Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Oct 20 (Day 293) - Seawatching, HUGE rarity news, Mom and Sonia arrive!

Today started out just like Saturday. I spent the first 4 hours of the day parked on a bench in La Jolla staring out to see. Unlike Saturday, there was next to no wind today. This made for ideal conditions in which to search for my next target bird, Cassin's auklet. This tiny alcid generally winters in the deep waters off the California coast. As you can see in the photo below, there is a deepwater, submarine canyon that comes very close to La Jolla. The auklets often feed along the edge of this canyon, and on calm days like today, some can wander close enough to shore to be seen from the perch I occupied today. These birds are basically gray with white tummies, so they are rather nondescript. They are only 9" long which makes finding them even more challenging.

You can see the underwater canyon northwest of La Jolla Shores

They look like tiny footballs with wings

I was joined this morning, like Saturday, by Stan Walens. Over the four hours from ~7am-11am, we were abel to find 6-7 Parasitic jaegers, 3 species of cormorant, Red-necked phalaropes, Surf scoters, and, quite surprisingly, 4 Brown Boobies. Boobies are much less common in La Jolla than they are further south in Imperical Beach where I saw ~20 yesterday morning. Finally at 10:45, Stan spotted a flock of ~12 Cassin's auklets skimming across the surface 1/2 a mile out. Using his directions, I was able to quickly find the flock as they buzzed past us. I could make out a dozen small, dark, compact flying things zipping along with a distinct purpose. This is about all the detail I expected to see at this distance. This sighting left much to be desired, but this bird counts for species #579 nonetheless! See "comments" section below for a more thorough discussion on the ID of this bird.

With this bird sorted out, I turned my attention to the Red phalarope that had been reported yesterday. The phalarope had been reported at the mouth of the tidal San Diego River. I was not optimistic about finding this bird today. This is because the area is tidal, and although the bird was found on yesterday afternoon's low tide, the marsh and mud flats where it was found would certainly flood on last evening's high tide. This would surely displace the bird. Who knows if it actually return to the same spot for this afternoon's high tide?!?! I had not seen any reports of the bird from the morning, but I decided to check the posts one last time before heading towards the river to start the search. This is were the day got REALLY interesting.

While the phalarope had not been reported, an incredible rarity had turned up in Mission Bay within the last hour. We'll call this bird "Q" for the moment. Q is a bird that I did not expect to see this year, and as soon as I read the post, the sprint to the spot where it was seen was on! After a fast 7 miles, I arrived at the spot. A few other birders were there already, but they had been unable to relocate the bird. Just as I arrived, another birder came running towards us to tell us the bird had just been relocated 400 yards south of where we were looking. Hustling down that way, we were on the bird in 2 minutes. Now, the my looks at the Cassin's auklet were not good. However, the looks that I had at this bird more than balanced things out. At times Q came within 5 feet of me! Needless to say I got some very nice photos. Knowing that many more people were certainly coming to see the bird, several of us tried to keep on eye on it. We were able to do this for about an hour before it flew off not to be relocated again. With the bird gone, I decided to get back to the Phalarope search. It was only a short ride to that spot. I figured I would spend the rest of the afternoon there and then meet Mom and Sonia at their hotel when they arrived. I will return to Q, just chill for a minute, a'ight?

A very efficient 31 miles today

The river mouth was teeming with shorebirds. Long-billed curlews, Marbled godwits, Black-bellied plovers, Semipalmated plovers, Snowy plovers, Dunlin, Least sandpipers, Western sandpiper, Short-billed dowitchers, and Willets, were all in the mix. Herons of various flavors were also floating around, but I was not able to find the Red Phalarope. I suspect this bird moved on once the tide came in last night. This meant I was searching for a bird that likely wasn't there, but the other shorebirds made for a nice afternoon of birding.

As I was winding down at the river, I checked the posts again to see if anything new had popped up. Nothing had, but Q had reappeared back in the spot where I saw it this morning. The overcast, flat light of the morning had since given way to gorgeous, end-of-afternoon golden light. I decided to take a second crack at Q to get better photos. This turned out to be an incredibly good idea. The bird behaved just as well if not better than the morning session. By now I am sure everyone wants to know what the hell Q is. So without too much ado, I present Q.

