Monday, November 23, 2015

Greetings From The Listserv Hall Of Fame

For years I have been reading the reports on San Diego Birds and thought that there was much ado about nothing in so many cases. Doug Aguillard has repeatedly ranted about the existence of an elite inner circle and their comrades and I figured that he was just crazy and stirring the pot for the sake of stirring the pot. But this latest news about the Le Conte's Sparrow has me wondering if Doug wasn’t right and has secretly been enshrined into his formerly hated inner circle since he has remained silent since the news came out. This can only lead me to believe he saw the bird. From what I can tell from what was posted on the group and from email responses of those people who replied to my emails I find many things amiss in the local birding people. The same people that have so many others looking up to them just flipped each and every one of you off.

First off, the Le Conte’s Sparrow could not be seen from any public thoroughfare so Terry must have been trespassing when he found it. Fair enough, most of us have been guilty of such a minor crime from time to time. Terry Hunefeld, Paul Lehman, Guy McCaskie, Peter Ginsburg, Sue Smith, Gary Nunn, Matt Sadowski , Doug Aguillard and even Tom Benson - from another county - all got a call about the bird on Friday and were able to see it. It is obvious that they all agreed to keep the matter secret as none of them called anyone outside of this secret society to share this news. Puppet Master McCaskie must have been expertly manipulating the strings once again and threatening loss of the secret handshake known only to the group for anyone who spread the word. 
As Paul Lehman shared in a post about his beloved girlfriend Barbara Carlson, there are people doing a big year that would have liked to see this bird. I can't find anyone who will say that either was there on Friday so I must assume that they didn't know about the bird. Paul couldn't even tell his girlfriend because it was such an important secret? 

In trying to cover their tracks they decided to allow some people to enter the golf course under the ruse that there was permission for one group of a limited number of people to have legal access. This was a bold lie as the group found out that there was no permission upon arriving on the scene. Any number of other people who routinely post to the list about what they find, people like Jay Keller, Mark Straton, Dave Povey, Chris Smith, BJ Stacey, Eric Kallen and Stan Walens all come to mind. Come on, Stan even 
has a worldwide known bench for birding named after him and no one thought about asking if he might want to see a county first bird. If they find a rare bird I bet all hell erupts if they decide not to share that information immediately. I don’t know of everyone who was there on Saturday but I have learned of some but it isn’t worth mentioning them since they should only be blamed for unassumingly trespassing after being lied to.

Didn’t this same thing happen earlier in the year with the Mongolian Plover and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper? Didn’t these same people try to keep that hidden until word – as it always does – leaked out? And how many other times has it happened? How can it be that Guy McCaskie and Paul Lehman always seem to get access to places that the general public is denied? It is amazing what one can find when the government is open. Searching a federal grant database I do not see either of them listed upon a grant but they are given access to Salt Works whenever they request it. How did they gain the special government powers that permit them to do so or are the local researchers complicit in the trespassing meaning they should lose their grants? Perhaps one of them will publicly profess how this can be legal. Silence should only to interpreted to mean they are guilty.

The absolute hypocrisy of Guy McCaskie and his acolytes is a sin to birders everywhere. They share amongst themselves and demand all be given by others. Sound like our current Congress perhaps? These same people have been doing this same thing for as long as they have been birding. San Diego birding is known across the country as being home to some of the best birders in the country but also as home to some of the most backstabbing birders at the same time. The only way to perhaps get them to change is to find your own birds and not tell any of them about it until it is gone. Give a dose of their own medicine to these self-appointed doctors in this drama. To those of you who do go birding I plead with you to ask people across the nation – not just San Diego and California – about these people. You will be amazed at how horrible they are thought of as people and how far the tales have traveled. 

So go find your birds and don’t share that information with any of these self centered egotistic snobs. If I had the power I would kick them off all the lists and phone trees that they belong to. I had birded for over 30 years all across the country until a car accident in 2001 left me unable to continue. I now find my birds by reading San Diego Birds and clicking on links to photos from the locals who share their photos. And, all the while, I only hope that one of those special birds will fly up to my window and bless me with just a few moments of its life. Perhaps being bedridden and looking out a window is better than having to look any of you in the eye.

