Sunday, October 13, 2019

Still S.E.V.E.N./Breaking Rad(ius)

How long has it been since the last post? I'm really dropping the ball over here. Well, I've been doing a lot of crud, and quite a bit of stuff too, so it's not like I've had ample opportunities to fire up the blogerator...but still. Even though it has not been sheer, bottomless laziness that is to blame, I have let you down all the same.

I have failed you.

But I am here now. BB&B languishes no longer. Withering away into oblivion is not fait least, not yet. Before BB&B fades away, I must pass on all that I know. A thousand blog posts will live in you. Someday, this will be your fight.

And what a fight it will be. The truth about birders must be told, even after I am gone. Although our rate of posting has dwindled, BB&B is constantly taking the temperature of the birding community, and our recent findings are disconcerting at best. Birders are still as nonsensical, annoying, petty, anal and pedantic as ever...perhaps now more than ever. They still fail to apply basic concepts of science to their bizarre, baseless theories while claiming to embrace science. They are still obsessed with making everything into a hybrids. They still spew vicious, evil lies like "there is no such thing as a bad day of birding".


Someday, dear reader, you will construct your own lightsaber and your skills will be complete. Indeed, you will be powerful. But that day has not come yet...I am still here, and my journey is not yet over. I am still here, still the Global Birder Ranking System's #7 U.S. birder, still a birding master, still capturing the birding Zeitgeist like no blog ever has.

Still rock my khakis with a cuff and a crease.

Chances are most of you readers are too old or too young to know what that means, but for the rest of you, enjoy that easter egg. Now that we have reestablished my blog wizardry, I feel comfortable admitting to you a deeply shameful fact...September was an utter failure in terms of seeing rare birds. I didn't really chase very much (going to take this opportunity to pat myself on the back here), and while that may be admirable, I also didn't find jack shit locally. I can't remember the last time I went through September without seeing a single vague runt somewhere in the bay embarrassing!

Apparently, I no longer see vagrants. I no longer see uncommon birds. What has happened to me? Can I just go #FULLGERI and retire so I can go bird all the time? If only there were a way...

No, this is not where I direct you to my gofundme page so you can pay for my birding trips. You're welcome.

No matter. The rarities will return, though they may or not be within my 5MR. It hasn't been too difficult to stay in the friendly confines of the 5MR for most of the year though. I've gotten a lot of new radius birds, seen some rarities, and found a couple really good ones of my own. However, that strategy has been backfiring a bit lately, and I think one of the best ways to maintain a good relationship with your radius is to know when to break free of your radial shackles!

So with that in mind, here is some non-radial stuff from earlier this year.

Countless birders went to see this Eastern Bell's Vireo when it set up a territory for a couple of weeks in late spring. Not only was this my first Bell's Vireo of any subspecies in Santa Clara County, this was my first Eastern seen in the state. Easterns are exceptionally rare in California and practically unheard of in's worth wondering if this split will be revisited again. I've only seen one or two of these before, so this relatively cooperative vague runt gets FIVE STARS. Photographed at Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, Santa Clara County.

A day later, I hiked out on a trail I had previously not heard of for another county bird, an Indigo Bunting. While it wasn't very cooperative, I did appreciate that it dispensed with the suspense and appeared almost immediately upon my arrival. Photographed on the Stanford Dish Trail, Santa Clara County.

Dark-eyed Juncos isn't the slightest bit rare, but I appreciate friendly ones like this. This was photograped at New Brighton State Beach in Santa Cruz County, where I also got my lifer great white sharks! Standing on a fairly crowded beach while a bunch of (mostly small) sharks swim offshore is quite the spectacle, very Jawsish in a low intensity kind of way. Best moment: despite everyone on the beach knowing there were sharks visible just offshore, a dude on a stand up paddleboard tried to be all nonchalant and paddle around anyway, but had to frantically turn around and paddle to shore when a shark came up next to him. Golden!

The easiest, most reliable Red-footed Booby in the Lower 48 has made its home roost at the end of the Seacliff Pier in Capitola for spans of 2018 and 2019. It's still there, being awesome. Of all the booby species, this one has been the hardest to chase in California until very recently, as they had a penchant of dying immediately after being found. This one is holding it down though.

Here it is back in 2018. Back then, it looked a bit more blonde-headed and pink-billed.

