Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Right Side of History...Amateurs of Skulk...A Fowl of Mystery

This mama harrier was being followed around by a gaggle of needy juveniles. Nesting season has about run its course, and now thousands of birds are getting ready to fly the wrong direction and vagrate their way to California.  Coyote Hills Regional Park, Fremont, CA.

Before I start rambling about recent bird sightings, I need to talk about the last post...I couldn't believe the response that it elicited. That post rapidly rocketed to the second most popular post BB&B has ever put out, and really it is the most popular post among birders (Reddit traffic accounted for the higher popularity of another post).

This took me completely by surprise...but I think it captured something that no one had bothered to really explain before, at least not in depth. And the people were ready for it. Birders were coming out of the woodwork to congratulate me on that one, and amazingly I have yet to be trolled. Maybe it's because I have birding history on my side?  Or maybe the birders who prefer asking the internet for bird identification rather than opening a field guide don't read BB&B?  I don't think anyone read that post and thought "Things will never be the same...", but as #7 I have no choice but to bellow my trendsetting voice into the Birdosphere and hope the people will hear me.

And now, on to birds.

It's always deeply unsettling for birders to see harriers soaring high above them. Maybe because we are not used to it? Or maybe because this is the last thing millions of birds and rodents have seen over the years before they met their demise? This must be a terrifying angle of harrier-viewing for many creatures.

Big flocks of American White Pelicans wheeling around in the sky is never an unsettling sight. I can still remember how remarkable I thought it was the first few times I ran into some some big migrant flocks. Though no longer remarkable, I still find it difficult to look away. Photographed at Coyote Hills.

Lesser Goldfinches don't make it onto BB&B very often, mostly because I see them constantly. Familiarity breeds contempt. I don't despise them, it just doesn't occur to me to put them on here...and I don't know why I'm still trying to explain all of this to you. Lesser Goldfinches are late nesters, as evidenced by this female enthusiastically gathering nesting material. Photographed at Coyote Hills.

You know what they say...if you are going to put up pictures of absurdly common birds, you better crush them. This is for all of you out east who live a lonely, single-goldfinch-species-life.

Monarchs are suckers for milkweed, aren't they?  This one was busy laying eggs, not something I see very often with any butterfly. Photographed at Coyote Hills.

Not long ago one Flycatcher Jen graced the bay area with her brownish presence, but it was a bit of a struggle to figure out where we should go birding. Finally we settled on chasing a bizarre rarity...of sorts...with a stop for Least Bitterns on the way. The bitterns were not hard to find (a luxury when looking for Least Bittern, trust me) and we got solid looks at this mostly-grown chick. Photographed at the Las Gallinas Ponds, Marin County, CA.

There were two chicks doing a mediocre job of hiding in the reeds, with at least one adult flying around foraging for the chicks. I did not expect to be seeing Least Bittern chicks...they are masters of skulk, but I guess the young ones were still working on their mastery. This was a sweet sweet lifer for FJ, and a savory Marin County bird for me.

There were hordes of Common Gallinules out that day, with HY birds and chicks everywhere. I was dumbfounded when I saw this HY gallinule feeding a chick, which is obviously not its own (too young to breed). Maybe a sibling from a different brood? Anyone seen this before? One of the parent birds was very nearby and seemed ok with it. Photographed at the Las Gallinas Ponds.

This Cinnamon Teal hen was loafing in the sun with a few ducklings. The lighting was rough but it was too cute to not try for photos.  Photographed at the Las Gallinas Ponds.

We also saw this creature. Do you recognize it bellowing?

You probably recognize it, good for you. This Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was seen by birders for about a week on the east side of Santa Rosa before it disappeared. It is a troublesome bird, not because it was hard to find or because it attacked people with incapacitating whistles (I heard it whistle hella, and I remained capacitated), but because it is difficult to know where it came from.  It had no bands, no missing hallux. Could it be a natural vagrant? Maybe. Could it be an escaped bird? Maybe, but my source says it definitely did not come from Safari West, which houses myriad exotic animals. Photographed at Lake Ralphine, Santa Rosa.

The bird was hella tame, which some birders thought was indicative of a captive origin, though these birds are about as wary as your average park-dwelling coot or Mallard down in Texas.  I didn't find that very concerning. As the old saying goes, waterfowl can be wary or not depending on their old Tufted Duck friend from Lake Merritt probably spent most of the year fleeing people on sight and the rest of the year swimming a couple feet away from horrible children hoping to be tossed a bread crumb. On one hand BBWD are notorious for being found far north of their normal range (mid-spring through early fall, generally), but on the other hand they don't have much of a pattern of occurrence for doing that in California. It's a tricky bird, more so (in my opinion) than the Gray Thrasher found in San Diego the same day, but a betting man would not put money on this bird getting a stamp of approval from The Bird Police. Such is birding.


  1. I think you've moved up to at least #6--your previous post was just cited in an identification feud on a post in the Minnesota Birding FB group. Please join our group and speak your wisdom to save us from ourselves.

    Right on about AWPE. They are ubiquitous summer residents here, yet I still stop and stare whenever I see big flocks of the massive birds circling and gliding gracefully uber high in the sky.

    1. All I've wanted in life is to be cited in birding feuds. I can die happy now.

    2. AWPEs are great. I have a poster and a Schleich plastic figurine of them at my desk at work. (Well, the figurine is probably a Great White from Eurasia, but whatever.)

  2. Such a sweet lifer indeed. I can't even imagine how many hj's are owed by now.