Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Book Review: National Geographic's Field Guide to the Birds of North America (7th Edition)

Well for some reason I've been asked to review the newest (7th) edition of the National Geographic (Natty Geo) field guide after it has been out since September of 2017, but why not? No need for any suspense: this is a great book and I'm happy to have it!

I started birding in the mid 90s, and the one field guide that has been with me this entire time has been Natty Geo, in one edition or another. A plethora of other field guides covering birds of the United States and Canada have been released in the intervening years, but Natty Geo continues to lead the pack in many areas.

I do have the 6th edition handy as well, which was released in 2011, so can compare with the 7th edition for updates. So what is new in the 7th edition?

*Hundreds of new maps and illustrations.
*Many illustrations replace existing versions that were not aging well, others were added for recently split species, "new" rarities that had enough recent records to include, or to help further suss out ID issues.
*The lumps and splits that have occurred from 2011-2017 are incorporated, though notably it went to press before Iceland and Thayer's could be lumped in the book.
*The taxonomic order of our birds seems to get a significant reshuffle almost every year, but Natty Geo #7 now offers the most up to date order of any field guide. This is arguably not a strength, the optimal way to organize field guides is pretty subjective, but that is a different conversation.

How about we do a sample comparison between some 6th and 7th edition plates? There are probably some other birders, like me, who already have the 6th and are curious about upgrading.

On the right (click to enlarge), you will see a couple pages from the 6th edition...four hummingbird species, eight bird illustrations, 4 tails. The illustrations are...ok. There is room for improvement, both in regards to the text and quality of the illustrations. In particular, take a look at the Rufous and Allen's Hummingbirds.

Now, take a look at what the 7th edition shows (click to enlarge) for Rufous and Allen's Hummingbirds...they get their own spread! Hot damn! So for two species, we now have 8 "complete" individuals, 6 heads, and 8 tails...and text that has doubled in length! Of course not every species got this kind of impressive overhaul, but I think this is a good illustration of some of the improvements the 7th edition offers.

For the record, even before the 7th edition came out, Sibley and Natty Geo have been the field guides I recommend to all birders regardless of skill level. In my opinion (only the Global Birder Ranking System's #7 U.S. birder), these are the two best, most comprehensive field guides available. Sibley looks consistent throughout, the illustrations are almost all great, and it's really handy to have every single species illustrated in flight. Natty Geo #7 covers more species, is more up to date (Sibley #2 came out in 2014), and takes up less space than Sibley's big book that covers both the east and the west, which is my preference to use over the smaller eastern or western guides. As far as the artwork goes, some of the Natty Geo plates aren't as good as Sibley's version of the same species (i.e. White-tipped Dove), but in some cases the Natty Geo plates are better (i.e. the three SoCal/Mexican murrelets). Most of the time they are close to equally good in quality.

For an honest book review, gotta list some gripes though? I can think of a few, though nothing that should prevent anyone from buying this book. We can start with what is on the cover...why is it still called a Field Guide to the Birds of North America? Most people will tell you North America is not confined to the United States and Canada.

One of the strengths of this book, the excellent new illustrations, are actually distracting - some of the recently updated illustrations are so good that they make many of the original mediocre illustrations a little too easy to spot. I was hoping some specific plates would be updated this time around (i.e. the Red Crossbills and almost all the Song Sparrows are a bit wonky looking, as are a number of the large gulls) but to no avail.

Speaking of gulls, it seems time to include some more plates of loathsome hybrids...here in the bay area, one can go out and find 4 different Larus hybrid combos with regularity. The book only illustrates Kelp x Herring (super rare) and Western x Glaucous-winged (super common), which seems pretty arbitrary. Various Larus hybrids are far more frequently encountered by birders than most of the mega rarities included in the book. I don't think I need to expound upon how difficult it is for birders to identify these hybrids correctly, so field guide treatment is warranted.

I don't expect total perfection in such a large body of work though...overall Natty Geo is a high quality book and I will be happy to use it. My position on field guides for the United States and Canada has not changed with the 7th edition - every birder should have either the newest Sibley or the newest Natty Geo, and preferably both. I hope there will be an 8th edition, though it is impossible to say if the combination of Dunn/Alderfer/Lehman (Paul "E." Lehman is the map mastermind, and there is perhaps no one better for this role) will be at the helm again. If not, there will be some big shoes to fill.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Dipped and Gripped, A New Hope

The Common Ringed Plover liked to associate with this group of Snowy Plovers during its stay at Abbotts Lagoon, but not while I was there. This flock is acclimated to people but a beach person (as opposed to a bird person with a camera) still managed to walk right through them and put them in the air.

