Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ross's Gull, Avian Heroin

I've been waiting to write this post for months...this thing is so big, it's a daunting thing to even think about writing. This is about the best bird I have ever seen. Until I saw this bird, I never knew you could see a bird and say, "That bird. That bird there. That is the best one." Learning that I really could say this now was no small revelation. How can one do such a bird justice? I don't think I can...but I will try.

It all began on a Thursday in January. Now, this Thursday was not like any other day...a massive series of storms had just finished pummeling northern California, and I had decided that I would take the day off to do my Five Mile Challenge (5MC). The 5MC had been going well enough...I had clearly already beaten Flycatcher Jen by a wide margin, and I had just gotten my 86th species for the day. I had consciously decided to take a break from compulsively checking Sialia (which collects all of northern California's many birding listservs in one place) for breaking news of rarities that day...after all, I had shit to do. What in the holy fuck could possibly make me abandon the 5MC, something I had been waiting to do for weeks? Of course, the one day I decided to ignore the local birding scene would turn out to be a day most unlike any other.

At 2:30 PM, as I was scanning through shorebird flocks at the Albany Mudflats, I got a text that struck me down with such force that I had to spit out some teeth after I read it. Here is the actual screenshot from Samantha's phone.

Of course, I knew that the 5MC was over at that point. This bird could not wait, would not wait. Even with some traffic, I could still make it to Princeton Harbor in an hour and a half and have some time in the area before sunset. I didn't think the bird would be there of luck could not be that good...but not going for the bird was completely unacceptable.

Why would this be unacceptable? Ross's Gull is one of the best birds you can find in the United States...well, the North American continent...ok the Northern Hemisphere. They are not a well-known bird, and the only reliable/accessible place to see them in North America is Barrow, Alaska, in fall. Due to the extremely remote nature of Barrow, basically it costs thousands of dollars to look for a Ross's Gull...and there is no guarantee you will see one. Can you imagine spending the money to get to Barrow, freezing your ass off and not seeing this incredible gull? This archetype of Good Birds? They were formerly reliable in Churchill, Manitoba, but not in many years...if you want to have a reasonable chance of seeing a Ross's Gull, you are going to be somewhere above the Arctic Circle.

Of course, they do come south. Many U.S. states have records...but there is no pattern really, except they come in winter and are most likely in higher latitudes. They do not occur in the Lower 48 every year, and most years none are found at all. In November of 2006, one showed up at the Salton Sea, flabbergasting all California birders. I did not chase it (I lived way up in Humboldt County at the time), something I never regretted, as the bird disappeared the day after it was found and I would have surely missed it after making the 14 hour drive. Those who searched for the bird and missed it do not even try to hide the fact that this dip severely traumatized them, and scarred them forever. If only...

I managed to beat traffic and make good time to the harbor...but 10 minutes out, the inevitable happened...the report came out that the bird had flown south and disappeared. I showed up at the harbor anyways, not knowing what else to do...this was all just so typical. I did have a plan though...refresh Sialia every freaking minute. It's not much of a plan, but it is better than no plan at all...and it worked. The bird had been refound! But the message was short and vague...something about a parking lot...well where the fuck is that? The only parking lot I could think of was an incredibly unsuitable place for a Ross's Gull...but next to the unlikely parking lot out on Highway 1 there was indeed a huge throng of birders, and I managed to score an unbelievably good parking spot within sprinting distance. And just beyond them sat The Bird, The Holy Grail of Vagrants, the Ross's Gull.

Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. It was pink, it was blue, it was gray, it was white, it was some intangible color in between. It's head was round and friendly with a little tiny nub of a resembled some kind of mystical plover more than a gull, sitting absurdly in a small pothole. Best of all, it was right there in front of me. Why did it decide to sit in this weird, rutted parking lot where no waterbird would ever want to alight in? The harbor was a much more suitable place. Was it fucked up? Or just totally unaccustomed to the area?

The bird sat there for a number of minutes, just absolutely melting my face off even though it was doing nothing at all. I got the distinct feeling that my entire birding life had been leading up to this moment. This bird was too good to be real...everything they say about this bird is true.

Suddenly, it took wing, crossed the highway and flew out over the ocean. I thought that would be the last I would see of it, but as it turned into a speck in the distance, I saw the bird come down to the water. It landed right next to a surfer, so it was easy to keep track of.

