Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Breast of Bay...Where is the DICK?...#failurethrush

Many years ago, as a young and stupid birder (not #7), I went out to California's Kern County to check the desert oases for migrants. We ran into some birders who directed us to a singing male Black-throated Blue Warbler. That was pretty sick. Then we were told there was a male Bay-breasted Warbler over at Butterbredt Springs, so we cruised over there. And there it was, hopping around the shore of a pond like a goddamn Song Sparrow. And then someone found a Prairie Warbler, which was easy to relocate. How fucked up is that?

That was my introduction to spring vagrant hunting in California; it was an accidental discovery. No one really understands why we get almost all our spring vagrants at the end of May and beginning of June, but that is when they decide to come through. But that is not the point...the point is that I have not seen a breeding plumage Bay-breasted again until this spring, when a handful could be found on South Padre Island, Texas. Stoked.

Acadian Flycatcher was a bird I had only met briefly, on a nest somewhere in Missouri back in 2009. I was only able to find one this spring, but one is all it takes. It was confiding as fuck, and didn't even bother me with demands of pizza.

It's a pretty distinctive bird, if you ask me, and I am ready to find one in California. We are overdue. Photographed on South Padre Island, TX.

Dickcissel is a fun name. It's a name people can get behind. I think "dickcissel" is a horrible way to describe it's song, but it's a great name. For all those people who are thinking about making shirts or stickers that consist of simply a bird's banding code, I can't fathom why I haven't seen any DICK in production yet. It's the best. Photographed at South Padre Island, TX.

After seeing hundreds this spring, the plumage of an adult male in spring still doesn't make any sense to me. There is nothing like it north of Mexico. Hidalgo County, TX.

I don't think I've posted any Magnolia Warblers this year. Birders would be more aware of their facemelt abilities if they weren't hella common in a lot of places. This fully black-backed bird has reached a crippling peak of spring finery. South Padre Island, TX.

This one has the facemelt turned down a notch, but is ultimately a gratifying bird to be around.

This horrible, haggard thing that bears a faint resemblance to a Magnolia Warbler is not at all gratifying to be near. Sorry. South Padre Island, TX.

Bell's Vireo was one of the "best" self-found birds I had at South Padre Island this year. Unfortunately, when I posted it on eBird, I found out that someone had found it earlier that day. Don't you hate it when that happens? Oh well, it was a nice year bird and the only one reported from the region this spring.

And now we come to The Thrush of Failure. This Hermit Thrush spent a couple weeks at the convention center on South Padre Island. Hundreds of people saw it. It was quite comfortable foraging on a small stretch of lawn, and was not shy. The number of people I watched misidentify it was staggering. Many birders suffered a blow to their Global Birder Ranking System scores when confronted with this very typical member of it's species.

Granted, the other Catharus species are all more common here at this time of year, but this bird was practically begging to be identified correctly. The complete eye ring, extensive spotting, and a red tail all scream Hermit Thrush, and there were often Veery, Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrush all present at the same site to provide convenient comparisons. Does this thrush stand as a hopeful monument for the number of new (aka inexperienced) birders out there? Or is it a testament to the dismal future of birding?

Much has been said about female warblers....mostly stuff along the lines of "males are better looking, but females are ok". I don't have much to add to that conversation right now. Obviously, there is no species of warbler with distinct sexual dimorphism where one would actually prefer to observe a female over a male. Here is a female (perhaps first spring) Black-throated Green Warbler. South Padre Island, TX.

A male Black-throated Green Warbler is almost obscenely attractive, in comparison. South Padre Island, TX.

Let's face it...Empids are a bitch. It's not their fault...but it kind of is. Here is an unassuming Least Flycatcher, the most abundant Empidonax that migrates through south Texas (Traill's and Yellow-bellied were also easy to find this spring). South Padre Island, TX.

Here is the same bird, doing something that approaches an Alder Flycatcher imitation. Pardon my grain.

You don't have to pardon my grain for this one. Here is a Common Nighthawk. As you may know, I have beef with animals being called "common", and this one is no exception. Yes, it is the more widespread nighthawk species in the U.S., but you know there is no such thing as "Greater Nighthawk", right? So why does Lesser Nighthawk even exist? Right...Common Nighthawk should be called Greater Nighthawk, although I admit "Bullbat" would be pretty sweet. Willacy County, TX.

There is nothing like a good Caprimulgid crush, is there? I love all the different patterns these duders sport. It seems like they would clash, but the nighthawk pulls it off.

Isn't birding funny? I can remember when I first saw Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in southeast Arizona, back in the 90s. It was a Really Big Deal for me. They were flighty and more than happy to keep their distance from us. Now in 2014, I crush them at point blank range, and don't raise an eyebrow when I drive by one perched on a roof or a powerline. Familiarity breeds contempt. South Padre Island, TX.

Everyone loves Least Bitterns, and I am no exception. They are relatively common in parts of south Texas, and don't require much effort to find at places like the convention center and birding center on South Padre Island, where this photo was taken.


  1. I vote for the female Black-throated Blue female being the more attractive of that species. Her coloration is much more complex and unique in the right light compared to the straight up blue and black of the male. :) ...And the Hermit Thrush debacle is all too familiar. Many birders fail to bird the bird that is there and instead "see" the bird that is supposed to be there. BIRD THE BIRD THAT IS THERE GODDAMNIT! :D

    1. fuck I said "female" twice! goddamn.

    2. Department of Redundancy Department

    3. I'm going to have to strongly disagree with you on this one @oneofmany. A male Black-throated Blue is something to behold. Tell me more of birding the bird.