By now many of you have heard about the Common Ringed Plover at Abbotts Lagoon in Marin County, or have seen it for yourselves. This is a MEGUH bird and only the 2nd ever properly identified and documented in California. I was out of state when California's first was found, so this would not only be a savory state bird, it would be a lifer. When the so-so photos first came out of the bird as a candidate Common Ringed Plover I thought it was fully legit (The Global Birder Ranking System's #7 U.S. birder is usually right about these things), but not living anywhere nearby had to pray someone would be wise enough to follow up on it and be able to confirm if it was refound - which is exactly what happened. Loads of birders then saw it Thursday and Friday and I resolved to make the pilgrimage to Abbotts on Saturday...but by Friday night I was feeling QUITE shitty due to a cold and wondered if I could even make it out of the house.

Long story short, I felt well enough for the chase on Saturday and chase I did. I managed to feel something approximating normal until noon. However, on this day, unlike the previous AND following days, it went missing for most of the day. By 1PM I was really going down the tubes and couldn't maintain the vigil for much longer. Of course, after I left (and got cell phone reception again) is when I found out it was seen right around sunrise that morning....and oh big surprise it ended up being seen later that day as well. I finished the day feeling physically like ass, and emotionally like ass as well. Though some other heartwarming birds (Red Knot, Pectoral Sandpipers, Burrowing Owl, Red-throated Pipit) did their best to blunt the piercing impact of the missed plover, it was nonetheless a resounding birding defeat, my worst of the year.

My heart was filled with hate.

My body had betrayed me, but other factors were in play....no reason to go into that now though. In the end, it doesn't matter. A bunch of woulda coulda shouldas do not a life bird make...they make for an ugly, shameful DIP.

This one cuts deep. Myopathy of the soul has set in, not to mention a weird rash. Spirit? Broken. Talk about getting gripped off. I love seeing life birds. I love seeing Old World birds in the New World, especially here in my home state. This dip ranks right up there with Citrine Wagtail (who knows when there will be another, if ever) and Greater Sand-Plover (ugh what a bird to dip on - still only one record on the continent). Another life bird down the tubes.

In times like this, it is best to reminisce on the Ross's Gull. That was a fucking bird.

But I need not just pathetically cling to the dearly departed Ross's Gull. In these dark times, that is not my only source of light...of hope.


There is another.

I may very well finish 2018 with all of one (!) life bird for the year for the first time ever, (that would be Swainson's Warbler), but I am going to start 2019 by getting the hell out of here and going to Belize! I love birding the Neotropics, and I think almost everyone who has had the pleasure feels the same way. Once immersed, no matter the country, you are drawn back to it. This will be my first time going to the country, and from what I gather, the birds of Belize can vaguely be generalized as a mix of Yucatan Peninsula and what I have previously experienced on Atlantic slope of Costa Rica. This won't be guiding for Max Rebo Birding Tours (though maybe Max could be convinced to run a Belize trip afterward), but my first international trip with both Billy and Annabelle. Anything can happen! Disaster could strike! But no matter what there will be birding.

The list of raptors one can find in Belize is long and mouth-watering. There is a good chance I will get to reconnect with White Hawks, which I've only seen a couple times before in Costa Rica. This cooperative juvenile was at Virgen del Socorro, a great spot for raptors itself.

Why Belize? Belize is the size of New Jersey - it's a small country, and getting around to different birding hotspots is alleged to not be very time consuming; long days on the road are easy to avoid. There are lodges galore, and as Billy likes to say (she has been there already), it is just set up for a birding trip. Three of the four places we will be staying are known for the quality of birding on or within walking distance of the property. I have even scheduled a transfer for our first destination, which is a lifer experience (TREATYOSELF); I've always just rented a car for the entirety of dedicated birding trips before. Kind of stoked that we will just be immediately whisked away to life birds (we will pick up a rental a few days later) after we land. Also, since Annie is coming with us we aren't exactly planning on being immersed in the jungle every day, so having amenities available (like the English language!) to help keep her happy (and thus all of us) will be croosh.