Here is the Ross's Gull in the lineup with some grom. I scoped the bird for a lengthy amount of time...this may be the last Ross's Gull I will ever see, so I am going to stare at it for as long as possible, poor looks and all. It was hard to see much on the bird at this distance, except that it was not bothered at all to be sitting 20 feet away from some surfers, who were puzzled to see this little blue/white/pink/gray thing aggressively ignoring them. Mercifully, the bird took off again, and flew right back to the parking lot! YESSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!

Unreal. I could not have asked for better looks at the bird. The gull darted back and forth across Highway 1, perilously low and close to traffic, just over the heads of the assembled group of drooling birders. It was stressful to watch, actually. At that point I realized that the bird was probably quite healthy, it just didn't have any clue about how to navigate in a world shaped by man. It had probably never seen anything like "civilization" before...this is a true arctic species, after all...most Ross's Gulls probably never even venture south of the Arctic Circle. It also didn't behave like it expected to have any predators around, which was also disconcerting.

The bird landed extremely close by, so I happily unleashed a torrent of crushes. As the sun sank behind the sea, the bird continued to periodically pick up, fly around the neighborhood (deftly avoiding the many powerlines in its path), landing back in the parking lot and even the bike path across the highway. The bird left my brain drowning in gallons of adrenaline, serotonin, dopamine...I had been drugged! I left the Ross's Gull that evening in a waking dream. This was true, pure, uncut avian heroin that I just had, and I still wonder if seeing any bird will match that special high.

The gull would remain in the area for several more days, happily feeding on the abundant earthworms that were present. Rumours of the bird being weak and sickly were circulated by jealous birders who were unable or unwilling to make the effort to come see it; in reality, the bird energetically frolicked in its little rain puddles to gobble the abundant earthworms, which it slaughtered without pause and without mercy. Part of me wanted it to leave for its own good though...I got the distinct feeling while watching the bird that death by car or death by raptor could be in its future if it did not leave.

Of course, you all know how the story ends...I'm just glad that I wasn't there to see it. Peregrines eat birds all the time, this is perfectly normal and the way it should be...but I would be lying if I said I wasn't bummed. After all, this was the best bird I have ever seen. At least it left this world honorably.

The Ross's Gull came to us from some distant and unknowable place; cold, barren, unforgiving, and likely seen by few men. It was a true bird from the north, and few others of its kind will ever make such a brave foray below The Circle. It flew far, and foraged fiercely. Melted faces as best it could. We shall never see its like again.

And now its watch has ended.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Las Gallinas - Zono Zone, Let The Kinglet In, The One You Least Suspect (LISP)

Sorry for the lack of output lately buddies. Unsurprisingly, it becomes harder to blog when you are hanging out with a baby all the time. I've gotten plenty of good birding in this winter/spring though, so I have no shortage of material to work with...shit, I even have flowers.  But before I could even blog it, the Quasi-Perpetual Weekend (QPW) has come grinding to a's back to work for me. I've been off since my daughter was born in January, so this is going to be weird.

One of the things I've been able to take advantage of during the QPW was my proximity to Marin. Among northern California birders, few counties hold the appeal that Marin does. While I've lived in a number of places in the bay over the last ten years, I've never managed to live in Marin, which is widely considered the best birding county. That said, my current home in Albany is just a quick 15 minute drive over the Richmond Bridge to the Promised Land. I've spent a great deal of time birding in Marin since last fall, which has paid no end of dividends in terms of rarities and quality outings.

The Las Gallinas Ponds is a default birding location on the Marin can rack up over 60 species pretty easily for much of the year, it has rarity potential, and a lot of the birds are highly crushable. Indeed, if you enjoy running into photogs who can't identify the birds they are shooting (who doesn't?!), then spend some time here!

Marsh Wrens are extremely common here (not unusual), but there are so many of them that you are bound to get good looks at a couple (unusual).

Common Gallinules are a highly local species in the bay area, and there is no better place to see them than at Las Gallinas. They are totally fearless here, even more so than the coots. Close observations of gallinules will lead you to conclude they are more interesting than coots in almost every possible way, except their feet are not as cool. Coot feet are hard to top. I'm not sure why gallinule feet are so simple in comparison, considering their niches and behavior overlap so much.

