Staring Wide Eyed or Staring at a White Eye?

Well, once I heard that the White-eyed Vireo was still being seen in Muir Beach, I figured that I would give it the ol’ Carbon Free try. So, I sprang outta bed at 5:30 AM and hit the old lonesome highway. I had not done this run before and was a little nervous about some of the hills especially the one that comes out of Muir Beach if one is north bound on highway 1. Everything turned out fine as there was very little traffic. I really enjoyed being out alone and just slowly taking in the scenery that I have whizzed past at high speeds, for so many years. I made the “several hundred foot” descent into Muir Beach and coasted past the Pelican Inn and along the Willow and Alder lined stream toward the beach parking lot. Well, let me tell you that I was thrilled when the White-eyed Vireo sang before my bike even came to rest. It popped right out into the open and showed itself once or twice before heading off to the neighbors yard. #204! This was such a thrill to go for a bird of this quality and to have success in seeing it! As I had mentioned on a previous post this is only the second one that I have ever seen in the state.

New Additions to my Carbon free Big Year

It has been a while since I have added any posts to my Carbon Free Big Year but as of late there have been some new sightings. Back on June 30th, I thought that I would give the ocean a once over and I was well rewarded, however not by birds. I no sooner set up my scope and began to scan the large swells that had piled up that day and much to my delight produced a beautiful Sea Otter!!! This is only the 4th Sea Otter that I have seen in Marin County. This large adult was perhaps a half of a mile out and was swimming quickly to the north. Interestingly, the animal would rise as high as it could out of the water as each large swell peaked and it would take a quick look around from its momentary “lofty view”. It would the swim on and reappear as each large swell lifted it up again and again. Not five minutes later I was again thrilled as a Gray Whale passed by also heading north. These were both new mammals for my big year, bringing me to 21 species.

Yesterday I got a call from Jim White over there in Muir Beach to report that he had heard and seen a White-eyed Vireo! Well, with the day near the end I wasn’t able to ride my bike there but did drive over and got to see this very rare species. this was only the second one that I have ever seen in California. Upon my return I needed to do some house work and before I got started I scanned the mud flat on the Bolinas Lagoon and just about flipped when low and behold, there was a striking bird standing there with all of the Caspian Terns. It was a Black Skimmer, (#203) in all its ill-proportioned beauty. Not a bad day!

Did ya Hear Man? # 202 for my Carbon Free Big Year.

As I had mentioned on a resent post that I try to peek off of our deck every day. I indulge in this behavior, not only to enjoy the beautiful view of the Bolinas Lagoon, framed by sky, ocean and Inverness Ridge, but to see if there is anything fun poking around on, flying over or sleeping on the mudflat. I was not the least bit surprised to see two adult Heerman’s Gulls, (#202) sleeping amongst the Western Gulls. These, “Boys of Summer” typically arrive at about this time of year, each year, along with the Elegant Terns and the ever growing numbers of Brown Pelicans, to “spend the summer at the beach” and feed on the large numbers of Anchovies that pulse in and out of the lagoon. This annual event is one of the must exciting and noteworthy phenomenon for those of us who enjoy birds, nature, or a simple walk on a warm beach.

In addition I added a new mammal, it being a road killed House Mouse. Click on the “2010 Carbon Free Species List”, to see the complete tally of all the birds and mammals that I have encountered on my Carbon Free Big Year.

“Legs” A Milestone reached, Something BLUE!, Kitties & Bunnies, You TURKEY!”

