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Sunday, January 1
A new year begins, and my counting starts over. Like last year, I plan to try to see as many bird species as I can in 2012, and this will be a chronicle of my quest. In 2011, I ended up seeing 424 species, of which 119 were lifers for me. My spreadsheet for 2012 indicates an expectation of 426 species, of which about 90 would be lifers. It will be a great challenge to try to beat this yearís total of 424 species, and getting 90 additional lifers, on top of the ones this year, would be excellent. I plan to bird in California several times this year, and I have trips planned to the Texas Gulf Coast (in April) and Hawaii (in October probably). I also plan to do more birding in Washington State this year. I hope to leave on my first birding trip of the year (to California, with a stop at Ocean Shores on the Washington Coast) in three or four days, weather permitting.
My first bird this year, from my bedroom window, was AMERICAN CROW. Crows arenít very popular, but I happen to like them, and we have a family of crows that hangs out around our yard, and Christina feeds them in the morning. There were several crows in the apple tree outside my window this morning, and then I noticed another bird, and my number two bird for the year was NORTHERN FLICKER. Note that when I first mention a bird that is new for my year list, it will appear in all caps.
So, I performed my morning ablutions and draped my frame, then ventured out to see what was coming to the feeder today. It turned out to be a rather slow day at the feeder, and it wasnít even raining. It wasnít real cold either, so maybe the birds were having better luck finding natural food elsewhere today, so they werenít coming to the feeder as much.
The first species I saw on the feeder was HOUSE FINCH, followed shortly by DARK-EYED JUNCO, which is probably the most common species in our yard in the winter. Here is a picture of a male Dark-eyed Junco:
Juncos are normally ground feeders, but they have learned to go to our feeder, which is loaded with shelled sunflower seeds.
Next to appear were some AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES, in their subdued winter plumage. They are smaller birds than their cousins, the House Finches. Here is a good size comparison, with an American Goldfinch on the left and a female House Finch on the right.
Another member of the finch family also showed up soon, a couple of PINE SISKINS. They are about the same size as the American Goldfinches. Often they have some yellow showing on their wings, as the bird pictured below does, but not always. Here is a size comparison with a Pine Siskin on the left and the same female House Finch on the right.
There were a lot fewer of one of the regular visitors to the feeder today, but I did see a couple of BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES this morning, so that one went on my list. No sign today of their less common cousins, the Chestnut-backed Chickadees, but they show up most days. We seem to have two of them that live somewhere nearby.
Another frequent visitor that came around less today is our resident male ANNAíS HUMMINGBIRD. He finally did put in a few appearances in the afternoon, though. I tried for a picture of him, but the light was terrible (from behind him), and he didnít stick around long enough for me to try using the flash. Iíll try again another day; he is always around.
I walked out in the yard and heard a bird singing. It flew up onto the fence and posed for me, singing all the while. A perky little SONG SPARROW.
At one point, I saw a small group of birds fly over our yard, and it looked like they might land out in front, so I went out there, and sure enough, up high in the branches of one of the bare maple trees were three AMERICAN ROBINS, my tenth species of the day.
Last year I had 13 species in the yard on January 1, and after that, I went down to Juanita Bay Park and picked up 18 more species. This year it was nice and sunny, and it wasnít too cold, but it was quite windy, and I just didnít feel like going to the park, so I saved that for another day.
So, 2012 begins, and I have 10 species on my year list.
Monday, January 2
It was a gray day today, with rain forecasted by the end of the morning, so I didnít spend any time watching for yard birds, but instead headed straight down to Juanita Bay Park, which I consider my ďlocal patchĒ. There werenít many small birds around, but the ducks were out on the lake.
I immediately got BUFFLEHEAD, GADWALL, AMERICAN COOT, MALLARD, and GREEN-WINGED TEAL. Here is a picture of a male Gadwall that I like. They have a very fine pattern and it takes a close-up in decent light to really show it.
I could hear a BELTED KINGFISHER doing its rattle call, and I soon spotted it in a tree. I tried for a picture, but it was just too far away in the dim winter light.
There were DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS around, so they went onto my list. Here is a picture I took later in the morning at Log Boom Park of a bunch of them sitting on pilings:
And a close-up of one that was drying its wings, as they characteristically do:
But, that was later, at a different park. Getting back to Juanita Bay Park, I had PIED-BILLED GREBES, three male COMMON MERGANSERS, and a male WOOD DUCK in his colorful breeding plumage. Up in a tree was perched an immature BALD EAGLE, too far away for a picture, but easily viewed in my scope.
Across the lake there were AMERICAN WIGEONS and CANADA GEESE. Various ducks were flying in and out of the little bay at the park, and a pair of scaup flew in. There are two species of scaup, and both are here in the winter, on the lake. They are very similar, and it wasnít until I got home and studied the pictures I took that I decided that these were LESSER SCAUP. They can be distinguished from their close cousins, the Greater Scaups by their head shape, but it is a very subtle difference, and I am not positive about my identification of the pair today, but Iím going with it. Here are a couple of pictures, and maybe someday a more expert birder than I am will either correct me or affirm my call.
First the male and female:
And here is another shot of the male:
In addition to the head shape, the Lesser Scaup is supposed to have fine gray barring its flanks, and this duck seems to have that. Also, the male Lesser Scaupís head has a purplish sheen to it, while the Greaterís head has a greenish cast. If I lighten these pictures up a lot, it appears to me that the head is purplish.
There werenít any swans at Juanita Bay Park today, as there have been the last couple of times I was there. The rain was holding off, so I drove on up to Log Boom Park, at the north end of Lake Washington, in Kenmore.
At Log Boom Park, I picked up some more waterbirds. I saw two CANVASBACKS, which is a species of duck that is fairly uncommon on Lake Washington. I missed on another uncommon duck species, Redhead, which had been reported yesterday at that location. There was a small group of WESTERN GREBES, though, and here is a picture of some of them:
Mostly they had their heads tucked in, and I had to wait to get a picture of a couple of them with their heads up.
There were also a couple of male HOODED MERGANSERS out on the lake. I wish I could have gotten a picture, as they are really very pretty birds. There were also a number of female Common Mergansers around, but I had already counted that species at Juanita Bay Park. The distance and the poor light kept me from getting any worthwhile pictures, of them.
Gulls are all somewhat similar, until you look closely. People talk about ďseagullsĒ and rarely even notice that there are different species. Gulls take two to four years to reach their final ďadultĒ or ďterminalĒ plumage, and as a result, gulls in their immature plumages are so hard to identify that I donít even bother to try to distinguish them, in most cases. A ďfour yearĒ gull has different coloration each year of its life, until it finally reaches the terminal plumage. The ones you see that are kind of a mottled brown are the immature ones that I donít even try to tell apart.
Anyway, I picked up two gull species today, RING-BILLED GULL and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL. The Glaucous-winged Gull I identified was flying, and I didnít get a picture of it. Its distinguishing features are its size (large) and the lack of any black at the wing tips. There were Ring-billed Gulls sitting on the pier, and I got this nice picture showing one in its winter plumage, which consists mainly of the fine streaking on its head:
At first glance, you would say it had a black tail with white spots, but those are actually the wing tips, which extend back past the tail when it is perched. The tail is pure white, but canít be seen in this picture. Here is a close-up of its head:
The distinguishing features are its size (medium) the yellow eye, and of course, the ring around the yellow bill. It is a widespread species of gull, especially away from the ocean (they love garbage dumps and highway rest areas), and one that is easy to identify in its adult or terminal plumage.
(Donít you love the little lessons I include here? My reports are so educational.)
The temperatures were in the 40ís today, but out on the lake there was a pretty good breeze, and it was pretty damn cold. I had to take my gloves off to use my camera, and my fingers were aching from the cold. On the way back to the car I saw an immature bald eagle sitting in a tree, and I took a lot of pictures. There wasnít much light, though, and the branches made it difficult to get a good picture. Here is my best one:
Check out those talons, and also that massive bill. Bald Eagles take four years to reach their final adult plumage, with the white tail and the white head.
A second immature bald eagle flew over a couple of times and eventually landed in the same tree. I took some pictures of it in the air, but they are terrible, so Iím not going to show them.
My hands were thoroughly cold by then, so I headed for home. To my surprise, when I got here, I looked out at the feeder and immediately saw a lovely CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE, one that had eluded me yesterday, although they are normally around.
Next was a good binocular view of the RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH that showed up here about a month ago and has come around from time to time since then. It didnít stick around for long, and it was way up in the birch tree, so no pictures, Iím sorry to say. It was cool to watch it work its way out on a large branch, hanging upside down much of the time.
And then another regular resident bird showed itself, our cute little BEWICKíS WREN that seems to live somewhere close by. I got a few pictures, but none that are worthy of showing. Maybe I can get a good one later in the year.
So, within a few minutes, I saw three yard species that are fairly regular (the nuthatch only recently), but that I had missed yesterday.
Interestingly, after two days, I am exactly where I was last year after two days. I suppose I will bore you with comparisons to last year, all year long, since Iím trying to beat last yearís total of 424 species.
Iíve seen 32 species so far this year and also last year after the second. Last year it was 31 on the first day and one more on the second, while this year it was only 10 on the first day and 22 on the second. Last year, Christina went into the hospital at midnight on the night of the first and had her appendix out on the morning of the second, so I didnít do any actual birding on the second. How inconsiderate of her, to interfere with my birding efforts like that. Fortunately, I saw a robin while visiting the hospital last year on the second, or I would have gotten skunked that day.
Meanwhile, back in 2012, I plan to head out for California this week. I had wanted to leave on Wednesday, but right now the weather forecast looks like it would be better to wait a day and leave on Thursday. Iíll make a final decision tomorrow morning, based on the weather forecast at that time. Forecasting the weather in the winter on the Washington coast is a pretty chancy thing, and the forecasts keep shifting. Will it be raining, showery, or about to rain Ė those are the options, and they constantly change their forecast. I would rather be there in showers than on a solidly raining day. Iím looking forward to spending two nights in Ocean Shores, and seeing if I can pick up a couple of lifers and some other birds for my year list. Then it will be on to California for a couple of weeks.
Tuesday, January 3
Just a short report today and no pictures. One of the things I like to do at the beginning of the year is to see how long I can go before I have a day when I donít add a new species to my year list. Last year it was January 13 when I first got skunked, so this year my challenge is to see at least one new species each day until at least the 14th.
Today I was at home all day, but this morning I saw a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET in our yard, flitting around in the birch trees. I think that might have been the first time Iíve seen that species here in the yard, so it pleased and surprised me.
I plan to leave for California on Thursday morning, with a stop for two nights at Ocean Shores on the way. My immediate challenge is going to be to see at least one new species tomorrow, around here. So far I havenít seen House Sparrow, Starling, or a pigeon this year, so if I donít see anything new in the yard in the morning, I figure I can go out in the neighborhood and find one of those species. There are always House Sparrows hanging around any McDonaldís, so Iíll try that, if necessary. I ought to be able to see a Red-winged Blackbird down at the park, too, for that matter, and I still need that one this year, too. It should be easy to add species once I leave on my trip, I think, although travel days can be a challenge. I can count on Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, and egrets from the car in California, and I should be able to see something along the road in Oregon, too Ė Brewerís Blackbird should be easy.
So, now Iím at 33 for the year.
Wednesday, January 4
Todayís report is another short one. It was a rainy day in Kirkland today, but I needed a new bird to keep my streak alive. So, while the rain was still only falling lightly, I drove on up to the local McDonaldís, to see what might be around. It is next to a little wetland, and I hoped for Red-winged Blackbird, if there werenít any House Sparrows around the Mickey Dís parking lot.
I did see one sparrow-like bird, when I got out of the car, but it turned out to be a Song Sparrow, which I had counted at home on Sunday. While I was standing there at the edge of the little wetland, I did see a couple of familiar looking birds flying around across the freeway. I moved down a little, and I could see that they had landed on a light standard Ė a couple of FERAL PIGEONS. Not a very inspiring species, but a countable one and new for the year. With that, I returned home and didnít go out again. I watched the birds coming to our feeders, and saw some nice ones, but nothing new.
The Red-breasted Nuthatch was back again, but there just wasnít enough light to get a decent picture. The only picture I got that Iím willing to show is a poor one of a Chestnut-backed Chickadee at the suet feeder. You canít see the birds face, but at least it does show the birdís colors.
So, Iím at 34 now for the year, and tomorrow morning I hope to get out on the road again, first stop Ocean Shores for two nights, out on the Washington coast. Then it will be on to California, God Willing And The Creeks Donít Rise.
Thursday, January 5
The creeks behaved themselves, and I made it to Ocean Shores today, arriving about 12:30 in the sunshine, after having some heavy rain showers on the way. I grabbed a burger, and I set off in search of birds. My first target was a rare goose that has been seen on the golf course here all winter. I stopped at one place it has been seen, and I did see a little group of four geese, but they were three Canada Geese and one GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE. Not the one I was looking for, but one for my list, nonetheless.
I was going to drive around the golf course looking for the rare goose, but I found myself stuck on a road that went south of the golf course, so, I changed plans and headed for the jetty, to look for ďrockpipersĒ, which is what birders ďin the knowĒ call shorebirds that hang out on rocky shores. There are three species of them here at Ocean shores in the winter, and I hoped to see all three.
The sun wasnít in the right place, the tide wasnít right, and the wind was whipping up the surf so it was kind of hazy above the water. Nonetheless, I walked out onto the beach, on the north side of the jetty, with my scope and started looking. Before I could even start my search for the rockpipers, though, there were a couple of SANDERLINGS, feeding at the edge of the surf. Here is a picture of one those little cuties:
I soon saw some shorebirds out on the rocks, though. When a big wave would come along, they would fly up onto the dry rocks, and then go back to the wet ones after the wave passed. I was intently watching them and trying to distinguish the various species, when I noticed that a sneaker wave was about to get me. I grabbed my scope and started to retreat, but I tripped on something and fell. I wasnít hurt (although I notice that my left leg feels kind of strained tonight), and I recovered immediately, but I had gotten a bit wet and sandy on both legs. The scope was a bit wet and sandy, too, but seemed okay. After that, I watched from a bit farther back, and I also kept looking to see what the waves were doing. Every once in a while, there would be a big wave, and I had to retreat. The wind blowing on my wet pants, along with my wet feet, made me kind of chilly.
Anyway, I soon was able to identify BLACK TURNSTONES, which is the most common of the three rockpipers here. Soon I could also pick out some SURFBIRDS, which is the next most common. Here is a picture of one of the Surfbirds:
I had to really work at it, and eventually, I saw one bird that clearly had a longer bill than either the turnstones or the surfbirds, and I had ROCK SANDPIPER (lifer). I had tried for them a year ago here, but had not seen any then. I took a lot of pictures, from a long distance, and when I looked at them tonight, I saw that one of them actually shows a profile of a bird with the Rock Sandpiper bill. I would like to have a better view of the species, though, so I plan to try again in the morning, when the sun should be in a better position, and maybe the tide and wind will be more favorable, too. Of course, it might very well be raining.
So, having added the three rockpipers to my year list, I drove on around to the Sewage Treatment Plant (STP). I didnít see anything very interesting there, although I did add a duck, NORTHERN SHOVELER, to my year list. There were also some Scaup on the ponds there, but I decided they were Lesser Scaup, which is the one I had counted the other day at Juanita Bay Park.
