Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Introducing Rancho de Bastardos


This Cooper's Hawk was nice enough to pose on a ziptied perch I put up specifically for crushing. I fucking love geri birding, especially in my own yard.

Big news here from the BB&B Campus...that's right arch-nerds...Rancho del Bastardos is no more. The name has changed to Rancho de Bastardos. Most of you could give a fuck, but a handful of you should be happier...I hope.

Right. So other than this major, multi-million dollar rebranding campaign we've got going for my yard (targeted solely at Spanish speakers), the other big news is that I have once again had the birdiest yard in California for the last month*. That makes five (5) months in a row! This wasn't supposed to happen...I tried to share the prestige of this accomplishment...I left the state for 12 days! I gave you a chance! What more can I do? Die?

Please don't kill me.

The October breakdown: 73 species total, the most we've ever had in a single month...and again, I was out of state for 12 days. We also eclipsed the 100 barrier! New additions to the yard were Townsend's Warbler, American Goldfinch, Glaucous-winged Gull, Merlin, Green-winged Teal (the first teal here of any species, put down briefly by a storm), Hermit Thrush, Fox Sparrow...a very October list of birds. This brings the total yard list to 105. The yard is quite birdy now, as a small but dedicated mixed sparrow flock is typically present at any given time...fingers crossed for a White-throated or something better. I'm eagerly looking forward to what November will bring, especially since I will be deploying a water feature!

Yes, a water feature. Am I going full geri? Judging by my yardbirding habits and when I go to sleep (early) and wake up (early), that seems to be the case.

*=Someone claimed a higher species list for the month, but their last checklist at their "yard" was a 2 mile trip at Las Gallinas Sanitary District, a well-known birding spot at a water treatment facility. By even the most forgiving standards for what constitutes a yard list, this is not at all legit.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Swift and Swallow Swarm, Yellow-throated Vireo, Summer Birds

Are you ready for another barrage of photos? Here goes...

One of the birding perks of being located where I am is the number of Vaux's Swifts present from April-September. This one is about to gobble its target, which you can see floating around innocently in the top left corner.

One day last spring I set out to get some Vaux's Swift photos that weren't completely horrendous for a change, which I did have some success with. I didn't have to go far...the swifts are a daily fixture at the Los Capitancillos Ponds, which are the ponds behind my backyard.

Few birds are more frustrating to photograph than swifts, but it was fun to see so many foraging down low. It turned out there was a big insect hatch in the ponds that day, and a swarm of swifts and swallows were feeding near eye level next to the trail.

My camera decided to focus on the rear bird in this photo...

...but a second later, locked on to the front bird when it suddenly banked.

Here is an eBird abundance map for Vaux's Swift in the region - I live in the single, darker purple cell that denotes more frequent observations than the rest of the area. For whatever reason, the ponds (and my yard!) is one of the most reliable places to see them in central California. It's no McNear Brickyard, but it suits me.

White-throated Swifts are much less common in the immediate area, but are generally much easier to find in the bay area; they will often nest under highway overpasses, and there is no shortage of those here.

Juvenile Anna's Hummingbirds can make for a challenging ID, as they typically lack any markings on the throat. This can render them into Costa's or Black-chinned imposters.

The faint rows of tiny spots this bird is displaying looks a lot different from the big dark blotch on the throat an adult female will show.

Black Phoebe production in the area is satisfactory.

Amazingly, while standing in the swift blizzard I managed a couple flight shots of a male Violet-green Swallow, often overlooked as one of the most crippling species in the west. Odd that Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Violet-green Facemelters occupy much of the same range and habitats, and aside from nest sites, they generally behave very similarly. Yet the males of one species are stunning, but poo-colored in the other.

That color on the rump is hard to fathom, and the only other ABA Area species that I can think of that has something close is Varied Bunting.

Tree Swallows, on the other hand, are significantly more fathomable. I saw them at the ponds very infrequently this year, and I spent an inordinate amount of time standing in the backyard checking swallow flocks for Bank Swallow/Purple Martin/Black Swift. Better luck next year with those, hopefully.

Late May and early June is when the window is open in California for spring vagues. These spring rarities are a different beast than the fall birds though...they can often be found by song (great!) and look their best (sick), but except at a handful of desert sites there are far fewer of them and they are much less chaseable. Always in a hurry to get someplace, they are. Other than the Black-and-white from the last post, I only managed to see this one other eastern bird last spring, but it was a great one.

