Thursday, December 11, 2014

Of Golden-crowned Kinglets Spotted in Tilden Regional Park (and Not Much Elsewhere)

The thing about common Golden-crowned Kinglets is, well - I'm gonna go out on a limb here and proclaim, they're actually pretty uncommon during this season or any time of year. In 15 years of "really noticing birds," I can count on one hand, and still have digits left over, the number of times I've spotted the bustling bundles of jittery joy.
Golden-crowned Kinglet

And yet others lay claim to seeing the bird regularly. At least I've read some recent online reports indicating such. So, it must be a matter of luck or timing, because the teensy occult foraging passerine completely eludes me for the most part. Which, on doing a bit of research, isn't so odd; according to the Tilden and Wildcat Canyon Regional Parks Bird Checklist, Golden-crowned Kinglets are listed as UNCOMMON winter visitors, RARE spring passers-by, and, again, UNCOMMONLY sighted during the fall. A 1940 report on frequency of birds sighted on the Berkeley Campus indicates that the bird is spotted very INFREQUENTLY during all times of the year. (Maybe things have changed for the better for the Golden-crowned Kinglet since 1940.)

So what gives - why are many people spotting Golden-crowned Kinglets in and around the Bay Area? And I'm left looking at way too many of the COMMON cousin, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet? (Well, there can never be too many.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet
I've catalogued a grand total of four Golden-crowned Kinglet sightings, a low number surely indicative of just how hard the little cusses are to spot. By way of comparison, I see the Ruby-crowned Kinglet so frequently that it's no big deal anymore (unless, of course, you get a shock of his flashy ruby crown).

But the golden crowned one, ah, this one's much more elusive. An insect foraging, edgy bird, barely bigger than a hummingbird, he's tough to spot, given a predilection for foraging high up "needle country" in recondite pine forest canopy. Your best bet for observing the Golden-crowned Kinglet is when they come down to riparian areas.

A few weeks ago, I experienced my most satisfying sighting to date. The bird, or maybe it was two birds, hard to tell - flitted and foraged for some thirty minutes in brush and small trees along Wildcat Gorge Trail in Tilden Regional Park. Adding to the lively scene were Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Oak Titmouses, Townsend Warblers, and the ever-present Ruby-crowned Kinglets. I also want to think I saw a Nashville Warbler. . . but, having failed to capture an image, I can't swear on it. But I can unequivocally state it was a Warbler-like bird I have never seen before. (Maybe a Vireo of some sort?) Regardless, it was a field day (rather a gorge day) for spotting a couple of birds rarely, if ever, spotted, by me, that is.
Golden-crowned Kinglet
My first Golden-crowned Kinglet sighting was at eerily cool Davis Lake in Oregon. I had no idea what bird it was that just flew like a quantum pellet disappearing into a bush. I had about a 5 second glimpse, just enough to later positively ID him as a GC Kinglet - who could forget that stunning orange vertical stripe on the head?

My second sighting was on Oursan / Bear Creek Trail on EBMUD land. I had just set off and was not quite down to San Pablo Creek, when a bird I instantly knew I'd seen only one other time flew into a tree near the trail, darting about, disappearing, but sticking around long enough to get a much better second look, but no photo, of this crypto-avian species. A thrilling moment only a birder in his own private idaho can enjoy and savor.

My third sighting occurred in a small meadow off Steep Ravine Trail in Marin County. Aromatic after a nice rain, dense brush edged up against lush forest commingling with sunny meadow, perfect bird habitat and weather. Emerging from the dankness of the ravine into the sunlit clearing, I felt a sighting coming on. Go ahead, laugh. Soon it came: a beautiful Golden-crowned Kinglet manifesting right before my eyes in a tree a few feet away. Then  - gone in a flash after a 15 seconds of acquaintance. It's been good to know you, Mr. GC Kinglet.

Townsend's Warbler
What makes the Wildcat Gorge sighting so special is how long the bird stuck around. For a full half-hour, I was absorbed in an almost OCD-like trance of obsessive birdspotting. But it was so beautiful after a fresh rain, with the creek burbling along, and the landscape glistening. Many hikers passing by with their dogs and kids, all looking up to the tree tops in wonderment at my insistent scrutiny though the binoculars. To one, I turned and said, "The birds! Ya gotta love them! You know they can count, right?" The kid's eyes roll and jaw spins - like you mean one plus one equals two? "Exactly!" I say (more to the kid's dad), citing a recent study with New Zealand Robins who "showed that they knew perfectly well when a scientist had showed them two mealworms in a box, but then delivered only one."

What can be more fascinating to the kid in all of us?

Nice vid here: