Monday, November 27, 2017

On Summer Sorrows (Doldrummer)

One day last summer, one of Rancho de Bastardo's Mourning Doves would repeatedly raise one wing above its head - it looked like some sort of display. It was bizarre. Did it think it was a Rock Sandpiper, or was this a cry for help? Even Mourning Doves need to be rescued from triple digit temperatures and drearily slow birding.

With Thanksgiving just behind us, I think now is a good time for a little reflection. A facet of life that I always want to improve on is appreciating experiences; not taking the positive aspects of my life for granted. So much of what we experience on a daily basis falls on the mediocre or crappy side of things (life is pain) that I try my best to not let those better moments go by without looking them in the eye, even if just in passing.

So what am I thankful for this year? Well, Annabelle is doing great, so that is awesome. I work from home, which is fantastic. There is a really good bottle of mezcal in the kitchen. I still get to see friends, despite being banished to the bowels of San Jose. But inevitably, the subject of birding must be broached. Of course, now that I am a father (which is still weird to say) I don't have nearly as much time to blog as I used to...BUT I still get to bird hella, and that is something I can really appreciate. The freedom to go flog the shrubbery and indulge my most basic nerd instincts is near and dear to me.

Oak Titmouse is a pleasant, dependable bird, always hanging tough through the summers.

Another thing I'm grateful for is the good birding around here. For months now, I get to see something rare/interesting pretty much every weekend. I don't take this for granted at all, I'm pretty lucky. What has made me, the #7 birder in the United States, so modest and humble? What has given me the ability to relish fall birding in the bay area?

It wasn't some epiphany, a major breakthrough, a conquering of the urge to loathe the familiar. The answer is simple...summer. I have been forced to spend a number of summers in the bay area now, and the birding can be so dull that as I write this sentence my mind is trying to think of something more interesting to focus its energies on. Will Giancarlo Stanton be traded to the Giants? Is Repeater still my favorite Fugazi album? If I really needed to obtain heroin for some reason, how long would it take me? Tacos sound good right now...mmmm, tacos.

Like the dove and the titmouse, some cheerful Bewick's Wrens holds it down at Rancho de Bastardos over summer. However, I am beginning to detect some sort of a pattern here...

As I don't live in northern latitudes and am without mountains of appreciable elevation nearby, the summer birding doldrums are not to be scoffed at. I'm not just talking about the dearth of warbler species that breed in Santa Clara County, or even the massive urban sprawl that eats up habitat like a disease. There are other factors at work. Unlike here, Californians living near the immediate coast experience the following conditions during the warmest months of the year: Graypril, May Gray, June Gloom, Gray Sky July, and Fogust. I long for that kind of summer. Where I live, we have no such luck. Overcast days are rare and precious, and there was not a lot of that going on in June or July. San Jose is sunny and hot as fuck, which is maddening considering there is an ocean nearby. Silicon Valley is not where you want to find yourself those months unless you are bringing home a staggering paycheck from a tech firm...or southbound shorebirds have returned. Climate change is a bitch, but so is geography. San Jose is on the hot side of the coastal range, and when migration is seemingly at a standstill, the summer doldrums are real.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow, another common bird of summer here at Rancho and across the state. Wait a second...why is every bird I've posted so far gray and brown? Is that seriously what all of our summer birds look like? That is awful. I can't tell you the relief I felt when we got a couple weeks into July and the shorebird floodgates opened up.

Well, maybe not all our summer birds are dirt-colored. Caspian Terns and their horrific, violent calls helped get me through to the other side. I've said it before, but it bears repeating...this is a nice yard bird.

A lot of our resident Anna's Hummingbirds were doing some pretty intensive molting in July. I'm glad we have them of course, but it will be a triumphant day when a second hummingbird species is added to the yard list.

I was a bit surprised to see this fledgling Tree Swallow (oh great, a new brown bird to recruit into the current brown bird population) at the Los Capitancillos Ponds, considering they are far outnumbered here by the other expected swallow species. I'm not sure if it was hatched here or wandered from another part of the south bay.

Thankfully, Calocortus rages against the dying of spring long after many other wildflowers have withered under the relentless sun. Canada del Oro Open Space Preserve, Santa Clara County, CA.

Now this is a brown bird of summer I can really back - Common Poorwill! I went some years without seeing any...though it is a pleasant heard-only, I'm glad that drought is over. Thankfully, there is a dependable area for them just a few minutes from Rancho. Brown it up! Photographed along the Calero Creek Trail in San Jose, CA.

Every year, early in July, the bird gods open the spigot of the shorebird tap. Least Sandpipers are one of the first species to return, and though they are still brown brown brown as can be, these first returning birds are a sight for sore eyes. Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, CA.

Seeing your first mixed shorebird flocks in July is the light at the end of the summer tunnel of darkness. A lot of the avocets are probably locals, but the dowitchers came from afar.

Hint: If you want people to think you are god's gift to bird photography, don't ever post photos this bad (this was digiscoped). It's embarrassing...but I am not embarrassed to say that this is the weirdest avocet I've ever seen. It was essentially all white except for its primaries, giving it a Snow Goose look. Rad.

Yip-yip-yip-yip...father stilt made it very clear to me that he does not want me near his chicks, although he is always right next to the boardwalk so I don't know what he expects.

Stilt offspring! I usually see them when they are younger and fluffier, this inbetween stage (apparently characterized by fat cankles) does not last very long. I like the brown covert edgings.

Anise Swallowtail, I reckon. You know, for all the great success Rancho de Bastardos has had with birds, it has been completely miserable for butterflies. I'm not exactly happy about that. I guess I am doomed to start attracting them to my yard, as geri birders like myself tend to do.

Great! I think this post pretty much recounts falling into, and climbing out of, 2017's summer doldrums...covering those are always a tough blogging assignment every year, because it's basically a bunch of whining and some pictures of common birds. Better to limit that, eh? 


  1. That teenaged Stilt's legs really break my brain in terms of what bird legs should look like.

  2. I too get the dog days syndrome, but you're being a bit harsh on San Jose. A short drive gets you to the top of Hamilton or to the fog of Pescadero Marsh. From 90 in Palo Alto to 70 in Purisima Redwoods... That's pretty special. As is the lovely local Clay Mariposa, Calochortus argillosus. ;)

    1. Ah, thanks for the Mariposa ID...not sure why I dropped that "h"...

      So what you are saying RT is that (in summer) San Jose is sorta close to a lot of stuff, but doesn't offer anything itself - sounds like we are in agreement!

    2. Ouch. But it is "well positioned to allow sampling of a range of Bay Area climates and habitats," and that's a good feature.

  3. nuthin in Alum Rock park? slogging along the Guadalupe creekbed in east Willow Glen? Perc ponds in Almaden valley? Calero? our childhood hangouts... paradise lost?

    1. I like Calero, sure, and I live on the Almaden perc ponds (I assume you mean the Los Capitancillos Ponds) and can attest to their relative lack of birdlife in summer, though they are great now. There's lots of cool spots around here of course, but relatively few offer much in the way of interesting birding during the hottest months.

  4. Summer in brown town sounds rough, but knowing your yard list is over 100 makes me not feel bad for you. Perhaps you are just not browning around enough.

    1. I think I hit peak brown with the poorwill. What a great brown bird. Next summer I can search for more brown county birds I need such as Swainson's Thrush, Grasshopper Sparrow and Horned Lark.

    2. A brown list! That would surely cure the doldrums.

  5. "Flog the shrubbery" LOVE IT! You are still representing quite well on the blogging front. Glad you are finding time to share your wisdom between the other gold of life.