Monday, December 11, 2017

Rarities Return, Featuring: Parakeet Auklet, Little and Red-necked Stints!

Every now and then a birding community will be struck by a rarity so bizarre and unlikely that we are left running around slamming into walls, foaming at the mouth, bleeding from headwonds, uttering incoherently about needing to be somewhere, at any cost. A Parakeet Auklet in July (July!) in San Francisco did exactly that, smashing the 2017 summer doldrums into oblivion and sending birders scurrying to SF. The story of how this vague runt was found was truly unlikely; a birder found it in the water off Sutro Baths in the summer of 2016, but it was never seen again...a year later, the same birder relocated the bird while kayaking less than a half mile further up the coast. This time, the bird was seen sitting on seastacks and cliffs, which as far as I know is the first time a healthy individual has been seen on solid ground in the state. There is a good chance the bird was doing the same thing the previous year, but no one saw it!

I appreciate a good Parakeet Auklet, and this being a good Parakeet Auklet (and a state bird) I dragged the family up to the city kicking and screaming for a chance at this bird...but despite staking it out for hours, it never showed. It was a tough dip to swallow, and most everyone who actually dips will tell you that all dip is tough to swallow to begin with...I'm talking about chewing tobacco of course, but hey it applies to birds as well.

While doing the drive of shame back to San Jose, I analyzed my chances of getting the bird the next morning if I made another chase attempt and decided against it...which I immediately regretted the next day when the bird was relocated quickly. My heart was filled with hate. By mid afternoon I was twitching uncontrollably from the constant updates of resightings, said "fuck it" and rocketed back north. This time I found the bird in about 30 seconds, circling behind Mile Rock. It eventually landed on a distant rock just a stone's throw from the shoreline, which I pointed out to several birders who were clearly there for the same reason as me.

Incredibly, one of the birders I updated totally ignored what I had just said, and instead told me that he believed the bird was currently sitting on a seastack right below us. Keep in mind I had a spotting scope and he did not, so I must have seemed absolutely incompetent to him. Friends, do I give off an air of complete ineffectiveness? For those of you who haven't met me, next time you encounter a birder in the field that you believe has utterly no idea what they are doing, just go ahead and assume it is Seagull Steve.

I had to look at this man's auklet, of course. It turned out to be not a guillemot, or an oystercatcher, or a black bird of any was a shadow. A shadow.

I booked it to where the actual bird had been sitting and eventually ended up below it, as it had flwon from its rock and was roosting high up on a cliff. Talk about something I never expected to see outside of Alaska. July in San Francisco? Get out of here. State bird! Though California has accrued quite a few records now, this is a very unreliable bird to see anywhere in the Flycatcher Jen would tell you, good times.

July isn't all state birds and Parakeet Auklets though. Least Sandpiper is much more typical birding fare around these parts, and much more confiding as well. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.

My god...could it be? SHARP-TAILED GROUSE???

No, it can't be, but this Least Sandpiper is striking a pose remarkably similar to what displaying Sharp-tailed Grouse are known for. This bird was having a territorial dispute with another Least.

Remember the barren dowitcherless times? It sure is nice to have dowitchers again, especially pink and orange ones. I think these are all Long-billed.

On another July day, I was out birding and saw a report of an alternate plumage Little Stint that was within easy driving distance. It wasn't a lifer/state/county bird, but seeing as I had gotten to look at all of one (1) before, I picked up the scope and hustled back to the car. The instincts that made me the Global Birder Ranking System's #7 US birder made me stop and scan a blackbird flock just long enough to find my county Yellow-headed Blackbird on the way back, and I was still able to make it back to the car quickly. Things were going splendidly. Unfortunately, at that point my instincts ceased to serve me my haste to get on the road, I broke off TWO door handles to my car. What the fuck?! Who does that? This wasn't even for a life bird. That's what those two gray things are in my palm, freakin door handles.

And to top it off, later that day I was playing bass and I ripped off the plug to the amp from the power cord. Nerd strength was just pumping through my veins that day.

But hey, I saw the Little Stint! Talk about a completely rubbish photo (digiscoped). The light wasn't great and the bird wasn't very close, but I did get really nice, prolonged views. Lifer plumage! Year bird! It was nice to continue my long running streak of taking terrible stint photos.

A few days later I went back to see if the stint was still around (it was not), but I did find a very interesting peep that had me confused for a bit. Not that you can tell, but the bird's back was very bright and boldly marked, with lots of orange and red tones. With the short, straight, tapered bill, it was an intriguing combination, but at the end of the day it was just a Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Just a Semipalmated Sandpiper? That's a bit of an understatement...despite a great deal of looking at peeps all around the bay for many years now, until this bird I have never been able to find one in any bay area county. Anyone who has birded much around here would find that baffling, and they would be right. This was a hard-won bird, thus you are forced to look at a photo (digiscoped) so awful that it is, in fact, art. It was also the most colorful individual I have ever seen, but again you cannot make that out whatsoever. Because art.

Sorry about the run of appalling photos. Here is an alternate Western Sandpiper pondering life in its reflection. This looks to be a male, judging by the relatively short and straight bill.

This adult has already acquired a lot of basic plumage, but retains some old summer chevrons on the breast. More of a femaley bill on this bird.

Oh why hello RED-NECKED STINT. It sure is nice to see Red-necked and Little Stint in the same week! That's California birding for you. This one was at Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary in Alameda. As I mentioned back in 2015, this place had been due for a great bird! As with my other Red-necked Stint experiences in California, nice prolonged looks at a spiffy alternate bird that was either distant or in crap light. Not sure how that keeps happening, but when one is looking at a stint one cannot complain. But now I really, really need to get a good photo of some kind of stint eventually...

Although they don't inspire the panic of a stint, Baird's Sandpiper is a refreshing fall migrant that only has a short window here. They are refreshing birds in and of themselves, but their presence is always a tasty precursor of things to come...if you are looking at a Baird's Sandpiper in California, chances are you are only a few weeks away from experiencing that holiest of months, SEPTEMBER.

I know, I know, you can roll your eyes, we are far removed from September, but I'm getting there! I won't say that blogging is hard (it isn't, despite everyone who starts one and then gives up), but I will tell you that blogging with a baby is hard. As Corey Finger rightly pointed out to me last year, it's not that you won't have time to bird anymore once you have a baby, it's that you won't have time to blog. This is true.

Refreshing birds are often found in disgusting places. That's not a gross mudflat the birds are on, it is a much filthier floating mat of algae. Juvenile Least Sandpiper on the left for comparison.

Has any bird mastered the filthy floating mat dance like the Baird's Sandpiper? Unlikely.

Ok, I'll throw in a token resident bird, and one that BB&B doesn't cover much. This juvenile California Gull was also holding down the algae mat along with the peeps. I know birders in most states don't get to see this short-lived plumage very often, and we are balls-deep in gull season right now, so enjoy! The Baird'seses and the gull were at Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont, CA.

Monday, November 27, 2017

On Summer Sorrows (Doldrummer)

One day last summer, one of Rancho de Bastardo's Mourning Doves would repeatedly raise one wing above its head - it looked like some sort of display. It was bizarre. Did it think it was a Rock Sandpiper, or was this a cry for help? Even Mourning Doves need to be rescued from triple digit temperatures and drearily slow birding.

With Thanksgiving just behind us, I think now is a good time for a little reflection. A facet of life that I always want to improve on is appreciating experiences; not taking the positive aspects of my life for granted. So much of what we experience on a daily basis falls on the mediocre or crappy side of things (life is pain) that I try my best to not let those better moments go by without looking them in the eye, even if just in passing.

So what am I thankful for this year? Well, Annabelle is doing great, so that is awesome. I work from home, which is fantastic. There is a really good bottle of mezcal in the kitchen. I still get to see friends, despite being banished to the bowels of San Jose. But inevitably, the subject of birding must be broached. Of course, now that I am a father (which is still weird to say) I don't have nearly as much time to blog as I used to...BUT I still get to bird hella, and that is something I can really appreciate. The freedom to go flog the shrubbery and indulge my most basic nerd instincts is near and dear to me.

Oak Titmouse is a pleasant, dependable bird, always hanging tough through the summers.

Another thing I'm grateful for is the good birding around here. For months now, I get to see something rare/interesting pretty much every weekend. I don't take this for granted at all, I'm pretty lucky. What has made me, the #7 birder in the United States, so modest and humble? What has given me the ability to relish fall birding in the bay area?

It wasn't some epiphany, a major breakthrough, a conquering of the urge to loathe the familiar. The answer is simple...summer. I have been forced to spend a number of summers in the bay area now, and the birding can be so dull that as I write this sentence my mind is trying to think of something more interesting to focus its energies on. Will Giancarlo Stanton be traded to the Giants? Is Repeater still my favorite Fugazi album? If I really needed to obtain heroin for some reason, how long would it take me? Tacos sound good right now...mmmm, tacos.

