Tuesday, September 30, 2014

To Count, or Not To Count...That Is The Question

"So, how does it feel to be looking at a life bird and to not be able to count it?" 

This was the query Steve posited me a few weeks ago in California. The bird was an Allen's Hummingbird. The bird was most likely an Allen's Hummingbird. There was a pretty good chance that the bird was an Allen's Hummingbird. To be honest, there were like 10 or 15 of them, and they were all juvenile/female type birds. Thus, I couldn't rule out the possibility of them being Rufous Hummingbirds, as unlikely as that may be. And that's what kills me. It's why we're here today.

Would you have counted the bird? No pressure; it's your list. No judgment. I'm just curious. I couldn't do it. We all have our different and specific criteria for what we deem countable. Here are some common counting conundrums.

1. Heard only birds - some people count them, others don't. I have a couple owls, a rail, and a nightjar on my heard only list. Not optimal, but I'll see them someday. I'm not stressed.

2. Exotics - this can actually get kind of nasty. The ABA has added a lot of exotics to the checklist over the last few years; the tricky thing is that to count them, you have to see them in the ABA specified area. From the ABA Recording Rules and Interpretations:

"an introduced species may be counted only where and when it meets the ABA Checklist's definition for being an established population. An introduced species observed well away from the accepted geographic area is not counted if it is more likely to be a local escape or release rather than an individual straying from the distant population"

Some examples of countable exotics include Egyptian Geese in Florida, Rosy-faced Lovebirds in Phoenix, Scaly-breasted Munia in California. Personally, I'm not going out of my way to see any of these birds.

But, is Monk Parakeet really all that different from Rosy-faced Lovebird?
3. Reintroduced species - Most everyone agrees that you can't count California Condor. What's trickier is the status of Aplomado Falcon in Texas. The Texas Bird Records Committee classifies Aplomado Falcon status as "Reintroduction in progress, not established." To me, that sounds like it's not countable. But it kind of gets into a state vs. ABA thing. The owners of the two highest ABA big years both have these birds on their big year lists. So, it's weird.

4. Hybrids - Some birds hybridize quite extensively, and there is often some sliding scale of hybridization making a bird look a lot like one of its true species parents. I struggled with this a few weeks ago with a Glaucous-winged Gull in California. Throughout north central and central Texas, there is a corridor of Tufted x Black-crested Titmice. There are varying degrees of cinnamon on the foreheads and dark grayish to back crests. These birds are not countable.

Classic Tufted x Black-crested Titmouse
So, now let me share some personal counting conundrums I have faced. I have seen 3 species of bird that are not on my list. These are their stories. DUN DUN!

1. First, we have the selasphorus hummingbird mentioned above. What are you going to do? Juvenile/female type Rufous/Allen's are just about impossible to separate in the field. It's not the only complex like this. Willow and Alder Flycatchers, Cordilleran and Pacific-slope Flycatchers, these are a couple examples of birds where range is the primary clue to identification. But, it's not 100%.

2. Scripp's Murrelet. On the California pelagic last year, Steve (again, goddamnit) called out Scripp's Murrelets. I saw the birds, although very briefly. They were black and white and they were flying directly away from the boat at a high rate of speed. Unfortunately, there is more than one possible species of bird that is small, black and white, and would be flying away from a boat in the Pacific Ocean. I can't rule any of them out, so I can't count it.

3. Snow Bunting. Last winter, I visited my family in Iowa. One exceptional aspect of the trip was the fact that it was not uncommon to find flocks of Lapland Longspurs foraging just off the side of the road. One of the flocks I found was big and active. I scanned the birds for 10 or 15 minutes, snapping off some pictures. I was actively trying to pull a Snow Bunting out of the flock, but could never find one. That evening, I checked in at a Best Western in Kansas, and since it was in Kansas, I had nothing to do but sort through my photos. Sure enough, there was a photo of a Snow Bunting. I didn't identify it at the time, so I'm not counting it.

Highly cropped Snow Bunting that I photographed but didn't see. Ouch.
So what's the answer? What can be counted? Unless you're submitting your list to the ABA for a Big Day or Big Year, it's kind of up to you. Some people are strict, others are lax. There are some general guidelines to follow that may make you a bit more palatable to your birding peers, but really, just like any other question I posit, it's all perspective and personal choice.

Update: As I was finishing up this post, I saw that the recently resurrected ABA Recording Standards and Ethics Committee has updated the recording rules. Check them out here.

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Pac Slope! Pac Slope!" - Birding in California

I've now made two separate birding trips to California. They've been good trips, super productive, fun, and whiskey-driven. But there's also been a touch of weird in those trips. I'm not necessarily saying that the weirdness is inherent to California; I'm just making an observation. Last year, it was a face to face screaming showdown with an angry, angry man in Bolinas. Nuts. This year was pretty chill, expect for a little bit of running (yes, people were running to see birds) and a consistent yelling of "Pac Slope! Pac Slope!" I've seen far worse behavior on High Island; alls I'm saying is it was weird.