Blessed Birding to ALL that share

Todd Ingess

La Jolla CA
San Diego County CA

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Most Overrated Bird

There are a lot of birds in the United States. There are even a lot of birds in Canada. One can see hundreds of species in a single year, without leaving your home state. Remarkable! Those that get out regularly can find a brilliant diversity of birds without leaving their little corner of the world. There are a lot of birds to see.

As the years go by and a birder sees more and more birds, certain things happen. A birder will start to feel a certain way about certain birds. For example, I'm quite fond of Baird's Sandpipers.

Baird's Sandpipers are one of the dullest North American birds. They have a severely limited color palette to work with. In migration, the only time I ever see them, they essentially behave the same as all the other peeps, though they tend to forage on slightly drier mud rather than out in the water. Is that fascinating? I think not. They are a bit bigger than other peeps and have long wings. Their calls are distinct, but not terribly interesting. They are pleasantly patterned but it's nothing a sandpiper can brag about. I suspect they are much more interesting to watch up on their breeding grounds on the tundra...but I've never been there and never seen them north of North Dakota.

And yet...I'm quite fond of Baird's Sandpipers. Perhaps it is just a function of their abundance, or lack of it. They are not a rare bird here, but they are respectfully uncommon. It's difficult to put a finger on.

Perhaps a commoner bird would be a better example of what I'm talking about...I like rare birds, so maybe I'm biased. How about...Mew Gulls.

Mew Gulls are dirt common here. One can see hundreds in a morning without putting in any effort at all. When someone tells me they haven't seen a Mew Gull before, I look at them funny, even if there are a multitude of excellent explanations for why they have not seen one. A life of birding without Mew Gulls is a strange notion to me. They are here in the bay area, in large numbers, for almost half the year. They are a familiar sight. Unlike other gull species, one does not see a flock of Mew Gulls and immediately think, "Oooh, there could be something good in there", which is my reaction whenever I see a bunch of Glaucous-winged/Herring/Western/Thayer's, etc. Yet, like them I do. They are small, they are unobtrusive, they occasionally make cute noises, and they don't hybridize with all their cousins. They aren't terribly unique, looking like a cross between a kittiwake and a Ring-billed Gull, but that doesn't bother me. Looking at them pleases me.

But with other common birds, I feel a bit differently. I need not list them all...I approve of them, surely, but after seeing so can get old. The years go by, you see thousands of them..."familiarity breeds contempt", as the saying goes. You understand this. I doubt you are thrilled to see a Double-crested Cormorant these days, there is nothing wrong with that.

However, there is one bird that people consistently really, really get worked up about in California; I don't know why...they are not rare, they are not limited to a specific habitat. They are regular here in large numbers. See?

Look at that. They seem to be everywhere! A truly abundant bird. This bird, for about half the year, is reported to listservs more than any other single species, including a lot of significantly rare species. The amount of listserv traffic the Marin Dusky Warbler generated last month was a drop in the bucket compared to the praise this species inspires. Amazing for something so common right? So what could this species be? Surely it must be something beautiful, something charismatic, something that strikes a chord deep in the heart of every birdwatcher. Could it be a bird of prey? A facemelty oriole? A striking species of waterfowl? A hell of a warbler?


It's a Pine Siskin.

Why? Why is this bird so revered? Look at it! It makes a Savannah Sparrow look crippling in comparison. Minus a dash of yellow, it rocks the color scheme of a female House Finch, one of the most aesthetically-loathed birds out there. I get that people are excited about birds that show up in their yards, but why is such attention not lavished on California Towhees? Anna's Hummingbirds? Allen's Hummingbirds? Chestnut-backed Chickadees? These birds are just as worthy of praise, if not substantially more so. I have seen thousands of Anna's Hummingbirds and can still be fascinated by one...with siskins...I'm sorry, I just don't get the universal appeal. It's not as if they are a highly irruptive species here. Give me Bushtits for my team, you keep your siskins.

