“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, December 31, 2015

Day 365 - A Happy Ending!

Let's get right to the point - Does anyone know what this is?

Yes ladies and gentlemen, this is a Grace's Warbler.

This final morning there was really only one bird I felt up to chasing, the dreaded Grace's Warbler.  This bird had managed to escape my gaze for all this year.  I have actually lost count of the number of times I went looking for this bird.  I would guess around 15.

I left early to maximize the amount of time I had to search.  Let me tell you it was a COLD 38 degrees riding out through Goleta.  I decided to take a little detour to try and get a look at a Burrowing Owl that had been reported recently.  I spent 20-30 minutes at this, eventually finding it.  Owls are cool.

I then continued one last time this year to the old Ocean Meadows Golf Course.  Here I met Barb Millett who was doing her scouting for the upcoming Santa Barbara Christmas Bird Count.  She was talking to some other birders, and I heard her say "Grace's" and "8:41".  It was now 9:00.  I asked and she confirmed that 8:41 was the last time she had seen the Grace's Warbler.  I was within 20 minutes of my nemesis bird!  At this point I was thinking that searching for that Burrowing Owl was perhaps not such a great idea.

I hustled up to the spot where the Grace's Warbler was last seen.  Within a few minutes I had the bird in my sight.  I must admit there were generous feelings of joy and relief.  I stalked the bird around for awhile, watching it forage and trying to get any sort of decent photo.  Eventually the two other birders came by and we all enjoyed views of this little beauty.

A great ending to a great adventure!  

I took a casual victory lap around Goleta checking a few spots for anything unusual.  None were found.  It had turned into a beautiful calm and almost warm morning.  I savored the ride home knowing I had finally vanquished my nemesis bird for the year.

The New Year's Eve dinner guests will be arriving soon.  Look for a post with more reflection, statistics, and other boring stuff in a couple of days.

In the meantime I would like to show some appreciation and gratitude for the tremendous amount of help I have received in my year long adventure.  I will no doubt have forgotten someone, so apologies in advance for that.  First and foremost, I would like to thank my family for putting up with this crazy behavior!  Next, anyone who shared their bird sightings via ebird or the local SBcobirding group.  This information was invaluable all year long.  Also, the blog readers who have made this whole thing so much more interesting for me.  And finally these individuals that provided advice, bird location info, ID help, and so much more:

Jamie Chavez, Dave Compton, Joan Cotich, Rebecca Coulter, Jared Dawson, Wes Fritz, Peter Gaede, Noah Gaines, Mark Holmgren, Nick Lethaby, Joan Lentz, Kate McCurdy, Barbara Millett, Liz Muraoka, Bill and Joan Murdoch, Adrien O’Loghlen, Libby Patten, George Roland, Peter Schneekloth, Maggie Sheriffs, Jenny Slaughter, Guy Tingos, Tom Turner, Wim Van Dam, Matt Victoria

After the addition of this 1 species the final total for the Green Big Year is 285!

The Score: Vermont 279, Green Big Year 285

Today I rode a total of 27.9 miles, for a total of 4409.0 miles for the year.

More soon,

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Day 364 - Penultimate Day, Adjustments to the Total

After being away over Christmas and taking two days to participate in the Cachuma Christmas Bird Count, I got back on the bike this morning for the penultimate day of the Green Big Year.  Let me tell you, the first half hour was reeeealy cold.

I set out on an unlikely outing.  Just as we were leaving town for Christmas I got a report the Rebecca Coulter had found a Swamp Sparrow in Carpinteria.  This was 11 days ago.  As I needed this bird and had not ridden to Carpinteria in some time I decided to give it a shot.  I had no idea if the bird would still be in the vicinity.  

I rolled up to the address.  The first thing I could not help but notice was the road crew with the chainsaw about 40 feet away, and moving in my direction - not encouraging.  The next thing I noticed was a Swamp Sparrow!  Literally the first bird I saw after stopping.  Having had difficulty on the ID of this bird before, I got some long looks, checked my references, and looked again to verify the field marks.  The bird was even kind enough to pose for photos.  Sure enough, Swamp Sparrow for #286!

I was so pleased with this rapid sighting that I hopped on the bike and raced to Montecito for a breakfast engagement that I had assumed I would not be able to make.

Swamp Sparrow (Really!)

