Friday, January 4, 2019

2019: The Year of The 5MR

In 2018, White-throated Sparrow was a county bird, a Five Mile Radius bird, and eventually a yard bird! This was the #1 bird I was hoping to see at Rancho de Bastardos that I kind of expected to show up eventually, and this looker spent a few days here right before Christmas. Sadly, it abandoned us before 2019. Another fun fact: every White-throated Sparrow I've seen in my home county has been in my radius! I would grade my radius as being middling for sparrows, maybe even above average. Fingers crossed for a Harris's this year, though it would not have to show up in my yard to make me happy. 

By this point, every regular BB&B reader has heard about the Five Mile Radius (5MR) and has one of three opinions on it.

Opinion A: 5MR is a fantastic idea and I'm already doing one!

Opinion B: 5MR does sound interesting but not interesting enough for me to start one...yet.

Opinion C: 5MR is stupid. It is stupid because listing is stupid/I am too invested in rabid county listing all over the state/I am busy because I am always doing a big year and need to spend hella time driving or flying/not everyone is doing it so therefore I will not do it/I suck.

If you are of Opinions A or B, or even the highly unlikely Opinion D ("What is 5MR?"), then this post is for you. If you are of Opinion C, well, god help you.

My 5MR is very good for sapsuckers; I saw Red-breasted (above, fairly common here), Red-naped and Yellow-bellied all in 2018. 2019 started with Red-naped (a different one) and Yellow-bellied...nope, no Red-breasted yet! If a Williamson's ever shows up it will probably be in a little park or cemetery no one birds, and 5MR is all about birding places like that. Photographed at Almaden Lake County Park.

I am not going to punish regular readers with describing what 5MR is all over again, but in case you are wondering what all the fuss is about, you can read this BB&B post and check out Flycatcher Jen's new handy little 5MR FAQ page.

BB&B is world-renowned for being a leading trendsetter, influencer, and tastemaker for birding in the 21st century, but Flycatcher Jen, PNW's blogging darling, gets full credit for launching this concept...we are just here to preach the radial gospel. I am a 5MR missionary, if you will, and in the end many of you will be converted, or in other words, saved. The birding paradigm is beginning to shift. So what is new with 5MR birding?

Last fall was excellent for Willow Flycatchers in Santa Clara County; this one was in my yard for a few days in September. There are a number of decent places in my 5MR to check for migrant Empids, but kingbirds are much tougher.

The 2019 5MR challenge is what is new. Jen has invited birders everywhere to come join in; she is tracking everyone's 5MR for 2019, and is at almost 150 (!!!) participants in many states and multiple countries! It's really all about birding your 5MR (or 8.05KR if you are metrically inclined) a lot this year, and we will be tracking many more metrics than just the usual who-will-get-the-most-species stat. She is even doing monthly challenges! You can read all about it right here, and if that grabs ya check out some more of the nerdy, jaw-clenching metrics right here. She also set up a Facebook group devoted to 5MR, which is (somewhat unexpectedly) really flourishing - go here to check it out and join up. No need to sign up for the 2019 challenge to be in the group!

Birders of all levels and all stripes have embraced the 5MR, and you should too! Bird Police, civilian bird wizards, "young birders", geri birders, intermediate birders, and probably some stringy ones...we are all here! Come revel in the places less birded and the luxury of never having to drive more than 20 minutes from your home! Become the master of your local eBird hotspots, or if there aren't many, you can bring them into existence yourself! Of course, there is no need to sign up for the 2019 challenge to enjoy the fruits of 5MR, but I think it will be fun.

Easily one of the best birds in my 5MR last year was this Blackburnian Warbler, which I dipped on twice before connecting. I'm still figuring out how readily findable fall vague runts are in my 5MR, but clearly searching for them is not a fruitless endeavor. Incredibly, in December I got to see another one only 0.3 mile outside my radius. Photographed at Vasona Lake County Park.

Those of us living in urban areas tend to be very heavily biased towards months with wintering birds and lots of migrants passing through, but obviously no matter where you are, you can't forget about the birds that breed in your 5MR! Much of my radius is urban/suburban hell, but a lot of it is protected open space as well, mostly in the form of oak woodland, modest riparian corridors, and some chaparral. Good summer birds in my 5MR include Black-chinned Hummingbird, Vaux's Swift, Common Poorwill, Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Band-tailed Pigeons. I'm sure the pigeons are here year round but I don't see them around where I live for most of fall and winter. Look at this ridiculous thing mantling my tiny feeder! Need to track down Western Screech-Owl in my radius this year, among other residents/breeders.

I've said this a number of times now but there are a huge number of gulls in my radius in the winter months. I really, really want to find something rare in my 5MR (probably Glaucous, Lesser Black-backed or Slaty-backed) and in fact I'm sure they are around, it's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. This Iceland was casually soaring over my yard last month.

If gulls and waterbirds are strengths, and perhaps even upland birds, the Achilles Heel of my 5MR is shorebirds. Why do they have to be so hard? Every species of shorebird I have recorded in my 5MR has been from my yard. That would be one species of plover (Killdeer, claro) and 4 sandpipers, of which Wilson's Snipe is the only interesting one, though it is the only expected one besides Spotted. It's pretty bad but I will take my snipes. Solitary is possible but I can't even fathom seeing something like a flock of peeps.

Not only do I have all three mergansers in my radius, I've seen them all from my yard! Red-breasted was a fluke though and I'm not sure if I will get another one in the radius this year. The ponds at Los Gatos Creek County Park are very reliable for Hooded Mergansers (where these cripplers were hanging out), which is probably the most heavily birded hotspot (for good reason) within my 5MR.

In 2018, I fared somewhat better than I thought I would in my 5MR. Birding at the very edge of my 5MR at Santa Teresa County Park in spring gave me some great birds like Calliope Hummingbird, Horned Lark, Grasshopper Sparrow and Rock Wren. The radius is real tricky there, with some sections of trail inside and some outside, but I finally got a good handle on it. Fall migration bestowed upon me a nice array of new 5MR birds like Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal, Greater Scaup, Palm Warbler and Brewer's Sparrow. A Summer Tanager showed up right before Christmas, and the nearby Phainopepla is wintering at the same site again. I finished the year with 159 species in my 5MR without being really committed to inflating that total, which I'm pretty happy about - a few other 5MRs in Santa Clara County finished slightly below that number, though I have no doubt someone living closer to the salt ponds could do better than me, probably substantially so.

My 5MR has most of the expected Northern California wading species, though White-faced Ibis is not something that will be easy to find. Perhaps a Yellow-crowned Night Heron will turn up behind my house with all the Black-crowneds at some point? Yellow-crowned is long overdue in this part of the state and they have been increasing in Southern California. Until then, I will be content with the expected locals, like Great Blue Herons, when they choose to be confiding. Photographed at Los Gatos Creek County Park.

Of course, just because you don't want to sign up for the 2019 challenge doesn't mean you shouldn't do a 5MR at all! Absolutely none of my 5MR birding last year, or the year before, was done with me thinking about getting freaking year birds for my 5MR embarrassing is that? It's pretty embarrassing...but oh wait I am ALL IN on the 2019 challenge so this year will be different!

Well, maybe not all in...I am about to leave for Belize. So long White-crowned Sparrows, hello Tody Motmots! See you on the other side Bushtit, pleasant good morning to you American Pygmy Kingfisher! Godspeed Hutton's Vireo, oh so good to finally meet you Yucatan Vireo!

Right, but otherwise I am heavily invested. Looking forward to checking out some new spots (a couple cemeteries immediately come to mind), tracking down a few self-found rarities, and really pinning down species that I have yet to see in my 5MR that I could reasonably expect to find here...Eared Grebe, Allen's Hummingbird, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Tricolored Blackbird all come to mind quickly, though that does not mean they will come easily. I am hoping to see some more 5MRs pop up in Santa Clara County in 2019 as well!

Challenge or no challenge, hope you all have a very radial 2019!

My last Santa Clara County bird of 2018 was also my last new 5MR bird. American Bittern was the closest thing I had to a nemesis bird in Santa Clara. Ugh I love bitterns so much, happy that they are possible in my radius. Photographed at Los Gatos Creek County Park.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Grub Part II: "I, Grub, Have Become a LISTER."

Welcome to the second half of our new interview with The Grub, sponsored by The Human Birdwatcher Project, who have always spoke truth to power..."birders are people too!" Catch the first half of this remarkable exchange right here.

BB&B: The animosity between you and another birder who has been mentioned in this space a lot over the years, Dipper Dan, is the stuff of legend and one of the great birder feuds of our time. How did this come to be, and do you have a message for Dan?

The Grub: The thing about "Dipper" Dan, or "Handsome" Dan, or "Hot" Dan, or Dan "The Awesome Guy With The Sailboat"  or "Soon To Be Married" Dan, or whatever other kind of wild bullshit people want to say about this man...the point is this: Dipper Dan has always felt that he is better than The Grub. This has, of course, been proved grossly false over and over again for many years now, but, blinded by his arrogance, hubris, and obstinacy, he still persists in this belief. Now, as far as birding goes, Dan is actually better than me...right now. But I am convinced this will not always be the case, and here is why: "Dipper" Dan thinks he is better than the birds too! And that is a losing strategy in the long run. 

Yeah I have a message for Dan...see you at your wedding!

[The Grub sounded rather menacing here...this requires some more explanation: The Grub was not invited to Dan's wedding, in fact I can't think of anyone Dan would be less likely to invite, as he had notoriously been trying for years to prevent his fiancee, Sultry Sam, from even having any contact with The Grub whatsoever. But in disastrous fashion, Grub did indeed crash the wedding as he threatened in this interview - see photo above.]

And I will also see you below me on the California list because before The Grub dies he will pass "Handsome" Dan on the California all time list! Don't believe me, Dan? Well no one would have ever imagined I would have seen more birds than Matt "Matt Brady" Brady in Mono County either, but the record stands for itself!

[At left is The Grub's prized trophy he was awarded for passing Matt Brady in the all time Mono County eBird rankings.]

So I know you haven't been doing this very long, but a lot of weird stuff happens while birding. Birders find dead bodies, people having sex, have rednecks freak out on them, get mugged, etc. Has anything like that happened to you yet? 

Well I was up in Seattle a few years ago and I had been birdwatching someplace, and then I was riding a bus back up town. I had my binoculars in my cargo pant pocket, and I think all you could see of them was a black cylindrical looking thing in my pocket. I get off the bus and I'm immediately rushed by two cops! They asked me if I had a gun! Evidently someone on the bus had thought I had a gun and called 911, all I could think of was they saw the binoculars. I didn't realize I had to worry about that when out birdwatching! Of course if I were black or brown that might have ended differently...

