The Five Mile Challenge (5MC) is coming up fast! It is scheduled for this Saturday, and if the weather allows it, I will be squaring off with two other vicious (have you met Miss Brown???), unapologetic nerds in Portland and Austin. As This Machine Nate is prone to saying, anything can happen. While I do have a major advantage of having San Francisco Bay in my circle, there are shortcomings as well...there is no real, killer hotspot in my circle, and there is a definite lack of fresh water. San Pablo Reservoir is in my circle, but since I don't have an EBMUD permit I do not think I will be able to bird it. I'm also worried I won't be very strong with passerines...well you can bet I will be strong as fuck identifying them, but there just isn't much diversity in my circle, and I think I may have to struggle with getting a lot of the birds that Flycatcher Jen could easily get (i.e. Red-breasted Sapsucker, Varied Thrush). And bla bla bla bla shit, I hope it doesn't rain the whole weekend.
As I mentioned before, my traditional patch is actually over five miles away, so once it was decided that the 5MC was on I had to do some scouting and scouring of some previously overlooked sites. If I was going to win, I would have to bird some places I don't often bird. Scouting has indeed panned out, and now I know a spot that could be critical for me is the area around the Richmond Marina.
I have spent minimal time birding here in the past and didn't have high hopes, but I was happy to see a male Black Scoter, which are very rare in San Francisco Bay. This is a bird I haven't seen in a long time...a long time. And I'm not talking about the species, I'm talking about this particular individual...I last saw it in 2013! This bird has been wintering here for a great many years, so it was nice to be the official refinder of the bird for the winter of 2016-2017. Most birders who have seen a Black Scoter in Contra Costa County have seen this one individual. And this individual, for whatever reason, let me crush the shit out of it.
Black Scoters are very uncommon in most of California, and practically never appear in places where you can get very close to them. Honestly, I had better looks at the Del Norte Common Scoter than I have had of Black Scoter anywhere. This bird was remarkably confiding, hanging out and flirting with Greater Scaup hens just a stone's throw from the shoreline. Even more incredibly, the bird was calling regularly, something I've never heard before...a mournful, descending whistle, kind of a like a more poignant Dusky-capped Flycatcher. I recently went back to the marina and actually found the bird by call...birding is weird.
So while not a major rarity, I was chuffed to get such good looks (yes, they were soul-satisfying) at this bird so close to home.
Of course, you can't see Black Scoter in California without having to sort through Surf Scoters, which almost anyone can muster some enthusiasm over.
Say's Phoebe was a bit of a surprise foraging in a small grassy area on the bayside, and aren't particularly common in my Five Mile Radius (5MR). Hopefully it will still be around for the 5MC.
An adult Horned Grebe uses its terminator eyes to great effect, slaughtering very small fish with cold efficiency.
An immature Horned Grebe uses its dusky eyes to a not-so-great effect, but will hopefully catch enough to eventually be slaughtering very small fish cold efficiency.
East coast birders are likely not so impressed with our faithful, scaup-loving Black Scoter. To compensate, here is a shiny Pelagic Cormorant to get your dirty gripoff juices flowing. Unlike our other saltwater-loving cormorant (that's Brandt's Cormorant for you n00bs), they are fairly common in San Francisco Bay and aren't relegated to the area near the Golden Gate.
On another trip to the Richmond Marina and surrounding bayside, it was low tide and the whole area was just being torn asunder by Black Oystercatchers. American Crows were also mucking about in the intertidal, procuring mussels, which the oystercatchers undoubtedly frowned upon...omnivore poseurs. Occasionally I'll see an individual like this one with pale fringes on its flanks.
To all the aspiring gull lords out there, sorry I haven't been posting many gulls lately, I don't know what to tell you. Do you know how many gulls I saw in Puerto Rico? Two. Do you know how many years it has been since I've seen a Glaucous Gull? Five. FIVE! Did you really need to know that? Possibly. Anyways, here's a Thayer's Gull and a California Gull. Thayer's will be a very good pickup during 5MC, hopefully it will not be a bird that gets left behind.
Out in the great, untamed wilderness that lies beyond the 5MR, other birds can be found. Our resident, introduced moffitti/maxima Canada Goose flocks often lure in other species, usually diminutive Cackling Geese. Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, Oakland, CA.
Separating the two species here is usually a no-brainer, though other parts of the country do not have it as easy as we do (there are smaller Canada Geese and larger Cackling Geese subspecies further east). I would be stoked to get any goose species besides Canada during the 5MC, but we will just have to wait and see.
Nate, Jen....5MC is going to break you. After this, there will be nothing left of you beyond cracked shells, empty husks of what once were people. Everyone you love will shun you, beginning with your local birds this Saturday. And if I lose because it is pouring rain this weekend (which is the current forecast), I hope you except my butthurt gracefully.