At the August meeting of Carpinteria Birdwatchers we talked…

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

At the August meeting of Carpinteria Birdwatchers we talked about extinction. I wanted to share this video about the effort to save endangered tree snails in Hawaii, but we ran out of time in the meeting so I’m putting a link to it here (and copying it to my Carp Without Cars blog) so attendees can see it.

Other links from the meeting:

The Last of Its Kind — Ed Yong’s piece from The Atlantic on the same topic

Planet of Weeds — David Quammen’s 1998 essay on mass extinction

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Sometimes when I’m birdwatching

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

Sometimes when I’m birdwatching

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Sometimes when I’m birdwatching Fifteen months ago the hills…

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

Sometimes when I’m birdwatching

Fifteen months ago the hills above Carpinteria burned. Last Sunday I hiked up the Franklin Trail before dawn; this is what it looked like.

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Hey so I’ve been thinking about joining eBird, but I haven’t decided yet (so I guess I’m sending you this ask so you can convince me to do it?) I’ve been reading about birding apps since I went on a trip to California last week and forgot my bird book so I re-downloaded the Merlin Bird app. when i used it before, it was very very basic, but they’ve updated it a lot since then!! I was impressed. Apparently the Audubon app is also supposed to be good? Do you have opinions on birding apps??

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

Reasons why you should get an eBird account:

It’s amazingly good. I’ve been building database-backed websites since the beginning of those. It’s easy to disappoint me and hard to impress me, and I’m very impressed by eBird.

It works hard to meet you wherever you as a user happen to be. If you want to use it as an online list-keeping tool that keeps track of all your data and lets you slice and dice it different ways, but you want to pretend no one else on the site exists and not let them see your data, it does that. If you want to do that but also make your information public it does that too, with a very full set of features to hide or show as much or as little of your information to the public as you want.

If you want to know what birds have been seen at a particular place and when they’ve been seen there, it’s awesome. If you want to know where you might be able to see a particular species, it’s awesome. If you want to set a personal goal to see as many species as possible within a given geographic region, it’s awesome.

All of the above refers to the website. The eBird app is also awesome, but differently. It’s a fantastic tool for entering your data in the field. And it continues to improve in significant ways at a steady pace. The recent update that lets you edit a checklist in the app after submitting it is fantastic, for example.

In terms of identification apps, I have all of them, but my favorite is the Sibley app. (Unsurprising, since I’ve been a Sibley fan since his field guide first came out.) It’s not as good as having the book with you, but it’s a lot easier to carry (since I always have my phone with me). I probably refer to it once or twice on most outings, and also use it occasionally for playback (though I’m ethically opposed to using playback myself in most situations).

If I were starting out I’d definitely use Merlin. The latest version, as you say, is very impressive. (One of the things that makes it so impressive is that it uses the distribution and abundance data from eBird to rank the identifications it offers you, so I guess this is another reason to use eBird: because the data you contribute is helping all the Merlin users.) Merlin isn’t directly useful for me currently, because I’m birding in areas I know so well that I have that information in my head already. If I’m having an ID challenge it’s because I’m dealing with a rarity or a relatively fine-grained distinction, and Merlin isn’t as helpful for that. But if I were traveling somewhere else I would definitely use it.

Final reason for joining eBird: if you do that and choose to make a public profile I can see where you’ve been birdwatching and vicariously enjoy your outings. 🙂

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blackjayx: Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)  ♂ #1 (#329)I’ve…

Thursday, February 21st, 2019


Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) 

#1 (#329)

I’ve mentioned (in tag screeds, so you might have missed it) that my level of birdy obsessiveness has crept down a notch since the end of 2018. I’m still birdwatching every day (eBird checklist streak at 429 days), but I’m not actively trying for the top spot in the eBird year rankings in the county. (Well. Not much.) (I’m currently in second at 189.) (But it’s not like I’m keeping track or anything.) (Mark’s ahead by 10 species.)

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the fun, and I thought instead of keeping track of the county year list (which obviously is ticking up relatively quickly in these early months) I could instead talk about my county life list.