Yellow-throated Vireo is a wonderful bird to see in California. Though not a Bird Police species, they are rare enough that most birders here will start grinding their teeth upon hearing about them. This is only the second individual I've ever seen in the state, and it was a hell of a lot more cooperative than the first.

This bird roamed around a few blocks at Moss Beach, adjacent to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Amazingly, it stayed over a week before taking off to points unknown.

White-crowned Sparrow is one of the most abundant birds around here now, but most of these birds are migratory and leave in March and April. This is one of the year-round residents. Photographed at Half Moon Bay.

Hey! It's a Spotted Towhee! Also in Half Moon Bay.

In June we went south for Peak's wedding, which was fantastic as expected, but not good blog-fodder for nerds. I was able to get one morning of birding in with Dipper Dan. No rarity glory - finding a spring vague runt in Ventura County is like winning the lottery - but I got my 2017 Blue Grosbeaks at Canada Larga Road, where this Hooded Oriole teed up briefly. See you in March, Hooded Oriole.

A Black-headed Grosbeak did the same. We will reunite in April, Black-headed Grosbeak.

It's all about the juniper...and I do mean an actual juniper tree, not Juniper Titmouse. This is an Oak Titmouse in the backyard juniper tree. The juniper tree is crucial to what goes on here at Rancho del Bastardos - birds love it. One of these days I'm going to do another thorough yard post, and you too can share in the glory of my juniper tree. I'm also going to have to change the name of Rancho del Bastardos, as it's been pointed out to me by a couple people that my Spanish is bad and the name of my Rancho is gramatically incorrect...and you fucking bird people cannot sleep at night if you've encountered bad grammar during the day, so I will concede that something must be done.

Look at the soft complexion of this gentle titmouse. This Oak Titmouse in a juniper. Backyard birding during the summer was just slightly more surprising than watching paint dry, but we did get titmice in the yard a lot for a couple months - these days I typically only hear them calling from across the ponds.

Alright, that's enough, this was a pretty extensive post. Go birding, drinking whisky, etc.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Massive Berserker Post

Although we are now in Ross's Goose season, this was a bird of spring. With a dent in its head for some reason, but more importantly, a bird from last spring. As you can guess, I have much blogwork to do. Stafford Lake, Marin County, CA.

Where did September go? Well dorks, there is one thing that we can all agree on...I have a lot of catching up to do with this blog. So with that unfortunate fact on the table, this post is going to be a photo blitz! No time for ruminating on the state of birding affairs or the usual bullshit. I typically don't include so many photos in a single post, but these are not typical times...

This Black-and-white Warbler was a totally unexpected find in a mixed flock at Point Reyes in mid-April. Most spring BAWWs in California are found in May. Five Brooks Pond, Marin County, CA.

I'm not used to seeing chipmunks at sea level, but then again Marin is the place to be to see mammals both of land and sea. I'm not familiar with this richly-colored species, which was also at Five Brooks Pond. Anybody? RT? JK?  Christian and TaxMan helped with the ID - this is a Sonoma Chipmunk.

I am used to seeing Pacific Wrens at sea level, though I pretty much never get to photograph them. 

This bird was singing from an exposed perch, with no apparent urge to hide as usual. Thank you Pacific Wren.

One day, Billy, Annabelle and I headed to the Santa Cruz coast to see a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. We failed in this endeavor, and were forced to look at this pair of nesting Western Gulls instead. Not unexpected, but still unfortunate.

One of the big upsides to moving south from Albany to San Jose is that now I'm much closer to Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, a great place for shorebirds and waterbirds in general. This Forster's Tern, which breed there, was in the midst of a display flight. Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, Alviso, CA.

And this Forster's Tern had a wiggly cap.

I've pointed it out a couple times before, but it bears repeating...Forster's can have a gray wash on the underparts, like Commons, which is visible on all three of the above individuals.

Crushing terns brings me great joy.

This is one of my favorite FOTE shots I've ever taken, and I've taken a great many. I rarely get head-on shots with perf composure and focus, not to mention lighting.

These terns were discretely having some sex. Other birds were not so discrete that day.

Caspian Terns breed at the refuge as well. I think it is safe to assume that all the birds foraging behind my house (in the Los Capitancillos Ponds) all summer were commuting to and from nests here at the refuge - it's cool to see the home base of my backyard fish fiends.

These exhibitionist avocets decided to get down to some avosex right next to the trail.

This is how avocets are made.

The cloacal kiss!

The avocet version of a post-coital cuddle.

Black-necked Stilts were hanging around, doing it in the open as well.