Yeah dude. Well, if you are going wear cargo pants in this day and age, you have to accept the consequences. Grub, I want you to look at what you said about rare birds in our previous interview, let's take a look.

[The below passage is an excerpt from the 2009 interview]

Around Mono Lake there is so much obsession for rare birds and birds that get lost. Every birder is stoked about poor birds who get blown across the country, thousands of miles from where they are supposed to be. You should have seen them racing down to the Mill Creek Delta for some kind of gull, something from eastern Canada and the northern U.S. It got blown across the U.S. and everyone talked about how ragged and fucked up it was. It couldn't really fly. It was all beat up and couldn't go anywhere else. People were getting off on this poor bird that flew the wrong direction. Everyone was so happy that this bird was dying alone, lost, from other side of country. Birders aren't about birds being in places they are supposed to be and enjoying themselves, they are about THE LIST. It's like bagging peaks, another thing that happens around here. It's a broish way to behave, to bag birds instead of enjoying them.

So now that you chase rarities constantly and are all about your county do you feel about about what young Grub said? Now you too get off on poor birds that fly the wrong direction.

One thing that eBird brought out in me was something that, as you can see above, I had been most critical of in my pre-birder days: I, Grub, have become a LISTER.

Of course I am going to go find that vagrant that has blown thousands of miles off course, I'm going to find the shit out of it! Pad that fucking county list goddamn it! I mean it's not like people want the birds to get blown off course, or to suffer, but it happens, and if I can see, say, a Long-tailed Duck that's kind of haggard on Mono Lake instead of having to travel to fucking Lake Superior or whatever, well that's fucking awesome. Also, I've since learned that not all vagrants are really that screwed just because they aren't where they usually are. There was that male Grace's Warbler here this summer though, hopelessly singing for a mate that couldn't possibly be found, boy was he fucked. But welcome to Mono County, I guess...

[Grub gestures grandly at our surroundings, apparently forgetting we are in Arcata and not Lee Vining. We had been in the bar for a couple hours now. The Common Redpoll in Aspendell, above, is one of the rarer birds Grub has successfully chased and one I am envious of.]

Young, confused, stupid Grub was a little more on point about Listing and the peak bagging aspect...  and I am now certainly guilty of participating. But let me put it this way: Listing is basically exactly like Pokemon Go, okay? I mean, it's really EXACTLY the same...ya gotta catch 'em all! And of course it's fucking stupid, you don't actually have to catch 'em all!  But which do you think is healthier and more productive, running around staring through your phone trying to catch fake monsters like a fucking moron, or running around trying to see actual creatures existing in actual nature...and then looking down at your phone and recording them on eBird like a moron?

But let me tell you, be careful when you get into Listing too much...especially when you aren't a Big Deal. Last year, in August 2017, I was birding with my friend Kurt, he's a pretty Big Deal, and by that time in the year, I had seen a lot of new shit. So Kurt says, "where are you on the Mono County year list? " And I had no idea that was a thing. So we looked it up, and I was in second place and only three species behind the lead! So from that point til the end of 2017 I decided to try to get the highest county year list, because boy would that piss some people off! And what happened next still makes me pause and look behind my shoulder because it taught me how serious these people are when you try to mess with "their thing".....

I'm not going to name my competition, because I'm not trying to get the shit beat out of me, but let's just say she has the highest Mono County year list every year, and last year I was her only competition. Throughout September-December, we were neck and neck, and by December 29th, I was astonished to find myself two birds ahead of her! I thought she might still win, but I had given her a real run. The next morning, December 30th, she had gained 12 birds, but had no new birds that day...she had saved old lists and purposefully waited 'til the last day to sandbag me! I had been strung along thinking I was actually in there, only to be given a great big 12 species slap in the face on the last day of the year! "Know your place, rookie!" was clearly the message.

[Grub looks dejectedly into the distance, ostensibly at a major victory that was once in his grasp, but inexplicably slipped through his fingers at the last possible second. Remarkably, his fantasy baseball league concluded in precisely the same fashion this year.]

She broke me down and now, though I'm once again in second place, I'm not going to dare try and mess with her... for one thing she's probably got another big wad of lists waiting to knock me over the head with! I get it, it's just like what they do to rookies who first come to the Big Leagues, you fuck with them remorselessly and put them in their place.

Speaking of rookies and getting fucked with, you are a new and enthusiastic birder - are you willing to admit you are probably misidentifying shit all the time?

Yeah I'm positive I'm misidentifying tons of shit. The more I've learned the more I've realized how far I had to come to get to where I am now. I've gotten a lot better, but yeah, I'm probably still one of the sketchier birders in the Mono Basin. It was a while before I heard the term "stringing", but now that I understand the concept, I try hard to not do that.

How would you say your artwork has changed in the years since your first BBB interview? Any avian influence in the last couple years?

Birdwatching is doubtlessly destroying my artwork, like the rest of my life. I've painted some birds recently, sure. I painted a couple of paintings involving the Green-tailed Towhee...I think it's one of the birds that's intrigued me as something that obviously has always been a part of my life, but that I wasn't very aware of until recently. I imagine them having always watched me and wondered when am I going to wake the fuck up. So I paid some homage to them in my stuff. The Lazuli Bunting is another one. I did one of a huge Lazuli Bunting consulting a woman [left]. I think birds are starting to take on certain symbolic tones, the towhee seemed to symbolize aspects of my childhood or where I'm from, and the bunting is some kind of consultant or adviser. I expect the damn Pinyon Jays to interject themselves next, I've been spending a lot of time around them recently.

In your 2009 conversation with BB&B, you spoke of poor health and the distinct possibility of death before reaching 30, which you have avoided. Are you pleased with this outcome? Or do you subscribe to the "life is pain" outlook?

It's even worse than I could have ever imagined, Felonious. Not only am I still here, but I turned into a fucking birdwatcher! It's like someone played a sick joke on me for being so over-dramatic back in 2009 that they were like, "Oh, what's the most ironic thing we could do to this pompous ass? How 'bout make him one himself!".  Life is most certainly pain.

Can you imagine where I might be in ANOTHER nine years? I'll probably own a $10,000 scope or something, and be going on pelagic trips all the time.

I'm absolutely terrified of what is to come.

That will do it for our talk with The Grub, and that will do it for BB&B this year. And what a year it has been! Admittedly we didn't get to do some of the events we had been planning, like "Cape May on Mescaline" or "Bath Salts and South Florida Specialties"....heck, we can't even put together the "Southeast Arizona Acid Trip Report" in any remotely readable form. And so it goes...if birding is hard, blogging is harder. But so what? Thanks for celebrating TEN YEARS of BB&B with us. See you in 2019! 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Human Birdwatcher Project Presents: The Grub Awakens

The Grub is an old friend of the blog. In fact, he is one of the fist interview subjects of The Human Birdwatcher Project ("Birders are people too!"), and that conversation is still a great read; it also sets the tone for the conversation we just had with him, almost ten years later! For most of the years I've known him, the Grub was in the unusual position of being in contact with birdwatchers all the time, generally disliking them, but somehow doing things that involved watching birds. The Grub is a janitor (specifically known for his "ground attack" method of janitoring) and an artist; comparisons to a modern day Charles Bukowski have been made more than a few times. Unlike Bukowski, The Grub is also known to dabble in venture capitalism and cryptocurrency, but before our interview he requested that we not delve into those mysterious (and perhaps extremely lucrative) aspects of his life.

These days, Grub no longer exists in that rare niche, with a couple toes of one foot in the birding camp and one foot firmly on safe nonbirder ground. Since BB&B first spoke with him, Grub has fallen for the dark and shameful temptations of birdwatching. A few found this to be predictable, the natural order of things, but many of his friends were shocked. Minds were boggled. The Grub is many things, but neither his detractors nor his friends have ever claimed he was a nerd.

Until now. BB&B recently sat down with him at Toby and Jack's, a Humboldt institution that was just shuttered forever due to its reputation for supplying customers not only with beer and liquor, but powder drugs and pills as well. Grub spent a lot of time here in his formative years, which even led to an attempt to open his own bar, "Toby and Grub and Jack's". It was the perfect place to catch up with him.

It needs to be noted that these are some of the only interviews in the world that document someone's opinion on birding both before and after their transition. Inclusion of these precious documents in the U.S. National Archives is both critical and inevitable.

BB&B: What happened Grub? We have you, on record, describing your life and worldviews as a nonbirder. But you have since undergone a drastic Why?

The Grub: How embarrassing...but I have become convinced that I have always been Doomed...even if you look at that old interview, underneath, you could sense the dread and deep-seated knowledge of Impending Disaster in that 26 year-old idiot's voice... he knew that he would become one eventually... in the end it was The Only Way.

There is quicksand at Mono Lake, real and metaphorical...people get stuck around here as much as their cars do...I know people who came for a weekend and have been here for thirty years. In my case, what hope did I really have? Like I said last time, I was raised in a birding atmosphere, I have always known a lot of birdwatching people...[Grub's voice trails off in a sort of soft, dreamlike disgust]

Something I've realized more recently, I've known a lot of actual birds for a long time too. I don't mean I knew what they were called and all that, but the Spotted Towhee, for instance, has been hopping around me since I was a child, we've shared the same habitat. For many years I was an asshole and I didn't acknowledge them much, but we would see each other around you know?

I've always been Doomed... I tried to drown it with drink, with apathy... at one point I ran up to Humboldt to hide... a lot of fucking good that did! I met even more birders up there! The cards were stacked against me, but I held out pretty long considering, a good thirty-three years before I conceded to the Terrible Reality...

Here's what happened: Maybe I could have ran for it again, left the area, but the mud was too thick. I kept working seasonally for the Forest Service, year after year, ended up buying a house in Hawthorne, Nevada, 50 miles east of Mono Lake. I ended up as the only guy in charge or with any knowledge of a wetland system on the north shore of the lake. I started turning valves and filling ponds, flooding meadows, and I started noticing how the birds were reacting to it and benefiting from these actions...I STARTED CARING OKAY??!!

[Grub's eyes are now wide but fearful, his body strained in a defensive posture]

So it was about 2013-14 I started realizing that I might actually be doing something important and that it might not be done without me, and as I started paying more attention to the birds, I started to realize I LIKED THEM OKAY???  I mean they're so much better company than people. I started valuing the position I had found myself in, that I had ended up in kind of despite myself (but let's not forget the Inevitable Doom)... and so I started trying to understand better about what the birds needed and how I could make better habitat. I of course had a vast array of Ornithological Advisers at my disposal, the foremost of them was The Great Ornithologist Felonious Jive....I consulted them on what I could do, and then I decided I had better go ahead and actually KNOW WHAT THE BIRDS WERE I WAS LOOKING AT.