It goes without saying that there are a number of extremely desirable birds that one can find in Belize, and since there are dozens of species I still haven't seen (including many of the "Yucatan specialties") that make their bird homes there, that leaves me with a lot of juicy target birds of many flavors. There are wetland flavors (Pinnated Bittern, Ruddy Crake, American Pygmy Kingfisher), taloned flavors (Black-collared Hawk, Bicolored Hawk, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Orange-breasted Falcon), bland flavors (Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Yucatan Flycatcher, Northern Schiffornis), cataclysmic birdgasm flavors (Jabiru, Agami Heron, Ocellated Turkey, Tody Motmot), etc. You get the idea.

I almost forgot...for all of you wringing your hands and grinding your teeth in suspense...YES! THERE WILL BE GERI BIRDING!!!! Can't wait. Belize is not filthy rich in tanager diversity, but it is home to the crippling Crimson-collared Tanager, and we should run into them. This unabashed banana lover was photographed at Sarapiqui Eco-Resort in Costa Rica, a Geri Birding mecca, though I think it is now called Dave and Dave's Nature Park or something like that.

So there you have it. The plover cuts deep, but with some luck in a few months I'll be bagging a bunch of lifers without this even being a fully committed all-hands-on-deck birding trip. Should be pretty sick. Wounds heal with time...and a steady diet of lifers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Woods Lake and Carson Pass: A High Elevation Megapost

You know, I've done so little blogging this year that I could really blog about anything at this point, there's a lot to work with...I've been seeing some nice rarities this fall, clobbering county birds (my Santa Clara list will soon surpass my San Francisco list, which I know you don't care about in the slightest but is crazy to me), maintaining yard vigilance (Foxtrot Oscar Foxtrot Fox Sparrow for the yard this morning) and planting native goodness, and I finally watched Pelican Blood, probably the most interesting movie involving birding that I've seen...although despite ample drug use it did not surpass the amount of cocaine consumed in Rare Bird.

I could make fun of birders, which is always necessary and something readers love.

Those topics will have to wait though. I'm going to go with covering a trip I took to the Sierra Nevada this summer. It wasn't a full on birding trip but the avian haul was high grade. The original plan was to go back to Mono County with the fam, see some east side spots and hang out with The Grub, but the massive Ferguson fire was in full effect and the area was effectively smoked out. Considering we were bringing a toddler with us, that didn't sound so great (we will try again next year Grub) so I scrambled to find another area that would make for a good camping trip that both didn't need reservations and wasn't being besieged by smoke from wildfires. With the help of eBird (specifically looking at Pine Grosbeak observations), some web browsing and hitting up people on Foxtrot Bravo I settled on the Carson Pass area, camping at Woods Lake in Alpine County, an area I was totally unfamiliar with.

It worked out really well - some smoke moved in and out of the area each day but the air was leaps and bounds cleaner than the garbage air we drove through to get there, and there were even campsites available. Billy was pleased with the choice, and Annie was confused but eventually became pleased as well. Yet again #7 proved himself a master birding tactician, and great at family planning as well (get it???).

Let's jump into the birding. As expected at the beginning of August, some areas in the high country held numerous neotropical migrants staging for the long haul south, or already on their way. Wilson's Warblers (top and above) were one of the more common species. This one here has almost no black in the crown whatsoever, which I don't see often with this species.

There were Yellow-rumped Warblers galore, common breeders in the area. It's always a jolt to go from months of no Yellow-rumps to being back in the thick of them again, in a completely different habitat than where you see them the rest of the year. Many of the adult birds we encountered, Yellow-rumped and otherwise, were really haggard looking.

Lots of adult Yellow-rumps were toting around loud, begging juveniles like this one.

Fox Sparrows were not as numerous as I thought they would be but this one teed up nicely in response to my mediocre pishing. This is the thick-billed subspecies.

The nesting oriantha White-crowned Sparrows up there have black lores and reddish bills, and hold it down in mountain meadows. Stylish and bucolic.

A major target bird for me was Williamson's Sapsucker, because they are fantastic and I don't get to see them very often. As you can see, great success! I like sapsuckers and this is the best sapsucker. I'm glad I don't have to relive the time in my life when I had yet to see one, what with the constant gnashing of teeth and painful spasms that afflicted me, as well as most people who have yet to see this poignant species.

On the trail to Winnemucca Lake (from Carson Pass) I found this Empidonax, which I thought was a bright/fresh Gray at the time but looking at photos afterward I think is more likely a bright/fresh Dusky. The bill length, eyering, and head shape (in the first photo) all look better for Dusky to me, but opinions are welcome.