OK, here's a little more ado.....

.....and here's a little more.

And now, ladies and gentlemen......

I present year bird #580.

Ancient Murrelet!

This bird was inside Mission Bay, a first for the area. Evidently, maybe 1 of these is seen every 5-6 years in the San Diego area. These sightings are normally poor looks from seawatches, so this was an incredible treat for all the birders who came out to see this guy today. This bird winters in Northern California and areas north of there. I cleared out of its wintering grounds before it arrived. This is why I did not expect to see this bird this year. That one made it this far south, this early in the fall, and in this warm water year is just amazing. The only thing more amazing is how well we saw this bird! The afternoon photo session was just incredible. Here are a few shots from the morning (with flat light) just for reference.

So, here's the story for the next few days. My mom wanted to come and visit me and meet Sonia's family in LA. I was very apprehensive about being locked into a given location while she visited, but it looks as though her visit will work very well with my exit from San Diego in a few days. Sonia picked mom up at LAX, and they drove to SD to meet me this afternoon. Mom wanted to try In N Out, so we dined there this evening. I will spend the next two mornings seawatching and the next two afternoons hanging with Mom and Sonia. They get along incredibly well - almost too well. The combined calls for a haircut are getting louder by the minute! They will stay here until Thursday morning when they will head back to LA to spend a few additional days there with Sonia's family. I will at that time move out of SD and head towards the Salton Sea and points east. 

Whew, long entry. Here's a few more shots from today for you to enjoy!

Long-billed curlew

Peregrine falcon

Monday, October 20, 2014

Oct 19 (Day 292) - More boobies, missed opportunity, last reader questions

Yesterday I birded La Jolla in the morning and then moved the ~25 miles south towards Imperial Beach. I did this despite my inability to find Cassin's auklet. I knew I would have to return to La Jolla  for the auklet at some point, but I did not want to do this today for 2 reasons. First, was the huge La Jolla bike race that would make birding the area way more hectic than it needed to be. Second, master birder Paul Lehman had agreed to meet me at Imperial Beach to aid in the big booby hunt. I spent last night at the very nice Best Western Plus Otay Valley. This put me just 7 miles from Seacoast drive - aka booby central. I observed several Brown Boobies here yesterday afternoon. Paul suggested a very early arrival to Seacoast Drive this morning, so the hotel provided a nice base from which to operate. I met Paul at 6:45am. Over the course of the next ~2 hours, we spotted ~20 Brown boobies of various ages and plumages as they cruised across the very calm water. Today's looks were much better than yesterday's backlit views. Despite our best efforts, we did not see any Blue-footed boobies in with the Browns. Paul and I spent much time yakking about birds and birding during the seawatch. It was an altogether enjoyable outing. We also had a nice guy, Sean from Wisconsin, join us of part of the morning. Assorted shorebirds, jaegers, and an apparently resident Reddish egret helped keep the birding interesting. I actually stuck it out at this spot until 11:30am. I only saw 1 boobies in the last hour. By that time it was hot and the light was getting tough. I decided to close up shop and head back up to La Jolla where I would spend tonight.

On my way back to La Jolla I was feeling really tired. I debated whether to not to hit a particular spot at Mission Bay, but decided against in since I was so tired. I also figured it was a weekend and would be flooded with people anyway. I came back to the house where I am staying, had a bowl of ice cream, flipped on the Chargers-Chiefs game, and immediately passed out cold for 2 hours. I was really groggy when I woke up, but I managed to shake this off well-enough to have a fantastic, entertaining dinner with my 2 hosts, Dave and Monica, and a mutual friend, Kurt. We were all good friends during our graduate school days at NYU.

