Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Birducopia of Sightings as Fall Migration Seasons Winds Down (Or Picks Up?)

White-breasted Nuthatch
Fall season has been great for the birds of California, whether temporary visitors or year-round residents. Mild temperatures and abundant sustenance guarantee food, safety and shelter for hundreds of avian species dropping out of the skies around the Bay Area in world class birding locales from Point Reyes National Seashore and Mount Diablo State Park to endless miles of San Francisco Bay shoreline and this blog's favorite and much beloved Jewel Lake / Tilden Nature Area in the Berkeley Hills.

Recent reports on birding sites detail an embarrassment of avian riches everywhere around the Bay Area, including exotic sightings of Mountain Bluebirds off Patterson Pass Road, Tropical Kingbirds at Heather Farms in Walnut Creek, Lewis' Woodpeckers at Briones Reservoirs, and many of my own unheralded, miraculously small birding adventures in the Berkeley Hills, along San Pablo Creek, in Mitchell Canyon, and throughout west Marin County, including a super-hot spot for birds - Limantour Beach - and just about everywhere, anywhere, where there's a forest or brush for cover, it's a bonanza of birds. Aren't they blessed little souls!
Odd Bird Fellows, SF Bay Trail
Naturally, what's good for the birds is good for the birders, and throngs of 'em are out in force this season hoping to spot a wayward Northern Waterthrush or off-course European Finch. Many, including me, are hoping to up their Life List tally by a dozen species. It's that kind of year. And, for the proud and few, it might even be a Big Year . . . which, in any case, will have to wait, unfortunately.

Despite routinely spotting 20, 30 species in my side yard or local park, paradoxically, I've not seen one-tenth or twentieth, even, of the possible number of unique avian visitors to our great Bay Area, a mighty big place, and easily 300 or 400 species come and go and stay. Is it just me who hasn't seen, say a "common" Pine Siskin, Oven Bird, or Painted Bunting? Let alone a Tennessee Warbler, Cassin's Vireo, or Common Poorwill. (Thought: maybe I have spotted one and didn't know it.)
Odd-looking European Starling 'twist Red-winged Blackbirds
Still, it's a Big Year right in Berkeley's Back Yard. My list is growing of several fortuitous, serendipitous, but very fleeting sightings of many splendid (and not so common) birds. Some of whom I may not see again.

A Varied Thrush seen and well photographed at Mitchell Canyon, Mount Diablo State Park. Also spotted over twelve months in Codornices Park, the Regional Parks Botanic Garden parking lot area, John Hinkel Park in Berkeley, and on Thanksgiving Day, two in my side yard, a first ever sighting of the pretty thrushes showing up here.

A White-breasted Nuthatch spotted right off the bat at Mitchell Canyon, but not again after that.
Golden-crowned Kinglet

A Red-breasted Sapsucker, spotted for the first time in the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, and again elsewhere in Tilden Regional Park later. Strange, two sightings, apart, of a bird I had never seen before. (There's that thing again!)

A Black-throated Gray Warbler spotted at Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. A magical encounter of a unique bird flitting into my life ever so briefly, in a place I had no business being. (Check out prior post on it.) I'll be lucky to ever see one again. And yet . . . it's considered "not so uncommon" to see one!

Killdeers along the San Francisco Bay shoreline - true, I've never before seen one! Have I just not been looking for them? Amazing little dudes, I had never been aware, let alone noticed them before.

Wigeons at the Albany Bulb - ditto. Why would I ever notice a Wigeon before, and know it was a Wigeon I was noticing?

Red-breasted Sapsucker
Hermit Thrushes - they're all over the place this fall, like I never can remember them being. (Could some of them be Fox Sparrows and/or Wood Thrushes I'm misidentifying.) Why did I not notice them as a "fairly common" bird before?

European Starlings spotted at McLaughin Eastshore State Park surprised me immensely for their otherworldly look and coloration. And besides, I don't think I could ever lay claim to actually positively ever having seen one. The photo here managed to stump a few experts for a while! (By the way, ME State Park is an amazing natural resource on our urban doorstep - rehabilitated, terraformed habitat in an upland area known as the Berkeley Meadows,)

Great Blue Heron and Minions
Golden-crowned Kinglets at Wildcat Gorge - or maybe it was just one, but he stuck around for twenty minutes in plain sight. My best ever sustained glimpse of the hardy little bird distinguished by an orange crown stripe emblazoned atop his little head. I consider it a rare thing to spot a Golden-crowned Kinglet, yet people report seeing them left and right. The EBRPD Bird Checklist, though, considers their appearance "rare" and uncommon" all year round. So, what gives?

Come to think of it, even what you might regard as a pedestrian sighting in a local city park of, say, a common bird, like the American Robin, can thrill the heart with a voyeuristic glimpse into the mystery world of birds, a world where each small bundle of feathers and fat is a special and perfect miracle of creation. If you doubt, believe this:

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