The male Tufted Duck that I (barely) saw at Lauro Reservoir on January 6 was my first county life bird of 2019. The bird was hanging out with some Lesser Scaups, floating along with his head tucked in, which made it tricky to get a good view. But at one point his tuft stuck up a little and I was able to snap some very distant shots through a chain link fence:

So, not the most satisfying view, but the strong black-and-white pattern was enough to ID him even without the cowlick. And I had Curtis Marantz (one of the more intimidatingly awesome birders I’ve been lucky enough to see in action) standing next to me confirming, so there was no doubt.

The Tufted Duck was #329 in my Santa Barbara County life list, and he was a legitimate life bird overall for me, too, at least in eBird, and I think probably in reality. (I threw away my lists when I quit birding in my late teens, so I’m going by memory. But I’m pretty sure I never saw a Tufted Duck back then, and these days I just treat eBird, which I started using in 2004, as my canonical source.)

Fun fact: There are 18 Santa Barbara County birders who are listed on the county birders’ “400 Club” web page. There are only 6 eBird users with more than 400 species in the county in their eBird lists, and 3 of them haven’t bothered to include themselves in the 400 Club listings; a bunch of other birders who are in the 400 Club are also in eBird, but with fewer than 400 birds there. So there’s some messiness, with a lot of long-time birders having birds from older lists they haven’t bothered to import into eBird even if they’re using it, and other birders with big lists (whether or not they’re in eBird) that they haven’t bothered to send in to the people maintaining the 400 Club listing.

But it’s a game, and for game purposes I’m just going to look at eBird. I’m currently ranked #20 in the Santa Barbara County all-time rankings there, but Conor is only one bird behind me and likely to pass me at any time; he’s a great birder and quite active.

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Being a brief discourse on my Little Big Year, during which I identified as many bird species as I could within the confines of Santa Barbara County (CA)

Friday, January 4th, 2019

327. That’s how many species I ended up getting.

Among active county users of eBird I finished in first place, one bird ahead of Mark Holmgren, whom I suspect could have beaten me if he’d tried, but who probably didn’t realize it was a contest. The only times I really made up ground on him are when he was on extended birding trips away from the county.

I’m pretty sure there were at least a few other county birders who beat me. My guess is that Nick Lethaby and Wes Fritz both identified more birds than I did in the county this year. But they mostly don’t do eBird, so who knows? (Well, they know, presumably. But I don’t.)

The one-year record for Santa Barbara County is 358, set by Wes in 2008. I finished well short of that, and looking over the list he got that year I doubt I could get into that range, at least in my current state of bird knowledge. Someday, maybe. 

I recorded at least one eBird checklist every day last year; at the moment my streak (which I’ve kept going) is at 382 days. A few times when I was sick I only did a 10-minute count in my backyard, but I always got at least one birding session in. I made a few brief trips to the Eastern Sierra during the year, and on my long-commute days was sometimes reduced to entering a 2- or 3-species list while walking to Starbuck’s through the bird desert surrounding my employer’s office in LA, but other than that it was all Santa Barbara county. I finished the year with 730 checklists entered in the county; the next highest total of checklists submitted was (again) Mark Holmgren with 547.

Fun facts: I had 845 checklists total entered during the year, including those outside the county, which ranks me 484th among active eBird users in the ABA area (North America north of Mexico). I’m not aware of any way to compare my single-county species total with those of other eBirders, but I think I’d probably be toward the upper part of that list, Santa Barbara being such a good county by ABA standards. But I dunno; there are a lot of counties, and a lot of birders more obsessive than I am.

My species total for the ABA area was 350, which ranks me roughly 14,000th among active eBird users in 2018. Tops in 2018 in the ABA area in eBird were Nicole Koeltzow with 775 species, which is amazing, and Barbara Combs with 11,147 checklists submitted, which is also amazing. Barbara averaged slightly more than 30 checklists per day in 2018; some poking around shows that she’s opting for maximum granularity; my guess is she’s basically entering a list of the birds seen in every 15-minute chunk throughout the day, every day.