Now a bit of administrative business.  You may recall my somewhat truncated adventure to Big Pine Mountain back in June:

The net result of this adventure was the addition of two species, Lawrence's Goldfinch and Mountain Quail.  You may also recall I got a ride part of the way back home after running out of food and nearly running out of water.  The bit about getting a ride home has been nagging me ever since.  I have decided to remove these species from my total, as they were not gotten with solely human power.  It's a bit disappointing as I worked far harder for these birds than any other during the year, but this way I can end with a clean total and no asterisks next to these species.

After the addition of this 1 species, and the subtraction of 2, the year's total stands at 284.

Vermont has recently added 2 species to bring their total to 279.

The Score: Vermont 279, Green Big Year 284

Today I rode a total of 26.7 miles

More later,

Monday, December 28, 2015

Day 362 - The End Is Near

I am back from Christmas.  It was a nice stay in the Phoenix area, and I got to spend a little time with the desert birds.  It is a little strange to have been away from my bike for so long.

I will be doing the Cachuma Christmas Bird Count for the next couple of days.  This will not be done by bicycle.  This leaves me just 2 days at the end of the year to try and snag another species or two.  There are some potential opportunities out there, so stay tuned!

Cactus Wren, Peoria Arizona

After today the year's total still stands at 285

The Score: Vermont 277, Green Big Year 285

More later,

Friday, December 18, 2015

Day 352 - Counting Down

I did make it out and about today to look for some birds.  Last opportunity before Christmas Vacation, and only perhaps 3 days left in the year after that.  It is really beginning to feel like the end is near!

I made a circuit of Goleta, visiting Lake Los Carneros, Bella Vista Open Space, and the old Ocean Meadows Golf Course.  It was not too warm but calm and sunny, so overall a very nice day to be out and about.

At Lake Los Carneros the lake was full of Canada Geese, I counted over 120.  I did not cross paths with the Juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that has been hanging around here.

At Bella Vista Open Space I was hoping to find the recently reported Red Fox Sparrow.  I did get a very brief glimpse of a Fox Sparrow, bit not enough to say whether it was a Sooty or a Red.  Interestingly there were a good number of Purple Finches around.

At Ocean Meadows, well you know the story there with regards to the Grace's Warbler.  It has not been reported in some time.  Maybe it is still around, maybe not.

As expected, no new birds today.  As Christmas Bird Count is approaching, more and more folks will be out scouting.  Hopefully they will find an interesting bird or two I can catch up with before the end of the year!

Merry Christmas!

Some Photos From Today:

Glaucous-winged Gull

Purple Finch

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Savannah Sparrow

After today the year's total still stands at 285

The Score: Vermont 277, Green Big Year 285

Today I rode a total of 26.1 miles

More later,

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Day 350 - Another Chilly Morning!

I had some time this morning to get out and look for some birds.  I left later than usual as the temperature was near freezing when the sun came up.  No need to get too frosty out there!

Once again the only known possibility for finding a new species nearby was the Grace's Warbler out at the old Ocean Meadows Golf Course.  Instead of wasting more time not finding it, I decided to head back to the lagoon at UCSB.  I cannot say I have given up on the Grace's Warbler yet, but ....

The lagoon now has lots of ducks and other bird activity.  In addition, school is out for the Christmas break so it is actually quite a peaceful time to be out there.

Nothing too far out of the ordinary in terms of the birds this morning.  I did once again see the Loon trifecta, and there were some Northern Shovelers in the lagoon.  I do not recall seeing that species there previously.

Just a couple of days before I depart for Christmas, then only 3 birding days after I return.  This little project is rapidly coming to a close!

No new birds today but definitely a nice morning to be out looking.

Some photos from this morning:

American Wigeon (male)

Pacific Loon

Pied-billed Grebe

Red-throated Loon

After today the year's total still stands at 285

The Score: Vermont 277, Green Big Year 285

Today I rode a total of 25.3 miles

More later,

Monday, December 14, 2015

Day 348 - A Chilly Morning

This morning I set out with no particular agenda.  Somebody needs to find some new birds, so it might as well be me.  At this point I am not expecting to find any new species, and today I was not disappointed in that regard.  The most notable thing about this morning was the chilly temperature, which was amplified by the brisk breeze.  It never really warm up.

I made a circuit past the UCSB Lagoon, Devereux Slough, and the old Ocean Meadows Golf course.  I did see a few interesting birds along the way.  Inside the UCSB lagoon I saw an unusual Loon Trifecta - Red-throated, Pacific, and Common Loons.

