Thursday, June 8, 2017

I Am Yardbirder

Google. Facebook. Netflix. Apple. Bourbon, Bastards, and Birds. What do all these entities have in common? Well, yes...we are all on the internet, that is true. But what you are supposed to deduce is that we are all giants of Silicon Valley. That's right...BB&B pulled up stakes from Albany and Alameda County and moved right into the dark heart of the future of the world, which is in San Jose, California. I'm not endorsing this future, but it's here and people seem to love it.

One reason we are here in San Jose is because of the house we are renting. The house is a very typical suburban home, ideal for the familial situation I am currently in. But the house is ideal in another has a yard...right next to a couple of ponds and Guadalupe Creek, meaning the yardbirding potential is very good. Despite my total lack of interest regarding living in San Jose I couldn't say no to this house. I work from home now, so what better way to stay sane than to yardbird like a fiend?

Our neighbors have a large pepper tree that attracts quite a few birds. A flock of Cedar Waxwings were in this tree every day earlier in the spring.

I knew this place could be interesting, but the yardbirding has totally exceeded expectations so far. As you can see above, in the month of May, Rancho del Bastardos recorded the highest yard list in all of California. Amazing! I've recorded a number of semi-rarities that were flagged in eBird, and one very popular rarity that was chased by a large number of people...luckily they could get to it from the other side of the ponds, instead of rampaging through my yard. I'm still missing a lot of locally common birds though, so when fall rolls around I think I'll be adding a great number of species. 80 species is the current grand total for Rancho del Bastardos, which I am chuffed with since we've only lived here since late April. The water level for one of the ponds behind the house is currently dropping, so if I'm lucky I can get a shorebird or three in July when the migrants return (so far I only have Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper). Ideally, a violetear or something like that will show up at the hummingbird feeders in the meantime (hey, it happened in Berkeley), but I ain't holding my breath.

Of course, this isn't the first time I've had good yardbirding...field housing can be very rewarding, particularly in places like Veracruz, Mexico, the Aleutian Islands, Midway Atoll, southeast Arizona, etc. Lots of great birds in those yards. However, I was only at those places a few months each...Rancho del Bastardos is my real home, where bastards roam free and I can actually put up 10,000 feeders if I wanted to.

Power lines are unsightly, but they provide great perches! Northern Rough-winged Swallows perch over the yard regularly, since they are often out foraging over the ponds. So far, 5 species of swallows seen from the backyard and 2 species of swift, all of which are here on the reg. I did look for Black Swift last month but it looks like I will have to try again next year.

This Budgerigar was not an expected bird at all. It was here for two or three days and vanished.

Mourning Doves are pleasantly common in the yard. Even more pleasantly, there are not many Eurasian Collared-Doves around here - I have only seen one so far from the Rancho. That's a good dove ratio. Now if only the cowbirds and House Sparrows would stay the fuck away...

Some people, namely Flycatcher Jen, think it's just hilarious that I've apparently gone full Geri and gotten so into yardbirding. I think it is perfectly normal...I just haven't had a suitably birdy yard (not counting field housing) since 2005 or something like that. My last "yard" in Albany was a thin strip of cement, and before that in Oakland it was a cat-ridden hell...attracting birds would have been a bad idea. At any rate, yardbirding is just a natural extension of my birdfiend tendencies, you see?

Any serious yardbirder in this day and age of digital crushing needs to put up more than feeders to optimize their yard...they need to put up some fake perches! This one can support the weight of a couple Band-tailed Pigeons. The Band-taileds are still pretty wary, I had to shoot through the sliding glass door while rolling around on the living room floor all ninja style to get this. Not too bad though eh? That is the power of the fake perch. In fact, I'm considering quitting my day job to become a fake perch consultant.

BB&B has been in the blogosphere since 2008. We are ancient, in blog years. Since then we have told many stories, featured many birds, made fun of many birders. What we have never done in all that time is post a picture of an Oak Titmouse. Let me put your titmouse worries to rest; they are, indeed, still extant. Luckily, titmice are frequent visitors to our feeders and this one decided to use one of my fake crush-perches to work on a sunflower seed.