Did someone say "common"? Oh good, now I have a reason to post a White-crowned Sparrow. We have them year-round here, but they still are very much a scourge of winter.

Your friend and mine, the Great Egret.

This photo begs a question...without googling, does anyone know what bird species has the longest neck? Either in proportion to its body, or actual length? This seems like important trivia to know.

Don't worry locals, I managed to slip in one rarity in this post. After a substantial time spent dipping on this bird, eventually I connected with the Harris's Sparrow at Las Gallinas. Though not a MEGUH by any means, this is a solid rarity in California, and since I didn't see any last year it made for a fine yankee bravo, as well as a Marin County bird. Unfortunately it disappeared after about 30 seconds, and I was left wallowing around in more common birds...

Golden-crowned Sparrows are abundant and often very confiding...too bad most of them don't look very impressive until April or so. But what they lack in aesthetic appeal, they make up for in humble plumpness.

Wow, did I just throw up pics of three Zonotrichia? Perhaps it is time to brush up on these horsemen of the apocalypse.

Unlike Zono sparrows, Cooper's Hawk is not a bird I encounter up close very often. Practically everything at Las Gallinas is begging for merciless crushing.

I am not above posting the occasional House Finch photo...and by occasional, I mean this is the third one BB&B has ever posted since 2008. It was time. Come on, I know you are programmed to not even look at it, but it's a pretty bird, admit it. It looks good with that lichen...this is something you and I have to accept. Hey, if you are ever going to find that vagrant rosefinch, you're going to have to look closely at some House Finches.

Now that we got that out of the way, we can let this Ruby-crowned Kinglet into the empty cavities of our hearts. Don't be afraid...just let it in.

This is, without doubt, the best Ruby-crowned Kinglet photo I have ever taken. This is not a boast (that would be embarrassing), just simple fact. I dig how yellow the tail looks on this individual, that's not something I notice in the field very often.

Lincoln's Sparrows often fit the descriptions of murderers that you hear about on local news stations...they are quiet, nice, keep to themselves. Wouldn't harm a fly...or so you would think. No one would ever suspect them of breaking the law at all, let alone capable of killing nine people.

This is definitely a species pulling stakes right now; I've probably seen my last of the spring already. I've mentioned here before how they never sing at wintering/stopover sites in California. Do they just fail horribly the first few times they sing each year? They are probably spot-on, but I like the idea of them having to sing out the rust.

A few minutes away from Las Gallinas is the Marin Civic Center. There's a big, weird artificial pond there which attracts some gulls and ducks and has pulled in a couple interesting birds in the past. I recently discovered that it has tame Common Mergansers, which is heck of novel to me.

I've never seen them so close before. That is probably an odd notion to some of you, but now you know you can become #7 without ever getting close to Common Mergansers. As you definitely can tell, they were looking for delicious bread handouts (that's why they evolved serrated bills, obvi), but they are pretty striking birds regardless of the lowly intentions of these individuals.

Ok, I think I used up all my blog stamina. I've got to save energy for the next post, as that will deal with something I've been needing to tell you about for a long time....a long time.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

2017 AOS (AOU) Proposed Lumps and Splits

Western Willets (above) have long been considered to be distinct in a number of ways from Eastern Willet, and can be told apart in the field with some practice. Will this be the year of the great Willet split?

The proposals are in...there are an obscene number of splits and lumps proposed for birds under the American Ornithological Society's purview this year. There is the potential for a lot of huge shakeups...of course, who knows how many of these will actually become Bird Law? Maybe none at all! In any case, we can expect a lot of butthurt birders after news of these splits and lumps (or lack thereof) is released. Perhaps these decisions will all be warranted, perhaps not, but regardless of what happens there are a lot of sweaty palms out there right now, and almost too many splits/lumps to keep track of. For your sake, beloved readers, I have gleaned all the splits and lumps from the three rounds of proposals that are out. No rearranging of families or genera to sort through, no simple name changes, just the meat and potatoes - the splits and lumps.

Split Willet into Eastern Willet and Western Willet.

Lump Thayer's (above) and Iceland Gull. Thayer's Gull would become a subspecies of Iceland, and the kumlieni subspecies would lose its status and be considered a hybrid swarm. Birders are coming out of the woodwork to make their opinions known about the Thiceland Gull proposal, some of which don't seem to be informed by actual facts. This one, as predicted, really struck a nerve. 

