Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Summer Dispatch from Rancho de Bastardos and the Five Mile Radius

I lied. The newest BB&B post will not be about about we change it up? What about the local birding? What is the good word? How are things going at Rancho de Bastardos? What of the Five Mile Radius (5MR)? As everyone knows, you can't be a birding darling without birding locally!

Well we renewed our lease of Rancho de Bastardos, so will be holding it down at least until next spring. The current Rancho list stands at 122, with 6 new species so far this year: Lesser Scaup (expected), Phainopepla (very unexpected), Purple Finch (expected), Red-breasted Merganser (quite unexpected), Rufous Hummingbird (not necessarily expected), and Orange-crowned Warbler (long expected). A hoped-for-but-unsurprising Snow Goose showed up right at the end of 2017, found by my dad who was visiting from out of town (above).

Getting new yard birds this year has been a major pain, and I suspect I won't be getting another until August or September...the potential for new birds before then is really low, especially if the ponds behind the house remain too full to be attractive to shorebirds...but if shorebird habitat was actually allowed to develop, there are a whole bunch of new birds that could potentially drop in. Same old story...the impossibilities are truly endless. A crippling drake Wood Duck hung out right behind our back fence for a morning earlier in the month, which was a life-affirming (if not life-changing) summer surprise and a new one for the 2018 Rancho list. Speaking of which, the 2018 Rancho list is at a solid 104, and with a little luck I think 120 can be reached by the end of the year.

This seemed like a good spring for migrant hummingbirds in the county (namely Rufous and Calliope), and multiple Selasphorus made visits to the feeders at Rancho de Bastardos in the spring. All the males seen well enough to ID were Rufous (above), though several females and an immature male or two could not be identified to species. I'll be on the lookout for Allen's Hummingbird next spring, a prime candidate for the yard list.

The putative White-throated x White-crowned Sparrow hybrid ended up hanging out for several weeks in April. Here is a head-on shot that shows the crown pattern pretty well, which is a closer match to White-throated but doesn't perfectly match either species.

Compare it to this White-crowned (presumably pugetensis). All of the Rancho's Zonotrichia migrated north while I was in Texas in late April, not a single bird remained by the time I got home. I guess they had an exit plan.

In other bastard news, Annabelle can now identify Mallards ("duck"), Canada geese ("gee"), Mourning Doves ("duhv") and California ground-squirrels ("wheeo"). She even made a rudimentary song about the goes "Whee-oh, Whee-oh, Whee-oh, Whee-oh." Fully legit. She also peed on my binocular strap and on my camera case the other day, which is not a problem I've dealt with previously.

My 5MR list has matured nicely this year as well, and has climbed to a modest 156, surpassing my previous 5MR based in Albany. Many (most?) of you have higher 5MR lists, but I am pleased with how mine is progressing, nay burgeoning...I've already added 19 species to it in 2018. Let's hear it for local birding! This is about 65% of my entire Santa Clara County list, which I think is a nice ratio and reflective of what the 5MR has to offer relative of the general area.

If only eBird could whip up a quick target list for my 5MR...

They are an abundant bird in the bay area and they are in my yard every day, but since I grew up in a chickadee-depauperate part of the state they still hold some novelty for me. This Chestnut-backed Chickadee was photographed on the Los Alamitos Creek trail in San Jose, in the 5MR of course.

On the same trail on another day, I came across a Turkey Vulture feeding on a deer carcass (note the ribcage in the upper right). This generally isn't blogworthy, especially considering the rubbish quality of the photo, but this section of trail wasn't next to a road (it's actually separated from area roads by a tall fence) and the trail was saturated with warnings of mountain lion sightings. I think this deer wasn't taken down by a Jaguar, but by a mountain lion, know what I'm saying? Eh? Eh?

The southern half of my 5MR is absolutely brimming with Acorn Woodpeckers. It is the cradle of Acorn Woodpecker civilization as far as I know. This is the sort of bird that you want around in great abundance, especially when they aren't wary of people. Photographed at Guadalupe Oaks County Park.

