Friday, October 14, 2016

The Coast Is Alive With The Sound of Vague Runts


September went by very, very quickly...I have much catching up to do. September is generally considered the best month of the year to be birding in California...seabirds, shorebirds, and passerines are barging through the state in huge numbers (by West Coast standards) and the potential for finding a rarity is as high as it can get. Not that October is any slouch...it can be just as good, if not better...the main problem this month is that you have to battle the Yellow-rumped Warblers. This week rarity fever has been particularly acute...after Sunday passed, day after day has been absolutely perfect for putting down Vague Runts on the coast, and I've been stuck in the office like a chump...the Perpetual Weekend looms large, in memory. Birders at Point Reyes and Bodega Bay have been getting rewarded every day with the overcast skies and south winds...the patches are just clogged with rare right now. No Yellow-green Vireos for me this week (three have been found in the greater bay area in the last few days, two photographed...fuck), but fall is not over yet.


This fall was a good one for Baird's Sandpipers, it seemed like they were getting reported a lot more than in most years. Seeing them in California always feels like a mild victory, though they aren't quite unusual enough to be a true rarity. Frank's Dump, Hayward, CA.


Lesser Yellowlegs bring the mellow compared to their louder, larger relatives. We get good numbers of them at Coyote Hills (where this bird was), but they are pretty local throughout the bay area.


In early September I moved from Oakland to Albany, to move in with Billy so we can raise the shit out of this baby that is on its way. Albany (on the north side of Berkeley) is a tiny city that is little-known outside of having Golden Gate Fields and the Albany Bulb, so tiny that most people who don't live here don't even have an opinion about it...and we in the bay have a lot of opinions. Anyways, my last morning in Oakland I thought I should bird my patch one last time before I had to start a new one. Middle Harbor Shoreline Park has never rewarded me with anything really juicy (an extremely late fall migrant Common Tern was my best bird to date), but I always though the place had a lot of potential for waterbirds. As expected for early fall, a horde of loud Elegant Terns were loafing on the mudflats. A throng of birders, presumably an Audubon group, was also there; when they moved past me without mentioning any birds of interest I presumed that it would be another typical visit. I was wrong.


Within minutes of the group finishing their trip and leaving, I found a no-doubt BAR-TAILED GODWIT not far away on a mudflat. I couldn't believe it...finally a rarity here...and not only a self-found vague runt, the best bird I'd found in a few years!


Unlike the godwit I had seen at Bolinas just a few weeks before, this bird was quite close. I walked out to the end of a breakwater and hoped the sleeping would come in closer as the tide came up, which worked out brilliantly. I was quite chuffed.


I was out there for a while, and eventually the birds accepted I wasn't a threat and went about their business. Great looks at this quality rarity, this quality SIBE. Now, I'm not a big proponent of the One Bird Theory, but with the help of Peter Pyle I was able to compare photos of this bird, the Bolinas bird, and the Don Edwards bird, all of which had been seen within weeks of each other in three different counties. Personally, I feel there is a strong probability that this bird and the Bolinas bird were one in the same, while the Don Edwards bird was another individual.


Luckily, the bird stuck around a few more days and was relished by a great many birders; I'm only aware of one or two other records for Alameda County, and people were stoked. I guess I can't call it quits on this patch after all.


Now that we got this rarity out of the way, we can go back to robin-stroking. We take them for granted here, but there is nothing not to like about Chestnut-backed Chickadees. They are one of a handful of our native passerines that have adapted well to urbanization, and their flocks often lure in various migrants that will join up. Lake Merced, San Francisco, CA.


When I talk about robin-stroking, I'm serious. Young American Robins are rather interesting early in the fall. Don't deny it. East Wash, San Francisco, CA.


Chickadees and robins are well and good (what would we do without them?), but those are not birds you want to devote a lot of energy to in September. Gray Flycatcher, on the other hand, is one of those birds. Westerns and Willows are the only expected Empids on the coast any time of year; anything else from that genus is a very solid bird. Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.


I love getting county birds in San Francisco, even though I haven't lived there for a few years now. I also love seeing birds out of range, even though Gray Flycatchers breed about 4 hours east of here in Mono County. A life of seeking rarities will do that to you. Hopefully this individual continued south along the coast, and wasn't so turned around that it thought the best migratory route it should take was southwest over the Pacific. That's not how I would have done it.


Wild Turkeys drink bourbon, not sure what it was doing here. Coyote Hills Regional Park, Fremont, CA.

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