Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Rustic Bunting, Bicolored Blackbirds, Worries and Dread

After having a miserable, sickly New Years Eve, I thought it would be best to start the real birding year with the local Rustic Bunting. I met up with AJ Johnson of Austin fame, who had somehow tricked his family into letting him bird for a few hours. The bunting took me 4.5 hours of waiting to see it on my first try, but I had no need for such patience on this day.

Not only was patience not required, the bird did not at all act like the reclusive, cowardly, nervous Vague Runt that barely showed itself to me only two weeks earlier. It refused to leave the area once it showed up. We were with it for a good part of the morning, and the bird had little fear of its nerdy fan club that had gathered nearby. One could even say it was confiding.

I can't tell you what a relief it is to have seen this no-longer-cryptic bird a couple of times now. It's a sharp bird. It's a rare bird.  When it was found the day I drove down to Southern California, I was about ready to turn in my binoculars and start stamp collecting...which is like the only thing birders can think of when they talk about something more nerdy and obscure than birdwatching.  Little do birders know that no one has collected a stamp in about nine (9) years.

What a bizarre little crest.  Cool bird!

I'll be honest....I've struggled a bit with this bird.  For a Bicolored Blackbird (the local form of Red-winged Blackbird in the bay area), it's hella dark and dull. No rufous tones. For a female-type Tricolored Blackbird (is this a HY male? It's awfully blackish) it seems like it has some contrasting edging on the wings and back that you would not necessarily expect...but then again blackbirds tend to look pretty fresh still this time of year. It also has some pink in the face (much more of Bicolored trait than a Tricolored) and the bill does not look particularly Tricoloredy...but if you look at a lot of Tricolored Blackbirds you will figure out that the bill shape/length can be quite variable. I suspect this is a Bicolored, but I could be they ever appear this dark and colorless? Photographed at Lake Merced, San Francisco, CA.

Overall it is quite shabby looking in terms of a color palate...what do you think?

Here is a pretty typical Bicolored Blackbird, for comparison. Check out all the rufous on the back and much more prominent, richly-colored edgings on the flight feathers...yet its still pretty drab compared to other populations of Red-winged Blackbirds. Photographed at Lake Merced.

Birding may be hard, but that doesn't matter when you meet a creature that is telling you, "life is pain". This Townsend's Warbler had Eucalyptus gunk smeared all over it's bill and face, and was pathetically attempting to forage on the ground. It constantly had it's bill open and seemed quite stressed. Photographed at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.

How would you like to have your nostrils plugged with resin?  How would you like to mouthbreathe to survive?  It amazes me that there are so many Eucalyptus deniers out there who claim this does not happen to birds. And yes, this bird was right next to a big blooming Eucalyptus tree.

Of course, Ruddy Ducks never have to worry about such things. This one is worrying about being round and plump. You needn't worry, Ruddy Duck. Photographed at Golden Gate Park.

Many waterfowl can be seen enthusiastically courting this time of year. Most ducks seem to get the job done by doing wonderfully weird things with their heads. When you see a female getting in on the head-bobbing action, you know the drake is doing something right.  Photographed at Golden Gate Park.

Arrowhead Marsh, in Oakland, is famed for being a reliable place to actually lay eyes on Ridgway's Rail. It used to be easier, back when you could actually walk out on the boardwalk into the marsh. Now it's become a decent shorebird roost, so at least somebody is using it. The marsh is still a good place to get on this choice rail species, as I had a whopping 9 Ridgway's Rails in one scope sweep on this day.

A young Peregrine Falcon. You know, we take these birds almost for granted's hard to believe how rare they were just a few decades ago, and I'm grateful for the DDT ban and the Endangered Species Act.  I dread what the house and senate will attempt to do in the constant Republican campaign to gut environmental laws in the coming is sure to be brutal. Photographed at Arrowhead Marsh.


  1. Speaking of taking a bird for granted- weren't you supposed to be doing a TGC?

    Poor little mouth breather.

    1. Yeah. I'm still down. I would even look for a THGU.

    2. I assumed you just had a bathtub full of THGU's.

  2. You were TGCing? Do tell.

    That Rustic Bunting...whew, would give mad HJs for that LBJ, and any other anagrams of those acronyms there related.

    1. Not much to tell, except I am down to get my TGC on. That said I dont know my home county very well (<200 species still) so I feel severely handicapped.

  3. Nice shot of the peregrine falcon. I live a block from the Fruitvale Bridge where they often hang out. For a couple of weeks this summer there were four that would gather on the bridge every evening. I was never able to get a shot that nice, though.

    1. Thanks Shane, I just learned about those birds. I recently found a pair by the downtown Berkeley BART that seems to have a territory here, I wonder if they are going to set up shop on the big Wells Fargo building.