surfbirds:Elegant Terns (winter) (Santa Monica State…

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018


Elegant Terns (winter) (Santa Monica State Beach)


This afternoon I headed to Goleta Beach County Park, where some early Elegant Terns had been hanging out with Royals and Caspians. It was just what I needed to further my tern education: all three species hanging out together where I could study them in the spotting scope.

I’m definitely getting more comfortable with all three. 🙂

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Cassin’s Vireo (Vireo cassinii)Photo by Flickr user Amado…

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Cassin’s Vireo (Vireo cassinii)

Photo by Flickr user Amado Demesa


There are some decent-sized holes in my birding knowledge. As I was discussing in connection with terns yesterday, there are certain groups I’ve tended to avoid in the past as requiring too much work.

“Little olive jobs flitting in tree canopies” is one of them. Until recently I haven’t really put in the effort. As a result, until this morning I’d never (knowingly) seen a Cassin’s Vireo.

But with the year-list obsession I have no excuse. People started reporting them around here few weeks ago in eBird, and I started keeping my eyes open. And this morning I was successful! I was looking at migrants in the willows at the Greenwell Preserve; the sun had just come up and the trees were full of singing. At one point I thought I heard what sounded like the Cassin’s Vireo recordings I’d been listening to, but it didn’t repeat, and I gave up looking for the singer and went back to all the awesome Orange-crowned and Nashville Warblers. And then there it was, plain as day! Spectacles, gray head, wing bars… I even got a glimpse of the yellow edging on the secondaries.

A very stylish bird. 🙂

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photosofsouthwestmt: Making WavesA Wilson’s phalarope I found…

Thursday, April 19th, 2018


Making Waves
A Wilson’s phalarope I found swimming in a flooded field, near the Bloody Dick Creek Road last spring.
Nikon D7100, Manual Mode, Tamron 150-600mm VC, F/6.3, ISO-400, ET 1/800, Focal Length  600mm, Hand Held Vibration Control on


One was reported yesterday at the Coal Oil Point “dune pond”, not far from Devereaux Slough, so after seeing the Caspian Terns I headed over to see if it was still there. It was!

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buddhabirds: Caspian Tern Traverse City, Michigan #243I’d been…

Thursday, April 19th, 2018


Caspian Tern

Traverse City, Michigan


I’d been seeing these for a few weeks, I’m pretty sure, but I hadn’t seen one well enough to be confident of the ID. Terns are one of those groups that I’ve tended to avoid in the past as “too hard”, which of course creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: not knowing the bird = avoiding the bird = not knowing the bird. I’m addressing it now, but I’ve needed an unambiguously close view to be sure of my identification.

Devereaux Slough is where they’d been reported most frequently lately, so this morning I got myself up before dawn and headed up there. There were a few tern fly-bys that seemed pretty good for Caspian, but not good enough for me to be sure. I’d resigned myself to going without them yet again when a group of four flew in and landed in the slough. They weren’t as close as I would have liked, but I got the spotting scope on them and cranked up the magnification and… yes! They had the dusky tip on the beak that was the feature I was looking for.

I present to you one of the worst photos ever of Caspian Tern:

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renatagrieco: May 25, 2016 – Lawrence’s Goldfinch (Spinus…

Saturday, April 14th, 2018


May 25, 2016 – Lawrence’s Goldfinch (Spinus lawrencei)

These finches are found only in a small range from California through northwestern Mexico. Though migratory, they tend to move east and west instead of north and south. They eat mostly seeds, which they pick from plants while perching, along with some insects. Their cup-shaped nests are constructed from leaves, grass stems, and sometimes lichen. Females do all of the incubation, while males bring them food and both parents feed the chicks. Males’ songs sometimes mimic parts of the songs of other species.


Seeing these felt really special. We saw a bunch of them when we scouted Jameson Lake for the Christmas Count last fall, before the Thomas Fire. Then, when we went in on the rescheduled count day (January 5), there weren’t any. They’re considered “fire followers”, and in a couple of years we’ll hopefully have a lot of them because of the new growth that will appear, but so far this year I hadn’t had any unambiguous sightings of them.

I’d had a few ambiguous hearings, though. On my hike last week up the Franklin Trail I thought I heard them a couple of times, but never saw one. I didn’t feel comfortable listing them based only one what I’d heard; I’ll do that for a bird with which I’m very familiar, but for this bird, and especially for my county year list, I wasn’t willing to list it.

