Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Existential Crises, The Sodium/Potassium Pump, and Glorious Bird Crushings


This Grasshopper Sparrow, as well as all of the other birds in this post, was extremely accommodating during a rainy ten hour day of birding on the east side.
It has become both something of a running joke and a source of internal conflict how infrequently I have been birding of late. In addition to the general moroseness my lack of birding has installed in me, it has also brought about a certain amount of shame. Not necessarily a disproportionate amount, as with so many other shame tinged aspects of my life, but enough to cause me existential discomfort. I wish that I could say that I have devised a plan to reconcile this shortcoming, but alas...I have as yet been unsuccessful. 

Lark Sparrow, a bird whose back streaking I may have never really noticed/appreciated until now. 
This Upland Sandpiper was one of the small proportion that are seen; the vast majority are heard as nocturnal flyovers.
You see, birding for me is something that needs to be balanced. It is often a constructive effort to be sure, but this pastime of mine (ours?) also has a nasty tendency to lend itself to overindulgence and the line between those two states can become virtually invisible at times. Don't get me wrong, I heartily enjoy birding, more so every day that I partake, but I (we) must also be cognizant of the fact that we are all much closer than we'd like to admit to falling into an irreversible state of madness. We all have a finite amount of free time in our lives, some more than others obviously, but it would be a tragedy if birding consumed more than it's fair share of our time at the expense of gainful employment, sleeping, nourishing, and socializing. I would even go so far to say that this may be what is so offensive about so many birders today. Overindulgence, bordering on obsession.

After seeing maybe 1,500 Red-shouldered Hawks, I finally had one sit still.
I assume this Summer Tanager was a very recent migrant, frantically eating and not residing at the very top of a tree.
You see, this is the root of the problem I've been trying to work out. Everything in life has to be balanced. Here is a metaphor. Your heart beats because of sodium and potassium. And although sodium and potassium have completely opposite goals and objectives, they must find a way to balance themselves out and work together (the sodium-potassium pump). If they don't do that, we don't live anymore. In my life, and some of yours, I would assume, I struggle to maintain the same sort of balance between the serenity of solitude I achieve whilst looking at birds and the sanity I retain from conversing, cavorting, and consuming whilst in the presence of those people whose presence I enjoy. Sometimes I am successful. Other times (the past year for example) I am not. Life is a struggle. Nothing is forever. Things change around us and we must adapt. If not, we will die. Or, we could all just write blog posts about it.

Spotted Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper

Monday, March 28, 2016

Birders are Stupid Assholes

Today was not a good day for Texas birders. Many Texas birders acted like stupid assholes today. Unrepentant, self-involved, stupid assholes. I realize that I may be speaking specifically about some of the people who read this blog, and that those people may stop reading this blog. Good. Fuck you. You're a stupid asshole.

Heermann's Gull - Half Moon Bay, CA 2014
Uggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh. So, what happened today, This Machine? Well, the internet blew up. What do you know? The internet blew up because a man from Illinois (a bird cop, actually), photographed a Heermann's Gull in Texas and didn't post anything about it until three days later. The nerve!!! This guy deprived countless birders the exhilarating experience of driving to the coast to tick another bird off their list. Instead, these poor busters had to stay in their homes, where their lives are filled with shame-masturbation, Mountain Dew, and sadness.

So yeah, who knows why this guy didn't report the bird immediately. There could be a myriad of reasons; I'd assume that he's just not a big lister/chaser and that kind of shit doesn't cross his mind. Fair enough. A bunch of these assholes have implied that he's a piece of shit for keeping it to himself, like he was being intentionally malevolent and had something to gain from not telling people, other than to not have to be around these obnoxious motherfuckers. They blew him up when he posted about it. Not, "Wow, nice find! Thanks for letting us know!" No, they were blasting his ass like it was fucking Galaga. Point is, this dude owes nothing to anybody. He's bird police, and he'll submit a report. But for the average chaser, who the fuck do you think you are? Do you think everybody's brain works exactly like yours? If that were the case, everyone would listen to Creed and no one would ever get laid because they'd be afraid of vaginas. That'd be a shitty world to live in. No, this guy doesn't owe those pricks anything.