There are supposed to be some sea ducks out in the channel that can be seen from there Ė three species of scoters and one rare eider that people have been reporting this winter, but it was much too windy and the waves were much too high to try to pick out anything in the channel. I hope to try again tomorrow, weather permitting. There are several vantage points to try to scope the sea ducks, so Iíll see what I can find tomorrow, assuming it isnít pouring rain all day or too windy.
From the STP, I could see a number of people walking on the beach at Damon Point. There are 10 or 12 Snowy Owls out there, and birders have been going out to see them for the last month. It is a one mile plus walk each way, though, over sand, and in todayís wind, I wasnít willing to carry my heavy scope and make that walk. Maybe tomorrow, but maybe not. I expect to see Snowy Owls up in the Skagit area, later this year, anyway. I did stop at one point along the beach, short of Damon Point, to see if I could see anything, but there was nothing but gulls, and I didnít feel like trying to sort through gulls today. Maybe tomorrow.
So, I drove back north, up Duck Lake Road, through residential areas. A year ago, I saw some little birds on that route, but nothing today. When I got back to the area around the golf course, I started looking for the target goose again.
The golf course is spread out through a residential area, with lots of streets cutting across it. I expected to spend quite a while cruising the streets, looking for flocks of geese on the course. I expected than when I found where the target goose was today, that there would be a group of birders looking at it, so it would be easy to find. Almost every day there are reports from birders who saw it, so figured someone would be staking it out.
Very early in my search, I saw a group of geese out on one hole, so I turned around and headed back to park the car, so I could check them out. As I was finding a place to park, a group of four geese came flying in to join the others on the course and damned if one of them didnít have a white head, which is just what I was looking for! I got the binoculars on it, and sure enough, it was the very EMPEROR GOOSE (lifer) that I was looking for. If other birders had been watching it, it had flown away on them, and flown right to me! Amazing. I parked the car and went out on the golf course with my binoculars, scope, and camera. I was easily able to locate it, among the Canada Geese. I got a good look, and then took tons of pictures. Here is my favorite picture:
There were two or three dozen Canada Geese there, and I noticed that some of them were quite a bit smaller. Others had reported that the Emperor Goose often hung out with a mixed flock of geese, and I decided that some of the geese in this flock were CACKLING GEESE, another one for my list. There used to be about 8 or 9 subspecies of Canada Goose, and a few years ago, they split off two or three of the smallest subspecies and now they are a separate species, Cackling Goose. Here is a picture of two of the geese, one large one and one small one. The size difference is quite marked, as you can see:
I think the big one is actually a subspecies of Canada Goose called Dusky Canada Goose. You can see how brown its breast is, compared to the breast of the smaller one. Dusky Canada Goose is only a subspecies, though, so I canít count it separately from the Canada Goose that I already counted on January 2.
So, having seen the three rockpipers and the Emperor Goose, and it being too windy to look for the eider, I headed up to the state park at the entrance to Ocean Shores. Last year I had seen a couple of good species there, so I thought I might as well try it again this year.
There wasnít much going on there, though, birdwise. I did get a good view of a female Northern Flicker, although I wasnít quick enough to get a picture. Then there were a couple of little birds foraging on the side of the road, and I added GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW to my year list. I drove through the park slowly, watching the sides of the road. No birds, but I found a good place to park my car, so I could go off into the woods to take a leak. Having taken care of that, I walked down a little trail into the woods, and saw some motion on the path ahead. Putting the binoculars on the spot, I saw a lovely little FOX SPARROW, which is one of the species I saw here last year that I had hoped to see. It was really dark back in the woods there, but I tried for pictures anyway. They are all way too dark, as there really was very little light, but I managed to heavily process one of them enough to be able to identify the bird in it, anyway, so Iíll put it here.
I was using my flash at that point, although I was too far away for it to do much good. I was pleased that you could at least identify the bird from the picture, though. They scratch around in the leaf litter, as this one is doing, a very characteristic behavior of Fox Sparrow.
So, it was after four by then, and dark comes early in the Northwest in early January, so I drove to my humble motel and checked in to my lonely room. I was looking over my records the other day, and I found that I have been away from home almost 25% of the nights since I retired in November of 1998. That is an average of 13 weeks a year. I figure I have been traveling alone for about 11 of those weeks, on average, each year. So, this is just one more lonely room in a long chain of lonely rooms I have spent my nights in since retirement. As I constantly remind everyone, the only reason I am able to travel alone so much is that I have the internet and email to keep in touch with people while Iím on the road. Emails are always appreciated, but especially when Iím traveling.
My totals for the year now are 44 species seen, of which 2 are lifers. What will tomorrow hold?
Friday, January 6
I was up by about 7:30 this morning, and took advantage of the excellent free breakfast downstairs Ė scrambled eggs and bacon, followed by a waffle for ďdessert of breakfastĒ, as our kids used to call it. The Starbucks coffee was quite good, too, although I think that just about any coffee with half and half in it is probably pretty good. I had half decaf and half regular, because Iím quite sensitive to caffeine.
I was out and on my way down to the jetty by about 9:30, to try to get a better look at Rock Sandpiper than my fleeting glance yesterday. The tide was quite high, as I expected. It wasnít raining, but it looked and felt like it might start at any time. Here is a picture of the jetty this morning; it was 40 degrees and the waves were pretty big.
It wouldnít have been a good time to be out on the jetty itself, as the biggest waves were crashing over it from time to time. There were a couple of people with cameras with huge lenses, right at the base of the jetty, and I noticed that they scared up a little group of rockpipers, just as I arrived. I would have liked to have gotten a look at the birds before they spooked them.
I noticed that at least some of the birds landed again on the rocks, inland a short distance from the water. I approached, and sure enough, there was a group of birds just resting on the rocks, waiting for the tide to go out again. Most were Black Turnstones, and I saw a few Surfbirds in with them. I approached closer and took a few pictures, but the lighting was so flat that the pictures donít have much contrast. As I was observing the birds, I noticed that one of the Surfbirds was noticeably smaller than the others. I watched it walk next to another Surfbird and noted my surprise at the size difference as generally there isnít that much variation within a species. Then I suddenly noticed that the smaller ďSurfbirdĒ was actually a Rock Sandpiper! I hadnít realized they looked so much like Surfbirds, but with a longer bill. Once I noticed it, the size difference was quite noticeable, too. Here is a picture that shows all three rockpipers from behind Ė on the left is a Surfbird, in the middle is a Rock Sandpiper, and on the right is a Black Turnstone.
The size differences are very noticeable in that picture, I think. Note the much yellower legs of the Surfbird, too, and fact that the Black Turnstoneís feathers on its side give it a scalloped look. It is also darker than the other two.
Here is a side view of the Rock Sandpiper, showing its longer bill.
And, another one, same bird:
I think the orange color at the base of the bill indicates it is a juvenile bird, in its first winter. They breed in the Arctic and winter along the West coast, as far south as Central California. They arenít very common, so it was great to get such good looks at one. It was the only one in the little group of rockpipers, as far as I could see.
So, I had had my great look at a Rock Sandpiper, just as I had hoped for. It was then time to go add some birds to my year list, as well as to look for the third lifer target here in Ocean Shores.
I drove to the Sewage Treatment Plant, but there were nothing but ducks and a few gulls there. I had picked up Northern Shoveler yesterday there, but this morning I was able to get pictures, showing the big difference in plumage between the females and the males. Here are a couple of female Northern Shovelers. Note the long and wide shovel-like bill, which gives them their name.
The male is much more colorful, as you can see, but with the same goofy bill:
The rain was holding off, so I headed over to Damon Point. On my way, there were a bunch of birds on some wires, so I stopped in the middle of the road and took a look. Most of them were RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS, and there were also a couple of EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES, so I had a couple of birds for my year list, whatever else happened today.
When I got to Damon Point, I wasnít about to head out on the walk to Point Brown to look for the Snowy Owls, but I had seen reports of interesting birds close to where you park your car for that walk. I went on down to the water, not really expecting much, but I did see a group of a couple of dozen scoters (scoters are a family of sea ducks) fairly close to shore, but down a little way to the west. I put my scope on them, and could immediately identify SURF SCOTER, the most common scoter. With a little patience, I also saw more than one WHITE-WINGED SCOTER, which is a bird I had only ever seen once before. As I scanned the birds, I saw one bird that was much browner than the others, and I thought it was my target bird, which amazed me, as it could have been anywhere in the channel, which was a huge area.
I wanted to get closer, but the tide was too high to go up the beach. So I went back to the road, and darned if there wasnít a path just up the way, which led to the beach almost opposite where the ducks were. Again I scanned them, and this time I was sure I had seen the female KING EIDER (lifer) that had been reported in the area. It was just exactly where the last report I had seen had said it was, just offshore, where you park to go out to Point Brown. I took dozens of pictures, but the ducks were pretty far out, the light was poor, and I couldnít really tell which bird was which through the camera view finder. When I got back to my room, I went through them all, and one of them does show the bird, by golly. It is a really terrible picture, but you can tell that the bird is brown, with a reddish hue, compared to the black of the various scoters. It is probably the worst picture I have ever shown, but here it is, the so-called ďqueen eiderĒ:
The other two birds are male White-winged Scoters. There is no way I would have even noticed it if I hadnít read about it, and even with that, I would have had a hard time identifying it on my own. Based on all the reports by better birders than I am, though, Iím willing to count it as a female King Eider and add it to my year list and my life list. King Eiders live in the Arctic, but sometimes wander this far south along the coast in the winter. Itís a fairly rare bird in the lower 48, which is why so many birders have gone looking for it and why I have seen so many reports on it. Again I am reminded how important the internet is to seeing rare birds. It was also a good reminder that when a bird is out of its area in the winter, it often spends the whole winter in the same small area.
While I was taking pictures of the scoter flock (and freezing my ass off in the 40 degree wind), a gull flew in and landed on the beach in front of me, so I took its picture. I wasnít in the mood to start sorting through gulls today, but this one was an obvious WESTERN GULL, so I added it to my year list. Here it is.
Here is what the beach there looks like, looking toward Point Brown.
I was still taking pictures, in the hopes of catching the eider in one of them, when it started to rain. It was supposed to be showery today, but it looked to me like the rain was going to settle in. I went back to the car and drove around a little, checking out the complicated approach to Billís Spit, a place I planned to check out if and when the weather cooperated. I found it, and while heading back from there, I saw a little flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows (counted yesterday for my year list) on the side of the road, so I took some pictures from the car, letting rain drops come in through the open window. Here is the best one. There was very little light, but you can see the golden crown quite well.
The rain was still falling steadily, so I headed back toward my room. I drove out on the beach access road in the center of town (in the winter, you can drive on the beach here) and saw a single PELAGIC CORMORANT for my year list. After that, I stopped at Subway and picked up a sandwich. I wanted Tuna, but they wanted $6.75 for a foot-long tuna. My cheap genes kicked in, and I ordered a ham and cheese with double ham, which only came to $7.25. A lot less fat in that, and more protein, too, so it was just as well. Besides, ham and cheese sandwiches are a classic lunch for the Old Rambler when on the road.
Back in my room, I sorted through my pictures from the day and processed the keepers. I also ate my Subway ham and cheese sandwich (no chips or dessert, mind you, although if I had been really good, I would have discarded half the bread, which I didnít do) and read the paper, which had been outside my door this morning. By 2:30, it was still raining steadily, so I headed up to the north edge of town. I cruised through the State Park there again, but saw nothing but one Ruby-crowned Kinglet, so I went on next door to the Indian casino, which I had never visited.
I have a saying that goes Ė I might be walking around lucky today and not even know it, if I donít make a bet Ė so I decided to see if this was the day that I wouldnít be able to lose a bet. Well, it wasnít that day, but I did play blackjack for about an hour and managed to quit when I was dead even, so that was a victory of sorts. My game of preference is craps, but their sole crap table wasnít operating on a Friday afternoon in January. I bought a bag of popcorn and headed out for home, about 4 oíclock.
It was still raining, with no sign of stopping (showers, huh?), and it was getting dark fast by then. I drove through the State Park one more time, and on the way out, I saw a lone duck on a little lake. I got the binoculars on it, through the open window, and it was a male RING-NECKED DUCK. It was much too dark to try for a picture, but Iím bound to see a lot more of them this year, in my travels or at home. The Ring-necked Duck is interesting, because you identify it by the ring around its BILL. It supposedly has a ring around its neck, too, very hard to see, and I have never seen it. You would think it would be called the Ring-billed Duck. Go figure. Those crazy birders, what will they think of next?
So, I came back here to my lonely room and have been writing this and eating my popcorn and drinking gin. Pretty soon Iíll microwave one or two of my Hormel Compleats dinners and add some beef strips I brought from home. I have a chocolate orange from Christmas, too, so it will be a real Rambler feast tonight. Popcorn, gin, beef, potatoes, and chocolate. Who could ask for anything more?
I got all three lifers I had targeted for Ocean Shores Ė Emperor Goose, Rock Sandpiper, and King Eider. I also added Surfbird, Fox Sparrow, and White-winged Scoter, any one of which I might very well not see again this year. It has been a very successful stop here at Ocean Shores, even though I got rained out today, after 11 AM. I had deliberately allowed more time here than I might need, as insurance against inclement weather. My plan was to leave here in late morning tomorrow, to give me time for another try for any of those three lifer species, but since I got them all already, I changed my motel reservation for tomorrow night, and now plan to go all the way to Grants Pass, Oregon, tomorrow. That will give me time for a quick drive through the Sacramento National Wildlife Reserve on Sunday, I hope, in search of the uncommon Rossís Goose.
My challenge for tomorrow is going to be to get a bird for my year list, while Iím driving for 7 or more hours. I still need a lot of pretty common birds, though, so Iím hopeful. It isnít guaranteed, though, so Iíll breathe a sigh of relief if and when I see one. Iím now at 52 species for the year, of which 3 are lifers.
Saturday, January 7
The streak is alive. I saw four new birds for my year list today.
I was up and out of my motel by about 9:15 this morning. On the way out of town, I stopped for one last time, to drive through the Ocean City State Park (it isnít clear to me why the state park is called Ocean City State Park, when it is located on the outskirts of Ocean SHORES, but that is the name of it). I drove through the day use and camping areas again, and there were more birds around than before, which was a good sign. I had a little group of Golden-crowned Sparrows near the entrance, and I saw at least a half dozen Northern Flickers as I drove around. I also saw at least a half dozen Fox Sparrows, all on the edges of one grassy place. The bird I was looking for eluded me, though, and on my way out, I took the last loop through a camping area. I saw a bird fly up that looked promising, but I couldnít spot it again. A short distance later, I saw a couple more fly up, and then I saw a bird on the ground. I got the binoculars on it, and it was a lovely VARIED THRUSH, just the bird I was looking for. I had seen some in that same park in January of 2011. I had only seen that species a couple of other times in 2011, so seeing one today was great. I had my bird for the day, and, better yet, I had a good one, one that I might not see again this year.
So, with that under my belt, I headed out on the road. I had a very nice drive, no problems at all. I forgot to mention that yesterday the ďCheck EngineĒ light in my car had come on, and I made the decision to just ignore it for the time being. After a couple of stops and starts, it did not come on again, and today it didnít either. Iím keeping my fingers crossed. I think that happened last year, and when I took it in to the shop, they didnít really find anything, although we did do a tune up, as I remember. Later today, my Cruise Control didnít work. That had happened last year, too, and I had discovered that if I stopped and restarted the car, then Cruise Control did work. I tried that this morning, and it worked from then on today. I suspect the Check Engine thing is connected to the Cruise Control not working at times. I suspect it is an intermittent flaw or marginal condition in the carís computer Ė not a problem that I want to try to solve.
