Friday, January 23, 2009

Random Week

I've had some random birding experiences this week. To make things even more random, here's a random photo of a random rabbit. Anyway...

On Wednesday morning I took a ramble through Santiago Oaks Regional Park. I wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary - Rock Wren and Golden-crowned Sparrow were still conspicuously absent from my Bigby list. After locking up my bike, I walked down a trail a short distance and began pishing at the first patch of decent bushes I came to. One of the first birds that popped up was this:

Many would pass this colorful bird off as a regular American Robin. Orange breast, gray back - case closed. However, check out that orange eyebrow and the complex wing pattern. Also, if you squint carefully at the breast, you can make out a very faint breast band. Not a robin after all, but a Varied Thrush! This striking but retiring thrush breeds from northern Alaska to northern California, and regularly wanders south in the winter. In Orange County, it is a relatively rare visitor, though in some years modest numbers are present. It was a new Bigby bird, and may very well be the only one I see in Orange County all year; after extensive hunting at Irvine Regional Park I managed to find one in December for last year's Bigby list.

After the thrush dove into cover after I tried to maneuver into a better position to photograph it, I happily moved on. The common resident and wintering species were out in force (Santiago Oaks has the highest density of Spotted Towhees of any place I've visited; some mornings I count at least thirty there.) A trio of White-tailed Kites were floating over the park, sparring for airspace. The population of this species has taken a nosedive, and I don't see them locally very often. This was another new Bigby bird.

It only took me five minutes to pin down the long-staying male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. He was busily pecking away at a pepper tree very close to the trail, but this bird is extremely wary and I couldn't get nearly close enough for a good shot. I tried...

On Wednesday afternoon, my mom, brother and I took a visiting friend to Treasure Island Beach in Laguna Beach. This wonderful beach is partially lovely sandy beach and partially dramatic rocky coastline with interesting tide pools. My brother and I spent a lot of time playing extreme frisbee (tossing the frisbee around at the water's edge, occasionally swimming out into the frigid water to rescue an errant throw), but I could hardly ignore all the birds. This beach is a good spot for rocky shorebirds - in a couple hours I saw Black Oystercatcher, Wandering Tattler, Surfbird, Black Turnstone, Ruddy Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, and Willet. Willets are adaptable; I've seen them on sandy beaches, rocky beaches, coastal estuaries, and even freshwater ponds. This one was hunting for small crabs and other tasty morsels in the tide pools.

Surfbirds are classic rocky shorebirds. They can occasionally be seen on mudflats close to the coast, but they prefer rocky beaches hands-down. I saw a total of about ten around the rocky areas. They weren't very cooperative for photography, but I caught this fellow off guard.

Little kids weren't the only ones running around at the edge of the surf on the sandy sections of the beach. Sanderlings, perhaps one of my all-time favorite birds, were dashing about madly at the edge of the waves. It was a good day for photography Sanderlings, as the cloudy skies muted the harsh sun rays that often wash out the pale plumage of Sanderlings on clear days.

Apart from these delightful shorebirds, I saw mostly the regular beach fare - a few Brown Pelicans, one Brandt's Cormorant, lots of gulls of a several different flavors, and one lazy Harbor Seal that lounged on the same rock the entire two hours we spent at the beach.

Today we were scheduled to visit the Huntington Library in Pasadena. Pasadena is a rather dull place for birding, but a certain young birder by the name of John Garrett lives there, and I figured that we could get together and look for birds in Pasadena while everyone else did boring (well, in comparison to birding) inside stuff. Unfortunately, it rained most of the afternoon, but we set off from John's house on bikes like the two idiots we are. Because of the wetness, I decided against toting my non-waterproof camera around.

We zipped madly through the streets on bikes, sloshing through immense puddles and raging torrents in the gutters. The bike I was riding (actually John's dad's bike) seemed to be having a bit of trouble getting traction on the wet pavement, because I could feel the bike fishtailing dangerously as we were shooting down a couple hills. Finally we arrived at Johnston Lake dripping wet. Johnston Lake is a small private lake surrounded by a fence that is plastered with "No Trespassing" signs, but we managed to peer in and see Ring-necked Ducks, Ruddy Ducks, a Mandarin Duck, a Pied-billed Grebe, and a Green Heron. The latter was a Bigby bird for John, much to his excitement.