Anyways, that happened today and it was nasty. Don't be those birders. If some random guy taking three days to report a rare bird gets you upset, then you've got problems, and you should probably take a step back. If not seeing a bird gets you fuming like that, you're kind of fucked. It's just a goddamn bird. Nothing is that important. That's all I've got.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Valley Blitz

Some of you may not be intimate with the geography of Texas. Let me help you out. Texas is fucking big. Like, really fucking big. Just because a mega shows up in the state, it doesn't mean it is in any way feasible to chase it. I wish that weren't the case, but it's hard enough for me to get a day off of work with a week or two advance; next day chasing just isn't in the cards. I also like to have some kind of balance in my life; I work at the children's hospital here, which is often an emotionally and physically exhausting endeavor. I need a day over the weekend to chill/rage/sleep/etc. Thus, I'm not often prone to driving 7 hours each way to chase a bird. But, what about more than one bird? Okay, I can do it for the possibility of seeing multiple good birds. And that's exactly what I did a couple weeks ago.


This Common Pauraque is the most photographed and most reliable bird in the Valley. I have photographed it numerous times. Notice that I have not named it. That's because I'm not an asshole.
Long-billed Thrashers are most often seen posing on barren branches in good light. This is fact.
Many people don't realize that February is one of the best times to bird the valley. Migration isn't roaring, but for some reason, a lot of those birds that are abundant just 20 or so miles south of the border decide to fuck off and head north in the second month of the year. Recently, those birds included Blue Bunting, White-throated Thrush, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, and several Northern Jacanas. Any and all of those birds would be new birds for This Machine. Naturally, I blitzed the valley, hoping to score at least one, but keeping expectations in check; I am good at dipping on birds in the valley. I was joined in my adventure my two close friends who are incidentally big fans of Bobcat Goldthwaite.


Clay-colored Thrush. At another spot, I saw one of these birds and called it out, and a lady loudly told me to make sure it wasn't a White-throated Thrush. Fuck you, lady.
White-Throated Thrush, a bird that we had all been quietly looking at and photographing for several minutes before an old man named Leo yelled out "There it is, on the left!" Goddamnit, Leo.
We only had daylight Saturday to look for the good shit, and a few of them were pretty far apart. Additionally, the geri presence was strong, which made it rather difficult to sit in one place at a feeder waiting for a skulky bird to appear amidst the smell of moth balls and the chic fashion of white socks pulled up high over pasty, veiny legs. Long story short, we went 2 for 4, which isn't bad considering the nature of the specific birds we were searching for. We also saw cool valley birds, which is something I can live with. Blue Bunting and Crimson-collared Grosbeak made brief appearances that day, but not in our presence. One man did call out a Blue Bunting while we were there, but it ended up being a leaf or something (high up in a tree, obvi). Because it looked blue, I guess? Anyways, that was Valley Blitz

Something cool about birding in the valley is walking around and hearing these things calling all around you.
I suffered without having seen an Ovenbird for way too long in my early birding career. Now, they are drawn to me. I am the finder of Ovenbirds.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Back From The Dead

Knock knock knock.

(creeeeeeaaaaaaaak)

Um, hello? Is there anybody in here? Jesus, it's musty as fuck in here. Let's clear out some of these cobwebs and get back to fucking work.

Okay, thanks. Well, here we are. Elephant in the room, I know, but obviously I haven't posted anything here in a couple months. By far the longest stretch of silence since I started this thing up. I'd rather not get into the specifics of what's been going down, but know that shit is good, I'm energized, and I'm hopeful that we won't fall into a barren stretch like this again. It's weird, but with the exception of responding to a few emails, this is most I've typed into my computer in a long time.

Alright, birds...let's see what we've got. Well, Saturday was the Austin CBC, but I've recently come out as anti CBC, so I ate oysters and steak tartare and drank rye whiskey instead. I think I won. I may look into a different CBC this year, but honestly, I hate the commitment of spending all day in a specific, smallish area without getting to choose who's there with me. It's like that Sartre play, No Exit. "Hell is other people." (I know that's a loose, simple, and somewhat mistaken translation, but that shit just rolls off the tongue.) So yeah, no CBC for me. That said, let's get to some fucking birds.