Like the dove and the titmouse, some cheerful Bewick's Wrens holds it down at Rancho de Bastardos over summer. However, I am beginning to detect some sort of a pattern here...

As I don't live in northern latitudes and am without mountains of appreciable elevation nearby, the summer birding doldrums are not to be scoffed at. I'm not just talking about the dearth of warbler species that breed in Santa Clara County, or even the massive urban sprawl that eats up habitat like a disease. There are other factors at work. Unlike here, Californians living near the immediate coast experience the following conditions during the warmest months of the year: Graypril, May Gray, June Gloom, Gray Sky July, and Fogust. I long for that kind of summer. Where I live, we have no such luck. Overcast days are rare and precious, and there was not a lot of that going on in June or July. San Jose is sunny and hot as fuck, which is maddening considering there is an ocean nearby. Silicon Valley is not where you want to find yourself those months unless you are bringing home a staggering paycheck from a tech firm...or southbound shorebirds have returned. Climate change is a bitch, but so is geography. San Jose is on the hot side of the coastal range, and when migration is seemingly at a standstill, the summer doldrums are real.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow, another common bird of summer here at Rancho and across the state. Wait a second...why is every bird I've posted so far gray and brown? Is that seriously what all of our summer birds look like? That is awful. I can't tell you the relief I felt when we got a couple weeks into July and the shorebird floodgates opened up.

Well, maybe not all our summer birds are dirt-colored. Caspian Terns and their horrific, violent calls helped get me through to the other side. I've said it before, but it bears repeating...this is a nice yard bird.

A lot of our resident Anna's Hummingbirds were doing some pretty intensive molting in July. I'm glad we have them of course, but it will be a triumphant day when a second hummingbird species is added to the yard list.

I was a bit surprised to see this fledgling Tree Swallow (oh great, a new brown bird to recruit into the current brown bird population) at the Los Capitancillos Ponds, considering they are far outnumbered here by the other expected swallow species. I'm not sure if it was hatched here or wandered from another part of the south bay.

Thankfully, Calocortus rages against the dying of spring long after many other wildflowers have withered under the relentless sun. Canada del Oro Open Space Preserve, Santa Clara County, CA.

Now this is a brown bird of summer I can really back - Common Poorwill! I went some years without seeing any...though it is a pleasant heard-only, I'm glad that drought is over. Thankfully, there is a dependable area for them just a few minutes from Rancho. Brown it up! Photographed along the Calero Creek Trail in San Jose, CA.

Every year, early in July, the bird gods open the spigot of the shorebird tap. Least Sandpipers are one of the first species to return, and though they are still brown brown brown as can be, these first returning birds are a sight for sore eyes. Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, CA.

Seeing your first mixed shorebird flocks in July is the light at the end of the summer tunnel of darkness. A lot of the avocets are probably locals, but the dowitchers came from afar.

Hint: If you want people to think you are god's gift to bird photography, don't ever post photos this bad (this was digiscoped). It's embarrassing...but I am not embarrassed to say that this is the weirdest avocet I've ever seen. It was essentially all white except for its primaries, giving it a Snow Goose look. Rad.

Yip-yip-yip-yip...father stilt made it very clear to me that he does not want me near his chicks, although he is always right next to the boardwalk so I don't know what he expects.

Stilt offspring! I usually see them when they are younger and fluffier, this inbetween stage (apparently characterized by fat cankles) does not last very long. I like the brown covert edgings.

Anise Swallowtail, I reckon. You know, for all the great success Rancho de Bastardos has had with birds, it has been completely miserable for butterflies. I'm not exactly happy about that. I guess I am doomed to start attracting them to my yard, as geri birders like myself tend to do.

Great! I think this post pretty much recounts falling into, and climbing out of, 2017's summer doldrums...covering those are always a tough blogging assignment every year, because it's basically a bunch of whining and some pictures of common birds. Better to limit that, eh? 

Monday, November 20, 2017

California Birds: The Newest, The Next, and The Blocked

While the occurrence of many rarities can be predicted, some just seem to fly in from left field. Earlier this fall, one Adam Searcy found himself entombed in a deep and birdless fog on top of Southeast Farallon Island. The last thing he expected was a first state record to Kermadec Petrel to uncloak itself and make a couple passes before heading back out to sea. What will be the next bird to join the ranks of California's long and lovely state list? Photo by Adam Searcy.

California. With 665 species on the official state list tenderly and affectionately curated by the California Bird Records Committee (CBRC), California has the largest state list in the country. This has been made by possible not only from California's size, but because of its habitat diversity and unique location; species from the Old World, the far north, central and eastern North America, Mexico, and all over the Pacific make their way here on a regular basis. To give you a sample of the sometimes bizarre diversity of birds California gets, my last five state birds were Red-footed Booby, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Scarlet Tanager, Parakeet Auklet and Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay. Sometimes (like when I wrote the previous sentence) I feel extraordinarily lucky to be a birder here. But just like birders everywhere, I am sometimes left wondering what will be next? What mega will leave me in utter shock and disbelief?What is the next bird that will set off statewide episodes of catatonic grip-off?

Maybe if we take a look at the newest species the CBRC has accepted to the state list, that will give us an inkling of rarities to come. Beginning with the most recent additions, they are:

1. Buff-breasted Flycatcher
2. Purple Sandpiper
3. Kelp Gull
4. Common Scoter
5. Tundra Bean-Goose
6. Salvin's Albatross
7. Nazca Booby
8. Marsh Sandpiper
9. Common Swift
10. Great Black-backed Gull

Recent, well-documented sightings of Kermadec and Jouanin's Petrels, Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, and Eurasian Wryneck are likely to be accepted by the CBRC as well.

I think \these additions are a good representative sample of our vagrant composition - on the continent, California is the best state/province for seabird diversity, hands down, so it makes sense that so many of our recent state additions are ocean wanderers. We also get more Old World species than any state outside of Alaska (usually "Sibes" found in eastern Russia), so the goose and Marsh Sandpiper fit in with that pattern; the scoter and swift were shocking though. Great Black-backed Gull is a bird that seemed inevitable, but Kelp Gull was comparatively surprising - this Southern Hemisphere resident is rare north of Ecuador, so it is fitting that the bird that visited California (and seen in multiple counties!) was found by a gull expert who also spends lots of time south of the equator. With past records of Belcher's and Swallow-tailed Gulls, the Kelp Gull record does fit into a pattern of sorts.

A spring overshoot Buff-breasted Flycatcher really caught us with our collective pants down, but California does bring in a modest number of migrants/vagrants from Mexico or even further south - for example, Greater Pewees, Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Tropical Kingbirds, Painted Redstarts, Grace's and Red-faced Warblers all occur with some regularity. Purple Sandpiper was a longshot to get here and a longshot to identify correctly due to the presence of Rock Sandpipers, but since it first appeared at a very unusual location (the Salton Sea), suspicious birders were able to eventually able to identify it correctly.

So with those birds in mind, what are the next state firsts? In no particular order, here are my Top 10:

1. Taiga Bean-Goose - Many birders believe that there has already been a well-documented bird in the state, but it was ultimately accepted (not without controversy) by the CBRC as Taiga/Tundra Bean-Goose. Luckily I did not see this bird (after trying and dipping for days on end) so I don't have to attempt to come to terms with that label. Anyways, a Taiga Bean-Goose will eventually be sucked in to the California vagrant vortex and provide redemption for us all. Or the record will be recirculated.

2. Arctic Warbler or Kamchatka Leaf Warbler - Ok, this is two species, so I might be cheating, but hear me out...before these species were split, California had a number of Arctic Warbler records. Of course, once they were split, the CBRC realized that they could not prove with complete confidence which species were involved with any particular record, which at present even includes this bird (left) that was in hand on Southeast Farallon Island. Vocalizations are the key. Only a couple months ago, an Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf Warbler was seen in San Luis Obispo County, but frustratingly never called. Photo by Dan Maxwell.

3. Juan Fernandez Petrel - Honestly, this entire list could be comprised of tubenoses and it would be pretty reasonable still, but that is boring so I'm just going to pick one. It is bizarre that Arizona would get a species of seabird before California, but birds do bizarre things, particularly when hurricanes are involved.

4.Olive warbler - As with tubenoses and Sibes, there are many vagrant candidates from Mexico. It was tough to settle on one, but for my Mexico pick I'm going to draft Olive Warbler, which are actually found with regularity in the mountains of western Arizona, intriguingly close to the state line. Olive Warblers are not long-distance migrants prone to overshoots, but they are close by, migratory, and easy to identify. There also should not be any provenance issues with this species.

