“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

Friday, February 27, 2015

Day 58 - Snipe Hunt

This morning I set out for the ex-Ocean Meadows Golf Course in Goleta, hoping once and for all to find the Grace's Warbler.  This would be my third attempt to see this bird.  It has been reported each of the last 3 days, so I felt I had a good chance of finding it.  Also reported nearby has been Wilson's Snipe, a species I would be happy to get out of the way.  For some reason this is a bird I have difficulty connecting with in Santa Barbara County.

As I arrived I met Curtis Marantz, who cheerfully gave me directions to where they had just left the Grace's Warbler (I will note that last year Curtis set the single year record for California, seeing nearly 500 species).

Before heading over to see the Warbler I took a brief spin around the little wetlands looking for the Snipe.  No luck.  On my way to the warbler I ran into local birders Nancy States and Debbie Konkel, who were also just coming from seeing the Grace's Warbler.  I was feeling optimistic.

I arrived at the spot where the Grace's Warbler was last seen, the gentleman there peering into the trees introduced himself to me, John Sterling.  That name was very familiar, as I see it all the time on rare bird reports from all over California (After returning home I see that he has already reported 299 species in California this year).  This little Warbler was attracting quite a crowd!

Well, John and I looked for that warbler for about an hour without any luck.  While disappointing, for a change it was strangely comforting not being the only person missing out on a bird.  About this time local birder Libby Patton came up.  She had been looking for the Snipe with Nancy and Debbie, and had found them - by nearly stepping on them.  She knew I was looking for them, so shared the good news that they were indeed there.

After searching a bit longer for the Grace's Warbler, I headed back to the Snipe area.  It did not take long to flush one from the edge of the water.  I was hoping for a photo, so walked around a bit more.  These birds have excellent hiding skills, and I was unable to find one without flushing them.

After leaving the Snipe I decided to stop by Coal Oil Point on the way home.  I was hoping to find a Western Sandpiper.  Strangely enough I have not caught up with this rather common species yet.  In fact, I believe this is the last common winter species I have yet to see.  After a few minutes scanning the shore I was able to locate a small group of them among the other shorebirds.  I was too lazy to climb down the bluffs and get their photo, so you'll have to settle for one I took a couple of years back.

Western Sandpiper, Goleta April 2013

And a few photos from today:

Greater White-fronted Goose, Mallard, and Killdeer

Cinnamon Teal

Snowy Egret

After the addition of today's 2 species, the year's total stands at 180. 

Today I rode 29.8 miles

More later,

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Day 56 - Carpinteria Salt Marsh

Today was Bird Class day, and we visited the Carpinteria Salt Marsh.  I was not really expecting to see anything new for the year, and I did not.  It was really nice to just enjoy the beautiful day and nice variety of birds and not be chasing that ONE bird.

Although it was low tide (mid-tide would be best), we did see a good variety of species.  The most interesting one, for me anyway, was the Belding's subspecies of the Savannah Sparrow.  This subspecies favors salt marshes and only occurs from Baja Mexico north to Santa Barbara county.  We saw a number of these sparrows sitting on low bushes and singing their sweet soft song.

After class I could not resist hitting a few spots along the coast looking for Western Sandpipers.  I did not find any.  I am a little surprised that I have not caught up with this rather common species yet, but there is still plenty of time for that!

A few photos from today:

Black Phoebe 

Great Blue Heron

Greater Yellowlegs

Belding's Savannah Sparrow

After the today the year's total still stands at 178. 

Today I rode 36.5 miles

More later,

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Day 55 - Three Strikes

I had a little time this morning so headed back to the San Marcos Foothill Preserve to see the Townsend's Solitaire - third try.  I even got specific directions from Mark Holmgren who has seen the bird there twice in the past week.

I visually scoured a very local area for an hour with no sign of the bird.  Three strikes and I am out.  Unless the bird hangs around for a long time and I have nothing else to chase I am done looking for it.  I think time is better spent tracking down other birds.

Can't win them all.

After the today the year's total still stands at 178. 

Today I rode 11.5 miles

More later,

Monday, February 23, 2015

Day 54 - Batting .333 Today

At this time my strategy is to try and hunt down the more unusual and seasonal species that are presently in the area.  With that in mind I set out today to find 3 birds seen in the past few days: Townsend's Solitaire (again), Grace's Warbler (again), and Eurasian Wigeon.

I first returned to the San Marcos Foothills Preserve in a second attempt to see the Townsend's Solitaire.  I spent about 30 minutes in the area it has been seen, with no luck finding the bird.  There was a Cooper's Hawk calling not too far away which may have had a chilling effect on the songbird activity here.

I then headed over to Goleta to try a second time to see the Grace's Warbler.  At least for this attempt I arrived during the more likely time of day to see the bird.  I spent an hour looking around the area where the bird is usually seen with no luck.  At this point I was getting a bit frustrated at my lack of success,  and I must say the incessant calling of a nearby Mockingbird was starting to get on my nerves.  At least it was turning into a gorgeous day and there were plenty of birds to look at.  (UPDATE: The Grace's Warbler was seen at this very spot about 90 minutes after I left - arggh!)

Well, if your math skills are working you can guess the outcome of the Eurasian Wigeon search.

Male Eurasian Wigeon are easy to tell apart from their American counterparts, as they have red heads, the Americans heads are green and grayish.  The difference in the females is more subtle.  The American females have grayish heads, the Eurasians more brownish.  Put the two side by side and the difference is pretty obvious.  Put a single Eurasian female way out on the water in a large group of Americans, perhaps not so obvious.

Well, luckily for me after arriving at Devereux Slough I only had to look at about a dozen Wigeon before I saw the brownish head of the female Eurasian Wigeon.  I waited around awhile hoping the bird would come closer for a better photo, but that did not happen.  I did get some distant photos that clearly show the difference in head color on this hen.

Most baseball players would be happy with a 1 for 3 day at the plate, and today I would say I am too.

A few photos from today:

Song Sparrow

Devereux Slough

Bonaparte's Gull (1st Cycle)

American Wigeon (female on left - note gray head)

 Eurasian Wigeon (Female) - note brownish head and neck

After the addition of today's 1 species, the year's total stands at 178. 

Today I rode 33 miles

More later,

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Day 52 - San Marcos Foothills Preserve

This morning I headed out to the San Marcos Foothills Preserve.  This is an area of open space that was saved from development by a community group and donated to the Land Trust in 2007.  It is one of the few remaining accessible open spaces in the Santa Barbara foothills.

The reason for heading here - recent bird reports, of course!  Yesterday local birder, biologist, and open space advocate Mark Holmgren reported 3 desirable species here: Greater Roadrunner, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Townsend's Solitaire.  Any one of these would be a good addition to the year's list, as they are difficult to find locally (Roadrunner, Sparrow) or usually stay in the mountains (Solitaire).

As I arrived at the entrance to the reserve there was a group assembling for a guided tour.  Mark Holmgren arrived to join the group.  I was going to ask him where he was hiding the Solitaire but he was engaged with the group and I did not want to interrupt.  Mistake.

I looked in the noted spot for the Solitaire, without luck.  I then made a loop of the eastern side of the reserve, which did not turn up the desired Roadrunner or sparrow.  On the way out, I stopped agin to look for the Solitaire, but it was not cooperating.  0 for 3 on desired birds today!  To rub salt in the wound, Mark's ebird report from his visit did show the Solitaire to be present.

So, I will need to revisit this place.  Not a bad thing, as I have seen several interesting birds here during the spring and summer in previous years.

I leave you with a photo I took of a Townsend's Solitaire last year.

Townsend's Solitaire, February 2014, Figueroa Mountain

After the today the year's total still stands at 177. 

Today I rode 11.8 miles

More later,

Friday, February 20, 2015

Day 51 - Ruddy Turnstone

I don't have lots of time to write this, so I'll keep it short and sweet.

There has been a Ruddy Turnstone reported at Coal Oil Point in Goleta for some time, and several times in the recent week.  This is a relatively unusual visitor to the South Coast of Santa Barbara County, so I have been hoping to track it down.  I was in the area earlier this week, but the tide was high - Turnstones are shorebirds that like to pick over the exposed rocks and weeds at low tide.

Today I decided to swap things and go looking for the Ruddy Turnstone in the afternoon at low tide.  Along the way I stopped at the old Ocean Meadows golf course, where the wintering (and lately absent) Grace's Warbler was reported this morning.  I did not really expect to see it, as these types of birds tend to be more reliable in the morning - like me, they enjoy their siestas.  It did not surprise me by making an appearance.  At least it is still around, so I might catch up with it yet.

I made my way over to Coal Oil Point, parked my bike on the bluff, lifted up my binoculars - and practically the first thing I saw was the Ruddy Turnstone!  It was too far away for a photo, so I made my way down to the beach.  It took a little while to refind the bird, as it had moved, but I followed it around and did the best I could getting a photo given the unfavorable direction of the sun.

Another good bird added to the year's list!

I include a photo of the more locally common Black Turnstone for comparison.

 Black Turnstone

 Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

After the addition of today's 1 species, the year's total stands at 177. 

Today I rode 29 miles

More later,

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Day 50 - Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Today I headed up to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden to follow up on a report yesterday of a Golden-crowned Kinglet.  Although I thought it was a long shot, it would be great to see this bird - I have not yet seen one in Santa Barbara County.  In these parts they live in the mountains, with the occasional visit down to the lower elevations near the coast.  In my experience they are small, fairly quiet, and tend to stay high up in the trees.

I spent the better part of 2 hours walking the lovely grounds at the Botanic Garden without spotting or hearing a Golden-crowned Kinglet.  There were quite a few birds about, many of them trying out their spring songs.  Every year it takes me awhile to get used to the new vocabularies the birds start using in the spring.

I will no doubt be back to the Botanic Garden this year.  Especially during migration it attracts a good variety of birds.  Also, when the meadow area is in bloom with wildflowers it is quite spectacular!

On the way home I stopped at Bohnett park.  I have never visited this park before, and it is not far from our house.  Recently a Warbling Vireo was seen here.  In a month or two these birds will be fairly common.  Right now they are "out of season" and perhaps this one has been hanging around all winter.  Although I did not find the Vireo I was pleasantly surprised at the number and variety of birds I encountered in this little forest oasis in downtown Santa Barbara.

So, no new birds today.  I have had a pretty good streak, the last 8 outings have produced new finds for the year.  Time to start a new streak tomorrow!

Here are a few photos from today:

Spotted Towhee

 Common Yellowthroat playing hide and seek

Hutton's Vireo

After the today the year's total still stands at 176. 

Today I rode 12.2 miles

More later,

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Day 49 - Gulls and Parking Lot Birds

Today started out with Bird Class down at the Santa Barbara waterfront - today's subject, Gulls.  Many birders, myself included until just recently, get a pale and distant look when the subject of gulls comes up.

Gulls are are messy and confusing.  They have strange body parts such as "gonys" and "gonydeal expansion."  They take 3 or 4 years (cycles in Gullspeak) to reach adult state, and their appearance changes every year.  If this is not confusing enough, they go out of bounds and mate with other gull species, producing hybrids.

Although no new species were added to the year's list during class, we (at least some of us) had an excellent time sorting through the gulls and identifying which species and cycle they were.  We saw Western, Heermann's, Glaucus-winged, Herring, California, Ring-billed, and Mew Gulls.  There was only one Gull that had us all (even the teacher) stumped.  As is typical with gulls, we declared it to be a hybrid and took photos which will be sent to the experts to sort out.  See photo below "Mystery Gull"

Here are some photos from class today:

Horned Grebe (a rather pale one)

 California Gull (adult)

 Glaucous-winged Gull (2nd Cycle)

 Herring Gull (1st Cycle)

Hybrid (likely Glaucous-winged x Western) Gull

Ring-billed Gull (adult)

Western Gull (adult)

Pelagic Cormorant

After class I headed down to Carpinteria, where yesterday local birder Rob Denholz reported a Hermit Warbler in Tipu trees in a downtown parking lot (You may remember warblers, Tipu trees and parking lots from Day 9).  Anyway, Hermit Warbler would be a good bird to get as I have it down as just "possible" for the year. 

I arrived at the Vons grocery store and began searching the Tipu trees.  As expected, there were many Yellow-rumped Warblers.  After examining all trees in the parking lot I moved down the sidewalk to the next Tipu tree, where I found my first non-Yellow-rumped Warbler, a handsome male Towsend's Warbler.  OK, I thought, we are moving in the right direction.  Shortly thereafter I saw another non-Yellow-rumped Warbler, this one a Black-throated Gray Warbler.  Score one for the year's list!  I had previously missed out on this one in the Tipu trees in downtown Santa Barbara.  I was happy, for even if I did not find the Hermit Warbler, I would not go home empty-handed (so to speak).

I managed a decent photo of the Black-throated Gray, though I must say taking photos of warblers hopping around up in the trees is above my pay scale.

I continued searching the trees in the adjacent parking lot, finding a few more Townsend's Warblers.  When I arrived I gave myself about an hour for the warbler search.  It was getting past 50 minutes, and there was one tree left to search.  It was located directly behind the Rincon Brewing Company (which was beginning to look quite appealing).  I saw a couple more Townsend's Warblers, then  another warbler high in the tree - white underside and all yellow face - Hermit Warbler!!  Unfortunately too far up the tree for any decent photo, but I was very happy to have tracked it down.  Plus I had the bonus Black-throated Gray Warbler as well.  Another excellent day! 

Black-throated Gray Warbler

After the addition of today's 2 species, the year's total stands at 176. 

Today I rode 31.9 miles

More later,

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Day 48 - Swallow Hunt

After a few days away it felt good to get back on the bike and go looking for birds.

In these parts some of the first birds to return in the spring are swallows.  Typically there are 5 types of swallows that can be easily found near Santa Barbara: Cliff, Tree, Barn, Violet-green and Northern Rough-winged.  Spring must be on the way as over the past week or so there have been reports of Tree, Violet-green and Northern Rough-winged Swallows.  I thought it would make a nice search to see if I could find all three varieties today.

My first stop on this gray morning was Lake Los Carneros in Goleta, where I was primarily looking for Tree Swallows, and perhaps Violet-green Swallows.  After an hour walking around the lake I had seen many birds but still no swallows.  Then I heard quite a racket above my head and looked up to see a pair of Tree Swallows.  One down!  

Just a couple of minutes later I saw a small hawk of the accipiter family flying over the lake.  I was hoping it was a Sharp-shinned Hawk, which I needed for the year's list  (I had missed one here last week).  In the field it can be difficult to tell Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks from each other.  Luckily today the smallish bird flying by had a small head which barely projected past the front of the wings - a good mark for Sharp-shinned hawk.  Add that one to the list!  As these birds only spend the winter around here I was beginning to wonder if I would see one of these before they all leave for the summer.

After leaving Lake Los Carneros I made a pass by Devereux Lagoon hoping that perhaps the American Avocet reported a fews days ago was still there, but no luck with that.

The final stop of the day was at Goleta Beach, where a Northern Rough-winged Swallow has been hanging around.  After watching a Caspian Tern for a few minutes, I saw this swallow flying over the water hunting for insects.  2nd swallow down!

I rode up the bike path a ways looking for more swallows, but could not find any.  So I end the day 2 for 3 on the swallows.  In season swallows are easy to come by so I am not worried that I will catch up with all of them eventually.

A few photos from today:

 Allen's Hummingbird

 Black-necked Stilt

 Caspian Tern

After the addition of today's 3 species, the year's total stands at 174. 

Today I rode 31.1 miles

More later,

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Day 46 - Some Thoughts on Finding and Chasing

First, a couple of definitions.  If I go to a spot looking for birds, without prior knowledge of what has been seen there recently, and locate a bird (in this case usually an unusual or unlikely bird), than I have “found” that bird.  If someone else finds a bird and reports it, then I go looking for it, I have “chased” that bird.  Basically, see a bird with no prior information = find, see a bird with prior information = chase.

As you may imagine, many birders take great pleasure in finding interesting or unusual birds.  Let’s face it, it is simply more challenging and rewarding to find a bird than to have the “advantage” of prior information when chasing.

As you may have noticed,  this year I have been doing a great deal of chasing (and very little finding).  Chasing is simply the most efficient way to see as many different species.   This is especially true given the fact it takes me longer to get places and I can cover less distance in a day when I am on my bicycle.  I don’t feel badly about all this chasing, as it has been effective in adding species to the year’s list.  I do hope to do some finding later in the year, especially if or when the list of birds within range that can be chased has been exhausted.

In thinking about this finding and chasing business, I came up with a new concept for a big year – the “no chase” big year.  In this big year, the participant(s) would have to somehow ignore all bird sighting reports (e-bird, local lists, word of mouth, etc.) and find all of their own birds.  In this day and age I believe it would be very difficult to disconnect yourself from the seemingly omnipresent flow of information and accomplish this.  A crazy idea, but perhaps someone will (or even has!) take it up.

I will be back chasing birds in Santa Barbara soon, until then I leave you with these Rosy-finch photos from the last few days in Alta, Utah.

More later,

Black Rosy-finch

 Gray-crowned Rosy-finch (Interior)

Gray-crowned Rosy-finch (Coastal)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Day 43 - Back Soon

We will return to our regularly scheduled program shortly!


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Day 41 - Goleta Hat Trick +1

Today was a fantastic day of Green Birding.  The weather was warm and clear.  After the recent rain the landscape is lush and green - due to a brutal drought it has not been this way for 3 years.  There are many flowers too!  (OK, most are invasive weeds, but the flowers are pretty)  There were birds everywhere.  And, to top it all off, I was pushed home by a nice tailwind.

This morning I decided to head out to Lake Los Carneros in Goleta.  I had not visited here since New Year's Day.  It is so nice to have such a wide variety of birding locations to choose from.  There have been some birds reported here recently that I have been looking for, most notably Sora which you may recall I missed seeing yesterday at the Bird Refuge.

I arrived around 7:30, and the place was hopping with birds.  A mixed flock of Sparrows, Towhees, and a California Thrasher escorted me to the lake proper.  I scanned the reeds around the edge of the lake, and within 30 seconds had a Sora in my binoculars. (Hey now that's a good start!) Unlike most sightings I have had of these birds, this one lounged around in the open giving me clear but distant views.  Too distant for photos.  I tried going around to another spot on the shore for a closer look but was unsuccessful.

I made my way to the North side of the lake, where yesterday Rebecca Coulter (Canyon Wren hero, see Day 30) had reported hearing a Summer Tanager.  This would be a "Bonus Bird" - one I had not thought I had a chance to see this year.  I listened around the area for the distinctive call of the Tanager, but did not hear it among the dozens of Yellow-rumped Warblers and other birds.

I continued around the lake, spotting a small raptor in a distant tree.  Hoping it was a Sharp-shinned Hawk, I got close enough to determine it was in fact a Merlin, a small falcon.  Nice, handsome, and all that, but not the bird I was hoping for.

As I continued on I encountered a birding class being led by Rebecca Coulter - small world, or what?  I reported that I had not heard the Tanager, she reported that their group had heard one in an area of the park I had not yet visited.

I continued in that direction, stopping to observe a Red-breasted Sapsucker in a small Pepper Tree.  This is another new species for the year.  The bird was not particularly cooperative with the camera but I did get one decent shot.

 Red-breasted Sapsucker

I went to the area where the Tanager had been heard.  I stopped and listened, but no Tanager.  Just then I got a text from Rebecca, the Tanager was now being seen by the class in the area I had originally been looking.  I headed back to that area, made a couple of circuits listening and looking before I spotted a likely suspect high in a Eucalyptus tree.  Sure enough, Summer Tanager, female - Bonus Bird!  I managed a couple ID photos which turned out pretty well given the horrendous lighting.

 Summer Tanager (female) - Bonus Bird!

As things were going so well I decided to try my luck chasing one more bird.  Last weekend local birder Dave Compton had reported a Tropical Kingbird in the "Area K" portion of the Goleta Slough  (You may recall I was there recently to find a Cinnamon Teal).  Interestingly enough, on my way from Lake Los Carneros to Area K I saw no less than 9 male Cinnamon Teal in a small wetland.  I arrived at the Area K overlook, and immediately saw a Kingbird - but it was a Cassin's Kingbird, the common type of Kingbird that winters here.  I kept looking, and heard the distinctive call of the Tropical Kingbird - it is more liquid and trilly than the call of the Cassin's Kingbird.  Shortly after hearing this I spotted the Tropical Kingbird, it was sallying out to catch insects and returning to the same perch.  It was far away but I managed a decent photo which clearly shows field marks distinguishing it from the Cassin's Kingbird - Yellow Breast up to the neck, longer bill, and forked tail.

Tropical Kingbird

A highly successful day - many thanks to those who report the birds that they find!

After the addition of today's 4 species, the year's total stands at 171. 

Today I rode 28.6 miles

More later,

Monday, February 9, 2015

Day 40 - Bird Refuge

This morning I had time for a relatively short outing, so it would have to be close to home.

Yesterday I was made aware of a recent report in the local news of a Burrowing Owl that was hanging around at the local TV station - close to our house even!  This is a species I have not yet managed to find in Santa Barbara County, so it would be quite nice if I could find it so easily and close to home.  I stopped by the station, but could not locate the owl.  The morning light was terrible in this location, so I may return late one afternoon to search again.

