Monday, February 3, 2020

South Bay Winter Slumber

While Santa Clara is not known as one of the premiere gulling counties in the state, that is not because there are a lack of gulls. There are many thousands of Herring Gulls (like the one above) in the county right now, and where there are Herring Gulls there are rare gulls...sometimes anyway. I have at least managed a Santa Clara Glaucous Gull already this year and a 5MR Western Gull, which I didn't see in the radius until November last year. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh it's February. I don't know how I feel about that. It sure got here quickly, and as I say in BB&B pretty much every year I'm leery of March birding around these parts. Things have been pretty slow this winter here in Santa Clara, especially if you opt to not attempt feverish county year birding and rechase all the rarities you already chased a month or two ago, or the previous winter. But! But. BUT...the middle of winter is generally a great time to be birding around these parts. If you really need to see a rarity or a year bird or whatever every time you go birding, then just give up birding and be honest with yourself and everyone are not a birder. You are a chaser. You don't enjoy the activity of birdwatching, you like birdchasing.

I think the quasi-elitist and increasingly obsolete notion that listing is something to scoff at now borders on being something to scoff at itself. Let's face it, most of us have bird lists that we care about. Listing is not the problem here, heck chasing isn't even the problem. I happily chase stuff on the reg and recommend it highly. The problem is when you get so locked into certain lists that they dictate that you run after other people's birds every time you go out. Going out with the hopes of finding something interesting yourself, once standard practice when one went out birding, is becoming increasingly uncommon and comparatively bold.

Is it time for a great schism in birding? Is it time for the strict chasers to separate themselves from the rest of us? There is already a large and still growing subset of photogs who seem to chase every rarity but never find anything rare themselves. Something to ponder on a cool February day.

But now that I've begun to peel back the lid on that can of worms, I'm going to put it back on the proverbial shelf for another post. That was not a road I intended to go down! Shifting gears (but probably still instilling some butthurt anyway), I've really been enjoying my new CANON gear after kicking Nikon to the curb. With the assistance of CANON, here is a sampling of our winter birds from along the edge of the South Bay.

Iceland Gulls can be be quite common at certain sites right now. Here is a particularly eye-catching bird with a big dark hood. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.

Here is a more typical looking Iceland (darker eye, whiter face) photographed from the same spot. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.

While Herring x Glaucous-winged are often the most common hybrid in Santa Clara gull flocks, along the bay Western x Glaucous-winged like this one can be more abundant. The Olympic Gull is a particularly unpleasant creature and I have nothing more to say about them. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.

Mew Gulls, with their small size and delicate build, are absolutely delightful in comparison. They should have named Daymaker Gulls. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.

I thought this COMBO was worthy of posting, a ring-billed Mew Gull and a ring-billed Ring-billed Gull. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.

The occasional close pass by a Northern Harrier is always appreciated. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.

Familiarity breeds contempt, but as common as they are Turkey Vultures are still cool to see close up. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.

Santa Clara is not a very goosey county, but we get a light smattering of non-Canadas every fall and winter. Here is part of a family group of Snow Geese that have been wintering next to Shoreline Lake near Mountain View. Photographed at the Shoreline Park kite flying area.

A group of Greater White-fronted Geese is also wintering in the same area and are similarly acclimated to people, no doubt due in large part to the large flocks of JUDAS GEESE (nonnative/tame Canada Geese) here. I like the lawn-mowing lineup.

Sometimes, I think about grebes. Luminous beings are grebes. I am a fan of Horned Grebes, but it is one of those species that makes me wonder why, know what I mean? Like if someone could do a brain scan while I looked at a Horned Grebe vs a Western, there would probably be more HOGR-related brain activity even though WEGRs sound way cooler and have a legendary courtship display. Maybe it all goes back to when I first started birding, where HOGRs are harder to come by. I'm sure a great many of my feelings and opinions about certain birds, and birding in general, are heavily colored by those early years more than I realize. Photographed at Shoreline Lake.

EARED GREBE/HORNED GREBE COMBO!!!!!!! The HOGR is showing off its flatter crown, thicker bill, and more contrasting face/neck/flank pattern.

While I think of it, I wanted to mention another aspect of my new Canon gear that I forgot to bring up in my previous post about it. For all previous combos and iterations of Nikon bodies and lenses I've used (which are numerous), one flaw that all of them had was that when the subject was on a flat surface (i.e. sitting on or flying low over water, on mudflats, in short grass) and not close up, the camera invariably have a very difficult time focusing on the intended subject. I could shoot 50 similar frames and sometimes less than 10 would have the subject acceptably sharp with good light and good settings and a near-stationary bird, which is a really shitty ratio. I have no such problem now with the Canon 90D/100-400mm II and couldn't be happier. Photographed at Shoreline Lake.

These Western Sandpipers just had to probe the same exact spot. Must be awkward to bump bills under the mud. Photographed at Charleston Slough.

Let's wrap things up with some avocets, photographed at Charleston Slough. Avocets simultaneously look gangly and awkward in flight, but somehow also striking and graceful. There are a shitload of avocets in the South Bay and I'm pretty happy about it. 


  1. I admire your knowledge of seagulls. I can distinguish 3-4 species. He is not passionate about them. But these are interesting observations.

    1. Thanks. Lots of trial and error. They are hard to be passionate about, for most people anyway.

  2. What otherwise was a fun (and successful!) chase of an American tree sparrow this morning, I found tinged with feelings of guilt and self-consciousness because of this new derision toward chasing "other people's" birds. WTF!

    1. Well like I said above, "I happily chase stuff...and recommend it highly". Derision is reserved for those who do nothing but chase.

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