18 April 2014

The 100 species checklist

There's been this idea inside my head lately (on the back burner and getting stinky).  You'll remember back to January 1 of this year (or maybe you won't) when I set out to find 100 species in a day here in Sacramento County.  Well, I rushed around and ultimately came up a few short.  Not a big deal... BUT I was close enough to get the gears turning.

Cosumnes River Preserve, which sits on the southern edge of Sacramento County, often provides some impressive variety when it comes to day lists.  Not surprisingly, the impressive variety of birds is due to the impressive variety of habitats found there.  From the flooded fields which are great for waterfowl, to the drawn-down fields that can be good for shorebirds, to the impressive remnant riparian areas and sloughs, Cosumnes is kinda where it's at.

I've topped 80 species on a single visit there a few times but the nagging question lingered: "Would 100 be possible during a single visit?"  I assumed it could be done but with careful planning.  Today was the day except... I had no careful planning; instead I just decided to wing it.

I arrived around 7:30 this morning and started by scoping shorebirds and ducks along Desmond Road and the Lost Slough areas.  A SEMIPALMATED PLOVER was one of the first to greet me:

It was quite evident that the floodgates had opened for WESTERN SANDPIPERS.  There were fewer than 5 a couple of days ago but now the numbers were 40+.  Note the black legs, bright rufous on head/cheek/scaps, and the longish/drooped bill:

One of the flooded units was being drawn down which made it an attractive destination for this SOLITARY SANDPIPER.  This was my best find of the day and was a county lifer for me:

Yep, and if the not-so-black back and the elongated look to the backend wasn't enough, I know it wasn't a Green Sandpiper by this shot of the rump:

All these ponds probably have actual names but I'll skip that step and put a pin exactly where the bird was:

View Solitary Sandpiper in a larger map

I continued on my trek and found several VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS bickering with TREE SWALLOWS for a potential nest site.  Well, I can't say for sure that these swallows will nest here but when a cavity-nester behaves like this, it's hard to assume otherwise:

It's a shame these two photos aren't a bit more in focus; I absolutely love the coloration on these guys:

But of course the TREE SWALLOWS weren't to be outdone.  If I were keeping track, this might be my best shot ever of a TRES head:

The afternoon sun (temps were in the 80s), brought out many butterflies.  This LORQUIN'S ADMIRAL was staring me down:

...and today yielded my first MYLITTA CRESCENTS of the year:

Nearing the end of my effort, I was in dire need of fluke additions to my checklist.  One of those occurred when I flushed an AMERICAN BITTERN along a stretch of boardwalk.  Although this species breeds at Cosumnes, it's not one you can expect to find when you actually want to.

Another fluke was this WHITE-THROATED SPARROW that is continuing to hang out by the Visitor Center.  And as you can see, I was dehydrated and hallucinating enough to not bother taking a half-decent photo:

I found myself at 97 species with a surprising list of misses:

Ring-necked Duck
Rufous Hummingbird
Rock Pigeon
House Sparrow

It's uncanny how easy it is to see these species there when you don't give a crap.  However, it was nearing 2:00 PM and I needed to get out of Dodge.  I needed some birds... and pronto.  I returned to Desmond Road which seemed like a logical place to refocus on shorebirds.  Although DUNLIN was easy just a week ago, the numbers have really thinned out lately.  I trained my scope on a roosting flock of WESTERN and LEAST SANDPIPERS and, eventually, my scoping paid off when a couple of the roosting birds turned out to be DUNLIN.  Ok, two more, I needed two more bits of luck.  Fast forward a while.  Cruising slowly down the road, my mind started to wander.  "Is that a pure purple Golden Eagle?  With a jetpack?  Wait, is it diving... towards me?  Woah, this thing is going to hit my freaking car!  HOLY..." -snapping to reality-  I slammed on the breaks.  I had heard something.  I hopped out, looked up, and confirmed my suspicions; a WHIMBREL was flying over and giving its hollow series of notes.

I was on a roll, I just needed one more.  That'd be easy, right?  Or.... would I bake here in the sun all afternoon, slowly losing my mind?  Would the authorities find a sunburnt crispy in hiking boots wrapped around a tripod with the number 99 scratched in the dirt?

I'm not sure at what point I became desperate but it was probably about the time I started setting my scope up ON TOP OF my car.  Maybe this added height would pay off?  Way out in a flooded field, I spotted a distant white bird on the other side of a dirt berm.  After adjusting my car location 3 times, I could confirm what would be my 100th species of the day, a FORSTER'S TERN.  It wasn't on my radar but I'd take it either way!  I reveled in reaching the mark for about 0.003 seconds before I packed up and scrammed.

Anyway, it was fun having a target number and even though it ended up being a slog at the end, I'm happy I stuck with it.  A friend suggested what I did could be classified as a "Big Checklist".  In the age of Big Years, Big Days, why not limit yourself to one hotspot and see how high you can get your single-visit total to.  Have any of you tried this?  If so, I'd like to hear about it!

Oh, and before I forget, as soon as I got home, Ash and I returned to Cosumnes just to see if the SOSA was still present (and it was).  Here's a digiscoped photo taken with my phone and adaptor:

For those curious types, here's my final species list:

Greater White-fronted Goose
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
American White Pelican
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
White-faced Ibis
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Virginia Rail
Common Gallinule
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Solitary Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Least Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
Forster's Tern
Mourning Dove
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Hutton's Vireo
Western Scrub-Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Oak Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Marsh Wren
Bewick's Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Western Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
American Pipit
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
MacGillivray's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock's Oriole
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch

... as seen on this checklist.