Me, Monica, Kurt (back), Dave (right)

Looking at the bird posts this evening, I saw that a Red Phalarope was reported at the EXACT spot and at the EXACT time that I chose to bypass it this afternoon. DAMN! I guess you can't win them all. Tomorrow I am going to return to La Jolla Cove to seawatch for Cassin's auklet tomorrow morning before heading over to the phalarope spot in the afternoon. Hopefully it will stick around! 

33 miles today

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Oct 18 (Day 291) - Seawatching Saturday!

For the first time in my life, I really miss fall as it occurs in the northeast. The constantly shortening days suggest a change in the seasons, but, given the complete lack of fall foliage here in Southern California, I am having a difficult time reconciling that it is indeed autumn at the moment. I have come to love the crisp, New England autumn mornings that beautifully bridge the time between the hot summers and the frigid winters. Perhaps without the Red Sox or Phillies in the baseball playoffs, I have just lost my October bearings.......sigh.

Today started out with a 4-hour seawatch from La Jolla. I bumped into a group of birders from the Palomar Audubon Society. Many of them had heard about my project, and I took a few minutes to hold court so as to bring those that hadn't up to speed on my year. The chatting that occurred was a nice distraction from what was a fairly slow morning of seabirding. As expected, I had hundreds of Black-vented shearwaters to accompany the usual scoters, shorebirds, gulls, terns, and cormorants. We did not have any jaegers, and I struck out on the bird I was most specifically seeking, Cassin's auklet. These are regular here, so I am not sure why none were present today. I had some experienced eyes helping me today, but even they were unable to pick one of these tiny alcids amid the choppy seas. I am going to return to this spot after the weekend to again search for the auklet. I decided to get out of La Jolla for tomorrow (Sunday) since there is a huge bike race that finishes at the exact spot from which I birded this morning. It just going to be too hectic to be patiently scanning the seas with people waking/biking in front of the scope every 2 seconds. 

A few early arriving members of Palomar Audubon

The most exciting moment of the morning came when another observed called out a Manx shearwater. This was a bird that I thought I had an outside chance of ticking in Monterey but was not on my radar here in SoCal. I was able to get my scope on the bird a few seconds after it was called out. The bird looked to have very white underwings, but it was so far out that I could not see any of the other field marks that one normally needs to nail this bird for certain. I REALLY wanted to call this a Manx, but after thinking about it all day and looking at dozens of photos this evening, I cannot with absolute certainty say I saw a Manx shearwater today. This is actually the second time this has happened to me as I experienced a similar situation in Monterey with a possible Manx. IDing these birds on boats is one thing. IDing them from a half to a full mile away from shore is another. So close. Ugh.

In the afternoon I headed down to Imperial Beach to look for boobies. The 18-year old in me can never get enough of saying that. Looking for boobies. At the beach. When its 80F. In California. Only thing better would be if I could seawatch from an outdoor deck at Hooters! Anyway, I can see Queen Sonia rolling her eyes now, so I will move on before I get myself in more trouble. 

Need, now.....

Because of the warmer-than-normal water this year, there have been unusually high (i.e. dozens) of Brown boobies hanging around the US/Mexico border region this fall. There have also been at least 2 Blue-footed boobies seen with them. I did not originally expect to see these birds this year, so the addition of either one of them would be a nice bonus. It did not take much time for me to find several Brown boobies fishing offshore. The light was terrible since the sun was hanging low in the western sky, but I was able to make out enough coloration and patterning to add Brown booby to the year list as #578. I am actually going to return to the same spot very early tomorrow morning. I am hoping that by sifting through the Browns, I might be able to find one of the Blue-footeds. 

My afternoon view in Imperial Beach

54 miles today

OK, off to bed!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Oct 17 (Day 290) - Racing south to San Diego to look for Yellow-green vireo

During the Western Field Ornitholists meeting last week, A Yellow-green vireo was found in Fort Rosencrans National Cemetery. This is a Central American species that occasionally strays north into the Southern United States. Several of these birds have appeared along the California coast this fall, but all of them have vanished almost as quickly as they have been found. As a result, I have not had a solid opportunity to chase this species.