Is this what Doom looks like? One of The Grub's ponds he has been tasked with maintaining. Photo courtesy of The Grub.

But what finally pushed me into Absolute and Irreversible Ruin was when in the fall of 2015, my brother sent me a pair of good binoculars. I had mentioned to him that I had started to try to actually identify all the birds I was seeing at my wetlands, but that the binoculars the Feds gave me were shitty. One day in September, like an unexpected fall vagrant, a package arrived from my brother... it was a pair of Eagle Optics binoculars.

At first I just thought it was funny. The Grub! With an actual pair of high tech optics! I was grateful though because it would help me at work, which is the only place I expected to use them. But shortly after I was out in Hawthorne and I looked at a few brown birds I saw in the bushes with the binoculars. The brown birds transformed into creatures with rich crimson heads like nothing I had ever seen before. I had seen Cassin's Finches before, doubtless, but I had never really SEEN them or paid them any attention.  I was astonished, the binoculars were like a portal into another world.....

So then I started looking at other shit through those goddamn things and now I'm totally fucked.

That's what happened.

This is a two-parter...what do you think of other birdwatchers now? After all, you know what drives them. And since you are one of them...what do you think about *yourself* now? I believe that when a person falls for birding hook, line, and sinker, something awakens inside of them...and it may not be pretty. 

My relationship with other birdwatchers is more complex than ever, I suppose. I guess I understand why they do the things they do better...I can speak more of their language...but just because I know where they're coming from now doesn't mean I want anything to do with them.

[Grub abruptly takes a big drink, too big, and looks around suspiciously at other bar patrons, ostensibly for any birder-types. Birders haven't set foot in this bar for about a decade though, preferring Everett's next door. He looks down at his beer again before continuing.]

One of the reasons I think I've continued to birdwatch is that not only is it something I can do by myself, it encourages me to go to places few other people ever are...if I see other birders somewhere I go, I usually want to get the hell out of there. Some of this is of course due to my lingering Deep Shame at becoming one myself, but I don't look at birds because I am interested in meeting people. Quite the contrary. I look at birds because I like birds more than people. For these reasons I have not become interested at all in the group aspects of birding. That said, there are a handful of [Grub seems to choke back vomit] fellow birdwatchers who's company I do enjoy, and, being very much an amateur still, looking at birds with these few Trusted Confidantes has been helpful for getting better.

A quick anecdote related to this: I got my first real taste of what I am going to term "playground politics birding" i.e., being suddenly thrust into a social situation complete with all the weird popularity hierarchies/competitiveness/awkwardness of the old days on the playground... when one of these Trusted Confidantes I do like birding with, Nora Livingston, and I went up to Bridgeport one cold December morning to look for a Black-Legged Kittiwake that had been seen recently. Now I know better, but at the time I was completely shell-shocked when at 8am I found myself standing in a group of 20 or so other birders looking for the kittiwake. Forced conversation, meeting new people, all the things I go birding to avoid, I suddenly was going to have to do if I was going to see the kittiwake. Furthermore, I quickly learned I was in the company of High-Level, and even Famous Birders, like people who have written Field Guides! [Grub's voice is rising now, and he is beginning to gesticulate wildly] I tried to say as little as possible, but having shown up with Nora, who is locally ranked as "Kind of a Big Deal", I was confronted for my credentials. I mean I didn't get punched in the face or anything, but I was put in my place. We were also the only people there who didn't see the kittiwake...Nora went back a few days later and found it without me, thus distancing herself from the "new kid/piece of shit rook-job". 

So now I know that the rarer the bird, the more you had better expect to have to go back onto the playground, because there will be a bunch of other birders there...and you better bring some rocks in your pockets.

[Grub's eyes narrow, then relax. He unzips a filthy, paint-stained hoodie to reveal...another filthy paint-stained hoodie beneath it. He pulls out his phone from the inner hoodie and appears to be checking what look like stocks. I get a glimpse at a lot of six-figure numbers on the screen before Grub silently slips the phone back into a pocket.]

So that's how I feel about other birders I guess... how do I feel about myself? If I continue to learn how to birdwatch and hone my skills I'm sure that some day I can turn into just as much of a Prick as the guy who wrote the field guide who was at the kittiwake.

You have started birding in the age of eBird. I consider eBird to be a great luxury, while some other newer (whinier?) birders consider it to be a god-given right that eBird is always perfectly functioning, constantly improving, and never inconveniences a user in any way. How has eBird helped you in beginning this nerdy endeavor? Or hurt you?

I definitely give much credit to eBird for creating the monster I now have to look at in the mirror. Once I had the binoculars I was more interested, but once I learned about eBird, which was right around the same time, I quickly found myself more and more eager to go out and record what I was seeing. I never birded before the age of eBird, but I can see how you would find it luxurious. It's very convenient. I've been fascinated at how polarizing eBird seems to be among birdwatchers. I know several birdwatchers of the "Old Guard" who claim to despise eBird (they all still use it though). I guess it's unwashed vermin like me who represent one of the reasons they hate it, now ANYONE can be a birder!

