Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Risky and Embarrassing: Ten Years of BB&B

This is a 2008-quality photo. Clearly, it leaves a lot to be desired...but it's a Burrowing Owl that lives under a big shoe! Burrowing Owls are great. Taken somewhere in the Imperial Valley, CA.

In July of 2008, one strange and humble birder began a blog. A blog that was meant for birders, yes, but aspired to be something different. Now this wasn't the birder's first blog, he had actually blogged successfully before, and was told by more than one person that he was actually a decent writer. But he wrote about friends, about music, about politics, about gossip, about raging...the exact sorts of things that bird bloggers not only don't write about, the majority of them don't even seem to have any personal experience with these concepts. Well, to be fair, birders gossip ceaselessly, but the human element was (and is) largely absent from both birders and their blogs.

The birder was acutely aware that he didn't fit in with most of the birders he had met over the years. How many other birders had to regularly cancel birding plans due to hangovers? How many other birders found themselves constantly annoyed by other birders? How come 90% of bird blogs he came across seemed like they were written by the same person? Did any other birders worship Greg Graffin as much as he did? Were there other birders out there in the Birdosphere that he would like to get to know? To find both a love of birding and a sense of the absurd cohabitating within a single soul was rare then, and it still is now. These are some of the notions that the birder had running through his head when he embarked on the saga that is BB&B. The birder had an angle on things that he felt was shared by few others of his nerdy ilk. He would blog birds, but he would do it differently. It was a risky venture, not to mention embarrassing. Would anyone ever notice? Would anyone care? On his deathbed, a wise ancient with great tufts of ear hair had warned him..."Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny".

And so, in July of 2008, Bourbon, Bastards and Birds quietly hatched. For years the birder toiled in relative solitude, with only a couple dozen regular readers and some unremarkable camera gear to help illustrate his posts with. It was rough going, but rewarding. The birding got better as time went on...he took bird jobs at Midway Atoll, Pennsylvania, southeast Arizona, the Aleutian Islands, Mexico, North Dakota...he had a lot of good material to work with. He was getting a lot of lifers. He only had to work half the year; the rest of the year was spent on a Perpetual Weekend. That left a lot of time for both birding and blogging.

In the winter and spring of 2010, the birder spent a lot of time in eastern Mexico, where Aplomado Falcons still have a stronghold. He still didn't have great camera equipment to work with, but birding there changed everything for him. Things have never been the same. Photographed in Alvarado, Veracruz, Mexico.

Eventually, at a point he cannot identify (2012-2013 maybe?), the birder and his blog went from obscurity to...to whatever is slightly more noticeable than obscurity. Semi-opaqueness? He befriended other bird bloggers. Random birders he would run into while in the field would recognize him from his blog (which the birder has never gotten used to, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't talk to him). A couple years after that, it all finally came together...when Dipper Dan the Global Birder Ranking System upgraded his status to #7 birder in the whole country, the glory and fame peaked, along with the drug abuse (not use, definitely abuse), outbursts of violence, sexcapades, general depravity, attempts at becoming an artist, etc. Eventually, he was committing acts so bizarre and vile that the birder himself could not deny the fact that he had become morally bankrupt and rotten to the core. This carried on for quite some time, though he managed to keep birding and blogging through it all.

The BB&B saga took a couple of dramatic turns in April of 2016, when the birder impregnated someone named Billy, and in the same week (the same day?) officially brought his famously fertile friend (and vastly superior writer) Cassidy Grattan in to the BB&B fold. Coincidence? Impossible. Slightly over 9 months later, the birder found himself to be a father. Though no longer a surprise at this point, it was still an extremely interesting turn of events.

And here we are, at the dawn of 2018. If you are wondering, the birder is not Felonious Jive, it's me, Seagull Steve. The Great Ornithologist Felonious Jive is now our only staff writer who is not a father, which is probably for the best considering he still does big fat rails of white stuff off his scope this time of year, and I'm not talking about snow! I don't think Annabelle will be doing Christmas Bird Counts with him any time soon.

Ah, the Iceland Gull...in 2017 we said goodbye to Thayer's Gull, effectively retiring one of the continent's most vexing ID problems. More than a few birders were unhappy about this lump made by the AOS, and the world's smallest violin got a lot of use for a few weeks. Lump or no lump, it's a bummer to not be close to the bay's classic herring run sites any more, but now I've got a huge gull roost within walking distance of Rancho de Bastardos.  Fingers crossed for a good gull at my patch in the next few months. Photographed at the Los Capitancillos Ponds, San Jose, CA.

Now on the other side of 2017, I'm happy to report that I'm somewhat settled into my role as a father. The constant exhaustion of the early months of raising Annie has morphed into constant distraction instead. Bourbon, Bastards, and Birds really does sum up much of my life now. Well, it always has, but now the definition of "bastard" has switched from the informal use to the strictest sense of the word...I spend most of his time with my lovely bastard girlfriend and our wonderful bastard daughter, and several times a week see my old friend Whiskey. My 2017 year list finished at 350 species (320 in California), which I figure to be the lowest total I've had since 2006, or some other year in the pre-blog daily binge-drinking era...The Ashtray is gone, but not forgotten.

Why such a low and embarrassing total? I had a baby, obvi. But on top of that, I saw almost no mountain birds (no Sierra trip this year), and had only a handful of dedicated birding days outside of California. That said, 2017's Lower 48 list (aka the whole year list) was actually better than 2016's Lower 48 list, and I got each and every expected "local" California species that I humiliatingly did not see in 2016 - Tundra Swan, White-winged Scoter, Sandhill Crane, Glaucous Gull, Prairie Falcon, Blackpoll Warbler. Eight new birds for the California list was a fantastic total though, and matched 2016's total of additions to the precious state list. I'm not optimistic that I'll be able to match that pace of state birds this year, or ever again.

Lifers were few and far between in 2017, but Great Cormorant finally ended up in the proverbial bag after all these years. This wasn't a nemesis bird by any means, but it was my easiest remaining Lower 48 bird. To me, Great Cormorant has one of the strangest distributions of any North American species...they are a cold water seabird on the east coast, but you can also see them in equatorial Africa, hundreds of miles from the coast. Weird. Photographed at Bass Rocks, Rockport, MA.

2017 will go down in my personal history book as the year Annabelle was born, and the year of the Ross's Gull - what is dead may never die! I could do a nice post to wrap up all my birding from this year, but let's face it...I'm hopelessly behind and time is of the essence. So we must look ahead. Cherish the birds of 2017, but don't cling to them. Try to process the daily horrors of a president that makes George W. Bush seem meek and innocent in comparison, of a soulless and revolting congress, of the tragedies wrought by the hurricanes in the Caribbean, of the catastrophic Thomas Fire that ran amok in my home county and is now the largest fire in California's history. To top it off, December saw a return of grim, drought-like conditions to the state...but will things turn around? How will 2018 be different?

How about this for starters...BB&B will be turning TEN YEARS OLD. Can you believe it? I can't. We will be celebrating. We will be birding. We plan on bringing you lots of special content...more interviews, more features from The Human Birdwatcher Project (the original birding project), and plenty of the classic birding and birder coverage that has kept you coming back all this time. I may not be able to effortlessly churn out 1-2 posts a week anymore, but BB&B intends to not finish 2018 with a swan song and a death rattle, but with the violent and victorious bellow of a well-oiled blogging machine! Or something along those lines.

Thanks to everyone who has read us over all these years, see you again soon!


  1. We luv ya papa...ahem, I mean #7

  2. Cheers buddy, hope to see you and your bastard family in 2018!

  3. Thanks for keeping birding fun and surreal. I've been a fan of your blog ever since I stumbled into you at Lloyd's Lake and asked you a bunch of dumb questions, which you answered most graciously. Your easy-going style makes birding accessible, and I hope it will inspire many in the next generation to learn about and protect nature.