“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

Monday, November 30, 2015

Day 334 - Another Bird and a Milestone

First, the big news.  After today's ride I have covered more than 4,000 miles on the bike as part of my Green Big Year - and there's still a month to go.  There will be more miles but I do not expect to hit 5,000.

This morning I set off to try and find a couple of birds that were reported last week while I was away.  There was a female Common Goldeneye seen in the lagoon at UCSB so I headed there first.  Along the way I stopped to check out the Hooded Mergansers in Atascadero Creek.  I think the male Hooded Merganser is one of the coolest ducks around.

I arrived at the lagoon and began scanning through the ducks.  Of note was a male Eurasian Wigeon and I counted 23 Red-breasted Mergansers working together to drive fish into one end of the lagoon.  But I could not find any female Common Goldeneye.

I worked my way around the lagoon figuring there were more ducks in the southwestern arm.  I did see a Peregrine Falcon along the way but when I got to the southwestern portion of the lagoon there were very few ducks there.  I decided to make another pass through the area where I began, as this was where most of the ducks were.  

I arrived back at the spot and began scanning with the binoculars.  Two ducks popped up to the surface, and I was very surprised to be looking at not one, but two male Common Goldeneye.  One was clearly an adult, the other seemed to be moving into adult plumage.  They stayed away from the shore but I managed some distant ID photos.  Common Goldeneye joins the list for # 279!

Next I headed out to the old Ocean Meadows Golf Course to look for the dreaded Grace's Warbler.  Along the way I stopped to check out the flock of geese at the UCSB fields, hoping for a Snow Goose.  No Snow Goose yet.  I spent about 45 minutes searching for the Grace's Warbler.  You can guess how that turned out.

A few photos from this morning:

Common Goldeneye (males

Common Goldeneye (male)

Belted Kingfisher

Eurasian Wigeon (male)

Hooded Merganser (male)

Peregrine Falcon

Ross's Goose

After the addition of this 1 species, the year's total stands at 279

The Score: Vermont 274, Green Big Year 279

Today I rode a total of 28.0 miles

More later,

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Day 333 - A Welcome Home Scoter

While away for the Thanksgiving holiday I was of course keeping watch on the local bird reports.  There were several sightings that would have been good additions to the year's list.

One was a White-winged Scoter in the Santa Barbara Harbor that was first reported by Jim Hodgson.  It seemed to be sticking around, so after arriving home and unloading I got myself on the bike and headed down to the harbor.  

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and quite a change from a brisk and snowy Utah we had just left behind.  I arrived at the harbor and saw a few scoters floating in the distance.  I got myself in a position for a closer look.  There were 3 scoters fairly close to the shore, 2 Surf Scoters and 1 Black Scoter - possibly the one I had seen in the harbor awhile back.  I had to scan farther out from shore to locate the White-winged Scoter, which thankfully had stuck around until after I arrived home.  It eventually came a little closer for a decent ID photo.  White-winged Scoter for #278!

Tomorrow I hope to catch up with one or two more of the birds reported last week.  Fingers crossed!

Some photos from this afternoon:

White-winged Scoter

Black Scoter

Black-bellied Plover


After the addition of this 1 species, the year's total stands at 278

The Score: Vermont 274, Green Big Year 278

Today I rode a total of 8.5 miles

More later,

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Day 328 - Update and Happy Thanksgiving

Here is a quick update for you as I am away for the Thanksgiving Holiday.

The Vermont Bird Records Committee has completed the review of sightings for the year.  As a result of this eight species have been added Vermont's total for the year, bringing them to 274.  Things are very close and it should be an exciting finish to the year!

Good news for Vermont, there has been a Lapland Longspur in Elings Park (about a mile from my house) the last two days - but I am away!  Who knows if this bird will stick around until I return.

A very Happy Thanksgiving to all.  I hope you have plenty to be thankful for.  I know I do!

Wild Turkey, Madera Canyon Az March 2013

The Score: Vermont 274, Green Big Year 277

More later,

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Day 324 - Back To Santa Barbara

After yesterday's smashing success around Santa Maria it was time to head home.  I did have three stops planned to look for more birds.  The weather forecast was for light but favorable winds which was a relief.  I got started just before sunrise and made good progress, arriving at Zaca Station Road in the Santa Ynez Valley around 830.

I had good advice that this would be a fine place to find Lewis's Woodpecker.  I am hoping to get back out to the Santa Ynez Valley but as I was passing right by why not look for this bird now?  I searched for about 45 minutes before spotting one of these beauties.  These large dark woodpeckers with the pink breasts can often be found flycatching off the tops of trees, as this one was this morning.  I even managed a couple of distant photos.  Lewis's Woodpecker joins the year's list at #277!