While driving on Interstate 5 through Oregon, there were a lot of hawks along the road, and I finally got a good enough look at one to put RED-TAILED HAWK onto my year list. In a field was a GREAT BLUE HERON, so that one went onto the list, too. Finally, along the road there was a group of EUROPEAN STARLINGS, which I had not yet counted for the year. So, I ended up adding four species today.
I arrived in Grants Pass just as the sun was going down, just before 5 PM. Tomorrow I hope to stop at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, where I hope to pick up a duck species or two, as well as Snow Goose and maybe even the similar but much less common Rossís Goose. I expect I will see one or more of the egret species as well, somewhere along the way. So, Iím not worried about extending the streak tomorrow, but I still need to actually do it.
No pictures today. I would have liked to shoot the Varied Thrush, but it flew off before I could even think about reaching for my camera. Iím now at 56 species for the year, of which 3 are lifers.
Sunday, January 8
My Super 8 motel in Grants Pass was a step down from the Comfort Inn in Ocean Shores, but I got through the night. The breakfast had waffles, but nothing else of interest to me. Fortunately, I had some of my Jimmy Dean turkey sausages, and I heated those in my microwave for my protein and had a waffle.
I was on the road by 9, heading south. I got gas in north Medford, and while leaving Medford, I saw a bird fly over the road that looked like a magpie. I hadnít seen it well enough to count it, but in that area, it would presumably be a Black-billed Magpie, and I would have liked to have seen one. So, I drove through the rest area up the road, just in case one was hanging out there. No magpies, but there was a little group of BREWERíS BLACKBIRDS, so I had one for my year list, and no matter what else happened for the rest of the day, the streak was alive.
I had an easy drive over the pass through the Siskiyous, and down again into California. There was remarkably little snow in the mountains. A dry year, so far. At the border inspection station, they let my three mandarin oranges through, to my surprise. I would have eaten them if I had thought of it Ė oranges into California doesnít sound like something they would like.
Coming down out of the mountains into Redding, I started seeing lots of TURKEY VULTURES, another one I expected to get today. I had a burger in Red Bluff, and got to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) about 1:20, right on schedule. I had allocated an hour to driving around the auto tour there, in search of a fairly uncommon goose that I would have to see in California in the winter, if I was going to see it this year.
I expected to see a number of new birds for my year list at the NWR, and I wasnít disappointed. I picked up WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW right away, and then was pleased to see a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE fly down from a perch in a tree and land where I could see it on a bush. Unfortunately, it flew before I could get a picture of it, as it is a very attractive bird.
Next were some GREAT EGRETS and WESTERN MEADOWLARKS. Expected birds, but it is always good to add to the year list. Soon after that, I came to the first flock of SNOW GEESE out on the water. There were thousands of Snow Geese on the refuge, and I scanned the ones I saw, looking for their uncommon cousin. There were quite a few cars on the auto tour, it being a lovely sunny Sunday with temperatures in the mid 60ís and thousands of birds on the reserve. While I was stopped, one of the cars stopped alongside me and the driver, who was a ranger on the reserve, asked me what I had seen. I mentioned a dark goose in the middle of the white snow geese, and she said that was a dark morph Snow Goose, called a ďBlue GooseĒ by some people. I hadnít realized that the dark morph ones had a white head. I told her what I was looking for, and she gave me some tips.
Soon after that, I saw a whole group of my target goose, the slightly smaller ROSSíS GOOSE. The head is a bit different than the Snow Gooseís head, they are slightly smaller, and the bill is somewhat different. Here are a couple of Rossís Geese:
For comparison, here is a picture of a Snow Goose:
It might be hard to tell the differences from those pictures, but here is a closeup of a Snow Gooseís head:
The bill is longer, and there is a black ďgrinĒ on the bottom part of the bill. Here is a closeup of a Rossís Goose bill:
The bill is shorter and the ďgrinĒ is absent.
Such are the subtle differences that a birder has to look for.
Here is a nice picture of a Rossís Goose that shows the black on the wings. The Snow Geese have that same wing coloration.
Driving along, trying to not waste too much time, I picked up RUDDY DUCK, KILLDEER, BLACK-NECKED STILT, and CINNAMON TEAL in rapid succession. These were all birds I was sure I would see on this trip.
There was a duck that mystified me a bit. It looked a lot like a male Blue-winged Teal, but I decided it must be a female Lesser Scaup. I could be wrong, but that is what I decided. Here it is, in case a better birder than I am looks at this someday. I would appreciate a lesson if Iím wrong:
It was the yellow eye and the overall coloration that caused me to decide it was a female Lesser Scaup. A male Blue-winged Teal would have a larger, more crescent-shaped white patch on its face, too, I think.
The other night (just last night?) I reported that I saw a Ring-necked Duck, and I mentioned that they have a ring around their bill, as well as supposedly a ring around their neck. Here is a picture of a male Ring-necked Duck. No sign of a ring around the neck, of course, but the one around the bill is very obvious.
Continuing the drive, watching the clock, I added BLACK PHOEBE, NORTHERN HARRIER, and SNOWY EGRET to my year list. As I finished the auto tour, I saw some NORTHERN PINTAILS, too, another pretty duck. By the time I got out of there, I had spent about an hour and 20 minutes, and that was near the top end of my allotted time. I had hoped to be out of there in an hour. I got the Rossís Goose, though, and that was the whole point of stopping there, so I was pleased.
I motored on down the interstate and finally got to my motel about 5:40, just as it was getting full dark. For the last 20 or 30 miles driving south, I was treated to the stunning view of the huge full moon rising in the east. Iíve gone way upscale tonight, staying in a Holiday Inn Express. I had enough points in their club to get a free night, so Iím enjoying the high life tonight, for free. No microwave in my room, though, so I guess I will have to take my microwave dinner down to the breakfast room to heat it up. Really roughing it, I guess.
So, I added 16 species to my year list today, bringing me to a total of 72 species so far this year, of which 3 are lifers.
Monday, January 9
I was up and out of my fancy pants motel by about 9 on Monday morning, after a great free breakfast in their breakfast room. I stopped at Subway and picked up a ham and cheese sandwich, then topped off the gas tank, and headed down the interstate. While getting gas, I picked up my first new year bird of the day, HOUSE SPARRROW. I had to go about 30 miles south on the freeway before turning off onto a little road that winds its way over the Coastal Range, through the Panoche Valley, coming out at Hollister.
There was very little traffic on my road, so I could just stop whenever I saw an interesting bird. Almost right away, I got a brief look at a startled GREATER ROADRUNNER, as it ran off into the brush along the road. There were lots of little birds on the side of the road and on the fences, but they usually flew off as I approached. I was able to identify the most common one as SAVANNAH SPARROW. Here is a picture of one of them:
The second most common was White-crowned Sparrow. I had counted them on Sunday at the Sacramento NWR, but here is a picture from Monday:
I saw one large flock of LARK SPARROWS, as well. I got this picture of a Lark Sparrow later in the day, but Iíll put it here, to make the sparrow gallery complete for the day:
All three of those species would look pretty much the same to an observer in a car driving by, and I think it is interesting to illustrate the obvious differences when you see them up close. That is part of the charm of birding to me, to observe the differences that most people donít ever notice.
Other birds for my list seen on my initial drive up the valley were YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIE, COMMON RAVEN, and AMERICAN KESTREL. I saw lots of all three of those species, all day long. I wanted to get a picture of a magpie, because I think they are so attractive, but none ever cooperated. I did get some kestrel pictures later in the day, and here is a female perched on top of a power pole:
One of my target birds for the day was Ferruginous Hawk, a large hawk that I have never seen, or at least, have never been able to identify. All day long I kept stopping to get close looks at large raptors, but they all turned out to be Red-tailed Hawks, unfortunately. I took pictures of some of them, and I got one interesting picture as one took off. It had been sitting on a low post, a couple of hundred yards away, and I was taking pictures, in case I could later identify it as a Ferruginous Hawk. Normally when a large bird takes off from a perch, it kind of jumps off and swoops down as it is getting going, then flaps and pulls up. In this case, because the post the bird was on was so low, it first jumped straight up the air, while unfolding its wings and then it flew away. I got this picture just as it jumped up and was opening its wings.
It is an interesting perspective on it, I think. I found it interesting to see the feathers growing down the legs, like pantaloons. You donít normally see those feathers, when the bird is perched or flying. I decided it was just another Red-tailed Hawk, though.
Another one of my target birds for the day was an owl species that I had seen only once before, and that was last year at this same location. They roost in some trees at a private resort called Mercey Hot Springs. They have a swimming pool, a hot tub, and a few cabins for rent. There is a day use fee of 5 bucks a person, but I spent the money, to see the owls. They were still roosting in the exact same tree as last year. I saw six of them this year. Here is a picture of one of them that was sitting out in the open the most. LONG-EARED OWL.
The ďearsĒ are just feathers and I donít think they have anything to do with the owlís actual ears, although maybe the ears are at the base of the feathers sticking up.
In the parking lot at Mercey Hot Springs, I saw my first NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD of the year. Then, a little later, I noticed a little bird hopping around on the ground near one of the cabins. It was obviously a wren, and but I wasnít sure which species of wren. I got a number of pictures, though, so I felt confident I would be able to tell later which one it was. When I got back to my car, I looked it up, and it still wasnít obvious to me. Later, in the evening on the computer, I looked at the pictures again, with the aid of my three field guides and Google Images, to try to identify it. It should have been easy, with my pictures, but there were contradictory things about it. I finally decided to call it a ROCK WREN, which is one I havenít seen more than two or three times before in my life. Everything about it was perfect for Rock Wren except the tail, which was much too short. The tail was much too short for any of the wrens, actually. In one of my pictures, I could see that the birdís folded wings reached almost all the way to the end of its stubby little tail (middle picture below). All I can figure is that it is a Rock Wren that either was born with an extremely short tail, or else it had somehow lost its tail feathers. Iím going to put three pictures of it here, from different perspectives, in case a more skilled birder than I sees this someday and can advise me about the bird.
All day long I was watching for my Check Engine light to come on again, but it never did. I mentioned here that it came on on Saturday, then went off again, but I forgot to say that it came on again on Sunday, while I was driving around the auto tour at the Sacramento NWR. Again, it had gone off a little while later, while I was driving down the interstate. I would guess that it will come on again before my trip is over, but at least I had a day without it on Monday.
I should have gotten some pictures of the habitat I was driving through, but just think dry, dry, dry, and brown, brown, brown. It was typical brown California hill country, with a few trees and cattle from time to time. It was surprising to me how many birds there were, in such an inhospitable environment.
So, I never got the Ferruginous Hawk, but I got the Long-eared Owls. My third target species was a quite uncommon one that I had only seen once before, again last year, here in the Panoche Valley. I had a report from someone who saw this species on Christmas Day, with very explicit instructions on how to find the spot. The instructions started by saying you go to the school in Panoche Valley, which every birder knew about, as it was a birding hot spot. Well, all the local birders may have known about the school, but I had no clue. As it turned out, the school was along my route and it was very obvious, as there were few buildings out there at all. It was a Monday, early afternoon, but the school was completely deserted, and I donít understand why. Surely Christmas vacation wasnít still going on, and I donít think it could have been a holiday. I kept checking to be sure it was indeed a Monday.
Anyway, I found the dirt road that headed north from the school, and drove the one-half mile down it to the site mentioned in the report I had. I found the field OK, but none of my target birds were around. There was a flock of HORNED LARKS, there, though, and I took some pictures from a distance. Here is the best of the pictures. The males are quite striking, with their yellow and black faces and ďhornsĒ.
Another bird I saw all day long was one of my favorites, Loggerhead Shrike. I had counted that one on Sunday, but got some mediocre pictures on Monday, and here is one of them:
The light wasnít right for a really good picture, and none of them would let me get very close, so that is the best I was able to do.
Another species that was common out there was Western Meadowlark. I had counted them on Sunday, too, but it is hard to get a picture of them that shows their yellow breast, as they always seem to perch facing away from you. Then they fly off away from you and all you see is the white outer tail feathers, to identify the species. I did get a picture of one looking over his shoulder at me, though, and I like the pose. Iíll see a lot of them this year, and Iíll keep trying to get a picture that shows the striking black and yellow of the breast.
Still another bird that I saw quite a few of was SAYS PHOEBE. It is a flycatcher and sits on a branch or a pole and flies out to hawk bugs out of the air. It can sort of hover when it is doing it, too. Here is a picture.
By then it was past time for my sandwich, but I got off onto the wrong road at one point, and had to retrace my steps. I finally stopped at a junction and ate my Subway ham and cheese sandwich with double meat. No chips or dessert, though, Iím glad to report, just a mandarin orange to go with it, and a Diet Coke.
It was two oíclock by then, and I had about a two hour drive to get to my destination on the coast north of Monterey, not counting any time I stopped to look for birds. I decided to drive the two or three miles down Panoche Road to where the pavement ends, though, because last year, that is where I saw the target species I mentioned. No one had reported them there this year, though, so I didnít think it was likely, but I was out there, and I figured I would devote ten or fifteen minutes to looking.
I stopped several times and scanned the fields, seeing nothing. I did see a bird on the power line at one point, though, and it turned out to be a MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD. That is a species that people report seeing in the Panoche Valley all the time, but I had never seen one there before, in my 5 or 6 visits there. It turned out that there were at least two of them, a male and a female. Here are pictures, first of the more colorful male and then of the drabber female:
Lovely birds, and I was happy to see them. Iíll probably see them again this year, but possibly not, so it was nice to get them onto my list.
I was just about ready to turn around and head for ďhomeĒ when at one of my stops, I thought I saw some movement out in a field. I got my scope out, and sure enough, there was the very species I was looking for, the quite uncommon MOUNTAIN PLOVER. It is a shorebird that lives far from any shore. They were maybe a hundred yards away, but I shot a lot of pictures, hoping to maybe get something identifiable. I couldnít even see the birds in my viewfinder, so I was looking through my binoculars to locate a bird, then shooting blind. As it turned out, they either moved in closer or I saw other ones (more likely), and these were more like fifty yards away. Still pretty far for pictures, but at least I could see the birds, sort of, in my viewfinder. The pictures arenít great, and the bird is pretty nondescript anyway, but I was so pleased to actually find them that I will include a couple of pictures here, anyway. I saw at least a dozen of them, scattered over a couple of acres.
They were obviously very aware of me, even from fifty yards away. They would run a little way and then stop at look at me.
So, having seen the plovers, I turned around and headed for Monterey as fast as was safe. Of course, there were birds to see along the way, so I stopped a number of times. One of the large raptors I stopped to check out posed nicely for me, and I got some pictures I like. It is a Red-tailed Hawk. I like this picture, even though the power lines obviously ruin it from any kind of technical standpoint.
At one stop I saw a WESTERN SCRUB-JAY, another one for my year list. No picture, the light was all wrong, and I was in a hurry by then, anyway.
At another place, as I came down the west side of the range, there were some ranches, and in a field were a bunch of WILD TURKEYS. That isnít an uncommon sight in the hills of California, but I noticed something on these birds that I had never seen before. They all had some kind of feathery thing sticking out of their breasts. I couldnít figure it out, so I took some pictures, and figured I would research it later. It turns out that all mature male Wild Turkeys have these feathers growing out of their breasts, and some females do as well. I was flabbergasted, as I have seen Wild Turkeys many times and have taken pictures of them, and I had never noticed this appendage at all. I still find it hard to believe that it isnít some kind of huge practical joke that Mother Nature or someone is playing on me, but all my field guides mention it, some of them calling it a ďbeardĒ. Here are a couple of pictures. The second one is a bit of a close-up, so you can see it for yourself. Does that look weird, or what? How could I have missed seeing such a thing for all these years? Could it be a seasonal thing? None of my books indicate it is seasonal. Very strange, if you ask me.
