Saturday, June 25, 2011

Watch It III

1. to trespass, especially on another's game preserve, in order to steal animals or to hunt.
2. to take game or fish illegally.
3. (of land) to become broken up or slushy by being trampled.
4. to cook (eggs, fish, fruits, etc.) in a hot liquid that is kept just below the boiling point.

My coveted Pigeon Guillemots have been poached! (And no, they weren't cooked for breakfast).

When I read the news that someone had spotted two Pigeon Guillemots at Newport Pier early last week, I flew into a rage and swore to duplicate the sighting during my weekly vigil on Friday morning. Arriving at the pier at a time when a vast percentage of the county was still probably asleep, I sauntered down the pier, cast a haughtly glare upon the gaggle of fishermen hogging the rail, and began scanning the swells. Shortly thereafter, a kindly hobo approached, a kleenex dangling from an outstretched hand. "Your nose is dripping," he chuckled.

Thanks. A drippy nose, no Pigeon Guillemots, and eight hours of work ahead of me. Life is a beast.

Newport Pier, Orange, US-CA
Jun 24, 2011 5:46 AM - 7:53 AM
Protocol: Stationary
Comments: Weather: cloudy and misty, light breeze (~7mph, SW), cool (~63°F)
22 species (+1 other taxa)

Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus) 2
Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) 240
Black Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma melania) 7
Brandt's Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) 1 The only one I saw was one accidentally snagged by a fisherman. I heard a commotion, looked up, and saw a guy reeling it in on his rod. He got it onto the pier, where it was remarkably calm. Then, one guy held its bill, and the other unhooked it (it appeared to be hooked in the leg). Then, the guy picked it up and chucked it as hard as he could off the pier. It took off flying
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) 2
cormorant sp. (Phalacrocorax sp.) 1
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) 48
Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa) 8
Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni) 65
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis) 580
Least Tern (Sternula antillarum) 60 At the time I arrived, large numbers of terns were foraging their way south. By the time I was leaving, many were heading back north, and lots of the LETE had fish in tow.
Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) 4
Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri) 32
Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus) 24
Elegant Tern (Thalasseus elegans) 1000
Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) 2 A pair flying south over the beach as I was leaving.
Cassin's Auklet (Ptychoramphus aleuticus) 11 Several small parties, all distant, and all going "north."
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) 32
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 2
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 5
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 2
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) 1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 3

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Humans aren't the only ones that struggle with it...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lesser Mountains

As I complete my monotonous tasks in the air-conditioned comfort of the Color Lab throughout the week, I wistfully remember last summer and the excessive time I spent in various mountain ranges. Hikes were had, scrambles up rocky slopes were not uncommon, and plunges into icy mountain streams and lakes provided welcome diversions from birding. I decided that I would have to get into some mountains this weekend, even if they were just the lowly Santa Ana Mountains. I was decidedly unenthusiastic about this decision when I arose at four-thirty this morning, but I dragged myself to the Trabuco Canyon Trail and began hiking before six. After six hours and thirteen miles, I had seen a nice selection of montane birds, including Mountain Quail, Olive-sided Flycathcer, Hairy Woodpecker, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and this Western Wood-Pewee.

The primary motive fueling this hike, however, was not birds--it was other forms of life. These other forms of life--especially butterflies--abounded, much to my joy.

Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon)

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

Dotted Blue (Euphilotes enoptes)

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Gabb's Checkerspot (Chlosyne gabbii)

Leanira Checkerspot (Thessalia leanira)

Red Rock Skimmer (Paltothemis lineatipes)

Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Watch It II

Shaking my wrist to glance at my watch, I was heartbroken to see that I had only five minutes left of seawatching before I had to leave for work. I sighed and reminisced about last summer, when I embarked on road trip after road trip, carefree, birding at will...

Seawatching has been predictable of late--the same suite of species, over and over. But, I don't see Sooty Shearwaters every day, and weekly vigils give me the opportunity to familiarize myself with the regular species. Plus, recently, there have been sporadic sightings of Pigeon Guillemots off San Diego County. With luck, I will duplicate those. Or, a Brown Booby. I'd take one of those, too.

Keeping watching...and wishing...

