Wednesday, October 19, 2016

September Sickness

September and October in the bay area means GET YOUR ASS TO THE COAST. I feel bad for birders who don't live near the coast in this crucial time...the window is wide open for rarities. Most of the year, it's just cracked, and sometimes it's even closed. Light south winds on September 11 meant it was a day to be out on Point Reyes, and we were rewarded with some juicy birds...American Redstart, Canada Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, and a flock of 3 Clay-colored Sparrows. Clay-colored is rare but regular here, but three together was a bit on the bizarro side of things.

The next Saturday it was nice and overcast, so it was out to San Francisco this time. Across from Lake Merced, the continuing Magnolia Warbler made for a fine county bird (thanks Aaron) and a Black-and-white Warbler was very satisfying as well. This female Bicolored Blackbird did a good impression of a female Tricolored, but was too warmly colored. Approach with caution.

It's always good to be checking listservs constantly in September, you never know when the news of the next MEGA will come. Checking the listserv as I was about to leave Lake Merced proved to be timely, and I quickly abandoned the rest of my plans and went straight to Golden Gate Park for another vague runt that had just been found. While waiting for the tasty eastern warbler, I kicked it with this Brown Creeper, a bird that apparently has never made it onto BB&B before...weird. Welcome Brown Creeper!

This is another common denizen of forests and parks (like tweakers, but creepers and tweakers are unrelated, despite what you might think), and accompany many a mixed flock. They're ain't confiding or abiding though, which I guess explains why I have so few photos of them.

Brown Creeper fact of the day: You probably know the northernmost reaches of their range are in Alaska, but you can also find them as far south as Nicaragua. I'd like to see some of the mixed flocks they travel with down there, Jesus.

Ugh, I just looked at an eBird checklist with Brown Creeper in it from Nicaragua...there's some gnarly stuff in there.

Eventually I refound the Canada Warbler, which much like the Point Reyes bird was relatively easy to keep track of but exceedingly difficult to photograph (I failed entirely with the other bird). I have some kind of nostalgia with blurry rarity photos for some reason, so I am forcing you to see this awful image. It stayed in the same tree for a whole hour, and I couldn't do any better, but I never claimed I was a photographer. Ahhh...getting Black-and-white, Canada and Magnolia in the same morning in California is what September is all about.

September actually isn't all warblers and rarities though, it's also cuddling Bushtits.

I love eastern wood warblers. I absolutely adore them, no matter the time of year. I spend a lot of time looking for them, whether it is in Florida or California or Mexico (not Midway though). However, California gives you the opportunity to see more than wood warblers...we get warblers as well.

Sibes...I fucking love Sibes. This Dusky Warbler was the undisputed highlight of September, not just for me but for pretty much everyone else who saw it. It sounds like the bird was much more cooperative the first day it was found (when I saw it) than subsequent days; the Dusky Warbler found recently in Orange County disappointed pretty much everyone who chased it (sorry Justine). Speaking of Sibes, the Bird of October might just be the Lesser Sand-Plover Matt Lau found yesterday south of Abbott's Lagoon, but we'll see if sticks around or not.

The day after the great Dusky Warbler Victory of 2016, Billy and I went up to Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands to check on some other kinds of migrants. This resident Red-tailed Hawk had no intentions of migrating anywhere, but chose a nice lichenized outcrop to perch on.

It's always so much easier to find Sharp-shinned Hawks at Hawk Hill than anywhere else locally. Not that they are rare here by any means, but if you spend a morning birding and you don't see one, that seems perfectly normal. Spending a few hours at Hawk Hill and missing them would be, well, bizarre.

Here's another one, with a deceptively-shaped tail. Note the barred flanks and "pigeony" expression. Or don't, you're welcome not to.

September 30 is generally a day you must be out birding in California. If the vague runt window is open in September, then by September 30 the window is completely shattered and rare just comes blowing through at will. With this in mind Abe Borker and I went back out to Point Reyes...except it wasn't rare birds we found blowing through, it was the goddamn wind. With strong northwest winds, our chances of landing a huge migrant harvest were quite low. Even this coyote seemed perplexed at the lack of rare birds around.

Our efforts were not in vain, however. This Magnolia Warbler (county bird!) was at the lighthouse, and stayed still just long enough to get brutally crushed. Nice to see one in San Francisco and Marin in the same month.

We got brief looks of the bird below the park housing in the lupine patch, then the bird came around the parking lot and foraged right beneath us. The wind taketh away, but in this case the wind giveth a very sharp, mid-level rarity.

See? Fucking windy. American Redstart was the only other eastern-flavored bird of the day, but who knows maybe it had just cruised down from northeast Washington, where they are not an uncommon breeder. That said, Magnolias aren't a strictly eastern bird either; they breed in eastern British Columbia.

Almost every patch on the Outer Point has Great Horned Owls, where they probably are out terrorizing the Barn Owls every night. This one was down in New Willows, were I had not seen one before. If it is indeed a resident bird, it has probably seen more rarities than you could possibly imagine. It may have even eaten some of them.


  1. "September 30 is generally a day you must be out birding in California"

    Turns out we will be in San Francisco exactly that weekend. Any suggestions where we should go? Sounds like Point Reyes is a good idea. Anywhere else (ideally more south, as we'll be heading back to Santa Barbara on Sunday)?


    1. Hi Conor, just saw this, sorry. It depends on your target birds. Point Reyes is best, but if you are going to drive to Santa Barbara that night then that is a hell of a long day. There are a lot of good spots in coastal Monterey County (and neighboring Santa Cruz County, to a lesser extent). South San Francisco Bay has a lot of sites for shorebirds and waterbirds. Feel free to email for more info.