The Lower Arroyo Seco Park was next on the agenda. The arroyo, a concrete ditch usually mostly dry according to John, was rushing with water from the rains. This pitiful ditch is lined with some nice trees and brush, and in a short while we rounded up a few decent birds, including Wilson's Warbler, California Thrasher, and Hermit Thrush. The rain finally began to abate somewhat, but I was already soaking wet. After unintentionally stepping in a couple puddles, I stopped attempting to avoid the treacherous mud wallows.

With little time left, we raced over to Lacy Park where we found some of the best birds of the day. Shortly after arriving, we tracked down a little warbler chip to a Hermit Warbler in some tall pines near the entrance. This species is a rather rare wintering bird in Southern California, and it was a new bird for my Los Angeles County list. It didn't take long to find the Gray Flycatcher that is wintering there. Another new bird for my county list. At this point, we decided we'd better get back to John's house before the rest of my family left without me, so we pedaled the mile or so back.

So, I had an interesting (but kind of random) week. Unfortunately, my weekend is going to be pointless - I'm taking the SAT tomorrow. What a way to waste a Saturday morning...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Funky Parrot

Today, while birding at Irvine Regional Park, I came across this weird Amazona parrot feeding on acorns with a large flock of Red-crowned and Lilac-crowned Parrots. I don't see many parrots that aren't these two species, so I was excited... until I started researching it. Man, what a mess! I can't find any decent matches after a brief search through all my field guides (Venezuela, Mexico and Northern Central America, Sibley, etc) and online sites.

The thing that instantly caught my eye was the bird's yellow crown/face. At first glance, I thought it might be a weird Yellow-headed Parrot, but that doesn't match. The bird has a darkish bill (with some pale areas), yellow on the shoulder (and limited red as well, but not very noticeable), and yellow on the crown/face. While inspecting the photos I noticed some reddish/orange flecking in the yellow. Now that's tricky. I'm stumped, though admittedly I don't know a lot about parrots. Here are some photos.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Being stranded generally isn't a whole lot of fun, but it is fun being stranded in certain places. Bolsa Chica is one of those places. A Junior Naturalist field trip was scheduled there in the afternoon yesterday, and since I was home in plenty of time from my bike ride I decided to attend. I thought it was a bit strange that no one was around when my mom dropped me off five minutes past the scheduled meeting time, but I headed off down the footbridge anyway.

One of the first birds I saw was this funky little fellow. It's a Zebra Finch (Poephila guttata), a popular cage bird native to Australia and Indonesia. I'm now kicking myself for not getting closer to obtain better photos (people were photographing it from a couple feet away), but I guess I was distracted by the wild birds.

Ah, wild birds. There were many. At this point, Trudy Hurd from Sea and Sage Audubon (Queen of San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary) showed up, equally bewildered as to why no other Junior Naturalists had shown up. We loitered around the footbridge for awhile, photographing and watching the numerous birds. An American Bittern flew across the open water near the footbridge and quickly disappeared into the cord grass. This photo shows just how "sneaky" these shy birds can be.

Ducks of all shapes and sizes were rampant. Northern Pintail was one of the most common species. This elegant dabbler is one of my favorite ducks. This pair was feeding close to the footbridge, but it was difficult to catch them with their heads above water!

Diving ducks were also well-represented. Surf Scoter, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, and Red-breasted Merganser were common. Most of them were too far from the footbirdge to be well-photographed, but one tame Ruddy Duck was paddling around in the shallows within a couple feet of the bridge.

Near the first overlook we found some different birds. A Reddish Egret was dancing in the shallow water nearby. This species is regular at Bolsa Chica - up to three individuals show up every eyar - but is very rare in California. I picked a Thayer's Gull out from the swarming masses of gulls resting on the islands near the overlook. The tide was high, resulting in very few mudflats, but a few common shorebirds were hanging around on whatever small patches of mud they could find - Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Black-bellied Plover, et cetera. I finally touched base with my dad and arranged for him to pick me up. We drifted back to the footbridge, finding mostly the same birds, but a few birds had also drifted closer to the footbridge, including this handsome drake Lesser Scaup.

A Pied-billed Grebe casually swam under the boardwalk, bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun.

My dad showed up around four-thirty to pick me up. Even though none of the Junior Naturalists showed up (turns out that the trip was canceled - I just never found out,) it was a pleasant afternoon of birding at Bolsa Chica. Numbers of ducks is always impressive in the winter, and photographic opportunities are usually very good.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Two Toughies

I decided to devote my Saturday to a wild chase to add two difficult species to my Bigby list - Vermilion Flycatcher and Ferruginous Hawk. Both species are decidedly rare in Orange County. To my knowledge, there is exactly one Vermilion Flycather in the county this winter, and probably fewer than ten Ferruginous Hawks are present in the county (and probably most of those are on the mostly-inaccessible Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station.) The flycatcher is at El Toro Memorial Park, a small cemetery in Lake Forest, and one or two Ferruginous Hawks sometimes winter at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, which is right on the way to the flycatcher.

My alarm clock woke me from a deep coma at the slightly reasonable hour of six-thirty. Neither hawks nor flycatchers are particularly early risers, so I saw no reason to drag myself out of bed in the dark. I covered ground quickly, arriving at the air station around eight-thirty. Irvine Boulevard cuts for about three miles through the heart of the station, and I kept a keen eye open for hawks as I cruised along. Two miles, a few Red-tailed Hawks, and a billion California Ground-Squirrels later, and I still hadn't seen my target hawk. Then I noticed a big white thing on a bush, which turned out to be a Ferruginous Hawk!

Fortunately, after several minutes the hawk took off and flew almost overhead. Beautiful bird. All hawks are gorgeous, but these guys are especially striking.

It didn't me take much longer to reach my final destination, El Toro Memorial Park. It is almost exactly fifteen miles from my house to the cemetery, and I made the trip in about an hour and a half, including birding stops.

I was faced with a dilemma upon arriving at the cemetery. I had to carry my phone (actually, my mom's phone; my phone inexplicably stopped working yesterday) and wallet along with me, but my biking shorts don't have pockets. I resorted to wearing my sweatshirt, which boasts nice pockets, even though it was way too warm to be wearing it. I proceeded to stroll into the cemetery, climb the hill where the flycatcher usually hangs out, and - flushed a small brownish flycatcher! It landed in a nearby tree - drat, a Say's Phoebe. I combed the area around the hill without any luck, and then desperately moved on to other areas of the cemetery. I freely wandered the cemetery, carefully avoiding visitors who gave me black looks and also two rather creepy guys who appeared to be doing doughnuts on a gator over graves.

I found some decent birds, including two new Bigby birds: Mountain Chickadee and Bullock's Oriole. The flycatcher, however, was nowhere to be seen. I scoured its favorite hill a few more times before heading back to my bike for a much needed swig of water (it was burning hot with that darn sweatshirt on) and a snack. Feeling like a hobo sitting on the curb, I snacked and thought of a plan of attack. I finally came up with the age old strategy eat more, try again. So, I ate a chewy chocolate chip snack bar and a bruised banana before reentering the cemetery to have another go at the flycatcher. My plan worked. Thirty seconds later I was looking at the female Vermilion Flycatcher sitting in a tree that I had already checked about twenty times that morning. So, remember kids: eat more, try again.

I triumphantly exited the cemetery, stripped off the too-warm sweatshirt, and high-tailed it for home. Surprisingly, I made it home in an hour and fifteen minutes. That includes some nasty uphill sections! It was a great morning of Bigbying. In addition to the Ferruginous Hawk and Vermilion Flycatcher, I added Horned Lark, Western Meadowlark, Bullock's Oriole and Mountain Chickadee to my Bigby list. I believe that pushes my list up to one hundred thirty-eight. Cool.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Looking Back

Last year was a wonderful year of birding (yeah, I saw a ton of coots.) I was originally planning to do one of these pointless "Looking Back at Last Year" or "Top Ten Experiences of 2008" at the end of December, but I easily found more worthwhile wastes of time. So, now that January is half over, I thought I'd dive back into the past.

I took several exotic or semi-exotic birding trips last year - South Texas (awesome!), San Francisco, Humboldt County, and Minnesota. I also made too many short but memorable trips to remember. However, in this post I'd like to concentrate on a more local subject: my Bigbying adventures of 2008.

I spent lots of time last year working on my Bigby list, and all that time paid off: I found two hundred and thirty-six species. In reality, this isn't that long of a list - I saw nearly as many species in five days in Texas - but every single one of those species was found in Orange County by biking or walking from my house. At the start of the year, I was hoping for one hundred fifty tops. Then, in February, I discovered the joy of long-distance Bigbying; I easily skimmed past the two hundred mark in late May with several rides to the coast. Over the year, I rode to distant places such as San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Upper Newport Bay, Bolsa Chica, and Crystal Cove State Park.

Despite my hard work, a few species stubbornly refused to be added to my Bigby list. A few in particular stand out. Here are the top ten "misses" on my 2008 Bigby list:

1. Pectoral Sandpiper (ugh - present most of the fall at San Joaquin!)
2. Lawrence's Goldfinch (ouch)
3. Black Tern
4. Greater White-fronted Goose (seen at Upper Newport Bay the day before I rode there in November)
5. Black-chinned Sparrow (I undoubtedly could have found this one if I had taken some long hikes in the hills above Irvine Regional Park)
6. Baird's Sandpiper
7. Mew Gull
8. Reddish Egret
9. Jaegers of any flavor
10. Vagrant warblers of any flavor apart from Chestnut-sided and Pine

Now, because that was so depressing, here are my best ten Bigby finds of 2008:

1. Tropical Kingbird (San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Irvine)
2. Pine Warbler (Estancia Park, Costa Mesa)
3. Chestnut-sided Warbler (Irvine Regional Park, Orange)
4. Baltimore Oriole (My neighborhood, Orange)
5. Yellow-headed Blackbird (Peters Canyon Regional Park, Orange)
6. Cackling Goose (North Lake, Irvine)
7. Gull-billed Tern (San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Irvine)
8. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Santiago Oaks Regional Park, Orange)
9. Varied Thrush (Irvine Regional Park, Orange)
10. Gray Flycatcher (Peters Canyon Regional Park, Orange)

Of course, I'm keeping a Bigby list again this year. Currently it is at one thirty-two. Last year's number will be difficult to beat - I'm not sure I'll be able to pull it off. However, I'll do my best! Tomorrow I am planning on chasing by bike a couple difficult species for Orange County, Vermilion Flycatcher and Ferruginous Hawk. A lot of common species, like this Barn Owl, also are not on my new Bigby list... yet.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


A fun twist to California birding is the presence of free-flying parrots. The die-hard lister would probably brush them off, since only one species, the Red-crowned Parrot, "counts" towards official lists. However, it is very addicting to try to sort these colorful birds out - if you can conquer the bewildering blizzard of names (come on - Yellow-headed Parrot, Yellow-naped Parrot, Yellow-crowned Parrot...)

While cruising around Irvine Regional Park on my bike last week, a cacophony of raucous parrot squawks grabbed my attention. I pedaled in that direction, and quickly spotted a Red-crowned Parrot perched low over the road in a sycamore tree. The early morning light was hitting the bird perfectly, so I foolishly stopped in the middle of the road to photograph it. As a general rule, it's not a good idea to block half the road while attempting to photograph a bird, but the opportunity was too good to pass up, and there isn't much traffic in Irvine Regional Park anyway...

Later that same morning, I again heard the familiar racket of parrots flying overhead. A pair landed in a small tree beside the path. At first glance, they both appear to Red-crowned Parrots. Neither have as extensive red on the crown as the one I saw previously, but this mark varies considerably.

The bird on the right has a noticeably more "lilac" head stripe than the other, whose head stripe appears more blue. Additionally, check out the tails on these birds; the bird on the right has a longer, rounded tail while the bird on the left has a shorter, square tail. These are good indications that the bird on the right is a Lilac-crowned Parrot and the other is a Red-crowned Parrot, albeit on the dull side of the scale for this species. These two species are very similar, but in direct comparison the differences are more easily discerned.

Other parrot species I have seen in California so far include Yellow-headed Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, Blue-fronted Parrot, Mitred Parakeet, and Yellow-chevroned Parakeet. The variety of parrots is impressive, as are the numbers; I've seen flocks fifty-strong multiple times at Irvine Regional Park. Some people may find them loud and obnoxious (which is actually true, if they are sitting outside your window while you're trying to concentrate on schoolwork), but they are beautiful and fascinating creatures.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Fun at Sea

Not many pelagic (sea-going) birding trips are offered from Orange County, for a good reason: pelagic birding in Orange County is sub-par. Most people interested in seeing shearwaters, alcids, and other pelagic species usually head straight to more productive waters, such as Monterey or Fort Bragg. A few choice species are most easily found off Southern California, but even then Orange County is largely ignored in favor of places like Santa Barbara and San Diego. Obviously, this is bad news for someone trying to rack up a decent list for Orange County. Fortunately, Sea and Sage Audubon (of Orange County) runs a couple pelagic trips out of Dana Point every year. One was scheduled for January tenth, so I shelled out fifty bucks to reserve myself a spot on the boat.