5. Siberian Accentor - There are a number of scattered records north of California, and this species will come to feeders.  It's also one of the most distinctive Sibes we can possibly get; most birders will know that an accentor is, at the very least, something special when it pops up in front of them; the same can't be said about many of the other Sibe passerines. I'm waiting for one to put in an appearance in the northern half of the state (hopefully not on Southeast Farallon Island).

6. Gray-streaked Flycatcher - Not as obvious as a Siberian Accentor, but again, certainly a species that would stand out more than some other Sibes that could potentially occur. Common Sandpiper looks like Spotted Sandpiper, Temnick's Stint looks like Least Sandpiper, snipes look like grass, Phylloscopus warblers look like each other and stay hidden, Pechora Pipit looks like Red-throated get my drift. Most California birders would not be able to identify a Gray-streaked Flycatcher reflexively, but a lot of us would at least be able to call it an Old World flycatcher and go from there.

7. Black-tailed Godwit - Gotta have a shorebird in here. Despite being a fairly regular migrant in Alaska, this is not a bird showing up anywhere on the west coast south of there. Yet. California happens to be a lovely place to migrate through, if you can get past all the Peregrines.

8. Acadian Flycatcher - Like a certain warbler that dwells in the east, I don't think there is any reason one of these will not be found in California - we have records of pretty much every other eastern neotropical migrant. They are a common and broadly-distributed bird through much of the eastern U.S., and one is destined for the California state list. Maybe a vocalizing bird at Butterbredt in a future spring? Caught in a mist net on Southeast Farallon Island? The Acadian above was photographed on South Padre Island, TX.

9. Swainson's Warbler - I think we are going to get one. I feel strongly about's just a matter of time. Their powers of skulk are not to be underestimated, but California is due for this bird. If we can get a Golden-cheeked Warbler, we can get a Swainson's. This is BB&B's official position on the matter.

10. Red-bellied Woodpecker - Probably not on a lot of people's radar, but even Oregon has a recent record. A bird particularly stricken with wanderlust could make its way to one of the northernmost counties. 

How about some wildcard honorable mentions that are really against the odds? Pure speculative fiction? It doesn't hurt to prepare for Waved Albatross, Gray Heron, Eurasian Hobby, Brown Noddy, or Rose-throated Becard.

What do you think? Am I crazy? What's on your Top 10? I'm sure I'm missing an obvious bird or two. But we're not done yet...almost as drool-worthy as the new state additions are the blockers - birds that have occurred in the past, often repeatedly, but have been absent for so long that newer birders never got to see them. There are a great many species that belong on this list, but to make it more interesting I omitted the birds with only a single record (i.e. White-tailed Tropicbird, Greater Sand-Plover) or were not chaseable (e.g. Ringed Storm-Petrel, Least Auklet, Buff-collared Nightjar). Oh, and I have not seen any of these species in the state.

1. Whooper Swan - There are a modest 11 accepted state records, but just one in the last 10 years. What gives? My Sibe intuition tells me that one will show up again sooner than later.

2. Baikal Teal - Few waterfowl can wonderfully assault the eyes with the force of a male Baikal Teal. There are 7 records, one in the last 10 years...I believe that bird (in Humboldt) was shot, if I recall correctly. Seeing one of these would only feed the Sibe Fever I've been suffering from for years now, but that is a risk I am willing to take.

3. Streaked Shearwater - With 18 accepted records, it's safe to say that Streaked Shearwater was considered a regular bird in California for some time. However, there have been none since 2008, even though there are now more pelagic trips than ever. What happened? Hopefully population declines won't keep them away for good.

4. Anhinga - Five accepted records...but again, no records in the last 10 years. Unlike Streaked Shearwaters, there are a lot of Anhingas to go around, and their return to California is overdue. I'm looking at you, Imperial, Riverside and San Diego counties, to make this dream a reality.

5. Eurasian Dotterel - Want to know something odd? When I was a young birder, I always thought I would see a dotterel in California one day. That said, no one has ever said adolescents have a very well developed ability to see into the future. Not only has this not happened, there has only been one in California seen this century, which was never reported to the public. I'm still waiting patiently for this bird, my favorite plover that I have never seen and a bird that just generally makes me froth at the mouth.