While I have been away from my blog entries for a while, I do have some cool, memorable and interesting things to add. Way back on May 25th, I thought that I would give the area “beyond Palomarin” a going over as I figured that I might have a chance and get lucky with a MacGillivray’s Warbler, a Grasshopper Sparrow or for that matter a Rufous-crowned Sparrow. I rode the 4 miles to and past the Point Reyes Bird Observatorys Palomarin Field Station. Here is where the trail head to Bass Lake, takes off. Arriving, I was disappointed as no bikes are allowed onto the trail. Not wanting to be deprived of any potential firsts, I figured I’d hoof it in the 4 miles to Bass Lake, on foot. Well, luck would be kind to me but not in an avian sort of way. This was to be a feline blessing with a brief but exciting view of a mid sized, “teenage” Bobcat! Yes indeed, this surprised, super spry young kitten-cat, caught me in those slit pupil eyes and flashed a bob of cotton tail, air born flail and passed on, “or” the trail. I took a powerfully brisk walk to and from the calm waters of Bass Lake but saw only the most beautiful morning that I had noticed in quite some time! I thought to myself, “hmmm, no new target birds” as the parking lot was nearly in view. All of a sudden, I caught a whiff of a sweet and melodic song coming just over a small rise, crowned with a layer of Sticky Monkey Flowers. I straightened up, slowed WAY down and kinda stood up on the ol’ tip toes, and there, JUST over the rise was a stunning male Lazuli Bunting, singing its head off. This bird was so filled with joy, lust, testosterone and his good looks that it simply didn’t notice me. Well, the instant that it took a breath into its cinnamon breast, it caught me in its “seed-bead” black eye and exploded into flight. It didn’t stop flying until I couldn’t see it and who knows where it ended up. “Probably a migrant on the move”, I thought to myself, feeling the gladness that comes with a gift from above or at least from where Lazuli Buntings come from! It was species # 199.

The big Milestone came uneventfully enough when I headed home from the gallery for dinner. It was May 29th and I have gotten WAY into the habit of scoping off of the deck as I know how that can pay off with an unexpected treat. This particular scan dang near popped my cork when I zoomed past the “sea” of Gulls and slammed right into a black, white and red “cartoon character”! #200 I said out loud as I tweaked the focus knob on the old Bushnell Spacemaster. A Black-necked Stilt was the form that filled my glad eyes as I smiled to myself. SUDDENLY, before I was able to soak up this resting wader into its well earned slot at the double century point, there was a great tumult! Every bird was airborne. Herons, belched out loud raucous protests as they shoved off and out of their safe nests. Every Gull sprang into the sky, forming a great wheeling mass of hysteria as I said under my breath, “The Land Lord has come for the rent”. Sure enough, there it was, like a cross between some Nat. Geo. nature program and a Bank of America ad, someone could have yelled, “National Emblem, enter stage RIGHT”. Of course the big bad bird had to grocery shop RIGHT where the Stilt was, and so when it did, my long legged friend did what any life loving creature would do and that was to leave the meat “isle”. After this Eagle took his apatite elsewhere, the stilt settled in on the Eagle-free mud flat in front of our deck.

A bird that has shaken my confidence as to how well I thought I was covering “my patch”, has finally been caught up with. It has made me feel like a TURKEY!!!  I have had to listen to so many well meaning people who have created bountiful images of ALL of the Turkeys that they have seen here and there! I have been a little less than pleased to have witnessed them only from the confines of my (non-carbon free) auto! Until NOW! I finally stuffed this bird onto my list at #201.

Last but not least, I jumped a Black-tailed Hare (new name for Jackrabbit) this morning up on the Bolinas Mesa and once again, smiled to see an old friend, anew.

198 Carbon Free Species !

Went out on May 23rd with a goal of hearing or seeing a Cassin’s Vireo. Well. that’s zact-ly what I did. I rode my bike up onto Bolinas Ridge via the Bolinas-Fairfax Road and when I entered the mixed Oak, Maple and Conifer habitat, I kept a sharp ear out for its distinct “conversational” song. While the Warbling Vireo blasts out a forceful and jumbled series of rapid “chewy” notes, the Hutton’s Vireo delves out its unchanging, monotonous, uninspired and questioning “jur-eep ?,… jur-eep ?,… jur-eep ?,………..” Mr. Cassin is a real “talker”. What I mean by that is that when a male Cassin’s Vireo is about, it’s as if you were listening to someone chatting away loudly on a phone. They question and answer, with a courteous space between each two or three syllable statement. They sound something like this. “Jurr-reep?……….Jurr-REE-YUP!………gee-dull-………..Jid-ill-liP?………Burr-jir RIP!” And on and on it goes. So, when I did finally tie into this fine bird, it was singing within earshot of both a Hutton’s and a Warbling Vireo making a “Marin Vireo Triangle” complete. I was stoked!

