Thursday, January 17, 2013

Algunos aves de España

I'm in Spain. True, I'm here to study. I'm not birding--false. Class ten minutes imminent begs brevity, so I will scribble about a few highlights and toss out a couple photos.

BULLFINCH! I was out for a run and saw a pair. Bird I've wanted to see for a long fact, I used to have a stuffed animal Bullfinch that I ordered off eBay at the age of ten because I admire this species so much.

Gray Wagtails. They're badass longassed.

Tits. Great, Blue, Coal, Long-tailed. 'Nuff said.

Firecrest. A psycadelic kinglet, pretty much.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A dabble into Orange-crowned Warbler taxonomy

Psshhhh, psshhhh, psshh-psshhh. A whirlwind of Audubon's Warblers, Anna's Hummingbirds, and Bushtits made the twigs and leaves boil. Then, a new face--gray, but not a Bushtit. Hello, an Orange-crowned Warbler! The eye arcs and muted breast streaking were unmistakable, but the bird looked like it had been left on the dashboard of a car for a few weeks--gray, faded, a far cry from the rich lemon yellow and olive birds that skulk in every hedge around my neighborhood. It reminded me of the Orange-crowns I see in Michigan. Aha! An eastern bird--Oreothlypis celata celata, a bit lost from its normal wintering haunts in the Southeast. "Eastern" is a misleading designation, since this bird could have hatched west of California in Alaska.

(From Warblers by Dunn and Garrett, p. 159.)

Returning home after my walk, I pulled out my trusty references, since I could not recall having ever seen such a blatantly gray--and therefore O.c. celata--in California.

The Birds of Orange County, California: Status and Distribution: "Gray-headed birds believed to represent V.c. orestera and V.c.celata are uncommon fall migrants (arriving in early September), rare in winter."

San Diego County Bird Atlas: "Vermivora c. celata (Say, 1823), breeding in the trans-continental taiga zona, is even less yellow than orestera; the head is always gray, and in some females the yellowish on the underparts is reduced to irregular blotches. It reaches southern California as a rare migrant and winter visitor (Grinnell and Miller 1944)."

I believe this is a case of subspecies neglect (think Cackling Goose). Were Oreothlypis celata celata considered its own species (I propose "Goldenrod Warbler" for the common name if this ever happens), birders would probably find a lot more of them in California. But, that will probably not happen in the near future--and I hope it doesn't, since identification would be a nightmare! This bird, however, seems to be a slam-dunk.

An intriguing quandary of taxonomy and distribution five minutes from the door!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Trabuco with Chandler

A few days ago, I made my now-annual pilgrimage to the upper reaches of Trabuco Canyon with my buddy Chandler. I first met him nearly four years ago when we thoroughly chilled ourselves body surfing at Huntington Beach. On this hike, we once again ended up wet and cold! No birder is he, but I slung my bins over my neck and kept ear and eye attuned to avian life.

It was cold, but the strenuous climb kept us warm and sweating. Fog rolled in and shrouded the canyon and peaks.

This rugged landscape is the final frontier of Orange County birding. Bolsa Chica, Newport Bay, San Joaquin Marsh--those places are daily visited by dozens of birders. Seldom, though, do binocular-toting bird nuts venture up into these perilous reaches despite the promise of sexy mountain birds. This particular day was lackluster, probably because of the gloom, but we managed to seen several Townsend's Solitaires, two Hairy Woodpeckers, and a Golden-crowned Kinglet.

We made it to the ridge. Now a couple thousand feet higher and hiking roughly level ground, we were cold. Puddles were glazed with ice. We kept our hands into our pockets and kept moving.

It began to rain! First, a Seattle-grade mist, morphing into a steady drizzle. Then, unbelievably, soggy snowflakes began pelting us in the face. Many miles laid ahead of us. As we descended, rain replaced snowflakes. Each mile brought a new milestone: soaked pants that clung to calves, water penetrating our outer layers, shoes officially saturated. It was cold!

Newts saved the day. We saw four, and hopefully did not trod upon too many more. Unlike us, they were enjoying the drizzle!

When we finally reached the car, we stripped off the majority of our clothes and rode home in the waterproof, heated, and wonderful confines of the car.