30 November 2011

Swainson's Hawks

I honestly didn't know what Swainson's Hawks did out here in California (considering I moved here from Iowa).  I figured that they were a species that essentially migrated out of the US come fall/winter.  Well, I was wrong (kind of).

I was surprised a couple of weeks ago when I stumbled on half a dozen Swainson's Hawks near Modesto in Stanislaus County.  Turns out, sources say they will rarely winter in the Central Valley of California.  Pretty nifty.

Today I was back in the same area and again saw roughly half a dozen Swainson's Hawks.  Here are some photos:

Roughly speaking, most of the SWHAs I've seen in the area were centered around Jennings Road and West Main Avenue southwest of Modesto:
View SWHA in a larger map

28 November 2011

Barrow's Goldeneyes

There was one male and one female BARROW'S GOLDENEYE with a flock of COMMON GOLDENEYES along the north edge of Bouldin Island, San Joaquin County.  This is my first winter in the Central Valley and am not really sure how notable this is for the Delta area.  

Here is the male:

Although this location isn't publicly accessible, one might keep an eye out for nearby goldeneye flocks.  Here is a map of where the flock was:
View BAGO in a larger map

There was also an adult nonbreeding MEW GULL at the same spot:

Other birds with this flock included many AMERICAN COOTS, a couple of RUDDY DUCKS, and a lone LESSER SCAUP.

27 November 2011

Tropical Kingbird

Our best bird today (26 Nov 2011) was a TROPICAL KINGBIRD we stumbled onto in Bodega Bay, Sonoma County:

The bird was located along Route 1, uphill from the Post Office.  It was flycatching on the east side of the road from the powerlines and fences.  This is across the road from a building with a grass roof.  Here is a map of the location:
View TRKI in a larger map

Otherwise, things in Bodega Bay seemed on the slow side.  We scoped from Bodega Head for a little while but the most notable things were a couple of whales (Gray?  Humpback?).

In Owl Canyon, the most interesting thing was a TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (completely out of focus and backlit):

Between Sonoma and Marin counties, we tallied 17 species of shorebirds today:

Black-bellied Plover
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Black Turnstone
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher

You'll notice we missed some expected ones too such as Surfbird, Wilson's Snipe, and even Black Oystercatcher!

Here is part of a flock from within the Bodega Bay harbor:

Loons and grebes put on a good show today; here is a HORNED GREBE at Bodega Bay:

... and a PACIFIC LOON:

Here is another picture of the same bird.  You'll notice how the posture changes neck patterns and overall shape:

We ended the day with 3 loon species, 5 grebe species, 8 gull species, and 3 alcids:

Common Loon
Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon

Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Eared Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Western Grebe

Bonaparte's Gull
Heerman's Gull (2)
Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Western Gull

Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Rhinoceros Auklet

At Millerton Point along Tomales Bay in Marin County we found a flock of CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES:

The same flock included several HUTTON'S VIREOS as well:

19 November 2011


There was a LONG-TAILED DUCK at Bodega Bay early this afternoon.  The pictures of it are distant but identifiable:  

Here is a map of where we saw it:
View LTDU in a larger map

The harbor has really filled up with BRANT lately.  There must have been 3000-5000 present today.  I scoped for a little while hoping for an Emperor Goose but no love.

We got down to Bolinas Lagoon with little daylight left.  We managed to relocate one of the previously reported EURASIAN WIGEONS:

06 November 2011

Birds of North America and Greenland

You may have forgotten that I occasionally write reviews on this blog about new books published by Princeton Press.  Hopefully this reminds you!

"Birds of North America and Greenland", by Norman Arlott, was published in 2011 by Princeton University Press.

This book is in the Princeton Illustrated Checklist series and I actually reviewed a book in the same series back in July.  Click here to go to that post.

This is an interesting book for several reasons.  I ended up learning a lot of things I had never seen in any of the other, more popular bird books I use.  That surprised me.  More on that in a bit...

I think it's clear that this book is intended for those interested in birds here in North America and Greenland but for those who aren't interested in getting down to the details that make some of the other popular bird books so bulky.  What about a traveling birder who needs a small and compact guide?  This might be perfect.  Yes, this book is small which I actually like.  It is 239 pages but feels much thinner to me.  Compared to the Sibley Guide, it looks like a midget:

Here is a typical view when you open the guide:

I'll be honest, the first thing I noticed was, "Wait, are there no range maps?".  I even flipped to the back of the book looking to see if the maps were separate.  Turns out, you'll see the microscopic range maps when you REALLY open the book, as you can see below:

For me, visual references of range and distribution mean a lot.  The range maps in this book just aren't meant to be a main feature; there is very little detail.  Sure, I guess you could confirm that Ross's Gulls don't occur in Texas; and that really might be all that's needed for a visiting birder who just don't know the birds here very well.  In the end, I'm ok with this guide not having better quality range maps but I would have loved to see more detail go into those.