And so there we have it...the most overrated bird in California, in my opinion, is the Pine Siskin. It is not a bird that I have hate for, but I seem to have an empty heart for this species compared to so many other birders. Why this species dominates listservs in counties from Oregon to Mexico is not something I can fully explain.

What do you think is the most overrated bird in your state? Is it also Pine Siskin? I suspect it could be. Just don't tell me "Snowy Owl" or some other awesome bird that rightly deserves the pedestal it occupies. Let's get to the heart of this thing.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Continuing Costa Rica Coverage: Lifering on the South Pacific Slope

Ahem. Cough. Well, as I promised last February, there is still more blogging to do...about Costa Rica! No, I was not in Costa Rica earlier this year...or last year...but I was the year before! So since I am a committed blogger and the local rarity train has drastically slowed, I think its time to catch up a little bit. After all, it is getting colder, and I haven't left the country in almost two years now...being migratory by nature, I'm getting restless. Its time to think about going down south again. In fact, I am going down south...not as far as Costa Rica, but to a place I've never been that is sure to be rich with lifers. Lifers! Don't you love those things? Seems they are hard to come by these days...but come January, that is all going to change. My U.S. #7 status will suddenly becoming meaningless, and I will be free to misidentify strange and foreign birds at will. I will be reckless.

But I digress. Here is some more coverage from the San Vito area, which is on the Pacific Slope down near the Panamanian border. Good birds are there, I wish we just had a little more time to slay more new shit.

Life birds are great no matter what they are, but life raptors? That is a thing of beauty. This Double-toothed Kite was indeed a life raptor, and I was glad to meet it. Luckily it was visible overhead in a small gap in the forest canopy, if it sat anywhere else we would have never seen it. Photographed at Las Cruces OTS/Wilson Botanical Garden.

This Tawny-winged Woodcreeper was also a sweet sweet lifer, although not one that I had previously been yearning for very strongly. New woodcreepers are great, but you don't exactly drool over them in field guides the way you do with hawk-eagles and the like. This was the only one of the trip. Photographed at Las Cruces OTS/Wilson Botanical Garden.

Crested Oropendola! This bird was definitely a major target while we were birding the area. I don't actually have a strong memory of seeing this bird, probably because it was so bloody hot out. This is a highly range-restricted bird in Costa Rica, just coming over the border from Panama, definitely an area specialty. Lifer. Obvi. Photographed near San Vito.

Anis are not hard to come by in Central America, it is known. This roadside Smooth-billed Ani was very cooperative, allowing for a solid crushing. Weird birds. Highly likable. But they are not groovy. That is a different species. Photographed near San Vito.

I find it odd that there has been such a decline of these birds in's not like there aren't a lot of them or that they can't handle human disturbance. Did they used to only occupy a very specific habitat type in Florida, anybody know? At any rate, if you want to see a bunch of these birds, expect to run across them in southern Costa Rica.

Bananaquit, another occasional visitor to Florida. I believe this was photographed at Finca Cantaros, where you can pay a small fee and bird the property. Here they feed tanagers and you can actually see a Masked Duck. In fact, a certain someone guaranteed we would see a Masked Duck there...which of course did not happen, but apparently they hang out at the pond there on the regular. I don't think I will ever see a Masked is pain.

Bananaquits are common in Costa Rica, if you go expect to see hella. They're charming little bastards. Finca Cantaros is right on the way to San Vito, on the way to Wilson Botanical Garden. If you're looking for another area to bird near Wilson, this is a good place to start.

This Golden-olive Woodpecker was the highlight of a medium-sized but relatively raging mixed flock. I would like to look at more of them. Photographed at Finca Cantaros.

I haven't included an absolute crippler yet in this post, so I will rectify that now with a Speckled Tanager. Easily one of the most mesmerizing bird species I have ever seen. Photographed at Finca Cantaros.