Yellow-green vireo range

This particular Yellow-green vireo was first observed on Oct 11. It was seen the following 3 days, the 12th, 13th, and 14th. When I did not see a positive report from the 15th, I thought that this bird might have finally moved on (ugh). However, looking at eBird last night I saw that the bird was seen yesterday, the 16th. Hells yes! If I really hauled ass I could look for this bird this afternoon, the 17th. However, there were 2 things that really complicated this plan. This first was that the cemetery was 87 miles from where I stayed last night. The second was that the cemetery closes at 4:30pm. Even if I actually made it to the cemetery, I might not have enough time to locate the bird before the staff kicked me out for the day. I could always return the following morning, the 18th, but the bird could easily leave by then. When it comes to rarities,  I am willing to break my back to get to them the NEXT day versus 2 days out. Birds generally leave their given locations at night, so every night that goes by before I can reach the bird decreases the chances the bird will be in the same spot when I finally arrive. This strategy has worked wonders on the long, high speed chases for Sabine's gull, Red-throated pipit, and Pacific-golden plover. Rain also helped keep the pipit from moving that first night. The second night was nice and POOF - the pipit was gone the morning after!

I hit the road at exactly 7am this morning. I decided to keep on eye on the clock and my mileage to give readers an idea of how the time and the distance of the chase unfolded.

Biked 43 miles from Corona del Mar, CA to Oceanside, CA. I did not stop, rest, or bird during these 3 hours. There were quite a number of significant hills.

Bathroom break, Breakfast/lunch* at Subway, water reload in Oceanside (*I skipped breakfast to get going early today)

10:30 - 2pm
Biked the remaining 43 miles to the cemetery. I did make a ten minute stop when I was 5 miles from the cemetery to crush 2 king sized candy bars. There was one very large hill in this segment.

86 miles to cemetery + 2 to Cabrillo Monument +
15 back to La Jolla for the night = 103!

So, I covered the 86 miles in exactly 7 hours of total time. That's an average speed of 12.3 MPH. If we toss out the time I was stopped, the average speed was 13.6 MPH. Not bad considering I climbed nearly 3,000 feet during that stretch. I know many of you have driven 7 hours to see a bird. Now think about biking for that same amount of time - ouch!

I reached the cemetery at exactly 2pm. The bird has evidently been alternately foraging in a number of closely clustered Ficus trees in a particular part of the cemetery. Since I had no idea what a Ficus tree looks like, I used the trusty world-wide-web to clue myself in. Using eBird annotations and info contained in message board posts, I deduced that the vireo was most likely going to be in one of these fluffy, round-ish trees as shown in this extraction from Google. Note - I have never birded this spot before!

The general strategy for finding birds like this is to stand under the tree of interest and stare upwards into the branches with unfocused eyes. The idea is to look for any movement as the bird hops or flies around the branches as it forages. It's fairly straightforward. However, there was a ton of wind today. The wind was strong enough (15-20 MPH) that it shook all the branches in a given tree. This made the "motion detection" strategy above useless as the whole tree seemed to move. In the first 3 trees I searched, I was not able to find a single bird. In the fourth tree, I found a Yellow-rumped warbler. I also saw an interesting bird fly from this fourth tree to one of the trees along the eastern boundary of the cemetery. I followed the bird to the tree into which it flew, and tried in vain to isolate bird-like movement from wind-generated movement. After about 15 minutes, at 2:30, I finally saw a small bird foraging in the tree top. I got my binoculars on it fast enough to identify it as the Yellow-green vireo! Incredible! I could not believe that I had made it here in time, that the bird was present, and that I was actually able to find it! The damn thing quickly disappeared into the upper branches of the tree before I could get a photo. After missing the Spotted dove with the camera the other day, I did not want to miss this very high quality bird today. Over the next 40 minutes, I played cat and mouse with the bird as it bounced about the tree top. As the wind subsided a bit, I finally managed to get a few decent shots of it. This is yet another lifer for me. I have already had 5 lifers this month, but this one feels much more legit than the others since they all resulted from either splits, reintroduced native species, or introduced foreign species. The photos are really grainy since I had to shoot at ISO 3200 (on the 7D) under the canopy (no IS either!). Shutter was 1/160 - 1/250 for most shots. All the major field marks (big bill, characteristic striped facial pattern, gray crown, lemon-lime-Gatorade-colored sides and undertail) are visible in these photos.

