Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Roadside Attractions, A Particular Cuteness, Sustained Facemelt, Dorsal or Death

One of the good birding opportunities that comes packaged with going to SoCal every year is my favorite rest stop on Highway 101. That's right, the Patagonia rest stop is not my favorite rest stop...ya'll can have that one. If I hear someone describe the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect one more time like it's some novel new idea, said someone will be destroyed. Anyhow, I want the rest stop with Yellow-billed Magpies.

Those that live in the valley may get to see a lot of magpies on the regular, but for those of us who don't (which is most of us), they are not a trash bird by any means...they are a glorious endemic, and are aesthetically superior to the continent's other magpie. Just look at this especially leggy individual with yellow eyeliner.

Another quick stop off Highway 101 on the way south was productive; this FOY/LOY Ross's Goose had been living at a dirty little duck pond at the Gonzales Winery for several years. Like every Ross's Goose, it was small and mellowing. A few Ross's have been known to make this tradeoff in California in the past, seemingly exchanging the chance to pass on their genes for endless free handouts. Interesting approach.

Though I haven't lived there since the year 2000, my Ventura County list is still higher than any other county list I maintain...and though that statement was supposed to reflect on how good birding can be in Ventura at times, it probably reflects more on how pathetic I am at county listing, which I am very proud of. Anyhow...aside from success with the Little Gull, I managed to get a modest amount of additional birding in. Burrowing Owls winter in low numbers on the Oxnard Plain, sometimes right next to poison dispensers meant to kill their ground-squirrel friends. Yikes.

Unfortunately, life is not all Yellow-billed Magpies, Little Gulls and Burrowing Owls. Life primarily consists of Savannah Sparrows. That's right, life is Savannah Sparrows. Your average day is a Savannah Sparrow, a bird that is neither that good or that bad, and ultimately not incredibly memorable. Photographed at Arnold Road on the Oxnard Plain.

My parents' yard in east Ventura has been made into a hummingbird magnet of sorts since I moved away...though they are still waiting for a Broad-billed or Violet-crowned (which is a way overdue bird to be refound in the state), they do get a pretty good showing of the expected California species. I never got a Calliope in Ventura County, but a number of them have passed through their yard...there is nothing like getting gripped off by your own flesh and blood. They get multiple Costa's Hummingbirds every year, one or two of which often overwinter.

Aside from the typical field marks, female Costa's have a particular "cute" quality overall that female Anna's and Black-chinned lack. These species, which are admittedly very similar, are frequent sources of confusion for birders in the western states, particularly in geri-bound Arizona, where there are a great many hummingbirds and a great many birders unable to identify them very well.

If a jet of hot sugary hummingbird pee being fired out of an Anna's Hummingbird is the sort of thing you're into, then I don't have to convince you to spend some time looking at this graphic photo.

After seeing many thousands of Anna's Hummingbirds over the years, I can tell you that the facemelt wrought by an adult male Anna's is still alive and well.

Isn't this absurd???

As one of LA's leading lights of birding recently pointed out via listserv, this angle is not at all helpful in identifying male Allen's or Rufous Hummingbirds...give me dorsal or give me death. Though some could be tricked into thinking that this a Rufous Hummingbird, this is actually a very typical-looking Allen's Hummingbird when viewed at other angles.

Here is a immature male Allen's, displaying no real helpful field marks at all. These days Allen's are much more common year-round residents at my parents' place than 20 years ago; I think there's a lot more overwintering in east Ventura overall now.

In a bid to bring BB&B even more fame and fortune, let's wrap this post up with a bird that almost no one has any interest in...a hen American Wigeon. No one is at fault for that, since this lawn-loving grazing machine aesthetically brings little to the table. This individual doesn't have much of a black gape border, which is a field mark that can help differentiate female Americans from Eurasians. The popularity of this field mark has always been a bit of mystery to me, because if you are close enough to see this obscure bit of coloring you shouldn't be struggling to tell the two species apart. Photographed in Conejo Creek Park, Thousand Oaks, CA.


  1. The Bradley rest-stop Magpie is what got me into birding. True story.

    1. No way!!!

      Considering the amount of use those rest stops get and how reliable the birds are, I would put money on more people seeing YBMA there than anywhere else in the world. I've yet to find an equivalent spot on Highway 5 or 99.

  2. Loved this post. I'm a sucker for hummingbirds, but the magpie killed it. I can't recall if I've seen yellow-billed. If I did it was in a different life 20 years ago when I didn't list, but did a lot of other things to lead me to forget things. I have vague recollections of a distant look. I think I need to set my sights on seeing that species (again?). "Life is Savannah Sparrows." Wise words.

    1. The mags (pies?) are fun birds, certainly worthy of relifer.

  3. "Life is Savannah Sparrows."
    More exciting in east-central Minnesota?

    1. could also be Chipping Sparrows instead.

  4. Sweet Anna's crushes. I still need that magpie. Maybe this is my year.

  5. YB magpies abound near and in Los Alamos (SBCo) park, just west of Bell street, behind the school. EZ off EZ on