One morning Dipper Dan and I headed east out of San Vito to Las Alturas...I've never met anyone who has birded there but the bird list in the birdfinding guide was nothing to be scoffed at. And how was the birding? was fucking sick. Go there. Take a look at the site list in eBird. If and when I find myself in that part of the world again, I will not pass up another shot to bird here. We hit some good mixed flocks, which included Masked Tityras...not a rare bird by any means but a bizarre one that is incredibly distracting when you are trying to suss out less common species. I expect to be reacquainting myself with these birds in a couple months.

I like Crested Guans. I don't think of them as majestic by any means, but this bird certainly goes for that descriptor in this photo.

Looks more like an arboreal dinosaur here. I'm into it.

Chestnut-mandibled (or Black-mandibled...or it what you think is best) Toucans are, thankfully, very easy to find in the country. Look at it. Does your face feel weird...maybe like it is melting? For someone who does not get to look at toucans every day, it's one of those birds that makes you wonder "how is this a real thing?".

Well, someday I will finish my Costa Rica coverage, and now we are one post closer to actually getting there. I still don't know what is up with blogger refusing to format my photos correctly (any other bloggers experiencing this?), so I'll continue to roll with these smaller ones for the time being. They are clickable though! Make them big! Don't be scurred!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

San Francisco Runts and Grunts

Fall is slipping away, my fiends and friends. Where has it gone? Though gulls (goddammit), raptors and fowl of water will still be pouring in for the next few weeks, most my grunts have passed us by, bound for Central and South America. Gone are the days where I can head out to Point Reyes and expect to see a warbler rarer than the dreaded-but-still-appreciated Palm Warbler. Nor can I sort through a flock of peeps, grinding my teeth in anticipation of a stint to pop out. No...those days have passed, and we are hurtling toward winter faster than we would like to admit. Before we know it we will be donning our armor and diving into hectic internet battles, trying to diffuse bombs...meaning convincing people that a certain bird is just a damn Herring Gull, not a backcross Yellow-legged X Iceland or some similar nonsense. Gulls...they are coming...will you be ready this winter?

The sudden passing of fall is particularly sad for me in Y2K15, as I've had the pleasure of nabbing a couple of lifers, a state bird, and a healthy number of rarities as birds are heading south. September was almost a dud until the last week of the month, but the momentum of rarities was strong for quite a while, and October was seemingly raging with Vague Runts. I would have seen more of them if I was still living The Perpetual Weekend (White Wagtail immediately comes to mind)...but alas, I am not.

Here are some assorted runts and grunts from San Francisco earlier in the fall. Some are rare, some are typical, but they are all Good Birds.

I had just seen the Painted Bunting in Golden Gate Park, and was walking around in a euphoric, blissed-out state...but the sky was overcast, and it was the end of September for Christ's sake, and I would be an idiot to not keep it was off to North Lake, which seemingly always has migrants, and has the added bonus of being popular with Western Tanagers. Why does that matter? Because I've never seen a Scarlet Tanager in the state, and North Lake seems like a perfectly reasonable place to find one. So I lurked around, looking through migrants, when I met this bird. At first, I had only a head-on view, seeing a short bill, gray wings contrasting against a yellow breast...could this be the bird? But quickly the bird turned and showed a decidedly reddish tail, and Scarlet Tanager was quickly shot down.

It was a bizarre bird, a female-type Summer Tanager, but decidedly duller than any one I (or most birders, for that matter) have ever seen. So, not the tanager I was looking for, but a satisfying self-found rarity nonetheless. Though it was too dark for crushing, it sat out in the open for quite some time, dismantling this yellowjacket. I seem to recall the last Summer Tanager I saw in SF was also feasting on meat bees.

As hoped, there were obscene numbers of Western Tanagers at North Lake that morning, so it made sense that something different was lurking in their midst.

