Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Full Tour In The Bag...Self-Inflicted Birdgasm...Thanks Nikon!

Birds on the Channel Islands were pretty screwed during the height of the DDT years. Peregrine Falcons have since made a strong comeback on Santa Cruz Island, and are not an unusual sight if you are walking the clifftops.

Well birders, I am back from the island after a successful first full-length tour of two weeks. The National Park Service boat we were scheduled to return on got cancelled due to high surf, but we made it back on an Island Packers boat instead....the ocean yesterday was essentially bullshit, I haven't been in seas like that since cruising down the Aleutian chain on the Tiglax a few years ago. When you are on a huge catamaran and still are going under swells that rise up over your head, that's when you know it's ok not to be birding....or so I thought until one of the boat crew (a birder) informed me of the Sabine's Gull he saw fly by. Goddammit! Would have been a year bird....

One of the biggest species of interest on Santa Cruz Island is Bald Eagle. Completely wiped out on the island by DDT, it was the loss of the resident Balds that was largely responsible for letting the Golden Eagles move in, which in turn is what practically wiped out the (still endangered) Island Fox population. That is some classic web of life shit right there. With the help of a reintroduction program, Bald Eagles are back and breeding on Santa Cruz, and without Golden Eagles the foxes are flourishing as well.

Western Gulls, unlike most of us, are not so happy about the eagles' return. The dislike is mutual.

The big birding news from my last island tour was a self-found American Oystercatcher that conveniently hangs out at one of our survey sites. While doing a foraging survey of seabirds, I was shocked to look down at the rocks below me and see this STATE BIRD waging war on a mussel bed. I may or may not have violently shat myself at this point. Although not a review species, American and Black Oystercatchers really like getting kinky with each other in this part of the world, so (in my opinion) hybrids considerably outnumber pure/ostensibly pure American Oystercatchers in southern California and its offshore islands. Sure enough, when I went back to resurvey the site last weekend, the American was joined by not one but two definitive hybrids, giving comparative looks that brought a whole new meaning to the word "birdgasm". How embarrassing...with established introduced birds, American Oystercatcher is #498 for California. I am so close to quinientos glory, I can taste it.

I love the panoramas my iPhone gets...and there is no shortage of breathtaking views on the island. This is one of our work sites. 

Rock Wrens are very common on the island, but I am still used to seeing them in mountains, not on vertical cliffs above the ocean.

This is one of the (few) things in life where being the Number 7 birder in the nation does not get you anywhere...butterfly ID. With help from Luke Tiller, I think we got it down to White Checkered-Skipper.

Finally, I recently had a little accident with my primary lens and camera (those of you uninterested in cameras and photography can stop reading now). At first I thought I was psyching myself out, and maybe I was just imagining all these mild imperfections in my photos, but after a few outings I realized my lens  (Nikon 80-400mm f4.5-5.6) was no longer performing like it used to and that something needed to be done...many images were very soft and had lens flare, shitty phenomena that this lens is famous for not having problems with at all. Enter Nikon's service department. Using nothing but their website to coordinate, I sent in my lens for repair, expecting a horrific cost and for it to be out for servicing for weeks. Lo and behold they had my lens back in one week! Impressive, to say the least. They essentially gutted the lens and replaced a plethora of parts, and although I haven't taken it birding yet, a few test shots taken in my folks' backyard show the results of their's like new. And the cost? Let's just say that instead of a repair cost that would be equivalent to buying another used lens, it was a very reasonable price. Not exactly cheap, but for a man of my meager means, totally acceptable.

Song Sparrows on Santa Cruz Island are intermediate between the local mainland subspecies (heermanni) and graminea, of Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands. Many passerines have subspecies endemic to the the Channel Islands; some birds have subspecies endemic to single islands (i.e. Catalina Hutton's Vireo, San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike, etc.). 

The Rhino. This is what we drive around out there. It's pretty great.

And that is the news of the day. I also got a new battery for my laptop, and my computer has thus been awoken from the barren wasteland of the electronically deceased. Although I will have a heavy workload the next few months, shit should now be firing on all cylinders enough to keep up some precious blog output. See you soon, nerds.

PS all photos today taken with a borrowed lens from my dad, and an iPhone. Not too shabby eh?

Island Scrub-Jays making out. Gross.


  1. State bird! Damn, where we can place bets on numero 500?

    Ugh, camera shit! Mine is so freakin filthy that I have several spots I have to retouch every single time... Not to mention general unsharpness. Hate it. But can't part with it long enough to get it professionally cleaned. First world problems...

  2. Where we can place bets??? What is wrong with me??

    1. The Global Birder Ranking System is expected to make my lists open for betting in Vegas in the near future.

      It's really hard to say what it will be...Great Gray Owl or a rarish seabird?

  3. 498 eh???

    Convention, experienced, wisdom, knowledge, demographics, populations, weather, etc. would suggest your next couple will be seabirds, so instead of taking those things into much more consideration, I'll through out that yours will be Mourning Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush, unless you have them already, in which case I get to bet again.
    Do you have Band-tailed Pigeon there already?

    I'll wager one of those gold Sacajawea wampums--putting up (semi)serious money.
    Can I also play the split on at least one of the State Birds not being a pelagic?

    1. I've got MOWA, and BTPIs are common here. However, LOWA is an excellent guess...out of the eastern warblers KEWA would be a state bird as well, and I've never seen CERW.

      Despite all the boat time I'll be putting in this spring/summer, I don't think I'll be on a bona fide pelagic until August or September, which certainly leaves room for a nonseabirdstatebird. A split would be a wise bet indeed.