Lewis's Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker

My next stop was a revisit to Gaviota State Park, hoping to find a Swamp Sparrow.  By now the day was quite warm and the level of bird activity at the park was low.  I saw few sparrows at all, none of them of the Swamp variety.

I continued down the coast enjoying the warm calm weather and excellent views of the ocean and Channel Islands.  The riding was much more pleasant than the grind up to Santa Maria.  My final stop was at the old Ocean Meadows Golf Course in Goleta, where the Grace's Warbler has returned for the winter.  In fact it had been spotted there again this morning.

I decided to spend up to 45 minutes searching for this bird that has vexed me so many times this year.  Well, 45 minutes came and went.  I took some time to change a flat tire under some promising looking pine trees but the bird did not appear.  A merlin hanging around the area was not helpful either.  After a couple of "one last time" checks I departed after an hour and a half without a sighting of my nemesis bird.    OK Mr Grace's Warbler - I'll be back!


The remainder of the ride was pleasant and uneventful.  I was so grateful to be not fighting a headwind all day!

After the addition of this 1 species, the year's total stands at 277

The Score: Vermont 266, Green Big Year 277

Today I rode a total of 83.7 miles

More later,

Friday, November 20, 2015

Day 323 - Around Santa Maria

I had big hopes and plans for my one day of birding around Santa Maria, Guadalupe, and Orcutt.  I had a list of places to go and birds to see.

I had strategically chosen my hotel to be close to Jim May Park.  This is where a Common Gallinule had been seen recently.  However there were no reports from the last few days so I was hoping it had not left.  I departed the hotel as daylight was arriving and was at the park in short order.  I was concerned for nothing, for within about 2 minutes after arriving at the park I was looking at the Gallinule.  Common Gallinule joins the list at #272!

Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule

I searched around the park for a bit then headed out to my next stop, Jack O'Connell Park in Guadalupe.  I was  hoping for perhaps a Golden Plover, which can sometimes be found here this time of year.  I did not find any Golden Plovers, but counted an amazing 123 Wilson's Snipes foraging in the grass.  This is about 50 times more than all the Wilson's Snipes I have ever seen before.  They are odd-looking with their long bills but have quite handsome markings.

Wilson's Snipe

After the Snipe-fest it was off to the next stop - Guadalupe Dunes Park.  Here I quickly found the expected American White Pelicans for Bird #273!

American White Pelican

I had to search awhile through the massive gathering of ducks in the estuary to locate my next target bird, the Canvasback.  There were at least a couple but they were waaay out there.  A scope would have been helpful but I did manage a loch ness style photo to document the event.  Canvasback for #274!


While I was returning back to my bike a Phalarope landed on the shore of the estuary not far away.  It had some oil on it, which is likely the reason it came ashore.  At first I thought it was a Red-necked Phalarope, which I have already seen this year.  Upon closer examination I began to suspect it was actually a Red Phalarope, which would be a new bird for the year.  I took a pile of photos, checked my references, and got confirmation from local experts that it was indeed a Red Phalarope.  This unexpected bonus bird joins the list at # 275!

Red Phalarope (Oiled)

As I was leaving the park and headed back towards the town of Guadalupe to search for lunch I stopped to try and get some photos of a Vermilion Flycatcher.   I had seen this bird on the way out to the dunes but it had been camera-shy.  It was still not being cooperative in the least.  While waiting for it to reappear I looked up and saw a couple of hawks soaring overhead.  In this part of the world it seems at least 99% of the soaring hawks you see are Red-tailed Hawks.  It's always worth checking them out because you never know.  In this case it was definitely worth checking, because it turns out one of them was a Ferruginous Hawk.  I was hoping to see one on this trip but did not expect it would be so easy.  Generally, taking photos of soaring hawks is above my pay grade but I did manage a couple photos that show the ID of this very handsome hawk.  Ferruginous Hawk for bird #276!

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk

This was quite amazing - it was not even lunchtime and I had added 5 birds to the year's total!  Plus, it was a pleasant sunny day, the terrain was flat and the wind, if any, always seemed to be behind me.  How could things get any better?  Well, I found a nice little restaurant in Guadalupe that served food from Louisiana - one of my favorite cuisines.  

After a great lunch I headed down Highway 1 towards Orcutt.  I was looking for a Prairie Falcon but there were none to be found.  The ride was quite nice though.  Next I went over to Waller Park hoping to find a Snow Goose.  There was one that lived there for quite awhile but it appears to be gone now.  All the geese were strictly domestic and there was no Snow Goose for me today.  There were a number of interesting birds to be found in the park, including a couple of Varied Thrushes and a Yellow-shafted type of Northern Flicker.  These Flickers are more typically found back east and are quite unusual in our area.

