It is I, Jonah, back at it again with another post that’s not about Arizona. Ha.
I’ve been doing some loose birding as of late, with a total of four lifers to show for the past few weeks. I figured it’s about time to compile that all together in a post, so here goes:
My lifers came from the North, the South, and the West, and I begin now with the South. Remember my last post? I didn’t make it super prominent, but I did mention that when I was in San Mateo back in late October, I attempted to re-find a possible Red-footed Booby that birding guru Josiah Clark had seen distantly from his kayak. Red-footed Boobies aren’t a mega bird in Southern California, but the last report in the Bay Area (or anywhere north of LA for that matter) was in 1991. The bird then was a sick individual that promptly died before anyone could see it. Classic. Before that, we had a mini-invasion back in 1987 that brought a lot of county firsts, but that was 30 years ago. Point is, this thing would’ve been rare.
About a week after my dip on the unidentified Booby, reports began flooding in that the Booby had been re-located, and conclusively identified as a Red-footed. This was on a Friday, which normally is really convenient for a birder like myself, but I had a sailing regatta the following weekend, all the way down in Newport Beach. Ironic, isn’t it, that I couldn’t chase the Booby because I was in a place where a Red-footed Booby was far more likely, if still very rare.
I didn’t find my own Red-footed Booby.
I did, however, find my state lifer Royal Tern, as well as a female Black Scoter, a local rarity.
When I got back into SF, my amazing mom, for some strange reason, consented to driving all the way down to Half Moon Bay from San Francisco as soon as I finished school on Monday. I cannot compare the stress of my ride to the stress of Ryan’s ride on the way to the Corn Crake, but I had to turn on the reggae to calm the nerves, so that should say enough.
We got to the pier, I jumped out of the car, and a guy named Devon showed me the bird before leaving me alone on the dock. I took a few pictures. The sun set. Everything happened in the space of about 5-10 minutes, but wow. Those minutes counted.
And that was that: my lifer Red-footed Booby. Sula sula, the Booby of all Boobies.
Next on my list looks to be my lifer from the West. On Sunday, November 19th, I led a trip for the Bay Area Chapter of the California Young Birders’ Club (CAYBC). We explored the South Bay salt ponds, as well as a few other locations around the South Bay and the coast. At the salt ponds, thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl congregated right alongside the road, providing excellent looks at species such as Dunlin, Shoveler, all three Teal, Least and Western Sandpipers, and egrets. Overhead, a pair of White-tailed Kites messed around, and before long, a Prairie Falcon flew in and landed – quite an unexpected find, and my state lifer.
Our main target of the day was a Ruff that had been continuing for some time now in the ponds close to a set of railroad tracks. (Presumably), this Ruff has been returning to this area for years now, and every year I’ve always deemed some other bird a higher priority. The bird had been seen almost daily for a few weeks, but as people got bored of it, as people do, reports had stopped coming as frequently. Many-a-birder will then jump to the conclusion at this point that the bird has left, and a few of the kids were skeptical that we would find it. I was hopeful, but for the first half hour of scoping, we turned up nothing but regulars, with the minor exception of a male Eurasian Wigeon that my little bro spotted while trying out a friend’s scope.
We eventually decided to turn around, but not before scoping one last mudflat that I announced would be our “final stand” against the dreaded dip. I set up my scope, but before I’d even focused my lens, Eddie (a member) called out that he had it! A minute later, everyone was on it, and I had my lifer Ruff! Seven-hundred-something for the world, #365 for California. Really sweet stuff, and a huge thanks to Eddie for an amazing spot. That thing was darn far away for binoculars.
A Loggerhead Shrike was a nice find on the way back to the cars, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to pull out a Redhead from the massive flocks of ducks, the only target bird we missed today.
Moving on, we traveled 20 minutes to a local creek that hosts the only breeding American Dippers in the Bay Area, just a bit south of San Jose. Thankfully, Sergey, our only south bay member, had already scouted the area out a week prior, and we wasted no time in seeing one of the dippers. This wasn’t a lifer, or even a state bird for me, but it had been over a year since I’d last seen one, so a really cool moment for sure. I’d totally forgotten about their strange white eyelids that they flaunt while they twerk just above the water.
And, of course, we had to visit the Red-footed Booby for all the kids who hadn’t seen it yet. I won’t subject you all to another monologue about it, but here’s the photo.
I spent the following week birding by bike around San Francisco county, and although I didn’t see anything that anyone cares about, I got a good few county birds. Get ready for my attempt at a county big year next year, despite the pathetically small amount of time I’ll be in SF next year. I won’t even be able to start my county year list until January 6th! Wherefore art thou, competition?
The next story I have to tell here is of a really fun day I spent birding with Oscar Moss, one of my best birding friends. We went up to Bodega Bay, primarily for a continuing Rock Sandpiper, but really just for the whole area, including rolling scenery, seawatching, and Sonoma County listing.
As we drove along highways and backroads, we did our best to identify every bird on every wire, and kept a close eye on what county we were in. We actually both got a good number of county lifers just from the car, but my list was in the twenties at the time, so this wasn’t surprising, just a bit of fun.