Things I learned:

  • Birds are not evenly distributed in the landscape. I mean, I knew that already. But now I appreciate it more.
  • They’re really out there (those rare/difficult species I’d always seen in the field guide but never in person) — except when they’re not.
  • Finding is better than chasing.
  • Different kinds of birding are their own discreet knowledge domains. I was a beginner at most of them; still am at some. But I’m learning.
  • So many rungs on that ladder. I’m a way better birder than I was at the start of the year, but I’m more aware than ever of how far below the real experts I am.
  • Avid birdwatchers are a flash mob waiting to happen. All it takes is a report of a rarity (”Mississippi Kite at Alisal Ranch!”) for them to suddenly coalesce. I now know most of the top 20 people in the county eBird rankings from last year, but when I started they were just names. That’s almost all from hanging out with them at the site of reported rarities.
  • eBird is the best. I love eBird.

Favorite bird I saw this year: Prairie Falcon. I saw this species first outside the county, on March 30, during one of the trips I made to the Eastern Sierra. I first saw it in the county during the birding trip I made to the Cuyama Valley on April 29. I also saw it once on Lake Cachuma, and once along Happy Canyon Road north of Lake Cachuma. But the place I saw it the most, on four different visits, was the place I’m going to talk about next.

Favorite place: The intersection of San Miguelito Road and Sudden Road in the hills south of Lompoc. I can’t really describe why this spot is so cool to me. It’s just a grassy valley with a few farmhouses and cows. But in that grassy bowl are about 100,000 ground squirrels and a lot of amazing raptors. It was the last place I went in 2018, on New Year’s Eve, after I’d more or less given up on adding any new species because it was too windy at the other spots I’d chosen. I’d given it the old college try but the birds just weren’t cooperating. So I decided to stop trying, and just go to my favorite spot. So I went, and had a glorious time watching three Golden Eagles and a bunch of Red-tailed Hawks and the one Ferruginous Hawk that hangs out there, and then, blasting straight overhead before it landed on the hillside west of me and ran around harassing squirrels, my fave:

I appreciate all the nice comments people have made about my silly obsession this past year. If you have any questions I’d be happy to go on (and on) about it some more; the Ask Box is always open.

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Clay-colored Sparrow

Friday, December 21st, 2018



A rarity to Powdermill, this sparrow usually breeds in shrublands, field edges, and thickets across the northern prairies. 

Powdermill Nature Reserve’s avian research center is part of Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s biological research station in Rector, Pennsylvania.  The research center operates a bird banding station, conducts bioacoustical research, and performs flight tunnel analysis with the goal of reducing window collisions.


I’m fighting a cold, but the year’s almost done and I’m tied for the top spot in the county-year eBird rankings. So I set the alarm and headed to River Park in Lompoc, where a Clay-colored Sparrow has been seen lately hanging out with the White-crowned Sparrows.

I spent most of my time checking out a couple of different groups of White-crowns, trying hard to make one of them look smaller than the rest. No dice.

I’d basically given up (again. why is it always like that?) and was heading back to my car past the pond when I saw one more group of sparrows I hadn’t checked before. And there, hopping around with them, was one that was distinctly smaller. And cuter. 🙂

My photo’s nowhere near as good as the OP’s. But it’s special to me.


This could be my last county-year bird of 2018. I’ve got a few chances at a Northern Pygmy-Owl coming up, and there have been some Black and White-winged Scoters seen off Vandenberg not far from Surf Station; maybe I could see one of those. And there’s the method Nick explained a while back to scope for American Bitterns at Ocean Beach Park. Any of those could add another species to the list.

And there’s always the chance of a wildcard. They’re birds; you can’t predict them.

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ostdrossel:Again, no booth pics, but something amazing happened…

Saturday, December 8th, 2018


Again, no booth pics, but something amazing happened this morning – I had a Summer Tanager in my yard! When I first saw him, I thought it was a weird female Cardinal or maybe a female Orchard Oriole (because I have never seen one before), but something did not add up. From what I am reading, their range normally does not even reach as far as Michigan, so this was such a cool surprise! What a spring this is!


Right where it was supposed to be, eating persimmons at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

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debunkshy: Long-tailed Duck Glendale Recharge Ponds, AZ,…

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018


Long-tailed Duck

Glendale Recharge Ponds, AZ, 1-19-17


A female Long-tailed Duck was reported by Nick late Sunday afternoon from Ocean Beach County Park, just far enough away that I couldn’t get there before dark, and would very much not have wanted to anyway since it would have put me in Thanksgiving weekend traffic on the way back. And the next day (Monday) was my day to go the opposite direction to LA for work, so I had to cross my fingers and hope the bird would stay until today (Tuesday).