But the petty competition offered by eBird, ranking people against each other as it does, as well as the animosity of the "Old Guard", has been galvanizing for me. I look at the "Old Guard" as being mainly upset that others have moved in on "their thing".  I think I can truly say that vindictiveness is one of my favorite things about birdwatching, and eBird has been crucial for this.

The Grub expounds upon something, probably loudly, at Mono Lake County Park.

I would also say eBird has been very helfpul, not just as a motivating force, but it has also taught me a lot about what birds are rare and when they should or should not be some place, etc. Having to explain myself when I see something that is considered rare has taught me how to pay more attention to field marks, behavior, habitat. In other words, it has made an amateur a slightly better birder without having to go take a class or something, which I wouldn't do anyway.

It seems to me that eBird has become an invaluable resource, not only because of the immense volume of data it is amassing from millions of volunteer surveyors, but it is also turning millions of people who maybe only sort of cared about birds, or didn't care much at all, into bird enthusiasts. I can understand some of the reasons the Old Guard and others may hate eBird, but I can't understand how anybody who loves birds could have such a problem with something that has caused so many more people to appreciate birds.

[I am amazed to be listening to Grub speak eBird fluently and sing its praises without a hint of sarcasm. This is not the same Grub of years past...there has been an awakening. Grub orders a Coors from the bartender, who is looking like he is expecting us to order a little something else as well.]

You go birding regularly, I think it's safe to say it's one of the main things you do in your free time, at least while the sun is up. What would you have been doing instead a few years ago?   

A few years ago I would have been spending a lot of my time driving around dirt roads drinking beer, and sitting around along the creek drinking beer...[Grub pauses thoughtfully] or on a ridge somewhere drinking beer. That is literally what I did with my free time, especially in the summer. So guess what? Now I do exactly the same thing except I bring my binoculars. This is one of the reasons I think I've gotten so into it. It really hasn't changed my lifestyle too much, it's just complimented it. I've enjoyed paying more attention to my surroundings, it's given me a renewed connection to the area. I also have started going to more places that I didn't bother to go very often. But for the most part, I'm still driving around on dirt roads, now I just don't have my head so far up my I know, for instance, that the Slate-colored Fox Sparrows move through the Mono Basin for about one week in April every year. I think that's good to know.

The Grub is known as the darling of the east side art world. His work inspires many emotions and many patrons, like Eli Brooks, an Art Collector. Here, Mr. Brooks is seen fervently admiring a recent Grub.

I think knowing much more about the area I spend the most time in has been what I'm most interested in so far, but I'm sure before much longer I'll descend into the final Black Pit of Big Year Birding all over the country or something. At this point my Doom probably knows no bounds. 

One other thing I want to say about this though, is I have often thought back to another interview you did about the same time as my first one, with Coco [see the classic "Birding In Tamarisk Is Like A Rectal Exam"]. Coco described how when he started birding, he realized that his boring neighborhood was actually really interesting and diverse... if you watched the birds instead of the people. At the time, this was lost on me, but now I know what he meant. I've had to apologize to all the Sagebrush Sparrows and Juniper Titmice, the Lazuli Bunting couple that lives down the road, and the towhees of course, for living next to them all these years and rudely ignoring them.

Lastly, one thing that has certainly changed in my lifestyle is I might get up at fucking 5AM and drive to some godawful place in 15 degree weather to find a Common Redpoll or something... I have done this to myself and will probably do it again, and there is little I can do about it but proclaim my shame and embarrassment.

That concludes Part I of our interview with The Grub, check back for more Grub later this month!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Best Birding of The Year: April in Sabine Woods

I'm not sure if anyone has noticed, but I am pretty awful at finishing trip reports in a timely manner. However, I love trip reports (though they seem to be dying) and I love fantastic birding, so I would be crazy to not make one last installment from this year's trip to Texas. Our second trip to Sabine Woods not only warranted a blog post, it was the best birding I experienced the entire year. So hop on in to the BB&B time machine one last time, as we make the quick leap back to April of 2018...

The day started out innocently enough. After Great Success earlier in the week at Sabine Woods, Dipper Dan and I headed back, hoping for a repeat. The southerly winds that prevailed over much of the previous day had switched to winds out of the north, so conditions were right for a good morning, if not a facemelting one.

At dawn we started the birding the trees at Texas Point National Wildlife Refuge, which is right on the way to Sabine Woods. It's not an impressive looking patch (some pieces of private property in the area appeared better suited as migrant traps), but since this is the UTC it should be checked! It was really slow at first, but after a while we began to see sweet sweet migrants coming in off the coast. Not many were stopping, but it was encouraging. The Northern Parula above was very accommodating, and ended up being the only one we would see that day.

After exhausting the relatively small Texas Point patch, we returned to Sabine Woods. Birding was on the slow side at first...acceptable, but not anything crazy. The forest floor was not crawling with Ovenbirds and thrushes, like it was when we visited earlier in the week though. This Canada Warbler that Dipper Dan found was an early highlight.

After talking to BB&B reader Steve from Kansas City for a while and learning about how terrible fans of the Kansas City Royals are...and looking at the Cerulean Warbler he pointed out to us...I found this Blue Jay getting high on sunbeams in the forest floor. Things were getting interesting.

Incrementally, the birding got better and better as the morning progressed. What began as dull birding became mediocre birding, which turned into decent birding which turned into good birding. A few hours after we arrived, the number of birds in the patch had seemed to double, then triple. By about 2PM there were simply birds all over the place. Woods totally empty of Ovenbirds earlier now were filled with them. The birding had gone from good to great; migrants just seemed to be piling in to the patch.