In the past week I thought I heard them a couple more times; once at the Carpinteria Salt Marsh and then again at the Carpinteria Bluffs, but each time I wasn’t able to see the bird.

Guy (our Sedgwick tour leader) to the rescue yet again! He pointed out their calls several times as we did the tour, and toward the end we got great views of a pair of them feeding on a grassy hillside. Such a beautiful bird.

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debunkshy: Chipping Sparrow, The Arb, WI, 5-3-17 #241I know…

Saturday, April 14th, 2018


Chipping Sparrow,

The Arb, WI, 5-3-17


I know Chipping Sparrows are considered common, but for whatever reason I’ve never become very familiar with them. I think it’s a combination of having always lived places where they’re not especially easy to find, and having been a fairly casual birder when it comes to certain “hard” groups (like sparrows).

No more. One of the things being list-obsessed has given me is new motivation to get out there and find all the species I can. I knew Chipping Sparrows had been seen at Sedgwick recently, so I asked Guy, our trip leader, where they’d seen them. Unfortunately it was in a place we weren’t going to visit during the public tour, so I reconciled myself to not getting them for my list today.

Hah! The universe came through again! (And so did Guy, who actually found the bird in a tree near the end of the tour and pointed it out.)

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snailkites:Solitary Sandpiper sketch #240The birding tour at…

Saturday, April 14th, 2018


Solitary Sandpiper sketch


The birding tour at Sedgwick Reserve was great. Clear, calm, and warm (a little too warm, maybe, by the end, but that’s okay), and lots of great birds. The first new one for my county year list was a completely unexpected one, a legitimate rarity, especially inland: my first-ever Solitary Sandpiper.

So cool.

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jmg-photography: Purple Martins (Progne subis) #239I didn’t…

Saturday, April 14th, 2018


Purple Martins (Progne subis)


I didn’t stop at Nojoqui Falls County Park this morning to see turkeys; I was mainly there to see Purple Martins. The park is one of the few known breeding locations for them in Santa Barbara County, and they’d been reported from there a few times in eBird lately, so I knew they were back.

I haven’t seen Purple Martins since I was 12 and visiting my grandparents in Florida. They’re super impressive birds: Big, beautiful swallows, basically.

Nojoqui Park was officially closed when I arrived so I parked a ways down the road and walked back. But where were the martins? I circled the park, seeing lots of great birds, but no Purple Martins. Then I realized with a start that I was out of time; it was 7:30 and I needed to get on the road to make the check-in time for the tour at Sedgwick. I was a little disappointed, but I had seen those Wild Turkeys, so I wasn’t too disappointed.

I hustled back to the car, and there, in a big sycamore right above where I’d parked, I found them. Still big, still beautiful. Yeah!

I love seeing birds after I’ve given up. It feels like the universe is rewarding me for being mature enough to stop. “Good little birder. You have successfully controlled the obsession once again. Here you go.”

Thanks, universe!

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permagrinphoto:Wild Turkey #238I’d made a couple of trips down…

Saturday, April 14th, 2018


Wild Turkey


I’d made a couple of trips down Alisal Road and Paradise Road over the past month looking for Wild Turkeys; I know they’ve been doing their springtime displays and have been more visible (usually they’re famously shy and hard to find; that whole “getting shot at” thing). Today I was driving up early to take the birding tour at the University of California’s Sedgwick Reserve, but I wasn’t due there until 8 so I stopped off at sunrise at Nojoqui County Park and boom! Three turkeys were in the entrance driveway; two toms looking like this as they tried to impress the one hen.

She did not appear noticeably impressed. I was though! 😀

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crazycritterlife:Lazuli Bunting – San Luis Obispo, CA #237One of…

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018


Lazuli Bunting – San Luis Obispo, CA


One of the coolest things about birdwatching is the surprise factor. I experience surprises every single time I go out. A male Lazuli Bunting singing on the dog path by Santa Monica Creek was today’s big surprise, at the end of my morning walk with Rory when I assumed I’d already found everything I was going to find and was just putting my bins on a bird that had flown into the top of a little scrub oak; just me acting out of habit more than anything else; “bird every bird” and all that; probably another White-crowned or a House Sparrow, and those birds are legit, and cool, and deserve to be looked at too, of course; I have a whole list of reasons why it makes sense to check out all the birds, even the common ones, even the ones I’ve already ID’d by ear, but there’s a level on which I was just kind of going through the motions, at the end of my walk, ready to get home and get to work, so I dutifully raised the binoculars and… wow. Lazuli Bunting.