This trail was all very legit and scenic and flowery, but the trail got super crowded later in the morning. Do check it out but hit the trail early or later in the day if you go during summer.

One afternoon we drove down to Kirkwood Lake to check it out. Just off the highway, Billy spotted a pair of Sooty Grouse! Sooty Grouse is a bird that I have not encountered in a long time...a long time. It had been over a decade since I've seen one, which is far too long to go without seeing this splendid grouse. This is the first time I've seen them in the Sierras.

Even though they were just lurking on the shoulder of the road, I am absolutely sure I would not have noticed them Billy not called them out. So much for #7...anyhow, I was stoked to reconnect with these finely patterned friends. While they can't really be considered rare in most of their range in California, they are exceptionally unreliable in most areas. Even booming grouse are notoriously hard to spot. You don't find Sooty Grouse, Sooty Grouse finds you, and usually while you are in a car and unprepared.

As I mentioned, I wanted to find Pine Grosbeaks. Not just because I had a craving for Pine Grosbeak, but because it was my last "easy" bird I needed for the precious California list. After many years of waiting the bird gods had mercy on me, and I saw them over and over again on this trip. I saw them down by Woods Lake, in the Woods Lake campground, on the Woods Lake entrance road, and near the trailhead by Carson Pass. It was brilliant. The first one we saw flopped down to the ground a few feet away from us while we were standing next to a bathroom at the campground.

After that I made sure to take my crusher whenever I went to the bathroom, which ended up working perfectly when I found this confiding male cruising around on the ground. I've read that they are approachable and now I know it to be true. Few state birds have been so welcoming and affable, and their hospitality made me forget, however briefly, that life is pain.

The final Pine Grosbeak encounter featured a family group - here is one of the fresh juveniles.

Here is mom Pine Grosbeak stuffing it full of something while it flaps crazily.

Mom Pine Grosbeak is a lot more worn looking than her grosbeak child, with a more richly colored head.

Wow! Talk about getting the complete Pine Grosbeak experience. Things may never be the same...

Now that we covered the birds well, lets check out some small stuff. For example, this fly is small. And super hairy.

Looking at a plant book, I'm guessing the super hairy fly is on mountain-pennyroyal, but rest assured I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to plant ID.

Ranger's buttons were an abundant and becoming wildlflower. The pollinators also found them very becoming.

Ooooh waspy thing just shoving its face shamelessly into an inflorescence.

I know next to nothing about butterflies, but I do like them. Here is a pleasant small thing.

Another pleasant small thing.

Little elephant's head was a lifer flower. These were growing on the south side of Woods Lake.

These monkeyflowers looked happy about something. A little too happy if you ask me.

While there are a seemingly endless supply of smug looking yellow monkeyflowers out here in the west, I'm pretty sure this huge flashy lavender one was new for me. They probably aren't uncommon or anything (though we only saw a few, at one stream crossing) but they left an impression on me. I reckon this is Lewis's monkeyflower, or at least something very similar.

I don't reckon what this is whatsoever. No reckoning to be found here, just total ignorance. Found a tiny patch of whatever the hell this is on the south side of Woods Lake as well.

I think this is an alpine lily? Small blossoms, short petals, hella high elevation. A high quality wildflower.

Before I forget, yes Woods Lake was great; this epic rockslide is visible from the south side of the lake. Thanks everyone who recommended it. Good birding, easy Pine Grosbeaks, lots of trails, lots to explore nearby, heckof scenic, many wildflowers on the west and south sides of the lake. Mosquitoes were no problem either, though I can see that situation being different earlier in the summer....oh and there were a lot of different bats too, at least a couple kinds, including some big ones that were larger than hoary but smaller than Townsend's big-eared...pallid bats perhaps? Anyways really good batting and stargazing, which would have been even better had I not forgotten to bring bourbon....STUPID STUPID STUPID STUPID.

Speaking of stupid, we had some total wankers camping next to us the entire time (hella loud, and I got to hear about how one of the kids thought the earth was flat because Kyrie Irving said so...at least the other loud kids thought he was crazy). That said on the last night I figured out they weren't that bad compared to the total nightmare camping apocalypse situation going on at a campsite further away, which I think would have driven me to do terrible things if I were unlucky enough to camp next to their "party", if it could be called that.