At Devereux Slough the female (un)Common Merganser was still around.  Also there was a group of at least a dozen Savannah Sparrows of the Belding's subspecies that were actively foraging on a pan of dried algae.  I had not seen this behavior before.

The most interesting bird of the morning was at the old Ocean Meadows Golf Course.  (And no it was of course NOT the Grace's Warbler)  A Northern Flicker that I believe to be of the Yellow-shafted flavor, though it may be an intergrade (a mix of the Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted flavors).  The head and face markings match those of a Yellow-shafted, thought I thought the actual color of the shafts was a bit on the orange side.  Yellow-shafted Flickers are quite unusual in this area, though there do seem to be more around this winter than I recall in the past.  UPDATE:  Consensus is this is an Intergrade (Yellow Shafted x Red Shafted) individual.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

I enjoyed a nice tailwind on the ride home.

Some more photos from this morning:

Surf Scoter

Pacific Loon and Red-breasted Mergansers

Common Merganser (female)

Belted Kingfisher

Belding's Savannah Sparrow

Cooper's Hawk

After today the year's total still stands at 285

The Score: Vermont 277, Green Big Year 285

Today I rode a total of 30.0 miles

More later,

Day 347 - Still Searching, The End Approaches

Yes, the end of the year is rapidly approaching.

At the moment there are only a couple of known birds out there that are within range for a one-day search.  It would be possible to ride up to the top of La Cumbre peak again and see a Townsend's Solitaire, and possibly a Golden-crowned Kinglet.  The other option is the Grace's Warbler out in Goleta.  I have visited many times looking for this warbler.  Since I did not feel like riding to the top of the mountain today I decided to try once again to see this vexing bird.

You can guess how that turned out for me.  I spent about an hour and a half searching, but no luck.  There's still time but I am thinking my odds of finding this bird by the end of the year are dropping quickly.

Speaking of the end of the year, as I will be away over Christmas there are less than 10 days of potential birding left for me.  I will keep going out and looking right to the end.  Perhaps an interesting bird or two will turn up between now and New Year's Eve.  I do hope to add some species to the total, but 285 may well be the final number.

Stay tuned.

One photo from today:

American Kestrel

After today the year's total still stands at 285

The Score: Vermont 277, Green Big Year 285

Today I rode a total of 27.4 miles

More later,

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Day 344, Santa Ynez Valley, Day 2

Since I found all of my target birds of yesterday, there was only one bird known to me to find today.  That was a Sage Thrasher that has been hanging around at the Sedgwick Reserve.  The Sedgwick Reserve is part of the UC Santa Barbara natural reserve system.  Birders are generally welcome here and I had made arrangements for today's visit.

I left the hotel early to time my arrival at the reserve for 8AM.  The morning was chilly but not too cold.  At this hour I had the entire reserve to myself.  It took me about 30 minutes to locate the Thrasher - I kept getting distracted by the numerous Sapsuckers in the nearby Pepper Trees.  The bird cooperated nicely for photos before disappearing.  Sage Thrasher for #285!

I took a walk up to the pond, hoping to get a photo of the male Wood Duck that has been seen there recently.  I did see the duck briefly but it was camera-shy.

As I was returning to my bike I saw that there was another visitor arriving at the reserve.  It turned out to be Tom Turner, who had also come up from Goleta to see the Sage Thrasher.  Presently Tom is on top of the Santa Barbara County ebird list for 2015 with over 310 species. We have run into each other in the field a number of times this year, but never so far from home.  We wandered around for a little bit until the Thrasher made another appearance, then I hit the road.

I had a screaming tailwind and made the 60 or so miles home in about 4 hours.  I was soooo thankful the wind was not blowing the other way!

Some Photos:

Sage Thrasher

Sage Thrasher

After the addition of this 1 species, the year's total stands at 285

The Score: Vermont 277, Green Big Year 285

Today I rode a total of 70.2 miles

More later,

Day 343 - Santa Ynez Valley, Day 1

I got an early start and covered the 50 miles to Santa Ynez, arriving there about 11AM.  I had a bit of lunch then began my little tour of the Santa Ynez Valley.  I had a loop of about 20 miles planned, with 3 stops.  I had some good intel on where the desirable birds were to be found.

My first stop was along Armour Ranch Road to catch up with some Mountain Bluebirds that have arrived for the winter. Within a few minutes of arriving I saw at least 3 of them in the area hunting for insects.  I hung around until one came close enough for a decent photo.  Mountain Bluebird for #282!