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Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)Image by…

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)

Image by Wikimedia user Mdf


Finally! I was pretty sure I’d had glimpses of these in the flowering eucalyptus opposite the Cape Honeysuckle lately, but I’d never had a long enough look to be sure, what with the Rufous Hummingbirds constantly chasing away all the less-aggressive hummingbirds. I’ve probably spent a total of 4 hours under that tree in the past week, craning my head to sift through hummingbirds. The people who live on the other side of the creek probably think I’m a little… odd.

But today after work I tried one more time, and Black-chinned magic happened: Nice long looks at an adult male. 😃

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speakingofnature: The song of a Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus…

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018


The song of a Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) was clearly audible today at a Hickory Hills Park grassland. Its reluctance to leave the area is a good indication that it may be nesting.

The population of these sparrows has declined dramatically over the last fifty years. The foremost cause for this decline is a loss of habitat, as well as the fragmenting and degrading of grasslands.


Brad Hacker (local geology professor and impressively obsessive birder) reported one of these at Ellwood Mesa in Santa Barbara yesterday. I’d never seen one before (not just this year; ever). Brad included specific coordinates where the bird was singing, so I stopped by on my way back from seeing the Fulvous Whistling-Duck to see if he would still be there.

And he was! I got a recording of him singing (along with a House Finch; it’s hard to make a bird recording anywhere in the U.S. without including a House Finch), and a crappy digiscoped photo:


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sunwendyrain:Fulvous  Whistling Duck #234*He gets an asterisk…

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018


Fulvous  Whistling Duck


He gets an asterisk because this one is a super-rarity that needs to be reviewed and approved by the California Bird Records Committee. Not that I saw the bird; no one cares about that except me. But whether or not the bird is countable.

The way it works with a rare bird is, the bird is countable if it got where you saw it without human help. So, if the Fulvous Whistling-Duck that showed up in Santa Barbara yesterday is an escaped captive (possible; people like to keep exotic ducks as pets, and sometimes they get away), he doesn’t count. He has to be a wild duck that got there under his own power.

The CBRC can take months to reach a conclusion on that question. In the meantime, people who care about their list rush out to see the bird just in case. That’s what I did, this morning before dawn, trekking out to Lake Los Carneros where people were seeing the duck all day yesterday, excitedly filling up the mailing list and posting to eBird about it, and all the while there was nothing I could do because it was my once-every-two-weeks day when I commute to L.A. to schmooze with the rest of the team.

Fortunately he stuck around. I was camped out on the edge of the lake before sunrise this morning, and I’m pretty sure I actually saw the bird circling overhead with a group of mallards before the sun came up. It was pretty dark and I could only see the silhouette, but it looked good, with the long neck and slender wings, and the bird vocalized several times with the whistle that (at least according to my Sibley app) is what the male duck sounds like. I lost sight of him when he dropped back down onto the lake, but a short while later when it was light out another birder found him and pointed him out to me.

Yay! (Assuming he counts.) But he’s a super-cool bird either way.

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Vaux’s Swift (Chaetura vauxi)Image by Jamie Chavez#233I didn’t…

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

Vaux’s Swift (Chaetura vauxi)

Image by Jamie Chavez


I didn’t see the second “target species” I was looking for when I hiked the Franklin Trail today; that species is Lawrence’s Goldfinch, which I think I probably heard a couple of times during the hike but never got a look at, and I don’t know the bird well enough to list it based on what I heard.

Not to worry. I got a second completely unexpected county year bird instead: Vaux’s Swift. I love how birdwatching is like that. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been doing it or whether I’m going for an 8-hour hike or just a stroll up the dog path with Rory; there are always surprises.

