Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Radius Rarities, Glaucous Glory, Springing

Hey, an uncropped photo! Mourning Dove with a rainbow for a backdrop...MODOBOW. Photographed at the legendary and singular Rancho de Bastardos.

Aside from Belize, the vast majority of the birding I've done this year has been in the 5MR. My sweet, sweet radius, the radius that shelters me. Nourishes me. Asserts its dominance on me...after all, I am but the learner now, not the radial master. I've been checking out new spots, hitting up places I typically neglect, getting a better idea of where to go at the very edges of the radius ("the outer rim"), and of course looking for both new and 5MR year birds for the 5MR Challenge. As with birding in general, there have been ups, like getting my first self found rarity of the year, and downs, like actually exerting effort to find Brewer's Blackbirds...and failing. My radius is neither glorious, nor does it suck...I actually get a fair amount of habitat diversity that I'm pretty stoked about. I also benefit from a moderate amount of coverage from other birders...

Prior to going to Belize, I had dipped a couple of different times on a wintering Summer Tanager that I had seen before the new year...and when I came back, someone had found a new Summer Tanager somewhere else! It was a particularly confiding one too. Photographed at Vasona Lake County Park.

In January, I got three sapscucker species in the radius, Red-breasted, Red-naped and this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, which has been present since last fall and is probably still present as of this writing. There can't be many other radii out there with triple sapsuckers on the year (none outside California?). Photographed at the Santa Clara Water District.

Clark's Grebe was a new radius bird, one of only a handful so far in 2019. Aechmophorus grebes are plenty common in the county, but noteworthy birds here in my zone. Photographed at Almaden Lake.

Almaden Lake has also hosted some American White Pelicans recently (first these two, now up to four), which are also rare in the area and not something I thought I would see in the radius this year...I was prescient enough to be out checking for grebes, but these illustrious fishlords took me by surprise.

Shorebirds are extremely hard in my 5MR, but at least I have gulls! A great many gulls. Shitloads of gulls on good days, about 98% of which are California, Herring, Glaucous-winged, Herring X Glaucous-winged and Iceland. Like last winter, I've spent a lot of time combing through flocks in the hopes of finding a proper rarity. Photographed at Almaden Lake...again...which is turning out to be more interesting than I thought it was.

Perseverance (agony?) finally rewarded me with a Glaucous Gull. It's been a great many years since I found one of these on my own, I was due, and after so much local gulling I am chuffed that it was here in my radius. It was a really nice looking one, slightly darker than the average first cycle but with heaps of white on the wings and some very delicate covert patterning. Photographed at Almaden Lake.

This is definitely my favorite 5MR bird of the year so far. The gull window will be closing soon, but after seeing this pasty wonder I am sated.

It is odd to have seen a Glaucous Gull down the street this year, but not a Mew or a Western. Yes, I live in a county with salt water and can get find flocks of thousands of gulls in my radius, but Western Gulls are somehow elusive....what gives? Why are Brewer's Blackbirds and Western Gulls so hard to find? Is the fast food in our mall parking lots not savory enough? I don't get it. I've also failed to find an Allen's Hummingbird at all, which is confounding. But it's all part of the still-nascent 5MR experience, you get a better sense of what is found here regularly, and a better sense of what birds are actually as difficult as you think they are. For example, I have recently come to the conclusion that there are no easily accessible native conifers accessible in my radius, which is pretty crushing and has dire implications.

I'm lucky enough to have some grasslands in my 5MR, which isn't exactly a common habitat in most of California. I was recently turned on to an extensive secret-not-secret piece of private property that contains a lot of grassland and could provide some great radius birding and potentially produce some species I've yet to record here, as this Western Meadowlark can attest to. Photographed at secret-not-secret spot.

So where do I stand? This time last year, I was at 114 species. Right now I'm at 119. Not a big difference considering I have 5MR tunnel vision in 2019, and not an increase that fills my heart with hubris and joy...but not bad either since I lost a lot of potential radius time to Belize (which, not gonna lie, was way way better) and bad weather. I've missed a number of winter birds that I mostly won't have a chance again with until next fall, which vary from radius rare (American Bittern, Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon) to readily findable with minimal effort (American Wigeon). What is also apparent is that this fall/winter was very poor locally for irruptive species like Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Varied Thrush and Pine Siskin, so I'll have to hope that next fall and winter is better for them. The window is closing now for a lot of species, but opening for others.

So here we are in March...March. Most years, unless I have a trip to the desert planned, its not a month that is super exciting. The chance of finding rarities plummets in most places and, here in the bay area, until the last week the number of northbound migrants is a slow trickle compared to the big April push that is going to be featuring all the FOY birds you got in March plus a whole lot more.

But this year is different. This is the year of the 5MR, and there is work to be done. Not only are there radius year birds to track down, there are a whole bunch of potentially new species I should be looking for this spring. To wit:

Allen's Hummingbird - I'm holding out for one to show up in my yard...I do have a geri birding situation in effect, after all. According to eBird data, ALHU are very uncommon in my 5MR but March is a great time to pick one up. Looking at the region on a larger scale, they are more abundant in every other bay area county....what gives?

Western Screech-Owl - Probably fairly common in the southern part of my radius, just need to go owling. This month should be as good of a time as any to get one.

Olive-sided Flycatcher - Decent chance of getting one in the mountainish part of my radius later in the spring.

Western Kingbird - You show me grass and I will show you a Western Kingbird. I have grass. They may start arriving/passing through any day now.

Swainson's Thrush - These are surprisingly uncommon in Santa Clara County but my 5MR has the riparian to lure in some migrants.

Nashville, Hermit, and MacGillivray's Warblers - All are uncommon in the county, but at the same time I think they are most likely all annual migrants in my radius...MacGillivray's could be easier in fall than spring though?

Other potentially new 5MR birds I'll be keeping an eye out for in the next couple months, in no particular order, are Hammond's Flycatcher, Bank Swallow, Purple Martin, Lawrence's Goldfinch, and Swainson's Hawk. I don't expect any of those, but I am the Global Birder Ranking System's #7 birder in the country, so it's not like I am exactly incapable of finding them either.

Of course, since I am a raging nerd, I suffer from pretty crazy pollen allergies, and March marks the first month of suffering those, which lasts into summer. It's total bullshit...not pleased about being allergic to my own radius. How embarrassing right? Well I may be in for allergies but March also means wildflowers finally. Since my radius is more than just bleak agricultural hellscape or urban climax dystopia, I am lucky enough to get some cool native plants in the spring. I think this is white fairy lantern, Calochortus albus, photographed last year along Hicks Road.

The Rancho de Bastardos 5MR is not going to win any awards for wren diversity, but at least we have an abundance of Bewick's Wrens throughout the year. I don't see anyone singing their praises (or just saying praises normally), but living here has increased my fondness for them, as there is a pair that lives in the yard and I can actually see one on the suet feeder - maybe the same one on this picture - as I type this. They are very curious and confiding, bordering on friendly. Familiarity does not always breed contempt.

Yeah, yeah, making fun of ICP is so ten years ago...BUT...apparently there is at least one juggalo or juggalette in my radius?!! I was shocked to find this conclusive evidence of juggalism, I haven't even seen "genuine, dee-licious" Faygo in stores here. We are not within core ninja range here...a remarkable find.

That sums up recent events in the 5MR. For those of you who have been toiling in your radius these past few months in colder climes, new birds are on their way! The myopathic birding atmosphere that can be early March will soon melt away, and least in your radius...may never be the same.

p.s. have any of you tried Faygo?


  1. That last photo makes my teeth burn just looking at it. I am in the lower Great Lakes region where Faygo is endemic. I may have had it a few times as a kid, but in general nobody that I am aware of actually drinks it. I think it's just a cheap vehicle to get a plastic bottle, for which there are many other uses in this part of the country. And the chemical residue from those uses is indistinguishable in color, consistency, and smell from the soda itself. Genius.

  2. Your 5MR will probably win wildflower season if you have crazy flowers like that around. Mad jealous.

    Good luck this spring! I'll be out there looking for a lot of the same birds. I'm convinced my newer weird patch that turned up the shrike could turn up a kingbird too. I refound the Eurasian Wigeon there but no teals with it this time.

    1. Yeah there's some good areas, will hopefully be able to find a couple of other Calochortus species. I'll start taking my macro out with me when I go to the right zones. And lots of different antihistamines.

  3. Huh. I thought all the juggalos died out long ago in the early 2000s during the corydon extinction? Maybe they’re a clandestine society now on the other side of a spectrum, a young to the illuminati’s yang.

    Haven’t seen Faygo out here, but I should start documenting some of the more interesting and maddening garbage people leave at the cemetery in my 5MR. The only clearly public birding space in the whole damn circle.

    That’s a bummer about the lack of conifer access. Is there habitat in your circle or is it inaccessible? Surely #7 can find a way. Speaking of, how has this titanic 5MR affected the national GBRS? More importantly, how might it be affected at contest’s end?

    P.S. glad you photograph MODOs when appropriate.

    1. If conifers are in my circle, I don't know where they are. At least I have some nonnative pines?

      GBRS has been monitoring 5MR with interest. The 5MR movement has had a very uplifting effect on ranks of most participating birders, there is no doubt about it...but always in motion is the future.

      MODO is another abundant yard bird that I am actually not sick of...they do have an economy of style thing going and by watching them constantly I actually think they are more interesting than I did before. They also feed the local Cooper's Hawks and I am grateful they are not Eurasian Collared-Doves, which are (thankfully) inexplicably rare in my neighborhood, though not in the 5MR.

  4. Sorry - late to your post as usual. I think you may have some conifers in your 5MR. Doesn't it reach roughly up to Mount El Sombroso? That ridge is ~3k feet and there are foothill pines, knobcone pines, occ doug firs, and CA nutmeg in the area. The purple martins that live on the Sierra Azul ridge often fly that way too, so might be spotted. I'll be doing some cam trapping throughout that part of Sierra Azul this season. Maybe we can connect and get out in the field together.