I continued on to the Andree Clark Bird Refuge.  There have been some reports from here recently of birds that I have not yet encountered this year, including Sora (a small rail-like bird that likes to hide in the reeds).

The Bird Refuge seemed a bit quiet this morning, and I noticed a distinct lack of diversity in the duck population - almost all the ducks I could see were Ruddy Ducks.

I walked down the North shore of the water, scanning the reeds for a Sora.  I KNOW they are here, for in addition to the recent reports I have seen them here myself as recently as November.  They simply were not cooperating.

I reached the end of the path, and found a pair of Cinnamon Teal resting and preening.  Just then I heard the distinctive call of a Virgina Rail and saw the small dark bird dart into the reeds.  Now that was a nice surprise!  I got my camera out, but true to form the Rail stayed hidden in the reeds.  That's what they generally do, and I have never managed a photo of one.  This was a species I had listed as possible for the year, so it was really nice to encounter one this morning.

This part of the Bird Refuge is quite close to the Santa Barbara Zoo.  I could see a California Condor in the enclosure with wings outstretched basking in the morning sun.  I imagined seeing such a magnificent sight in the wild and wide open spaces of California, Arizona, Utah, or Baja - maybe someday I will have the opportunity.

I continued to scan the reeds for a Sora, but none were cooperating.  As a consolation I spotted a Green Heron standing along the edge of the water.  Another species added to the year's list!  This one was too far away for a photo.  Hopefully I will get a closer encounter with one later in the year.

By this time I needed to head back home, so the morning's adventure came to an end.  I leave you with a couple of photos from this morning, as well as one of a Green Heron from last month in Florida - they really are handsome birds.

Great Blue Heron

 Say's Phoebe

Green Heron, Merritt Island Florida January 2015

After the addition of today's 2 species, the year's total stands at 167. 

Today I rode 11.6 miles

More later,

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Day 39 - Costa's Hummingbird

Recently I have been seeing ebird reports of a Costa's Hummingbird appearing at a feeder not far from my house.  I had this species on the "possible" list - they are around (mostly during migration) but can be hard to track down.  Seeing one this early in the year and this close to home would be a bonus.  I managed to get connected with the feeder's owner, they were kind enough to have me over to see the bird.

Sure enough, less than 15 minutes after we had taken seats with a view of the feeder, the subject arrived, took a few sips, and departed.  If all birds could be so close to home and cooperative!

It did return after a short while and I managed a couple of photos that do not really do the bird justice.  As for field marks, it does show the white area along the side of the neck towards the back of the eye, and wings that project at least as far as the end of the tail.  Below I include one of my better shots of a Costa's Hummingbird from a couple of years ago.

 Costa's Hummingbird

Costa's Hummingbird Nov 2012 Palm Desert Ca

After the addition of today's 1 species, the year's total stands at 165. 

Today I rode 2.7 miles

More later,

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Day 37 - Refugio Sapsucker

Lately I have been thinking about Sapsuckers.  Locally we have the luxury of having 3 sapsucker species here in the winter.  The more common Red-breasted, and the rarer Red-naped and Yellow-bellied.  Since the Red-naped and Yellow-bellied varieties will be leaving the area soon I have been thinking I should get out and find some while they are here.

A few days ago local expert birder Peter Gaede reported two Yellow-bellied and one Red-breasted Sapsucker at Refugio Road, which is about 20 miles west of the city of Santa Barbara.  This particular area was thick with Sapsuckers last November, when it was possible to see all three species in the same day  (This is also the spot I found a Painted Redstart, but that's another story).  I don't know a great deal about Sapsucker distribution, but I am guessing there are relatively few spots where this is possible.

I left the house early and made good time to Refugio Road, taking just over 1.5 hours to make the journey (I was expecting more like 2).  Upon arrival at the usual spot, I met a nice couple with Texas license plates and British accents.  They had seen a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker within the last 10 minutes and had the photos to prove it.  This was looking good!  I was confident that if I stayed long enough I was certain to find at least one Sapsucker.

I wandered around the area for awhile.  The bird sights and sounds were dominated by a flock of Starlings and the local troupe of Acorn Woodpeckers.  After making a couple rounds, I decided to head a bit farther up the road.  That was a good idea, as in the very same tree I had seen it last fall was a young male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!  It tended to stay high in the trees which made getting a photo tough, but I did manage one that I liked.  The second photo shows the back of the bird.  The pattern of markings on the back are important field marks for separating Red-naped and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in the field.  These two species can be challenging to identify as they are very similar in appearance.

