lies: acryptozoo: Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris…

Monday, September 3rd, 2018



Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)


While chasing the Pacific Golden-Plover yesterday I was basically in shorebird heaven. There were SO MANY SHOREBIRDS roaming the thick accumulation of wrack on Goleta West Beach. One bird that intrigued me was in a large group of Sanderlings; it was just a tad bigger than they were, with a sharp demarcation between the streaked breast and the white belly. I took a bunch of (crappy) photos through my spotting scope and compared them to references when I got home.

I wish I’d been close enough to see the yellow legs, but even without that I think it’s clear enough to make the call. Pectoral Sandpiper it is. 🙂👍

And… nope. Experts tell me (and with the benefit of hindsight I should have realized) it was a Sanderling that stood out from the rest because it was still in breeding plumage.

So erase this as county year bird #289 and decrease all subsequent birds by one.

It’s embarrassing to have gotten it wrong, not so much because I didn’t know the difference (because there’s always more to learn) but because I let my desire for it to be a new bird overcome my judgment about how sure I could be about the ID.

This is the third time this year I’ve done something like this (that I know of). Once I tried to make a Greater Yellowlegs into a Lesser, and twice I’ve tried to turn Sanderlings into something else: once into a Western Sandpiper and now into a Pectoral Sandpiper.

I’m getting better at identifying the tricky ones, and mistakes are helpful for learning. But clearly I need to put some time into sustained shorebird study.

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permagrinphoto: Eastern Kingbird  #293The last few days have…

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018


Eastern Kingbird 


The last few days have been kind of out of control bird-wise. This morning there was a report of an Eastern Kingbird at Lake Los Carneros. It was a while before I could get up there, but I gave it a try. No luck at first, though I did get an extended look at a Virginia Rail, which was a first for me. (I’d heard them before, and added them to the county year list a while ago based on that, but it was awesome to actually see one.)

After a while I gave up and went back to the parking lot, intending to have a quick look for the Summer Tanager that had been seen there a few times in the past week before heading home. There were a few Western Tanagers that kept me busy for a while, and by the time I’d finished I figured it was worth taking one more turn down to the lake to see if the Eastern Kingbird had come back.

I got down there, confirmed that it wasn’t there, and turned to leave for real. But as I was walking away, almost wistfully, I listened to the Eastern Kingbird call on the Sibley app. Then, behind me, I thought I heard the same call.

I turned around and there it was. Yowza.

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debunkshy: Brewer’s Sparrow (documentary) Florida Canyon, AZ,…

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018


Brewer’s Sparrow (documentary)

Florida Canyon, AZ, 1-14-17


I got used to seeing Brewer’s Sparrows in the sagebrush on my trips to Mammoth this summer, so I was already familiar with their understated charm. I’d never seen one in Santa Barbara county though. So it was exciting to see a post to the sbcobirding list from Hugh yesterday that one was at Eling’s Park.

Some research in eBird and Lehman’s Birds of Santa Barbara County taught me that Brewer’s Sparrows have showed up at Eling’s Park during fall migration a few times in recent years. I got up early to chase this one, but as I walked the park at dawn I wasn’t very hopeful. Sparrows that aren’t singing on their breeding territory can be tough to spot, and for birds that don’t stand out (and even for some that do) chasing a rarity often is a low-probability sort of thing.

So I wasn’t expecting too much. I enjoyed wandering the park, though, birding a spot I’d never birded before. I spun a new Pokéstop and took over a new gym, so that part was a success. After two hours I’d basically given up, and was giving the gym one last spin, by the big semicircular stone bench near where the paragliders take off (apparently; they weren’t flying this morning), when there it was, hopping on the ground under a small pepper tree: Brewer’s Sparrow. 🙂

I don’t have actual numbers, but I feel like that happens a lot. It’s only when I’ve given up, gotten out of my own way, that I finally relax and see the bird.

