“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

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Day 148 - Snowy Plovers

A Big Year - let's face it, this is a rather selfish endeavor.  Sure, pleasurable for that participants, but beyond increasing the database of observed birds there is little or no benefit for society at large.  So I was pleased today to be able to volunteer my time at the Coal Oil Point Reserve, monitoring the nesting Snowy Plovers during beach cleanup efforts after the recent oil spill.  As I rode my bike there I will include it as a part of the Green Big Year.

For a few days after the oil spill the beach at the reserve remained free of oil.  That changed, and more recently each high tide has brought a fresh round of oil to the beach.  Yesterday was one of the worst days with lots of black gooey blobs - the photos were quite discouraging.  Thankfully the cleanup crew did a great job and this morning things did not look so bad.

Today the crew was able to make good progress scooping up oil blobs and oily kelp, placing them in plastic bags and hauling them away.  I was impressed with their awareness of of the birds and willingness to adjust their usual cleanup methods to be less disruptive to the nesting Snowy Plovers.  The only disappointment of the day was the helicopter (being used by the pipeline operator, according to UCSB officials) that buzzed over the reserve far too low on at least 3 occasions.

As monitors our primary duty was to ensure the cleanup activities did not disturb the nesting birds and cause them to leave their nests.  Thankfully there was only one nest near the cleanup activities.  That bird did get up off the nest for a few minutes.  We notified the crew, they quickly finished up, and the bird came back to the nest.  While he was gone (males sit on the eggs during the day, females at night) the three eggs sitting in a shallow depression were clearly visible.

In spite of the circumstances it was a lovely morning at the beach.  It was really nice to spend some quality time with the Snowy Plovers, and it felt good to contribute in some small way to their well being.

Beach Closed!

Cleanup Crew

WAAAY Too Low Flying Helicopter

Snowy Plover - Male

Snowy Plover On Nest

Snowy Plover Nest - 3 Eggs

Young Snowy Plover

After today the year's total still stands at 228. 

Today I rode a total of 24.9 miles

More later,

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Day 146 - Around Goleta

After a long weekend away from the chase, it was good to get down to business again.  There were a couple of interesting recent (and reliable!) ebird reports from Goleta that I thought would be worth checking out.  I did not expect to add any birds to the year's list (and did not) but had a great time watching interesting birds and before I knew it the clock said it was time to head for home.

I started out at Farren Road, where Rebecca Coulter had reported not one but two Common Ground Doves.  I managed to hear one calling from an Avocado Orchard, but it would not come out and show itself.  There were other interesting things to see, like a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers attending to their nest; a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher harassing a Red-tailed Hawk (David and Goliath!); and no less than 7 Phainopeplas eating some red berries in bushes by the roadside.

I then headed over to the end of Coronado Drive where there is often a puddle of water that attracts birds (the "Coronado Seep").  There was some good activity there, including a cavity-creating Downy Woodpecker, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Purple Finches, and a stunning male Western Tanager that would not show itself for the camera.

Nearby I encountered the male Baltimore Oriole recently reported by Libbey Patten.  A beautiful male but camera shy.  Up on top of the mesa I saw one and heard another Grasshopper Sparrow.

Today turned out to be a pretty good day for adding species to the photographed list ...

Wrentit - distant shot, this bird is most often heard and not seen.

Phainopepla - male

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on nest.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher harassing a Red-tailed Hawk!

California Quail

Downy Woodpecker

A wet Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Oak Titmouse

Purple Finch

Grasshopper Sparrow

After today the year's total still stands at 228. 

Today I rode a total of 37.2 miles

More later,

Friday, May 22, 2015

Day 142 - Looking for ... Oil

I had a little time this morning so I was planning on heading to Farren Road, as more of a workout than a serious birding outing.  On the way there I felt I should go to Coal Oil Point and see if the Oil from the Refugio Oil Spill had made its way down the coast, so I change direction and headed out there.  I was greeted by this, which was not encouraging:

However when I got to the beach overlook I could detect no presence of oil, so that was encouraging.  I made my way along the bluff, getting distracted by an out-of-place Western Tanager which would not pose for photos.

I then caught up with Tom Turner who was out for his morning bird walk.  We approached the point with some trepidation, but again we could see no visible signs of oil on the beach or the water.  Hopefully the cleanup effort and weather will cooperate to minimize the spread of this disaster.  Luckily there are very few shorebirds around at this time of year.