I thought this shot came out pretty well. It was good to see so many of you this fall, Western Tanager, I fear we may not meet again until next year.

This is the best American Robin I've ever about a rarity. What a cool bird.

Townsend's Warblers have been holding down the bay area for a couple months now, they love it here.

When an adult male Townsend's Warbler dangles itself in front of you, it is impossible to look away.

On the contrary, there are no shortage of birders who would gladly look away when an Orange-crowned Warbler dangles itself similarly. Beginners hate Orange-crowned Warblers because they are drab and resemble half a dozen other warblers. Power birders hate them because not only are they abundant, they are insultingly dull to look at. Even their song is boring. But I am not most birders; I am #7. And goddammit, I will look at Orange-crowned Warblers.

There was a time, a long time ago, when I would post a picture of a bird and write some kind of caption for what the bird might be thinking, if said bird had a full grasp of the English language and also had the exact same values, worldview, and sense of humor as myself. What a coincidence! But I stopped doing that when I suddenly noticed EVERYONE was doing this, both in blogs and on Facebook, and 99% of these captions made me wince, they were so bad. This has nothing to do with this Orange-crowned Warbler, just an observation.

Ok, fine, for old time's sake, I'll give it a shot. I might be a bit rusty, but here goes..."Oh fuck look at this spider web! There's go to be one of those tasty fuckers in here! I am going to find that little shit and fucking kill it, even though it might be the size of my goddamn head. I don't give a fuck. Christ I'm hungry."

How was that? Was that ok?

Have I even posted a Chestnut-backed Chickadee on BB&B? I don't know, I may not have, although that seems weird. In case I have not, here is one. They are cute and super common and mellow and I like them.

In early October, a Mourning Warbler showed up at Ferry Park in San Francisco. You easterners reading this do not care, but locally, this is a hell of a bird. In a bizarre twist of county listing and geography, there have been dozens of records of Mourning Warbler in San Francisco County...but until now, all of these birds have been found on Southeast Farallon Island. Not a single one had ever been seen in mainland San Francisco, so when this bird was found it brought widespread panic among local birders. In typical fashion, a hilarious majority of my attempted photos of it looked something like this. Mourning Warblers do not want to be photographed, it is known.

Here is a highly pixelated, but ultimately acceptable portrait of the bird. I've only seen one of these in California before (almost 20 years ago!), so this was a great rarity to be able to catch up with here on the west coast.

My, what a heavy bill you have, Mourning Warbler. The bird spent a lot of its time scurrying around some short, knee-high plantings, but eventually was foraging 20 feet high in a poplar with a mixed flock. Bizarre. Great bird, stoked I got to see it.

Blogger is still giving me formatting trouble, so I'll go back to my old school photo layout for the time being, we'll see how it goes. Hope you all had a good weekend, and enjoy fall while you still can.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Jaegers Compiled..Boobs And Tubes...A Nemesis Named

So long Black-footed Albatross, I will see you next year. Please bring along some of your Short-tailed buddies to our waters next fall, thanks. Photographed off of Half Moon Bay, CA.

It was a weird year offshore here in the bay area...for me, rough waters and a moderate amount of seabird activity. Lots of humpbacks, but no blues. I will say right off the bat that I did NOT see any of the rare petrels, which pains me greatly, especially with that cooperative White-chinned Petrel that just sat next to the boat like a goddamn fulmar for an unacceptably long amount of time. But that is the gamble you take as a pelagic just roll the dice over and over again and eventually you will get played a hand of lifers. Here is a quick photo summary of the last trips I led for Shearwater Journeys this year, out of Half Moon Bay, Bodega Bay, and Sausalito, respectively.

The more I bird, the more comfortable I am with jaegers. That is, comfortable with the fact that identifying jaegers is hard. This juvenile putative year-old Pomarine was easy enough to identify by species, but Tom Johnson had no choice but to step in and question (correctly, I think) what I thought of the bird's age. He is a bird wizard, after all. Photographed off Half Moon Bay, CA.