Suspect bird flew into left hand Ficus tree

A sample of what I saw looking up into the Ficus 
tree. I had to dial in 1-2 stops of additional 
exposure with such strong backlighting.

Yellow-green vireo for #577!

This bird represents potentially the most valuable chip in the San Diego scheme of things. This bird could easily have evaporated last night and left me searching for a bird that wasn't going to be found. All of the other birds for which I will be looking in the next few days are ocean/pelagic species. Getting this done today means I can focus entirely on the ocean for the next few days. I should be able to find Cassin's auklet tomorrow morning at La Jolla Cove, and I should be able to get Brown booby from the south end of the city either tomorrow afternoon or Sunday morning. Beyond those 2, anything else that would be new for the year would be a very lucky find indeed (Craveri's murrelet, Black storm-petrel, Blue-footed booby).

That's it for now.

Oh yeah...Go Royals! Cardinals = zzzzzzzzzzzz

Friday, October 17, 2014

Oct 16 (Day 289) - Scaly-breasted munia, California gnatcatcher, eBird thoughts

I spent that the morning loafing around with Sonia and her family. When I did finally hit the road near noon, Sonia accompanied me on her sister's bike for the first 6-7 miles. It was nice to have some company for a change! She eventually had to turn back while I continued south towards Huntington Beach to start the search for Scaly-breasted munia (formerly called Chestnut-breasted mannikin). This is an introduced species that has has taken a fairly strong hold in Southern California. As a result, the powers that be at the ABA made this species countable of as last year. I have previously seen this bird in Hawaii where it has also been introduced. A brief aside for the education of unbirders: bird species seen in Hawaii do not count towards a birder's total for North America. Hawaii's avifauna is more closely linked to that of Asia and the South Pacific Islands than it is to that of the New World, and hence it is grouped with those geographies instead of North America. Anyway, I digest.........

I arrived at the Huntington Beach Public Library mid-afternoon. I had been directed by many birders to search the reeds around any of the small ponds (either full or dry) found in this vicinity. My search of the dry pond north of the library was unsuccessful. I did, however, observe an Orange bishop as it flew past me and into the reeds. This is another introduced species that will at some point become countable. Crossing the street, I found a full pond, ducks and grebes included, with some patches of attractive reeds surrounding it. A quick pish brought 2 munias into view for year bird #575. I managed to get a decent photo of one of them. Sitting on a nearby bench to enjoy my victory sandwich, I spotted at least a dozen more munias as they came and went from the reeds. The search turned out to be fairly straight-forward and left me with a relaxing afternoon ride down to Newport Beach where I would spend the night. 

36 miles after a bit of messing around in the parks

Munia habitat

Scaly-breasted munia for #575

The ride to Newport was really relaxing and easy. I arrived at around 4:30, yakked with my hostess for a bit, and then decide to head down the coast a few miles to Crystal Cove State Park to see if I could find California gnatcatcher. I had no idea what to expect, but I figured if nothing else I could get a lay of the land so that when I passed through here tomorrow morning on my way south I would have a plan of attack to bird the area. I rolled in, locked up the bike, and started to walk down what looked like a well-used running path. I hadn't walked 20 yards before I heard the characteristic "meeeeewwwww-ing" of the gnatcatcher. I easily located it just off the running path for #576. This bird was backlit, but several others were calling a bit further down the path. I was able to obtain what I think is s very nice photo of one of them! This bird has suffered big declines as development in Southern California has progressed (Ugh). For a very short snippet about the status of this bird, check this out.

Gnatcatcher habitat - multi-million
dollar Laguna homes on hill in back

California gnatcatcher for #576

California thrasher, cuz why not?

