Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Little Bunting Abides



It was Friday morning when I got the horrifying news. My blood ran cold, and my heart skipped several beats. My tongue felt like it had been pickled in formaldehyde. It was all too real...a Little Bunting has been found in California. A chaseable Little Bunting. Unfortunately, this ***MEGA*** was 5 hours away from where I live; I was immediately struck the fear of it disappearing within 24 hours, and then inner conflict set in...attempting to reconcile with the fact that I might have to drive all the way to Humboldt for a bird I might not see. But Humboldt County is my old stomping grounds, and I had success with several Siberians up there (Brown Shrike, Common Greenshank, etc.), and once I got the moral support I needed from Booby Brittany, I knew what had to be done.



The bird was first found the previous day by Keith Slauson, an old coworker who had ears of gold. He had first detected the bird by it's call note (which is how bird wizards operate), but had only laid eyes on it in poor light in late afternoon. It was quickly refound and confirmed the next morning, and then the madness began.

Little Bunting has only been seen in California 3 previous times, and only once where people were able to chase it. It's a bird I considered a blocker until now...I had no idea if I would ever see one in California. It's just rare. I had no idea if I would ever see that delicate rust and ocher face at all, anywhere. You can't go to some barren Alaskan island just expecting to blunder into one of these, and I don't have any trips to Russia planned anytime soon.



But that wonderful, poignant face is now one that I know. That I feel strongly about. For it is a face that I stared at for several hours in the past couple of days. Under cover of darkness Booby Brittany and I swept north from Oakland Saturday night, deep into the bowels of the Emerald Triangle. We arrived at Fischer Road early in the morning, when only the hardiest of winter birders were out searching. For an agonizing 45 minutes, there was no sign of The Bird; the Savannah Sparrow flock the bunting had joined was nowhere to be seen. But just as my anxiety reached a crescendo, the fields and fences became alive with Savannah Sparrows. Within minutes a long-tailed bird with white outer tail feathers grandly plopped down into the mud, and everything was fine.



A few tips for those of you plotting to see this bird; don't park right next to where the bird hangs out, as it will occasionally come to that puddle in the pullout to drink or perch nearby, which will provide the best possible looks. The bird doesn't seem to like it when there are cars parked over its puddle...park at the end of the road, or on the other side of the bridge. It can disappear for a while, but it moves around and vocalizes enough so that you shouldn't have to wait hours to see it...it's usually with Savannah Sparrows and almost never leaves the field to the west of the road. Lastly, learn its call note, which is higher and more junco-like than the call note of a Savannah Sparrow.



Here is a photo of the bunting's preferred spot. I fear that the crowd of birders mistook the herd of cows for a Savannah Sparrow flock. Doesn't anyone read field guides anymore? How embarrassing. Pic by Booby Brittany.

13 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I'm a lot less stressed now than I was a few days ago. Phew.

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  2. Whoa... congrats on this sighting Seagull Steve!

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  3. Nice pics, Tucker! Can you share your best with me for the HUM NAB files? Glad you got to enjoy it!

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  4. That last photo is hilarious... They really look like they're just staring at cows. Good job all around.

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    1. The herd was trying to block us from seeing the bunting. They are very protective of it.

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  5. I'd like to see the blog post the cows wrote. :)

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    1. "There have been a lot of humans next to our field lately. Today our humans drove up to the gate, but after talking to the big human herd that was already there, they drove off again. We walked all the way across the field to see our humans and get fed, but we didn't. We sat down next to the human herd, who did not seem pleased with us, although it seemed like they were all staring at us. I peed and pooped. There was a weird sparrow with a rusty face foraging next to me when I pooped. Moo." - Cow

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    2. Yah, that's about right. Perhaps with a few pauses for cud chewing.

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