Wednesday, October 22, 2014

This Week In Birding: "The Omnipresent Threat Of Male Birders To Women"

Please make the jump to lightspeed and check out Assertiveness Training for Women Birders. YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT, regardless of gender, especially if you like ABA drama.

Ladies, I expect next time I see you in the field you will know I will regard your presence and participation with hostility. Dudes, I feel sorry for those of you who lack the physical equipment of alpha males, but at least you have successfully colluded with optics companies to have compensatory enormous binoculars.

Obviously there are grains of truth underlying her argument here...but this is some really next-level stuff. Just read it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Homely Shearwater, Enhanced Seabirds, A Single Boob

Another season of pelagics is in the can. What to say about this year? Well, things got interesting quick with the Salvin's Albatross (BINGO) and Craveri's Murrelets in July, but in August the murrelets kind of disappeared. Hawaiian Petrels made appearances in Monterey Bay and Half Moon Bay, neither of which I saw, so I will have to wait at least another year to meet that bird, which is totally fucked. Brown, Blue-footed and Masked Boobies all put in appearances around these parts, and the infamous Northern Gannet still roosts on the Farallones, which is infuriating. A Guadalupe Murrelet in September off Bodega Bay was an excellent bird, and a boat trip I did not attend off Half Moon Bay also had a Guadalupe and Red-billed Tropicbird. A Cory's Shearwater off Fort Bragg that I would have liked to have seen was a state ***MEGA***, the only "nearshore" pelagic bird that came close to the Salvin's in magnitude of rarity. Some really good shit was found waaaaayyyyyyy offshore, but unless you are a seabird observer on a NOAA boat, you aren't going to see what lurks that far beyond the horizon.

Right. Three pelagic lifers for me this year, which is more than I could have hoped for. Here is some coverage of my last boats of the season, one out of Monterey and one out of Half Moon Bay.

With the huge mass of warm water that was up here for a couple months, there were thousands of Black-vented Shearwaters in Monterey this fall. Some were seen all the way up in Humboldt the other day, which is cray cray.

I'm just going to say it...I have difficulty talking about Black-vented Shearwaters. Out of all the tubenoses that occur off California, this is often the easiest one to see from shore. They are afraid of deep water. They like warm water, are small, and breed in Mexico. What else is there to say? They are the most slovenly-adorned shearwater I have ever seen so I'm not exactly brimming with compliments for them. For the record, I do like them and I wish them the best, it's just not a bird anyone seems to be equipped to expound upon.

Ok, I've got something. This isn't unique to the species, but Black-vents have pretty awesome feet, with the upper side of the foot and "ankle" pinkish-blue, the bottom side black. I don't understand the significance of this two-tone but it pleases me.

See that crazy white-headed thing on the bottom left? That too is a Black-vented Shearwater, albeit an enhanced one.

Speaking of enhanced birds, check out the wing pattern on this South Polar Skua. Do you see something that shouldn't be there?

It might as well be a fucking Willet. Anyone care to explain the white wing bar?

This pair of mellow Sabine's Gulls were a stone's throw from the Monterey Harbor. Hella cooperative, some of the most confiding members of their species I have come across.

So neat and dainty. Some folks were having a hard time keeping it together. Too bad the lighting wasn't more conducive to crushing, but whatever.

Can't complain about getting looks like these.

Black-footed Albatross. Pretty sick molt pattern if you ask me. Lots of new goodness coming in on the head.

A couple of Humpback Whales (the lump on the left is whale #2) with attendant murres and barnacles. I think it's weird how many people are out there who have never seen a whale up close. Y'all are missing out.

This is one of my favorite photos I took this fall. To my eye, Harbor Seal looks uncannily human, somehow.

Last year, nearshore waters were saturated with Buller's Shearwaters. They were thick, and it was glorious. This year? I think I saw less than ten. Total bullshit. It seems the warm water that washed in the Black-vents and Black Storm-Petrels washed out the Buller's and Ashy Storm-Petrels.

Like last year, I managed to see exactly one booby offshore this year (I THOUGHT I WOULD SEE TWO!!!!!!). This is it. A Brown Booby. This Brown Booby puts the "brown" in Brown Booby.

Also like last year, the boob was getting harangued by gulls. Poor beleaguered booby.

The booby was on the infamous weather buoy in San Mateo County waters, right where the continental shelf starts to drop off quickly. There are always seems to be good birding by the weather buoy.

And representing the alcids, here is a Tufted Puffin. Puffins can look very dull this time of year, but you can spot that big glowing bill from a long ways away.