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daddysbirds: Virginia’s warbler #291When I got to Refugio to look for the White-winged Dove I…

Saturday, September 1st, 2018


Virginia’s warbler


When I got to Refugio to look for the White-winged Dove I wasn’t even thinking abut the Virginia’s Warbler that had been reported there this morning; I hadn’t heard about it. But I quickly found out from the other birders who were there. I was standing on the bridge checking out the eucalyptus where it had been seen when Libby, who’d had a brief view of it before I arrived but was hoping for a better look because it was a life bird for her (as it was for me), called out, “Ooh! There it is!”

The bird was in a lemonade berry bush about 30 eet away. Then it flew to a closer bush, about 15 feet away. Then it flew into the bush RIGHT NEXT TO US.

It was very exciting. Hyperventilation may have been involved. 🙂

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birdsandbirds: White-winged DoveWarbler Woods Bird…

Saturday, September 1st, 2018


White-winged Dove

Warbler Woods Bird Sanctuary

Cibolo, TX


I saw this morning that people were still seeing one or more White-winged Doves at Refugio State Beach. I’d already made one (unsuccessful) trip out there to look for them a few days ago, but knowing they were still there I headed out again. This time it worked! I got great views of one perched above the stone bridge over the creek in the campground.

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acryptozoo: Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) #289While…

Friday, August 31st, 2018


Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)


While chasing the Pacific Golden-Plover yesterday I was basically in shorebird heaven. There were SO MANY SHOREBIRDS roaming the thick accumulation of wrack on Goleta West Beach. One bird that intrigued me was in a large group of Sanderlings; it was just a tad bigger than they were, with a sharp demarcation between the streaked breast and the white belly. I took a bunch of (crappy) photos through my spotting scope and compared them to references when I got home.

I wish I’d been close enough to see the yellow legs, but even without that I think it’s clear enough to make the call. Pectoral Sandpiper it is. 🙂👍

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hiimlesphotos:Pacific Golden Plover #288Libby found a Pacific…

Thursday, August 30th, 2018


Pacific Golden Plover


Libby found a Pacific Golden-Plover on Goleta Beach out near UCSB yesterday hanging around with all the Black-bellied Plovers. Jasen and Nick were still seeing it late in the day, so I set the alarm for 4:30 and was there before sunrise this morning.

No luck. :-(

I met Brad looking for the same bird, but he didn’t see it either. So I headed home to go to work. The great thing about crack-of-dawn birding is you can see lots of great birds and still be at work by 9.

Forty-five minutes later Marge and Don posted to eBird with photos of the bird, taken right where I’d been, just after I left. Argh!

So later in the day I made another trip, and this time I found the bird; yay! When I got there I saw Brad in the distance, so I know he went back, too. He carries a camera with a ginormous lens when he’s chasing rarities, so I was hoping he saw the bird and got photos better than the blurry ones I digiscoped from a distance. And he did! Check it out.

What a gorgeous bird.

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Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)Photo by Wikipedia user…

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

Photo by Wikipedia user DickDaniels


Glenn found a Cattle Egret at Devereaux Slough yesterday morning. I couldn’t get away to look for it yesterday, but I set the alarm for 4:30 a.m. and was there with my spotting scope as it was getting light this morning. Lots of egrets (Great and Snowy), but no Cattle.

It was still a lot of fun. I haven’t been to Devereaux in a while, and it was neat seeing some different birds. I headed down to Coal Oil Point after that, and what should appear in the lagoon near the beach but a Lesser Yellowlegs! I’d chased these a few times earlier in the year without success, so I was pretty excited about it. I got a bunch of (crappy) digiscoped photos, and Nick and Rob were kind enough to confirm the ID for me. Short, straight beak, not much longer than the width of the bird’s head; this one was the real deal, not like the Greater Yellowlegs I tried to turn into a Lesser back on April Fool’s Day.

