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......


  1. Wouldn't it be way better to hang tight in SoCal for extra time waiting for rarities, and then wait more in south Texas throughout the CBC period as more Mexican vagrants are found? Pedaling hundreds of miles northward for widely spaced species seems like a very bad idea. Yellow Rail, Harris's Sparrow, and Whooping Crane, sure. But anything beyond that seems like time not well spent. If anything, I would hit these 3 species on the way DOWN to the LRGV, and finish out the year in the LRGV. Tons of people spend the Chrismas to New Year's period there, and will surely turn up some goodies and you'll want to be there when that happens - Dave

  2. I think Cali is going to be tapped out in the next week. And yes, I could also go through northern Texas first to get a couple of those birds. I just think 5 weeks in the valley is going to be way too much.

  3. Southern California in late October and LRGV in late December both have huge species pools for you, though, and added time will yield added birds. Whereas something like Eurasian Tree Sparrow is a long, cold effing ride into birding wilderness just for one or two species. Good for the narrative, but not necessarily for species totals! I gather you're not a risk-taker, but there's so much stuff still possible in California this time of year that you haven't even been talking about, but once you add up all the individual probabilities, the chances for adding species over time are actually very good. -Dave

    1. "but there's so much stuff still possible in California this time of year" -

      Right now, the list of birds that have been seen in SD in the last month that I don't have is:

      Brown booby - should be able to get this
      Blue-footed booby - 2 were seen with the Brown boobies last week
      Cassin's auklet - well within realm of possible
      Black storm-petrel - this would be incredibly lucky
      Cravei's murrelet - this would be incredibly lucky
      Yellow-green vireo - there is one in SD that has been there for a few days. I won't be able to get to it until Saturday

      I will push 5-6 days into these species in SD. With each one of these I find, the potential reward of staying longer becomes smaller and smaller. I spent 3 extra days in Monterey and added nothing interesting after I got Buller's shearwater on the first day. I spent 3 days in Ventura hoping for rarities and added nothing. I already have Red-throated pipit and Pacific golden-plover, so the need to scan sod fields for hours on end has been put to bed.

      Yes, lots of species are possible. But I have to be realistic and think that maybe one "possible" species beyond the 6 that I have listed above will show up. AND it has to show up so close to me for me to chase it. If stuff was showing up hand over fist, sure I be stoked to stay, but the list of birds and sightings has coalesced around the species above.

      I totally hear you about the LRGV, but again, with each species I find, the potential rewards of staying drops. Its the same reason I left the Texas coast when I did. I could have spent an additional week there and not found any of the birds I needed. I guess that the bottom line is that I would rather be proactive and search birds within their normal ranges even if it required more riding versus waiting for birds that might show up. You are certainly right about the x-mas count thing though. That's when a lot of funky stuff could turn up in south Texas.

  4. Don't ride WEST from California toward Texas or you will wind up quite wet. Of course you could pick up a few pelagics. Sorry. I couldn't resist picking on the typo.

  5. I vote for you to get to Texas ASAP. This has nothing to do with birds, but rather time zones. Surely you remember growing up when the Sox (Yankees for me) were on a west coast swing, and you had to go to bed before the game even started? How annoying was that? Well that's how I feel about your blog. I've got a 1-year-old now and need to go to sleep way before you post at, like, 1am eastern time. So if you'd get back to at least the central time zone I wouldn't have to wait until the next morning for your posts. I feel like this is a reasonable request that you should seriously consider.

  6. Agreed with Ethan on the blog post timing! Dorian, I hear you about the risks of staying in California, but the birds that I'm talking about aren't what's already there, but what HASN'T shown up yet! Red Phalarope, Thayer's Gull, and Arctic Tern are examples of birds in the species pool that you haven't been talking about, but there are so many others. To firm up your decision I'd suggest running 5 years of "simulations". Pull up a SoCal eBird Bar Chart for, say, Ventura, LA, Orange and SD counties for the month of October, and analyze 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009 separately. See how many new, chaseable species turned up during that month each year, and scale to the amount of additional time you could stay in SoCal to get an expectation for the average payout. You could do the same for south Texas, and this way make a more quantitative decision on these higher-risk areas vs lower-risk species. -Dave

    1. I've been following your year closely Dorian, and I'm in total agreement with Dave on this and love his idea of analyzing past ebird data for October in socal and Dec in LRGV counties. Maximizing your time in areas with high concentrations of birder effort and really high quality rares seems like a much smarter allocation of time/effort. Trust me, you do not want to bike north to St Louis for tree sparrow and Chicago in Dec to snag THGU. Stay in the LRGV where you could have any of dozens of vagrants as options vs weeks of miserable miles in nasty weather for only a couple of "sure" species.

  7. Think of it as an extended version of grouse hunting. You know you're positioned in a great spot for vagrants and remaining needed species to turn up. You just need to put in the time and hope for the best.

  8. I would think if you had some time to kill on the way to LGRV you could swing a bit north and have a shot at lesser prairie chicken, harris's sparrow and Smith's longspur. Then spend the end of the year in more southerly areas when people are really birding there and potentially miss some bad biking conditions. No matter what you decide keep up the hard work and enjoy every day. It has been a pleasure following your blog over the last several months