As we made our way to the West side of the point we could see an oily Pelican on the beach.  Tom alerted the authorities so hopefully it will get cleaned up and looked after.

There were not many birds to be seen, and certainly nothing I could add to the year's list.  It seems I have stalled a bit on that front.  I really need to go farther afield, but cannot seem to juggle my schedule to make it happen.  Hopefully soon.

Once again although I did not find anything new in the way of birds, it was a lovely morning to be out and about!

Some photos from today:

California Towhee

Great Blue Heron

Mute Swan

Red-tailed Hawk - recently fledged

After today the year's total still stands at 228. 

Today I rode a total of 26.6 miles

More later,

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Day 140 - Lots of Miles and a Strange Tern

Today was an interesting day, and I covered more than 64 miles on the bike - a far longer distance than I have ridden on any other day thus far on the Green Big Year.

I started out heading to Carpinteria in the morning, hoping perhaps to see an Oystercatcher.  There were none of those to be found, but I did see some Black-crowned Night Herons out on the rocks which was new to me.  I also found a couple of Ash-throated Flycatchers hiding in the blooming mustard.

I decided to head home via the foothills and get some exercise.  After climbing a bunch of hills I arrived home with 40.1 miles behind me.  

No sooner did I change out of my biking clothes did I see an email from Maggie - "There is a Least Tern at Devereux Slough mouth."  I had not yet seen a Least Tern anywhere, so this was very exciting news!  I changed clothes again, hopped on the bike, and made haste for the Snowy Plover Reserve where the Tern had been spotted.  (Note, this is only a few miles down the coast from the site of yesterday's oil spill at Refugio Beach.  I hope the oil slick can be contained!)  As I raced there I was cursing the light headwind and also all of the hills I had climbed in the morning.  

1 hour and 10 minutes after the email arrived I was off my bike and heading for the beach where I ran into Tom, Maggie's husband.  He had a bit of a disappointed look on his face.  I asked him "Did the Tern Leave?"  He said no, then showed me a photo on his camera.  The basic field marks for a Least Tern were there, but the bird looked a little stiff and smooth, its single leg was oddly straight and thick - suspiciously similar to a dowel:

Tom said "Perhaps Maggie went for a walk with the baby and did not take her binoculars, or perhaps the one she saw was attracted by the decoy."  I told him I would check it out and let him know if I saw any live Terns.  

I found 3 decoys but no live Terns.  Nevertheless it was nice to visit with the Snowy Plovers.  I was hoping to see some youngsters, which are just about the cutest thing around.  I did not see any today but include a photo from a couple years ago.  There were also some Sanderlings in spiffy breeding plumage.

As I said at the beginning of this post, an interesting day.

Some photos from today:

Black-crowned Night Heron

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Hooded Oriole

Cliff Swallow, collecting mud for nest building

Sanderling, breeding plumage

Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover, May 2013

Brown Pelican (Adult on left, juvenile on right)

After today the year's total still stands at 228. 

Today I rode a total of 64.6 miles

More later,

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Day 139 - Lake Los Carneros

After being away for the weekend I was looking forward to getting out on the bike and looking for birds.  I headed to Lake Los Carneros.  There was nothing in particular I was chasing, in fact I figured it would turn into more of a bike ride than birding outing.  Once I got there I found plenty of things to keep me entertained, so it turned into more of a birding outing than a biking one.

There were lots of young birds around, and adult birds working hard to feed their youngsters.  I found a Bushtit nest, and saw a very young Blue-gray Gnatcatcher chasing the parents around and begging for food (see photo).

There were some birds around that are staying beyond the period where they are typically found.  There are two Horned Grebes in the lake that are pretty much in their full breeding plumage, something that I do not recall seeing in Santa Barbara before.  There was also a Mew Gull, and a Ring-necked Duck.  These were all species I have seen before this year but it is always nice to see something a little unusual.

So as expected no new species today but a pleasant outing on a very nice spring day!

Yellow Warbler

A very young Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Mew Gull

Ring-necked Duck

After today the year's total still stands at 228. 

Today I rode a total of 28.2 miles

More later,

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Day 134 - Rainbirds

I had plans to get up early today and chase the Yellow-breasted Chat that was reported yesterday in Goleta.  Unfortunately the forecast called for a spell of rain.  I looked at the weather radar and decided to hold off.  Well, that band of rain basically never showed up so I was kicking myself a bit for not heading out first thing.