Look at those broad wings, that big bill. It almost looks like a goddamn skua. Aside from the birds's build, the strongly barred rump/uppertail coverts and large number of white primary shafts help identify it as a Pomarine.

There was no shortage of smallish terns offshore this fall, but every single one I got a good look at was a Common, like this bird. I prefer Arctics, but its not like Common is an easy bird to get from shore around here, so I will take them. Photographed off Half Moon Bay, CA.

There was a massive flock of Sooty Shearwaters hanging out in Half Moon Bay for several weeks this fall; behold the masses.

Here it is, everyone's third favorite gull! I won't even speak of the two that come first, for I have never seen them. Photographed off Bodega Bay, CA.

My, what a wing pattern you have Sabine's Gull. Thank you for making it so bloody easy to identify you in flight from great distances, and being so aesthetically pleasing from short distances.

Buller's Shearwaters were lacking this fall. I demand more Buller's Shearwaters. That's two years in a row where these birds were a pain in the ass to find offshore. Photographed off Bodega Bay, CA.

What was that? You want to see more COMMON TERNS??? Well, I'm kind of surprised. This is indeed a common bird in some places, one you need not venture offshore for. I would have thought you wanted to see a different species, but I won't deny you, dear reader. This is a wonderfully typical HY Common Tern. Photographed off Bodega Bay, CA.

Eh, not a crush, but it's always nice to get seabird shots backed by the horizon.

Speaking of goddamn skuas, here is a South Polar Skua...a bird that is not unusual here, but one that always commands attention. I hope I get to see them on their breeding grounds someday, where they are a decidedly different beast...which is a penguin-slayer, for the uninitiated. Photographed off Bodega Bay, CA.

While I didn't enjoy much luck with tubenoses this fall, I did get to briefly enjoy this totally uncooperative but pleasantly rare Guadalupe Murrelet, only the second I've ever seen. I'm not sure if I could have identified this bird without the help of have a DSLR; talk about a clutch birding tool. Photographed off Bodega Bay, CA.

Jaegers are exceptional-looking birds when they have their flamboyant tails attached. This soothing Parasitic Jaeger made a close pass by the boat off Bodega Bay, CA.

Long-tailed Jaegers are one of my favored seabirds, and I still feel strongly about this one although it does not fall in the "flamboyant" category. Also, it's always good to get a full "jaeger slam" into a single post. Photographed off Bodega Bay, CA.

My last boat of the year did a couple laps around Southeast Farallon Island (SEFI), the epic seabird colony and vagrant trap that sits about 18 miles off the coast. While waiting for boobies I saw some nerds up by the hideous choade-like lighthouse.

Look at this place! Fuck.

With El Nino raging, it has been a banner year for boobies off the California coast. SEFI has supported a healthy roost of Brown Boobies for the entire year. This was a very rare bird just a few short years ago, but things are changing.

Here is a female, almost in adult plumage. She still has to lose some of that mottling on the belly and maybe some brown in the wing linings.

The Brown Booby roost has also been home to this adult Blue-footed Booby (on the right, obvi) for some time now. There has been little follow-up to the massive Blue-footed Booby invasion California experienced two years ago, despite high sea surface temperatures continuing seemingly just about everywhere. Of course, California birders will be wondering about the Northern Gannet that has been here for years now...well, we missed it! Was it seen the day before? Yes. Was it seen that day? Yes. Was it seen the next day? Of course.  Why does this matter?  Well, I have never seen it! Can I tell you how sick I am of missing that bird over and over again? Year after godforsaken year? UGGGGGGHHHHHHH. The gannet hates me. I, in turn, hate the gannet. It is officially my California Nemesis Bird. Have you ever had a Nemesis Bird that was actually a single individual bird? Christ, I am being driven into a manic rage just thinking about it. Hopefully it will start showing up on Alcatraz again next spring so I can continue dipping on it from shore. So no luck with the gannet, but I did manage a life bird the previous day...and the previous weekend...more on that to come.