I then continued towards the San Lorenzo Seminary hoping to find a Burrowing Owl that had been seen there recently.  I arrived at the spot and sure enough it was still there.  This is the first Burrowing Owl I have seen in Santa Barbara County.  It was pretty far away so the resulting photo falls into Loch Ness territory.  Burrowing Owl for #283!

My last stop was at the Bridlewood Winery.  During a fossil-fuel powered visit here last week to do some scouting for the upcoming Christmas Bird Count I found (of all things) an Eastern Phoebe.  This bird is seriously lost!  Within a few minutes of arriving I had the bird in my sight.  I also saw a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker, which is quite rare for this region as well.  I had to chase the Phoebe around awhile to get some passable photos.  Eastern Phoebe for #284!

By now it was only 2PM.  I had been very efficient in my search.  I could ride around the valley some more hoping to find a Prairie Falcon or perhaps see a Bald Eagle flyby.  I decided that I had ridden enough for one day and headed to the hotel hot tub.

Some photos from today:

Mountain Bluebird

Burrowing Owl (Really!)

Wilson's Snipe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

After the addition of these 3 species, the year's total stands at 284

The Score: Vermont 277, Green Big Year 284

Today I rode a total of 67.1 miles

More later,

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Day 342 - Hitting The Road, Again

Today I am getting ready for what is quite possibly my last road trip of the year.  I plan on spending a couple of days in the Santa Ynez Valley.  There have been a few birds hanging around up there that I would like to track down.  I also have a chance of seeing something very rare in Santa Barbara County - rain!

As the month is zipping by and I will be away for a week or so at Christmas the end of this adventure is rapidly approaching.  I feel this may be my last good chance to add a few birds to the year's list.

In other news, there are reports of a Tufted Duck being seen in Vermont, which puts their total up to 277 species.  This race remains close!

The Score: Vermont 277, Green Big Year 281

More later,

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Day 340 - (Un)Common Merganser

Last evening I got a report that Nick Lethaby had seen a female Common Merganser in the UCSB Lagoon.  I need that bird.  Like many birds with the name "Common", the Common Merganser is not very common around here - at least along the coast.  The only ones I have ever seen in Santa Barbara County have been in the Santa Ynez river valley.

So this morning I headed out to the UCSB Lagoon, and I must say it was downright COLD on the way there.  I arrived at the lagoon and began scanning through the many waterbirds there.  It was not until I got around to the west arm of the lagoon did I find any mergansers.  There were about 2 dozen Red-breasted Mergansers.  I tried to find the one that looked different, but they all looked pretty similar.  The photos of these species in the Bird ID app on my phone were not particularly helpful.

I found one that seemed to stay away from the others and looked a little different to me.  I sent a photo off for Nick to review.  I didn't really think it was a Common, but it was all I had to go on.  Nick sent me a reply confirming my doubts that the bird in the photo was in fact a Red-breasted Merganser.  But the good news was that he had seen the Common Merganser earlier in the morning at Devereux Slough!

So I pedaled over there ASAP, and sure enough there was the female Common Merganser!  And yes, the difference in appearance between it and the nearby Red-breasted Mergansers was totally obvious.  They were even polite enough to pose for photos right next to each other.  Common Merganser is added to the list at #281!

Thanks Nick!

Some photos from today:

Common Merganser (Female)

Common Merganser (Top), Red-breasted Merganser (Bottom)

Bonaparte's Gull

Common Loon

Pacific Loon


Great Egret

After the addition of this 1 species, the year's total stands at 281

The Score: Vermont 276, Green Big Year 281

Today I rode a total of 30.4 miles

More later,

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Day 339 - Still No Grace

This morning I headed once again back to the old Ocean Meadows Golf Course, hoping to see the now nearly-mythical Grace's Warbler.  I have lost track of how many times I have visited here looking for this bird, but I would guess something like 12.

Just about the first bird I saw when I arrived near the warbler's allegedly favored spot was the Gray Flycatcher.  This rarity was found last week, this was my second encounter with this bird.  It was very cooperative for photos.  I looked around for that damn warbler for awhile without luck - no surprise there.

I noticed some local birders arriving, no doubt to see the Gray Flycatcher, so I went over and met them.  The flycatcher seemed to be following along for we turned around and there it was.  We also saw the wintering Vermillion Flycatcher.

