Sunday, June 12, 2016

A State Bird, Spring Shorebirds and a Requirement for Avosex

Early in the spring, I lurked into the Central Valley, where an Emperor Goose would have been a welcomed year bird. Those of you who enjoy their schadenfreude would like to know that the bird decided to leave the night before, but it was a good sunset with lots of Cackling and Greater White-fronted Geese to sort through.

Well, here we are. June. California's best spring in memory has come and gone, with May bolstering the Vague Runt roster with another White Wagtail, Kentucky Warblers, a Buff-breasted Flycatcher, an inner circle Pterodroma caught in a mist net (which is a Meguh) and another mainland appearance by the Kelp Gull. Don't worry, I did manage to at least get out and look for the Kelp Gull...which I dipped on. I also dipped on the Northern Gannet a couple times, which is so unsurprising that it doesn't even bum me out any more. Dip dip dip dip dip dip dip fucking dip.

That said, I did go birding this spring, and I did see some birds, including some good ones.

A friend of mine, "Fob Rowler", is one of the admins of a 5,000+ member birding group on Facebook. His members look up to him like a birding god...and who is to say that he isn't? It often looks like a thankless task, but one day Fob was looking at one of the bazillions of bird pictures that is posted to the group every day and noticed something strange in a flock of flying White-faced Ibis...there, in the corner, was a unmistakable Glossy Ibis. This is a rare bird in that I hadn't seen in the state before. So a week after Fob's Facebook find, it was off to Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, and I have to thank Fob and Facebook for this sexy state bird.

Yolo Bypass has a healthy population of Swainson's Hawks, which I never tire of seeing. I also got my lifer mink that morning, which was a bird I was not thinking I would get that day. Some kind folks pointed it out to me as it swam out to a patch of reeds, but unhelpfully tried to convince me that it was a small river otter with a short furry tail. The nerve!

Every spring I spend some time shorebirding, partially because I am always hoping to find a spring vague runt plover or sandpiper (which rarely happens) and partially because spring shorebirds are really, really good looking birds. Dowitchers suddenly become exponentially more don't have to sweat IDing them by sight, they make weird noises that go unuttered in fall and winter, and they actually are very appealing birds. This is a Long-billed Dowitcher, at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, Oakland.

Here is a Short-billed Dowitcher. Look at that short bill. It's like rosy Jack Snipe.

Another Short-billed. No one thinks of dowitchers as gaspers, but I will argue that they are worthy of the occasional gasp.

I want to be real with you nerds, so here we go...BB&B is one of the only trendsetters in birding. So with that in mind, let me ask you people take pictures of Canada Geese anymore? No? Good...well I'm bringing them back. Soon everyone is going to be posting Canada Goose photos. Cardinals are going to be over, and the masses will instead glorify the majestic Canada Goose.

One morning Billy and I cruised to Bedwell Bayfront Park in San Mateo County to look at Pacific Golden-Plovers, a decent bird almost anywhere in the bay area and rarely encountered in alternate plumage. They had been roosting on a salt pond for some time, and we found them just hanging out and looking great. This species is a pain in the ass to photograph though, at least in this state...go to Hawaii if you want to crush them, as they are a lawn bird there. It's really trippy.

A rare (for me) spring visit to the Radio Road ponds in Redwood Shores was productive. Short (front) and Long-billed Dowitchers provided a great comparison when we showed up. If only it were always this easy to tell them apart.

There probably isn't a better place in the bay area to see breeding Forster's Terns, which nest on the small islands here relatively close to the edge of their favored pond. On this visit, there was a lot of courtship going on and a lot of birds on nests already.

As always, American Avocets were around, sporting the buffy heads required to convince each other that they should have avosex. The bay area has both long-legged shorebirds in abundance.

This is the other long-legged shorebird, obvi. Black-necked Stilt is another signature, sometimes-annoying shorebird species of many of California's marshes. Like the avocets, they are resident year round and are common breeders at many marshes around the bay. The debate continues over which nesting shorebird is more annoying to be around...Killdeer (dee dee dee dee), avocet (kleep kleep kleep) or stilt (yap yap yap yap yap yap yap).


  1. When in numbers, I'd argue the Stilts are the worst.
    Killdeer are annoying but in my experiences they don't keep landing in your path, perpetuating the flush-screech cycle.


  2. The concept of stilts and avocets as annoying is new to me. Thank you for the education.

    1. Have you been next to their nests or chicks? It's unbearable.

  3. Willets take the annoying cake imo but that is because they are relatively plain with wings folded. Avocets and Black-necked Stilts get a pass because they are good looking. This is true for humans too. The good looking ones can frequently get away with being annoying.

    1. Willets are actually right up there with those other species for most annoying. They turn into really awful birds if you are near a nest or chick. It's for good reason of course, but they become awful nonetheless.

  4. That double dowitcher photo is fucking ridiculous.

  5. Couldn't help but think about your post today while I was at the scre finding snowy plover nests in an avocet colony with a killdeer nest hatching nearby...