Anyway, yay! Let the summer doldrums end and the list start ticking upward again. Come on, fall migrants! 😀


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I went on a spectacularly successful pelagic birding trip last Sunday. To spare your dashboard from…

Monday, July 16th, 2018

I went on a spectacularly successful pelagic birding trip last Sunday. To spare your dashboard from individual posts about each of the county year birds I added I’m going to put them all in one post, and I’ll throw in a cut to spare non-mobile dashboards from so much wonderful pelagic-birding content. 🙂

This was the long-range summer pelagic trip conducted by Island Packers, as organized by Ventura-county birder Dave Pereksta. We started from Ventura Harbor at 7 a.m., visited Anacapa Island, then motored west along the south sides of Anacapa and Santa Cruz. Once we reached the northwest corner of the Santa Cruz Basin (an area of very deep water south of the island) we headed south along the underwater escarpment that marks the basin’s western edge. Areas like that tend to be characterized by upwellings that bring nutrient-rich water to the surface, leading to more fish, marine mammals, and birds.

(Side note: I was too focused on the birds to pay much attention to the cetaceans, but we had great views of Minke, Fin, and Blue Whales, as well as several types of dolphins, during this part of the trip.)

We went south as far as a point about 7 or 8 miles north of San Nicolas Island, then turned east and headed to Santa Barbara Island. From there we made the final trip back north to Ventura, passing east of Anacapa. The whole trip took about 12 hours. About half of it was in Ventura County waters, so those birds didn’t count toward my Santa Barbara list; the other half was in Santa Barbara County.

Is it interesting to a non-county-list-obsessed person how the offshore county boundaries are drawn for bird-watching purposes? Probably not; apologies… But basically, county boundaries don’t actually exist far out in the ocean, so birdwatchers have come up with a system of assigning pelagic birding “counties” based on whatever the closest point of land is. This makes for an interesting patchwork off southern California, since some islands (Anacapa and San Nicolas) are in Ventura County, while others (Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and Santa Barbara) are in Santa Barbara County. Fortunately, keeping track of all that was up to the trip leaders: Super-experienced birders who got a free ride (I assume) in return for acting as guides for the paying customers, keeping the county-specific eBird lists and helping find and identify birds.

Enough meta; on with the birds!


Pink-footed Shearwater (Ardenna creatopus)

Photo by Flicker user Greg Schechter


We saw thousands of Sooty Shearwaters during the trip, but I’d already managed to add those to the list by scoping from shore at Ocean Beach Park west of Lompoc. The Pink-footed Shearwaters were another story, though. We saw lots of them mixed in with the Sooties, and I soon got familiar with their slightly slower flight style.


Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)

Photo by Flickr user Andrew Cannizzaro


We saw a few of these at various points during the trip, skittering away from the boat across the water. I’m pretty sure at least one group was in Santa Barbara County waters, though I won’t know for sure until the official trip lists are shared with participants.


Cook’s Petrel (Pterodroma cookii)

Photo by Flickr user Duncan


Such a cool bird! They breed in New Zealand, but during the Northern Hemisphere summer they range up into the eastern part of the North Pacific. Our trip leaders weren’t expecting to see them since we weren’t going to be far enough offshore, but surprise! We saw a lot of them in both counties; close to 100 in the final count. I loved getting to know their graceful, arcing flight pattern, the way they swoop down toward the water and up again, similar to but distinctly different from the shearwaters they were hanging out with.


Black Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma melania)

Image by Wikipedia user Cato Neimoidia


I’d never identified a storm-petrel before. I’m sure I must have seen them, having spent so much time sailing off southern California growing up, but almost all of that time I was racing, not birdwatching, and I guess I just kept the two activities compartmentalized. Anyway, I’ve now enjoyed quality views of a whole bunch of Black Storm-Petrels; we saw lots of them throughout much the trip.


Ashy Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa

Photo by Jeff Poklen


I was grateful to have expert birders around to help me learn these. Peter Gaede (who led our Big Pine Mountain survey trip) patiently showed me how the Black Storm-Petrels had deeper wingbeats, while the slightly smaller Ashies had quicker, shallower wingbeats. The difference was subtle, but with someone standing next to me to confirm the IDs it didn’t take long to be able to pick them out.


Leach’s Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa)

Photo by Flickr user Marcel Holyoak


Again, I was lucky to have experts around to find and point out the different storm-petrels in the big groups we motored through; I saw a few of these at various points. Some of the more-expert birders on the boat saw a few additional storm-petrel species, but I wasn’t able to get on any of those.


