Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fall Vague Runts

Despite their plummeting population numbers, this has been a very good fall for Rusty Blackbirds on the west coast. This bird was near the Baldwin Creek Mouth just north of Santa Cruz, CA.

Every fall, seasonal work dries up and I find myself with nothing to do but to go birding. All the time. It's really nice.

Well, not all the time. Sometimes bourbon, punk shows, general merriment and raging gets in the way of an early morning start, you know what I'm saying? And let's face it...I'm not much of a county lister. If I was, I could NEVER STOP BIRDING.

Right. This year has been saturated with pelagic trips and some nice rarities, but as many NorCal birders are aware of, it's been a bit slow this fall. I admit I'm a bit jealous of the vagrant haul that Southern California has gotten in comparison (Blue-winged Warbler, Common Swift, some sort of Bean Goose, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Thrushes, a plethora of Scarlet Tanagers, Yellow-green Vireos, etc.)...I think if there were a tangible birding competition between Northern and Southern California this year, SoCal (BroCal) would have us easily beat. How embarrassing.

This is only the second Rusty Blackbird I've seen in my life, the last one being the infamous Goleta bird that wintered in a Costco parking lot in the nineties. This is probably the closest thing to a "relifer" I've ever had...looking at it felt hella good.

But I am grateful to have the time and freedom to go birding a lot this time of year, and the birding gods have seen fit to reward me with birds like Great Shearwater, Painted Redstart, Blue-footed Boobies, American Tree Sparrow, etc. Not everyone is so lucky.

There have been dips, make no mistake. I dipped on a Rusty Blackbird in Monterey (that was before I got the redemption you see above). Dipped on a Northern Gannet in Marin. Hell, I've dipped on Lapland Longspur, which I haven't even seen this year! In fact, my year list is thirsty for all longspur species...if I do indeed fail on these birds, this would be my first longspurless year in many years. That would be fucked up.

One of the handful of self-found vagrants I can claim this fall is Red-throated Pipit...and even that is a stretch, because I found a third individual where two were already being reported. That said, before this fall I've seen all of two (2) Red-throated Pipits, and now I'm happy to say I have been acquainted with five (5) members of the species.

Savannah Sparrows are one of the most misidentified species in North America. I found out this fall that besides being classically misidentified as Vesper and Baird's Sparrows (and occasionally as other sparrows and longspurs), Savannah Sparrows can also play the role of Red-throated Pipit. Now I don't think they play the role very convincingly, but it has happened more than once in California this year. I trust you can tell which of these birds is the pipit, and which is the sparrow.

My year list now sits in the low 670's, which is a highest year list I've ever had, by a wide margin. Considering I've only birded Costa Rica and two U.S. states in 2013, it's a number I like. Of course 700 is a number I like even more...but getting there in less than a month and a half is going to be a struggle. Funds are limited, and gas must be conserved. I fear the worst...but there is always next year.

The Napa Hudsonian Godwit. This was a state bird, and only the second I've ever seen. This late in fall, there aren't many California birders out scouring the shorebird flocks for precious precious rarities...most have moved south. That said, there is probably still a Bar-tailed Godwit lingering an hour to the south of where I live, so those who exercise CONSTANT VIGILANCE are bound to be rewarded. Eventually.

Not quite a rare bird, but I'm happy I saw hella Flesh-footed Shearwaters this fall, including five in one day. Gotta put in a lot of boat time to see many of these. I got a lot better this year at plucking these birds out at great distance, which sent my GBRS score up to a roiling boil.

Brown Booby is not the rarity it used to be...the state's Bird Police took them off the review list years ago, but they are still a quality find in the northern half of the state. I found this bird on a Shearwater Journeys boat in October off of Bodega; it's only the second record for Sonoma County. We also had the bird in Marin County waters.

These are all random musings, to be sure. A big weather system has been dumping rain on the bay area since yesterday, so here I sit indoors, reflecting on how to improve on my bowling technique. In an act of sheer idiocy, I recently dropped my camera onto a sidewalk (the Blackrapid strap disconnected from the mount while I was standing there looking at a fucking Golden-crowned Sparrow) and so I'm crossing my fingers for my lens to be fixed and returned to me before heading to Modoc at the end of the month...heading into the frozen wastelands of the north without a crushing device is a dubious proposition at best.


  1. Dude, if you can find a way to get to Texas, I'll drive you to the valley or something for 700.

    1. 700 would be easy with a few days in the valley. Maybe next year.