OK, now for a bit of rumination. Several people have asked me if I use eBird this year. The answer is yes and no. My big year is focused very squarely on finding as many regularly occurring species as possible; I cannot chase rarities more than ~50 miles from me. It is in finding productive spots to search for breeding or very regularly occurring species that eBird particularly excels. This is because there are generally lots of data points for regularly occurring species, and the particular clustering of these points helps me select in which areas to look for which birds. eBird is not terribly helpful for rarities since they are rare and represented by very few data points. Trying to find a good spot in the lower 48 for Broad-billed sandpiper? Good luck...there's only one data point (Jamaica Bay, NY, 1998 - I saw it!). The more data points that exist for a particular species, the more useful eBird becomes in locating it. I have utilized eBird A TON this year since 95% of my searches are for birds that, by birding standards, would be considered fairly common. 

Now, I will confess that I have never eBirded a single bird in my life. There are two very good explanations for this. In my former life, I was a scientist of a very serious caliper. My life revolved around formulating hypotheses, designing experiments, and analyzing data to probe various mechanisms of cellular function. As my life revolved around data, the last thing I wanted to do when I was in the field was collect data on birds. I did not want birding to feel at all like my science. It was a break from science, and for me that was really important. As for this year, I have elected to put my efforts into the blog versus eBird. This is a personal decision that I do not at all regret. Looking back in 20 years, eBird checklist won't mean a thing to me compared to words I have penned.

All of this being said, I do plan to eBird in the future. First, my professional life is unlikely to revolved around data collection and analysis moving forward. Second, and more importantly, my bird data is valuable, and as such I should enter it into eBird. I am a decent birder who has utilized the resource, and I should make at least some form of contribution moving forward. Some people really like making checklists for every single birding stop they make. They can get obsessive about it, and that's fine. I obsess A LOT about my photography, so I know how it is. Just know that there's not a chance in hell I'll ever be a top eBirder since my focus is normally on photograph anyway!

Tomorrow I will cruise south to San Diego, my "home" for the next 5-6 days! This should be an exciting leg!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Oct 15 (Day 288) - Down time with Sonia, Allen's hummingbird for #574

To be honest, not a whole hell of a lot happened today. The highlight of the day was the mid-morning trip to a local park where I was able to locate several Allen's hummingbirds for year bird #574. I grabbed a few record photos as shown below. This was the only adult male I saw. His very green back is not visible in this photo. I did see what I assume to be several other immature and female Allen's hummingbirds. All but a very select few Rufous Humingbirds have cleared out of here for the winter; It seems that anything Rufous/Allen's at this time of year around here is assumed to be Allen's unless proved otherwise. The rest of the day was spent hanging out with Sonia and her family.

Allen's hummingbird #574

The crew of nieces and nephew

I also started to do some longer range planning/brainstorming for San Diego and beyond. I am going to head to Huntington Beach tomorrow and San Diego on Friday. I will spend Sat the 18th to Wed the 23rd in San Diego before departing for the Salton Sea. I should arrive at the Salton Sea on the 25th, and I hope to find Yellow-footed gull that afternoon/evening. This means that I could potentially start to ride West to AZ, NM, and TX on Ocotber 26. Here is a rough, but hypothetical timeline for the rest of the year.

Oct 26 - Nov 1     Ride to Tucson

Nov 1 - 5              Chase birds around SE AZ

Nov 6 - 20            Ride from SE AZ to Harlingen, TX (Averaging ~80 miles / day, totally doable)

Nov 20 - Dec 10?   Bird Lower Rio Grande Valley

This is only a very rough timeline. Right now I am at 574 species (+1). I expect to add Scaly-breasted munia, California gnatcatcher, Yellow-footed gull, and Snow goose in the next week. That would bring me to 578+1. I will probably get Brown booby, and there are a number of additional possibilities in SD as well. These species could push me up to 580 or 581. I could pick up anywhere from 0-3 species in AZ, and I expect to get at least 20 in South Texas during the 3 weeks I will spend there. What quickly becomes evident is that I could potentially have A LOT of time on the back end of the year. There are a number of different possibilities for what could happen during this "extra" time. However, I will leave that discussion for later. I do not want to spend too much time worrying about this extra time until I know I will have it. A run up the Gulf coast to take another crack at Yellow rail followed by a run into northern Texas for Smith's longspur and Harris's sparrow followed by a sprint to St Louis for Eurasian tree sparrow would also be possible. I might even be able to find a Thayer's gull somewhere in the midwest. It would be a lot of riding, but what the hell at that stage, right?