One eBird report by Libby on Monday showed the bird still there, so I was hopeful. I set the alarm for 4:30 and got there shortly after sunrise. It was cold, which wasn’t so bad, but also foggy and windy, which put a damper on things. I looked around the railroad bridge near the parking lot where the bird had been seen, sifting through the Ruddy Ducks and Eared and Western Grebes, but no dice. I walked to the beach and checked out the Snowy Plovers, then returned to the railroad bridge again, wiping condensation off my glasses. Still no Long-tailed Duck.

Oh, well. Most chases don’t pan out; it looked like this was going to be one of those.

I returned to my car and reviewed my eBird list. As I was about to drive away I noticed that the sun was starting to poke through, and I thought, well, maybe the duck has been tucked away somewhere waiting for it to get nicer out. So I took one last stroll down to the railroad bridge.


What a cutie. 🙂

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oceanodroma: Not a great photo, but a pretty amazing bird. This…

Saturday, November 24th, 2018


Not a great photo, but a pretty amazing bird. This is a hybrid Red-breasted x Red-naped sapsucker in my backyard. You never know what migration (esp fall migration) will bring


The Rrd-naked Sapsucker I was fortunate enough to see today wasn’t a hybrid, I don’t think, which is good for my county year list since a hybrid wouldn’t count.🙂

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ridiculousbirdfaces: IMG_6879 by Ryk NavesRed-necked Grebe…

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018



by Ryk Naves

Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)


Sometimes I get a new bird for the county year list out of the blue, an unexpected and exiting rarity (like the Green-tailed Towhee at Jameson Lake last Sunday). Other times I chase a bird previously reported by someone else. Most of the time those chases don’t pan out, but once in a while they do.

A report had come in of a Red-necked Grebe in Santa Barbara Harbor this morning. I didn’t find out about it until I broke from work for lunch and saw the posting on the sbcobirding list. I’d only have time for a quick look, but I could at least go to the harbor and see.

When I got there I saw plenty of Western and Clark’s Grebes, but no Red-necked. At one point I saw a Western Grebe that had been discolored by oil, which was sad, and it occurred to me that maybe that was the bird that had been seen. It didn’t look like a Red-necked Grebe, but it looked different enough to be potentially confusing?

I sat down on one of the benches by Sea Landing, looking out at the main channel of the harbor. I took some photos. The oiled Western Grebe:

An interesting Double-crested Cormorant with a lot of white on it (leucism?):

A Herring Gull (gotta keep working on those gulls – so much to learn!):

It was almost time for me to get back to work. And then, right in front of me:

Yay! 😀

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sunwendyrain:Green-tailed Towhee#322🙂

Sunday, November 18th, 2018


Green-tailed Towhee



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ornithoscelidaphiliac: Canvasback ducks are…

Sunday, November 18th, 2018


Canvasback ducks are lovely.


Canvasbacks are hard to come by in Santa Barbara County. I’d chased after a few that were reported in the past few weeks without success, so it felt very satisfying to find four of them (a male and three females) at Jameson Lake today.

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acryptozoo: Ross’s Goose (Chen rossii) #320Organisms that like…

Thursday, November 15th, 2018


Ross’s Goose (Chen rossii)


Organisms that like to spend time at sewage-treatment plants:

– aerobic bacteria

– anaerobic bacteria

– rare/vagrant waterfowl

– birdwatchers

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oceanodroma:I’ve watched this Snow Goose develop its adult…

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018


I’ve watched this Snow Goose develop its adult plumage over the fall and winter, and it seems like he decided to not migrate up to the arctic and is sticking around hopefully through the summer


At Lake Los Carneros this morning; another case where the bird reported the previous day was right where it was supposed to be at first light. 😀

An immature one (who are often the ones that wander off the normal migration route and make birdwatchers excited), just like the one shown above.

Here’s the one I saw this morning:

Very stylish. 👍

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speakingofnature:A Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula) has…

Monday, November 5th, 2018


A Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula) has been staying in the vicinity of my backyard for the last few days. I wonder if this is the same sparrow that visited my yard on November 22, 2015 (see Archives) while migrating south. He is quite handsome in his bright springtime feathers.


