Monday, August 31, 2020

2020: The Dawn of The Geri Birding Renaissance

California Scrub-Jays were daily yard visitors for a good part of the summer but are currently all but undetectable from the yard, although they are certainly still nearby. It is fascinating getting to learn some of the habits and vagaries of local common shit that you thought you knew like the back of your hand already. All photos in this post were taken at Rancho de Bastardos.

Geri Birding. Now, more than ever, it matters. BB&B readers know that we have always been staunch proponents of Geri Birding, whether you are doing it in your own backyard or at some lodge buried deep in a rainforest. But with the arrival of Covid-19, Geri Birding went from a pastime to somewhat of a necessity, at least for a while.

Do you remember those days in early spring? Here in Santa Clara County, California, we went straight from business-as-usual 😎to shelter-in-place 😷practically overnight, pretty much before the rest of the country. Fear and confusion and anger reigned supreme...and I guess that really hasn't changed, though the shock has certainly worn off. But I was a gut punch any way you look at it.

Back then, "wear a fucking mask" was not a thing. The thing was "don't leave your fucking house"...although no one was actually saying it quite like that then, or now, because that's not something anyone can tolerate for very long, potential life saving action be damned. There is a reason house arrest is a thing. However, that was indeed the message being sent by some birders for a little while. Birders were taking to listservs and social media, courageously proclaiming to all that would listen that they refused to chase mega rarities 15 minutes away and bashing all who did.

A big change in the yard this year was the Nuttall's Woodpeckers finally getting hooked on the suet. After being very occasional visitors to the feeding station they now visit on the regular. I've seen a great many of these in my life but can now say the best looks I've ever had of them were in my own yard. Here is a juvenile showing its distinctive red forecrown.

You may think I am cusp of delivering some harsh judgement, one way or the other, or am on the verge of launching into a long and rambling self-righteous screed on how birders should now conduct themselves in The Age of Coronavirus...but I am not. I am just setting the stage to tell you that I sure as shit have spent a lot more time at home than usual this year, and the best part of that has been GERI BIRDING.

As soon as things went south in March, I began geri birding with renewed vigor and have not stopped...never stop geri birding, you know what I'm saying? Can't stop won't stop geri birding. The results have been very rewarding, and Rancho de Bastardos has performed as advertised. I geri birded so hard this spring that I suspect I may actually now be geri. I catch myself doing stuff like complaining about my back, unironically yelling dad cliches at my daughter, and asking basic, embarrassing questions like "Honey, have you seen my keys?" or "What the fuck is Tiktok?"

I know right? It's a bad scene, but I am not ashamed. Geri birding makes hanging out at home a much more enjoyable, perhaps even more gripping experience than normal, especially in semi-normal weather conditions (i.e. under 100 degrees and without a megafire raging nearby) and in spite of things happening in the rest of the world that are trying their best to send you spiraling into a state of catatonic depression that you will never climb out of ever again.

Another major yard upgrade this year was the addition of this little oriole feeder. I wasn't sure how birds would take to it but the neighborhood Hooded Orioles love it. I even saw chickadees and a Song Sparrow or two using it.

The Hooded Orioles here have always been skittish, especially males. It's like they know how facemelting they are and don't want to hurt anyone by letting them get too good of a look. I got some deec pics this summer though. They have all departed now and are southbound, but we had some good hangs this year.

How about some more babies? Here is a juv Oak Titmouse. They are much more confiding than adults, usually look a touch spiffier and have more of a cowlick than a very prominent crest.

A young Northern Mockingbird can do a very convincing Sage Thrasher impersonation.

One afternoon we had a big family group of Tree Swallows perched above the backyard with a bunch of fresh brown and white juvs still getting fed by parents. This is a local breeder that disappears very early in the year - I have no eBird records of them from the yard past June. Like the jays that opened up this post, they are certainly in the area longer than that but I do find it interesting that they are dependably absent from my microzone by July.

This was a big year for Song Sparrows in the yard, the local breeders produced some bumper crops of youngsters like this one. On some days there would be an actual double-digit pure flock of Song Sparrows in the yard, which I am not accustomed to seeing anywhere.

This Cooper's Hawk is not a baby at all anymore but not a grownup either. In fact, it doesn't get much more intermediate than this, look at all those adult feathers coming in and that orange eye. Raptor highlights so far this year include more Sharp-shinneds than ever before, both eagle species (annual but always appreciated), and a banded Peregrine Falcon trying to kill Forster's Terns (after failing, killed a passerine instead).

