Sunday, November 8, 2015

San Francisco Runts and Grunts


Fall is slipping away, my fiends and friends. Where has it gone? Though gulls (goddammit), raptors and fowl of water will still be pouring in for the next few weeks, most my grunts have passed us by, bound for Central and South America. Gone are the days where I can head out to Point Reyes and expect to see a warbler rarer than the dreaded-but-still-appreciated Palm Warbler. Nor can I sort through a flock of peeps, grinding my teeth in anticipation of a stint to pop out. No...those days have passed, and we are hurtling toward winter faster than we would like to admit. Before we know it we will be donning our armor and diving into hectic internet battles, trying to diffuse bombs...meaning convincing people that a certain bird is just a damn Herring Gull, not a backcross Yellow-legged X Iceland or some similar nonsense. Gulls...they are coming...will you be ready this winter?

The sudden passing of fall is particularly sad for me in Y2K15, as I've had the pleasure of nabbing a couple of lifers, a state bird, and a healthy number of rarities as birds are heading south. September was almost a dud until the last week of the month, but the momentum of rarities was strong for quite a while, and October was seemingly raging with Vague Runts. I would have seen more of them if I was still living The Perpetual Weekend (White Wagtail immediately comes to mind)...but alas, I am not.

Here are some assorted runts and grunts from San Francisco earlier in the fall. Some are rare, some are typical, but they are all Good Birds.


I had just seen the Painted Bunting in Golden Gate Park, and was walking around in a euphoric, blissed-out state...but the sky was overcast, and it was the end of September for Christ's sake, and I would be an idiot to not keep birding...so it was off to North Lake, which seemingly always has migrants, and has the added bonus of being popular with Western Tanagers. Why does that matter? Because I've never seen a Scarlet Tanager in the state, and North Lake seems like a perfectly reasonable place to find one. So I lurked around, looking through migrants, when I met this bird. At first, I had only a head-on view, seeing a short bill, gray wings contrasting against a yellow breast...could this be the bird? But quickly the bird turned and showed a decidedly reddish tail, and Scarlet Tanager was quickly shot down.


It was a bizarre bird, a female-type Summer Tanager, but decidedly duller than any one I (or most birders, for that matter) have ever seen. So, not the tanager I was looking for, but a satisfying self-found rarity nonetheless. Though it was too dark for crushing, it sat out in the open for quite some time, dismantling this yellowjacket. I seem to recall the last Summer Tanager I saw in SF was also feasting on meat bees.


As hoped, there were obscene numbers of Western Tanagers at North Lake that morning, so it made sense that something different was lurking in their midst.


I thought this shot came out pretty well. It was good to see so many of you this fall, Western Tanager, I fear we may not meet again until next year.


This is the best American Robin I've ever seen...talk about a rarity. What a cool bird.


Townsend's Warblers have been holding down the bay area for a couple months now, they love it here.


When an adult male Townsend's Warbler dangles itself in front of you, it is impossible to look away.


On the contrary, there are no shortage of birders who would gladly look away when an Orange-crowned Warbler dangles itself similarly. Beginners hate Orange-crowned Warblers because they are drab and resemble half a dozen other warblers. Power birders hate them because not only are they abundant, they are insultingly dull to look at. Even their song is boring. But I am not most birders; I am #7. And goddammit, I will look at Orange-crowned Warblers.


There was a time, a long time ago, when I would post a picture of a bird and write some kind of caption for what the bird might be thinking, if said bird had a full grasp of the English language and also had the exact same values, worldview, and sense of humor as myself. What a coincidence! But I stopped doing that when I suddenly noticed EVERYONE was doing this, both in blogs and on Facebook, and 99% of these captions made me wince, they were so bad. This has nothing to do with this Orange-crowned Warbler, just an observation.

Ok, fine, for old time's sake, I'll give it a shot. I might be a bit rusty, but here goes..."Oh fuck look at this spider web! There's go to be one of those tasty fuckers in here! I am going to find that little shit and fucking kill it, even though it might be the size of my goddamn head. I don't give a fuck. Christ I'm hungry."

How was that? Was that ok?


Have I even posted a Chestnut-backed Chickadee on BB&B? I don't know, I may not have, although that seems weird. In case I have not, here is one. They are cute and super common and mellow and I like them.


In early October, a Mourning Warbler showed up at Ferry Park in San Francisco. You easterners reading this do not care, but locally, this is a hell of a bird. In a bizarre twist of county listing and geography, there have been dozens of records of Mourning Warbler in San Francisco County...but until now, all of these birds have been found on Southeast Farallon Island. Not a single one had ever been seen in mainland San Francisco, so when this bird was found it brought widespread panic among local birders. In typical fashion, a hilarious majority of my attempted photos of it looked something like this. Mourning Warblers do not want to be photographed, it is known.


Here is a highly pixelated, but ultimately acceptable portrait of the bird. I've only seen one of these in California before (almost 20 years ago!), so this was a great rarity to be able to catch up with here on the west coast.


My, what a heavy bill you have, Mourning Warbler. The bird spent a lot of its time scurrying around some short, knee-high plantings, but eventually was foraging 20 feet high in a poplar with a mixed flock. Bizarre. Great bird, stoked I got to see it.

Blogger is still giving me formatting trouble, so I'll go back to my old school photo layout for the time being, we'll see how it goes. Hope you all had a good weekend, and enjoy fall while you still can.

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