I’ve been chasing various reported rarities since I saw a county Vesper Sparrow on October 14, but so far all of them have been fun outings that didn’t produce the hoped-for bird.

This morning was the other side of the coin, where I chase the bird and I’m at the spot it was reported at first light and bam: there it is. Yay! 😀👍

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Townsend’s Warbler (Setophaga townsendi)Another shot of the…

Monday, October 15th, 2018

Townsend’s Warbler (Setophaga townsendi)

Another shot of the little dude who made my morning at the local cemetery.

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Dæmon Analysis: Vesper Sparrow

Monday, October 15th, 2018


Personality: Cheerful, outgoing, opportunistic. Vesper sparrows like to see the best in people and in different situations. As a rule, they tend to stay with a large circle of friends, and get lonely easily. People with vesper sparrow dæmons may not seek out change, but if it comes their way they roll with it, and they excel at recognising a promising opportunity.

Historical/Contemporary Figure: Jimmy Fallon (TV show host)

Fictional Characters: Kaylee Fry (Firefly)
                                                                                                         – Raylen


I think it’s my favorite place in the county, San Miguelito Road. Every time I’ve gone there it’s felt special. I was thinking about it yesterday, trying to figure out what it is, specifically. I think it’s the lack of traffic. It’s 10 miles deep in the winding hills south of Lompoc. There are a few farms, and a distant view of the ocean, but the road just ends at the locked gate for Vandenberg (where they do the west coast rocket launches), so no one really goes there. I arrived at sunrise and stayed most of the day, walking down the middle of the paved road birdwatching, and in all that time I think I saw four cars on the road not counting mine.

I was there because there’s a Pinyon Jay irruption happening, and last week someone saw the first Pinyon Jays in Santa Barbara County since 2000 along that road. There’s no reason to think they’re still there; Pinyon Jays are notorious wanderers, thinly spread and hard to find even within their normal range, and these were on the far side of the county from where they presumably entered, via the mountains south of Cuyama. But it was as good a place as any to find them, and I really like going there. So I went.

I mentioned in the tags of a different post about all the great raptors I saw: Golden Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, and Prairie Falcon, for starters, each one a legit bird celebrity that would have made my day on its own. But the real star for me were two little brown jobs skulking in the close-cropped grass next to the road: gray-brown streaking, complete white eye ring, light malar patch surrounded by a dark border; yeah! Vesper Sparrow!

I’d been thinking about Vesper Sparrows a lot lately.

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klemannlee:Blue-Winged Warbler#316This was kind of hilarious….

Saturday, October 13th, 2018


Blue-Winged Warbler


This was kind of hilarious. Nick Lethaby (who finds a disproportionate share of the rare birds in Santa Barbara County) put the word out at 9:28 a.m. that he’d found a Blue-winged Warbler in Carpinteria Creek. This is a big deal; it’s a first county record. And it was 5 minutes from my house, on a non-work day. So yeah; I obviously wanted to go check it out.

But there was a problem: I’d signed up for a table shift at the local supermarket in support of a local ballot measure (Measure X; don’t forget to vote, Carpinterians), and my shift started at 10. I went to Carp Creek and hung out on the 8th Street Bridge as long as I could, but I only had a few minutes and wasn’t really expecting to see the bird. Honestly, I was just thinking well, maybe Nick will be there and will be able to point out the bird to me. No luck, though; no bird, no birders.

At the tabling shift the group texts started coming in: more birders arriving, searching, and eventually refinding the bird, yay! Meanwhile, I was about 150 yards away chatting with shoppers about the city’s budget issues. I got a personal text: “Where are you?”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can!”

At noon my volunteer shift ended and I raced back to the creek. When I got to the bridge and looked upstream I saw the best thing possible: About 10 avid county birders all looking intently at the same point on the creek bank. Yeah!

A minute later I’d joined them and was getting great views of the bird, which was gorgeous.

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Townsend’s Warbler (Setophaga townsendi)Gray morning, bright…

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

Townsend’s Warbler (Setophaga townsendi)

Gray morning, bright bird. At the local cemetery.

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