Although I did not find a Red-breasted Sapsucker today, I was happy to get the much rarer Yellow-bellied.  Last fall it seemed I could not go anywhere without finding a Red-breasted Sapsucker but for some reason they have been hiding from me this year.  I am confident I will catch up with one sometime.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, rear view

After watching this fellow for awhile, I decided to head for home.  On the way out I met local birders Nancy States and Debbie Konkel - they had also seen Peter's report and were hoping to find a Sapsucker.  I gave them directions, and hoped that the Sapsucker would still be there for them.  I got an email later from Nancy saying they had indeed found it!

As I began the ride home it immediately became apparent why I had made such good time on the outward leg - I was now riding into a brisk headwind.  The ride home was hard work.  I freely admit I pushed the bike up the last hill to home.  This was the longest ride of the year so far.

After the addition of today's 1 species, the year's total stands at 164. 

Today I rode 46.7 miles

More later,

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Day 34 - Plus 2 In Goleta

This morning I headed out to Goleta hoping to track down some birds.  I had not been out on a "full day" (leave the house about 6:30, return early afternoon) outing for about a week.  I was eager to get out there.  People continue to report some interesting birds in the area, and I was looking to catch up with some of them.

On my "to-do" list today was Green Heron at Goleta Beach, Loggerhead Shrike at UCSB, and Cinnamon Teal from one of two spots in Goleta.

I arrived at Goleta beach to a very high tide.  There were a good number of birds about, unfortunately I could not find any that I had not already seen this year.  I was specifically looking for a Green Heron, which I have seen here a number of times in the past.  It would be nice to get this bird onto the list.  They are not super rare but can be hard to come by, making it a happy experience each time I find one.  I could not find one to make me happy today.

I next headed over to the UCSB Lagoon.  On the "Island" portion there have been numerous reports of a Loggerhead Shrike.  In fact, I have seen one here in the past.  Although there were many birds around, try as I might I could not locate a Shrike.  They are predators and tend to sit in exposed places, such as on top of a bush, looking for prey.  This habit makes them pretty easy to spot.

Scanning the tops of the bushes I saw numerous Song Sparrows singing.  They are announcing their territory, and hoping to attract a hottie female to breed with.  One other nice bird I found on top of a bush was a California Thrasher.  It was kind enough to pose for photos.

California Thrasher

One other consolation prize was seeing an Orchard Oriole in the same tree where I had found 2 last week - presumably one of the same ones.  I managed one OK photo, which was one more than I could last week.

Orchard Oriole

After striking out on the Shrike, I headed across campus to survey the Goleta Slough "Area K" which is a wetland that lies between the campus and the airport.  This is one of the spots where Cinnamon Teal was recently reported.  I scanned through the hundreds of ducks for a few minutes before spotting the rich rusty brown color of a male Cinnamon Teal.  Score! This is one handsome duck.  Unfortunately it was too far away for a photo, so I will include for your viewing pleasure one I took in Santa Barbara about 2 years ago.

Cinnamon Teal - Jan 2013 Santa Barbara

After grabbing a bite to eat, I started the trek towards home.  It always amazes me how quickly these mornings pass.  I decided to head down the North side of the airport.  This is an open brushy area, perhaps I could find my Shrike yet.  As I was pedaling along I was surprised to find another pair of Cinnamon Teal in a very shallow body of water between the road and the airport.  They melted into the vegetation before I could get a decent photo.

I continued along, scanning the tops of bushes and the power lines for a possible Shrike.  All I saw was Mockingbirds and Pigeons.  But then a bird on the wire caught my eye.  Just then it dropped down into the grass and then returned up to the wire - very predator-like behavior.  I got a little closer, and sure enough it was a Shrike!  And it polite enough to pose for photos.

Loggerhead Shrike

I have not yet mentioned my favorite part about Shrike behavior.  Often after capturing its prey (insect, rodent, small bird), the Shrike will impale it on a sharp object such a branch or fence.  A couple of weeks ago in Florida I found a grasshopper that had met this fate.

Grasshopper, impaled by a Shrike.  Viera Florida Jan 2015

All in all an enjoyable morning outing!

After the addition of today's 2 species, the year's total stands at 163. 

Today I rode 28.9 miles

More later,