Some photos from Waller Park:

Northern Pintail

Fox Sparrow (Sooty)

Varied Thrush
(Perhaps getting ready to try out for the circus, balancing that acorn)

Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)

I left the park as the light was beginning to fade.  A great day with the birds in the Santa Maria area and a big boost for the Green Big Year!

After the addition of these 5 species, the year's total stands at 276

The Score: Vermont 266, Green Big Year 276

Today I rode a total of 44.1 miles

More later,

Day 322 - A Slog North To Santa Maria

This morning I set out on a 3 day jaunt to the northern part of Santa Barbara County - Santa Maria and environs.  I have not gotten to these parts yet this year and there are some birds just waiting for me to catch up with them.

The weather forecast was for some wind.  I was hoping it would not be too much of a problem.  The first 30 miles or so were smooth sailing.  When I was within a mile or so of the pass at Gaviota someone switched on the wind and suddenly it was blowing a gale.  This area is often very windy so I was hoping that once I passed through things would calm down a bit.

But first things first.  I had arranged to meet Wes Fritz at nearby Gaviota State Park where he thought we could find a Swamp Sparrow.  We searched around the park for awhile without turning up any Swamp Sparrow but did see this interesting white House Finch:

Albino or Leucistic House Finch

As we were peering down into the creek hoping that the Swamp Sparrow would materialize, we heard behind us a distinct "kip kip kip" call.  We turned around to see 3 Red Crossbills flying away from the shore heading inland.  It was a massive surprise to see these mountain-dwelling birds right at the beach!  We followed after them but were unable to relocate the birds.  Perhaps the heavy offshore wind had blown them down to the coast.  At any rate, Red Crossbill joins the year list at #271!

After giving up on the Swamp Sparrow I continued my journey north.  Unfortunately the wind did not let up and I rode for the next 50 miles into a very unpleasant and tiring headwind.  I had planned to make a couple of stops along the way to look for birds but in the end I just kept trying to move forward into the wind.  I finally reached Santa Maria about 5PM, just before the light started to fade.  It was early to bed for me, for I had big plans for the next day.

After the addition of this 1 species, the year's total stands at 271

The Score: Vermont 266, Green Big Year 271

Today I rode a total of 81.0 miles

More later,

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Day 321 - Birding On A Sunny Afternoon

After having taken a few days off from the chase I was eager to get out and look at some birds.  I had a little time on this beautiful afternoon so I headed down to the Santa Barbara Harbor breakwater.  I did not expect to find anything new for the year, but in the back of my mind I was thinking there might be a White-winged Scoter out there somewhere.

As I was heading out on the breakwater I got a brief glimpse of a duck diving in among the boats.  It seemed to have a white face with a dark cap.  My first thought was Black Scoter?  I waited around hoping for a better look.  On the second brief glimpse I was thinking Ruddy Duck.  The thing finally came out into view and sure enough it was indeed a young Black Scoter.

I saw my first Black Scoter back in January of this year right here in the Santa Barbara Harbor.  Ironically, I believe Black Scoters are rarer in these parts than White-winged Scoters but I have seen 2 Black Scoters and 0 White-winged Scoters this year.

Black Scoter

Black Scoter

Black Scoter

There were even some other birds around on this sunny afternoon, including the festive-looking male Surf Scoter, a couple of Black Turnstones, and a decidedly non-spotted Spotted Sandpiper.

Tomorrow I will embark on a ride north to try and track down some additional species.  I know they are up there waiting for me.  Look for a report in about 3 days.

A few more photos from today:

Spotted Sandpiper

Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter

After today the year's total still stands at 270

The Score: Vermont 266, Green Big Year 270

Today I rode a total of 7.3 miles

More later,

Monday, November 16, 2015

Day 320 - News From Vermont

While I have been enjoying a little time off things have been happening in Vermont.

First, there was a bit of a Franklin's Gull fallout along the East Coast of the USA.  Some of those gulls were spotted in Vermont, bringing their total to 266 species for the year.

More importantly, I received word from my friend Tom Berriman that there are upwards of 10 species sightings in Vermont this year that need to be reviewed by the Vermont Records Committee and are not presently included in their total of 266.  If these records are accepted that would push Vermont's total to around 276.

It appears I have my work cut out for me.  I think it will take at least 280 species to win the race.  While this is achievable on my end it will take some luck and a good deal of riding.  I have plans.

Stay tuned!

The Score: Vermont 266, Green Big Year 270

More later,

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Day 316 - A Pause For The Cause

With visitors in town I will be taking a few days off the chase.

Unless, of course, an interesting bird or two shows up within riding range!

See you next week.