I wasn't seriously expecting anything great - probably just Black-vented Shearwaters and Western Gulls - but heck, maybe we'd turn something up. My dad dropped me off at the Ocean Institute at seven-thirty on Saturday morning, and half an hour later the boat was underway. Before we had even departed the harbor, we had spotted Pacific Loons, Glaucous-winged Gulls, and Black Oystercatchers. Oystercatchers are always cool, no matter how many times you see them.

We hadn't gone far before a sharp-eyed birder pointed out the rare Pelagic Christmas-Tree swimming in the water. It was a pity a Christmas Shearwater wasn't sitting on top of it!

Some genuine pelagic birds appeared once we were a mile or two offshore. A smattering of Black-vented Shearwaters cruised by the ship on stiff wings. The boat flushed a couple Rhinoceros Auklets (small grayish birds with an unlikely name) off the water's surface. Several smaller grayish alcids gave us good views of their hindquarters as they desperately struggled to become airborne. Cassin's Auklets aren't very friendly. There was some brief excitement in the stern when a powerful Pomarine Jaeger (undoubtedly very big and squishy - JG) swept through the flock of gulls attending the boat. Nice birds, the whole lot - but ones that I had previously seen in Orange County.

The day took a turn for the better once we were about a dozen miles offshore. A pair of different alcids swimming ahead of the boat turned out to be XANTUS'S MURRELETS. This obscure black-and-white alcid was a life bird for me. This is a Southern Californian specialty, breeding only on the Channel Islands and off Baja California. They were a bit too distant for my three hundred millimeter lens to pull in. When I got home, I told my mom "I got a life bird today - Xantus's Murrelet." "Never heard of it," she replied.

The murrelets would have been enough to make the day noteworthy, but more surprises lay in wait for us. A short time later, a "dark" (read: Sooty/Short-tailed) shearwater sailed by the boat and landed nearby. After extensive study at close range, we positively identified it as a Short-tailed Shearwater. This species is rare in Orange County, though probably more regular than thought because of the dearth of Orange County pelagic trips and also confusion with the more common Sooty Shearwater.

It was difficult to produce any sightings on the level of the Xantus's Murrelets and Short-tailed Shearwater. We tallied more Cassin's Auklets, Rhinocerous Auklets, Pomarine Jaegers, and Black-vented Shearwaters, but the only new species we could find after a few more hours of puttering around the ocean was Common Murre. In the early afternoon, as we chugged back into the harbor, I turned around to see this at eye level.

Looking up, I saw this:

Then this:

And finally, this:

This cheeky first-cycle Western Gull didn't see the point of flying all the way through the harbor, so he decided to just kick back and enjoy a ride on the Sea Explorer while a bunch of weird birders snapped pictures of him from a few feet away.

My birding for the day didn't end when I stepped off the boat. I met my dad on the dock and we drove the short distance to Doheny State Beach, a famous spot for studying gulls. A Glaucous Gull, a big frosty gull with a funky name, had been seen there earlier in the week, and several of the birders on the boat had popped over to Doheney and seen the bird before the boat left in the morning! When we arrived, I started off down the beach, sifting through the hundreds of gulls loafing on the beach. After half and hour, I had seen only the expected species - California, Ring-billed, Heermann's, and Glaucous-wined Gulls. I climbed over a small hill and found several thousand more gulls hanging out in the mouth of the San Juan Creek. Up to now, the search had been manageable; now it was just crazy. Surprisingly, however, I spotted the target bird after only a few minutes. The Glaucous Gull was one of the closest birds, sticking out like a sore thumb: big and white with a bicolored bill. I got a photo of it beside a Glaucous-winged Gull for comparison.

Glaucous Gulls are birds of the north, only rarely wandering as far south as Orange County. This was another new county bird for me, my third for the day: the Xantus's Murrelets and Short-tailed Shearwater were also new. Additionally, I picked out a nice first-cycle Thayer's Gull and several Herring Gulls out of the vast flock, for quite the variety of gulls.

It was a great day. The pelagic trip didn't disappoint, producing a couple great species for Orange County. Additionally, it is always fun to see the more regular pelagic species. Interestingly, The Birds of Orange County: Status and Distribution lists twenty-five as the county high count for Cassin's Auklet; we saw at least three times that number. Very little is known about the seabirds of Orange County! I will jump at the next chance I can get for an Orange County pelagic. The lesson I learned: expect the unexpected, not just Black-vented Shearwaters and Western Gulls!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Fresh Start

Starting out on a fresh year list is always great fun. I've kept a year list for many years. In past years I started the year off with some interesting birds (in 2005, my first bird of the year was a Snowy Owl in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan!) Not so this year. I puttered around some local areas the first couple days of the year, finding nothing unusual save a Red-breasted Nuthatch at the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery (pictured above). I didn't get out for an audacious bike ride until January 3rd.

Since many common species such as Great Blue Heron and Turkey Vulture were lacking from my all-new 2009 Bigby list, I figured I was guaranteed to pick up at least a couple dozen new Bigby birds. I managed to find eighty-two Bigby species the first two days of the year, so I decided a ride to the coast was in order.

Dark clouds threatened rain as I left home on Saturday morning. I hoped it wouldn't rain on me. Riding in wet clothes isn't fun. I found my first Bigby birds in the Peters Canyon Creek before even arriving at my primary destinations, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary and Upper Newport Bay. The Peters Canyon Creek is just a little trashy trickle in the bottom of a small concrete ditch, and I seldom stop to look for birds there. However, on Saturday morning, I found my first Snowy Egret, White-faced Ibis, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Cinnamon Teal of the year in the creek. I also found a bonus bird: Hooded Merganser. A pair of these beautiful ducks was loafing in the shallow water of the creek. This is a key species that I didn't find until late November last year.

I made good time to San Joaquin, arriving around eight thirty. I hiked around many of the ponds and found at least a dozen new Bigby birds. I didn't see anything out of the ordinary, but seeing all the regular birds for the first time of the year was fun. I searched for the Northern Waterthrush in the flooded riparian area yet again, and as usual failed. I'm beginning to sincerely dislike that bird!

After finishing up at San Joaquin I pedaled on to Upper Newport Bay. A whole new suite of birds typical of coastal estuaries was waiting to be added to my Bigby list. I spent a couple hours biking along the bay, often stopping to comb through the immense flocks of shorebirds and ducks. In the first few seconds after arriving at the bay, I added a bunch of easy species, including Marbled Godwit, Willet, Forster's Tern, and Redhead. Careful scoping of the open water and mudflats revealed lots of "goo" (as a certain friend of mine would say) birds. The best of the bunch were two Greater Scaup among the dozens of Lesser Scaup. Greater Scaup is an uncommon species in Orange County, though its status is somewhat difficult to determine due to its similarity to Lesser Scaup.

Other birds of note that I found while riding along Upper Newport Bay were Loggerhead Shrike, Red Knot, and Blue-winged Teal (sixty-six of them, to be exact - a rather high count for Orange County.) I also enjoyed a couple neat experiences with raptors. While looking at shorebirds at the northern end of the bay near Jamboree Road, I noticed an Osprey perched on a nearby lamp post. I tried imitating its call, a series of whistled yelps. Much to my surprise, the Osprey immediately swooped off its perch and glided twenty feet over my head, yelping back a challenge. Sorry buddy, didn't know you were so easily offended!

Later, while cruising along the bay at nearly twenty miles per hour, I looked to my right and saw a Northern Harrier hunting a short distance out in the marsh. It kept pace with me for about half a mile, thirty feet to my right! Finally it dropped into the marsh, perhaps to nab a mouse, and I continued on without a harrier escort.

I turned homeward in the early afternoon, and was dismayed to see dark storm clouds piling up in the direction of home. Uh oh. My fear of rain now seemed much more realistic. This didn't stop me from pausing at Mason Regional Park on the way home to search for a White-throated Sparrow that had been found there a couple days previously. White-throated Sparrow is a very common and familiar eastern bird, but in California it is rare. A few show up in the county every winter, but I still needed it for my county list. Fortunately, I found the bird after five minutes. It provided excellent views as it scratched at the side of the path with a big flock of White-crowned Sparrows.

The rain finally caught up with me as I left Mason Regional Park. At first, I felt only a light sprinkle on my face. Later on, some heavier rain passed through, but I managed to wait out the worst of it under a bridge. I arrived home only slightly damp, much to the amazement of my mother. Apparently it rained heavily around home for a good part of the day, and she expected me to look like a wet rat. After counting up all my lists, I discovered I had seen no fewer than forty-six new Bigby birds. A good haul! That brought me up to one hundred twenty-eight for the first few days of the year. Not too crummy - only a hundred and nine to go to break last year's total of two hundred and thirty-six!