10 March 2014

Simmer down

With the modern birding world still reeling from my infamously witty and acidic previous post, read by thousands of hardcore birders (or 68 bored people), I decided to take it up a notch and elevate this post to something pertinent... more local birding.

Ok, so maybe not so pertinent to many of you but alas, it's just a brief update.  So, one thing the Central Valley has plenty of in the winter are geese.  Nope, no shortage here, they winter here by the thousands (actually, it's thought the Central Valley hosts 3/4 of a million).  You can expect all the normal inland species in the Sacramento Valley (head 2 hours west if you want Brant).  Around here, the list from most expected to least expected species (for me, at least) goes like:

Greater White-fronted Geese
Canada Geese
Cackling Geese
Snow Geese
Ross's Geese

One local area I've been visiting lately is Staten Island in San Joaquin County.  It's here that one can sift through thousands of the "Aleutian" subspecies of Cackling Goose.  Here's a typical view with an oddball mixed in (and no prize for picking the oddball out):

Once you zoom in a bit you start to notice things.  For example, here's a minima Cackling Goose with a yellow neck collar:

For me, that's a pretty big deal.  See, I've been recording the combos on neck collars on-and-off for three winters and this is the first yellow one I've ever seen.  I suspect it bred in western Alaska but I haven't heard back from any officials yet.  If you look behind and to the right of that bird, you'll notice a typical blue collar on a leucopareia Cackler.  Here's another look at the yellow collar:

Elsewhere in Sacramento County, I stumbled on this hybrid goose showing traits of Canada Goose and Greater White-fronted Goose.  In fact, this is the third hybrid of that pairing that I've seen since I've lived here.  It really jumps out in a flock of GWFG too:

Or if a standard Canada Goose does much for you, we have those too:

There's one particularly uncommon wintering shorebird species in the Central Valley that still really interests me; the Mountain Plover.  Around here, the best location is near Hwy 113 south of Dixon and northwest of Rio Vista (this is in Solano County).  They can be tricky little devils to find when you want because there is a LOT of open habitat out there and they can blend in perfectly if they so choose.  I swung by the fields the other day and was happy to find 109+ of them in this particular field off Robinson Road.  Did I mention how distant they were?  Look at the distant blobs and try to use your imagination:

There is another neat shorebird species that winters here... and it's slightly bigger.  In fact, it's the biggest shorebird in North America and around here, Long-billed Curlews can form large flocks (500+).  I actually studied this species in western Nebraska from 2008-2011 for my Masters Degree.   Around here, though, I figured the birds were oblivious to me and my history of terrorizing their kind.  So when this flock got up and started flying away, I was somewhat relieved:

... just to see them turn and aim right for me!  Thankfully, they pulled back and swung wide around me:

Just today I visited the nearest local patch of mine, Don Nottoli Park in Elk Grove.  I ended with ~45 species including this Black-crowned Night-Heron which is only the third record for this hotspot:

However, what do you get when a night-heron is flying around in the territory of a grumpy Cooper's Hawk?  Well, this photo shows the start of the chase:

Through much squawking and shrieking from the night-heron, the Cooper's eventually drove off the heron.  Thanks a lot, no wonder I almost never see night-herons there.

Lastly, the Killdeer in the park are paired up and staking out the apparently prime habitat of woodchips.  Whatever you say, silly plovers: