Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Semilocal Birding - Love, Contempt, a Prairie Falcon and a Falcon of the Prairie


Common as they may be, I've never been ungrateful for Common Loons...they have one of the best bird calls in the world, forage for crabs excellently and dive righteously. They are better-looking than Red-throated Loons, more approachable than Pacifics/Arctics, and only occasionally resemble Yellow-billed Loons...which are probably a more interesting bird, but I've only seen a couple. Emeryville Marina, Emeryville (duh), California (duh duh duh).

In recent years it has been a struggle to keep up with my formerly furious pace of blogging that once went hand-in-hand with The Perpetual Weekend...what is dead may never die. This is not due to a decreased interest in the Birdosphere or even laziness (!), but due to the horrible reality of having a permanent, full-time job...and now a full-time baby. Looking at my recent posts, I am happy to see a wide range of subjects being covered...Puerto Rico, eBird, Humboldt County, Ventura County, the "internet" (whatever that is), and best of all, Cass' Swainson's Thrush post...but one topic is noticeably absent. Where the fuck is the local birding?

Somehow, the bread and butter of almost all bird blogs has gone woefully unblogged in the past couple months. This blog glitch will now be fixed.


Pick your jaw up off the floor, dear reader...yes, this really is a SPOTTED SANDPIPER.


Fascinating that so many sandpiper and plover species can cram into so many different habitats, but the Spotted Sandpiper alone (in North America anyway) is willing to breed along rivers, creeks and mountain lakes. An ingenious move, as far as avoiding competition. Maybe this explains why they are so undiscerning about habitat selection outside of the breeding season...once they've mastered habitats that no other shorebird would dare to breed in, they can live anywhere.


Sadly, living in California does come with birding disadvantages, and the lack of sea duck diversity is one that stings every winter. Sure there are a couple Black Scoters here and a Harlequin Duck there, but Surf Scoter is the only common one. Keeping in line with this trend, Long-tailed Duck is a nice low-level rarity, and two in one place is a lot in California. These were the only Long-tailed Ducks I saw last year 😥. By the way, the caption in the Blogger toolbar for that emoji reads "Disappointed but relieved face."


San Francisco isn't that far from the east bay, but I've yet to bird it in 2017. I've caught a couple good shows there at least.


In January, very soon before Annabelle was born, I convinced Billy that going to see a Black-tailed Gull in Monterey was important for some reason. I thought I would dip...my luck with chasing Vague Runts had been exceptionally good for almost a year, and I was due to miss out on a lifer...and miss it we did! There were hardly any gulls to look through, and the bonus Slaty-backed Gull that had been hanging around was also absent. The lone birding highlight of the day was noticing a pair of Tundra Swans in a small slough as we ripped through the sky drove above them on an overpass.  Ah, what a relief...a sweet sweet self-found rarity, and a bird I missed entirely in 2016. Photographed south of Castroville.


After dipping on the Black-tailed Gull, I figured it was time I dip on something closer to home...the Harris's Sparrow at the Las Gallinas Ponds in Marin. This highly desirable bird had been present for several weeks, and it was high time I unsuccessfully searched for it. Despite putting in a great deal of time loitering around the parking lot waiting for the bird to show, I failed. Fortunately, this is a very birdy site in winter, so all was not lost. Lincoln's Sparrows are usually on the retiring side, but this one was bolder than most.


Song Sparrows are a great deal more common and confiding. Unlike their Lincoln's brethren, who swear a vow of silence every winter, Song Sparrows happily sing year-round.


Since we are on the topic of common birds that some of you are probably wincing at, this Common Yellowthroat should not surprise you. Sadly, California has just four common warbler species that overwinter - Yellow-rumped, Townsend's, Orange-crowned and yellowthroats. This is not an ideal situation. Hopefully a certain proposed split will pass, and we will have five species of warblers instead. Speaking of which...


Large numbers of Audubon's (above) and Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warblers both winter in the area. Perhaps no bird more personifies the phrase "familiarity breeds contempt". There is nothing at all about them that is not likable, they are just so fucking common that by the time you have been birding in this state a few years you have said or thought the phrase "Just a Yellow-rump" more than any other phrase you've said or thought in your life.


Here is a Myrtle, for your edification. I'm a bit more partial to Myrtles than Audubon's, partially because they have a more interesting face pattern and partially because they are kinda rare down Ventura way, which is where I started birding. Unfamiliarity breeds love. The vast majority of Audubon's and Myrtle alike will be gone within a month, but we will see the likes of them again.


Few of California's birds spend more time on the wing than the White-throated Swift, which are often easier to see near freeway overpasses (where they will roost and nest) than traditional birding spots. The Las Gallinas Ponds are a haven for swift and swallow alike throughout the year, so they can make for a good place to get good looks and poor photos of our only expected winter swift.


Good morning old friend.


Ah, the Sora. Few birds are so humble, yet so successful. You can see a Sora in the Yukon Territories, you can see a Sora in Ecuador. They are pleasant to come across wherever you may be.


This may look like a run-of-the-mill Red-winged Blackbird to you, but this is a mellow oh-that's-nice bird for discerning bay area birders. Bicolored Blackbirds are the abundant Red-winged form here, and females are extremely drab and dark, looking eerily similar to Tricolored Blackbirds. Bright, well-marked females like this are clearly from other realms, and stand out readily from the locals.


A solid highlight of the morning was Haynoring a Prairie Falcon perched on a transmission tower a mile away for a self-found sweet-but-hearty Marin County bird. Well, checking eBird, it looks like someone else found it a couple weeks earlier, but hey I didn't know that at the time. Speaking of falcons of the prairie...


Mmm yes, a prairie falcon indeed...this "Prairie" Merlin jumped off a fence post and took a bath in a puddle. This is what some would call a "lifer situation". I only see 1-2 Prairie Merlins per winter in California, so this crisp blue-backed bastard was a very good follow-up to the Prairie Falcon.

No Harris's Sparrow, but very good birding otherwise...my Marin County Snow Goose was foraging near the access road on the way out. Two Marin birds! Billy didn't go into labor while I was birding! Great success!

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