What possible function could such a thing have? If I had run across these pictures somewhere, I would have assumed someone had ďPhoto ShoppedĒ them as a joke.
So, I kept on going, stopping from time to time when I saw something. I stopped at a location where we had seen owls in the past, but no owls were roosting there on Monday. I did see a few other birds there, including this lovely little HERMIT THRUSH that cooperated long enough for a couple of pictures:
There are two species of thrush that it might have been, and the picture helped me make the call of Hermit Thrush. The reddish tail is the key.
By that time I was to the highways, so I just motored on in to my friend Tedís condo on the beach north of Monterey, arriving just before sunset, which is about 5 PM this time of year. But wait, it still wasnít over. As I came down the driveway to the parking area, there was a group of a dozen or more CALIFORNIA QUAIL that went scurrying away and then all flew up into a tree to hide from me. A great finish to a wonderful day of birding. I was very pleased to have seen the Long-eared Owls and the Mountain Plover, as well as all the other birds for my list. I added 18 species to my year list, which brings me to a total of 90 for the year so far, of which 3 are lifers.
Tedís wife Mary Beth cooked us a great dinner, and I worked on my pictures and visited with them all evening. This morning Ted is off to the Oakland airport to pick up his sister Donna, who is coming for a visit of a couple of weeks, I think. That gave me a chance to write up this report and get it off.
What a life!
Tuesday, January 10
I wrote my report for Monday this morning, while Ted picked up his sister at the Oakland airport. I also walked on the beach and picked up BROWN PELICAN and a surprise bird, a single AMERICAN PIPIT on the beach. That was a strange place to see a pipit. Here is a picture of the little guy:
Ted and Donna got back, and after having some lunch, the three of us headed out to see some birds. Our first stop was the Moss Landing harbor. I was looking for a pair of uncommon ducks that have been reported there each day this last week. We spotted them almost right away, a male and female LONG-TAILED DUCK. That was an unusual bird for California, and a good one for my year list. I had left my camera in the car, so I didnít get any pictures, moreís the pity.
A WILLET flew up the channel, and across the harbor I spotted a CLARKíS GREBE. The Clarks Grebe looks very much like a Western Grebe, except the bill color is more orange and the black crown is higher in the Clarkís. In the Clarkís Grebe, we say that ďthe eye is in the whiteĒ, as opposed to the eye being in the black on the Western Grebe. Here is a distant picture of a Clarkís grebe from later in the afternoon.
We also saw COMMON LOON (picture later in the report) and EARED GREBE from the south side of the channel. Later I saw the cousin of the Eared Grebe, the HORNED GREBE. It is always a challenge for me to distinguish the Eared Grebe from the Horned Grebe in the winter, when their plumages are similar. Before we left the south side of the channel, I also saw a couple of BRANDTíS CORMORANTS, the last of the three west coast cormorants for my year list.
After that, we stopped on the way out of the harbor area and saw a half dozen BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS in the trees where they regularly roost. At that same spot, there were a bunch of dowitchers feeding in the shallow water. There are two species of dowitcher, and they look almost alike. You are supposed to tell them apart by their voice. So, I took out my cell phone and played the calls of the two species. By golly, we then were able to hear them chattering, and we all agreed that the calls we were hearing matched those of the SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, so I put that one on my list. I was glad to have the confirmation of the calls from the other two, as my skills at recognizing calls are very poor.
We stopped at another place and saw some birds out on the channel leading to the Elkhorn Slough, but didnít see anything worthy of pictures or anything that would go onto my list.
The next stop was the Moss Landing State Park, and we spent a couple of hours there. MARBLED GODWIT was an early addition to my list there. Here is a picture of two of them.
There was a female COMMON GOLDENEYE there, and later I saw males. The two sexes are very different. Here is a picture of each of them, the female first, and then the male.
We also saw a couple of LONG-BILLED CURLEWS there. Here is one of them:
It is hard to imagine how that bird can feed with such a long bill. It was sticking it down into the sand, but I donít know how it knows where to stick it in or how it knows what it finds down there.
GREATER YELLOWLEGS was the next one to go onto my list. Here it is:
I added BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER there, too. Here is a picture of one of them:
Moving along, I picked up LEAST SANDPIPER, a very small ďpeepĒ that has yellow legs. Later I saw some WESTERN SANDPIPERS, which are very similar but have black legs. Here is a Least Sandpiper:
Other than the Long-tailed Ducks, everything I was seeing was one of the usual suspects, species that I had expected to see here at this time of year. But, then I saw a nice RUDDY TURNSTONE, a bird I donít think I have seen in the Monterey area before, and I wasnít sure I was going to see one this year at all. Here is a picture of that guy:
And here is another of one of the usual suspects, a SEMI-PALMATED PLOVER.
Out in the harbor was a pair of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS, thus adding another one to my year list.
Ted spotted a FORSTERíS TERN flying around looking for fish, and diving from time to time. It would hover when it saw a fish, and then dive into the water after it. I took some pictures of it in the air, and this was the best of them, I think:
There were several loons out in the harbor, and I got this picture of a Common Loon:
There are three possible species of loons that could be here, and in the winter, they all look pretty much alike, but I think this one is a Common Loon. Then, right after that, I noticed another loon-like bird swimming just behind this Common Loon. I took a number of pictures, but the distance was great, and the pictures are not. Here is a picture that shows both birds. I think the one in the back is another loon, but I canít identify which species it is, so I guess I wonít put it on my list.
Maybe it isnít even a loon, because I canít make it match any of the pictures in my field guides, but the bill and overall shape looks like a loon to me. I wish it had had its head up straighter, as then I could have seen the color of the back of the neck. None of the loons have a light colored head like that, so maybe it is just an aberrantly colored loon. It seems smaller to me than the Common Loon in the foreground, which might indicate that it is a Red-throated Loon, and that would be my guess if I had to guess.
So, by that time it was after 4:30, and we headed for home. It was a quite successful afternoon of birding, adding 22 more species to my year list, to bring me to 112 for the year, of which 3 are lifers. From now on, it is going to be a lot harder to add very many in a day, but Iíll continue to try to add at least one per day, for as long as I can. Tomorrow Ted and I are going to head out to search for Ferruginous Hawk again, out past Hollister. I also hope to get down to Pinnacles National Monument, where there is an outside chance of seeing a California Condor soaring overhead. I donít imagine I will add very many species tomorrow, but Iíll try hard to add at least one more new one.
Wednesday, January 11
I was up about 7:30 this morning, and after making myself some brekkie, and while waiting for Ted to do his morning things, I went out on the beach to again look for Snowy Plovers. Again, I had no luck finding any. I have always seen them here before, but the beach has changed, and there isnít anywhere near as much dry sand above the high tide line this year. Maybe the Snowy Plovers have moved to a more hospitable beach. This morning there were Sanderlings out there, though. They are so cute, the way they feed right at the edge of the waves and then go scurrying away when the next wave comes in, like little bugs. Here is a picture of a group of them.
While on the beach, I saw some gulls, and sooner or later, I am going to have to sort through the gulls (Bo-o-o-r-r-r-ing), so I took some pictures of one gull that was different. When I got back and looked at the pictures this evening, I decided that this one was a MEW GULL. Here are two pictures of it in flight:
So, at least I had one for my year list, before the day really started, although I didnít really know which species it was until this evening when I looked at the pictures. I knew when I saw it that it was something different, though.
So, we headed out shortly before ten oíclock, to look for raptors. We drove out to Hollister and stopped at a Subway and got sandwiches, then headed out east of Hollister, to the Santa Ana Valley.
It was agricultural country, mostly bare fields at this time of year. It was a beautiful sunny day, with temps in the high 50ís, warming up into the 60ís. We stopped from time to time to check out large flying birds or large birds perched in trees or on poles. There were lots of American Kestrels, quite a few Loggerhead Shrikes, and a number of Red-tailed Hawks, but not the raptors we really wanted. I did pick up MOURNING DOVE for my year list at one stop.
Eventually, we saw some crows or ravens out in a field, and there was a large bird sitting on the ground beyond them. I could see with binoculars that it was brown, not black, so we drove as close as we could and put the scope on it. It was far enough away and there was enough heat haze that it was hard to tell just what it was. We wanted to see it fly, to see the wing patterns, if any. While waiting for it to fly, Ted noticed a bird flying across the field, and it was immediately obvious it was something different. It ended up perching on a fence, and then we noticed that there were actually two of them on the fence, on adjacent posts. I donít know how long the other one had been there. We only noticed it because of the one that had flown in. With the scope, we were able to ID them as light morph FERRUGINOUS HAWKS (lifer), the bird I had especially wanted to see, and the one we had driven out there to have a chance at. After a while one of them flew, and I got a very distant picture of it in the air:
That one landed on the ground closer to us than they had been before, and I got this very distant picture of it on the ground. Sorry for the poor quality. Iím showing the picture because we were both so excited to see a bird we had never seen before.
Meanwhile, we had been keeping an eye on the large brown bird we had originally stopped for, and it did end up flying two or three times, and we saw it in the air each time. It was a juvenile GOLDEN EAGLE, the other large raptor we had hoped to see in that valley. We were jazzed Ė both large raptors in the same day, at the same stop.
Eventually, we moved on, and shortly we came upon a car stopped in the road. There were a couple of guys in it with large camera lenses, so we pulled in in front of them. We all got out and they were a couple of birders from Santa Cruz, also out seeing the eagles and hawks. We exchanged stories of what we had seen, and then we each went our separate ways. A little bit farther down the road, there were a couple of very large dark birds in a tree, much closer to the road than what we had seen before. They turned out to be a couple more Golden Eagles. Here are three pictures of them:
By that time, it was getting past time for lunch, and we happened on a nice San Benito County Park, and had our sandwiches there. As we pulled into the park, I spotted a YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER for my list. Here is a picture of Ted eating his sandwich.
Our original plan had been to go to Pinnacles National Monument, to look for several potential species there. But, it was a half hour down the road, and a half hour back, so we decided to save it for another day, and instead stopped at a place where we had seen some interesting birds in the past. Nothing new today, though.
At that point, we headed back toward the Monterey area. We wanted to go to a particular part of the Elkhorn Slough, and I tried to find a shortcut, without resorting to a map. It turned out to be a ďlong cutĒ, and we needed to consult Google Maps on my cell phone two or three times before we got to where we wanted to go. As it turned out, though, it was a very fortunate ďmistakeĒ. First we saw a medium sized hawk sitting on a wire, and made a quick U-turn to go back to look at it. It turned out to be a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK, another one for my year list, and a nice bird. Then a little while later, while still on our ďlong cutĒ, there was another medium sized hawk on a wire, and this one had a very long trail, and I thought I recognized it. Again, a quick U-turn, and it was indeed a COOPERíS HAWK, another raptor for my list. So, our wandering around in search of the Elkhorn Slough got me two more nice birds for my year list. What a funny life it is.
When we finally got back to a place we recognized, we stopped to look at some ducks and shorebirds at the far north end of the Elkhorn Slough. Most of the ducks were American Wigeons, abut one was a lovely male EURASIAN WIGEON. That is a European and Asian duck that sometimes gets lost and comes down the west coast of the US when it migrates for the winter. They arenít quite ďrareĒ, but they are pretty uncommon, so it was great to see one for my year list.
At Kirby Park, on the Elkhorn Slough, we were looking for a shorebird called a Whimbrel, with a long downcurved bill. There were several Long-billed Curlews, which are very similar, although a bit larger, and with different markings on their heads. We looked at all of them closely, but none were Whimbrels, so I still need that one.
As we were walking out on the path to get a better angle to see the shorebirds, we suddenly saw two white birds sitting on fence posts. They were WHITE-TAILED KITES, still another raptor that I needed, and one that we have seen at that park before and had been talking about seeing there today. Here is a picture of one of them, although it doesnít really do it justice, as it is too distant to see the red eyes that are so distinctive in this species.
White-tailed Kites are one of our favorite birds, so it was great to finish up with two of them. I did take one more picture after that, a Willet in good late afternoon light.
So, it was a very successful day, even though the numbers were not huge. It is getting very difficult to add very many new ones on any given day, and getting both the Ferruginous Hawk and the Golden Eagle today was really special. We saw a total of nine different raptor species today, which is outstanding.
I added 9 more species to my year list today, to bring me to a total of 121 species, of which 4 are lifers. Tomorrow I plan to sort through some gulls and try for two or three other species for my list.
Thursday, January 12
This morning we all (Ted, his wife, his sister, and I) went out to breakfast at the local diner, and then his sister Donna, Ted, and I stopped at the local Moonglow dairy on the way home, and found a flock of TRICOLORED BLACKBIRDS, a species that is somewhat uncommon. We knew from experience that the dairy was the place to see them. Oh yes, I forgot, on the way to breakfast, I saw an AMERICAN AVOCET fly up from a little lagoon we went by. Just as a reminder, when I put a species name in all caps, it indicates it is the first one of the year for me, so it goes onto my list. Also at the dairy, there was a gull in a field who stood watching us, so I looked closely at it and looked at my book, and finally decided it was a HERRING GULL, officially called American Herring Gull now, I guess, to separate it from a very similar European species that used to be considered a subspecies. So, I was off to a good start to the day, with three species for my list already.
After a stop at home, the three of us headed out for a ďdayĒ of birding (when you start after 11 AM and are home before 5 PM, hard core birders wouldnít really consider it a very full day, but for a dilettante birder, it was enough form me today). We stopped at a place where Burrowing Owls had been reported, but we couldnít find any.
Our next stop was the Municipal Wharf in Monterey. We saw a couple of loons, but after extensive looks at them, I decided that they were both Common Loons, which I had already counted the other day. There was a bird off too far for a picture that I decided was a COMMON MURRE, another one for my list. We also saw a little gull in the water, and I took some pictures and consulted my field guide. I decided it was an immature Mew Gull. I counted Mew Gull yesterday, and showed a couple of pictures of an adult one in flight. Here is a picture of a young one:
A very cute little bird.
After that, we stopped and parked on the street and walked back to view the Monterey Marina, which is a part of the harbor that is west of Fishermanís Wharf. I had read about a couple of interesting birds that had been seen there yesterday. There were a couple of loons, and I decided one was another Common Loon, but then one was a PACIFIC LOON, I think. Here it is:
There are four loon species that can potentially be seen here, and they all have very different breeding (summer) plumage, but they all look very similar in the winter. I think this one is a Pacific Loon, though, so it went onto my list.
At that same place, I got this picture of a HEERMANNíS GULL:
Gulls take two to four years to reach their adult plumage, and I donít usually even try to distinguish the species of the sub-adult ones. I did see this distinctive immature gull, though, and decided it had to be a first winter Heermannís Gull, after consulting my field guide:
While walking back to the car, I saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler and got this picture, showing why it has that name:
Some birders call them Butter Butts, but that seems just a bit too cutesy to me, so I donít usually use the term. They are quite common in California in the winter.
