Yesterday, my gallery was blessed with yet another cool hummingbird. It took the form of a Black-chinned Hummingbird! # 218. I am always so excited to have these birds show up that really are quite rare for Marin County. This was the 4th record for the gallery and was enjoyed by Dave DeSante who added it as anew species for his county list. This bird is an immature and showed all of the classic features for this species. Good things to look for are the blunt and broad outer primary flight feathers, especially the longest (10th) primary. In addition the flanks lack the spotted look that all Anna’s should show, but display an even wash of grayish with a touch of buff at the rear, near the legs. The bill is long and slightly curved. The crown is dark on the forehead and green at the hind crown. It was here today and was seen by a few other birders.
Early this morning I received a call from Steve Howell telling me that he had yet another, (or the same) Blue-gray Gnatcatcher visiting his yard. Well, he has them each year near his house in late August and early September and has called me perhaps 4 times with one coming over to his place for a visit. So, I just had to do it.
When I pulled up on my bike he laughed because the bird had simply disappeared. It had been there about 8 minutes before. Seems that a Cooper’s Hawk was perched in a Eucalyptus tree and the gnatcatcher didn’t take too kindly to that situation. Nobody likes having the harbinger of death in their space! So, the bird busied itself, harassing the hawk with scolds of disapproval and as William Leon Dawson once wrote said, “promising redoubled misbehavior”. By the the time Steve returned with his camera, neither bird was to be found. That’s right about when I pulled up on my bike, sweating from the rapid assent and the high temperature. We kicked around the “Euc” for a while but to no avail.
I needed to think like a gnatcatcher! I thought to myself, “Where would I go if I were a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher”? I looked around for their typical habitat which is usually scrub with a good representation of Coyote Brush, and the like. Wading through a few hundred yards of tinder dry, belly-high grass, found me in a nice patch of appropriate growth. I produced a loud “SQUEEK” sound by putting my hand to my lips and created something akin to, oh, let’s say, a mouse having its head taken off. WHAM! # 217. A divine little female popped right up in front of me and came in quick, pivoting this way and that with its expressive black and white tail cocked up at a 45 degree angle. With its high, thin and nasal voice, it proceeded to protest my presence. “Bzzzew, Bzzzzzew”, it said, looking at me through beady black eyes that were encircled with thin round white spectacles. What a fine bird I thought to myself!
It has been a while since I have added a new post. That is for a number of reasons. One, is that I have encountered most of the species that have been “available” for someone on a bike. Two, is that there aren’t a lot of new species that show up late in August and three is that I have been quite busy on my book at the gallery. With that said, I have a couple to add to the Carbon Free Big Year.
I got a friendly call from the man who manages the Bolinas Water Treatment Plant who informed me of a Red-necked Phalarope he had seen working one of the ponds that make up this “migrant magnet”. I zipped up there and didn’t find the bird in all the regular haunts. Almost giving up I then changed my strategy and looked closer at the edge of the ponds rather than in the full view of the open water. Phalaropes typically enjoy the open water where they spin quickly in a tight circle, creating a liquid vortex that “vacuums” tiny critters up and to the surface where they pick them out of the water with quick jerking pecks of their slender bills. Scouring the edge of the pond paid off as I spotted the one and only bird actually foraging on foot, an unusual behavior for this species. #215
This morning I rolled out of bed and jumped on my bike and rode up to Point Reyes Station in search of one bird! I knew what I wanted and took a chance. Sure enough I was rewarded with not one, not two but 14 Common Moorhens! #216. These beautiful, coot-like “swamp hens” were located about 1/4 mile north of Point Reyes Station in a small pond. They are very unusual in Marin County, so a number of this size is very encouraging. In addition I rode around Five Brooks Pond where I was happy to see numerous migrant song birds such as Cassin’s Vireo, Townsend’ Warbler and Western Wood-Pewee. Getting back to my gallery by noon, I did a quick count of my mornings list and was happy to see that I had had 91 species in the “AM”.
