Friday, January 24, 2014

Vireo Discomfort...Gull Fails...The Drought...This Is No Time To Panic

A birder once famously said, "I've been very uncomfortable with my vireos", but I've only experienced itching and mild irrittion. Blue-headed Vireo was a sight for sore eyes last month. This bird was my 11th (and probably final) vireo species I've seen in California. Rejoice!!! Harbor Park, San Pedro, CA.

January is moving at snail's pace here in the bay area...maybe I'm experiencing some kind of post-Baja hangover. Maybe its the fact that December was plagued with vagrants, multiple state birds, and other goodness, from LA County to Modoc. Motivation is hard to come by.

On the birding front, not much is happening other than gulls. Slaty-backed, Glaucous, Vega, Kumlien's and Lesser Black-backed have all put in appearances already this winter here and there but I have not been able to muster what it takes to see any of these species. Glaucous (the commonest of the lot) bugs me in particular, because I actually missed them entirely last year. So despite my own failures, the gulls are not disappointing everybody.

This Thayer's Gull is often found near the nature center at Lake Merritt. Look at that sexy orbital ring.

I stared at this bird for quite a while. Eventually, I realized it was yet another Glaucous-winged X Herring hybrid, or a backcross....or something similar. You east coast birders have it lucky...seeing hundreds of hybrids in a day (or more) is a trying experience. San Leandro Marina, CA.

If you are not from the west coast, you may not be aware that California is undergoing a drought. A bad drought. I am tempted to say it's "catastrophic" but since California is prone to drought once in while, its just extra shitty. But they say that this is the worst since precipitation records had begun being kept. A massive high pressure system has been sitting over the eastern Pacific for months now, and refuses to budge. Until it does, that means no rain for most of the parched state. Many local Christmas Bird Counts recorded both extremely low numbers of passerines and waterfowl this year (for the latter, even in areas with plentiful habitat), which is not surprising. It's nice to go outside to sun and warmth everyday, but it's also depressing at the same time.

A Townsend's Warbler surrenders, accepting the inevitable Crush. A cold snap at the onset of winter sent many insectivores in the state down to the ground, in desperate search for food. Carpinteria, CA.

Clapper Rails are not agoraphobes, unlike their cowardly brethren. Like the Red Sea parted for Moses, the Clapper Rail plies the canal waters effortlessly. Arnold Road, Oxnard Plain, CA.

The snail's pace of things is probably also being brought on by the annual cycle of the Perpetual Weekend...I'm beginning to get restless, and I do not have work lined up yet, although not for a lack of effort. The relatively slow birding (aside from gulls) isn't helping, although I find that beer and whisky do help revive me. That all said, who am I to complain??? This is no time to panic. In much of the country, the birding is poor poor poor poor compared to the species diversity and local abundance of what the bay area has to I guess I will keep on pounding gull flocks (a humbling and occasionally miserable experience, even for this #7 birder) and visiting the Tufted Duck that lives a few minutes away. They say that familiarity breeds contempt, so the duck and I will really be putting our relationship to the test. Selah.

Another familiar vagrant, here is everyone's favorite Gray Hawk. I would love to know where this bird spends its summer months. Also seen in Santa Barbara County on this day were Lucy's and Prairie Warblers, Tropical Kingbird, Vermilion Flycatcher...SoCal can be brimming with good birds in winter. Carpinteria, CA.


  1. Hopefully that will be a Ridgway’s Rail come July!

    1. Yes. I would find that to be perfectly acceptable.

  2. Dude. The lack of winter dreariness is seriously bumming me out. Ugh. I imagine a Gray Hawk would help.

  3. Yeah your complaints fall on somewhat begrudging ears Seagull. Things are a happenin' down south but there's decidedly little going on in Phoenix right now, with the exception of some Eurasian Wigeon.

    It's been years since I've crushed a Townsend's Warbler. Thank you for reminding us all of what can be done to that bird, and what that bird can do to a birder.

  4. Steve, do you know if there have been reports of more Townsend's warblers in central coast CA? I started seeing them early in mid-September (usually Halloween-ish), and to me I feel like I've been seeing them everywhere around town. I know why I've seen more at home - they've discovered the flies coming from my compost.

    1. Hey Katie, there were lots of TOWA reports (as in, more than usual) after that cold snap but can't say I know for sure after that.