Tuesday, November 8, 2011

We'll Sink With California As It Falls Into The Sea

This Yellow-throated Warbler has been in a tiny park in downtown San Francisco ever since September. As far as I know, it's the only one on the entire west coast right now. You can tell it's rare because of my bad picture.

I've been out looking at birds a lot lately. How embarrassing. I can feel my sex appeal plummeting as we speak. But the rewards have been many. I have compiled a vast collection of awful photos of rare birds that take up a vast amount of space on my hard drive. Going through them is a treacherous, grueling process that fills my heart with hate.

Well, that's being a little dramatic I suppose...and as I type this, I just felt a small earthquake. Ah, California...you are a cruel and wonderful place. Perhaps you will gift me another chance at Ivory Gull this fall?

This massive flock of blackbirds (many of which are Tricolored Blackbirds) was in the process of being attacked by a Peregrine Falcon. Photo from Abbott's Lagoon, Point Reyes.

I don't know if you've noticed, but out in the blogosphere, people are way into making lists...and it just so happens, birders love lists. Today I will, for the first time, publicly disclose a list of many of the California birds that I've never seen, not here or anywhere. The shame weighs heavy. Keep in mind I started birding in California back in 1994, and I am not allowed to have too many holes in my list.

Several of these species are not even rare. I've seen a number of species in California where only one individual has ever been seen (i.e. Belcher's Gull, Couch's Kingbird, Common Greenshank), so there is really no excuse for missing all of these.

White-tailed kite; more abundant than Common Greenshanks. Photo from Mountain View.

So here we go...

1. Pine Grosbeak - They live all over the Sierras, yet I have not seen one there or anywhere. They're not exactly a rare bird. What does it all mean? I'm not exactly a good birder.

2. Black Rail. - These birds can be agonizingly hard to see, but I reckon there are probably quite a few that live within an hour's drive of my house. Their presence haunts me.

3. Gray Vireo - A highly local bird in California, but dependable in a few spots. Some past searching in Arizona was fruitless. My home turf in Ventura County was visited by what is widely known as The Friendliest Gray Vireo In The World this fall, and there are pictures to prove it. Looking at those images make me want to break shit.

Unlike Gray Vireos, I've seen several lifetimes worth of Anna's Hummingbirds. Photo from Lake Merced, San Francisco.

Despite my mental filters, I unfortunately see things that are not birds once in a while. This facemelting California Red-sided Garter Snake was at Drake's Beach, Point Reyes.

4. Least Storm-Petrel - Uncommon to fairly common off central and southern California every fall. I suck.

5. Craveri's Murrelet - Another expected fall bird. I was once on a boat that saw 8 of these things on one trip, and I still haven't seen one. I have brought great dishonor to my family.

6. Northern Saw-Whet Owl - Widespread and not rare. I've heard a few, and seen none. Conclusions? I am a slothful and lazy birder.

7. Flammulated Owl - I have heard a lot of Flams, and seen none. This puts me beyond the realm of sloth and laziness, and into the realm of "utter bullshit".

Mute Swan...with American Coots, Eurasian Wigeon (1), American Wigeon, Gadwall (1), Ring-necked Duck (1), and scaup sp. (1) at Abbott's Lagoon, at Point Reyes. Find them all!

Cackling Geese. Uncommon but regular along much of the central coast. I like the weird brightly colored one on the left....truly, the Unicorn of Cackling Geese. Las Gallinas Wetlands, San Rafael.

8. Bohemian Waxwing - Bohemians are probably semi-regular in far northeastern California in midwinter, but since I've never been there in midwinter.....you get the point. I've enjoyed missing them in Alaska as well.

9. Yellow Rail - This bird has the reputation of being the most difficult species to see in North America. At this juncture, I concur. They have a few breeding sites in California, and probably winter in the bay area.

10. Great Grey Owl - Rare, but findable, in parts of the Sierra Nevada. This giant owl has been known to change the lives of birders...once you see one, things are never quite the same. I'm still waiting for the transformation.

There you are. The Truth about Seagull Steve. My birding mortality is not something I wear as a badge, but is something all of us must admit to, from time to time. That's life at #7. I even misidentified a bird the other day...but I must move on.

A Scott's Oriole is in San Francisco right now. I must go. Good day to you.


  1. It's true, you are obviously a terrible birder. Though I've never actually counted, my Oregon list is probably around 200, yet until a couple weeks ago I didn't have Purple Finch on it. So yeah. I suck.

    Sick snake. Seriously sick.

  2. That dominica picture looks good to me. Stop by Mono this summer and we'll find grosbeaks and owls. You've heard you can see Yellow Rails on a levee in Inverness during high tides?


  3. Um, hello? I'm currently the reigning and raining World's Laziest Birder. I just sit around and hope they come to me. I did once chase a bird, but since it was barely a mile from here, not much of a chase (Pine Grosbeak, by the way. In Ohio.) And I got to see my first Great Gray this fall in Wyoming. I don't feel so transformed. It was sitting in a tree when I drove to work. Did pull a U-ie to go double check, and I even got out of the car. I think. So be the World's Most Slothful or Sucky Birder, but I got the lock on Laziest. Peace out.

  4. Fabulous. You have newly strengthened your worthiness in my eye(s?). People who say "I don't know" are my favorites. Or "thing I've not seen and that's ridiculous."

    May I just say I FREAKED when I saw the snake. (stunning photo, btw--WOW!) Based on my day job, I immediately (before processing location data) thought SF Garter Snake (endangered beauty)! So, while it's a close cousin, those guys are SO GORGEOUS. SO envious of you. Got to do construction monitoring for SF garters but got the assignment late enough into the process that no more made an appearance. Too cold. They're smart. While we stomp our feet and blow into our hands, staring for hours at mud that refuses to yield a gorgeous snake.

    Lovely, lovely shots. You (and the sun which has just reappeared) are inspiring me to get my lazy butt out.

    My husband has seen the great grey a few times, tho' he's tried many times. He is, mind you, a full time employee of Yosemite, so that helps, tho' he seldom gets out (too fancy for that). In his very quiet, mild way, he's a big fan.

    And that animal is why in areas in Yosemite that are posted 25 mph I DO NOT SPEED. He who kills a great grey due to their self-absoption and inattention sacrifices their soul. (IMHO, mild mannered conservation biologist that I am, just one of billions of species on this planet.)

  5. BTW, from californiaherps.com whom I ADORE:
    Thamnophis - Greek - thamnos - shrub or bush, and ophis - snake, serpent
    sirtalis - sirtalis like a garter - probably refers to the to striped pattern
    infernalis - Latin - of hell

    I like that. =) Perhaps you could incorporate infernalis into one of your own monikers. Not that you have any. *cough*

  6. @Jen - It's true. I flog myself nightly...for this, and other reasons.

    @McCreedy - I await this information.

    @Marianne - You got out of the car?! Sounds pretty proactive to me...

    @BB - Infernalis...I wonder if there is a death metal band with that name. Yes, speeding in national parks is a terrible idea...and speaking of Great Grays, when a pair tried to nest in Humboldt County (!), nothing less than a logging truck smushed one of the birds. The irony is deadly.

  7. Lovely photos!!! What date exactly was the flocks of birds from abbott? We go hiking in Point Reyes regularly. Thanks. Nathalie. PS: A guy that watches birds and nature has more sex appeal!!!