OK, here is installment 3 of reader generated questions! I hope people are enjoying these......

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Oct 14 (Day 287) - Straight outta Compton, arrival in LA!

What few people know is that I had a full-fledged hip hop career that paralleled my birding interest for most of my 20s. Here is a photo of me as my alter ego, MC Corvid. The "Compton" hat pictured below was bequeathed to me by one of my mentors and friends Eric "Eazy E" Wright (RIP). My rhymes and skills turned out to be too deadly for the even the most hardcore gangster rappers, so I decided to quit the game to focus on birding and photography.

MC Corvid in da hizzouse!

This is obviously complete rubbish, but I figured it was time for some humor after a few days without any. This ties in well with the timing of my arrival in LA today, so there you have it!

The goal of today was to position myself to look for Spotted dove in downtown LA tomorrow. The ~82-mile ride would be spit into 2 parts. The first part would run me along the coast on Highway 1 for nearly 50 miles. The second part would throw me directly onto the city streets of LA where I would fight ~32 miles of traffic lights to reach Sonia and her family in Whittier. From Whittier, I could tomorrow ride to a particular neighborhood in Huntington Park to look for Spotted dove. Part 1 of the ride took just over 3 hours. However, it was the ease with which I navigated the LA city streets during part 2 that was particularly surprising to me. I was making such good time that I actually decided to detour through the Spotted dove area today en route to Whittier. 

Like any huge city, LA has some really nice areas and some other, rather scary parts. I figured that I could take a quick run through Huntington Park to get a sense of the area before continuing onto Whittier. Since I had the fully loaded bike, I did not want to hang about in an area that might be less than savory. Maybe I would get lucky and get the bird on this brief ride-through. However, upon my arrival, I found the neighborhood just north of Salt Lake Park to be very nice. It was nice enough that I decided to spend the afternoon looking for the dove even with the loaded bike. I did this with hope that I might avoid the 30-mile round trip return ride tomorrow. (Note - the area is fine during the day but I have been advised by many not to be here once it gets dark. It's not like I could find the dove after dark anyway)

89 miles here pictured........

.......plus 12 from the search yields 101 miles for the day.
I did this route 4 times at 3.1 miles per repetition.

I spent roughly 4 hours on the bike gridding out the neighborhood. I looked on lawns, on wires, on roofs, everywhere. I am actually surprised that no one said anything to me. I must have looked very suspicious riding back and forth over the neighborhood streets with my fully loaded bike and my binoculars. There were a fair number of pigeons, and I also found 3 Mourning doves and 2 Eurasian collared-doves. There was no sign of the desired dove though. I was to have dinner with Sonia's family at 6pm. This meant my 4:15 pass of the neighborhood would be my last. I had resigned myself to the fact that I would have to return to the same area tomorrow. I was in my last block when I spotted a darkish dove on a roof. I knew right away it was the sought bird, and a brief binocular view confirmed this. I went to fish out the camera for a picture. Right then, 2 kids, clearly en route to the park to shoot some hoops, came sprinting around the corner bouncing a basketball. POOF! That was that. The bird shot over the backside of the roof just as I got my hands on my rig. Crap. I guess in a neighborhood full of people, you just can't control for everything (if anything!). The view I got was very brief, but it was surely good enough to chalk up year bird #573! This find opens tomorrow up for me. I will probably use the time to bird around Whittier a bit and to spend extra time with Sonia before I head south to Huntington Beach on Thursday and San Diego on Friday.