Fun fact: The name “Vaux’s” rhymes with “boxes”. I learned not long ago that I’d been not only wrong but probably pretentious by pronouncing it to rhyme with “rose” all these years. 😜

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birdsandbirds: Ash-throated FlycatcherPutah Creek Riperian…

Sunday, April 8th, 2018


Ash-throated Flycatcher

Putah Creek Riperian Preserve

Davis, CA


I went for a long hike today up the Franklin Trail behind Carp, partly to see how things are coming since the fire, partly because awesome birder Peter Gaede was up there a few days ago and saw two species I need for my county year list. One of them was this dapper flycatcher, and it was right where he said it would be, about 4 miles from the trailhead in Sutton Canyon. I saw the bird down the hill from the trail as I was climbing up the far side of the canyon; a slim little Myiarchus flycatcher sitting upright on the burned sticks that are the closest thing to trees in the canyon these days.

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sunwendyrain:Black-headed Grosbeak #231I knew they were back…

Friday, April 6th, 2018


Black-headed Grosbeak


I knew they were back because people were reporting them on eBird, but hadn’t seen one yet. But this morning I took my usual walk to the Cape Honeysuckle hedge where the male Orchard Oriole has been hanging out (he’s still there! saw him today!) and I saw six.

They’re definitely back.

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permagrinphoto:Northern Waterthrush #230The least warbler-y…

Friday, April 6th, 2018


Northern Waterthrush


The least warbler-y warbler.

One of these was in Goleta last fall, but I was all into scouting the Carp Christmas Count circle at the time and never got around to seeing it. Another one was reported a few days ago at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge, and I stopped by to look for it on my way home from my crack-of-dawn La Cumbre Peak trip yesterday. No luck. (Turns out I was looking in the wrong place.)

Then, late yesterday afternoon, word went out that a local birder had refound the bird, and with her help several of us converged on the scene and eventually managed some quick looks. Such a cool bird! My first waterthrush ever. 🙂

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birdsandbirds: Hermit Warbler H.J Andrews Experimental Forest,…

Thursday, April 5th, 2018


Hermit Warbler

H.J Andrews Experimental Forest, OR

So, I’m out in Oregon in the H.J Andrews Experimental Forest for the summer to do bird point counts and to band birds. Today was our first day of netting and we came up with this HEWA! 


I was finishing up at La Cumbre Peak, feeling pretty happy about adding two birds to the list, when two Hermit Warblers appeared. Yay!

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renatagrieco: December 13, 2017 – Rufous-crowned Sparrow…

Thursday, April 5th, 2018


December 13, 2017 – Rufous-crowned Sparrow (Aimophila ruficeps)

Found in a spotty range across the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico, these sparrows spend most of their time on or near the ground. During the summer they mostly eat insects, switching mainly to stems, shoots, and seeds during the winter. Females build nests on the ground from dried grasses, rootlets, twigs, bark, and hair. Both parents feed the chicks. They may perform broken wing displays to draw predators away from the nest.


If I had a “nemesis bird” in my attempt to run up my county year list this year it would probably be Rufous-crowned Sparrow. I found a cool place to see them not far from home last year and then… it burned. So far this year every time I’ve gone somewhere to try to see them I’ve failed. I described my plight to a helpful birder a few weeks ago, and he instructed me to go to xeno-canto and get familiar with their songs.

Good advice! This morning while I was walking around at La Cumbre Peak listening to Mountain Quails I caught a faint song from the chaparral hillside above me, and a few seconds later I was looking at no-longer-a-nemesis county year bird #228. I didn’t get a particularly good look; it was pretty far away and I’d been lazy by not bringing the spotting scope with me, but I could see the plain breast and the rufous crown, and that plus the song was good enough for me.

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itsolivia:Mountain QuailGouache on 10×14” hot pressOlivia…

Thursday, April 5th, 2018


Mountain Quail
Gouache on 10×14” hot press
Olivia Warnecke / 2012


I’d tried for Mountain Quail twice, driving up to Figueroa Mountain and walking appropriate roads listening. But it was too windy, or I was there too late, or hunters shot out the covey eBirders had reported too widely (!). And Figueroa Mountain is kind of a haul from where I live, so I was only able to get there if I was willing to use a full day for antisocial birding activity.

But now that Spring has sprung and the male Mountain Quails are crowing at the crack of dawn they’re easier to find, and local eBirders have been reporting them pretty reliably from La Cumbre Peak above Santa Barbara. So I set my alarm for 4:30 and hauled myself up to La Cumbre Peak just as it was starting to get light. And… yup. We’ve got quails. (The super-cool sound of them calling, at least. Which is good enough to count them, given how distinctive their voices are.) 😀

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