Nazca Booby (Sula granti)

Photo by Flickr user putneymark


This is the bird (actually birds) that the trip leaders were most excited about. It’s a super-rarity that normally lives in the Galapagos Islands, but a few have showed up in Southern California in recent years. We saw one perched on Arch Rock on the east end of Anacapa; that one was something like the 3rd or 4th county record for Ventura County. Which was cool and all, but I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of regret that the bird hadn’t been a few miles away in Santa Barbara County. Fast-forward to late afternoon, though, as we were approaching Santa Barbara Island, when a second Nazca Booby appeared out of nowhere and flew right over the boat as dozens of giant lenses tracked it and snapped photos. Apparently that one was only the second Santa Barbara County record; it was a real privilege to be there for it. Officially the sighting will have to be approved by the California Bird Records Committee, but for my low-grade just-for-funsies county year list it definitely qualifies for now.


Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster)

Photo by Flickr user Alan Schmierer


Another tropical species that has been expanding its range. I didn’t realize it before the trip, but last November Brown Boobies were discovered nesting on Sutil Island, a small islet a few hundred yards from Santa Barbara Island. We counted more than 40 of them perched on the rocky cliff as we bobbed a few boat lengths from shore.


Long-tailed Jaeger (Stercorarius longicaudus)

Photo by Flickr user jacksnipe1990


We saw a few of these near Santa Barbara Island; not the adult form with the long central tail plume that gives it its name, but younger birds like this one. I’ve got a soft spot for jaegers, and seeing these (we saw several) was really special.

That was it for new county year birds, but I also got some great new-to-me birds in Ventura County:


South Polar Skua (Stercorarius maccormicki)

Photo by Flicker user Greg Schechter

This one showed up to check out the chum line that professional bird guide and frighteningly knowledgeable birder Wes Fritz was ladling out from the stern as we cruised north of San Nicolas Island.


American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus)

Photo by Wikipedia user Peter Wallack

One of the goals of the trip was to look for possible American Oystercatchers on the south shore of Anacapa, where they sometimes show up mingled with the local Black Oystercatchers. And… one was there! It’s not for-sure; hybrid American/Black Oystercatchers also tend to show up in Southern California, and there’s a complex formula called the “Jehl scale” that birders sometimes use to try to figure out how “pure” a particular American-ish SoCal oystercatcher is. I dunno; we got good looks and lots of photos of this one, and the assembled experts seemed to think the bird looked pretty good for American.

It wasn’t in Santa Barbara County, so I’m like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Sabine’s Gull (Xema sabini)

Photo by Flickr users Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

This one was a legitimate thrill for me; a bird I’d very much hoped we’d see, that I knew was a possibility but that was also far from a sure thing. It’s a pelagic gull that’s rarely seen from shore, and I was so happy to see it I didn’t even mind that it was in Ventura County.

And that’s it! On the way back the experts on the boat were fairly giddy about how well it had gone; “one of the top 5 Southern California pelagic trips ever!” one said. I’ll take his word for it; it was only my second pelagic birding trip, so I don’t have much to compare it to.

But I sure had a good time.

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permagrinphoto:Reddish Egret #276Local SB birder Glenn, who’s…

Friday, July 13th, 2018


Reddish Egret


Local SB birder Glenn, who’s 2015 green big year was a source of inspiration to me in working on my own non-green county list this year, sent a message this morning that he was seeing an adult Reddish Egret in Goleta. This turns out to probably be the same bird Nick (who was on the Big Pine Mountain survey trip last month) had recently seen up the coast at Ocean Beach County Park near Lompoc.

I was too busy to make it up to Lompoc to look for the egret there, but Goleta was only 20 minutes away. So when I saw Glenn’s update this morning I headed up to see it. And there it was! :-)

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debunkshy: Virginia RailPleasant Valley, WI, 4-21-17 #275I…

Friday, June 29th, 2018


Virginia Rail

Pleasant Valley, WI, 4-21-17


I didn’t see it; just heard it grunting before sunrise in a spot (Barka Slough) where they’ve been heard recently. Not the most satisfying identification, but good enough to count.