Santa Monica beach biking

Me and Sonia's niece Jocelyn upon my arrival

I am very curious to see what happens with Spotted dove in the next few years. This bird is an Asian species that became established in and around LA a while ago. Its range has been steadily contracting in the last 10-15 years though, and I must imagine that it could become extirpated from Southern California in the near future. This story is much like that of Budgerigar in South Florida. I do not know why the range contraction is happening, but I must believe it has something to do with the expansion of and competition from another species, the Eurasian collared-dove. This species seems to thrive everywhere as its recent and rapid range expansion demonstrates. Just for fun, I took a few snaps from eBird to show the range contraction of the Spotted dove. Both of the orange markers are in Huntington Park area where I went today. You can see the range collapsing around those 2 remaining markers.

Sightings from all years

Sightings from 2004-2014

Sightings from 2011-2014

Sightings from 2014

Since I was curious about the Eurasian collared-dove range expansion, I did something similar. Clearly there is more data being input in recent years, but the expansion is so rapid (20 years) and so obvious, that a correction for number of data points per year doesn't need to be made to see the trend.




Notice how many more Eurasian collared-dove sightings there are in SoCal where the Spotted dove has declined so precipitously. I have no idea if this actually explains it, but this little exercise gave me the chance to mull it over a bit!

OK, 101 miles and a life/year bird....I've earned a second bowl of ice cream before bed!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Oct 13 (Day 286) - Oxnard and eastern strays.....

Yesterday evening, a Mourning warbler was reported from the Laguna Tams. This is a bird that I did not see in Texas, and thus I wanted to look for it today. I spent the entire day in the area where the bird was originally found, and there were quite a number of other local birders who joined the search. Despite what I deem to be an incredibly thorough scouring of the area, we were not able to turn up the warbler. It also looks as though, after reviewing photos taken by other birders, that the warbler could possibly be some sort of hybrid. Whatever the story, between the slight doubt on the ID and the inability to find the bird in question, Mourning warbler did not join the year list today. 

As an aside, expects are being called in to assess the photos of the mystery warbler that I posted two days ago. This bird is clearly different from the putative Mourning warbler for which we searched today (comparisons of photos of each bird confirm this). There has been quite a bit of support for Connecticut warbler, but for right now I am leaving it as unidentified. Not only would CT warbler be a year bird for me, but it is incredibly rare to find one in California. Maybe 1 a year is found in the state! If all the experts say "this is certainly a CT warbler" then I would have to think about whether to add it to the list or not. I highly doubt there will be any form of definitive consensus, so I think this will render the decision to add it to the year list completely moot.

This is not the first episode of this sort from this year. In the first week of the year (Jan 6), I found the following gull on Revere Beach in Boston. These photos made the rounds to the experts, and the results were far from conclusive. Thayer's gull, Iceland gull, "Kumlien's" gull, Glaucous-winged gull, and "Nelson's" gull were all proposed. Discussing these confusing IDs is a great way to learn bird identification!

OK, before I get too wrapped up in old news, there was quite a bit of exciting bird news from today - especially for California birders. While we did not find the Mourning warbler, we did find 4 other eastern strays including American redstart (photo'd 2 days ago), Magnolia warbler, Blackpoll warbler, and Black-and-white warbler! This grouping shows what an incredible migrant trap that the Laguna Tams have become.

Magnolia warbler

Blackpoll warbler

Black-and-white warbler

Townsend's warbler - lots of these today

Tomorrow I will finally head into LA to see Sonia, visit her family, and search for Spotted dove. Its gonna be about 80 miles, so I need to get some rest!

Just 21 miles today

Lastly, I want to give a special shout-out to John Mueller who hosted me during my time in Ventura/Oxnard/Camarillo. We had a good time birding and photographing together the last few days. He even unearthed a Philadelphia vireo near his house yesterday! He is actually a professional photographer (wedding, portrait) so if you're in SoCal and need some shots of whatever, check out his website. Here's one his wife, Jessica, took of us in his yard.

Me and John

Me (before I dropped ice cream on his loaner shirt!)