Recognize Northern Harrier and Hen Harrier as different species.

Split Magnificent Hummingbird into two species, Rivoli's and Admirable Hummingbirds (northern and southern populations).

Split Emerald Toucanet into a bunch of different species.

Split Guatemalan Flicker from Northern Flicker.

Recognize Northern Shrike and Great Gray Shrike as different species.

Split Least Vireo (above) from Bell's Vireo. Drab western birds like this one would become Least Vireo, the more colorful eastern birds would remain known as Bell's Vireo. Simple.

Split Grayson's Robin from Rufous-backed Robin.

Split Nearctic Creeper from Brown Creeper; or perhaps split Brown Creeper into Nearctic Creeper and Neotropical Creeper.

Split Nashville Warbler into two species, Rusty-capped Warbler and Calaveras Warbler.

Split Yellow-rumped Warbler into three species, Audubon's, Myrtle and Goldman's Warblers.

Split Guerrero Brushfinch from Chestnut-capped Brushfinch.

Split Yellow-eyed Junco by recognizing Baird's (endemic to Baja California) and Guatemalan Yellow-eyed Juncos (endemic to Chiapas and Guatemala) as full species, but lump the other remaining Yellow-eyed Junco subspecies with Dark-eyed Junco. I don't see the lump portion of this proposal going through, but then again I am not a committee.

Split Red Crossbill into two species, elevating the "South Hills Crossbill" from "type" to full species status. South Hills Crossbill is endemic to mountain ranges in Cassia County, Idaho.

Lump Common and Hoary Redpolls.

Split White-faced Ground-Sparrow from Prevost's Ground-Sparrow.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Midway Comes to The ABA

Almost all of Midway's birds can be seen performing bizarre, humorous, or elegant courtship displays at some point during the year. Terns are well-known for their graceful, synchronized courtship the sky. These Sooty Terns were doing synchronized dancing on the ground. I've never seen anything like it, before or since.

Midway Atoll is one of the most incredible places I've ever been, and a large part of that is due to the birds there. With Midway Atoll now within the friendly confines of the ABA Area, I just had a new piece on Midway's seabirds published in ABA's Birder's Guide to Travel. Click on the cover and flip to page 32 (you can access this whether you are an ABA member or not), or if you are an ABA member it should be mailed to you imminently if you don't have it already. I'm chuffed that the ABA wanted to put it out, take a look!

I've probably posted this White Tern photo at some point in the distant past. If not, I'm sorry it took so long.  Holy shit this image gives me the warm fuzzies...this was in my backyard on Midway.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Puerto Rico Y2K16: Bosque Susua, Punta Higuero (Rincon), Rio Abajo

Suddenly, time was running out for the group from MAX REBO BIRDING TOURS...we only had a couple days left in Puerto Rico, and the time had come to leave the southwest corner of the island, where many of the island's hotspots are located. Today we would bird a couple less popular spots, starting with Bosque Susua. Why? Geotrygon. I had never seen any kind of Geotrygon, and Bosque Susua is known as one of the best places in Puerto Rico to find both Key West and Ruddy Quail-Doves. To my astonishment, I got great looks at a cooperative Key West Quail-Dove on an overgrown trail northeast of the picnic area.

Now this was a seriously juicy lifer. The photos do not do the bird justice at all...the blue cap struck me like a punch in the throat. I'm still surprised I didn't start coughing up blood while looking at this bird. Though obviously not an endemic, this was one of the species I wanted to see the most, and considering how fucking skulky they are I couldn't have been happier with the looks at this confiding crippler of the shadows.

Afterwards I wandered south past the picnic area back on to the access road, and saw a wide road/trail with a gate across it going southeast. This turned out to be a pretty appealing birding trail that paralleled a river (heck of scenic), and seems like just as good a place as any to bird here. About ~250 feet past the gate I had another look at a Key West Quail-Dove, but that would be the last Geotrygon for the day.

Friendly Puerto Rican Todies provided me company.

I am still having difficulty grasping these bizarre and indisputably fantastic birds. Does anyone know what their closest relatives are? From my understanding, that situation is fairly muddled.

A number of Red-legged Thrushes were along the trail as well. We ended up with a pretty solid checklist for the site that morning, with other highlights being Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoos, Lesser Antillean Pewee (only found at one other site on the trip), Antillean Euphonia (only found at one other site on the trip) and Puerto Rican Oriole (found nowhere else on the west side of the island on the trip).

Dipper Dan did some Oscar Mike ebirding while we worked our way up the west coast, and directed us to the Puerto Higuero lighthouse in Rincon. At first it seemed bleak and windy, but eventually we started finding some new birds.

A flock of disgusting Pin-tailed Whydahs fed on the lawn, but the more interesting exotic species was a pair of slightly less disgusting Saffron Finches, which was yet another reluctant lifer for me.

Not disgusting at all was this Zenaida Dove trotting around proudly.

A flock of Cave Swallows foraging next to the lighthouse contained a single Northern Rough-winged Swallow, new for the trip. The Cave Swallows were much more interesting though. Other birds of note here were a few flyby Brown Boobies and a pair of American Oystercatchers on the rocks below.

The best birding here was in the forest across the street from the lighthouse - look for the trail that starts on the edge of the cleared area. This was only one of two spots we birded on the trip that had a lot of North American migrants.

A Puerto Rican Woodpecker threw some cripple our way at the beginning of the trail.

The woods quickly began coughing up birds. Hooded Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Ovenbird and White-eyed Vireos were all new for the trip! I fucking love trip birds and eastern neotrops, in case you have not figured this out by now. We also had redstarts, parula (above) and Prairie Warblers. Not a bad little patch. Of course if you are from the eastern U.S. you will not find this patch very tempting, but we were relieved to sate our fierce warbler hunger.

Believe it or fucking not, I was into herps before I was a bird addict. I still don't know shit about herps, but I am an admitted herp sympathizer (as opposed to a herp synthesizer). This is the one and only herp from the trip (other than green iguanas, which are jaguar-sized and therefore not herps) that I have bothered to identify.

Look at the size of that fucking dewlap, wow! This is a barred anole (Ctenonotus stratulus).

After our modest victories at El Faro, we barged northeast to be at Rio Abajo for sunset. Of course, this was to get Puerto Rican Parrot. To make a short story extra short, the forest here was mature and really nice to walk through, but the only one of us who really saw the parrot was Officer Searcy, and his looks were poor poor poor poor poor poor poor. There are hardly any canopy openings...I'm surprised folks actually see them so regularly. I heard them well (free-flying birds, not the enclosed birds at the end of the road), but that is nothing to write home about. Considering that all the wild birds here were released here recently, I wasn't too bummed to not get looks, but I wasn't reveling in this defeat either. Good news for the parrot and for birders - a third flock will soon be holding it down in the Maricao forest. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Semilocal Birding - Love, Contempt, a Prairie Falcon and a Falcon of the Prairie

Common as they may be, I've never been ungrateful for Common Loons...they have one of the best bird calls in the world, forage for crabs excellently and dive righteously. They are better-looking than Red-throated Loons, more approachable than Pacifics/Arctics, and only occasionally resemble Yellow-billed Loons...which are probably a more interesting bird, but I've only seen a couple. Emeryville Marina, Emeryville (duh), California (duh duh duh).

In recent years it has been a struggle to keep up with my formerly furious pace of blogging that once went hand-in-hand with The Perpetual Weekend...what is dead may never die. This is not due to a decreased interest in the Birdosphere or even laziness (!), but due to the horrible reality of having a permanent, full-time job...and now a full-time baby. Looking at my recent posts, I am happy to see a wide range of subjects being covered...Puerto Rico, eBird, Humboldt County, Ventura County, the "internet" (whatever that is), and best of all, Cass' Swainson's Thrush post...but one topic is noticeably absent. Where the fuck is the local birding?

Somehow, the bread and butter of almost all bird blogs has gone woefully unblogged in the past couple months. This blog glitch will now be fixed.

Pick your jaw up off the floor, dear reader...yes, this really is a SPOTTED SANDPIPER.

Fascinating that so many sandpiper and plover species can cram into so many different habitats, but the Spotted Sandpiper alone (in North America anyway) is willing to breed along rivers, creeks and mountain lakes. An ingenious move, as far as avoiding competition. Maybe this explains why they are so undiscerning about habitat selection outside of the breeding season...once they've mastered habitats that no other shorebird would dare to breed in, they can live anywhere.