Moving along, we got sandwiches at Subway (ham and cheese for me again, for those keeping score Ė hello Nate). We drove on out the road toward Point Pinos, stopping from time to time to scan for a couple of species we were looking for. We stopped to eat our sandwiches at a place where we could watch some roosting gulls and look for other birds. As soon as we stopped, Donna spotted a bird flying away that had a red bill. We had shown her a picture of a bird with a red bill that we were looking for, and she spotted this one. I got my binoculars on it just as it flew out of sight, and it indeed was our target bird, BLACK OYSTERCATCHER. It was a good enough view to count, but mentally I marked it down as a BVD Ė Better View Desired.
While eating our lunch, I managed to identify a CALIFORNIA GULL that was hanging around looking for handouts from us. After lunch, we moved on and stopped a couple of other places along the way, to see what we could see. At one stop, just as we were ready to drive on, a bird flew in and posed on a rock in front of us, and it was the other one we were looking for there (in addition to the Black Oystercatcher). A lovely WHIMBREL. It foraged around the rocks, sticking its long curved bill into the cracks, presumably finding various goodies to eat. Yesterday we had seen several Long-billed Curlews and had tried to make them into Whimbrels, but had decided they were all curlews. This one was obviously a Whimbrel, and here is a picture.
It is smaller than a curlew, the bill isnít as long, and the markings on the head are different.
So, having seen both of our main target birds, we continued on around the point, heading south. We stopped a couple of other places and saw some Surfbirds, a Black Turnstone or two, and a number of Black-bellied Plovers. Along the way, there was a bird hovering in the air and as we watched, it dove down to the ground, and then flew away. It was a White-tailed Kite, and the hover and dive were really dramatic.
At our last stop before leaving the beach area, just as we were ready to go, we finally got our better view of our BVD bird, the Black Oystercatcher, which was very satisfying. We all were able to see it clearly through the scope.
It was getting late by then, but we stopped again to look for a Burrowing Owl, where we had looked in the morning, but again saw nothing. We went on to the Moss Landing State Park, to see if anything new could be seen there. A lot of gulls were loafing on the beach there, and I managed to pick out some THAYERíS GULLS, another one for my list. I had to consult my book and scratch my head, but decided that some of them were Thayerís Gulls. We didnít see anything else interesting, and we soon headed for home, arriving in time to see the sunset, which came just after 5 oíclock.
So, I was able to add another 10 species to my year list today, bringing me to a total of 131 species, of which 4 are lifers. Tomorrow I head inland, to stay with my friend, Fred, in Sacramento. Weíll see if I can continue my streak of at least one new species a day. It is getting harder and harder, as I continue to rack up the species.
Friday, January 13
Today was mostly a travel day, from Moss Landing, which is just north of Monterey, to Sacramento. Thatís about a three hour drive. Before I left this morning, though, I walked out to the beach for one last look for the special bird I usually see there. The third time was the charm, it turned out, and from the end of the boardwalk, I spotted three SNOWY PLOVERS huddled down in depressions, keeping their eyes on me. I slowly approached them, taking pictures. Two of them had yellow bands on their legs, but one was unbanded, probably a first year bird. Here is that cute little guy:
Here is a picture of all three of them:
It was great to get them, as they are endangered and there arenít many places to see them. After missing twice, earlier in the week, I was wondering if I was going to miss them completely this year.
I drove on up to Sacramento, stopping at Cosumnes River Preserve, just north of Stockton, to try to pick up the cranes that winter there. Sure enough, I had no problem seeing a number of SANDHILL CRANES, although none were close enough for pictures. I got good pictures of them last year, though, at Malheur, in Oregon, so I didnít mind not getting pictures today.
While driving through the area around the preserve, I saw three AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS, too. I donít have any good pictures of them, so I would have liked to have gotten some today, but these were too far away. Maybe Iíll get another chance at them this week. They winter in California and then fly off to inland places like Montana to breed in the spring and summer.
I had one more stop to make, at Cosumnes River College, which is another 8 or 10 miles up highway 99 toward Sacramento. As expected, the BURROWING OWLS still live there, and I saw four of them, standing outside their burrows. I noticed that one of the burrows was actually a metal pipe, so maybe it was put there for them to use. Here are some pictures of those little darlings:
That was it for birding today. I only added four species, but they were all quality ones Ė ones that are California specialties.
I kept my streak alive, and now I am at 135 species, of which 4 are lifers. Weíll see how I can do in the next several days, here in the Sacramento area. I have half a dozen places I want to go, with particular birds at each one that I would like to see on this trip.
Saturday, January 14
Today wasnít a big numbers day, but I got some quality birds. We were out of here by about 9:45, and we drove north about an hour, to the Colusa National Wildlife refuge (NWR). There has been a very rare duck there for the last month or so, and we decided to try our luck. This duck has made various national new services and people have come from all over the country to see it.
When we got there, it was immediately obvious where the action was. Just as you entered the reserve proper, there were a lot of cars and people, out on an observation platform. I counted about 40 people there. Here is a picture:
When we went out on the platform, people were looking all over the place, but one guy was pointing out the duck of interest to someone, but just then it went out of sight behind some reeds. It soon came out again, though, and we got stunning looks at the very rare male FALCATED DUCK. It is an Asian duck that comes once in a while to Alaska, and this is only the third report in California, ever. Here is a picture:
When the duck was first sighted, it tended to hide out quite a distance from the observation platform, but today it was right out in front, maybe the best views yet. The views really could not have been any better, with the sun behind us, which made the green on the head really shine. Falcated means curved and coming to a point, and it refers to the feathers on the wing that go back over the tail. Here is a picture that shows those feathers well, I think.
While swimming around, the Falcated Duck had a confrontation with a male American Wigeon, probably over a female wigeon. Here is a picture of the Falcated Duck and three American Wigeons, with one of the male wigeons flapping his wings:
From the same view point, there were some beautiful Northern Pintails. Here is a picture of a pair of them, the male being the more colorful, of course. He has quite a tail on him, doesnít he?
After we got our fill of the Falcated Duck, we drove around the auto tour there at Colusa NWR. There were lots of ducks and four or five species of geese. I was hoping for Tundra Swan, but no swans were there. I did add another one to my year list, though, WHITE-FACED IBIS. Here is a picture of one:
They get their name from the small purple space at the base of the bill, which turns white in breeding season.
When we got finished with the auto tour, we headed back south. We stopped for me to get a tuna sandwich at Subway (with extra tuna), and I ate it while we drove south. Fred doesnít eat lunch, and he had driven today, so we could take Tugboat, his Golden Retriever buddy, with us. Tug is really a great birding dog, and sits very patiently in the car when we get out to look at birds.
Our next stop was a ďstakeoutĒ bird, also known as a twitch. A Harrisís Sparrow has been seen in Davis for a month or so, and we went to the neighborhood where it has been seen and took a look. It was supposedly associating with a flock of White-crowned Sparrows and Golden-crowned Sparrows. We saw the White-crowned and Golden-crowned, but not the Harrisís Sparrow. While we were looking, this Western Scrub-Jay flew in and I snapped off this picture:
So, my birding luck had run out, and I missed that one. We then headed to Vic Fazio Reserve, also known as the Yolo Bypass. It is a place we are very familiar with, just east of Davis, and we always go birding there, every time I visit Fred. I had two target birds in mind, ones that I would have a hard time seeing elsewhere. Right at the beginning of the auto tour, we saw my main target, AMERICAN BITTERN. It is a fairly common bird, but pretty secretive, so they are hard to see. We ended up seeing at least four of them today, which was great. I had never been able to get a picture of a bittern before, but today I got a bunch of them. Here is one that just shows what you often see, the long neck and head of the bird, as it freezes and tries to look like a stick or branch.
The bird eventually walked out into the open more, and I got this picture:
Later I got a picture of a different bird, as it was flying away from us.
A little later we got good views of a pair of Cinnamon Teal. Here is a picture, again illustrating the differences between male and female ducks (thatís sexual dimorphism, to you scientific types):
I had been hoping for Long-billed Dowitcher at Fazio, but there were very few shorebirds there today. We saw a few avocets, a small group of Least Sandpipers, and a couple of Greater Yellowlegs. Here is a picture of one of the Greater Yellowlegs:
The other shorebird we saw was Long-billed Curlew. Here is a picture of one:
So, that was it for birds for my list today and also for pictures. We drove the rest of the auto route, and then we headed for home.
So, it wasnít a big number day, but I got a lifer, one that is a quite rare bird in North America, and another one (American Bittern) that is quite secretive usually, so I was very glad to get it. My numbers are now at 138 species for the year, of which 5 are lifers. My streak is still alive, a new bird for my year list every day this year, so far. Weíll see if I can continue it tomorrow.
Sunday, January 15
Well, the streak is alive, for another day, anyway. We headed out today to find some target birds, at several locations. Our first stop was the Nimbus Fish Hatchery on the American River. We fairly soon saw some WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS flying overhead. That was one of the target birds there, as they live under the highway bridge and fly around high in the sky, over the river.
Another target was a heron that had been reported to be in the covered area around some of the fish tanks. We soon found one, and ended up seeing a total of five GREEN HERONS there. They are a good bird to see, I donít see all that many of them. This is the first time I have been able to get pictures of Green Heron, I think. Here are a couple.
Fred brought up the interesting point about whether they are officially ďcountableĒ, because they are ďcagedĒ, sort of. I assume they can get in and out of the enclosure, as there were a couple of crows in there, as well, but maybe they just live the easy life, trapped in the enclosure, eating the hatchery fish. Anyway, I am counting Green Heron for my year list, as they are obviously wild birds, even if they have gotten themselves trapped in the enclosure. Here is what the enclosed area looks like. It is maybe 150 yards long and 30 or 40 yards wide, covered with screening.
There were some ducks in the river. Here is another lesson in sexual dimorphism, with pictures of the female and male Common Mergansers: You can guess which one is the male, I think.
Still another example of male and female ducks are these Common Goldeneyes:
The duck I was looking for was another Goldeneye, though, and I finally did see some birds that I think were BARROWíS GOLDENEYES, a less common cousin. The key to distinguishing the males is the white spot near the bill. In the Common, it is round, and is completely below the eye. In the Barrowís, it is crescent shaped and it extends above the eye. In the females, the Barrowís female has an orange bill in breeding season, which would be now, presumably. It is complicated by the fact that in the non-breeding season, the males look like the females, and the spot on the face can be ambiguous. Here is a picture that I think shows two male Barrowís Goldeneyes and one female.
The two birds to the left are possibly ambiguous, but the one on the far right seems to be to be an unambiguous female Barrowís Goldeneye, because of the orange bill. Here is a close-up of that one:
So, Iím counting Barrowís Goldeneye, even though some of the males were questionable. While checking out the ducks on the river, I also added my first swallow of the year, TREE SWALLOW. Iíll see tons of them this year, all over the place, but I put them on my year list today.
From the area of the Nimbus Hatchery, we drove down to Ambassador Park, which is also on the American River. Our targets there were woodpeckers and towhees. Almost right away, I got ACORN WOODPECKER. A little later we saw SPOTTED TOWHEES, which was one of the two towhees I hoped to see there. Fred spotted a nice Hermit Thrush, which wasnít new for me, but is a great bird to see. At that same place, we saw another one that I had hoped for there, OAK TITMOUSE. I fully expected to see them on this trip, and now I have. We saw several of the little darlings. No pictures, as they flit around too much.
When we got to the bench where I planned to eat my lunch, overlooking the river, right next to the bike and running trail, I saw a couple of WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES flitting around in a tree. I got a couple of picture I like. Here is one that shows one of the nuthatches upside down, which is pretty normal, as they forage along branches. It shows the brown color under the tail that is characteristic of the species.
Here is another view of one of them:
I ate my ham and cheese sandwich there (homemade this time, as we had stopped at a store yesterday, and I stocked up on sandwich makings). No chips, though, and no dessert. Just a Diet Coke to accompany it.
I played the call of another woodpecker that I had hoped to see at Ambassador Park, and I got a response almost right away. We searched and searched, chasing the responding call, but all we eventually saw was a Western Scrub-Jay. Jays will mimic calls of other birds, and I suspect we had been chasing the jay all the time. On the way out, though, we did see a lovely NUTTALíS WOODPECKER, which was the one I had been trying to call in. It is a California bird, so I wanted to see it on this visit to Sacramento. Another target bird down. The one we missed there was California Towhee.
When we left Ambassador Park, we drove through the access to the American River that is just south of there, just to see if we could see anything from the car. Sure enough, there was a little flock of goldfinches, and when I got my binoculars on them, they were LESSER GOLDFINCHES, another California species that I was happy to get. Here is a picture of male Lesser Goldfinch.
Then just down the road, there was a lovely male WESTERN BLUEBIRD. We were able to drive up right next to it, and I got this cute picture:
When the bluebird flew away, the blue color of the back and wings was absolutely beautiful.
After that, we headed out to Mather Lake, to look for a questionable species. We found the lake, with the help of a little map I had drawn from Google Maps, and I saw a couple of big white birds at the end of the lake. I got the scope on them, but the birds had their heads tucked in, snoozing. One of them eventually raised its head, though, and I saw the orange bill, thus confirming MUTE SWAN. The Mute Swan is a European species, and any living the wild in this country are either escapees or birds that have been released into the wild. I suspect that this population at Mather Lake is not really officially ďcountableĒ, by the rules of the American Birding Association, but I counted them anyway. The official rules say that a given population of a feral species needs to have been around for ten years and be self sustaining, in order to be countable.
So, having gotten the Mute Swan, right where it was supposed to be, we headed toward downtown to the East Lawn Cemetery, where several birds I would like to get have been reported recently. We walked around, and I played recordings of calls, but we didnít see anything new. There was a Northern Flicker and a Nuttalís Woodpecker, but not the sapsuckers we were looking for. With that, we threw in the towel and headed for home a bit early today.
So, it was a big number day, for this far into the year. I added another 12 species, to bring me to 150 species for the year, of which 5 of them are lifers. Tomorrow we head out to try again for the Harrisís Sparrow in Davis, as well as a couple of ducks at the Davis Wetlands, which we have never been to before. It is only open to the public on Mondays until 1 PM, so tomorrow is our chance. We hope to go on to Putah Creek and Lake Solano, too, for more possibilities.
Monday, January 16
We were up and out by 9:30 this morning, our earliest departure yet. Real birders would laugh at that, as the first couple of hours after sunrise are the best for birding by far. But, as I keep saying, Iím just a dilettante birder, enjoying the hell out of it.
As planned, we made our way out to the Davis Wetlands, which are located at the Davis Waste Treatment Plant (WTP). As I mentioned yesterday, at this time of year it is only open to the public on Mondays, from 7 AM until 1 PM. I thought my timing was great on this trip, until we got there and the gate was locked. We realized it was Martin Luther King Day and I assume that is why it was closed today. The public employees who open the gate were probably off work today. It was a shame to miss it because two duck species I need for my year list were reported there over the weekend. There were some ponds you could view from the road, and they were full of ducks. Unfortunately, we didnít see any interesting ducks there. After that, we drove around in the county landfill, which is next door, but didnít see anything good there, either.
Next we tried for the Harrisís Sparrow again, in Davis. This time was more promising than yesterday, as we did see 15 or 20 White-crowned Sparrows feeding in the yard the Harrisís Sparrow had been seen in a number of times. But, we didnít ever see the Harrisís. While we were there, four other birders showed up, in two groups of two, so others are looking for it, too.
After that, we headed west, toward Putah Creek and Solano Lake. We stopped on the way where we had seen Lewisís Woodpecker last year, but no luck this year. I guess I am going to have to try to see Lewisís Woodpecker in Eastern Washington during the breeding season. By that time it was after noon, and I realized that this was the first day of the year that I hadnít seen a new species before noon. So, my ďbefore noon new speciesĒ streak has ended. I just made up that streak now; we birders are obsessive about keeping records and lists. I had the rest of the day to keep my ďrealĒ no-skunk streak alive.