A typical 2-page spread has anywhere from 5-12 species represented.  The text and range map are found on the left and the illustrations of the birds are found on the right.  The text includes basic information such as common name, scientific name, size (in centimeters), and some brief field notes, voice information, habitat, and distribution.

I was surprised by the alternate names that the author put alongside the common names.  Many of them I had never heard of.  Sure, I knew that Red Phalarope is also known as Grey Phalarope.  However, I had no clue that Black Guillemot is also known as a "Tystie"!  Here are some examples of alternate names that I hadn't heard of before:

Gray Flycatcher = Wright's Flycatcher
Common Myna = Indian Myna
Slate-throated Redstart = White-throated Whitestart
White-winged Crossbill = Two-barred Crossbill
Snail Kite = Everglade Kite
Spectacled Eider = Fischer's Eider
Horned Lark = Shore Lark

One of the aspects that I like the most is that the book contains every species that is on the ABA list.  The only other book that I've seen do this is the new National Geographic guide.  You can open it up to page 100 and see that Large-billed and Whiskered tern are indeed on the ABA list.  This book goes a step further and even includes species from Greenland.  Open it up to page 166 and see that Blackcap has actually been recorded from Greenland.  Cool, right?

The art seems to be pretty consistant.  Although I've seen art in books much much worse, something about a couple of the plates really throws me off.  The vireos, for example, look way more confusing to me in this book than any other book.  Similarly, the hummingbirds and hawks somehow become really confusing in this guide.  Look at the flycatchers and you can just forget it.

For those who know me pretty well, you know that I'm a stickler of small details like bird codes and names.  It pains my ears to hear people say things like "There's a Ross Goose" or "Is that a Cassin Sparrow singing?".  Well, now I know why people say things like that... because it's typed that way in a book!  Yes, page 60 shows a species by the name of "Harris Hawk".  Ouch.  However, they got it right later in the book with "Harris's Sparrow".

So will this book rival the Sibley Guide to Birds or the new National Geographic Guide to Birds?  Well, not in my opinion but I'm wondering if that's not such a bad thing.  If a child picks this book up someday and that's enough for him/her to become interested in birds, it's totally worth it.

I received a complementary copy from the publisher for review purposes, 
but the viewpoint expressed in this article is entirely my own.

05 November 2011

Sat, Nov. 5

Today started out with this ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD at my feeders:

We then headed up to Capay Cemetery near the town of Esparta:
View Capay Cemetery in a larger map

We were impressed with the overall bird activity.  We found at least two WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS, one of them pictured below:

HERMIT THRUSHES were common as well including this one that didn't mind being out in the open as we walked under:

We were also happy to track down at least one RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER tucked behind the foliage:

There were other woodpeckers around though including this NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER:

After that, we decided to drive down the road a mile or two to see if the previously-reported BLACK-THROATED SPARROW was still around.  It was.  We pulled over at the spot and saw the bird from our car within a minute or two:
View BTSP in a larger map

The pictures are distant but unmistakable of this second Yolo County record:

We decided to drive up along Putah Creek, a place we have seen reports come from.  It was a pretty neat corridor, I'd definitely like to check it out more often.  Anyway, we saw another RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER:

Also this BAND-TAILED PIGEON was one of several that we stumbled on during our short exploration:

And hey, why not snap a picture of a YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIE just to remind myself that we are indeed in central California:

Lastly, we looked for MOUNTAIN PLOVERS northwest of Rio Vista and managed to find a flock of 35 in a disked field south of Flannery Road.  Here is a map of the location:
View MOPL in a larger map

04 November 2011

Uncommon stuff!

I figure I should post an update of some of the more uncommon birds we've seen in the last 3 weeks California.

Back in late October, we swung down to Santa Cruz to chase a Yellow-green Vireo.  Guess what, we completely missed it.  Oh well.  Not as rare but still pretty uncommon as a fall migrant in California, we had this CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER:

On 25 October, several of us with PRBO were birding at Pescadero Marsh in San Mateo County when this grosbeak popped up.  Thinking it had to be late for either Black-headed or Rose-breasted, I took a couple of pictures.  Turns out, yup, it was a ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK:

Later that week, a YELLOW-BILLED LOON was found in Sunnyvale.  We spun over one evening and had amazing looks:

While working on 28 October in Merced County, I found this SAGE THRASHER along a dry roadside mixed with a sparrow flock:

Definitely not as uncommon as SATHs, this BURROWING OWL down the road from the thrasher was still fun to look at:

The best bird (in my opinion) lately was a continuing RED-THROATED PIPIT over in Sunnyvale.  My shots aren't anything special but you can get the gist of it: