“People often ask me how it is that I seem to be so much at peace. There is a primary reason — and it is available to all who wish to have it. Here’s a simple prerequisite to attaining peace at that level. I invite you to observe the beasts, birds and fish and let them teach you. Let this be a daily routine and life, as you know it, will never be the same.”
– Eddie Bo

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Day 3 - Santa Barbara Christmas Bird Count, "Greenish" Birding

January 3 was the Santa Barbara Christmas Bird Count (CBC).  This is an annual event held in many locations across the country, where on a specific day birders do a census of the birds within a specified count area.  The area is a circle, and the same size for each local count.  There is a bit of rivalry between counts to see who can tally the most species.  Santa Barbara is generally near the top of the list.  For me the best thing about the Santa Barbara count is that it attracts many skilled participants, both local from out of town.  Last year the Santa Barbara CBC had the most participants of any count in the United States.

As I had been assigned an area in the mountains, Green Birding was not possible as I needed to drive to my assigned area in the upper Santa Ynez River Valley (Paradise Road).  As it happens, the road is closed due to a rainstorm in December that dumped some debris on the road in a few places.  This presented me the opportunity to cycle across the river and up the valley on the closed road, which I did, hence "Greenish" Birding.  More on this in a moment.

The day started for me in the San Marcos Pass area.  My assignment there was to see a Scott's Oriole.  In general this is a rare species for Santa Barbara County, but one or more have been wintering in this area for many years.  This assignment is nerve-wracking for me, for if I do not find this bird it is quite possible that nobody else will.  I arrived shortly after 7AM, set up my scope where I was confident one would appear, and waited about 20 minutes before one actually did.  It posed nicely for my scope/camera setup, I snapped some photos and headed on to my next assignment.  In addition there were two other Scott's Orioles were seen during the count in a different location.

Scott's Oriole (adult male) Santa Barbara CBC

I arrived at the locked gate at Paradise Road and headed out on my mountain bike.  The car thermometer read 36 degrees.  My tires broke though a thin icy crust as I crossed the Santa Ynez River.  My plan was to ride to the Upper Oso campground to find Lawrence's Goldfinch.  It was very cold at first, but the sun came up and started to warm things up.  Soon a flock of Lesser Goldfinch and Pine Siskin were coming to the creek to drink and bathe.  After an hour of searching and following the flock around the area, I played a call of Lawrence's Goldfinch.  Immediately a small gray finch with a light bill and yellowish wash on the breast flew directly towards me and landed nearby on a branch - Lawrence's Goldfinch!  This was a great find, as one had not been recorded on the Santa Barbara CBC for about 5 years.

With this bird in hand (so to speak), I began the ride up to Gibraltar Reservoir.  Target bird there was Common Goldeneye.  This duck would likely not be seen anywhere else in the count area.  My route and elevation profile for this portion of the ride is shown below - a healthy climb in the middle!

Route from Lower Oso to Gibraltar Dam and back

About a mile up the road I looked up and saw a raptor soaring above the ridge.  The question here is always "Red-tailed Hawk?" and nearly 100% of the time the answer is yes.  In this case, the answer was no.  The bird was rather uniformly dark, front underside of wings darker, head lighter brown, and long finger-like feathers at the end of the wings.  Golden Eagle!  A very nice find.

The rest of the ride was unremarkable in the bird sense.  I arrived at the reservoir, and searched unsuccessfully for the Common Goldeneye.  Some other interesting ducks: Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser - but the target bird was not to be found.

On the return I got word that one of our target species, Rock Wren, had not yet been found.  I knew a pretty reliable spot for this.  After packing up the bike in the car, I stopped by Sage Hill Campground on the way back.  I got out of the car and started walking towards the likely spot.  Along the way I heard a Phainopepla calling from the top of an oak tree, then saw it - another desired species.  Just then a van pulled up and the "loud family" emerged.  Parents, 3 kids, and a dog.  They did not talk, they shouted.  I walked farther and farther from the campground, trying to escape the noise.  Finally I heard and then spotted the desired wren flitting around on a rock.  Success!

So I biked 19 miles, and saw some great birds.  However, since I did not leave from and return to home under my own power, these birds will not be included in the Green Year total.  Hence, "Greenish" birding.

More tomorrow,

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