any longer, I wandered down the road toward the other side of the prairie. All the birders and photogs were clustered next to the elk, and the area was not being covered very well. Cassowary broke off and joined me, eager to escape the elk-mad geri masses. Further down the road ahead, we saw a vehicle stopped. I had noticed that these people had two white poodly things with them earlier, but I figured that even poodly people could spot a massive owl, and there were no elk nearby who would give them a reason to stop. We walked down toward where their SUV was stopped and predictably saw nothing (they probably had to stop to pamper their dogs), so I scoped the signs and benches across the prairie in case the owl had decided to come out and perch in some ridiculously obvious place.

And there it was. I couldn't believe it...I had thought we were doomed the entire day, but there it was, sitting next to the park road, unconcerned while cars passed by a few feet away. I was floored, rendered slack-jawed. Talk about a quality lifer. However, it was all about to get better.

After moving into a more reasonable viewing distance, the bird disappeared into the woods after choking down a vole. As we walked by where the bird was last seen, the Cassowary uttered a low, booming vocalization. I turned around to see the owl toward me. A few seconds after this photo was taken, it banked sharply toward me and glided was going to try to land on me. Jesus. However, it did realize I was alive and not a good perch, so it quickly pulled up and landed in the tree next to me instead.

What a crippling bird. Few birds have ever brought the level of stoke that this bird did.

After it left the alder, it promptly flew right into the center of the group of birders behind me. I couldn't believe it. The photog in the photo is actually not aiming the lens at the owl, he was too afraid to move when it landed right next to him.

Incredibly, the owl actually to chose to perch in the center of this ring of nerds. My god, what a confiding bird.

The bird continued to hang out with us at intensely close range, perching on signs and foraging nearby in the meadow. It was brilliant. We saw it catch several voles that evening. Thankfully, the prairie must have been packed with prey and the owl was a good hunter, or else it would not have lingered there for so long.

Viewed in profile, the bird's head bore a remarkable resemblance to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. It was uncanny.

See? I'm not even sure if this is Half Dome, this might be a Great Gray Owl.

We stayed with the bird until it was dark, and cameras were rendered useless. This is one of the best birds I've ever seen, hands's immensity in size and the majesty the bird was oozing was not possible to overcome, and it's confiding ways were absolutely ridiculous. It gave us punishing looks, I really couldn't have asked for more after waiting for it the entire day. We left the bird sitting on top of the entry kiosk to the park, a fittingly absurd way to end the day. Great Success!