Sunday, September 27, 2015

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, County Birds

O, what I would not give to see a county bird!
I would part with my first child, my second child,
and quite willfully my third!

 Alameda, San Francisco, Marin,
I plunder your migrant traps with gleeful abandon,
whilst craving rarities like it should be sin!

That phrase, of course, is from the twisted mind of deranged poet-ornithologist, Felonious Jive. He has had a lot of kids, but strangely I've never met any of them. He seems to see a lot of good birds though.

It is the end of September, and birders have been out flogging the brush like there is no tomorrow. It is the season for Vague Runts all across the land...anything can happen. You never know. Birding is hard and often ponderous, but it gets a little bit easier this time of year. Here on the west coast, the more hours in the field you spend in September and October, the more you will be rewarded. You don't have to be #7 to know that.

Unlike with Felonious Jive, the Great Ornithologist, the Vague Runt gods have not been heaping rewards on me lately...which is ok, because I have not been getting totally stiffed. I've seen some birds...nothing good enough to soil myself, but one cannot go around soiling themselves every day while birding. In the name of county birding, here's a few bay area birds I've recently been introduced to.

This Indigo Bunting in heavy molt has been holding it down in Golden Gate Park for over a month now. It was a sweet sweet San Francisco County bird. There was a juicy little eBird/listserv rumour that started getting out of hand, where birders were thinking that more and more Indigo Buntings were actually at this site, even nesting! This never occurred. I was happy with this one bird, for I am a humble birder who needs not bend to sinful cravings of rarities.

This Mew Gull is certainly not a county bird, but it is rare as fuck this time of year. This bird summered at Lake Merced...I did not believe all the eBird reports I saw of it for weeks, but lo and behold it is bona fide. Most late summer "Mew Gulls" that get reported here are young Ring-billed Gulls with wittle itty bitty bills.

This San Francisco county bird (!!!) was one I've been searching for a long time, a long time. I can cruise out to Point Reyes and see thousands of this declining and wonderful bird, but their abundance is a whole different story on the other side of the Golden Gate. This bird was at Lake Merced, where they turn up intermittently.

Blackbirds undergo their big molt in fall, so this scaly bird is a pretty typical looking adult male for this time of year. The famous white epaulet edge often looks quite buffy for a few months, which can confound those not familiar with Tricolored Blackbird molt (99.9999% of living humans).

This is a male Bicolored Blackbird, our local form of Red-winged Blackbird. He has no extravagant contrasting epaulet border. Note the shorter, stouter bill he has compared to the Tricolored above.

Now that September has come (and almost gone...what the fuck?), we finally have a nice variety of warblers around. Unlike last year, but very much like two years ago, this fall hasn't been very big on eastern Vague Runts in the bay area, so I must give pause when a friendly Wilson's Warbler chooses to lurk nearby. Coyote Hills Regional Park, CA.

Local birders perk up when they see a Black-throated Gray Warbler, and I sure as fuck did when I saw this nectary COUNTY Alameda list isn't really worth bragging about, I'll be the first one to admit that. Black-throated Grays are uncommon, sometimes fairly common fall migrants in the bay area when they get up the gumption to not overfly us.

This confiding bird spent several minutes flogging a large moth to death on the ground in front of me. I love confiding birds. Photographed at Coyote Hills Regional Park.

Let's keep the stripey-face theme going. Up until last week, this was the rarest terrestrial bird I've seen this fall. This Black-throated Sparrow, a hell of a bird in both appearance and rarity, spent a number of days at Coyote Hills Regional Park.

It's not a crush by any means, but I was more than happy to see one of these birds (which many birders describe as "handsome", have you noticed that?) without going to the middle of fucking nowhere, which is where they prefer to spend their time here in California. I didn't expect an adult to drift all the way up here, it should know better, but who am I to question a Vague Runt who clearly migrated all the way to Alameda County for me to see it? This is a juicy county bird.

This Lesser Yellowlegs has three legs! Photographed at Coyote Hills.


  1. Good to see some WIWAs coming down through CA. We are having an influx in CO and thought maybe they were skipping CA and moving East on their southerly journey because of the wildfires.