Today I received a call from the caretaker of the Bolinas Water Treatment Plant. He informed me that he had seen 3 “phalaropes” today at the ponds. So, after a long day “over the hill” I headed up there on my bike to see what I could see. Well, there weren’t any phalaropes to be found but I was happy to see 1 Northern Pintail and 12 Northern Shovelers, my first back for the fall. So, I came back to the gallery. As I was locking up late this evening, at around 7:30, I saw a large and robust warbler fly low over the barn and dive into the neighbors backyard, but not before it gave a loud and distinctive “CHINK” note! Well, I had a pretty good idea as to what it was! I slipped around back and peeked into their back yard and heard the warbler calling repeatedly, “chink, chink, chink”. I gave a high “squeak” call and the bird came out into view after a couple of long moments. Sure enough, it was a Northern Waterthrush. The bird came very close to me and I kicked myself or not having my video camera. So, I bolted back to the gallery and snagged the magic box. Within a few seconds, I was back at the spot and the darn thing was still calling. So I repeated the squeaking and BAM, the bird blasted into a beautiful fruit tree and gave me a 2 or 3 minute view of it! I got some great video of the bird. The first thing that I wanted to do was to rule out the much more rare, Louisiana Waterthrush. The overall buff yellow and tapered eye-line and cream colored underparts, as well as the fact that it bobbed its tail more in an “up and down” fashion rather than in a “sideways, sashay swish”, were great features for Northern. In addition this bird did not have a large bill and the typical “bubble gum pink” legs of a Louisiana. This was the second one for my gallery and of course was a new carbon free species being #214 for the year.
It has been quite a while since I added a new post to my blog but the birds have still been coming. Back on Aug. 8th, I received a call from a friend regarding a Lesser Yellowlegs that he had seen at his pond. After missing a Red-necked Phalarope that he had spotted a day or two before, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss out on this one. I was there in minutes and was rightly rewarded with this fine shorebird. The bird in fact stayed for several days and was enjoyed by several other “carbon free birders”. That was species # 210.
WELL, I was about to have my mind blown. Steve Howell wanted to photograph Hummingbirds at my gallery. Specifically he wanted to get great shots of Anna’s Hummingbirds molting their 8th and 9th primaries. So, he came by late in the afternoon of Aug. 10th and began to fire away. I happened to look out the door at what he was doing. His shutter was clicking away at a slow, irregular and lazy pace, “ziiit-chik, …ziit-chik………….ziiit-chik”. I glanced at the hummer feeder that was right next to him, but not the one that had his attention. A very whitish hummingbird came zipping in and landed on the feeder that was next to Steve and I casually mentioned, “Hey Steve, what’s that white hummingbird”? Steve swung his “Cannon” around and all I could hear was like something from a presidential press conference! His camera buzzed rapid fire, “ziit-chik, ziit-chik, ziit-chik, ziit-chik, Ziit-Chik, ZIIT,CHIK…”! The bird flew off, Steve paused, and started “Chimping”, a term used by Brit bird photographers. When the shooting stops, a photographer will often turn their camera into the shadow to see the screen while they either erase images, or in Steve’s case, enlarge the images. When doing this the camera handler looks like a chimp as they manipulate the body, pushing buttons with their thumbs, hence the title. Anyway, Steve said, “Wow, looks like you have a Black-chinned here”. A Black-chinned Hummingbird would be only the fourth one for my gallery and quite a nice find for west Marin in general. However, after zooming WAY into the images that Steve had just taken, he quickly realized that the birds crown was too green for a typical Black-chinned Hummer. So he scrolled down to the tip of the wing to have a closer look at P 10, (the 10th primary flight feather). That might sound like an impossible feat but within seconds we were looking at the telltale and slender shape of P 10. These new cameras afford us the opportunity to really look deeper into the details and intricacies of birds. There it was ,the proof to identify our new arrival as California’s 12th ever record of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird! #211!!! Here are some photos taken by Steve Howell at the moment of discovery. Note on the third photo the layout of the wing feathers. Check the thinness of the longest feather (primary 10) and how there is also a difference in thickness between the 6th and 7th. These are key features for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