As we approached Solano Lake County Park, I spied a female PHAINOPEPLA on a wire, so I was off the Schneid. If you donít know that slang term, here is a link: http://offtheschneid.wordpress.com/2008/04/30/ots/ . In other words, I had a bird for the day, and my streak of seeing a new year bird every day this year was alive.
Then there were a bunch of INDIAN PEAFOWL crossing the road. Those are peacocks (male) and peahens (female), to you non-birders in the audience. I debated about whether to count them or not. They are obviously not native to this country, so they had either been released or they escaped from captivity. It was the same problem as the Mute Swans yesterday. These peafowl have been at the lake for years, and they are obviously reproducing Ė we saw a lot of young ones. I decided to count them. Here is a picture of a male:
And, a close-up of its head:
That little bonnet of feathers is interesting, I think.
It turned out that the park doesnít allow dogs, even in the parking lot, and Fred had driven again today, which meant that Tugboat was along. We ended up parking across the street in a parking lot for the visitorís center and campground. It cost five bucks to park at the day use area (where dogs were not allowed), and we were willing to pay that, but they didnít want Tug there. So, we parked across the street for free and walked around. I suspect we were supposed to pay there, too, but it wasnít nearly as obvious, and we didnít.
So, we left Tug in the truck and walked around the day use area. I saw a couple of other Phainopeplas, including this male. The males and females are the same except the females are gray and the males are an iridescent black. Here is a male.
We saw a group of CEDAR WAXWINGS in the day use area. They were a good species to get, as I donít see them that often. Here is a picture of one. They are a very ďsleekĒ looking bird, with the colors kind of blending into each other.
We also saw some ducks and geese out on the lake, and there was a lovely male Barrowís Goldeneye. You might remember that yesterday there were some ambiguous male goldeneyes, and I ended up counting the Barrowís Goldeneye species. This one today was a definite male Barrowís Goldeneye, so I figure that yesterdayís ambiguous ones have been redeemed. Note the bluish color to the head (as opposed to the greenish of yesterdayís Common Goldeneyes), the white patch that is clearly not circular and extends well above the eye, and also the black bar on the shoulder, extending to the water. Those three things distinguish it from the male Common Goldeneyes of yesterday.
At that same stop, Fred spotted a beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk. He saw it dive down and catch something, and then it took it up into a tree and proceeded to devour it. I snuck up around to the other side, to get the light behind me, and I got some great pictures. I think this is the first time I have gotten pictures of a Red-shoulder, and I was thrilled. Here are three of them.
Here is one with one of its bites of its prey:
Then it flew into another nearby tree, and I got this full sunlight frontal shot:
For me, the Red-shouldered Hawk was the bird of the day, even though I had seen one already, in Monterey. It was really fun to get such prolonged and great views of it, not to mention pictures. I have a soft spot for raptors, too.
The Solano Lake County Park experience wasnít over yet, though. We saw a number of woodpeckers, including Nuttalís and Acorn, and then a DOWNY WOODPECKER for my year list. We drove through the campground before we left, and I added CALIFORNIA TOWHEE as well.
From there, we drove up the road along Putah Creek to the bridge below the dam, and looked for the American Dippers that supposedly live there, but only saw some juncos, some Lesser Goldfinches, and some Ruby-crowned Kinglets. On our way back down the road toward home, we saw some California Quail at one stop, and we also got a good look at a female Varied Thrush at one stop.
On our way home, we stopped in Davis and again looked for the Harrisís Sparrow. No luck at all again, though. There were some Cedar Waxwings in the neighborhood, and a small flock of Lesser Goldfinches, but no sparrows at all.
Our last stop for the day was the Vic Fazio preserve again, in search of Dowitchers or anything else I might need. We saw a few shorebirds, but no Dowitchers. There was a WILSONíS SNIPE right near the road, though. It was hiding under a bush, but we got good views of it there. Snipe are hard to see, and it was great to get it so early in the year,and to have such a good view. I might very well not see another one this whole year.
With that, we headed for home. I added another six species to my year list today, which is very good at this point. That brings me to 156 for the year, of which 5 are lifers. It is going to be a real challenge to add any more today in this area. I suspect that tomorrow will be my first skunk day, but I managed 16 days in a row, which is better than the 12 days I got last year. Of course, a lot depends on my travel itinerary, as it is much easier to add new species if I keep visiting new environments. Anyway, I have one more day here in Sacramento, and then I plan to head for home on Wednesday. It has been snowing to the north, so the trip home could be an adventure. We shall see.
Tuesday, January 17
Well, I was worried that today would be the day I got skunked, and it turned out to be just the opposite Ė we had a fantastic day, with some amazing birds.
We were off by 9:45 this morning (yes, another very late start by normal birding standards). We decided to go for a ďBig DayĒ, meaning we would count every species we saw today, to see how many we could get. In the past, we usually have gotten 60 to 70 in a day, in the winter, when we really try. So, I had two lists to keep today, one for the day and one for my year.
We first went back to the Vic Fazio Preserve, near Davis. Soon after we got there, I saw a small, yellow green bird, and I decided it was an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER. It was a brief look, but good enough to count. As it turned out, we later saw one or two more of the same species, at Cosumnes Preserve. I wasnít expecting to see that species today, so that was a good start. Soon after that, we got great looks at a MARSH WREN. That is a common bird, but they usually donít show themselves except in the spring. We later saw at least one more of that species, too.
To back up a little, as we drove into the preserve, there was a hawk on a pole, and it wasnít the normal Red-tailed Hawk, but was a Cooperís Hawk. I had counted that one before, in the Monterey area, but today I got pictures. I think this was the first time I have gotten pictures of a Cooperís Hawk. Here are the only two I got. The light was not good (coming from the wrong direction), but you take what is given to you.
A little while later on the auto tour at Fazio, we noticed a flooded field to the east that had a lot of shorebirds in it. Scoping them, we found a number for our day list, and I added LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER and DUNLIN to my year list. I had seen Short-billed Dowitcher in the Monterey area, and I was hoping to see some dowitchers here, as the Short-billed ones donít come out here to the Central Valley. Now I donít have to try to hear the call of any more dowitchers this year, as there are only the two species. It was nice to pick up Dunlin, too, although I expect to see them a lot more this year.
We were picking up good birds for our day list, too, including, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Loggerhead Shrike, American Goldfinch, American Bittern, Long-billed Curlew, a couple of gull species, Wilsonís Snipe, and American White Pelican. Here is a picture of a pelican taking off:
Here is a group of pelicans flying overhead:
There were also large skeins of Snow Geese flying overhead, making a racket with their calls. There were hundreds of them, in long strings. Here is one small sample of them:
Do they somehow all flap their wings together? They all seem to have their wings spread out pretty much level in that picture. I guess there are some small variations, and maybe they donít flap them all that far.
So, we left Fazio before noon, on 53 species for the day, which was outstanding, considering we didnít even leave home until 9:45. Our next stop was a place we had never been before. I had read online that someone had reported a duck there that I needed for my year list, and it seemed to be on our way, so we found our way there, with the help of my notes and my cell phone Google Maps app. It turned out to be a great little lake/pond, in a location you would never think to look for birds.
We soon got the one we had come there to find, BLUE-WINGED TEAL. Fred spotted a raptor on the edge of the reeds, eating its prey, and it turned out to be a male Northern Harrier. This isnít a great picture, as it was too far away, but here is a recognizable male Northern Harrier:
Before we left I added COMMON GALLINULE, formerly called Common Moorhen. It was a bird I expected to see eventually, and today was the day, as it turned out. But wait, it wasnít over yet. A gull flew over, and I got my binoculars on it, and damned if it wasnít a BONAPARTEíS GULL, a bird I knew was in the area, but hadnít expected to see. My only other chance to see Bonaparteís Gull this year will be in San Diego this year. I was amazed to be at 7 species for my year list by noon or shortly after, when I had thought I might be skunked today. We had also added several other good birds to our day list there, including Ruddy Duck, Common Merganser, and Canvasback (a duck).
So, I ate my home made ham and cheese sandwich in the car as we headed south from there, toward out main afternoon stop, Cosumnes Preserve. We added a couple more day birds on the way, including Belted Kingfisher and Northern Mockingbird, and we were at 64 when we got to Cosumnes. It seemed like we had already seen most of what we might see at Cosumnes, but there were several we expected to add.
As it turned out, we saw some I would have never expected to see there. We got the expected Sandhill Cranes and Greater White-fronted Geese, but then saw a single Cedar Waxwing, and one for my year list, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT. The biggest surprise of the day came soon after that. We saw a little bird (there might have been two of them), flitting around near the ground in the brush. It looked like a bushtit, but a little different. I finally realized it was a WRENTIT, a bird I have only seen twice before, so I wasnít expecting it. It is not all that uncommon, but since I had only seen one twice before in my 13 years of birding, I had it at only 20% in my year spreadsheet. That means I had expected I only had a 20% chance of seeing one all year, and there it was today. Outstanding.
We added BUSHTIT (for my year list Ė I had seen them before, but hadnít remembered to note them) and Ruby-crowned Kinglet to our day list, and then saw a sparrow by the side of the path. We had looked time and time again for this sparrow up at Fazio, and here it was, right next to the path at Cosumnes Ė a single LINCOLNíS SPARROW for my year list. By the time we left Cosumnes, at about 3:20, we were on 76 species for the day, which we think is a record for us, although the list that was our best to date is at home.
We drove over to Highway 99, and on the way added still another good bird, Red-shouldered Hawk. We took a brief detour (I timed it at 8 minutes) off the freeway to pick up the Burrowing Owls that I showed pictures of last week. When we got back up to Sacramento, we stopped at the Howe Avenue access to the American River. The light was fading, but we added Common Goldeneye, American Robin, Spotted Towhee, and SPOTTED SANDPIPER (year list bird, though I hadnít realized it at the time) there, to bring us to 82 species for the day, which is definitely a record for us. We kept hoping to see a magpie or a collared-dove, but no luck. We had missed a very few normal ones, but had picked up a whole bunch of really good ones that we donít normally see.
I added eleven species today to my year list, which is outstanding considering I thought I might get skunked today. Iím now at 168 species for the year, of which 5 are lifers.
So, I plan to head for home tomorrow. Normally it is an easy two day drive home, but Seattle is supposed to get its biggest snow event since 1985 tomorrow, and they never know just how bad it might be or how long it might go on. I think I will mostly have rain on the way home, but there will probably be snow on the higher passes. I could go around the worst of it, by cutting over to the coast, but that adds several hours to the trip home, making it three days, unless I wanted to do two very long days (long to me, at my advanced age, is 9 hours). I used to easily drive 12 or 14 hours without even thinking about it, and several times I drove straight through from LA to Seattle in 18 hours, in the old days. Alas, I am not as young as I used to be, and 8 hours is pretty much my limit these days. I also donít like driving at night or getting up early, so that limits me in the winter. Weíll see how it goes. Just to add to the fun, tomorrow I plan to make a detour on my way home, to try for a lifer hummingbird that has been coming to a feeder in Chico, California. That will take me about 30 or 40 minutes out of my way, plus any time I spend sitting around waiting for the bird to show itself. But, a lifer is a lifer, and I donít have a very good chance of seeing this hummer anywhere else this year.
Today makes 17 days in a row with at least one new bird for my year list. Can I make it 18 tomorrow? Stay tuned to find out.
Wednesday, January 18
Well, I did keep my streak alive today. Read on to learn the details.
I was up and out of Fredís house by 9 this morning. The winter storm that was hitting the northwest today was a concern, but I had a couple of options I could use, so I put that on the back burner and headed up Highway 99 to Chico to try for the hummingbird that has been reported there. It was sunny, but there were clouds to the north, so the storm was coming.
While motoring up the highway, I was thinking about what birds I could possibly see today or tomorrow, to keep my streak alive, other than the potential lifer hummingbird in Chico. I thought of cowbird and pheasant, but I hadnít thought of the one I actually saw, in the hundreds Ė TUNDRA SWAN. They look very much like Trumpeter Swans, although Trumpeters are pretty rare this far south. Some of them were close enough to the road that I was able to see the little yellow streak on the upper bill, which confirmed Tundra Swan. So, my streak was alive for another day. There could have been some Trumpeters in with the hundreds of Tundras, but I did not take the time to stop and scope the flocks of them. I should be able to see Trumpeter Swan north of Seattle in the next month, anyway.
The rain held off and I arrived in Chico by about 11 AM. I found the house I was looking for, and I let myself into the back yard, as instructed by the owner, whom I had corresponded with by email. They had provided a nice chair to watch the feeders from, and I took my seat. Immediately, I noticed a smallish hawk sitting in a tree just over the fence from the yard I was in. Here is a picture:
I had hopes that it was a Sharp-shinned Hawk, which would have been a great one for my year list. Last year, I only saw a Sharp-shinned once, and that one was flying, and I would never have been able to identify it if it werenít for the birder I was with. They look a lot like a Cooperís Hawk, but generally smaller. This one seemed large for a Sharp-shinned, but small for a Cooperís. The males in both species are smaller than the females, so a female Sharp-shinned is about the same size as a male Cooperís, I guess. There are some other subtle differences, and after consulting my field guide, I decided this one was a Cooperís Hawk. The tail is rounded at the edges, the eye is forward on the head, and the angle of the forehead is pretty gentle. Those things make me call it a Cooperís Hawk, but I am far from certain. All day I was hoping for Sharp-shinned, but when I saw my pictures, I had to say Cooperís, but a very small one.
I tried to get around on the other side of the hawk, to get a frontal picture, but it flew off, which was probably just as well. I sat in the seat in the mid-40ís temperatures with a bit of a breeze, and waited for the hummer. There were a number of feeders, and eventually some sparrows came in, as well as a couple of goldfinches. The sparrows were very flighty, though, and I think it was because of the hawkís presence a little while before.
I was getting pretty cold and was about ready to leave after about 40 minutes, when the hummer flew in, and I got a very brief look, but enough to confirm the ID of male COSTAíS HUMMINGBIRD (lifer). It wasnít a very satisfying look, though, so I waited longer. About that time, I moved the chair back a bit, in case my presence was inhibiting the birds. Within a few minutes, the goldfinches came back and started feeding, and the hummingbird also came in to the feeder several times. I wasnít able to ever get a decent picture of him at the feeder, but I got this one of the bird in the tree over the fence:
Pretty unsatisfactory, I know, but it was good enough for me to ID it. Here is a better one, which at least shows the lovely purple color of its gorget.
No doubt about the identification. So, I had my lifer. Costaís Hummingbird is normally not this far north even in the summer, and in the winter, they ought to be in extreme Southern California or Mexico. This one got lost somehow, I guess. I moved on about noon, after spending an hour in the chilly wind, to get my lifer. It was well worth it.
Here is a picture of some male Lesser Goldfinches who came into on of the feeders after about 45 minutes. I think the hawk had scared them away until then.
But, I was then behind schedule by about half an hour. I drove over to I-5 and headed north. Soon I saw a sign that said there was a serious accident on I-5 north of Redding, and I-5 was closed. That was concerning to me, but I had no choice but to keep heading north. I did have one option, to head west at Redding to the coast, and then head for home from there. As I approached Redding, there were radio bulletins about chain requirements, on a special AM frequency, and those worried me more. The storm was obviously dumping snow on the parts of I-5 that I hoped to use. I had a number of considerations, but the bottom line was that I decided to take highway 299 west out of Redding, and go over to the coast, and thence home. My logic was that it was going to take me three days to get home anyway, given my delay in Chico and the snow conditions, so I might as well go up the coast, where I thought the risks were less.
