Monday, March 11, 2013

South Bay Evening Grosbeaks



I don't bird the south bay very often. I will admit it. In the bay area, I stick to Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Alameda for the most part...to get me out of those counties takes a particularly rare bird or a particularly deep and numbing boredom that only birding some different places can alleviate. Yes, even the Perpetual Weekend can take its toll if you don't do enough stuff.

And so one day not long ago I found myself sitting in sluggish traffic on Highway 101 hating everything for a good hour and a half before I got to where I was going...a suburb of Sunnyvale, CA. 887 Mango Street. Why? A tree in front of their house had been attracting Evening Grosbeaks for several weeks.




Evening Grosbeaks are not rare in California, but in their strongholds in the northern and mountainous parts of the state they are always creatures of irregularity. It takes some strange conditions to drive them to the lowlands. The flocks known to lurk in this neighborhood were certainly there due to the poor seed crop in mountains and northern forests that drove this species and many other "winter finches" far to the south of where the snowy winter fortresses that they prefer. I would be very interested in where these Sunnyvale grosbeaks were 6 months ago...higher elevations of California, or someplace distant and bizarre? We will never know.




After staring at the barren, lifeless trees in the area for a few minutes, I moved on to the other neighborhood address that had been hosting birds, to no avail. Determined to see these birds (that many birders had missed repeatedly), I deliberately left my camera in my car and walked back to Mango Street. There's nothing like the old leave-the-camera-behind trick to lure in high-quality birds.



As I approached the area, I could hear a distinct cracking sound ahead of me...I looked around a tree trunk, and there sat 2 male Evening Grosbeaks, crunching away on the seeds of a pistache tree. My pupils dilated. The heart quickened. I chewed on my dry tongue like it was a piece of jerky. They were closer than I had ever seen them, which had been at least 4 years actually.

Quickly, my face began to melt, it was awful. Have you ever had to go running with a melty face? It gets everywhere. Trying to keep my shit together, I staggered/ran/violently convulsed back towards my car to retrieve me camera, praying to the Bird Gods that the birds would not be gone by the time I returned.





The Bird Gods were merciful that day, although I am still feeling the effects of the rather large blood sacrifice I made later in the day was far larger than what I normally offer. The grosbeaks just sat around munching loudly and occasionally called as I sat there crushing them repeatedly, as you have probably figured out by now. I inched closer and closer to them until some loud people walking a dog walked directly underneath them, which had almost no noticeable effect on the birds. At that point I just walked as close as I wanted while still getting the best angles. It was glorious.

Finally, a garbage truck drove by and spooked them, but we all lived happily ever after.


12 comments:

  1. Well, if you'd recorded them, you could have figured out if they came from the Great North or the mountains of California. Evening Grosbeaks, like their friends the Crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks, have call types. Five, to be exact. And the Evening Grosbeaks of the Great North are a different call type than those that breed in the Sierra Nevada. Unfortunately, blogspot strips out website links, but if you search for "Evening Grosbeak Call Types", and hit the first link that pops up (earbirding . com, blog post #1601), you'll find a good article about it.

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  2. Friggin' sweet. I made a long-shot play for this species last weekend in Tubac, AZ, to no avail.

    Indeedy you crushed this species like they crush nuts. It's almost...Gros.

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    1. Tubac, my old point-counting grounds. Sorry you dipped.

      5 stars for that pun.

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  3. Yessir I love me some grosbeaks. I have blocked out whatever I had to do to please the bird gods to send two to my yard that one time. You slayed. Now let's talk about something more important- your new header is fuckin hilarious. I don't even know why. Maybe it's the bird's expression. I don't know. Cracked me the eff up.

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    1. Thanks, I think its not bad myself. It looks really long-necked in the uncropped picture, pretty funny looking.

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  4. Did you invent this usage of "crush?" I like it and plan to employ it liberally. Just want to give credit where credit is due.

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    1. I don't think I invented it, although I will accept propagation rights of the usage. Not sure where I got it, Dave Pereksta maybe?

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    2. Interesting... I don't find an obvious online home for Dave, but for what it's worth I gave you a hat-tip on my little blog.

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    3. Dave is a high-ranking Ventura birder...he has no bloggish home, but is in the hearts and minds of everyone he has found rare birds for.

      Cool blog by the way, its nice to see a bird blog with actual writing.

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  5. Hey, thanks! That's what I like so much about BB&B, BTW... that and the dope pics. (And of course the dictional ingenuity.)

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