Sadly, living in California does come with birding disadvantages, and the lack of sea duck diversity is one that stings every winter. Sure there are a couple Black Scoters here and a Harlequin Duck there, but Surf Scoter is the only common one. Keeping in line with this trend, Long-tailed Duck is a nice low-level rarity, and two in one place is a lot in California. These were the only Long-tailed Ducks I saw last year 😥. By the way, the caption in the Blogger toolbar for that emoji reads "Disappointed but relieved face."

San Francisco isn't that far from the east bay, but I've yet to bird it in 2017. I've caught a couple good shows there at least.

In January, very soon before Annabelle was born, I convinced Billy that going to see a Black-tailed Gull in Monterey was important for some reason. I thought I would luck with chasing Vague Runts had been exceptionally good for almost a year, and I was due to miss out on a lifer...and miss it we did! There were hardly any gulls to look through, and the bonus Slaty-backed Gull that had been hanging around was also absent. The lone birding highlight of the day was noticing a pair of Tundra Swans in a small slough as we ripped through the sky drove above them on an overpass.  Ah, what a relief...a sweet sweet self-found rarity, and a bird I missed entirely in 2016. Photographed south of Castroville.

After dipping on the Black-tailed Gull, I figured it was time I dip on something closer to home...the Harris's Sparrow at the Las Gallinas Ponds in Marin. This highly desirable bird had been present for several weeks, and it was high time I unsuccessfully searched for it. Despite putting in a great deal of time loitering around the parking lot waiting for the bird to show, I failed. Fortunately, this is a very birdy site in winter, so all was not lost. Lincoln's Sparrows are usually on the retiring side, but this one was bolder than most.

Song Sparrows are a great deal more common and confiding. Unlike their Lincoln's brethren, who swear a vow of silence every winter, Song Sparrows happily sing year-round.

Since we are on the topic of common birds that some of you are probably wincing at, this Common Yellowthroat should not surprise you. Sadly, California has just four common warbler species that overwinter - Yellow-rumped, Townsend's, Orange-crowned and yellowthroats. This is not an ideal situation. Hopefully a certain proposed split will pass, and we will have five species of warblers instead. Speaking of which...

Large numbers of Audubon's (above) and Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warblers both winter in the area. Perhaps no bird more personifies the phrase "familiarity breeds contempt". There is nothing at all about them that is not likable, they are just so fucking common that by the time you have been birding in this state a few years you have said or thought the phrase "Just a Yellow-rump" more than any other phrase you've said or thought in your life.

Here is a Myrtle, for your edification. I'm a bit more partial to Myrtles than Audubon's, partially because they have a more interesting face pattern and partially because they are kinda rare down Ventura way, which is where I started birding. Unfamiliarity breeds love. The vast majority of Audubon's and Myrtle alike will be gone within a month, but we will see the likes of them again.

Few of California's birds spend more time on the wing than the White-throated Swift, which are often easier to see near freeway overpasses (where they will roost and nest) than traditional birding spots. The Las Gallinas Ponds are a haven for swift and swallow alike throughout the year, so they can make for a good place to get good looks and poor photos of our only expected winter swift.

Good morning old friend.

Ah, the Sora. Few birds are so humble, yet so successful. You can see a Sora in the Yukon Territories, you can see a Sora in Ecuador. They are pleasant to come across wherever you may be.

This may look like a run-of-the-mill Red-winged Blackbird to you, but this is a mellow oh-that's-nice bird for discerning bay area birders. Bicolored Blackbirds are the abundant Red-winged form here, and females are extremely drab and dark, looking eerily similar to Tricolored Blackbirds. Bright, well-marked females like this are clearly from other realms, and stand out readily from the locals.

A solid highlight of the morning was Haynoring a Prairie Falcon perched on a transmission tower a mile away for a self-found sweet-but-hearty Marin County bird. Well, checking eBird, it looks like someone else found it a couple weeks earlier, but hey I didn't know that at the time. Speaking of falcons of the prairie...

Mmm yes, a prairie falcon indeed...this "Prairie" Merlin jumped off a fence post and took a bath in a puddle. This is what some would call a "lifer situation". I only see 1-2 Prairie Merlins per winter in California, so this crisp blue-backed bastard was a very good follow-up to the Prairie Falcon.

No Harris's Sparrow, but very good birding Marin County Snow Goose was foraging near the access road on the way out. Two Marin birds! Billy didn't go into labor while I was birding! Great success!