Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rage, Rage Against The Dying Of The Vagrants

I don't see Long-eared Owls very often, or for very long, so it was great to finally get to spend some quality time with one, even if we were separated by a few sticks.  Birding like this typically doesn't happen in March, and as one might expect this is a bird I met a couple months ago.  Coyote Hills Regional Park, Fremont, CA.

If a birder was out to find the unusual, as birders are apt to do, March is typically not the most rewarding month in California.  It is a month when few birding heroes are made.  It is a somewhat dull span of time in which wintering birds leave, few spring migrants arrive, and rarities are very hard to come know the story.  Lucas at The Birder's Conundrum described the birding situation this month as "March meh-ness", which is apt.

March is the month that California birders often come crashing down from a vagrant high that lasted for months, typically starting with weird shorebirds in July and August, peaking later in fall, and often lasting the entire winter.  The shorebird scene was poor last year, but pelagic trips brought me multiple lifers and fall on the mainland was great.  Northern California had an epic winter for vagrants, with BRAMBRING (you know the story), Rustic Bunting, Falcated Duck and Common Scoter, and out of left field we have been gifted March (!!!) Brown Shrike and Tristram's Storm-Petrel, not to mention the resident not-so-secret Common Black-Hawk and the incredibly persistent Northern Gannet that is still being seen on the Farallon Islands that has been here for years now (I'm going to see it this year, I swear).  Other birds like Slaty-backed Gull, Black Vulture, Crested Caracara and Le Conte's Sparrow were frosting on the vagrant cake for area birders.   

So while I can no longer flog the shrubbery and realistically expect to find a rare bird, I humbly await the flycatchers, vireos, warblers and orioles that will soon be upon us.  It won't be like spring in South Texas, a la 2014, but we all can't have spring in South least, not all the time.

This bird was the most confiding owl I've ever seen, of any kind, unfazed by its attendant photographers, hordes of small, horrible children, and wankers blaring shitty music out their smartphones less than 20 feet away. I almost felt bad for the bird, but it had chosen to roost next to one of the busiest places in the park, so I chose not to feel bad for it.

I hadn't seen a Long-eared Owl in a long time, a long time, and I doubt I'll be meeting such a mellow member of its species anytime soon.

Everyone kind of likes harriers...if they weren't all over the place, birders would really like them, but familiarity breeds contempt and whatnot.  I'm always trying to get a decent harrier photo, and this bird actually obliged as the the sun began to set.  Peep those hearts on its flank! Photographed at Coyote Hills. 

Look at that half hawk, half owl face...I'm surprised that's not a more common feature in the raptor world, because harriers seem to have great success with it.  I wonder, to what extent, harriers actually use hearing in their hunting efforts. Are their ears offset at all, like an owl's? Strange ponderings on this March afternoon, before the night's beering begins.

Early this month, after dropping by the Rustic Bunting to say "hi" and get my Vague Runt fix for the day (I am a bird junkie, after all), I spent some hours lurking around the lakes at Golden Gate Park. A confiding Hooded Merganser was one of the highlights, as not only is it a charismatic bird, they're pretty damn hard to get very close to almost everywhere else in the state.  It's not like you can find them grazing on a lawn like a goddamn wigeon or eating wonderbread like a Tufted Duck.

Hoods up!  Check out the raging tertials on this bird.

I may not see another Hooded Merganser for many more months...I'm going to have to live with that. For the time being, my days spent frolicking with small, fish-eating ducks has come to an end.  No more walking around with my head in the clouds, knowing that at any time I could go someplace and see a sort dwarf merganser.  Oh well, at least baseball and Game of Thrones will be starting soon...

Mew Gull is definitely one of those birds we take for granted on the west's always disconcerting when a visiting birder tells you they are looking for a Mew Gull, but then again it makes sense.  They are only in the Lower 48 in the winter, and only on the west coast.  So for those of you who think that looking at a Mew Gull is a fabulous idea, drink it in.  Photographed at Golden Gate Park.

This bird may soon be nesting in a tree.  Can you imagine that?  A white-headed gull nesting in a tree.  That is what they do, at least sometimes...Mew Gull, just for once...let me look on you in your tree nest with my own eyes.

As long as we are looking at gulls with alluring orbital rings, check this bird out.  We don't get to see Herring Gulls in alternate plumage here on the coast very much, and I was really struck by how colorful this bird's orbital was.  Photographed at Oyster Bay Regional Shoreline, CA.

One's experience with Ridgway's Rails is difficult to predict.  It's easy to find out where they live, but seeing them is another matter...sometimes you would never know they are there, other times you can hear a dozen of them but not see a single one, and occasionally they are just out strolling around in the open with the discretion of a coot in the grips of avian cholera. Photographed at Arrowhead Marsh, Oakland, CA.

Luckily for birders, though they are fond of not being looked at, Ridgway's Rails aren't the wariest of birds and can present quality viewing/photo ops from time to time, showcasing their sturdy pink legs.  And yes, that is an antennae sticking out of the bird's back.

There's nothing quite like the golden hues of a Ridgway's Rail in the afternoon sun. It looks like...home. 

Despite their absurd abundance, I will still look at Black Phoebes and even photograph them. No one, in the scheme of things, is above liking a Black Phoebe.  It is the best phoebe, after all. Photographed in Golden Gate Park.

Fans of YANG MING will appreciate this...just when you think you are going to have a mellow day of kayaking out on the bay, FIRMAMENT ACE comes along to plow you into oblivion.  If you can't see them, the kayakers are on the waterline below where "ment" is painted on the hull. FIRMAMENT ACE was blasting their billion decibel horn at the kayakers to get the fuck out of the way, which probably added to the thrill of almost getting killed by a megaship (or, as they are called in the east bay, a hellaboat) named FIRMAMENT ACE.


  1. I must have my head in the sand here in Wississippi as I had never heard of Ridgway's Rails before this. Interesting. Lucky you on the Long-eared. It's been a few years since I've seen one.

    1. Wississippi....thats a good one. CLRA was split last year, so now we no longer have CLRA in CA, only RIRA.

  2. For sure, if I was not swimming in Mew Gulls here I would desperately want to see one. But here I am, swimming in them.

  3. eesh so much feather-stroking going on here.
    That Mew Gull is pretty purrfect though.

    It seems everyone gets a Rail moment, when they just walk out in the open. I am still waiting on mine.
    LEOW is so good. So, so good.

    1. That owl was a trip. It brought me much happiness, although its tolerance for humanity was puzzling.

      Do you have RIRA in your neck of the woods? Yesterday I was being serenaded by Black Rails, which is neither unusual for here nor monumental (Yellow Rail would be monumental) but I was stoked just to hear them...still have never seen one.