On the way to Meiss Meadows, a known wildflower mecca, we found these pinedrops, which apparently get their nutrients from fungi associated with the roost systems of plants. We were a little late for the peak wildflower scene this year (we were there the first week of August) but there was still a lot blooming. We probably could have found more in the way of wildflowers at Meiss but Annie was feeling the elevation so we didn't loiter for as long as we could have - the birding by that little pond was good though, featuring my first Wood Duck above treeline.

Good times and good views from up at Meiss, though the encroaching smoke didn't help.

My happy campers. Annie looks very impressed by it all.

Phew. I'm not sure if I've ever put this many photos in one post before, might be a BB&B first. Thanks for sticking with me, see you soon nerds.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Blazing a Fiery Trail of County Birds

As the sun sets on this Short-eared Owl (COUNTY BIRD!), so too does it set on another summer of relative birding slumber. For the rest of the year, the birding in Santa Clara should be quite good, and I hope to see more pleasant county birds like this one. Photographed at Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve.

September. Sweet, sweet September, how I've missed you. BB&B sings the praises of September each and ever year, and as long as my heart beats and about half my brain works, I will continue to do so. September just doesn't get old. In just a few short weeks, the state of local birding has gone from the hot, grim dirge of summer to that special time of year where anything can happen. September is gripping. We are no longer looking at a dim and distant light at the end of the tunnel, we are basking in the light of full bore fall migration. That holds true even here in humble Santa Clara County, where finding eastern-flavored rarities is a back-breaking (but not impossible!) task compared to the coastal counties.

I think I've said it before, but when I first moved to San Jose my main coping mechanism to unexpectedly find myself living here was getting really into birding Santa Clara County. Not obsessively, but semi-devotedly. Now, about 16 months in, I feel like I have a grasp of birding here. I know what my easiest needs are without consulting eBird, I have an inkling of where to be looking for what, and I'm very interested in checking out all the birding sites I haven't been able to visit yet.

Here are a few observations I've made about the birding here in general:

*There are lots of birders here, but not many regional or state rarities. Yup, there you have it. Since moving here, the only review bird I've seen was Will Brooks' Little Stint in August of 2017...that is over a year ago. The only other review species seen here since then that I am recalling was a Slaty-backed Gull in March, which I dipped on. Where are the vagues?

*Well I know where some of them are...they are probably flying right over my house. There are huge numbers of gulls in the county in winter, and thousands (mainly Herring, California, Glaucous-winged and Iceland) may go right over Rancho de Bastardos on some days. I suspect Slaty-backed Gull may actually be an annual bird here that just goes unseen or unidentified. There is high potential for other rare Larids, I reckon, review species and otherwise.

*Shorebirding in Santa Clara is simultaneously great and frustrating. We have numerous salt ponds but very limited access to tidal mudflats, despite being right on San Francisco Bay. This results in the weird scenario of me having seen 2 Little Stints in the county and just 1 Sanderling. Rockpipers stay further north in the bay, and we don't have any good grasspiper or Pluvialis spots. However, Santa Clara could easily be where California's next greenshank, redshank, Curlew Sandpiper, etc. shows up.

*Speaking of said salt ponds, I want to start biking around them...that way I could really cover some ground, see some shit, get to places I wouldn't normally be able to get to. The salt ponds cover a vast area and there is a lot of public access - I suppose that means I should get a bike. Or someone could get me vehicular access out there to do some shorebird surveys or something. Any takers? I am the #7 birder in the United States...and a biologist.

*Santa Clara has a number of species that other bay area counties lack or scarcely have, such as Swainson's Hawk, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-billed Magpie, Canyon Wren (above, belting out its heartmelting song at Coyote Dam), Bell's and Black-chinned Sparrows and Lawrence's Goldfinches to name just a few. Although vagrants may be tough here, there is quite a good diversity of upland species overall.

*Alviso Marina may be one of the most reliable places for Black Rail in the entire country. After being relegated to the "heard only" list for years, I finally saw a Black Rail! I took a picture of a Black Rail! I have done the impossible! This wasn't a county bird like everything else photographed in this post, but who gives a shit? It's a BLACK RAIL.

So how have I done with the county birds this year? I started 2018 with 220 species in Santa Clara County. As of this writing, I've got 244 according to what eBird tracks. It ain't nothing to brag about, but I'm pleased with my progress. 250 is in my sights, a number which I see as evidence of established residency in Santa Clara County. And with fall migration now peaking for another month or so, it's possible I could get there before 2019, a year shaping up to be filled with mystery and intrigue. Since so much of my birding in the this year has not come up in BB&B, why don't we revisit some of these county birds?