What happens to people who disappear at sea? I would wager MOLA MOLA happens. Doesn't this look like something that gobbles lost souls?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Golden Birds, Blinging at Lake Merced, Unreadable Garbage

Yipes. It's the middle of October already. While San Diego has been seething with rarities the last few days and a mystery warbler on the Oxnard Plain has ground birding in Ventura County to a standstill, that means we've passed the peak of fall migration here in the bay area, at least in terms of Vague Runts. It went by fast. That said, the quality of rarities often overcomes quantity later in the fall, so anything can happen still...although I would be lying if I told you that the Galileo Hill Red-faced Warbler from last week didn't hurt me deeply. Luckily I have seen plenty of this crippling bird...just not in California. How much longer must I suffer without seeing this bird in my home state? Until that time arrives, I live in a state of purgatory.

Which you probably don't give a shit about. Right...I understand. Unless a birder is deeply competitive or otherwise grossly invested in Schadenfreude, they generally don't care about anyone else's lists. I know you don't care that I didn't see that Red-faced Warbler, but I just can't help myself. Bird bloggers talking about their lists is some of the most unreadable garbage imaginable. Anything more than a sentence about it is overkill. How do I know? Because I read it all the time, and I also write it. But can you blame us? When you write about birds all the time and you're always thinking about that next bird you want to see, it's a difficult thing to ignore. So I'll probably keep doing it, albeit not without guilt. And shame.

And with that, I have nothing thematic to offer today in terms of blog fodder, just some birds I've run into lately.

While I was lurking down in Monterey a couple weeks ago, a couple young Golden Eagles took me by surprise at Moonglow Dairy. They seemed to be working down the transmission line corridor west towards the coast, and both flew low over the car for some of my best looks at them ever. They were easily Bird Of The Day...or for you kids and social media fiends out there, #BOTD.

This individual was the older of the two, with limited white in the tail and no white in the underwing. You can also tell by the notch in the flight feathers of the left wing HAHA JUST KIDDING

Here is the second bird; hella white in the tail. It looks like a goddamn Zone-tailed Hawk. We are most fortunate that Golden Eagles develop their golden nape at a very young age...not that identifying them would be any harder, they just look better this way.

Hella white in the underwing as well. It might be some time before I get such crushy looks again, and it was nice to have a #BOTD for a change that is majestic instead of small and greenish-yellow.

Here is a golden bird of a different sort. This Prothonotary Warbler spent some time in San Francisco earlier this month. It made my face all weird and melty. Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.

In the sun, the bird glows like nobody's business. Total fucking crippler. I wish these birds showed up slightly more often in California, but you know what they is pain.

Here it is pretending to be a flower, or at least snuggling with one. Ain't that cute? It's also doing a convincing impression of a Yellow Warbler.

None of us were ready when the Prothonotary let out a mighty bellow and knocked us off our feet. I did manage to document the event, but at what cost? Fifteen (15) minutes of convulsions and trying not to choke on my tongue.  #BOTD.

Tennessee Warbler is just one of those birds that I have great difficulty seeing in California. There is no logical explanation for it. It is one of those "expected" rarities during the fall, but I just can't seem to connect with them. This one, in the same tree as the Prothonotary, is the first I've seen in the state in years. What gives? Birding works in mysterious ways. It is also hard.

What is there to say about a Tennessee Warbler that looks like this? It's caught somewhere in between a Philadelphia Vireo and a Blackpoll Warbler, and manages to be less appealing than either of those birds. But you know me, I've never been one to argue against the Economy of Style, especially if it's a plumage I don't get into imbibe on the regular.

Like the bellow of the Prothonotary, I was completely unprepared for this White-crowned Sparrow that was rocking jewelry. That's a USFWS band on the right leg, not a white color band. Anyone know where this bird came from? Is this a bird previously fondled by someone at Point Blue? Lake Merced, San Francisco, CA.

I was a bit more prepared for this banded Red-tailed Hawk; a lot of the Red-tails in the city have gotten bling. This Machine Nate, is this one of those Red-tails that are vastly superior to eastern birds? Photographed at Lake Merced.

I have waited my whole life to get a picture of a harrier that comes anywhere close to a crush. Harriers despise photography, which is unusual considering their abundance and conspicuous habits. I was stoked to see this young male hunting from my car on the oppo side of the road. Moss Landing, CA.

It's a slick bird, I reckon. Even if it wasn't #BOTD.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Birders As Art XI: Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White

As everyone knows, there is nothing quite like the fashion sense of birders. We are stylish. We are chic. We are the Fashion Police. No other subculture looks quite as good as we do, which helps explain the rampant sexual promiscuity of birders and why so many of us are absolutely riddled with STDs.

Pelagic trips are widely-considered to be the fashion shows of birding; red carpet events that are usually well-attended, often by multiple A-list celebrity birders, such as Yours Truly. You often see some real edgy stuff on these trips...and it's not the birds that I am talking about. I was impressed the other day by a dude rocking two different pairs of binoculars...and then this vexing photo just kind of fell into my lap. Now the birderscape will never be the same.