I've been using a squirrel-proof tube feeder and a hummingbird feeder so far, and just added a nyjer feeder and another hummingbird feeder. Nobody has discovered the nyjer feeder yet, but hopefully the goldfinch hordes will descend upon us soon. A substantial amount of the yard vegetation that was here when we moved in has been removed and replaced...we've planted a grip of salvias and some other stuff too (a coffeeberry is our pride and joy) but none of it has really taken off yet to the point that it is bloggable. We will get there soon...maybe too soon.

How about some of the pond birds? This Mallard family sneaks under the fence to come to our feeder. Black-crowned Night-Herons are always lurking around, but unless I set out a tub of crawfish I don't think I will be feeding any.

This drain is a popular feature among the local pond-lurkers. There are a couple pairs of Green Herons around, presumably nesting in the riparian along the creek on the other side of the ponds. This is a very nice bird to see from your yard on the reg.

Here it is, the star rarity I've found so far...I present to you, in all its irony, a Common Loon. The ponds behind my house are not the sort of place you would expect a loon, and certainly not one arriving in late May. I knew it was a good bird, but I couldn't believe how many people chased it! I would sit here at my desk, look out the window and see birders coming to chase it day after day. Hilarious. Other eBird-flagged birds recorded here so far are Cackling Goose, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Myrtle Warbler, all of which were unseasonally late.

This is the second loon species I've seen in Santa Clara County...the first was Yellow-billed!

Despite daily disturbance from off-leash dogs that go running by about 10 feet away (who go swimming in the pond) and trespassing fishermen, the Pied-billed Grebe nest below the yard managed to hatch chicks! There are six chicks, all of which have survived their first couple weeks of life. I'm not sure if this grebe pair is super smart for nesting where they did or just super lucky, but they are good parents, dutifully covering up the eggs (which were large and bright white) with algae whenever a dog or person was too close and slinking away inconspicuously. Now they can't slink away as well because of the train of stripey baby grebes that follow the adults around.

Moonrises are crushable from the yard too. Good times at Rancho del Bastardos.

What will the next addition to the Rancho list be? Hell, it's June, it could be anything...the only birds still migrating through the area are eastern vague runts, and I'm not expecting a Rose-breasted Grosbeak on the feeder (though obviously I am constantly hoping for one). Let's face it, Brewer's Blackbird is probably next.

I'll keep you posted on the avian events at Rancho del Bastardos as time goes on...after all, this is where I do most of my birding.


  1. I do find it hilarious but I obviously also fully support this yardbirding thing. No suet?

    1. The suet conversation is ongoing, but it has not been deployed yet. We may do it. What do you use? I assume it is veeguhn.

    2. I was making vegan suet for years but got super lazy this winter and started buying a cow-filled one. It's only ingredients are suet, peanut butter, and chopped peanuts. The vegan one was similar but coconut oil instead of suet.

  2. I eagerly anticipate you getting very excited by a Pine Siskin when it joins the (soon to be) hordes of goldfinches at your feeders.

    1. Honestly...I am excited by Pine Siskins, can't wait to make a listserv post or three about it. So far just 1-2 individual LEGOs use the thistle feeder though.

  3. Welcome to the county. Thanks for the Loon.

    1. Glad to be here, looking forward to serving up some more birds of interest to ya'll.

  4. Damn yo. Thats hella good yard birding. I've also done some yard birding now in EPA, but because they took out every damn plant in the yard except for a couple of bougainvillea it required a lot more planting to get things to start to come in again. Real close to the bay west side of Don Edwards so getting some decent flyovers, but I don't have any nice ponds in sight.

    1. Flyovers are so crucial. Had some pretty good ones so far, but sounds like you are better positioned for that.

      One of the ponds behind me is becoming better and better shorebird habitat every day, it is killing me that they are draining it the one month of the year where there are no shorbs moving around.