Least Grebes bred a mile or so from my house. This is the first of two broods.
I found a Prairie Warbler this fall, with the legendary Thunderbolt Moreno.
Oh yeah, and I watched a Yellow-throated Vireo eat the shit out of a bug.


I saw this handsome Common Nighthawk whilst unsuccessfully searching for a Lesser Nighthawk. 
And this is a Yellow Warbler.
Okay, I've got some other things I could share, but I think we should start off a bit slow after such a long break. Kind of ease our way back into it all, you know? I appreciate your understanding. Until next time, nerds!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

No Jacana, No Cry

I was going to write this post about how I went to the valley and dipped on a Northern Jacana and how it sucks and blah blah blah. Fuck that whiny shit. I went to the valley and saw awesome fucking birds that most of you don't see very often. I wouldn't want to hear someone bitching about dipping on a Grassquit if they got to see Limpkin, Snail Kite, and Antillean Nighthawk. Dipping on birds is part of birding. If you saw everything that you chased, birding would be boring and you'd be an asshole. Or you could just say you saw it and be a stringer, which is exponentially worse. The next time someone complains about dipping on a bird when they see awesome other birds, punch them hard, right in the dick. That goes for me, too. Maybe I'd be into it. Anyways, here are birds that will make you jealous.

No bird is crushed harder and more often in the valley than Common Pauraque. The search for these birds is exhilarating. The crushing that follows is almost cheating.
Plain. Chachalacachachalacachachalacachachalacachachalaca.
Wood Storks are zombies. They walk among us.
Grey Hawk. Gray Hawk. 
I've never seen a Green Kingfisher and been bummed about it. Green Kingfishers are badass.
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Green Jay. I mean, look at this fucker. You can't hang out with this bird and be pissy about it.
Long-billed Thrasher. When was the last time you saw a Long-billed Thrasher? Too fucking long ago, right?
And, another Gray Hawk. Because it's a fucking Gray Hawk.
So yeah, that's my rant for today. Some of you may have noticed that my posts have become less and less frequent. Some of you may be concerned. Fear not; my lust for looking at birds and showing them to you whilst spewing foul language has not waned. I've just got some other shit I'm working on right now, and it's hard for me to get out more than once a week. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

blackternage

Terns are hardcore. Black Terns are hardercore. People who spend copious amounts of time looking at, studying, and photographing terns are birders. Birders are not hardcore. They are nerds. This will never change.

These are Black Terns. A limited amount of narration, I admit, but an amount that should no doubt suffice.








Black Terns. Hardcore.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Swallow Struggle

Swallow congregations are significant at this time of year, and may be a cause of great consternation for over enthusiastic birders. Normally, swallow identification is not that difficult, but right now, juvenile swallows are tripping people up, especially in light of the fact that a Violet-green Swallow was recently photographed amidst the local swallow hordes. Let us learn about swallows together.


What do you think of this bird? It's kind of fucked, right? Pretty drab, looks like it could be a few things. Let's get some perspective.
Does it look the the bird facing us on the left? I think it kind of does. And what do you know, it's hanging out with a bunch of Cave Swallows.
So, yeah. I think it's a safe bet that our mystery bird is a juvenile Cave Swallow, or at the very least a juvenile Petrochelidon (Cliff/Cave). Go back and look at it. You can see a little bit of orange coming in on the forehead, as well as some coloration near the base of the undertail coverts.

This is something that looks more familiar. If only all swallows looked exactly as they're supposed to look.
And this bird, which appears to be molting P6.

Here are a Cave Swallow and a Barn Swallow. I've seen people struggle with this identification, especially with perched birds. Besides the obvious difference in tail shape, look at the extent of the dark cap on the nape, the sheen on the back of the Barn Swallow, and the quantity and quality of white on the undersides.

And another look.
Now here's a juvenile Barn Swallow, for comparison with the Cave Swallows above.
And we finish with a Bank Swallow. People really shouldn't be fucking this up. Fortunately, and to my knowledge, this is not something that happens often.