I live near sea otters. They are very east to see down at Moss Landing (where this one was) and in the Monterey area. This proximity has enriched my life. Everyone would be a lot happier if they had access to sea otters. Alas, most of the world is a sea otter desert.

And so the world burns.

Unlike otters, summertime Long-tailed Ducks are not at all expected, as they are a good find even during winter. These two decided to pass their time going through gnarly molts in Moss Landing. 

After driving by it countless times without stopping, I finally checked out Moss Landing Wildlife Area. I'm glad I did, because there was a Snowy Plover nest hatching right next to the trail! Crazy timing. Look at that little chickie! It's still wet and has eggshell in its down. I spent less than 30 seconds next to the nest and then booked it out of there to make sure it was minimally disturbed...after all, I am not a photographer. Hey-oh!

Microfishing is all the rage now but Great Egrets have been doing it since there have been Great Egrets. Photographed at Shoreline Lake, Santa Clara County.

Can you imagine connecting with this microtrophy with hook and line? Oh, the stories you could tell. 

Shoreline Lake is also a popular fishing spot for Forster's Terns and a great place to see them up close, since they are very acclimated to fishing next to the well-trafficked footpath. I love me some acclimation. Too bad the Black Skimmers that nest there now aren't so prone to cruising by the shore.

It's not like I'm a photographer or anything, but one of my favorite things to shoot is terns in flight. Shooting many flying birds (swifts, hummingbirds, most passerines, almost anything on pelagic trips) often ends in nothing but crushed hopes, massive disappointments and some mediocre keepers, but terns have such nice lines, some tolerance for people and aren't obnoxiously small. Also, anything that feeds by plunge diving gets extra points from me.

Willets are underappreciated. Nice to see this confiding friend just returned from its breeding grounds...where their obnoxiousness is what is unappreciated. Being near a Willet nest is not a pleasant sensory experience. Photographed at Shoreline Lake.

Cliff Swallows are still occupying their wonderful ovenish nests in late summer. Photographed at the Palo Alto Baylands, Santa Clara County.

At the Casey Forebay pumphouse, I settled in to sort through the swallows that roost there. I don't get to see/study juvenile swallows as well or as often as I would like, and the flock here provides a good opportunity to see birds up close. Here is a somewhat bedraggled adult Cliff flanked by juveniles.

I was surprised to find this white faced juvenile Cliff Swallow. At first I thought it was an abnormality, but then I noticed several other white-faced juveniles in the flock.

This is a different individual. Bizarre. Well it's most likely not bizarre at all, but I did not expect it. Anyone know what's up with this whiteness? How long it is retained? Do only a minority of birds get this or is this a pretty typical part of their molt?

In the back of my mind, I had an alterior motive for standing there with the swallows. I wanted to find a Bank Swallow. They are a rarity in Santa Clara and I had never seen one here. You can imagine my surprise when one casually swooped in and landed on the railing 15 feet from me, allowing me to crush it through the chain link fence.

Uh....what? Finding rare birds usually does not work like that. Finding a rarity...a county always ace, but finding one in July is the icing on the cake. Having the bird come to you within scope and tripod hurling distance is the crushed up painkillers sprinkled on the icing on the cake. This business with betraying one's radius is not so bad after all, eh? Although they nest at a couple places on the coast, I don't often get to see Bank Swallows and this was my one and only of the year.

While the Bank Swallow was confiding, it did not stick around for long so I was left with the other swallow species. It was cool to have all the other brown swallows represent in the swallow roost, which made for a great comparison with the Bank and with one another. Here is a juvenile Tree Swallow.

And here it is bellowing.

Here is a juvenile Violet-green Swallow, showing just a tad bit of white above and behind the eye.

And last but for once not least, here is a juvenile Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Yes, typically this swallow is one of the absolute drabbest North American birds, but they are pretty cool looking as juveniles! So many rich colors...relatively speaking! A veritable rainbow of browns. I'm probably about done taking swallow pictures for the year, so I hope you enjoyed the brownbow!


  1. It is very weird to see a LTDU standing on the ground. We just nabbed one for the future 5MR, swimming in distant bright sunshine. Nice crushy swallows and amazing moist baby plover!

    1. I predict you will get an eider in your future radius someday. Prove me wrong.

      Plover chicks are great, especially when you see them somewhere where you know they won't be run over or be eaten by people's dogs.

  2. You were there while the Plover hatched? Not cool, man. It's no doubt imprinted on you and will soon be running around bragging that it's the world 9th ranked birder