Monday, December 11, 2017

Rarities Return, Featuring: Parakeet Auklet, Little and Red-necked Stints!

Every now and then a birding community will be struck by a rarity so bizarre and unlikely that we are left running around slamming into walls, foaming at the mouth, bleeding from headwonds, uttering incoherently about needing to be somewhere, at any cost. A Parakeet Auklet in July (July!) in San Francisco did exactly that, smashing the 2017 summer doldrums into oblivion and sending birders scurrying to SF. The story of how this vague runt was found was truly unlikely; a birder found it in the water off Sutro Baths in the summer of 2016, but it was never seen again...a year later, the same birder relocated the bird while kayaking less than a half mile further up the coast. This time, the bird was seen sitting on seastacks and cliffs, which as far as I know is the first time a healthy individual has been seen on solid ground in the state. There is a good chance the bird was doing the same thing the previous year, but no one saw it!

I appreciate a good Parakeet Auklet, and this being a good Parakeet Auklet (and a state bird) I dragged the family up to the city kicking and screaming for a chance at this bird...but despite staking it out for hours, it never showed. It was a tough dip to swallow, and most everyone who actually dips will tell you that all dip is tough to swallow to begin with...I'm talking about chewing tobacco of course, but hey it applies to birds as well.

While doing the drive of shame back to San Jose, I analyzed my chances of getting the bird the next morning if I made another chase attempt and decided against it...which I immediately regretted the next day when the bird was relocated quickly. My heart was filled with hate. By mid afternoon I was twitching uncontrollably from the constant updates of resightings, said "fuck it" and rocketed back north. This time I found the bird in about 30 seconds, circling behind Mile Rock. It eventually landed on a distant rock just a stone's throw from the shoreline, which I pointed out to several birders who were clearly there for the same reason as me.

Incredibly, one of the birders I updated totally ignored what I had just said, and instead told me that he believed the bird was currently sitting on a seastack right below us. Keep in mind I had a spotting scope and he did not, so I must have seemed absolutely incompetent to him. Friends, do I give off an air of complete ineffectiveness? For those of you who haven't met me, next time you encounter a birder in the field that you believe has utterly no idea what they are doing, just go ahead and assume it is Seagull Steve.

I had to look at this man's auklet, of course. It turned out to be not a guillemot, or an oystercatcher, or a black bird of any was a shadow. A shadow.

I booked it to where the actual bird had been sitting and eventually ended up below it, as it had flwon from its rock and was roosting high up on a cliff. Talk about something I never expected to see outside of Alaska. July in San Francisco? Get out of here. State bird! Though California has accrued quite a few records now, this is a very unreliable bird to see anywhere in the Flycatcher Jen would tell you, good times.

July isn't all state birds and Parakeet Auklets though. Least Sandpiper is much more typical birding fare around these parts, and much more confiding as well. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.

My god...could it be? SHARP-TAILED GROUSE???

No, it can't be, but this Least Sandpiper is striking a pose remarkably similar to what displaying Sharp-tailed Grouse are known for. This bird was having a territorial dispute with another Least.

Remember the barren dowitcherless times? It sure is nice to have dowitchers again, especially pink and orange ones. I think these are all Long-billed.

On another July day, I was out birding and saw a report of an alternate plumage Little Stint that was within easy driving distance. It wasn't a lifer/state/county bird, but seeing as I had gotten to look at all of one (1) before, I picked up the scope and hustled back to the car. The instincts that made me the Global Birder Ranking System's #7 US birder made me stop and scan a blackbird flock just long enough to find my county Yellow-headed Blackbird on the way back, and I was still able to make it back to the car quickly. Things were going splendidly. Unfortunately, at that point my instincts ceased to serve me my haste to get on the road, I broke off TWO door handles to my car. What the fuck?! Who does that? This wasn't even for a life bird. That's what those two gray things are in my palm, freakin door handles.

And to top it off, later that day I was playing bass and I ripped off the plug to the amp from the power cord. Nerd strength was just pumping through my veins that day.

But hey, I saw the Little Stint! Talk about a completely rubbish photo (digiscoped). The light wasn't great and the bird wasn't very close, but I did get really nice, prolonged views. Lifer plumage! Year bird! It was nice to continue my long running streak of taking terrible stint photos.

A few days later I went back to see if the stint was still around (it was not), but I did find a very interesting peep that had me confused for a bit. Not that you can tell, but the bird's back was very bright and boldly marked, with lots of orange and red tones. With the short, straight, tapered bill, it was an intriguing combination, but at the end of the day it was just a Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Just a Semipalmated Sandpiper? That's a bit of an understatement...despite a great deal of looking at peeps all around the bay for many years now, until this bird I have never been able to find one in any bay area county. Anyone who has birded much around here would find that baffling, and they would be right. This was a hard-won bird, thus you are forced to look at a photo (digiscoped) so awful that it is, in fact, art. It was also the most colorful individual I have ever seen, but again you cannot make that out whatsoever. Because art.

Sorry about the run of appalling photos. Here is an alternate Western Sandpiper pondering life in its reflection. This looks to be a male, judging by the relatively short and straight bill.

This adult has already acquired a lot of basic plumage, but retains some old summer chevrons on the breast. More of a femaley bill on this bird.

Oh why hello RED-NECKED STINT. It sure is nice to see Red-necked and Little Stint in the same week! That's California birding for you. This one was at Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary in Alameda. As I mentioned back in 2015, this place had been due for a great bird! As with my other Red-necked Stint experiences in California, nice prolonged looks at a spiffy alternate bird that was either distant or in crap light. Not sure how that keeps happening, but when one is looking at a stint one cannot complain. But now I really, really need to get a good photo of some kind of stint eventually...

Although they don't inspire the panic of a stint, Baird's Sandpiper is a refreshing fall migrant that only has a short window here. They are refreshing birds in and of themselves, but their presence is always a tasty precursor of things to come...if you are looking at a Baird's Sandpiper in California, chances are you are only a few weeks away from experiencing that holiest of months, SEPTEMBER.

I know, I know, you can roll your eyes, we are far removed from September, but I'm getting there! I won't say that blogging is hard (it isn't, despite everyone who starts one and then gives up), but I will tell you that blogging with a baby is hard. As Corey Finger rightly pointed out to me last year, it's not that you won't have time to bird anymore once you have a baby, it's that you won't have time to blog. This is true.

Refreshing birds are often found in disgusting places. That's not a gross mudflat the birds are on, it is a much filthier floating mat of algae. Juvenile Least Sandpiper on the left for comparison.

Has any bird mastered the filthy floating mat dance like the Baird's Sandpiper? Unlikely.

Ok, I'll throw in a token resident bird, and one that BB&B doesn't cover much. This juvenile California Gull was also holding down the algae mat along with the peeps. I know birders in most states don't get to see this short-lived plumage very often, and we are balls-deep in gull season right now, so enjoy! The Baird'seses and the gull were at Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont, CA.


  1. Life is pain.

    Though not as painful as that Semipalmated Sandpiper image.

  2. A shadow! Door handles! These are my favorite things from this post.