Just for fun here's a photo from our house the other day:

Anna's Hummingbird - male

The Score: Vermont 265, Green Big Year 270

More later,

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Day 315 - An Unexpected Bonus

November 11.  On this day the last two years a (the) wintering Grace's Warbler has been seen at Ocean Meadows Golf Course in Goleta.  Feeling lucky (or perhaps desperate) I headed out there to see if I could finally see what has become my nemesis bird for the year.  I have spent more time looking for this one bird (and yes, it is ONE bird) than any other species and have come up empty-handed every time.

I am sad to report this streak continues as of today.  I spent more than two hours combing all the pine trees in the area and no sign of the Grace's Warbler.  Perhaps it is a little late to return this year, perhaps it was somewhere else, or perhaps it continues to mess with me.

I was headed towards home, passing through the UCSB campus (blissfully empty on this Veteran's Day) when I got an email report that Hugh Ranson had found a Chestnut-sided Warbler at Bohnett Park.  Ironically this park is about a mile from my house and here I was out in Goleta.  The Chestnut-sided Warbler is the only expected warbler species I have yet to see this year and I had essentially written it off as it is getting rather late in the season.  I pedaled hard and got to the park in about half an hour.

When I arrived at the park I found Libby Patten already there looking for the warbler. We admired the several American Goldfinches bathing in the creek.  We then moved downstream to where the creekbed went dry.  Libby was looking along the dry creekbed and said "there's a bird down there with a warbler bill and a green head."  Bingo - Chestnut-sided Warbler!  We watched it working along the creekbed through the trash for awhile.  It was not super cooperative for photos but I managed a few that definitely show what it is.  Chestnut-sided Warbler joins the list at #270!

It was really nice to see an new bird today, especially one that I did not expect to find.

Thanks Hugh and Libby!

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

A few more photos from today:

American Kestrel

Great Egret

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Cackling Goose

After the addition of this 1 species, the year's total stands at 270

The Score: Vermont 265, Green Big Year 270

Today I rode a total of 28.3 miles

More later,

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Day 314 - Toro Canyon Park

Looking for something a little different today I headed up to Toro Canyon Park above Carpinteria.  I was hoping for some montane birds, perhaps a Golden-crowned Kinglet or Townsend's Solitaire.  These species have recently been seen in a couple of places at lower elevations in Santa Barbara County.  Heck, I would even settle for another look at a Varied Thrush or a Brown Creeper.

The climb up to the park was no less steep than I had remembered.  When I arrived the first thing I encountered was a Cooper's Hawk sitting on a bridge railing while about 8 California Quail huddled down below in the bushes fearing for their lives.  The hawk flew off and the quail lived to see another day, or at least a bit more of today.

There was a reasonable amount of bird activity in the park but none of the hoped-for montane species were to be found, not even a Brown Creeper.  I suppose it is still a bit early in the season though it really felt like winter up there with a cool Northerly breeze coming down off the mountains.

This breeze grew to a full-on unpleasant headwind for the ride home.  Somehow this seemed like a fitting end to a rather unproductive morning (bird-wise).

Just one photo today:

Hermit Thrush

After today the year's total still stands at 269

The Score: Vermont 265, Green Big Year 269

Today I rode a total of 32.2 miles

More later,

Monday, November 9, 2015

Day 313 - Gulls and Ducks

I headed back to Goleta this morning - why not?  I planned on stopping by the Goleta Sanitary District sewerage ponds, where many ducks were reported to be congregating.

Before stopping there I visited a couple of other local standbys - Lake Los Carneros and Goleta Beach.  At Lake Los Carneros there was a tidy-looking adult Mew Gull, and this odd creature:

A Strange California Gull

My first impression was a California Gull due to the leg color, but the overall ratty appearance and ridiculous bill threw me off for awhile.  After returning home I got confirmation on the species.

There was another Mew Gull at Goleta Beach, likely the one that was there on my last visit.  When I arrived at the sewerage ponds one of the first birds I noticed was a stylish Bonaparte's Gull.  It was turning out to be a gullish morning.

One reason for heading to the sewerage ponds was to follow up on a recent report of a Greater Scaup.  I had seen this species earlier in the year but did not get photos.  Also, it is always a challenge for me to try and separate the Greater and Lesser Scaup so some practice in this would be good too.

There were indeed plenty of ducks to be found, mostly Mallards and Northern Shovelers.  There were also a few Pintails, Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal.  And Scaup.  I spent a good bit of time studying the Scaup and taking photos of the one that looked most likely to me to be the Greater Scaup, based mainly on the shape of its head.  I sent the photo below to a couple local experts who confirmed the ID for me.  Maybe I am getting a handle on the Scaup thing.

Greater Scaup

No new birds today but another fine morning with the birds.

A few more photos from this morning:

Mew Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

 Gadwall - male

Northern Pintail - male

Cinnamon Teal - male

After today the year's total still stands at 269

The Score: Vermont 265, Green Big Year 269

Today I rode a total of 30.0 miles

More later,