So, I gassed up in Redding, after loading up on liquor there, as usual, at the Liquor Barn (prices about 40% less than Washington, due to taxes mostly) and headed west on 299. It was probably the best decision, but at times it didnít seem like it. It was much farther to the coast than I realized (about 140 miles, when I thought it was maybe 80 or 90), and the snow situation was much worse than I had expected. The passes were only about 3000 feet (as opposed to over 4000 feet on the I-5 route), and I had naively expected that there would be maybe 10 or 12 miles of snowy conditions that would require chains or 4 wheel drive. Well, that turned out to be 45 miles of snowy conditions, and it was much slower than I had counted on. On I-5, at least it would have been four lanes, so I could have passed the trucks. On 299, I was stuck behind the trucks. I was going about 20 mph, and when I had reached the chain control point, I had asked the guy there how long the chain conditions lasted. He had told me about 40 miles, which turned out to be 45 miles. I was stuck behind a hay truck with two trailers that was going 20 MPH, and I when I did the math in my head, I realized I was in for over two hours of this shit.
Here is a picture of the conditions, taken while driving:
When we came to one of the passing areas, I decided to move ahead, and I passed that white pickup in front of me. Then, at another passing lane place, I passed the hay truck. Well, that turned out to be not the best decision I had made today. Or this week. Or this year. In fact, as it turned out, it was a very poor decision. I got by the hay truck, but then as I was getting back into my lane, my car started to fishtail. I thought I had it controlled, but then it got worse again, and then it got very bad. At one point, I thought I had lost it completely and I was destined to go over the edge. As it turned out, I was able to come to a stop on the road, completely sideways, and in the oncoming lane. Fortunately, the road was wide enough at that point that the hay truck and the white pickup could go behind me, in their own lane. I backed up, to get back in my lane, but then couldnít stop and slid off the road on the right. Again I was fortunate, as I hit a bank or something, and was still pretty much on the road. With my four wheel drive, I was able to spin the wheels a lot, with a lot of sideways movement, and I got back onto the road, in my lane. After that, 20 MPH didnít seem too bad, and I counted my blessings. From then on, whenever I started getting impatient with the 20 MPH, I reminded myself that it was a hell of a lot better than if I had gone over the edge on my first skid (It wasnít a cliff, but it would have meant major car damage and possible injury) or if I had gotten stuck in the ditch on my own side of the road. After that, I was much more patient, and I just kept keeping on. Once we reached the summit the hay truck sped up to 25 to 30 MPH, and I felt like I was flying along.
About three-quarters of the way through the chain control area, I came to the town of Weaverville. As I left Weaverville, the traffic was completely stopped. I heard on the special radio station that there had been a truck stalled across the road. We sat there for 45 minutes, just waiting. I was watching all my plans go in the toilet, and just wanted to get off these snowy roads. I had hoped to get to Crescent City, but that was obviously not going to happen.
Anyway, eventually the snowy conditions abated and it was only rainy and the road was only wet, not slushy. First I could go 40, then 50. I finally got to the coast, at the town of Arcata, at 6 PM. It was pretty dark by 5, and pretty much completely dark by 5:30, so I finished the drive in the dark, which I hate. I just donít see as well at night as in the day time, and when it is raining it is worse.
So, I got a room at the Super 8 here in Arcata, and now I need to figure out if I want to go back over to I-5 via Highway 199 to Grantís Pass, or if I want to just go home up the coast. It all depends on the weather, and I need to check it out. I feel pretty tired of snow conditions, so I might just go up the coast, to avoid any snow. Either way, I donít expect to get home until Friday afternoon. Also, either way, I am sure I will get skunked tomorrow, since there is almost no chance I will see another new bird for my list tomorrow. But, it has been a great run, seeing a new bird species each day for the first 18 days of the year.
Maybe Iíll send a report tomorrow, even though I almost certainly wonít see a new bird, for those of you who want to know how my trip home through the winter weather goes. Iím now at 170 species for the year, of which 6 are lifers. What a life!
Thursday, January 19
Before I get into todayís story, I wanted to mention my Check Engine light in my car. I reported here last week that it had come on two or three times, but had gone off again. It came on last Thursday afternoon in Monterey again, and that time it stayed on all day Thursday and all day Friday as I drove to Sacramento. That is one of the reasons that Fred drove on all our birding expeditions in Sacramento. On Wednesday morning this week, when I left Sacramento, it was still on. (That was just yesterday morning? It seems like a whole lot longer ago, after yesterdayís snow adventure and todayís adventure that I havenít revealed yet.) Anyway, the light went off after a few miles and hasnít come on again, so far. Knock on wood, no jinx.
So, to today. No birds today, so my streak has ended at 18 days, which is four more than last year, I think. I do have a story to tell, though, as it turns out, hence the report. I was in Arcata last night at the Super 8, and after getting brekkie from Mickey Dís next door, I headed on up the coast. I had considered whether to go over to Grants Pass on I-5, from Crescent City, but decided to go on up the Oregon Coast, so I could enjoy the ocean. There was the chance of another snow adventure on the road to Grants Pass, and that was another reason I chose the coast.
I really enjoyed the ocean. Just seeing it fills my spirit or something, and it brings me a peaceful feeling. I got a tuna sandwich in Gold Beach, Oregon, and ate it overlooking the ocean in Port Orford. Very nice. It was mostly raining, and was pretty windy. I was making good time, though, and expecting to get to Lincoln City by 5 oíclock with time for some little side trips to enjoy the ocean.
I made one of those little side trips just south of Bandon, Oregon. There were not only ocean views on that side road, there is a little lagoon, and I had faint hopes of seeing a new bird there. Not likely at all, but a chance, and I wanted to enjoy the ocean views anyway.
A little way into the side road, I came to a place where there was water over the road. I guess this series of storms has been pretty big, and there is a lot of water everywhere. There was a permanent sign there that warned you not to try to go through if there was water over the road, but the water didnít look all that deep to me, and I have a big boy 4WD truck, after all. Am I a wimp, to turn around for a little water over the road, or am I a man? Well, I was a man this afternoon, and I plowed on into the water.
As it turned out, I wasnít just a man, I was a stupid man. I went too fast, I think, and the water was coming up over the hood by the time I got to the middle. About three-quarters of the way across, the car just died. There I was, in two feet of water or more, dead in the water, so to speak. I tried to start the car, but it wouldnít even turn over Ė water had obviously done something nasty to the electrical system.
So, feeling somewhat discouraged, although not panicking, I used my OnStar phone service that I pay 15 bucks a month for, and called 911. I told them my sad story and they said they would call an AAA tow truck for me. Fortunately, Christina is wiser than I am, and she renews our AAA membership every year. This was the payoff, for me, as it turned out.
Here is the chronology, from my contemporaneous notes. I got stuck about 1:15 PM and called 911 right away. I gave them a bunch of information, and I got a call back from AAA at about 1:25. They took more information Ė by that time I had realized I could fire up my cell phone, call up Google Maps, and tell them exactly where I was located, using the GPS feature of the phone. I hung up with AAA at 1:30. While I was there, four cars approached the ďpuddleĒ in the road, from each end, saw I was blocking the road, and turned around and left. A guy on a bicycle also arrived, and we shouted back and forth a little, and he left. At 1:42 a policeman arrived in a true big boy truck, and he drove out and talked to me through our windows. He said he could pull me out, but the AAA tow truck was on its way. At 1:45, I heard by phone from the tow truck driver, and he got there at 1:48. Not bad at all, I thought, only 33 minutes from getting stuck until the tow truck arrived. My pants legs had been getting wet at the bottom, from the water that had seeped in on the driverís side, and I had rolled up my pants legs to stop that happening. I was fine, but I had no intention of getting out and walking in the water.
It was a flatbed truck, the kind you winch the car up onto and transport it on the truck, rather than actually towing it. Here is a picture taken through my windshield, after the guy had backed his truck into the puddle and was tilting the bed of his truck, preparing to connect to my car.
He didnít even have to get his feet wet. He lowered his ramp, then backed his truck up to my car until my front wheels were on his ramp, and then raised the ramp a bit, and was able to connect to my car and pull it up onto the truck, without ever even getting his feet wet. A masterful job, and one he had obviously done many times before.
Here is a picture looking back from my window, before I got pulled out:
It looks a lot deeper there than it did as I approached it (he said defensively).
By 2:00 I was out of the puddle and got this picture of my car on the truck:
Here is the puddle itself, from the side I came out on. I had approached from the other side:
So, I was out of the water, but what now? The car still wouldnít start. I told him I was trying to get to Lincoln City tonight, if the car happened to start when we took it off the truck, and he told me that Highway 101 was closed between there and Lincoln City, due to a landslide. Oops. The road from Reedsport over to I-5 was also closed, and that was my second option. Double Oops. What now? There were some motels in Bandon, which is where we were, but the AAA guy had told me I was entitled to 100 miles of free towing. Hmmmm.
100 miles? It turns out there is a road from Bandon to I-5, coming out at Roseburg, on I-5. How far was it? About 80 miles, he told me. Well, I asked, can you take me and my car to Roseburg then, for no charge? He called his boss and asked him, and said, that yes, he could take me and my car to Roseburg, and it wouldnít cost me anything. I could be in Roseburg by 4:30. That is about 6 hours from home, up Interstate 5, and that sounded very damn good to me. There was still the little matter of my car not starting, but maybe it would dry out overnight.
He needed to fuel up his truck, and after he did that, he tried starting my car, while it was still on the back of the truck, and it started! Wonderful. I was out of the woods. I could drive to Roseburg, or even farther north, and still get home on Friday afternoon. But then he noticed that the battery was not charging. The gauge was stuck just above 9 volts, which indicated that the alternator was not charging the battery. The car would run, but only until the battery discharged completely. Not a good thing at all. I pictured driving in the middle of nowhere when the battery died and being stuck again, this time with no electrical power. The tow truck driver agreed that it would not be a good idea to proceed under those conditions.
So, the Roseburg trip was on again. We headed up highway 42 in the tow truck, for the hour and 45 minute trip to Roseburg. I figured that if the charging system still wasnít working by the morning, I would just have to call a repair shop and take the car in. I thought the alternator might well have gotten fried with all the water that had been cascading over the engine.
We had a very pleasant drive to Roseburg, over a route I had never taken before, which was very scenic. He told me about all the flooding and slides in Oregon, due to this storm. He had some good tow truck driver stories, too, including the time he spent as a repo man, repossessing peopleís cars in L.A. He was a nice guy and the ride was enjoyable.
Upon arrival in Roseburg, I had him take me to a Motel 6 that I was aware of, although I had never actually stayed there. There is a Shariís coffee shop next door, which I thought would be convenient, as all my microwavable food that I brought with me is gone now. Here is a picture of him unloading my car in the Motel 6 parking lot.
He started it to back it off the truck, and the battery was still not charging. I was resigned to trying it again in the morning, and if it still wasnít charging, then trying to find a repair place from the phone book or internet. I mentioned that maybe the battery was actually charging, and the battery gauge was just screwed up by the water, and he said he had a device that would check to see if the battery was actually charging. He got his device and hooked it up, and I started the car again.
A miracle! The gauge moved right up to 14, indicating that the alternator was working and the battery was charging! His device indicated the same thing! Everything appeared normal and functional. I was saved! Seemingly, anyway, and so far, I donít know otherwise. Iím ensconced in my lonely Motel 6 room now, and weíll see what happens in the morning. I am hopeful, but not taking anything for granted.
He had been so helpful and had had so many good ideas that I gave him a 20 buck tip. I tend to be overly cheap, and I hope that was sufficient. He seemed grateful, though. As he had pointed out, I had saved 90 miles worth of gas, getting my car a ride to Roseburg, from Bandon. He had said that in context, in a very friendly way, not angling for a tip or anything. Maybe I should have tipped him more, but how does one know what is appropriate? Maybe it should have been 40 bucks. Or more?
So, I checked in, unloaded my stuff, and then I spent about 20 or 30 minutes blotting up water from the carpets in my car. The front driver side had had about an inch of water in it, and when he winched the car up onto the truck, some of it had run into the back seat on that side. There was a little on the passenger side, too. I have some dish towels that I got in Australia, and I used them to blot up the water, repeatedly wringing them out. They worked great, and I got a lot of water out. I suppose there is a still a big risk of mold growing in the carpet. Tomorrow Iíll run the heater all day, with some windows open, and when I get home, if it is still wet, Iíll do more drying. I expect the car will be all steamed up inside in the morning, from the residual moisture in the carpets. If worse comes to worst, I will just replace the carpets. That seems minor compared to how I felt when I was sitting in my car, in two feet plus of water, on the Oregon Coast, hundreds of miles from home. Maybe the carpets will dry out just fine, who knows?
So, that is my story for today. This has turned into quite the adventure trip, with my snow adventure yesterday and my flood adventure today. Iíll be very glad to get home. It has been snowing in Seattle for three or four days, and I really feel bummed out to have missed it, as I really love the snow. It is supposed to rain overnight and in the morning, so the freeways should be clear when I get there, but we will see. It will be nice to be home. Iím signed up for a field trip on Saturday, but if the weather forecast doesnít improve, I might just bail out on that. We will see.
What a life!
Friday, January 20
Just to finish up my trip and not leave anyone hanging, I'm writing this to report that I had an uneventful six hour drive home today in the rain. No birds, no drama, and no pictures. It's good to be home.
Saturday, January 21
Not much to report today, but I did add a bird to my year list, right here in the yard, hence the report. We have a couple of STELLERíS JAYS that live around here somewhere, and they often stop by in the morning. I hadnít seen them at the beginning of the month, but today they were out there squawking. I think Christina gives them peanuts, but I was busy doing other things, so I just took a quick look at them.
With the corrections to my totals that I did today, I am now at 171 species for the year, of which 6 are lifers. Iím off to a great start, since I have seen several unexpected birds and am doing well on some of the moderately difficult ones. I have a list of local birds I can look for, at four or five different local sites, and when the weather permits, Iíll do a little looking. The field trip up to Skagit County I was signed up for today was canceled due to the weather forecast and road conditions up there, but there is a possibility that it will get re-scheduled to February 4.
Monday, January 23
O Joy, O Rapture, another report from the Old Rambler. We had a glorious sunny day today with the temperatures rising into the mid-40ís, so I got out and looked for birds.
My first foray was up to Edmonds, a town on Puget Sound about a 20 or 25 minute drive north of here. There had been reports of one or two White-throated Sparrows in Edmonds. I had emailed the woman who discovered them and had gotten explicit directions to where she had seen them. White-throated Sparrows breed up in Canada, and they mostly spend the winter in the lower Midwest and the South, but they are also present in small numbers up and down the West Coast in the winter. I expect to see them in Texas in April, but a bird in the handÖ, you know. I found the place, and two other birders even showed up, one of whom had seen one of the sparrows on Saturday at this place. No luck today, though, for me. I saw a report later that someone had seen one of them just down the street, about three hours after I had left. Maybe Iíll go back, if they continue to be seen there.
So, my next stop was the public pier, and my first stop there was the rest room. Having taken care of that, I went out onto the pier with my scope, binoculars, field guide, and camera, to see what I could see. There were some Buffleheads, some female Red-breasted Mergansers, some gulls, two species of cormorant, and finally one I needed for my year list, a RED-NECKED GREBE. I ended up seeing at least a half dozen of them in the water offshore from the pier. Here is a picture of one in partial breeding plumage. I understand that by late February, they should be in their summer plumage, and they are supposed to be quite pretty at that time. The neck on this one had more color than on any of the others, so maybe he is precocious. The rest of them had whitish necks.
