Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A July Shorebird Cake With Stint Frosting

July. Birders have four options in July...if they are fortunate enough to have the right habitats nearby, they go to the mountains, or go to the mudflats. If these habitats are unavailable, they either don't bird at all, or optimistically (some do so abysmally) bird through it, noting newly fledged young and what species the local cowbird population has successfully parasitized. In much of California, after a quick two week break in late June, we don't have to suffer through a hot, boring, and brutal July...we can get back to the business of searching for interesting my grunts...that's right, the fall vague runt window is suddenly thrown open after a brief reprieve, and all of a sudden a birder may sort through peeps like a kid in a candy store. Southbound shorebirds begin returning in late June, and by the second week of July a birder can go out to a favored shorebird spot and see thousands of birds.

After managing to avoid the site (not purposefully) for years, I finally visited Frank's Dump, a great shorebird site along the bay in Alameda County. The impoundment was absolutely packed with shorebirds, including over 100 Red Knots, which you can see above mixed in with similarly-colored dowitchers. This is the most knots I've ever seen in California, quite an impressive showing for this normally uncommon species.

Western Sandpipers were back in force, there were thousands. My attempts at picking out a Semipalmated proved futile again; I have yet to see one anywhere in the bay area, for some reason. In typical fashion, someone saw one shortly before I arrived. I still have many weeks left of prime Semipalmated Sandpiper time, so maybe this will finally be the year. Semipalmateds have always been of unusual interest to me, probably because that was one of the first "rare" birds I got adept at finding and identifying when I was a sniveling little bastard teenager.

This crisply marked Least Sandpiper endured only minimal wear and tear on its way south from Alaska or wherever the fuck its from. Who knows? It could be bound for Peru, the Galapagos...the world is your oyster when you are a Least Sandpiper.

As much fun as it is to muse about where Least Sandpipers may or may not be going, that is not why I found myself at Frank's Dump. No one goes to Frank's Dump just to look at Least Sandpipers, as far as I know, and if anyone does please tell me all about it.

Right. July is not just to be celebrated for the return of shorebirds, it is to be celebrated because it is the best month of the year to find stints in California. This Red-necked Stint was kind enough to follow the flightpath of misoriented stints of the past, and gave some good looks although it never came close enough for a reasonable photo. But unlike the photogs lying in the mud (literally), I was able to enjoy the bird through a scope.

This was just the third Red-necked Stint I've ever seen, the first being a juvenile on Buldir Island (AK) and my deucer being another adult on the Los Angeles River. This was a brilliant, glowing bird, a true gasper if that is possible for a peep. It was very easy to pick out from the nearby Western Sandpipers; aside the reddish-orange face, the contrasting bright white belly made it easy to locate as well. At one point a bright alternate Sanderling landed next to it, looking surprisingly similar in plumage, but not in size and structure.

What a year its been in northern California for shorebirds...Marsh Sandpiper, Purple Sandpiper, Little (the one in Santa Clara and one just reported in Del Norte) and Red-necked Stints! As August has just arrived, I am hoping out incredible run of vague runt shorebirds will continue. What's next? Lesser Sand-Plover? Common Ringed Plover? Spotted Redhank? Gray-tailed Tattler? The potential for Sibe shorebirds to show up in California has almost no ceiling. Maybe that Black-tailed Godwit I've been waiting for will finally come our way.

Of course, most of the birds here are not Sibes, and have no idea that Siberia even exists. This worn American Avocet is one of those birds.

Unlike other shorebirds, young avocets like this one molt into something that closely resembles an adult in alternate plumage when they lose their down. Why that is, I could not tell you, but then again stilts and avocets are not in the same family as sandpipers, which all attain a unique (if sometimes indistinct) juvenile plumage that they retain through the fall.

The Elsie Roemer sanctuary is one of a handful of Alameda (city) sites that gets much attention from birders, who go for the shorebirds. Terns use the site as well. This time of year there are lots of Forster's (above) and Caspian Terns flying around with fish, trailed by not only their offspring but sometimes the offspring of other terns as well.

Young terns may beg for fish for an extended period after fledging; we often hear the plaintive begging of young Elegant Terns (which also just returned, not pictured here) well into fall.

Black-bellied Plovers are back in large numbers. Most are already shedding their slick black underparts in favor of doomy gray duds. It was fun while it lasted.

This bird was missing a foot, which look like it came off a while ago. I wonder how many north to south migrations this bird has completed while handicapped. If you think that is impressive, I once saw a Snowy Plover with NO FEET, true story. I think these birds can often overcome major injuries, as long as their wings stay intact.

Back at the beginning of the month, Felonious Jive went up to Humboldt County to attend the wedding of ASOC and Nice Lady, both very important figures in his life. Felonious reported getting quite drunk and having a good time. He also took a few shitty photos at the Arcata Marsh, which I will include here because why not?

This Great Egret caught a nice scuplin, and did the typical wader thing of shaking and bludgeoning it and flipping it around in its bill until it worked up the courage to swallow it.

The egret eventually gulped the sculpin down once it was good and slathered in mud, and continued on its merry way.

A male Norther Harrier hunting over the marsh flew by with some hapless young bird. I may be #7, but not even I can ID the prey item. Felonious told me he knows what it is, but won't tell me. Asshole.

Vaux's Swifts were abundant that day, and as usual were almost impossible to photograph due to being fast. This tattered bird is the first Vaux's Swift to make it onto BB&B, where we welcome it with open arms.

A Northern Red-legged Frog made an appearance in its usual spot at the side of the log pond. It is a handsome frog.

Well, hopefully that was enough of a shorebird onslaught to hold you over for a while. Next up, I started a new state list a couple weeks ago, and there was a lot of good birding put into that list. For the first time, I took BB&B and several of our interns to...Colorado!

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