While we are on the hot topic of 5MRs and the perpetually hot eBird, I have a proposal to make. Those of you who have an ear open for you at eBird Central Command (or are a part of Central Command) should tell them to embrace the 5MR. I know almost half of you who read this are eBird reviewers, so we have a nice, potentially powerful little lobby here. The 5MR encourages local birding, it encourages birding lightly-covered (or uncovered) areas (a major goal for eBird), and it encourages eBird use (an even greater goal for eBird). If a 5MR tool is added to patch lists, 5MRs will become the shining jewel of that feature. So eBird, go ahead and do a quick interview with everyone's favorite famous post-Oregon birder Flycatcher Jen, add a 5MR feature, and let it rip! Many birders will chill back on their excessive checking of Top 100 state and county lists, and be all about comparing the Top 100 5MRs in their states and counties instead. This will really level the playing field for those who are interested in comparing patch lists, considering that many users (including have bullshit patches that are hundreds of square miles.  Anyhow, do us all a favor and let eBird know...if they actually had some interest in this idea, things may never be the same.

I'll close this post out with series of Great Egret vs. gopher shots from the Los Alamitos Creek Trail, part of my 5MR I've been birding on the reg. It's a nice zone and has some Vague (not vague) potential, unfortunately it starts getting real crowded by mid-morning...but when you live in a city with over a million people, what do you expect? Gross...

Surprisingly, the gopher ate the egret in the end.

Jk the egret won, gopher-egret matches are always fixed. I'm glad I don't have to worry about being impaled by giant birds, just stuff like cholesterol. More from Texas in the next post, for reals.

Word is bond.


  1. I can't wrap my head around the fact that you had a Merganser, Phainopepla, AND Chestnut-backed Chickadee (fabulous crush BTW) in your yard. What sort of weird-ass birding nexus wormhole do you inhabit?

    Glad the gore-fest is back. Things were getting a little too pretty and polished after the high watermark of gator vs. egret

    How come that Snow Goose looks like death?

    1. I'm hoping to get the merganser trifecta here before we have to leave, just need Hooded. Hopefully things will get more wormholey in a couple months, it's been pretty regularholey lately.

      Most immature Snow Geese look pretty dingy, but maybe because this one looks like it is grazing on the surface of Mars?

  2. Extrapolating to rock-paper-scissors dynamics, gator eats egret, egret eats gopher, therefore gopher eats gator, correct?

    1. This is correct. The circle of life amazes and mystifies.

  3. Oh my god, a real eBird 5MR tool would be amazing. Every time I think about coming up with targets I just fall asleep instead.

    Did you mention this yard Phainopepla before? I feel like I would have remembered something so ridic.

    1. Yeah it's hard to come up with a target list, even just in my head. The past few months I start with Western Wood-Pewee then my mind wanders to a totally different topic. Still need Western Wood-Pewee...

      I posted to BB&B's FB account about the first Phainopepla sighting, maybe you were off FB at the time. One was wintering a quarter mile away and I randomly decided to try and find it in the scope one day and was actually successful. A while later another or the same flew directly over the yard's airspace, which was totally bizarre, a Phainopepla has no business being in my neighborhood.

  4. The 5 mile radius has been in my birding mind since I first read about it here. I hope soon time will be on my side but having two kids is kicking my ass. I decided today a trip to the beach with two kids under 2 1/2 years of age is about 25 times the effort as a going by ones self. 2 kids x 2 meals x 2 sets of clothes x 2 snacks x 2 diapers + 18 for the sand factor, divided by 2 parents = 25x normal. If you are a single parent a full 50x harder.
    Anywho, my favorite part of this was the pee on the bino strap and camera case. Not a common problem for most people. We are potty training and that stuff can end up anywhere! Keep up the great posts. I have enjoyed them all.

    1. Joel, I can imagine the ass kicking, I really can. You have my sympathies, and time of course will inevitably be on your side...eventually. At least right now you aren't missing out on a lot of good local birding. I'm about to go camping next to the beach for a few nights, already shuddering about the amount of stuff we are going to end up bringing for just our one.