They look rather like a small loon, and I was looking for a particular small loon species, but every one I looked at was a grebe. The yellow bill was an instant tipoff each time.
There were a number of Surf Scoters close to the pier. The males are really kind of bizarre looking to me. Here is one of them:
In that picture, the end of his bill looks yellow, but it is usually much more orange. I donít remember if that oneís bill was actually that yellow, or if it is a trick of the lighting and the digital image. The real distinguishing marks on a male Surf Scoter are the white patches, though. Even the immature ones have one or more white patches. The females are brown and have some whitish patches as well, although not so clearly defined as on the males. This information was important to me later, when I was looking for another species of scoter that I still needed for my year list.
Farther out, I saw a couple of whitish birds on the water, and when I got the scope on them, I discovered they were PIGEON GUILLEMOTS, my second year list species of the day. Here is a very distant picture of a couple of them. In the summer they are black with a white streak on the wing, but this is how they look in the winter.
They look superficially like Marbled Murrelets in winter plumage, and I had to look closely at several field marks and consult my field guide, to be sure these were guillemots.
There were also several Horned Grebes around, in their drab winter plumage. Here is a close-up picture of one of them:
So, having exhausted my possibilities at the pier, I moved along to Sunset Avenue, just north of the ferry terminal, to look for the uncommon scoter species that had been seen there recently. I set up my scope and almost right away saw a couple of sea birds that met the criteria for what I was looking for. One (the male) was all black, with no white on him anywhere and with a bright yellow bill. In the sunshine, the bill was like a beacon. The female with him was brown, with a much lighter brown on the chin and neck, below a line that was even with the eye. Perfect descriptions of the male and female AMERICAN SCOTER, still called Black Scoter, the old name, by most birders, it seems. This was only the second time I had ever seen this species, and the look that I had last year in Monterey was very brief. I ended up seeing at least two pairs of them. The views were distant, much too far for pictures, but the identification was clear. I had figured my chances of seeing one this year were only 50-50, so seeing four of them today was great.
By that time, it was about 12:30, and I was getting hungry. I would have gotten a Subway sandwich, but Edmonds doesnít have any fast food restaurants (they are too hoity-toity, I think, with lots of little boutique restaurants, which is not my style). I would have liked to stop to try for the White-throated Sparrow again, but I settled for stopping across the street from the location and looking to see if there was any bird action in the area. When there wasnít, I made an illegal U-turn and headed home for lunch. I had only gotten 3 of the 9 possible recently reported species in Edmonds that I need, so another trip back up there might be in order.
After my nice lunch of leftover meatloaf, cheese, and popcorn, I headed out again, this time to my local park, Juanita Bay Park (JBP). There had been some reports of birds there recently that I needed for my year list, too.
Three or four of the species at JBP that I needed had been seen in a part of the park that I only recently discovered, across the road from the main part of the park. I went over there and walked up and down the dirt access road for the storm sewer that runs under Forbes Creek. The sun was out, the snow had mostly melted, and it was a really lovely afternoon for a walk in the woods.
I saw a few birds, and heard others, but nothing very interesting at first.
I decided to use my cell phone to play the song of a wren I especially wanted to see, and in the second or third place I did that, a little dark bird popped out of the undergrowth and hopped around and posed for me. It was the very species I was looking for, PACIFIC WREN. Up until 2010, it was lumped with its eastern cousin and called Winter Wren. Now the Pacific Wren is a separate species, one that I had only seen once before today. Best of all, it stuck around for a long time, and even though it rarely stayed still for long, I managed to get some pictures that I really like. For your viewing pleasure, here is the little cutie:
I think that last one is one of my favorite pictures that Iíve ever taken. The light was great, the pose was great, the greenery adds a little color to the picture, and I even caught the gleam in its eye. Check out those delicate little feet, with the long center toes wrapped around the vine. It was a really cute little bird, and I was thrilled.
About that time, I spotted a couple of birds high up in a bare tree along the road. They were Pine Siskins, and I got this picture of one of them.
Usually I see them on the ground or at our feeder, so it was nice to see them out in the wild, up in a tree. It gave me a different perspective on them.
Calling in the Pacific Wren had worked so well that I decided to try it with another bird I was looking for. I played the song, and soon a little bird came to investigate, a beautiful GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET. I havenít seen them very often, and I had forgotten how very pretty they are. It only stuck around a short while, so I didnít get any pictures of it. The wren hung around a long time and even answered my songs, but the kinglet got bored with me right away and wouldnít come back.
After that, I went over to the main part of the park, and as it turned out, I saw two more Golden-crowned Kinglets (without playing my cell phone, for those of you who think it is cheating to use their songs to attract birds Ė you know who you are). These two hung around more, but the light was getting pretty poor by then, and they never stopped moving around. I got this one strange picture of one of them, head on. It is enough to identify the species, but it doesnít do justice to how attractive they are.
I walked out onto the old highway bridge, which is now a pedestrian walking trail. I knew there was another species I needed there at the park, and I considered ďsavingĒ it for another day, in order to give myself an excuse for writing another report, but in the end, the walk on the bridge was so pleasant that I kept going until I got views of the TRUMPETER SWANS that have uncharacteristically been hanging around JBP this winter. I saw about two dozen of them, eventually. The light wasnít good for pictures, from where I was, and I just showed some pictures of them in December, so I wonít add any here today. That brought me up to six species for the day, for my year list. I was quite pleased with that, and I had had maybe four hours (not counting driving time) of very pleasant birding on a lovely winter day.
On my way back to the car, I saw one more species that I got a mediocre picture of. It is a Bewickís Wren, and I show it as a comparison to the Pacific Wren. The Bewickís Wren has a bold white eyebrow and a longer tail, and is light colored underneath, where the Pacific is darker underneath with a pattern.
So, that brings me to 177 species for the year, of which 6 are lifers. There is a new storm coming in tomorrow, supposedly, but by the end of the week, it is supposed to get nice again, so maybe Iíll go out looking again then.
Saturday, January 28
Well, today I put 188 miles on my car, looking for birds. I was without a car for several days, as I had decided to spend the 500 bucks to get the carpets in my car cleaned and the padding under them replaced, due to the little incident of the puddle last week, in Oregon. I had detected the first inkling of a moldy/mildewy smell on Tuesday, and after some online research and a call to a local company that specializes in car upholstery and carpets, I decided to do it right and replace the padding, which had gotten soaked, and thus was starting to mold or mildew. They cleaned the carpet and dried it out, too, of course.
Anyway, I got the car back yesterday afternoon, and I headed north today, up to Skagit county, to see what I could find. I managed to get out of here by 9:30, which is pretty good for this fat, old, dilettante birder, and after stopping to fill my gas tank, I hit the freeway.
I arrived at my first destination, south of Stanwood, about 10:45. Without even leaving the car, I spotted a SNOWY OWL across the fields, sitting on the dike. I went on up the road to a place where there was room to park, but I couldnít see it from there. There were a couple of other birders there, with a scope, and the scope was pointed at the dike, where I had seen the owl. I talked with them, and they had seen it, too, but now had lost it. As it turned out, I went farther up the road and was again able to see it. It was a long way away, maybe as much as a half a mile, but I had good scope views of it. Several other people came along while I was looking, and I shared my scope with them, which they appreciated.
Meanwhile, while trying to re-find the owl, I got a distant view of a ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK, another bird I had hoped to see up there. I saw it flying and also perched, but again, it was too far away for pictures. I had hoped to see a different owl species at that location, too, but didnít.
I left there, and it was after 11:30 by then (there was a fair amount of fooling around, walking out into the field, going up on the dike behind the road, etc), so I postponed my next planned stop and went straight into Anacortes to get a sandwich at Subway, with only a couple of brief stops for pictures. Here is a picture of some Trumpeter Swans. There were lots of swans around today, and I mostly didnít take the time to try to determine which of the two swan species (Trumpeter and Tundra) they were, but these seem to be Trumpeters, based on the pictures I took. The rust color on some of them comes from the places they have been feeding, up in the arctic, I understand.
I saw maybe 20 Bald Eagles today, spread out along my route. Here is a picture of the first two:
At Subway, I got a ham and cheese sandwich (and later tossed out half the bread, doubling up the filling to make a thick 6 inch sub), and drove on to Washington Park, past the ferry terminal at Anacortes. I ate my sandwich on a bench there, but didnít see any of the half dozen sea birds I had hoped for. I got my hopes up once, hoping for a Red-throated Loon, but it turned out to only be a Red-necked Grebe, which I had seen last week at Edmonds. There were Surf Scoters, other grebes, Goldeneyes, and a cormorant, but none that I needed for my year list. Iíll have to go back to Edmonds, where I might see some of those species.
After that, I drove back through Anacortes to Marchís Point (also called March Point in some literature). It is an ugly place, with several oil refineries, but there is a lot of shoreline, and there were some birds along the shore. Here is a picture of a Belted Kingfisher (a juvenile female, I think). I usually see Kingfishers on fresh water, but this one was looking for dinner in salt water.
I had never been to March Point before, but I had read a report yesterday about a species I had never seen, and the directions seemed pretty explicit. As I approached the place in the directions, I saw three or four birders, with a scope, looking at something across the road from the water. Aha, I thought to myself, this is a clue.
Indeed, they were looking at the four SNOW BUNTINGS (lifer) that I had read about. I got great views of them and took a lot of pictures. The light was really poor today (it was overcast with rain showers all day long), and most of the pictures are pretty disappointing. They were really beautiful little birds, a little larger than sparrows. Here are some of the acceptable pictures I got:
You can see that their coloration varies. There was one quite light colored one, and the other three were darker. I was very pleased to have seen them. I looked for that species last year, on my trip over to Port Angeles in the winter, but missed them. They are supposed to be east of the Cascades, not over here on the west side, and even over there, they are pretty uncommon, such that birders always make a big deal out seeing any. They breed in the very far north of Alaska and Canada, and winter in southern Canada and the northern US.
So, having seen the Snow Buntings, I headed farther north, to try again for the owl I had missed in Stanwood. I drove up to what is called the West 90, in the Samish flats, which is the delta formed by the Samish River. Once there, I got better looks at a Rough-legged Hawk, and even got this distant picture.
Oh yes, there were Bald Eagles everywhere, and here is a picture of another couple of them:
What magnificent looking birds they are!
Anyway, at the West 90, I walked out in to the fields, looking for my owl. I saw a couple of Northern Harriers, and several nice looks at the Rough-legged Hawk, as it flew from time to time, and finally I saw a SHORT-EARED OWL swooping over the fields, looking for its dinner. I got good looks, and when it landed in a distant tree, I turned back, and headed for home. On the way, I saw a third Rough-legged Hawk, and got a picture of it flying:
All of the pictures today are less than satisfying to me, due to the dim, flat light, but better something than nothing, I figure, and they were great birds to see. One last picture, of one of the several Red-tailed Hawks I saw today:
So, my final count was four more species for my year list, one of which was a lifer. That is excellent at this point in the year, and the quality of the birds today was outstanding. To put that in perspective, this was only the third time I have ever seen Snowy Owl, only the second time I have ever seen Rough-legged Hawk, only the third time I have ever seen Short-eared Owl, and the very first time I have seen Snow Bunting, of course, it being a lifer today. Outstanding.
I got home about 4:15, after a great day out in the open. My total for the year now stands at 181 species, of which 7 are lifers.
Tuesday, January 31
OK, hereís my last report for January this year. Before I go into today, though, I wanted to mention that I went over to Marymoor Park yesterday, in search of 4 or 5 species I need for my year list; most importantly, Northern Shrike and Purple Finch. I didnít get anything for my list, but I had a nice couple of hours walking around the park. Here is a picture of a Golden-crowned Sparrow that I like:
There is a huge off-leash dog park at Marymoor, and some of the best birding is in the dog park area, along the river. Here is a picture of that part of the dog park:
The river was very high, after our recent rains. There are four or five places where there are steps for the dogs to access the river, and many of them enjoy the water, even in the mid-forty degree temperatures.
But, that was yesterday, and there was no report because I didnít see a new species for the year. Today there is a report, and you can figure out what that implies.
I went to Log Boom Park this morning, at the north end of Lake Washington, to look for Greater Scaup, a duck species I saw there last year. There was nothing interesting there, though, and I decided to try my local park, Juanita Bay Park, again. I first went to the ďfire station roadĒ, where I had seen the cute little Pacific Wren and the first Golden-crowned Kinglet last week. I had several targets, all of which were low probability.
It was very quiet. I couldnít even call up the Pacific Wren again, with my cell phone. As I was about to give up and leave, I saw motion in a tree, and it turned out to be lovely male PILEATED WOODPECKER, our largest woodpecker. One for my year list, a bird I donít see very often. I expected I would see one this year somewhere, but there was no guarantee of that, so it was great to see one today. It was kind of distant and heavily backlit, but here are a couple of pictures of the big guy:
That one is kind of a peek-a-boo view, through the bare branches, and it was a challenge to get the focus on the bird, and not on the branches in the foreground. Here is one without any intervening branches, but it is strongly backlit, so there isnít a lot of detail in it.
The Pileated Woodpecker is the classic woodpecker that Woody Woodpecker was modeled after. Iíve heard a couple of pronunciations of its name, but the most common seems to be PILLí Ė ee Ė ay Ė ted, for those of you who care about such things.
It was exciting to get a bird for my list (yes, we birders, even dilettante birders, are a strange lot Ė it doesnít take a whole lot to excite us), but as soon as the Pileated flew off, I saw another woodpecker-like bird. I was hoping for Hairy Woodpecker, as that one was hard to get last year, but it turned out to be a RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER, another member of the woodpecker family. I expected to see one this year, and I had seen them at the park last year, but I wasnít thinking about seeing one today. I thought they migrated, and it turns out they do, but they are present in our area all year, evidently. This one might have migrated south from Canada, while the ones that spend the summer here have gone to California. Anyway, here are a couple of mediocre pictures of the sapsucker:
Not great pictures, but they do show the bird.
After that, I went over to the ďregularĒ part of the park, and walked out to one of the viewing platforms on the lake. There were the usual suspects there, including 24 swans. A Bald Eagle made a pass over a raft of ducks, but I guess he didnít see anything he liked, as he went back to his perch in a big tree. There were various ducks, including this male Green-winged Teal:
And this male Northern Pintail. This picture was close enough to pick up the very fine patterns on his side. It also shows what a long, thin neck he has, and part of it was underwater in this shot, which I found interesting.
There was a group of Ring-necked Ducks, too. I have mentioned before that their name is strange, as you never see the (supposed) ring on their necks, but they have an obvious ring on their bills. Why arenít they called Ring-billed Ducks? The brown ones are the females.
There was also one Horned Grebe there today. I have only seen a Horned Grebe at the park once before, I think, although I have seen them many other places. Most of the time, he was snoozing, with his head down, but it was partially up in this picture. There is a Pied-billed Grebe in the picture, too, for size comparison. The Horned Grebe is the black and white one.
The Pileated Woodpecker was new for my park list, and last weekís Pacific Wren was also new for it. Those two species raised my Juanita Bay Park list from 84 to 86 species, seen over the years. That is pretty respectable for a small suburban park, I think.
My two species today brings me to 183 for the year so far, of which 7 are lifers.