30 December 2014

Some rarity chasing

Taking advantage of a couple of days off for the holidays, we decided to turn our car in the northward direction and drive.  A ways.  One of our targets was the continuing TUNDRA BEAN-GOOSE that has been present in Tillamook County, Oregon for nearly the past two months.

We didn't have much time to look around; instead we took a quick stab at the goose and luckily were successful in finding it right away.  After pulling into the entrance of the Nestucca Bay NWR, it was feeding on the left side of the entrance road.  Here's a photo of it through the driving rain:
It seemed to hold its own when it came to defending its grass patch from the nearby "DUSKY" CANADA GEESE:
Anyway, here's our quick checklist.  This goose belongs on the other side of the Pacific Ocean and its presence here in North America has attracted crowds of birders.  Although I'm hesitant to talk about numbers, I do believe this was my 700th Lower 48 species.  Earlier this year, I got my lifer Tundra Bean-Goose but up on St. Paul Island (checklist seen here).

After that, we left and made a beeline down to NW California where a BRAMBLING has been present for the past month and a half.  We pulled in to the church cul-de-sac and settled in for a stake-out.  Luckily, Ash spotted the bird after only 15 minutes.  We both had good but quick looks before it darted away.  Here's our checklist.  This too was new for my Lower 48 list as well as being a state bird (I finally have a state list that's 4C+ now).  After that, it was back towards Sacramento.

Speaking of Sacramento though, I took a spin up Michigan Bar Road last week and was happy to find 3 MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRDS.  This is usually a tough species to see here in Sacramento County but this is my second time in the past couple of months:
The invasion of BAND-TAILED PIGEONS continues.  This is also a species that's usually hard to find in Sacramento County.  Lately, though, Michigan Bar Road has had gobs of them.  Here's a distant one in a treetop:
Not rare at all but still rather handsome, a RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER put in an appearance on Michigan Bar Road as well.
Anyway, here's my checklist from that outing.  I'll leave you with a view of Michigan Bar Road looking north:

24 December 2014

Falcation nation

The FALCATED DUCK (Anas falcata) is an Asian dabbler species.  Of course, one way to stir things up in the birding world is to find one of these Code 4 rarities here in North America.  That happened on December 8, 2011 when one was found at Colusa NWR in Colusa County, California.  The morning after it was reported, I was there... along with hoards and hoards of other people that had the same idea.  In fact, some people had to resort to standing on the railing/back benches in order to see over the crowd (I didn't see any tax collectors climbing sycamore fig trees though).

Although I saw it that morning, the bird was quite distant and photos were a joke.  Can you even pick it out in this picture?
The duck hung around though.  Ok, I'm cool with that.  I returned more than a month later to take a better look at it:
I might point out here, after you look at the crazy tertials on this bird, that falcate means "sickle-shaped".  The name makes sense now, right?

So that was it.  A really rare duck hung out for a winter.  And then... December 2012.  It was back.  It survived the summer, where ever it went, and returned to the exact same pond at Colusa NWR.  Birders rushed there again.  People who hadn't seen it the first winter now had another chance.  I eventually spun up to see the bird again (Colusa NWR is only a short hour drive).  It was a gloomy day but the scope views of the bird were great.  Here's a photo from that day:
So, it hung around for a while, like a month, and then went missing.  Where did it go?  Would it be back?  Fast forward a year and many people probably had a hunch that the bird would return for a third winter.  Problem is, it didn't.  At least, no one saw it even a single time that winter.  Ahh, that was it.  Finally.  If you hadn't seen the bird yet, you lost your chance.  And then... October 2014.  It was back for a third winter.

I figured I'd go and take another look.  Why not?  After all, it's a Code 4 rarity almost in my backyard (ummm, no, not even close).  I tried for it.  No luck.  Tried again.  No luck.  Tried a third time.  Still no luck.  Ok, what's the deal?  Then an eBird report came in saying it was seen AWAY from the viewing platform, this time along Highway 20.  Whhaa?  Really?  I hadn't heard of this bird being seen away from that platform ever before (or maybe I missed it in previous years?).  Either way, Mr. Dettling also found it at the new alternate spot just a few days ago.  Things were looking good.  It was time for a fourth attempt.