6. Bristle-thighed Curlew - There are two accepted records from 1998, an invasion year, when this species appeared all over the Pacific Northwest. Two other reports from that time period were considered "credible" but were unaccepted. This species could easily slip by undetected - most birders would not know if they were looking at one. My understanding is that these birds arrived on our shores as a result of unusual Pacific weather patterns...the perfect storm for Bristle-thighed Curlews. With enough sacrifices to the bird gods (in the form of cats?), maybe one will blow our way in May, 2018. The birds above were photographed on Midway Atoll.

7. Steller's Eider - Three records from the state, including two wintering birds that were seen by many. The most recent accepted record in California is from 1992. I long to meet this exotic northerner. Past records were in Del Norte, Humboldt and Sonoma counties, and those are all perfectly good places to look for another. Del Norte County actually has records of three eider species!

8. Red-headed Woodpecker - Though declining in some areas, this bird is still fairly common in much of the country, but the last accepted record for the state is from 2000. If one of these popped up in the state right now (which could seemingly happen anywhere), there is no doubt in my mind that birders would go absolutely apeshit.

9. Violet-crowned Hummingbird - It's time for California to get another earth-shaking hummingbird species, and I think this bird is ready for a triumphant return. There are 6 records, none in the last 10 years. Xantus's Hummingbird may be a more classic blocker (I was too young to see the one in Ventura, though at the time I lived only a few minutes away!), but I would be pleasantly stunned if a Violet-crowned did not reappear here first. The bird above was photographed in Florida Canyon in southeast Arizona.

10. Black Rosy-Finch - It hasn't been that long since the state has had one of these cripplers, but how many California birders are looking at rosy-finches in winter? Hardly any. Out of all the species mentioned in this post, this one seems most likely to be found far away from population centers. Predictably, the last records are from Aspendell, and the next record may come from there as well.

11. Eastern Yellow Wagtail - I was going to stop at ten, but I 'm really feeling this one. Migrants of this species are very much expected on a number of Alaskan islands, and they breed on mainland Alaska. No wagtail this fall...yet...but sticking with our theme, it's been ten years, and I don't think it will be much longer.

If you've made it this far, thanks for nerding out with me. I know this read was intense, prolonged, and most of all, genuine. I'll end it all on this note...if I could have gotten this post out a couple weeks ago, Sedge Wren would have been #1 on the blocker list, but freaking Adam "Kermadec Petrel" Searcy just found and photographed this one on Santa Barbara Island. Ugh.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Introducing Rancho de Bastardos


This Cooper's Hawk was nice enough to pose on a ziptied perch I put up specifically for crushing. I fucking love geri birding, especially in my own yard.

Big news here from the BB&B Campus...that's right arch-nerds...Rancho del Bastardos is no more. The name has changed to Rancho de Bastardos. Most of you could give a fuck, but a handful of you should be happier...I hope.

Right. So other than this major, multi-million dollar rebranding campaign we've got going for my yard (targeted solely at Spanish speakers), the other big news is that I have once again had the birdiest yard in California for the last month*. That makes five (5) months in a row! This wasn't supposed to happen...I tried to share the prestige of this accomplishment...I left the state for 12 days! I gave you a chance! What more can I do? Die?

Please don't kill me.

The October breakdown: 73 species total, the most we've ever had in a single month...and again, I was out of state for 12 days. We also eclipsed the 100 barrier! New additions to the yard were Townsend's Warbler, American Goldfinch, Glaucous-winged Gull, Merlin, Green-winged Teal (the first teal here of any species, put down briefly by a storm), Hermit Thrush, Fox Sparrow...a very October list of birds. This brings the total yard list to 105. The yard is quite birdy now, as a small but dedicated mixed sparrow flock is typically present at any given time...fingers crossed for a White-throated or something better. I'm eagerly looking forward to what November will bring, especially since I will be deploying a water feature!

Yes, a water feature. Am I going full geri? Judging by my yardbirding habits and when I go to sleep (early) and wake up (early), that seems to be the case.

*=Someone claimed a higher species list for the month, but their last checklist at their "yard" was a 2 mile trip at Las Gallinas Sanitary District, a well-known birding spot at a water treatment facility. By even the most forgiving standards for what constitutes a yard list, this is not at all legit.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Swift and Swallow Swarm, Yellow-throated Vireo, Summer Birds

Are you ready for another barrage of photos? Here goes...

One of the birding perks of being located where I am is the number of Vaux's Swifts present from April-September. This one is about to gobble its target, which you can see floating around innocently in the top left corner.