This amazing occurrence would in fact be the third record for my gallery. I have had a Ruby-throated Hummer every year now for the last three years. The Farallon Islands has 4 records, and so just between my gallery and the Farallon Islands, over half of the entire states Ruby-throated Hummingbirds has been at just these two locations. The first bird was a very white thoated, juvenile male. The second, was a juv. male as well but actually showed a few ruby red throat feathers to liven things up. This bird was an adult female and so could not have been a returning bird. I got on the phone and started making calls to locals, not so locals and the Northern California Rare Bird Alert. Much footage was taken, many people enjoyed it while the bird ended up staying at the feeders until exactly 12:15 PM on the 13th of August. I say exactly because for the duration of this birds stay, the weather was overcast cloudy and calm. NOBODY who came looking for the bird missed it as it would frequent the feeders every 10 to 20 minutes. At 12:15 on the 13th the long awaited sun made an appearance, the wind picked up a few miles an hour and it got warm. That was all she needed! She was outta there without a moments hesitation, never to be seen again. Unfortunately several people continued to make the pilgrimage to the gallery but to no avail.
My next addition was a “gift”, in that the bird that I saw wasn’t the one that I was actually questing for. Peter Pyle had walked up Sea Drift Spit at Stinson Beach a day or two before and had seen no less than 6 Snowy Plovers hanging out in the dry sand. On Aug. 14th, I slid into our canoe and rowed across the mouth of the Bolinas Lagoon, ditching the orange boat high in the dunes. I walked down the coast for about 10 minutes when I just happened to glance off shore, noticing a disturbance. Far out to sea, I could see a near life and death struggle going on as a Parasitic Jaeger, #212, harassed the lunch out of an Elegant Tern. Only after the bedraggled tern up-chucked its anchovy was the high speed chase called off, luckily for the tern. Continuing my search for the Plover took me further down Seadrift. I wasn’t having much luck in the plover department, but just when I was about to give up I heard and saw another gift in the bird world, in the form of a juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper! # 213. Yes! Who cares if I don’t see a Snowy Plover, (which I in fact did not see) I couldn’t believe my luck! I ended walking all the way to the Parkside Cafe in the town of Stinson Beach and then back which was about a 7 mile round trip.
I got up early this morning and was filled with the “need for a speed”. Well, maybe not speed but long distance staying power. I jumped on my bike at 7:00 AM and headed out to Hwy 1 north. I pumped up the big hill at “13 Curves” and on to Five Brooks where I was so delighted to add Wood Duck. #209. There were about 10 birds there of various ages and in different stages of molt and development. With Purple Martins calling above, brand new chick Ospreys learning to fly and a distant Pileated Woodpecker belting out its loud call I was so happy. Next, while scanning the edge of the pond, I visually stumbled on a Muskrat! That was a new Mammal for me, one species that one doesn’t come across very often in these parts. After that, I continued north and up to Point Reyes Station where I met Peter Pyle for a cup of coffee and a Bear Claw at the Bovine Bakery, (the BEST bakery on THIS Earth). He gave me some tips on several birds that I needed and off I went. The east side of Tamalas Bay found me looking out across the marsh and mudflat where White Pelicans swam and Egrets stood stock still like some Japanese screen painting. I then zipped around the southern part of the bay past White House Pool and up to Inverness Park where I tried to squeak out a Northern Parula that had been singing in some big Alders right there along the road, but no luck. I still had another chance with that bird as Peter informed me that one had been singing at the foot of Limentour Road. Well, I guess