I arrived at the described pull off, set up my scope, and promptly found it after about 5 minutes of looking.  Granted, it WAS distant and WAS sleeping the majority of the time but I really couldn't complain.  Here's a digiscoped picture of the bird sleeping on a distant dike:
The spot is pretty easy to get to.  As you approach Colusa NWR via Highway 20 from the west, there is a very large pull off on the south side of the road exactly 0.8 miles west of the main NWR entrance road.  At that pull off, there is a green gate crossing a levee (no, this gate isn't for climbing).  As you look south down the dike, there is another dike stretching west from the north-south dike.  The bird was sleeping there when I found it.  Here's a map:

 Here's a picture showing the general area.  You can see the gate, the dike that stretches to the south, etc.
Oh, and there's a ton to look at besides the Falcated.  You can expect 4-5 species of geese with numbers probably in the 5 or 6-digit realm.  You'll also see just about every expected duck species possible including multiple EURASIAN WIGEONS as well.  Here's my checklist.

Here are some ROSS'S GEESE with some SNOW GEESE:
 There might be one or two tame egrets around as well:

20 December 2014

Revisiting RFCOs

I'd like to revisit something for a moment.  More specifically, RED-FACED CORMORANTS.  I mean, yes, I'd like to revisit some cormorants but for now, I mean via this blog.  If you read this blog earlier this year when I was working as a guide in the Pribilof Islands in Alaska, you'd certainly remember me mentioning this species. 

On a worldwide scale, the RED-FACED CORMORANT is a rather hard-to-see species but mostly because of a fairly limited range.  You will only find this species in the north Pacific from Japan, the Kuril and Commander islands (far eastern Russia), and eastward to the Aleutian Islands, Pribilofs, and other parts of southern Alaska.  There's roughly 200,000 of these left in the wild but, although fairly robust, it's said that the population trend is decreasing in North America (based on BBS/CBC data, at least).  The fact remained, before 2014 I had never seen one.

Now, spending a season on St. Paul has to be one of the best ways in the world to get to know this species better.  They're certainly the most abundant species of cormorant in the Pribilofs (the Pelagic Cormorant a distant 2nd place) and I'm not sure if I ever missed this species if I actually went birding.

When you see a RED-FACED CORMORANT, I'd wager that your attention is instantly drawn to the vividly red face!
Besides the striking namesake, note the pale bill and the two tufts of feathers on the head.  This is what it looks like when the tufts are dry:
 And here is a cormorant that's still a bit wet:
Most people gawk at the face and tufts (and who can blame them?) but, with that said, who's checking for banded birds?  Well, I was lucky to see several banded RFCOs during my stint on SNP.  Of course, I assumed they were banded right there on SNP because the FWS does indeed band cormorant chicks (and only chicks) there.  The question I had then was "when were these banded?"

Well, I submitted these band numbers to the Bird Banding Lab and I now have answers.  Let's start with #303:
 Below you can see the certificate:
Looks like it was banded on St. Paul back in August of 2012.  So this bird was 2 years old when I resighted it.

Next we have #149:
Here's the certificate from that resight:
You can see that this bird was banded in 2009 which made it 5 years old when I resighted it this year.

Lastly, we have #141:
"...and survey saaayyyys....."
This bird was banded in 2009 as well and was 5 years old when I resighted it.

So there you have it.  I, for one, really enjoy submitting these resighting data and getting to see how old these birds were and where they were banded.  Speaking of this topic, I'll likely post soon regarding Cackling Geese and some resighting I've done this fall.  Until then, stay observant.

19 December 2014

No Falcated x 3

We've continued to sit in a rainy pattern here near Sacramento which is superb, we really need it.  I was looking at data from Folsom Lake (the big reservoir above Sacramento) and saw that the lake is 17 feet higher than it was 20 days ago!

Enough of the pleasantries!  Here are 4 photos....

First up, this male AMERICAN KESTREL was hovering overhead at Cosumnes River Preserve.  Quite an attractive falcon, really:
Here's my checklist from that outing.  The only thing flagged were 6 BLUE-WINGED TEAL; they're a fairly uncommon species around here.

At home, this "AUDUBON'S" YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER stayed put for a second:
In other yard news, I had an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER yesterday which was a first record for the yard and my 107th species for this current yard life list.  Funnily enough, it looks as if I'm in 11th place in the entire country so far for the month of December.  Yes, eBird can keep track of your yard lists and you can compare with others by life, year, month, etc.

I spun up to Colusa NWR for the 3rd time this fall hoping to chance into the continuing FALCATED DUCK.  And for the 3rd time this fall, I failed (checklist here).  On this latest visit, there were several WHITE-FACED IBIS around which is only the 4th time I've seen this species since I've been back from Alaska (they're much more common here in the warmer months):
The viewing platform at Colusa NWR is a very reliable spot for EURASIAN WIGEON.  I had 3 there earlier this month but only one during this last visit.  Here it is with 5 NORTHERN PINTAIL and a BUFFLHEAD; note the rufous head and creamy white forehead:
Thanks for checking in.  If you ever need to reach me for questions or anything, email me at:


15 December 2014

A strike, a bunt, but no strikeout

It's currently pouring rain outside (which is still much-needed here in the Central Valley) so I suppose I'll blog, not bird.  In fact, I'll do my best to create an F1 offspring of the two.