One day last spring I set out to get some Vaux's Swift photos that weren't completely horrendous for a change, which I did have some success with. I didn't have to go far...the swifts are a daily fixture at the Los Capitancillos Ponds, which are the ponds behind my backyard.

Few birds are more frustrating to photograph than swifts, but it was fun to see so many foraging down low. It turned out there was a big insect hatch in the ponds that day, and a swarm of swifts and swallows were feeding near eye level next to the trail.

My camera decided to focus on the rear bird in this photo...

...but a second later, locked on to the front bird when it suddenly banked.

Here is an eBird abundance map for Vaux's Swift in the region - I live in the single, darker purple cell that denotes more frequent observations than the rest of the area. For whatever reason, the ponds (and my yard!) is one of the most reliable places to see them in central California. It's no McNear Brickyard, but it suits me.

White-throated Swifts are much less common in the immediate area, but are generally much easier to find in the bay area; they will often nest under highway overpasses, and there is no shortage of those here.

Juvenile Anna's Hummingbirds can make for a challenging ID, as they typically lack any markings on the throat. This can render them into Costa's or Black-chinned imposters.

The faint rows of tiny spots this bird is displaying looks a lot different from the big dark blotch on the throat an adult female will show.

Black Phoebe production in the area is satisfactory.

Amazingly, while standing in the swift blizzard I managed a couple flight shots of a male Violet-green Swallow, often overlooked as one of the most crippling species in the west. Odd that Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Violet-green Facemelters occupy much of the same range and habitats, and aside from nest sites, they generally behave very similarly. Yet the males of one species are stunning, but poo-colored in the other.

That color on the rump is hard to fathom, and the only other ABA Area species that I can think of that has something close is Varied Bunting.

Tree Swallows, on the other hand, are significantly more fathomable. I saw them at the ponds very infrequently this year, and I spent an inordinate amount of time standing in the backyard checking swallow flocks for Bank Swallow/Purple Martin/Black Swift. Better luck next year with those, hopefully.

Late May and early June is when the window is open in California for spring vagues. These spring rarities are a different beast than the fall birds though...they can often be found by song (great!) and look their best (sick), but except at a handful of desert sites there are far fewer of them and they are much less chaseable. Always in a hurry to get someplace, they are. Other than the Black-and-white from the last post, I only managed to see this one other eastern bird last spring, but it was a great one.

Yellow-throated Vireo is a wonderful bird to see in California. Though not a Bird Police species, they are rare enough that most birders here will start grinding their teeth upon hearing about them. This is only the second individual I've ever seen in the state, and it was a hell of a lot more cooperative than the first.

This bird roamed around a few blocks at Moss Beach, adjacent to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Amazingly, it stayed over a week before taking off to points unknown.

White-crowned Sparrow is one of the most abundant birds around here now, but most of these birds are migratory and leave in March and April. This is one of the year-round residents. Photographed at Half Moon Bay.

Hey! It's a Spotted Towhee! Also in Half Moon Bay.

In June we went south for Peak's wedding, which was fantastic as expected, but not good blog-fodder for nerds. I was able to get one morning of birding in with Dipper Dan. No rarity glory - finding a spring vague runt in Ventura County is like winning the lottery - but I got my 2017 Blue Grosbeaks at Canada Larga Road, where this Hooded Oriole teed up briefly. See you in March, Hooded Oriole.

A Black-headed Grosbeak did the same. We will reunite in April, Black-headed Grosbeak.

It's all about the juniper...and I do mean an actual juniper tree, not Juniper Titmouse. This is an Oak Titmouse in the backyard juniper tree. The juniper tree is crucial to what goes on here at Rancho del Bastardos - birds love it. One of these days I'm going to do another thorough yard post, and you too can share in the glory of my juniper tree. I'm also going to have to change the name of Rancho del Bastardos, as it's been pointed out to me by a couple people that my Spanish is bad and the name of my Rancho is gramatically incorrect...and you fucking bird people cannot sleep at night if you've encountered bad grammar during the day, so I will concede that something must be done.

Look at the soft complexion of this gentle titmouse. This Oak Titmouse in a juniper. Backyard birding during the summer was just slightly more surprising than watching paint dry, but we did get titmice in the yard a lot for a couple months - these days I typically only hear them calling from across the ponds.

Alright, that's enough, this was a pretty extensive post. Go birding, drinking whisky, etc.