Newport Pier, Orange, US-CA
Jun 17, 2011 5:54 AM - 7:55 AM
Protocol: Stationary
Comments: Pre-work seawatch at Newport Pier. Nothing outrageous--and nothing different from the previous few weeks--but lots of action, including several dolphin/sea lion/pelican/gull/tern feeding frenzies occurring offshore. Numbers of several species (e.g., BRPE, HEEG) w8ere considerably higher than previous visits. Weather: cloudy, breezy (8 mph, SSW), cool (63°F). Visibility decent, with Catalina clearly visible.
20 species

Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) 2 Two separate birds, both in basic-type plumage, both flying "north" low over the water. Getting a tad late, aren't we?
Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) 2 A pair on the water a short distance north of the pier.
Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) 200 A decent stream of birds well offshore, though slightly fewer birds than previous watches. A few birds came in very close, including two that joined a dolphin feeding frenzy just a couple hundred feet off the end of the pier--sweeeet looks!
Black Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma melania) 4 A handful waaaay out, at or beyond Lehman distance.
Brandt's Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) 9
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) 1
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) 450
Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa) 2
Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni) 52
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis) 500
Least Tern (Sternula antillarum) 4
Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) 6
Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri) 80
Elegant Tern (Thalasseus elegans) 1400
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) 31
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 15
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 2
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 3
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) 2
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 1

Saturday, June 11, 2011


While navigating the narrow, twisting road into Starr Ranch at some ungodly hour this morning, I realized with a start that it has been at least a year since I banded there. That is a pity, since banding provides a unique way to get intimate with birds while contributing to science and your own knowledge. It was a good morning of banding with 28 new birds banded, 13 recaptured, and 5 released unbanded.

This recaptured Common Yellowthroat had something funky going on with its head, with that orange coloration on the face...jokingly, we said that it beat some of the legitimate Orange-crowned Warblers for that title, but, it really was true!

Speaking of Orange-crowned Warblers, we banded six and recaptured one more. Many were hatch-year birds, easily recognized by their yellowish gapes, buff-tinged wing bars, and loose, fluffy feathering on the underparts. This individual boasted an unusual feature that also identified it as a youngster--a fault bar across the tail. These are formed when the growth of feathers is retarded or stopped during a period of food shortage. For some reason or another, this bird didn't have adequate food one day--maybe it was raining, and the parents couldn't gather enough food, or its nestmates trampled it underfoot and beat it to the food.

Speaking of growing feathers, this Hutton's Vireo was doing some hardcore molting. Note the contrast between the old outer primaries, which appear pale and tattered, and the new secondaries, which are darker and more pristine. Also, one feather (p2) is still in its sheath. This probably indicates that this bird is done breeding, since, as any bird will tell you, the simultaneous stresses of breeding and molting are not conducive to survival.

Speaking of, uh, birds, here's one of the Song Sparrows we handled today. With sedentary species such as this, we seldom catch new birds except for juveniles. This axiom held true today--we banded one new bird but processed four recaptures.

Speaking of brown, streaky birds, we banded two species of finches that often frustrate and foil birders: Purple and House. And, as this photo proves, classic field marks are not always reliable. Purple Finches are supposed to have straighter culmens than House Finches. Well, check out these birds. Sure, in direct comparison to the House Finch, the Purple may have a slightly straighter culmen, but, on a lone bird, I believe birders are universally screwed until someone invents a culmometer. Eastern birds are easier, with their more prominent white eyebrows, but note the considerably chunkier, bull-headed, grosbeak-like Purple (left) with the more svelte House (the opposite of left).

Speaking of identification problems, Black Phoebes pose none whatsoever (except the occasional confusion with Black-necked Stilts, but I won't dwell on that). Remember about that whippersnapper Orange-crowned with the cinnamon wing bars? Well, hatch-year Black Phoebes have them too. (As do Northern Rough-winged Swallows, California Thrashers, Pacific-slope Flycatchers, and many others...what's going on here?!) Also, check out those pale outer webs on the outer retrices, a characteristic shared with several other flycatchers (Eastern Phoebe, Vermilion...)

Speaking of outer retrices, it's late; I'm going to bed.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Watch It

Glancing down at my feet, I studied the vegetation cover: none. The pitted cement was, however, littered with a dreary conglomerate of cigarette butts, sunflower seed shells, and bloody fish offal. A senile pigeon lay in a lumpy heap several feet away. Sighing, and trying to ignore the overpowering stench of what smelled like putrid sea lion breath, I returned my eye to my scope eyepiece, and instantly forgot my immediate surroundings, mesmerized by a line of Sooty Shearwaters sailing over the gray sea.

A couple hours of seawatching before work in the morning is a good way to at least partially satisfying bird-related cravings during the rest of the day. It's also an effective way to cramp your legs while enduring the angry ramblings of drunken hobos, the cold stares of die hard fishermen, and the insolent curiosity of preppy tourists. Endure these hardships and you may be rewarded with fleeting glimpses of gray specks flitting in and out of the swells.

But, those specks are shearwaters, alcids, and jaegers. So show some respect.

I've been out on Newport Pier every week since I've been home. Hopefully, this trend will continue through the end of the summer. Below is my eBird list from the session.