Eventually, we came to that rare and special realization that it was happening, much like it was at High Island the first day of the trip. This was the birding I had come here for, the birding I had hoped to experience but dared not expect. There were simply too many birds, too many birds to look at, mainly thrushes, vireos and warblers. Migrants galore. At one point, Dan and I split up for a while, and he encountered this Swainson's Warbler (left). It was only a few feet from him, falling asleep inside a bush, so the only photo he could get of it was with his phone. Obviously, the bird had just dropped in from who-knows-where and needed a nice nap before turning up the skulk meter to normal Swainson's Warbler parameters.

Well, when it's happening, it's happening. This is the sort of thing that happens when it's happening.

I missed Dan's sleepy Swainson's by a few minutes but managed to find my own in a different part of the patch. It was slightly more cooperative than I expected, which I was happy about. The brown wonder was a lifer only a few days before.

We birded vigorously through the afternoon. It was great. Not a fallout...lots of very approachable but otherwise normal-acting birds...but I had difficulty thinking that the birding could be much better than it was.

Eventually, we were fully saturated by migrants and the day was drawing to an end. We made our way back to the entrance, where a confiding Worm-eating Warbler greeted me...

...and promptly flopped down to the pavement. I love seeing warblers flopping around on the is a sign of excellent birding. Sure, some warblers are inherent ground floppers, and some may flop at any height...but it can be a sign. Worm-eating Warblers aren't exactly ground-phobic though, so I merely appreciated the bird's gesture and went on my way.

But I didn't get far. The day's final act was about to unfold, and the few tattered remains of what was once my face were about to melt off completely.

Right next to the entrance, some birders were looking at some Blackburnian Warblers...certainly not an unusual event but I felt these Blackburnians needed some special attention.

It turns out these Blackburnians were especially tired. They were in full just-crossed-the-Gulf mode and treated us with the same amount of caution they would give to an oak other words, we might as well have been invisible. I've met some confiding Blackburnians before, but these really took it to another level. When one of them started passing out on an open branch about 15 feet away, I knew that not only was it happening, it was happening really hard.

In short order they flopped to the ground and did their best Brewer's Blackbird-in-a-parking-lot impressions. I've been lucky enough to be really close to Blackburnians before, but this was a different level of close.


Here is an uncropped photo - the dark blob on the right is my shadow.

I looked up into the trees and saw a Bay-breasted Warbler, then two. They had been fairly common the past few days, but it was strange to see them perched just a few inches from one another; I got the clear impression that they had just fallen out of the sky together, their long Gulf crossing just completed. The Worm-eating Warbler on the ground had foreshadowed what was unfolding before my very eyes...

Warblers were now flopping around on the ground in front of us. This adult Tennessee Warbler, a known ground hater, flopped about without apologies.

Another Tennessee jumped into the ground frenzy. The growing terrestrial congregation of fearless warblers wasn't completely surrounding us, but were very focused or concentrating on an area in front of us about the size of a small lawn.

A Hooded Warbler, known to groundabout, was especially floppy.

The pair of Bay-breasted Warblers descended from the trees to join the growing flock of warblers in the grass for soul-satisfying looks.

Considering all the warblers on the ground, gravity must have been especially strong. This Blue-winged Warbler felt the pull but mostly managed to stay a few feet above it.

Gravity's pull was so forceful here that it was holding on to a leaf with one foot for dear life. Clearly, this was some sort of Bermuda Triangle for warblers.

This crippling Chestnut-sided Warbler materialized a few feet above the ground-fray.

The Bay-breasted Warblers in particular had little interest in going back up into the trees.

We should probably make sure a combo gets in here...Blackburnian/Bay-breasted ground combo is a sweet one. There were other warblers here in groundtown as well, but this post has to end eventually!

I'm still not sure how to describe this event. This was not normal. Kansas City Steve, who had logged a great many years of springtime birding at Sabine Woods, admitted he had never seen anything like it. It was like what I expect a full-blown fallout to be like, except happening on a weirdly small scale. I have always maintained that there is no such thing as a small fallout, but it appears time to reexamine that position. Keep in mind, of course, that there were huge numbers of birds in the patch that were not acting like this, but I'm thinking a small wave of extremely exhausted migrants had arrived at the edge of the patch just as we were leaving, giving us....well...a micro fallout? It makes me wince to read that but I can't think of a better label for the event. No matter what it was, it was unlike anything I've experienced before, things will never be the same, and I really hope a springtime return to the Gulf Coast happens sooner than later. We ended up getting new high counts in eBird for Acadian Flycatcher, Swainson's Thrush and Ovenbird at this heavily birded site.

I did have one more day to bird in Texas with Dipper Dan and Officer Shaw at High Island, which was ok but nothing like what happened at Sabine Woods the previous day. We then went to Shaw's, where we drank incredibly good beer, I had an incredibly bad allergy attack (how embarrassing), and a freaking Chuck-will's-widow flew over his suburban yard in broad daylight!

This will conclude BB&B's coverage of 2018's fantastic foray to Texas. Thanks to This Machine Nate for coming all the way out to the coast, shortly before being banished to the depths of an uncharted corner of Ohio. Thanks to Dipper Dan for being my ride or die and coming out from SoCal. Thanks to Officer Shaw for meeting up with us (twice!) and letting us crash in the Land of Sugar. You all battled Geri, you all won, and you are all birding heroes.