I wasn't on this trip so I can't fill in too many details about what exactly is going on here, but I think the photo speaks for itself. I have no idea who this person is, and while I think it is quite likely we are dealing with a male, I'm not entirely sure. It is quite possible that no one on the boat ever found out who he was, with his facial features and identity known to no one. This may have been how he got on the boat, and how he got off. There is one thing that I am sure of here...his kind has never been seen before, and may never be seen again.

Why? That is the question we are forced to ask ourselves. Why the disguise? Why is he all in white? Why is this so obviously cringe-worthy, but leaves us wanting more? And why does he have a spotting scope? No one uses spotting scopes on pelagic trips; they are practically useless. Had this person never been on a pelagic before and come overprepared? Was he trying not to catch Ebola? And how many different white garments are actually involved here? It is impossible to say.

Honestly, if this person suffers from Polymorphous Light Eruption or some other solar-powered syndrome, this would all make sense, but knowing the tendency of birders to dress to the next level, I find this affliction highly unlikely. Pretty sure it's just High Fashion...actually, make that High Art. Thanks to "Rick James" for the photo, and for helping us to continue to press the fact that birders are treasures; indeed, living works of Art.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Point Reyes: Blackbird Hype, Vague Runts, Vireo Discomfort

"I've been very uncomfortable with my vireos" is a line uttered often among California birders...and who can blame them? Birders misidentify them on the regular. Hell, someone just erroneously claimed a Red-eyed Vireo the other day down in Santa Barbara, and was forced (by the Bird Police, no doubt) to make a very public and very bulky apology. Shortly afterward, another Santa Barbara birder posted photos of a "Yellow-green Vireo" that was clearly a Warbling Vireo. Classic. Luckily this Philadelphia Vireo was identified with prowess and was easily the Bird of The Day.

Ahhh, fall. It's been a good one. Vague Runts abound, and My Grunts have been plentiful. Of course, if you live in the bay area, it is to Point Reyes you must go in September and October (and even November). As the San Francisco Giants thrive in October (even years), Vague Runts thrive in the cypress patches of the outer point in autumn. And so three nerds, in a storm of spoonerisms (delta smelt=smelta delt) and bad Star Wars jokes, recently birded the point. It was not one of those days that become birding legend, but it was a good day...although the Cape Mays stung a bit.  We dipped on not one but two Cape May Warblers, which I feel is an impressive feat. Luckily, Philadelphia Vireo made everything did Chestnut-sided Warbler, 41 Black-vented Shearwaters, and the birds you will see below.

I know it's not a crush, and for that I apologize. But I am very comfortable with my vireos. I really like Philadelphia Vireos, and have been lucky to see a lot of them. They are the cutest vireo, after all, and have cerulean legs for style points.

I decided that I would start making an effort to photograph Tricolored Blackbirds this year. Here is a female. Look how horrifically drab and wonderful she is.

Unlike Philadelphia Vireos, I can understand that this is a tough bird to identify, but with some practice it can be done without inducing . She has no warm tones in her plumage and little contrast anywhere. 

As I have mentioned in the past, Point Reyes has hella Tricolored Blackbirds. This flock is pretty much all Tricolored. If you are in the bay area in the fall and want to meet this bird, head out to the point or Moonglow Dairy in Monterey County. You will be rewarded, although some birding pundits claim they are overrated.

You show me a cow, and I will show you a Tricolored Blackbird. This was a fun pile of birds, despite their critics. They whole heap of them sound like a cacophany of Red-wingeds with pneumonia.

On this day, there were Blackpoll Warblers galore. We had 6 that day, which is by far my best one day total for the species in California. Other than Yellow Warblers, it was the most abundant warbler species that day. Isn't that fucked up? Birding is weird.

Mmmmmmmmmmm eastern drabness.

Here's a different one. They're not flashy this time of year, but they are Good, in the moral sense of the word.

Have I even posted Barn Owl pictures on BB&B before? If I haven't, it's not for lack of interest. They may be common but they are one of the best-looking owls.

Oh that's right...a Barn Owl has graced our hallowed halls before. In fact, it is one of the best Barn Owl pictures I have ever seen...feel free to take a look at the carnage.

According to one birder, this White-winged Dove I found flying past the Fish Docks parking lot was the best bird of the day out on the point, especially in comparison to Cape May Warblers. I heartily disagree with this viewpoint; having seen both species on the point in the past, I can objectively say that I would gladly look at 500 Cape May Warblers before I looked at another freaking White-winged Dove, anywhere. 

Being the #7 U.S. birder, it is important to strike a balance between vagrant-lust and robin-stroking...but no one should ever overdo the robin-stroking. Here is a Double-crested Cormorant. I like it's cankles. I will say nothing more.

Officer Searcy treasures nature. Look at the looking. The treasuring.

Officer Searcy gets credit for finding this creature. He identified it by screaming and pointing "VOLE! VOLE! VOLE!". Obviously it is not a vole, but I didn't have the heart to tell him. He had just gotten off the Farallones, where people tend to forget things about the mainland. He also misidentified a deer. That's why he is not in the Mammal Police.