” A Whale of a Day”

What a great couple of days it has been. However not in the bird department. On the 15th I found a new mammal for my big year. It was unfortunately dead. As is all too often with burrowing critters and large amounts of rain, they need to get out and get dry. It is on occasions like this when one is likely to find such creatures dead on the side of the road. Such is the case with a beautiful specimen of a Broad-footed Mole that I found just on the way out of town next to the Lumber Yard. In addition, I saw a Coyote, heard a Gray Squirrel, a Sonoma Chimpmunk and then several Harbor Seals out on the lagoon. Later that same day I finally caught up, or should I say I was bestowed upon, the fine pleasure of seeing a California Sea Lion off of Duxbury Reef. I came home to pass on the news to my bride when ANOTHER Sea Lion ”waved hello”, right outside our room. This big ol’ female rolled by, swimming past on a high lagoon tide.

Today I rode around birding and added no new birds. I decided to head back to Duxbury to try my hand at a sea bird or two, but instead I was thrilled to see a rather close and very large fluke of a feeding Gray Whale! I could see the barnacles and scratches on its tails under surface. Not to be outdone after about 15 minutes a Minke Whale showed itself as it passed by the point moving south! I think that that was the first time that I have seen two species of Whales from Bolinas in one day.

“One More for the Big Year”

On May 15th while out enjoying the woods at Pine Gulch Creek, I managed to finally tie into my first Green Heron for the year, #197. It appears that they may in fact be breeding there as they are acting “nesty” and hanging out up in the crown of Alders and Willows. They are also vocalizing in a way that I have never heard them before. About every 30 seconds the adult utters a deep “woody” sound that is not unlike something a Raven or a Crow might “say”. I would spell it something like, “took” or “tuk” with a real hollow sound. Interesting.

“Marbled Martin”

On this fine day, I went back to see if the Hooded Warbler was still singing away because I knew that people would love to see this fine fowl. Well, it was not to be as the bird departed with last nights clear skies. So, I blasted back down to Duxberry Reef for more sea birding and it payed off with as wonderful pair of Marbled Murrelets. #195. These two little sea birds floated not far from 4 Common Murres that rested nearby. This direct comparison was a nice gesture on their part as a “very distant” Murre can look not unlike a Murrelet if one doesn’t know exactly how big the bird it that you are looking at.

Later in the evening while working at the gallery, I was pleased, (but not surprised) to see one male and two female Purple Martins soaring and feeding on flying insects over downtown Bolinas. #196. This late afternoon feeding over town, is a regular event in this neck of the woods for this otherwise seldom encountered bird.

“Boys and The Hood”,(ed)

Now that I am back from the great San Joaquin Valley and BACK in the Saddle, my Carbon Free Quest continues. On May 11th, I found myself birding with Burr Heneman. We decided to give the ocean a look from our favorite perch at Duxberry Reef. While we saw many beautiful Loons passing by we didn’t add anything new for the year. So, we decided to peddle on back to town on Alder Ave. While pumping up the steep hill just shy of Grove Ave., I heard a very loud and a VERY unusual song emanating from a dense tangle, deep in private property. At first, I thought that it was a Fox Sparrow. Not being happy with that ID, we stayed and listened as the bird continued singing. Next, I thought that it might be a Green-tailed Towhee. Soon, my mind reeled as I considered a Vireo or perhaps some type of Warbler. After about 30 minutes, Burr suddenly said, “I think I saw it, I think that it has some yellow on it!” Within a few seconds I was also seeing a small yellowish bird as it moved covertly through the foliage. Suddenly, WHAM! In a well illuminated hole set within a frame of dark green shadows, up popped a stunning male, (of course, since it was singing), Hooded Warbler! #194 We quickly backed off as we had our ID, needed to get home and didn’t want to pressure the bird any longer. This vagrant from the east coast is quite rare in California and is only the 2nd record for Bolinas.