Newport Pier, Orange, US-CA
Jun 8, 2011 5:58 AM - 7:49 AM
Protocol: Stationary
Comments: Weather: cloudy, light breeze (SW, ~5mph), 62°F

Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) 1 One alternate-plumaged bird, close, going "north."
Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus) 6 Several, including one nice close fly-by.
Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) 375 Only a few, extremely distant birds at first, but by the time I left, there was a steady stream going by fairly close.
Brandt's Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) 1
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) 2
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) 350
Willet (Tringa semipalmata) 1 On the beach with the godwits.
Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa) 4 On the beach south of the pier.
Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni) 5 More than I've had the last couple times--post-breeding dispersal already?
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis) 250
California Gull (Larus californicus) 1
Least Tern (Sternula antillarum) 25
Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) 10
Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri) 50
Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus) 15
Elegant Tern (Thalasseus elegans) 800 There seemed to be more terns around than usual.
Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) 2
Common Murre (Uria aalge) 2 Weird, two! First, I spotted an alternate-plumaged bird on the water (!) fairly close, straight off the pier...first time I've ever had one sitting from a seawatch. Later, I had another flying "north"--could have been the same bird, I suppose, but I caught it well before it crossed the vicinity of the sitting bird.
Cassin's Auklet (Ptychoramphus aleuticus) 8 All fly-bys, all heading "north." Most were distant, but a party of three was only a couple hundred yards from the pier.
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) 40
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 5
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 2
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) 1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 3

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Breaking Lunch

I'm a big boy now. I've got a job, I've been through a year of college, and I can go to the bathroom by myself.

Let's focus on that first item. My job this summer--in the Color Lab at Behr Process Corporation in Santa Ana--is a good one, but, when various [former] friends of mine subject me to tales of their awesome field jobs banding shorebirds or killing cowbirds or doing point counts, a significant portion of my soul briefly burns with rage before withering and crumbling away to dust. In a sarcastic--and futile--attempt to prove to myself that I could have just as much fun as they, I decided to stage a Big Lunch Break on Friday at Carl Thorton Park just a mile down the road from work.

Thorton Park is one of those unassuming urban parks with some weary-looking grass, a few small trees, and a murky, concrete-lined pond. Oh, and it is terrible for birding. But, it was with a bold spring to my step that I exited the car while simultaneously stuffing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my mouth, positive that I would make great discoveries in this humble place.

The first bird I saw was a Rock Pigeon.

Things quickly picked up--the next bird was a Western Bluebird! I was actually mildly surprised to end up with two pairs of these...they've obviously invaded every little patch of green in the county over the past couple decades with a rigorous nest-box program.

Things went downhill again, with a House Finch. House Finches were actually plethoric, and I was too lazy to obtain a better photo.

chi-BEER! Woot, a Cassin's Kingbird! Surely the best bird of this mad pursuit, I thought. Ah, being wrong can be so enjoyable sometimes...

Lots of Cliff Swallows were flyin' 'round 'n stuff.

Barn Swallows were also present, and, like the Cliff Swallows, they were flyin' 'round 'n stuff.

It was then that I shifted my gaze to the adjacent schoolyard. A lone European Starling waddled about in the grass, but, to my great agitation, it was positioned between my body and a large gaggle of kids on a playground. I had no desire to be seen aiming a telephoto lens at children, so I set off at a brisk walk to gain a more fortuitous angle on this accursed bird. But, this flying rat had other intentions, and took to the sky before I had the chance to document its presence. I snapped a photo of its departure, and it was fortunate, indeed, that I did, as I did not see another starling the rest of my time there.

I thought it impossible, but then I spotted a bird that overcame the Cassin's Kingbird in greatness. A Western Wood-Pewee!

Unfortunately, there were House Sparrows.

A lone Bushtit fussed about overhead in a pine, uncharacteristically without its menagerie of about sixty comrades. Before complaining about the quality--or lack thereof--of this photo, think, have you ever attempted to hurriedly photograph a caffeinated bird the size of a bumblebee?

Speaking of caffeinated birds the size of bumblebees, I also snagged an Allen's Hummingbird. Much coveted by non-Californians, these little beasts are veritable vermin in Orange County.

Two Mourning Doves lurked outside the fence, and therefore outside the park, but I counted them anyway.

A mother Mallard shepherded her ducklings across the barren lawn to a stinky drainage ditch adjacent to the park. I pitied and despised these ducklings for growing up in such a pathetic place.

A murder of crows eyed the exodus of this young family with obvious interest, and, realizing that the wrath of a hen Mallard is something to be reckoned with, prudently refrained from attack.

An irresistibly cute fledgling Black Phoebe added to the surprising suite of flycatchers in the park.

As is horribly typical of these urban parks, one crippled coot was left over from the winter hoards.

My time was running out. At the last possible second, I scored a Great Horned Owl perched on a nearby roof.

I declare this grand undertaking a resounding success. Fifteen species--excluding the Great Horned Owl, whose origin is disputed--were discovered in forty minutes of birding. Jealous?