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ospreyphoto-blog: Common Murre Photo by Oleg…

Saturday, June 16th, 2018


Common Murre

Photo by Oleg Gurvits


Spotted one out past the waves at Surf Beach, looking vaguely like a loon but with the snazzy black-and-white breeding plumage shown here.

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montereybayaquarium: Sooty shearwaters undertake a remarkable…

Saturday, June 16th, 2018


Sooty shearwaters undertake a remarkable 40,000 mile migration every year, tracing a figure-eight path from breeding sites in the Southern Hemisphere to richer feeding sites in the North Pacific Ocean.

Hopefully they get frequent flyer miles!



They’ve been in the ocean off Santa Barbara County for a few months now, but I haven’t been out on a boat and they don’t usually come close enough to shore to be seen easily down in my part of the county. North county is another story, though; at the beach west of Lompoc this morning I saw hundreds of them. They were still out pretty far, but identifiable.

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acryptozoo: Least Tern (Sternula antillarum) #272A few weeks ago…

Saturday, June 16th, 2018


Least Tern (Sternula antillarum)


A few weeks ago someone reported four of them out at Ocean Beach County Park west of Lompoc. This morning I drove out to see if they were still there.

They were. 🙂

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#271Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)I set up before 6…

Thursday, June 14th, 2018


Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)

I set up before 6 a.m. in a spot that had a decent view of where the kite was seen yesterday. It was overcast and foggy, though, and there didn’t seem to be much possibility of an insect-hawking bird being active.

Just before 8:00 the sun broke through. I only had about an hour before I needed to head home for work, and I was busily scanning trees when a message came through the group chat: “Kite is showing now”.

No one was visible up or down the road from where I was. I texted back “Where?” and started hustling back to my car. “Just north of tennis courts” (a quarter-mile up the road from where I was). A few minutes later I was standing with a group of excited birders checking out my first-ever (and Santa Barbara County’s fourth-ever) Mississippi Kite. I got great views of the bird both perched and flying; the photo above is the best of the ones I digiscoped, though I’m sure there will be spectacular photos available on eBird shortly from the people who were near me with much better equipment.

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debunkshy: Dusky Flycatcherde Anza Trail, AZ, 1-21-17 #270The…

Sunday, June 10th, 2018


Dusky Flycatcher

de Anza Trail, AZ, 1-21-17


The best place in Santa Barbara County to find these fun little flycatchers breeding is Big Pine Mountain, so it’s super-helpful to go there if you want to hear them singing on-territory. And at least for someone with my limited Empidonax expertise, hearing them singing is pretty much required in order to identify them.

Anyway: Dusky Flycatcher achievement unlocked!

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northwestnaturalist: Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea)…

Sunday, June 10th, 2018


Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea) Sittidae

Council Grove State Park, MT
March 16, 2015
Robert Niese

There are three species of Nuthatch in the Pacific Northwest, but the Pygmy Nuthatch is the only one endemic to our region. These birds are only found in the Rockies and inland Pacific Northwest. They are particularly fond of old Ponderosa Pine forests.


Saw lots of these adorable little squeakers on Big Pine Mountain over the last few days. 🙂

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sunwendyrain: Scott’s Oriole Big Bend, Texas #268The other…

Sunday, June 3rd, 2018


Scott’s Oriole 

Big Bend, Texas


The other desert bird I was hoping to add in my Cuyama trip. I heard two of them singing before sunrise, then got good looks at a third one while hiking the trail.

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#267Eight of them, at least, looking pretty much like this as…

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018


Eight of them, at least, looking pretty much like this as they chased each other above Ballinger Canyon. Such cool birds; I get such a thrill out of seeing nightjars.

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digitalaviary: Black-throated SparrowIn Arizona we often call…

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018


Black-throated Sparrow

In Arizona we often call this bird the Desert Sparrow. In the winter small flocks search for seeds and insets hidden under tangles of cactus. Hikers are often startled by the whirring wings of surprised Black-throated Sparrows. 


This desert species just barely makes into the northeast corner of Santa Barbara County, where another birder recently reported seeing some. Today was the first chance I’ve had to check them out; one popped up singing right in front of me about 5 minutes after I arrived at the spot where I’m currently camping. Yay!

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