Monday, April 18, 2016

Pointless Perching, A Nemesis No More, Sage Baron

There's still much to catch up on post-Mexico, so that is what we will do. Let's start things off with a Black Oystercatcher, a bird that is universally celebrated. California is a state rich in rockpipers...we have Black and American Oystercatchers, Wandering Tattler, Rock Sandpiper (and currently a possible Purple Sandpiper at the Salton Sea), Surfbird, Black and Ruddy Turnstones. The possibility of Gray-tailed Tattler looms large. I appreciate this rockpiper diversity, as it can't be matched anywhere else in the Lower 48. Sometimes I think about what it would be like to live on the east coast, and though warblers bring the stoke I always cringe when I think about the paltry rockpiper scene over there.

How long will my range overlap with that of the Black Oystercatcher? Ten years? Two years? Twenty years? Impossible to say, pointless to wonder about. Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline, Richmond, CA.

Great Blue Herons are looking good this time of year. I can barely look at young Great Blues, they look like total rubbish compared to alternate adults like this one. Photographed at Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline.

Moorhens and gallinules are accomplished at perching on stuff, although it usually doesn't seem necessary. Look at this...does this seem necessary to you? Fortunately, it is quite novel for the rest of us. Las Gallinas Ponds, Gallinas, CA.

Common Mergansers don't make it onto BB&B with much frequency, though they are deserving of it. "Familiarity breeds contempt" does apply to some birds, but not this one, I just don't get to photograph them very often. Photographed at the Las Gallinas Ponds.

A male Long-billed Curlew (note the short bill length) prowls goose-grazed grassland for invertebrates. Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, Oakland, CA.

Aren't grasspipers great? So bucolic, not to mention pastoral. Long-billed Curlews are early, short-distance migrants, and we are only without them on the coast for a couple months of the year; they will be back in numbers in July. A nice bird to have at my patch on the regular.

Well...its time for full disclosure. Until this year, until this bird above, I have never seen a Northern Saw-whet Owl. This was my Nemesis Bird. Sure I've heard lots of them, but the stars never would align for me. It was agonizing hearing them all the time on Santa Cruz Island (where they lived outside the ranch where I was staying)...there were many nights walking in circles under calling birds in the trees with nothing to show for it. When I told people my horrible truth about NSWOs, they would always ask "Really?", with a look of bemused scorn on their faces. And let me tell you...there is nothing more fucking tiresome than being looked upon with bemused scorn.

This bird had more brown in the facial disc than I expected, and relatively little streaking on the crown...this is not an adult bird, I reckon.

It's really nice to not have a Nemesis anymore. Really, I can't think of one for the Lower 48. Most of the birds I still need are not species I've invested a lot of time in seeking out...Eastern Whip? Swainson's Warbler? Great Cormorant? None of those species invoke feelings of anger or shame within me (just typical birdlust) so I think I'm good for now...I am pretty pissed at all the Hawaiian Petrels I haven't seen though, so if I go through another pelagic season again without seeing one (which, for me, would be typical) I will know who I have beef with. Anyways, this LIFE BIRD was a one-day-wonder at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.

As the Great Ornithologist Felonious Jive has said, birding is hard. We all know that. If it wasn't hard, there wouldn't be stupid phrases like "Nemesis Bird", and I certainly would not feel compelled to capitalize that. Authors at the ABA Blog have really run with Felonious Jive's phrase, devoting no less than three different blog posts to this idea. Look, obviously birding is easy if you go are really happy to look at Mallards and Ring-billed Gulls all the time (which is terrible), or if you are geri birding (which is fantastic), or if you go to a new country and you are surrounded by life birds (which will never get old). I get that. That said, birding is hard. That's what makes the easy moments so glorious. That's part of what makes seeing great birds so great. So when I went to look for this Sage Thrasher near a particular bench, I was quite chuffed to walk up to the bench, see the thrasher naked-eyeballed next to the bench where I was supposed to look, then watch it perch on the bench itself. Success! A much-needed reprieve from hardship!

I then unleashed a torrential crush-rain onto the bird. This was easily the most cooperative Sage Thrasher I have ever seen. To describe the bird's behavior in scientific terms, I would describe it as giving none fucks. It made a House Sparrow seem about as confiding as a Black Rail...and this Sage Thrasher is no more of a House Sparrow than I am.

Sage Thrashers are very early migrants, but seeing this Vague Runt in a coastal county in January was not on anybody's radar. As expected, it only hung around a few disappears before disappearing, hopefully reorienting in a direction where more sagebrush was to be found.

Life is good when you have a Sage Thrasher hopping around at your feet. Schoellenberger Park, Petaluma, CA.

If you've never been to Northern California before, there is a good chance you've never seen a Bicolored Blackbird. This is the locally-breeding subspecies of Red-winged Blackbird, readily identified by the lack of a yellow border on epaulet and (to my ears) a somewhat shittier-sounding song than other Red-winged Blackbird subspecies. Females are markedly different as well, looking annoyingly similar to female Tricolored Blackbirds. Photographed at Schoellenberger Park.


  1. I saw my first NSWO the day after I heard my first. It took three more years before I ever got a good look at one again, although I've had more than a few almost take my head off when I'm out owling.

    1. So you waited a day after you heard your first...I waited about 17 years! Christ.

  2. Welcome to the saw whet club. That was probably the last bird that I had seen that you had not. Thank god for year birds. Also, you have a patch? I don't think I knew this.

    1.'ve got Safeway Hawk-Owl on me. And Red-breasted Chat.

      My patch is a reluctant patch. I don't like it hella but its close to my house and has vague runt potential and actually has deec birding from time to time.

    2. You saw at least 15% of a Red-breasted Chat.