Birding Summary: Saw several species of Storm-Petrel, including Wilson’s, Ashy, and Black, but we didn’t get far out enough for Buller’s Shearwater or Flesh-footed Shearwater
Went out on a Shearwater Journey's Pelagic, despite bad weather. Many people were pessimistic the trip would go out, so I was happy we even left the dock. We only made it out a little ways to Pt. Penos through the swell and chop, and some birders still got ill. All four Big Year birders were on board, hoping to get out far enough for a shot at something unusual- perhaps a Flesh-footed Shearwater, Mottled Petrel, or something more unexpected. Debi didn't expect to see any storm-petrels, however the birds surprised us. Some excitement ensued after spotting a couple “light-rumped” storm petrels, and given the time of year and location, we weren't sure what we were in for. After a little while the weather won, and we headed back to shore. Back at the docks, plans began forming to get out offshore the following day- and I was waiting in the wings for another opportunity to bird further away from land. The birds are out there...
Birding Summary: Went on a private pelagic to Farallone Islands and saw Blue-footed Booby
I slept in car in Safeway parking lot, and was at marina at sunrise to learn if I’d be able to get out on a boat. Sea conditions were still rough, and many captains didn’t want to go out. However, Dennis and the New Captain Pete were up to task, and didn’t disappoint. This was the second time I’d been on his boat this year, and he knows how to navigate and follow birds. Sea conditions worsened slightly as we were out, with swells reaching 15 feet, but chugging out to sea with the potential to see a Blue-footed Booby, I didn’t care. It wasn’t as bad as the Bering Sea, so I knew I could survive this wave pool. Got to Sugarloaf, and spotted the bird after scanning through lots of nooks and crannies. It was facing away, and was very camouflaged. It took a little while to all get on the same bird, but everyone on board saw it- after carefully looking at an adult and juvenile Brown Booby. After we took adequate photos, we cruised around the islands looking for Great White Sharks, since it’s high time for giant adults to come to the Farallones to feed on juvenile sea lions and seals. I spotted a sea lion carcass floating, but watched it and no shark took advantage of the free meal. On our way back, I saw several Buller’s Shearwaters, which added a new bird for the year. Chowed down on a great burger in the harbor, did our eBird lists, then I drove up north to position myself closer to the Yellow-green Vireo spot the next morning.
I bird because…
It’s pure. I guess it can be as big or as small as you want it to be. It can be as completely pure and spiritual or as completely [unique] as you want it to be. There’s kind of birding for every mood I guess. Sometimes it’s joyous, sometimes it’s meditative. Sometimes it’s frustrating.
What got you into birding?
I was in Alaska when I was 4. There was a Mandarin Duck there that was not part of the exhibit at the zoo. there was much discussion and debate about whether it was naturally occurring. I didn’t really look at birds again for a decade, but I would say that Mandarin duck was my spark bird.
Birding Summary: Searched unsuccessfully to find the Yellow-green Vireo at Pt. Reyes
Woke up in a McDonalds parking lot after spending another night in my rental car. I’d been too tired to keep driving to the campground I hoped to get to. Better safe than sorry. Arrived before sunrise at Point Reyes National Seashore, which was early enough to beat the traffic. Along the way I flushed a Common Poorwill from the road, which was an unexpected surprise. I heard Great Horned Owls when I parked in the lot, waiting or the sunrise. Thoroughly checked pine trees, cypress many times, but failed to produce a Yellow-green Vireo. I was planning on leaving in the morning after I gave the bird a good shot- my rental car was due in LAX that night and it would be a long drive back. Instead of returning it, I extended it and met Laura to continue searching for the vireo. By late afternoon, no vireo, but birds to see elsewhere, so we pressed onwards. Arrived in San Jose to return Laura’s rental car, and I saw on Facebook that a “possible” Lesser Sand Plover had been spotted just miles from where I was searching for the vireo. In my opinion the photos looked spot-on for Lesser Sand Plover to me, and so we immediately turned around after dinner and headed back north. I'd have my second chance at seeing a sand-plover, and Laura would get another morning to search for the Yellow-green vireo. It was a win-win!
Birding Summary: Saw the Lesser sand-plover, interviewed birders, missed the vireo.
The 19th of October was a good day. I birded with friends, and saw a life bird I've wanted to see for a long time. There's a story there, and I'm working on a separate post for the sand-plover, so you'll have to stay posted to hear about that adventure shortly! Actual time may vary, as I'm traveling and it's tricky to upload images, etc. but I'll get it out soon!
Highlights from today:
Meeting some great local birders, and doing some interviews.
Spotting Barn Owls roosting alongside the ocean in dense trees
Observing multiple subspecies of White-crowned Sparrows
How did you get started birding?
I needed volunteer hours. I worked for 5 years at the bird rescue center in Santa Rosa. I wanted to get out and see birds out in their normal state (in the wild, not in captivity)
The shorebirds got me started and made me want to pick through each one.
What is the most challenging aspect of birding?
Letting birds go when you just don’t know what type of species a bird was- I think that’s the hardest part.
What's it like being a younger birder?
Sometimes younger birders can jump to conclusions faster. I carry a camera with me, and I try to document the birds I see the best that I can.
