Thursday, September 18, 2014

September Birding: My Grunts and Vague Runts

A Vague Runt Chestnut-sided Warbler abides and confides. Ferry Park/Sue Bierman Park, San Francisco, CA.

The first half of September has come and gone. I've done pretty well for MEGAS or state birds, but enough to keep me happy. Fall migration seems to be going a lot better than last year in northern California. Humboldt County had a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, which is a big deal here. Point Reyes and Bodega Bay have been good, and the Farallones have hosted a number of decent passerines, along with the goddamn gannet. I dipped on a one-day-one-observer-wonder Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, which sucked but at least I didn't have to cope with getting gripped off by dozens of other birders.

Not bad at all so far, although of course many of us are waiting with baited breath for something Siberian to show up. How I long to meet a wheatear, how I would coddle a dotterel, how I would warble to a Dusky Warbler...but the season is young! Of course, there are still a number of pelagic trips I plan on leading (starting with Bodega Bay tomorrow), so there will be lots of upcoming opportunities to meet Vague Runts with or without tubes attached to their faces.

This was a nice county bird, which allowed some brutal crushings. Ferry Park is an awful, disgusting place to bird but it gets Vague Runts and is hella close to BART. I'm sure I'll be back again this fall.

Here is a more typical photo of a Vague Runt. I was shocked to find this Laughing Gull loafing with Elegant Terns and California Gulls at Point Reyes earlier this month. Before this bird, I've previously only seen one in northern California. I don't think it was ever refound. Drake's Beach, Point Reyes, CA.

Back to crushier fare. Hutton's Vireos are the bravest of all vireos....there, I said it. I've been holding in this news for years, but it feels good to finally get it out. Like their lookalike relatives the Ruby-crowned Kinglets (and unlike most of humanity), Hutton's Vireos are not afraid to snuggle up with a birder. Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.

Depending on their posture and plumage, Hutton's can passingly resemble Hammond's Flycatcher, Cassin's Vireo and Ruby-crowned Kinglet (this one is in kinglet mode). I have distant memories of actually struggling to tell apart Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Hutton's Vireos. Now, I can look back and laugh.

If anyone is aware of a more interesting Hutton's Vireo photo, please notify the authorities. The Global Birder Ranking System has heaped praise upon me for capturing this image. The bellow was aimed directly at me, and I was immediately knocked to the ground by the force of it. I think I am still bleeding internally.

A pair of Peregrine Falcons overlook their migrant-ridden domain. Point Reyes, CA.

I wonder how many bird species this one has consumed. Maybe she keeps a list.

Pomarine Jaegers will frequently come check out the chum line off the stern during pelagic trips. Photographed off Half Moon By, CA.

As you may have read about on other blogs, some nerds from the Birdosphere recently convened on the bay area for a pelagic trip. Flycatcher Jen came from Portland, This Machine Nate from Austin, and Laurence from Phoenix (we need a nickname for you Laurence). We got excellent weather but inexplicably few birds, unfortunately...oh well, pelagic trips are always a gamble, and unlike last year it seems there are very few Buller's Shearwaters offshore this fall. At least Nate didn't miss Black-footed Albatross for the second year in a row, and they all got lifers.

We had only one Sabine's Gull that day, but it came straight in to the stern for great looks.

Few other birds have been so wildly successful in turning the Economy of Style into something truly special.

Common Murres bellow loudly in northern California waters this time of year. 

Who know how many Pygmy Nuthatches I have crossed paths with. 3,256? That is my guess. Anyways, I finally got a decent photo of one. El Polin Spring, San Francisco, CA.

If you happen to live in a region lacking in small, hyperactive nuthatches, I would also suspect that you are living in a region of despair.

I know you easterners scoff when I talk about eastern birds here, so I'll end this post on a very Californian note. Here is a shitty Tricolored Blackbird picture. It's pure rubbish, I know...the light is rubbish, the color is rubbish, and even the bird is rubbish because it's freshly molted so it doesn't have that sharp look birders typically expect. But it's a pretty good bird, and also one that is declining rapidly. Photographed at Point Reyes, which is an excellent place to see them.


  1. How about Laurence of Arizonia?

    Was ALSO thinking about the Peregrines' experience of migrant buffet. "Mmm, I can't wait until (fill in the tasty-migrant-blank) are in season. If I have to stare down one more (fill in the resident-bird-blank) lunch, I am going to LOSE it!"

    Happy birding.

    1. Migrant White-crowned Sparrows must taste superior to resident White-crowned Sparrows.

  2. I vote for "The Laurence" or "Laurence Bro".

  3. I don't know. I took a pretty interesting Hutton's Vireo photo here in Texas this summer (

    1. Nice one. That must be an Oak Titmouse impression.

  4. I heart Hutton's. If the peregrine keeps a list, wouldn't it be considered a green list? I wonder if she posts to ePredator?

    1. Competition in ePredator is fierce.

    2. I thought the ePredator site got taken down after NAMBLA lost that lawsuit?

  5. Thanks for the Crush Fest,

    Alas, I have been out of town again and missing all the post-hurricane possibilities around Phoenix. Our fall migration thus far has been boring beyond record.

    There are no know HUVI photos of more interest than yours.

  6. Hmm, I still call him Loony Laurence, but generally not where he will ever hear it or read it... But there it is.