Look at this COUNTY BIRD. It's not just any county bird, it's a Pileated Woodpecker, and this one gave the best looks I've had of one in my whole stupid life. I have no idea how long I stood there staring at it like an idiot. I couldn't believe my luck. It gave neither two shits, nor a fuck, about my presence. I stood as close to it as the intervening terrain and vegetation would allow. It was so engrossed in digging into this tree trunk that it wouldn't even look at me...probably because I looked like a total wanker just standing there with jaw agape. Photographed at Sanborn County Park.

With a bit of eBird sleuthing, I was able to figure out where to find a day-roosting Western Screech-Owl! I love it when piecing vague details from eBird comes together to coalesce into a COUNTY BIRD! This is only the second WESO I've been able to have truly leisurely looks at, and it was as invigorating as you would expect. There is something about the patterning on screech-owls that I find mesmerizing...fuck mossy oak, camo makers should be putting out screech-owl.

Willow Flycatchers pass through the bay area in appreciable numbers in fall. Rare breeders in California, I presume these birds are mostly coming from breeding grounds in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, but perhaps they include individuals from further east as well. For most species, we really don't know shit about migration, do we? Anyhoo I am grateful for the existence of Willow Flycatchers because they are easy to identify compared to other western Empids, unless you are trying to turn one into an Alder, in which case you are fucked. This was not only a COUNTY BIRD, but a satisfying addition to the 5MR ledger as well.

Hermit Warbler was a recent COUNTY BIRD, the last holdout of the west coast warblers. The autumnal diaspora of Hermits mostly occurs in August and September...hopefully this won't be my last of the year. This one was at Ulistac Natural Area, which seems to be the premiere (publicly accessible) migrant trap in the county. Fingers crossed this won't be the last new warbler I see in Santa Clara this fall. That would suck.

One of the best birds seen in Santa Clara in 2018 was the Anderson Lake Zone-tailed Hawk. I didn't see it. In fact, I didn't even bother looking for it, and saved myself many hours of fruitlessly standing around a parking lot in the process (most birders dipped on it). Why? My best self-found bird in the county since moving here was an immature Zone-tailed Hawk last November on Laguna Road in Coyote Valley. It is the second county record in eBird, and first photographed. Here is a classic crappy photo. COUNTY BIRD! And the first I've had the pleasure of seeing north of Santa Barbara, it is a solid rarity north of there.

Whether you give a damn about getting county birds or not, I hope you all have a good September. Bay area birders, please find something like Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Gray-cheeked Thrush or Cerulean Warbler. Those would be STATE birds...

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Masked/Nazca Booby in Monterey Bay!

Yesterday, August 24, was my first time leading on a Shearwater Journeys trip for the year, and it turned out to be a great day to be on the water. We had the calmest seas I've experienced in years and a very nice marine layer that lingered late into the morning. On the way back into the harbor at Monterey, about a mile or less off Pt. Pinos, I picked out a distant, but clearly very large Sulid flying over a feeding flock; the size and dark and light patterning quickly narrowed the options down to a couple species...Masked or Nazca Booby! Luckily Captain Tinker was willing to go check it out even though it was getting late, and we managed to stay on the bird and get to it quickly. The boob made several close passes, flying directly over the boat, and even did some plunge diving off the bow! On at least one occasion, it did successfully grab a fish.

This was one of those rare and special occasions where we had talked about our chances of finding a specific high quality rarity and had those hopes come to fruition. We were on the lookout for rare boobies all day, as it has been an excellent year for finding several species from San Diego north to Monterey, specifically Red-footed, Masked and Nazca. Incredibly, 6 species of Sulids have already been reported in California this year! It just seemed like there was bound to be one of these birds around.

However, the jury is still out on what species this is, or if it can safely be identified to species...immature Masked and Nazca (both Bird Police species in California) are notoriously hard to tell apart, and I have no experience with Masked in this plumage, or with Nazca whatsoever. If you have some familiarity separating these two species, I'm very interested to hear what you have to say. All photos in today's post can be viewed at full size, so please feel free to double click on images and comment away.

Below is a crop from the above shot, the best I was able to manage of the uppertail. Lots of molt going on.

And here is a garbage photo that at least does show the overall uppertail pattern again.

Whether Masked Booby, Nazca Booby, or the dreaded Slash Booby, I'm stoked.