The story begins veeerry early on a Sunday morning when it was still pitch black outside.  An eerie fog blanketed the neighborhood.  A chill whispered in your ear and nary a bird was to be heard or seen.  Well ok, honestly, I was still asleep.  Screw that.

The story begins late Sunday morning when it was time for us to finally make a well-calculated strike into the heart of San Francisco for the continuing RUSTIC BUNTING.  This species is a fairly widespread Asian and European bird but a vagrant in North America and luckily for birders, one was found in San Fran 10 days ago.  When we arrived at Golden Gate Park yesterday morning, there was already a herd of ~30 birders gathered 'round keeping a brushpile vigil.  Soon after we arrived, this RED-TAILED HAWK nearly took our heads off:
Before long, maybe 10-15 minutes, the RUSTIC BUNTING appeared.  It kinda looked like this bird because, well, this bird is also a Rustic Bunting: 
The photo above shows my lifer Rustic Bunting on St. Paul Island almost exactly 2 months ago.  However, it was nice to see another one, this time "locally".  It was kind of a "99" bird for me; it represented my 699th Lower 48 bird and my 399th California bird.

In other news, we stopped in Solano County on our way home and scored a couple of county year birds including BONAPARTE'S GULL and NORTHERN PINTAIL bringing us into the mid-150s for the year.

Also, we FINALLY found the RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH at the Sacramento City Cemetery a couple of days ago.  It was my 4th attempt to add this species to my Sacramento County year list.  Some winters they're easily findable but last winter and again this winter, they've been quite tough to come by (at least for me and where I bird). 

Oh, and yeah, happy holidays:

11 December 2014

SYAS meets Tehama County sheriff

I've tried to keep myself busy locally and that naturally means taking pictures of the CEDAR WAXWING flock that visits the yard every day.  Here's one with a mouthful:
In the afternoons, the light is at my back but they're not the tamest of birds so this is the best I could do:
I've also spun down to Staten Island in San Joaquin County twice in the past week hoping for the flock of CACKLING GEESE to be scopable.  They haven't been.  The tule fog has wreaked havoc and the entire island was entirely socked in (that's what happens because the levee-surrounded island actually sits below sealevel).  One of the only birds I saw on my last visit were these SANDHILL CRANES.  You might be thrilled to see these but you have to understand that they're abundant here and I essentially no longer pay attention to these omnipresent, ag field grazers:
On a different day, I had the urge for some forest birding and so headed down to Cosumnes River Preserve which has a little bit of everything.  I started by leisurely walking the woods and saw things like a variety of sparrows, a Black-throated Gray Warbler, a "Myrtle" Yellow-rumped Warbler, several Wrentits, more than a dozen Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 3 species of wrens, 4 species of woodpeckers, etc. 

By the time I was done with the woods, I figured I should scope some wetlands there to up my checklist count.  I added things like 9 species of dabbling ducks, hundreds of geese, 7 species of shorebirds, and a bonus Virginia Rail.  I also snapped a picture of this GREATER YELLOWLEGS despite it being a very cloudy and overcast day:
I ended that CRP checklist with 76 species after about 3 hours of birding.  You can see the full checklist here.
Most recently, I had the urge to get out of town and see some different country (and maybe a different bird too).  I aimed north for Tehama County where there has been a NORTHERN SHRIKE for the last 12 days or so.  This would be a state bird for me although, I admit, I care very little about my CA state list.  Although the chase led me about 2 hours from where I lived, I didn't mind the quick zoom up I-5 into an unfamiliar county.  

I pulled in and literally the first bird I saw was the shrike on the fence next to my car.  It flew across the road to the one-and-only oak.  Here's a distant documentation pic:
Then I noticed a sheriff had pulled in behind me.  He got out, walked up to my car cautiously, and wanted to chat:

Sheriff:  Sir, what are you doing?
Me:  Oh, just doing a bit of bird-watching.
Sheriff:  You're the second one I've seen bird-watching.
Me:  Ah, that makes sense, there is a rare bird called a Northern Shrike that's been frequenting this stretch of road and I know other birders have come to take a look.
Sheriff:  Hmm, well, this road leads to Rancho Tehama which has a lot of shady stuff going on; it's probably the pot capital of the state.
Me:  Oh, I had no idea, I'm not from around here, I'm from Elk Grove down by Sacramento.
Sheriff:  Well, this stuff might not be as bad as things in Elk Grove but either way, do you have your driver's license?
Me:  Sure.
-I hand him my DL-
-Sheriff, via radio, rambles off my number to a dispatcher-
Sheriff:  That's a nice camera, how much did you pay for it?
Me:  About a couple thousand.
Sheriff:  -with eyes bulging-  Really?  Oh, you know, I saw a Bald Eagle once on Hwy 37, you know where that is?  It would have been the best picture in the world if I had a camera like that.
Me:  Oooh, cool.
-radio crackles-
Female radio voice:  Record shows a Cory Gregory, 31 year old male, resides in Elk Grove, record clean.
Sheriff:  Alright then, I'll leave you to it.