Monday, November 19, 2018

November is Red-footed Booby Month

California is a blessed state to live in if you have an appreciation for our friendliest of friends, the fact, all six species that have been observed in the ABA Area have been seen in California just this year, culminating with five booby species on a single pelagic trip. But up until 2018, things were very different. For years, the grail booby (bail grooby, if you will) in the back of everyone's mind here in California was the Red-footed. They were less than annual in the state...sometimes years would go by without any being found. Many of California's records came in 1987 alone, and after that year almost all records were restricted to San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties. They often featured starving/sick/otherwise dying birds (often found to have ingested fish hooks) that likely rode into harbors on ships and eventually expired or were taken into rehab. Ship-assisted dying birds, what fun rarities to go chase.

So while much of SoCal had to be content with trying to go see birds about to die, those of us further north had to be content with ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Red-footed Boobies simply would just not show up since that great year when most of us had far better things to be doing. Personally, I was busy being 5 years old and living in Massachusetts. So while seeing a Red-footed Booby in California was something in the realm of dreams for me for many years, I could be content with having spent a lot of time with them on Midway Atoll, where the above photo was taken. At Midway, you just walk up to them and try not to get your face melted off. For those of you who have not had the pleasure, walking through a nesting colony of Red-footed Boobies is not only as cool as you think it is, it is way better.

All droughts come to an end though, and in 2017 the Northern California Red-footed Booby Drought was over! The drought-buster was an immature roosting on a breakwater in Pillar Point Harbor in San Mateo County. This regional MEGUH was the state bird I had been waiting for, so in mid-November I lurked over to the coast.

Having been up close to them previously on many occasions, I was content to watch the bird from the pier with the other schmucks instead of renting a kayak and paddling right up to it...had to settle with digiscoping for photos. I was thrilled just to see the thing though, no crushes was the first I'd seen since Midway (2009) and it might be the first and last I would see in the state. Even in this horrendous picture you can see the long, thin bill (which was clearly pinkish IRL) with dark tip and very pale head and breast.

While there was no doubt of the bird's identity whatsoever, I was still hoping to see the underwings. Immature Brown and Red-footed Boobies are fairly similar, or at least can be when not seen well, and completely dark wing linings are a great field mark for Red-footed. The bird abided several times, showing me what I wanted to see...aside from the distance involved, a very nice walkup Vague Runt. It definitely was not the most enjoyable RFBO viewing experience I've had though, as the many other birders who were showing up were remarkably clueless and kept getting in the way of vehicles and fishermen working on the docks to the point where I was getting embarrassed to be standing with them. It was all so...typical. Anyhow, the bird stayed for weeks so was obviously able to feed itself, and hopefully left for points south on its own accord. Thanks Josiah and Ryan for the great bird.

A year later, much had changed. 2018 turned out to be THE YEAR for boobies in California. While Brown Booby and Northern Gannet numbers were average (hundreds and exactly one, respectively) and Blue-footed Boobies were slightly above average, the numbers of Nazca, Masked and Red-footed were off the charts. Nazca suddenly turned into an expected species on SoCal pelagic trips. Masked Boobies were reported from 7+ counties and Red-footed Booby from 9+...including from deep inside San Francisco Bay...just unbelievable. It's probably not a good thing they all came up here (presumably food was harder to find further south), but they sure spiced up the birding.

I did my part and found a wayward booby (which was submitted to the Bird Police as a Masked, though admittedly it may not be accepted as such), but did not get in on the Red-footed action, despite them being seen up north on multiple occasions. November had come, and I thought the booby window may have closed...but I was wrong. Thankfully a birder-camp host found one roosting at the state park she was staying at in Aptos, Santa Cruz County, just off a pier.

This was even closer to home than the previous year's booby...why not make a November trip to the coast to look for Red-footed Booby an annual event? So there I was, a year later, looking at another Red-footed Booby in Northern California. What are the odds? Strange things happen, so maybe Red-footed Boobies in California in November is not such a strange thing after all. There were already November records, but the late fall pattern of occurrence has only become bolder in the last couple of years.

Viewing conditions for this booby were much better than at Pillar Point Harbor. I woke up at a stupid early hour in the morning (not my toddler's fault, my brain's fault) so got there with plenty of time to watch it, for an extended period of time, do pretty much nothing...a behavior I have great respect for. Oh, and for you One Bird Theory fanatics, no, this is not the same bird as last year, yes, it is probably the same bird seen on two Shearwater Journeys trip earlier this fall, and I think it is unlikely it is the same bird that was seen from Pt. Pinos in late August. There was also the Moss Landing bird that was so close to death it fell off the mast of a boat and had to go to rehab (maybe it died?), and the carcass found at Moss Landing even before probably isn't those. Oh, and it's not the bird on Southeast Farallon Island either.

Damn, that's a lot of Red-footed Booby sightings in a small area. That would be a lot for even San Diego, but this is no typical year.

Mmmm...dark underwings. Blonde head. Pink bill. Reddish feet! Put those field marks together and you get Great Success. Seeing the booby here was also fulfilling a prophecy to myself...I had camped up the beach earlier in the summer and was struck by how good this half-sunken ship next to the pier would be for a roosting booby...and it is!

The Year of The Booby is about to draw to a close, but there is still a month left to go. Anything can happen! More Nazcas please.

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 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 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.