But no Grace's Warbler.  I spent about 3 hours searching, and there were a number of others in the area looking during this time but the bird was not seen.  Consolation prize was a nice look at a roosting Barn Owl.  I have not given up on this bird yet, but ....

On my way home I got an email report of an American Golden Plover down by the beach in Santa Barbara.  This was highly unlikely, I did not recognize the person reporting this bird, and the description was lacking in adequate detail.  Nevertheless I decided to swing by there and check it out.  It was not far out of the way, and you never know!

I arrived at the described spot and found a Plover in the field.  As expected, the one I was looking at was undeniably the very common Black-bellied Plover, and not the very rare American Golden Plover.  I looked around on the beach and could not see any other plovers.

Some photos from today:

American Kestrel

Barn Owl

Gray Flycatcher

Ordinary Black-bellied Plover

In other news, Vermont has added a report of a Yellow-throated Warbler from back in September, bringing their total to 276.  Things are close and the end of the year is drawing near!

After today the year's total still stands at 280

The Score: Vermont 276, Green Big Year 280

Today I rode a total of 35.3 miles

More later,

Friday, December 4, 2015

Day 338 - Santa Barbara Harbor

This morning I had a brief window of opportunity so I headed down to the Santa Barbara Harbor.  There was a report yesterday morning of a Long-tailed Duck in the area.  This would be a nice bird to catch up with.  I have only seen one before, a few winters ago at Goleta Beach.

Things were fairly quiet at the harbor.  A few Surf Scoters, but none of the more unusual Scoters to be found.  There were a few loons, and the most interesting bird I could muster up was a Horned Grebe.

Needless to say there were no Long-tailed Ducks to be found.  All in all a pleasant, somewhat chilly, and brief outing.

In other news, there has been a Townsend's Solitaire seen in Vermont, bringing their total to 275 for the year.

My schedule is a bit busy for the next few days.  I am hoping to get up to the Santa Ynez Valley next week, there are some birds up there I need to catch up with, and the calendar is ticking down ...

After today the year's total still stands at 280

The Score: Vermont 275, Green Big Year 280

Today I rode a total of 9.7 miles

More later,

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Day 335 - The Hits Keep Coming

Yesterday afternoon a very reliable report came in that there was a Gray Flycatcher at the old Ocean Meadows Golf Course.  This bird is a very uncommon visitor to our area, definitely less than 1 per year.  I have not yet seen one in Santa Barbara County.  You may recall I had been at this very spot in the morning, leaving for home about 11AM.  Hmmm....

As I had already been out that way once, and it was getting late, I decided not to race back there and hope that the bird stayed until today.

I got an early start, it was a chilly morning, barely above 40 degrees.  For those of us in Southern California, this is cold - trust me.  I arrived around 7:30 and began searching the area where the bird was seen the previous afternoon.  There was a good deal of activity in the area, but I did not see the flycatcher.  The activity died off when a Kestrel came swooping in, chasing a Yellow-rumped Warbler right by my head.

As the birds had scattered I headed off in the direction of where the Grace's Warbler can theoretically be found.  About halfway to this spot I noticed a small bird repeatedly flying off a downed and dead tree to the ground.  I got my binocs on it, and lo and behold there was the Gray Flycatcher.  These little flycatchers can be notoriously difficult to identify.  Luckily this species has a habit of bobbing its tail, slowly down and quickly up.  I spent awhile watching the bird hunt - it caught and devoured a rather large cricket.  It was quite cooperative with the camera.  Gray Flycatcher joins the list at #280!

I went off in search of the mythical Grace's Warbler (seen yesterday afternoon - really!).  Not surprisingly it was not in its "usual" spot so I wandered farther afield, checking all the pine trees.

Other birders began arriving to see the Gray Flycatcher.  I joined them, we refound the bird and everyone got good looks at it.  Then together we went looking for the Grace's Warbler.  Even assisted by 6 excellent birders the Grace's Warbler could not be found.  I am beginning to wonder if I will actually see this bird this year.

Some photos from today:

Gray Flycatcher - just swallowed a cricket.

Gray Flycatcher

Gray Flycatcher

Gray Flycatcher

American Kestrel

Western Bluebird

European Starling

After the addition of this 1 species, the year's total stands at 280

The Score: Vermont 274, Green Big Year 280

Today I rode a total of 27.5 miles

More later,