Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Emperor Does Not Share Your Optimistic Appraisal Of The Situation

Fuck, Vader sure had some good lines didn't he? That was from one of my favorites scenes in Return of the Jedi. I guess he can credit The Dark Side for imbuing him with a dry sense of humor, which he clearly lacked as Anakin Skywalker. Anakin was a tool.

Over the winter I read a listserv message about an Aleutian Cackling Goose being seen at a coastal golf course. This news, neither unusual nor unexpected, was not exactly on par with learning that Emperor Palpatine was going to come for a visit to potentially force-murder you for your underwhelming project management skills. In other words, I thought "cool story, bro" and moved on.

The next day a very apologetic birder wrote back to the list, saying what he had meant to say was that it was an EMPEROR GOOSE, and that he had a massive brain-shart due to sleep deprivation and wrote the wrong species in his email. Emperor Goose is an Aleutian goose, after all. As expected, the chase wagons were subsequently fired up and the bird was relocated immediately, and following this success the original observer was celebrated instead of crucified.

The Emperor's arrival coincided with the birth of my daughter, but eventually I was able to make it out to the coast to pay my respects. The bird was a lovely adult, no sign of any dark smudging on the immaculate white head. It wasn't in great light, but birders are not allowed to have any complaints when they see an Emperor Goose.

The Emperor kept the local nonnative Canadas for company, which were not impressed by their new, totally superior member of their flock. You can't really blame them...almost any bird looks like shit when it has to stand next to an Emperor Goose.

This was the southernmost Emperor I have ever seen, and the southernmost to show up in California in a long time...a long time. Talk about a quality year bird. Sharp Park, Pacifica, CA.

On the way back I made a detour to a place with nice lawns and a shitload of dead had been far too long since I had birded a cemetery. Who doesn't like birding cemeteries??? Anyways, a Vermilion Flycatcher was wintering there and it did not take long to find. While Vermilions are becoming increasingly common in southern California (a very good thing), they are still powerful rarities this far north. "Only Sleeping" indeed...Cypress Lawn Cemetery, Colma, CA.

Roosting American Avocet flocks have a mellowing effect on the soul when viewed at close range. Serenity now. Albany Mudflats, Albany, CA.

Regular Northern Pintail crushings are healthy, especially when you can catch the purple iridescence on their heads. We are balls deep in molting Mallard season now, but soon they'll be back, and in greater numbers. Albany Mudflats, Albany, CA.

California is blessed with huge numbers of Bushtits. They are practically everywhere. If you look at an ebird abundance/distribution map, the state is almost black with Bushtit. They make chickadees look like unadaptive niche-specialists in comparison. Luckily for birders, Bushtits are great. We may complain about Yellow-rumped Warblers, but no one talks shit on Bushtits. Albany Bulb, Albany, CA.

An interesting thing about Bushtits is their lack of repertoire that the human ear can pick out. It sounds as if they have a contact call and an alarm call, nothing more. They don't really have a typical song per se, but they are quite noisey birds.

Look at this diminutive little bastard. I have crushed Least Sandpipers a great many times, and I will continue to do so indefinitely. Maybe one day it will lead me to a Long-toed Stint, which I nominate for "most overlooked Sibe in the U.S.". The Lower 48 is long overdue for another LTST...will this be the year? Richmond Marina, Richmond, CA.

Greater Scaup coming in for a landing, with a bonus Red-throated Loon lurking in the background. Richmond Marina, Richmond, CA.

Such majesty, such scootsmanship, as some would say. Anthropomorphizing is a bitch, but it's hard to accept that waterfowl may not enjoy landing on water. They get to brake, skate and scoot to a stop. Then they shake their tails, and let out some kind of quack/honk/whistle, looking all cute and shit. Come on waterfowl, tone it down.

Perhaps this is where I should have said, "They'll soon be back, and in greater numbers." Eh? EH? GET IT????

Don't worry, I wasn't going to start this post with a crippling rarity then drive it into the ground with abundant brown birds, we can talk about this Peregrine Falcon instead. This very smart-looking bird was at the mouth of Pilarcitos Creek, in Half Moon Bay, CA.

I've seen a lot of Peregrines over the years. The only ones I've seen really closely were either really sick or were trying to behead me because I was too close to a nest. This one was neither. It was mellow. However, due to the location, I had to wonder if this was one of the Ross's Gull murderers. The scene of the crime was about 4 miles away, but this could have been a different bird.

The bird, quite unexpectedly, did not give a fuck about me. Decent photo ops suddenly turned into prolonged bursts of shutter fire when I realized it might be a great many years before a falcon was this nonchalant again. Eventually it began to crumble under the relentless torrent of crushes I unleashed upon it. It surrendered, signaled by flashing the underside of its foot and lowering its head weirdly. How often does one observe the underside of a Peregrine foot?

I'm not sure why the bird was so unwary that morning. It was bloody cold, but falcons are not reptiles. I did appreciate the killer looks though.

Awesome bird! I've never even had a kestrel be this confiding. Random aside: one of my first birding memories was walking out to the mouth of the Santa Clara River Estuary with my dad when I was a kid. It was winter, we didn't see shit except for a Sanderling, which was flushed by a Peregrine and chased with great persistence and glee. This was a very exciting event for adolescent Steve. Back and forth they went; it seemed like the falcon was just terrorizing the Sanderling for fun, as it was such a tiny prey item. Anyways, it was a facemelting experience for me, thought you should know.


  1. the only place I've been that close to PEFA is at the SCRE!! I've actually had a few encounters, only once with a decent camera though. I think they are usually too full to move! one juv I had too walk by on the sandbar during a survey didn't even flinch and his crop was super full. Do shorebirds have tryptophan? :) They also seem to give less fucks when the food is too good to pass up, like when I'm right next to the avocet colony and they nab a bird off a nest!

  2. ROTJ, ANH, and Seinfeld references in one post?... More like Bourbon, Bastards, and NERDS! Thanks for your really good bird pictures, too. I feel like there is a meme somewhere in that falcon foot photo.

    1. Going to bare my soul and be honest here...any Seinfeld reference in this post is totally accidental/subconscious and I have yet to find it.

    2. Even better that it's a subconscious reference. Serenity Now!

  3. The SW quotes are the major factor in me coming back to this website, the ability you have to weave them into seemingly innocuous material is really excellent. The key question is of course whether when faced with returning Scaup you do in fact get back indoors.

    1. I like the idea of seemingly innocuous material losing its innocence after it was linked to Star Wars. Glad you keep coming back, just don't hold your breath waiting for Jar Jar to get some love.

  4. On the topic of Bushtits singing, Ted Floyd had an interesting post over at Earbirding a couple of years ago.

    Link here:

    1. I checked it out. Agreed that the chickadees were singing, definitely not convinced about the Bushtits though.

  5. But falcons ARE reptiles; you know, living dinosaurs and all that. Agreed though that they aren't cold-blooded. I'll just leave this xkcd comic here; it's one of my faves:

    How often does one observe the underside of a peregrine foot? I imagine if one is a smaller bird, the answer is often once in a lifetime!