I think birding is really enjoying what we’re seeing. It’s not trying to get things it’s more what you can find, what you can share, and what you can even bring to the public possibly. I enjoy running into really nice people out here.
20 October Huntington Beach, CA
Birding Summary: Helped Laura Keene find birds she needed: Spotted Dove, Ridgeway’s Rail, but we missed Hermit Warbler.
I like birding with Laura. Laura had been patient yesterday while I searched for the sand plover, and so today was her day. We started the search in downtown Los Angeles, seeking a Spotted Dove for her year list. I think she's tried multiple times for this bird, but things didn't work out. These birds have become much harder to find in the area, but we had some leads to go on, and I had a back-up spot where I'd seen the bird earlier this year on my one-day L.A. whirlwind tour with Andy before jumping on a cruise ship. That's another blog post or a story for the book. Laura and I arrived at our first spot to check. The yard we parked in front of had a broken-open piñata hanging from a tree, and caged birds singing somewhere on the porch despite the towels draped over the bars. This seemed like a good place- where exotic birds escape and make their home among familiar vegetation. Dozens of doves sat on the high-tension power poles which cut through the neighborhood like an invisible wall, breaking up the houses and yards as a reminder that we weren't in Mexico. As we searched through the Eurasian collared doves for a slightly darker dove with a spotted necklace, landing planes appeared constantly overhead, higher than the Red-tailed Hawk perched atop the pole, keeping a watchful eye on the feral cat who was busy judging me with a typical cat-stare. Beneath the power tower was a fenced-in nursery, a breeding ground for palm trees, banana plants, and a variety of tropical foliage that was reminiscent of a botanical garden. We peered through the chain-link fence, scanning the doves on the ground that were poking at little pieces of grit. One dove stood out to me. We'd found the Spotted Dove!
Laura and I both fired off a few photos, as the bird worked in and out of the shadows. This wasn't a bird either of us needed great images of, but I knew we could get closer and see the gorgeous neck of this bird not through a fence, so we went back to the car and took a drive around to the front entrance. The gate was open, and a man guarded the entrance with a hose in his hand. Maybe he was going to spray us for trespassing, but I took a chance he was just watering the plants and rolled my window down to say hello. Based on the neighborhood, I didn't expect him to speak English, and he lived up to my expectations. I told him we were looking for doves and wanted to walk around and take pictures. He told me to ask the owner, who was across the lot watering plants. I thanked him, and parked the car and walked up to the owner. I started the conversation in Spanish, and he chuckled and switched to English pretty quickly, after I told him what I wanted.
"You can park over there, stay as long as you'd like" he told me.
We easily re-found the bird, and got better pictures. This wasn't a life bird for either of us, but be took a second to enjoy seeing such a neat-looking bird, frantically searching for something to eat. The local Red-tailed hawk changed perches, causing an alarm that stirred up all the doves, and in a second, the dove was gone.
21 October San Diego, CA
Birding Summary: Highlights were finding Least Storm Petrel (Code 3) among large rafts of Black Storm Petrel off the San Diego Coast
Early in the morning, John, Laura, and I headed out with Dave Povey to try and find Least storm-petrels. This Code 3 bird is much less common than the larger black storm petrel, which exist in pretty good numbers off the coast. The challenge is finding where the rafts of bird are on a given day. Recently, only several blacks were found by others on the same quest, and they couldn't locate the storm petrel raft. The ride wasn't as choppy as the other day, but we bounced away from land directly into the chop, stopping only to pick up a few balloons and sea garbage. (building up the good karma) We motored around off the 30-mile bank, seeing only small numbers of Black storm-petrels. In the distance, I spotted a cloud on the water. I alerted Dave, and tossed out a number of how many I thought were there: hundreds. I was wrong, as there were thousands, and with the numbers came the target birds. We looked over the large floating island of birds until we spotted a smaller, thinner winged storm petrel: last, and most certainly Least. We traded high-fives all around, and Dave brought out some chocolate-chip cookies to celebrate. We enjoyed the sprawling rafts of birds for a while, and then packed up and headed back, snagging balloons and trash along the way, leaving the ocean better than we found it, and the three amigos left the ocean with one more bird than when it found us earlier this morning.
At the end of the day, I was on a plane to New York. I was caught up in the excitement of Big Year birding, and had hatched an elaborate plan of how to see Great Skua. It involved the timing of a lot of things being just right, but it's worked out so far- so why not try?
I bird because...
I love being outdoors, I love the feeling of the chase, the excitement of something new all the time, I could probably go on and on...
My mom was a really good backyard birder, and she would know orioles and blackbirds and robins and jays, and I think probably I used to tag along with a lot of the park rangers when we camped a lot as a kid. Probably the thing that really set me off was I went to Humboldt State and Stan Harris was my major professor. I was like, “This is really cool, I like this!”
Advice to birders:
Just get out there and do it- enjoy it! I tell people that birding can be what you want it to be. People worry about their lists, or worry about whether they got the identification right. Don’t worry!
These blog posts are brought to you by The Birding Project, written mostly on an iPhone during long travel days and at rare bird stakeouts. Typos, grammatical errors, and mistakes of any kind aren't intended, but please contact Christian should a mistake be found. Thanks for understanding!