A Non-Carbon Free Week in the Southern Central San Joaquin Valley

It has been far too long since I added a species to my Carbon Free Big Year. One reason for that dearth of species is that I have not personally been carbon free. I just returned from a week visiting friends and family in the great central valley. I had the great fortune to go birding at a wonderful location in Tulare County. On May 7th, My brother Rob and I set out for a morning of walking in and around The Creighton Ranch Preserve. This privately owned piece of land is located out in the middle of the south central San Joaquin Valley. In that area, it is quite simply the last large swath of “close to natural valley habitat” that still exists. With a lazy meandering river running through it, gigantic Valley Oaks and a wonderful mosaic of natural habitats as part of its character, this spot is a natural magnet for migratory and breeding birds. We started early in the morning and walked the entire area. The instant that we entered the preserve, it was obvious that something “was up”. As Swainson’s Hawks soared overhead a Lazuli Bunting flew alongside the car and stopped, adorning a bush with its “Caribbean” head and “terracotta” breast. Great-tailed Grackles and Tricolored Blackbirds flew by, leaving the preserve to forage in the limitless cotton fields that stretched out in all directions, ocean-like, to the horizon. Once we climbed out of our carbon producers, it was apparent that the last nights migration was a busy commute and the rest stop for this event was this large island of natural habitat. Birds seemed to be everywhere! We were seeing species of interest at all times. Willows were filled with Wilson’s and Yellow Warblers while Black-headed and Blue Grosbeaks were singing all around us. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Dark-eyed Junco were late migrants while Wood Pewees and Olive-sided, Dusky and Ash-throated Flycatchers perched conspicuously snapping up insects in the cool morning air. A flock of 8, (of the more than 40 seen that day) male Western Tanagers blasted by as Bullock’s Orioles flew by in small groups. While looking at a Swainson’s Hawk that was passing over at a few hundred feet, I noticed a dot of a bird that was much higher. Putting the scope on the lofty mystery bird, which was itself another Swainson’s, I was surprised to see a “speck” that was even higher! And this bird was a speck in the stratosphere!!! A Black Swift was cutting a quick and steady path across the valley and was making incredible time as it pumped steadily west at a truly remarkable altitude! Rob called “Townsend’s and several Warblings”. I turned to see a Cassin’s Vireo as well as a Chipping Sparrow. House Wrens sang from the understory as several Swainsons Thrush called from the thicket with their watery, “bloip-bloip”? calls. Flocks of Whimbrel and White-faced Ibis added to the mix as Cinnamon Teal, Redheads and even a pair of covert Canvasbacks worked the edges of the slow moving river. “Off the hook” would describe what we were experiencing! Glancing this way produced Cedar Waxwings and a Willow Flycatcher resting at eye level, looking that way were still more Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks, suddenly a boldly patterned White-throated Sparrow popped up, one of a hand-full of valley records I have ever had the pleasure of laying my eyes upon. It was warming up and was time to go.

We drove a short distance near the town of Corcoran where several large ponds laid exposed in the valley sun. Still more avian discoveries laid before us as Wilson’s and Red-necked Phalaropes along with breeding plumage Dunlin, Western and Least Sandpipers and Long-billed Dowitichers fed actively. The always cute Snowy Plovers dashed and froze, dashed and froze while several Semipalmated Plovers stood very still. Black Terns flew buoyantly by on wings scimitar wings as Caspians, the grand daddy of the Tern family sat in the sun or copulated. Rounding one pond, we were stunned and pleased to see two Ruddy Turnstones, a bird typically encountered on surf pounded rocks of the coast. Breeding plumage Eared Grebes floated in large rafts and numerous Cattle Egrets moved back and forth between the “cells”. Shrikes and a Burrowing Owl worked the fence rows as Kingbirds snapped up dragonflies. My brother and I soon parted company and I needed to make my way back home to Bolinas, but not before connecting with my best friend, John Silvas for some more birding to the west of Corcoran. I met John at an impossibly desolate spot on the earth where any type of plant is the exception and not the rule. Fortunately this desolate intersection actually had some buildings that I would assume were housing for farm workers. Surrounding the well worn, sun bleached houses were a scattering of trees, bushes and one very productive Bottle Brush bush. Once again it was “migrant mania”. A Wood-Pewee, Tanagers, Kingbirds, Orioles, a male Lazuli Bunting, many Wilson’s and Yellow Warblers, and 2 very late White-crowned Sparrows came in to check me out. John showed up and off we went to “The South Wilbur Flood Area”. These massive cells each averaging 1 mile square were a cornucopia of diversity. In addition to many more of previously mentioned species, we enjoyed American White Pelicans, Clark’s Grebes, Forster’s Tern and simply grand numbers of birds like Ruddy Duck, Coot and Redhead. After an hour or so of poking around “The Wilbur”, we parted company and I headed west and toward Hwy. 5 and a long drive home. Twas a great day that I will not soon forget!