The Sandpiper had been present for weeks at this point, and is even still being seen regularly as a write this a week later. Because of this, myself and Oscar both severely underestimated how many people would still be interested in seeing this bird. When we pulled up to the random-ass rock where it had been seen, we were met by a group of 15 birders, all looking intently at the sandpiper, who didn’t even have his head up at the time. I saw a few people I knew, and even met someone who had flown from the interior states to see it. I honestly don’t get the point of that – why wouldn’t he just fly to Humboldt, or Alaska for that matter?
The Rock Sandpiper itself was actually quite cool, and it eventually became more active when a flock of Black Turnstones began playfully harassing it. Marveling at a Rock Sandpiper is probably one of the dorkiest things I’ve ever done, but just look at it!
He* blended in really well with the rock he was on, but was active enough to keep track of, even opening his wings once, showing his speckled flanks and snowy underwing.
Additionally, the coastline was covered in roosting Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants, the latter providing better views than I’d ever had before of this species.
A number of Black Oystercatchers were also scattered throughout the scenery. Black Oystercatchers will never cease to provide excellent subjects for photography.
Because our main target had proven so easy to find, we had some time to spend seawatching, racking up plenty of new Sonoma County birds. The highlight of these was undoubtedly Marbled Murrelet, which were, embarrassingly enough, my lifer bird.
Let me justify that last bit. So, on every single pelagic I’ve ever been on (like 4 or 5), the only Murrelet of any kind we’ve had has been a single Scripp’s. I’ve done seawatches off the SF coast, and I’ve seen Murrelets, but they’ve all been to fast and too distant for me to conclusively rule out Ancient. Marbled Murrelet qualifies (in my book) as a textbook nemesis bird, although the argument could be made that I’m just a bad birder. Or maybe I need a better scope. Yea….that’s it…
I was too embarrassed about the Murrelet fact for me to show that I cared, so I didn’t take any photos, and just went back to looking at the Rock Sandpiper, so as to prove that I was cool, and didn’t even care about those Murrelet pairs. I hope the others bought it.
On the way back to San Francisco, myself and Oscar made a small stop at Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility. Or, in layman’s terms, sewage ponds. Ducks love them, but ducks also gang rape on the regular, so I think their civility has already come into question.
A female Northern Harrier seemed to follow us as we walked around the ponds. I like female Northern Harriers better than males, but this has less to do with the way they look than the fact that everybody delights in calling male harriers “Gray Ghost”, which makes me want to hurt someone.
And, finally, for a bit of county birding to finish this Frankenstein of a post on up. I’ll keep this as brief as possible.
Just last Saturday (December 9th), I biked over to Crissy Field, in search of a Snow Goose. Both Snow and Ross’s Geese are rare but regular birds here in the city; however, they’re almost always seen as flyovers. To have one land and stay for while is actually very rare, and considering the immense level on which I care about my county list (I still need Cliff Swallow), I knew I just had to chase it.
I got there at 6:45 am, a little before sunrise, and naturally was greeted by a total of zero geese. I biked around the lagoon, pulling up a variety of common shorebirds before I saw a large flock of geese flying over the field, preparing to land. One look at the flock brought me my county lifer Snow Goose, looking awkwardly out of place amongst the Canadas. I snagged some nice shots of the Snow once the flock landed, my #245 for San Francisco.
Once again, I spent a chunk of Sunday county birding around SF on my bike. A Lucy’s Warbler has been chillin’ at Lake Merced for a few days now, our first in about 6 years. Not a state bird for me, but a quality county lifer. Of the limited places for a Lucy’s Warbler to be around here, the bird had chosen the willows around an old, broken down thing that looks suspiciously like an abandoned outhouse. So far, everyone’s been calling it the “wooden structure”. Yeah, right.
The Warbler itself was incredibly skittish, and took hours of waiting before finally showing itself. My photos are far less than ideal, but most people who’ve seen it haven’t gotten photos at all, so consider me satisfied.
An added highlight was an Eastern Phoebe, that was apparently continuing, although I must’ve missed the reports.
Blasting Ludacris back up the highway on my bike, I also dropped by Golden Gate Park, just because I had some extra time. First stop was Spreckles Lake for Red-necked Grebe. Red-necked Grebes in San Francisco are like Surf Scoters in Nebraska – mystical birds to us that act as signs of fortune.
I made an attempt for the Orchard Oriole at North Lake as well, and although I missed the bird, I got to see something way cooler. A Cooper’s Hawk and a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew together for almost a minute over my head, giving stunning comparison views of their wing shapes at tails. Frankly, the hawk combo was my favorite moment of the day, if only for the fact that I couldn’t have predicted it. To read more about Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawk differences, I suggest you check out this post by one of my all-time favorite birding blogs out there, Wing Tips.
This concludes the events of my past few weeks. For those who don’t know, I leave for Ecuador in 3 days, so this will be my last post in 2017. Thanks for reading this far, and I look forward to writing again once I get back.