that I may have waited too late in the season as they were not singing, (nor was anything else for that matter). Struck out on Parula! Guess that I will have to find one this fall! After a quick dash into Olema Marsh where I “clapped up” a few Virginia Rails it was over to Olema for a quick snack and some water. THE HILL. I had never done the big, steep hill that takes you east but I had to to find my next target bird. Crowning the hill and then going off road, I rode all over looking for Grasshopper Sparrow, which I did not find. I did however enjoy seeing a stunning Lark Sparrow and a very out of habitat, juvenile Hairy Woodpecker that was way out in a field working fence posts for food. Guess one has to learn! Now it was time for a big decision. Do I wimp out and just head home or do I go for it? Well, gravity and the quest for more birds took control of me and down, down, down the back side of Olema Hill I went. At the bottom of the hill, I hung a left and worked my way along Platform Bridge Road and toward the dam at the Nicasio Reservoir. Enjoying the flat terrain I swung wide and all of the way around the lake almost to the town of Nicasio itself, where I looked for a Common Moorhen that Peter had told me about seeing. Once again it would not come to pass. Feeling tired and hungry I felt that I should get on over to Point Reyes Station for a bite. I however went a different route along the Point Reyes Petaluma road and dropped into town from the north. Stopping briefly for some corn on the cob and a drink, I enjoyed watching all four species of “Doves” that we have in this area, come and go from my “feeding station”. Now it was the long haul back to Bolinas and home. God was I tired when I came rolling back into town at 4:00 PM after doing 52 miles and adding one well fought for species.
Yesterday I added yet another species to my ever growing bird list. I noticed a very aggressive “orange” Hummingbird that was tearing things up at the gallery. I remembered that Rufous tend to, (at least at my gallery feeders) be very aggressive toward all other Hummers, seemingly much more so than Allan’s, who tend to be much more mannerly. So I quickly grabbed my scope/video camera combo and quickly zoomed into and onto the outer two or three tail feathers while the bird put down on the fountain for a nice bath. Sure enough this was a “2010 model” Rufous Hummingbird by the greater width of those all important outer tail feathers. #208
When I got a call from Steve Howell, he informed me that the Pectoral Sandpiper had departed but in its place were 3 Wilson’s Phalaropes. Closing down the gallery a bit early, I headed up to the pond where these two juveniles and one adult male, (or very drab/worn female) were spinning in their unique and typical fashion. #207. It was curious and interesting as Steve pointed out that the young birds showed very mustard yellow legs as the adult possessed blackish olive legs. It has been quite a nice run of shorebirds these last few days!
Just a quickie to mention that I popped an adult Red Knot, #206 from the deck today. The colorful shorebird was well out on the mud flat with about a dozen Black-bellied Plovers, a handful of Least Sandpipers, 20+ Black Turnstones, a breeding plumage Dowiticher and an American Avocet. After a few moments, the Plovers, Dowiticher and Knot picked up, and blasted off and over Seadrift Spit and headed down the coast for points south.
Today I received a rather excited phone call from Steve Howell when he reported that he had found an adult Pectoral Sandpiper, (only the third time he had seen one in that age class for California). Needless to say, I grabbed Burr Heneman and we blasted up in short order. With a beautiful spangled adult Greater Yellowlegs as well as a Western Sandpiper the “Pec” fit nicely as the”in-between” size of these two extremes. The Pectoral, #205, fed calmly and displayed its plumage nicely. Being much whiter than a juvenile, this somewhat worn bird exhibited the fine dark streaks on the breast and showed beautiful white “checked board” spangles on its scapular feathers. The flanks showed subtle streaks that extended to the rear portion of those feathers but not the the area located at the side of the tail. The very rare and similar looking Sharp-tailed Sandpiper shows pencil-thin fine streaks, that adorn the edges of the under tail coverts. The bill was flesh tipped with horn color. With species coming more slowly, one has to get whatever one can! ￼￼