Early in the afternoon a reliable report was posted of both Yellow-breasted Chat AND Willow Flycatchers at San Antonio Creek.  (Thanks Mark!)  These are about the only two expected spring migrants I have yet to see.  I checked the weather radar again, and wouldn't you know that band of showers had actually got itself together and was headed our way.  I figured I would get wet if I left, but it would be worth it to find these birds so I set out.

I got most of the way to the destination without getting too terribly wet and took shelter beneath an overpass to wait out the bulk of the rain.  I arrived at the trailhead just as the rain was breaking and there was blue sky overhead.  I made my way to the site where the birds were reported.  Within a few minutes I heard the song of a flycatcher, and indeed it was coming from a Willow Flycatcher (weak wing bars and very little eye ring).  The flycatcher was actually sitting in a Willow tree.  In fact I could also hear another one.  It was very nice for these birds to vocalize, as this family of flycatchers can be difficult to ID by appearance alone.  One down!

After waiting and searching the area for awhile I began to hear a clear whistling, chattering, and gurgling coming from deep in the bushes - the hallmark of a Yellow-breasted Chat.  Two birds down!  Chats have a bubbly vocal personality but often remain hidden in the bushes.  In my experience on occasion they will sing out from an exposed perch but more often stay out of sight.  I waited and did a little whistling of my own hoping that the Chat would come out but it remained hidden.

A successful and not too wet afternoon!

No photos from today, but here is one for you form last year:

Yellow-breasted Chat - San Marcos Foothill Preserve May 2014

After the addition of today's 2 species, the year's total stands at 228.

Today I rode a total of 13.3 miles

More later,

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Day 133 - Carpinteria Bluffs

It's been a few days since I have been out chasing birds.  I have been distracted by other things, and without going further afield there is not much around at the moment that I have not already seen this year.  But of course once you go out searching, you never know what you might find!

My plan this morning was to ride to the Carpinteria Bluffs via the foothills (climb more hills!).  Within the last week there were a couple of Oystercatchers reported there.  This is the one spot in the county that I know of where Oystercatchers are reported on a somewhat regular basis.  I figured there was a low probability of finding one, but at least I would get a walk on the beach at low tide.

I managed to climb all of my hills and arrived at the Bluffs as the tide was nearing its lowest level.  I walked the beach, and as I expected there were no Oystercatchers to be found.  In fact, as expected there were very few shorebirds around.  Most of them have headed north for the breeding season.  There were a couple of Spotted Sandpipers - actually with spots!  Most of the year the ones we see around here are not wearing their breeding finery.

After I climbed back up the bluff, I noticed a raven sitting on a rock outcrop above the beach.  Ravens are not very common on the coastal plain, but I did recognize this individual as one I had seen at this site before.  It has some white areas on its feathers, giving it a spotted appearance.  As I was watching I was surprised to see it fly over and into a cavity in the bluff itself.  Giving it a closer look, I could see that there was a nest in the cavity, with another Raven sitting on it!  I was very surprised to see Ravens nesting at the beach.  I did a little research in Paul Lehman's "Birds of Santa Barbara County" and was surprised again to see that Ravens have been nesting at the Bluffs since 1994.

On the way home I stopped at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge.  The Ruddy Ducks in their snazzy breeding outfits caught my attention.  While getting photos of this I was happy to see a Green Heron nearby, so I grabbed a photo of it as well.

All in all a nice outing.  Of course, as soon as I got home there was a report of a Yellow-breasted Chat in Goleta - this is one bird I need to see!  However I was simply too tired to hop on the bike and chase it down.  Perhaps tomorrow.

Raven on nest


Spotted Sandpiper

Semipalmated Plover

A very bleached 1st Cycle Glaucous-winged Gull

Green Heron

Ruddy Duck

After today the year's total still stands at 226. 

Today I rode a total of 40.8 miles

More later,

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Day 129 - A Year First!

Something happened for the first time today this year - I got a flat tire!  Now that I've got that out of the way, perhaps it will not happen again.

This morning I headed up to the Botanic Garden in search of a Swainson's Thrush.  There was one reported there a couple of days ago.  I arrived early and searched for about an hour and a half.  At one point I thought I heard one calling from up the creek a ways, but could not be certain.  Overall it was fairly quiet bird-wise.

On the way home I decided to try Rocky Nook Park, as it has a similar habitat that may be favorable for the Thrush.  Within a few minutes of arrival I heard the lovely song of none other than the Swainson's Thrush!  It took a little while to get a visual on the bird, and then it was quite cooperative for the camera.