As of this writing I am up to 113 species seen or heard from Rancho de Bastardos this year - my single year record of 126 species, set in 2018, seems well within reach but topping it is not a certainty either. El Rancho has been endowed with 7 new species in 2020: Scaly-breasted Munia (expected and disappointing), Willet (a calling nocturnal spring migrant, astonishing and rather rare in the county away from South San Francisco Bay/salt ponds), Swainson's Thrush (overdue, finally heard some nocturnal flight calls this spring), Western Kingbird (spring migrant, a pleasant surprise), Western Wood-Pewee (a not unexpected but very appreciated spring migrant), and Wrentit. The Wrentit is something I might hear sing from the riparian along the nearby creek at some point, but I was amazed to both hear and see a pair in my actual yard one midsummer day. My yard is decidedly terrible Wrentit habitat, but perhaps better than I thought? That leaves one more new yard bird... 

Red-winged Blackbirds have always nested in the pond behind my house but this year they decided to get real familiar with my yard in 2020, possibly because of a newish feeder that they could be more comfortable on. In previous summers they would disappear by the end of June but this year they have stuck around, and in greater numbers. Not only was it nice to have them linger and loiter longer, they helped lure in my newest yard bird.

I was astonished to look outside one day and see this thing going to seed town (Seed Town?) on the platform feeder one day with the local Red-winged flock. I'd only ever seen one in the county before, and here was a bright male right in the July! THIS IS WHY I GERI BIRD. This was both a new yard bird (obvi) and a new 5MR bird too, which made it that much sweeter.

The Yellow-headed Blackbird made itself at home very quickly and visited the yard a number of times a day, bossing around other birds, calling frequently and settling in near the top of the yard bird hierarchy. So, so sick. This is not the rarest bird that has been in the yard, but I am left wondering if things will ever be the same.

A surprising number of birders came out to the Los Capitancillos Ponds to chase it, most of which eventually had success. Apparently, scoping into my yard from the other side of the ponds became a thing people were actually doing.

If you don't already geri bird with zeal, I do recommend giving it a shot. I know not everyone has a living situation where this is possible, or your shitty apartment is simply too urban to be conducive to this...I have lived in those situations for most of my adult life. Trust me, I've skipped a lot of articles and posts about yard birding over the years, had my eyes glaze over when yard birding makes its way into conversation, but we must face the music...the time for geri birding is now. Have you felt The Long Shadow of Senescence slowly creeping over you? Let go of your fears, of your wasted youth, and your journey towards the Geri Side will be complete. Birders everywhere have finally made some effort to really bird their yards for the first time this year and have reaped the rewards. What better time to start than September? 

To you grizzled veteran geri birders out there, I hope your yards have brought you similar good fortune in 2020. This has been the year to really cement our geri birding legacies, right? As much as I look forward to having property of my own so I can go crazy with planting natives and installing an imposing state-of-the-art Vague Magnet Water Feature like Flycatcher Jen, Rancho de Bastardos continues to produce surprises and helps soothe some of the daily angst that comes with the territory this year. September is now upon us, the window is open and anything can happen, so good luck to everybody this month, Geri or otherwise.


  1. Yessssssssss! So many good yard crushes. I have never been so hopeful for good fall geri birding!

    1. Hope is rare. Nourish it. Cherish it. With luck, it will grow into more good yard birds.

  2. Replies
    1. When I first moved here I didn't think suet town would have any residents. I was wrong.

  3. Steve— I hope that you will take an interest in a project that I wish you would be interested in. Because you like to investigate subject matter involving the truth and you take pride in routing out hoaxers and you want to get to the bottom of certain subjects ( and you are the only one I know who can do an intelligent investigation), I wish you to report upon— What Did Joe Worley Observe in Point Loma, probably in 1999 or 1998, and with witnesses. In other words, the witnesses have to be investigated also. I did speak with MR. Worley very briefly during a phone call, probably in Jan. 2000. Of course the subject is Goshawk. Nelson - Anacortes.

    1. Such high praise from The Doctor is not something I anticipated. My man in San Diego says Joe recently passed away. You want witnesses interviewed, I need names Doctor!

  4. I've been Geri birding myself here in Colorado Springs. The weirdest bird I got so far was an American White Pelican flyover just some random night in July. It's not that strange to see one in Colorado. But I live a long way from water.

    1. Flyovers can be a crucial part of geri birding. I have a single flyover record of white pelican from the yard myself - they are common in the county but I'm not near of their favored areas.

  5. Steve- I have a rule— when referring to accipiters, never leave Goshawk out of the equation. Check out Whatbird for Sept. 27 2020. From Mush: The title of the post is— Cooper’s Hawk or Sharp shinned Hawk. There have not been any reply yet. NB.

  6. What a beautiful pictures!
    If you want to see more photos of birds, I share you my blog.

  7. Is it geri to do a repositioning cruise? Or, how geri is it?

    1. On one hand, the cruise ship aspect is maximum geri, but on the other the birding can be really challenging and spotting scopes are in use a lot (right? I've never actually done one of these). Hard to rank on the geri scale this is.