Crossing bills and a wing-cuddle while copulating? I don't think PDA can go much further than that.

The male dismounted when finished but continued with the kissing and cuddling. Gross.

Thankfully, their display of raw stilt hedonism came to an end and we could all part ways without making eye contact. 

There were a few local rarities around on this morning as well, the best of which was this lingering Glaucous Gull. After going years without seeing any, I've seen them in three different counties so far this year. And so it goes...

A Savannah Sparrow, one of the local breeders, teed up briefly next to the trail. I would say more about it, but if I am being completely honest with you...I need more coffee.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Mojave National Preserve Part 3: Ivanpah Road, Quality Snake Time, Sunbonnets

Finally, we have arrived at the final installment of the Mojave National Preserve trip. I've already prattled on about the preserve and most of the specialty birds, so let's kick it off with this sick native bee. It was a good year to be a sick native bee in the desert.

And while I've got you bug nerds worked up, here's a nice butter I'm not familiar with.

On this particular morning, I had taken the Ivanpah Road to explore another section of the preserve, with the goal of finding Juniper Titmouse, which we had missed at Mid Hills Campground. Eventually I stopped at a random area with junipers and managed to find some after a bit of walking around.

I've only seen Juniper Titmice a handful of times before, so it was very mellowing to have a bunch of confiding birds to follow around and hear vocalize - definitely not the same sounds I hear from my neighborhood Oak Titmice. I even saw one pulling fur off a dead squirrel for nesting material, but unfortunately I was too slow to crush. And yes, I am seriously contemplating putting a pile of dead squirrels in my backyard next spring to see what comes looking for nesting material. If you have any lying around, please send them my way next March.

Juniper Titmouse with juniper berries. I dig this image. How bucolic. How appropriate. In case you are wondering, about ~90 miles of desert separate these birds from the nearest Oak Titmouse populations, which are in the Twentynine Palms area.

I took too many Black-throated Sparrow pictures that look like's ok, but more of a habitat shot than anything. I didn't have the best of luck with bird photography on this trip - I didn't even see a Scott's Oriole, though I heard a bunch - but with 4 thrashers (not counting mockingbird), 2 state birds, Juniper Titmice and a number of species I didn't see at all last year, birding was Great Success.

Luckily, almost any herp you run across is bound to be crush-worthy. You will invariably run into some cool lizards out here. Zebra-tailed is an old favorite of mine - this one actually let me get pretty close without easy feat.

This is one of my speedier buddies. Check out the gradual transitioning in patterning from the top of the head to the tail, its pretty brilliant.

Some interesting pink tones on this moth-skipper-probably-moth thing.

I found hella Amsonia tomentosa growing in a verdant wash I poked around in. Some of the plants had white blossoms like this.

Others had blue blossoms.

On the way back to Primm, a ranger flagged me down and asked me to not run over the Mojave Green Rattlesnake crossing the road up ahead of me. Unfortunately for the snake I did end up crushing it flat...with my camera.

Not a monster, but a very cooperative snake that took its time meandering across the road.

Definitely the best looks I've ever had of a Mojave Green. I am guessing this is the most abundant rattlesnake species in the area, but I don't get into their range much very often.

On the way back to San Jose I convinced Billy to take a random road off the highway somewhere west of Baker to check for wildflowers. We found a really good patch that featured a lot of this little facemelter, lilac sunbonnet (Langlosia setosissima).

It was a total brainflower for me, I'd never even heard of it, but it was all over the place. Great wildflower, highly recommended.

I think this is Mojave golden poppy (Eschscholzia glyptosperma). Not a far cry from the familiar California poppy, but different enough, even to me.

We said goodbye to the desert lily, put on a weird (but enthralling) Henry Rollins interview, and headed back to the bay.

I would love to go back to Mojave National Preserve, specifically to camp and explore some more. Though there are only a couple of campgrounds, there are a lot of dispersed roadside sites scattered throughout the area, allowing you ease of access (especially if you have 4x4), privacy and some isolation...a winning combo. I'd be stoked to go back and take Annabelle again, but I think for the next couple years she will be a major cholla magnet like this poor wanker, and that is the last thing in the world I want to deal with. I got hit by a cholla bomb while I was there and that was bad enough.

At any rate, if you haven't gone, there are a whole lot of great birds/reptiles/plants waiting to meet you. I reckon March and April are probably best for wildflowers and tolerable temperatures, though the typical suite of target birds are all resident. Don't wait as long as I did to visit, check it out!