This afternoon I met up with Peter Gaede, his son Lucas, and their friend for a bit of a Black Swift watch.  These interesting birds pass over our county only during migration.  I have only seen this species once before, in Colorado.  For me the most unusual thing about them is the fact that they like to build their nests on little ledges behind waterfalls.  We met at the "Black Swift Overlook" and watched for about an hour and a half with no luck on the swifts.  There were a few other birds around, including an Olive-sided Flycatcher, and a couple of Phainopeplas a bit farther down the hill.  A pleasant outing even without the swifts!

Swainson's Thrush

 American Crow - These have been coming to our birdbath lately

After the addition of today's 1 species, the year's total stands at 226.

Today I rode a total of 8.7 miles

More later,

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Day 126 - Finding Common Ground

This morning I headed out to western Goleta in search of a Common Ground-Dove.  Apparently there are a few that live in the orchards and agricultural areas in this area.  This is a bird I have not seen before in Santa Barbara County.  There have been a couple of recent and reliable reports from Glen Annie Road, both sightings were of a single dove flying from an orchard across the road.

The Common Ground-Dove is somewhat similar in appearance to the very common Mourning Dove, though smaller, with a short tail, and rufous color in the undersides of the wings.

I arrived in the search area and began looking around.  There are quite a few orchards in the area.  All I could think was "what are the odds that I am going to see a single dove fly across the road?"  There was a good level of bird activity in the area.  A Red-shouldered Hawk appeared to be bringing food to a nest in a Palm tree, but I could not see into the foliage to confirm this.  Interestingly, there was also a pair of Hooded Orioles in the same tree that did not seem to be bothered by the hawk's presence.

I looked around the area for about an hour.  There were Mourning Doves and Eurasian Collared-Doves, but no luck on the Ground-Dove.

I decided I would make one more pass through the area before giving up.  I came around the corner and saw a bird on the telephone wire.  When I got my binocs on it, I could see it was a compact dove with spotted wings and a short tail - my target bird!  It stayed there for a little bit and then, according to plan, flew across the road clearly showing the rufous color under its wings.  A fairly brief view but more than what I was expecting - no time for a photo.  Frankly I was a little shocked, but very happy!  This is not a species I had expected to see this year.

I passed through Devereux Slough on the way home.  There were 3 very pale Collared-Doves there.  They may be pale Eurasian Collared-Doves, or possibly African Collared-Doves.  The two species are very difficult to distinguish.  Hopefully I'll get some expert advice on this, but it is possible we may never know.  Some birds you see simply evade definitive ID.

A few photos from today:


Great Bue Heron

Pale Eurasian or possible African Collared-dove?

After the addition of today's 1 species, the year's total stands at 225.

Today I rode a total of 33.2 miles

More later,

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Day 125 - County Line Birding

This morning I headed to the Southeast corner of Santa Barbara County - Bates Road in Carpinteria.   I had a tip (thanks Wes!) that this may be a good spot to find Western Wood Pewee, Swainson's Thrush, and Yellow-breasted Chat.  Rincon Creek typically provides some riparian habitat here, but with the continuing drought it was bone dry this morning.

Bates road is actually the boundary between Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.  My theory is that I can count any birds I encounter while I am in Santa Barbara County.  The birds themselves are not required to be in Santa Barbara County.  So I was careful to stay on the Santa Barbara side of the line down the center of the road while looking for birds.

Shortly after arrival at the bridge over Rincon Creek I heard the call of the Western Wood Pewee.  Sure enough after awhile it showed itself.  One new bird for the year's list!  Sadly, it never really came close enough for a photo.

Despite the lack of water there was a good level of bird activity in the area.  Today's bird youngsters included House Wrens, Robins, and Bullock's Orioles.  I stayed in the area for about an hour but could not detect any Thrushes or Chats.  At one point I heard something that sounded like it might be a rather subdued Chat, but it turned out to be merely a Black-headed Grosbeak.

I stopped at the Mission Creek outflow on the way home to watch the Gulls and Skimmers.  Skimmers are definitely one of my favorite birds, and I never tire of watching them.

Some unspectacular photos from a rather dark and dull morning:

Robin on nest, note youngster's beak poking up

Bonaparte's Gull, breeding plumage

Bonaparte's Gull, breeding plumage

Black Skimmers

Black Skimmers

After the addition of today's 1 species, the year's total stands at 224.

Today I rode a total of 39.8 miles

More later,