Monday, October 30, 2017

Swift and Swallow Swarm, Yellow-throated Vireo, Summer Birds

Are you ready for another barrage of photos? Here goes...

One of the birding perks of being located where I am is the number of Vaux's Swifts present from April-September. This one is about to gobble its target, which you can see floating around innocently in the top left corner.

One day last spring I set out to get some Vaux's Swift photos that weren't completely horrendous for a change, which I did have some success with. I didn't have to go far...the swifts are a daily fixture at the Los Capitancillos Ponds, which are the ponds behind my backyard.

Few birds are more frustrating to photograph than swifts, but it was fun to see so many foraging down low. It turned out there was a big insect hatch in the ponds that day, and a swarm of swifts and swallows were feeding near eye level next to the trail.

My camera decided to focus on the rear bird in this photo...

...but a second later, locked on to the front bird when it suddenly banked.

Here is an eBird abundance map for Vaux's Swift in the region - I live in the single, darker purple cell that denotes more frequent observations than the rest of the area. For whatever reason, the ponds (and my yard!) is one of the most reliable places to see them in central California. It's no McNear Brickyard, but it suits me.

White-throated Swifts are much less common in the immediate area, but are generally much easier to find in the bay area; they will often nest under highway overpasses, and there is no shortage of those here.

Juvenile Anna's Hummingbirds can make for a challenging ID, as they typically lack any markings on the throat. This can render them into Costa's or Black-chinned imposters.

The faint rows of tiny spots this bird is displaying looks a lot different from the big dark blotch on the throat an adult female will show.

Black Phoebe production in the area is satisfactory.

Amazingly, while standing in the swift blizzard I managed a couple flight shots of a male Violet-green Swallow, often overlooked as one of the most crippling species in the west. Odd that Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Violet-green Facemelters occupy much of the same range and habitats, and aside from nest sites, they generally behave very similarly. Yet the males of one species are stunning, but poo-colored in the other.

That color on the rump is hard to fathom, and the only other ABA Area species that I can think of that has something close is Varied Bunting.

Tree Swallows, on the other hand, are significantly more fathomable. I saw them at the ponds very infrequently this year, and I spent an inordinate amount of time standing in the backyard checking swallow flocks for Bank Swallow/Purple Martin/Black Swift. Better luck next year with those, hopefully.

Late May and early June is when the window is open in California for spring vagues. These spring rarities are a different beast than the fall birds though...they can often be found by song (great!) and look their best (sick), but except at a handful of desert sites there are far fewer of them and they are much less chaseable. Always in a hurry to get someplace, they are. Other than the Black-and-white from the last post, I only managed to see this one other eastern bird last spring, but it was a great one.

Yellow-throated Vireo is a wonderful bird to see in California. Though not a Bird Police species, they are rare enough that most birders here will start grinding their teeth upon hearing about them. This is only the second individual I've ever seen in the state, and it was a hell of a lot more cooperative than the first.

This bird roamed around a few blocks at Moss Beach, adjacent to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Amazingly, it stayed over a week before taking off to points unknown.

White-crowned Sparrow is one of the most abundant birds around here now, but most of these birds are migratory and leave in March and April. This is one of the year-round residents. Photographed at Half Moon Bay.

Hey! It's a Spotted Towhee! Also in Half Moon Bay.

In June we went south for Peak's wedding, which was fantastic as expected, but not good blog-fodder for nerds. I was able to get one morning of birding in with Dipper Dan. No rarity glory - finding a spring vague runt in Ventura County is like winning the lottery - but I got my 2017 Blue Grosbeaks at Canada Larga Road, where this Hooded Oriole teed up briefly. See you in March, Hooded Oriole.

A Black-headed Grosbeak did the same. We will reunite in April, Black-headed Grosbeak.

It's all about the juniper...and I do mean an actual juniper tree, not Juniper Titmouse. This is an Oak Titmouse in the backyard juniper tree. The juniper tree is crucial to what goes on here at Rancho del Bastardos - birds love it. One of these days I'm going to do another thorough yard post, and you too can share in the glory of my juniper tree. I'm also going to have to change the name of Rancho del Bastardos, as it's been pointed out to me by a couple people that my Spanish is bad and the name of my Rancho is gramatically incorrect...and you fucking bird people cannot sleep at night if you've encountered bad grammar during the day, so I will concede that something must be done.

Look at the soft complexion of this gentle titmouse. This Oak Titmouse in a juniper. Backyard birding during the summer was just slightly more surprising than watching paint dry, but we did get titmice in the yard a lot for a couple months - these days I typically only hear them calling from across the ponds.

Alright, that's enough, this was a pretty extensive post. Go birding, drinking whisky, etc.


  1. Incredible violet green swallows.

    Is the ebird apparent high density of Vaux's swifts over your backyard because you are stuffing the ballot box with tons of observations? Serious question as to how/if ebird controls for one person making daily yard lists and would that skew the numbers?

    1. That's a question I've wondered myself, though more for rarities that tons of people go to chase than in this instance. I have no idea. There are multiple hotspots in the area where VASW is seen a lot though, so their relative local abundance is definitely real. I can also attest to their low abundance in surrounding areas, especially when they are not migrating north or south.

  2. Hello,
    very beautiful portraits of different birds, some are unfortunately not here but your flight photos are great and I like it very much.
    Greetings Frank

    1. Thanks Frank, flight photos are fun when the work out.

  3. A bunch of swifts live up above you on Loma Prieta and Sierra Azul ridge, so perhaps that's the source of your hotspotting. There's a small colony of purple martins up there too - see any of those yet?

    1. That makes sense - as for the martins, yes! I went up there last spring for the martins and other migrants - I found a Black-chinned Sparrow singing on the Santa Cruz side, which is apparently a known spot for them (it was news to me at the time). Looking forward to getting up there again next spring, if not sooner.

  4. This is the first time I have ever heard anyone say (seen anyone write) that they set out to get Vaux's photos. Sounds like a horrible headache but you did well.

    1. I did better than I thought I would - my problem was having them too close (surprising) and fast (not surprising). I plan on doing battle with them again next spring.