I took a couple more pictures and took off.

Lastly, en route home, I stopped by Colusa NWR to see if the Falcated Duck was present.  It wasn't.  Here's what I saw in the meantime: checklist.

08 December 2014

March to Sherman by the Sea

Believe it or not, I don't intend on writing only one post per week, that's just what happens.  In the past, like when I was on St. Paul, I've updated the blog much more frequently but then again, much more was happening then.

Making news here, Sacramento was finally on the receiving end of quite a bit of rain in the past week or so.  It's been so dry here the last couple of years that any and all rain is welcome.  This ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD seemed to be welcoming the rain too; it sat on the railing of our patio and just frolicked around, bathing:
Once in a while, he would dip down and run his head through the water on the railing:
After the rain abated, the hummer dried off, and the clouds moved east, a stellar double rainbow settled in overhead.  "What does it meeeaann???"
Switching gears, I recently ventured down to Sherman Island in the extreme SW tip of Sacramento County.  It's a surprisingly long way from here, about an hour drive but once you get there, you're in a pretty unique part of the county.  You see, that tip of the county is the closest to the bay area and several unique species are seen in the large inlets and rivers connecting to the bay.  For example, I came across a couple of WESTERN GULLS, a coastal species that is flagged in Sacramento County.  However, this tip of the county is quite reliable for them.  I also scoped dozens of Aythya, a genus of diving duck.  I ended with more than 30 GREATER SCAUP which, like the gull, is flagged but is reliable in this tiny corner of the county.

They also have an endemic and demonic race of RED-TAILED HAWK living there:
Or not.  You're just seeing the nictitating membrane of the eye in the above picture.  Below, it looks a little bit more fit for earth:
I will say that I was rather startled to be scoping ducks just to have THIS thing plow into view!
This is the ISOLDANA (flag currently Singapore).  You see, as surprising as it is, there is a shipping port in Stockton (yes, in the Central Valley).  I later looked this vessel up online and saw that it was indeed headed for Stockton.  You can see how high it's riding in the water; just a reminder that it probably was mostly empty and scheduled to pick up a full load in Stockton (besides, the Central Valley has a LOT to export, after all).

In the end, I tallied close to 80 species down on Sherman Island, a good haul for a quick 3-hr morning.  You can see the final list here.

This weekend, we ventured into Solano County again and stopped at a couple of spots along Putah Creek.  One spot yielded two BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS which were flagged in eBird.  I didn't manage anything stellar but here's proof:
This species is more findable in the summer months here in the Central Valley but still, some tend to stick around.

We spent a couple of hours at Lake Solano County Park.  This was a fairly neat spot and one that we had never been to before.  It's situated in the low foothills on the county line with Yolo County.  It sits at about 150 feet in elevation compared to the 17 ft here at home in Elk Grove.

Once we arrived, it was clear that the invasion of LEWIS'S WOODPECKERS was well underway here too; there were at least a couple of dozen.  Here's a photo of one on a snag:
One perk to birding in the foothills here in California is that we have PHAINOPEPLAS year round.  Yes, although you might associate them with desert regions (as I did, for many years), we're lucky to get to hear the inquisitive "querp?" call notes even here in Sacramento County.  Here's a female:
Curious about the name "phainopepla"?  The Greek words phain pepla means "shining robe".  And yes, the male Phainopepla does indeed have a shining black, silky plumage.

There were good numbers of HOODED MERGANSERS on Putah Creek as well.  What's not to like about these stunning birds?
Here's what the low foothills look like at Lake Solano County Park:
In the end, we tallied more than 60 species in less than 2 hours at this county park (you can see that checklist here).  I was happy to get several county lifers such as CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE, OSPREY, HAIRY WOODPECKER, MERLIN, and BROWN CREEPER.

And lastly (and back in Sacramento County), we recently ventured up to Folsom Lake to look for the previously-reported RED-THROATED and PACIFIC LOONS.  While we didn't see the Pacific, we did see the Red-throated.  As an added bonus, we also found a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER which is also a rare bird for the county.  So that visit translated to two county year birds and one county life bird (RTLO).

Now, where to go today?