Like last year, I'm grateful to Steve and Brittany for putting me up and showing me around. Gracious hosts, super cool people, it was a pleasure to share good oysters and better booze (actually, nothing can be better than those fucking oysters).

Glaucous-winged Gull; I was on the fence with the dark-ish primaries until I looked through Howell at Steve's place.
Elephant Seals at Point Reyes on what turned out to be an impressive mammal day list.
California Peregrine Falcons are accommodating. Texas PEFAs are decidedly not so.
Townsend's Warbler rocking the Redeemer.
I'm starting to feel like Texas is the odd man out in that we're not thick with Song Sparrows year round.
No birds were as thick as White-Crowned Sparrows.
There was a super weird group of people at this one spot at Point Reyes. They were hollering and running back and forth looking for birds. It tripped me out. This Black-throated Gray Warbler was an unfortunate target.
This one weird and poorly dressed motherfucker kept freaking out and yelling, "Pac Slope! Pac Slope!" I assume he's still a virgin.

Kind of long overdue life bird, I should have picked up Hermit Warbler in Arizona.
Black Turnstone not giving a fuck.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Four Nerds One Boat

So, what happens when you combine the nerd power of four bird bloggers and confine it to a small boat in the Pacific Ocean? Not much, honestly. They look at birds. 75% of them doze off for a short time. They drink a beer afterwards. Not that exciting. Because we're bird bloggers. There were not a ton of birds off of the Half Moon Bay pelagic this past Sunday, which probably accounts for the periodic dozing and lack of revelry. There were good birds, and new birds, there just weren't a shitload of either. Regardless, the concentrated nerd power of myself, Party Don't Stop! Jen, Seagull Steve, and The Laurence created a ripple in the cosmic dork universe, felt by geeks playing Magic in a basement in Waukesha and nerds lined up at a comic book store in Terra Haute.

I'm pretty sure that Brandt's Cormorant is better than Neotropic or Double-crested, but it could just be lack of exposure on my part.
Common Murre was the only abundant alcid on the trip.
Heermann's Gull is a good gull. I yearn for an alternate plumaged bird.
Sooty Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater. Oddly, we only had two shearwater species.
Prior to this trip, I was without Albatross. It's a poor state to inhabit.
One of several Black-footed Albatross.

Here's a banded bird, although I can't make out the letters on the band.
Shit picture of the only Wilson's Storm-Petrel of the trip.
Jaeger of the Pomarine variety.
Rhinoceros Auklet
Sooty Shearwater
Elegant Terns

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Random Shit

As our title suggests, here is a bunch of random shit in here that has nothing to do with anything else in this post. Also, I'm short on words, so there's that. There is a really good bird tucked in here, though.

Although this bird avoided me in the county for far too long, Tricolored Herons are relatively easy right now. This is a juvenile bird, as evidenced by all the red.
Long-billed Thrasher on a quick trip to the valley.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - More gray than blue.
Juvenile Barn Swallows are annoying.
This is a Green Heron. It is flying.
See it?
Boom. EASO of the McCall's variety, I think. Also, a fucked up eye.
Here we go. Shitty picture of a gooooooooooooooooooooooood bird. First Texas record of Bar-tailed Godwit.
My quest for a Chimney Swift crush continues.
Anhinga - I'm like 99% sure they bred in the county this year.

Yea, that's it. I'll be back next week with some hopefully new shit for me.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Shorebirding in HD

"Shorebirds are migrating."

That statement triggers one of two responses when it falls upon the ears of birders. For some, the response is, "Fuck yea. About time. Let's make this happen." For others, "Fuck no. I hate these things. I don't want to stand out in the sun and get eaten alive by flies and mosquitos while I sort through these brown fuckers." Your inherent and internal response to the above statement says a whole lot about you. But, for those of you who fall in the category of the latter, remember this: Shorebirds are not that hard. Seriously, they're not. That's not to say that there aren't days when your brain doesn't work and they all look exactly alike. This happens. But, if you plug away at it, you'll have them all sorted just in time for them to leave. And then you can rinse and repeat all over again the following spring. So, that's fun.

Anyways, to get to the heart of this post, I'm excited because shorebirds have arrived in central Texas. Being on call has hindered my ability to venture far out in search of exciting birds, so I've been very much appreciative of the opportunity to look at something more than the usual 15 Least Sandpipers, 20 Killdeer, and 3 Spotted Sandpipers. And to add a twist, this post will not contain any photographs. Nope, This Machine has been dicking around with video, so that's what's happening today.

Stilt Sandpipers.

Late summer Western Sandpipers in central Texas look super crisp. Early molters.

The side to side sweeping is typical foraging behavior for American Avocet.

So there's kind of a lot going on in this video, but what stood out to me was the Wilson's Phalarope in the middle going nuts trying to catch bugs in the air. Hilarious.

It's been brought to my attention that I am quite abrupt in ending phone calls or even day to day conversations. I don't know why, and it's not malicious, but apparently when I'm done, I just say, "Alright, bye." Does that mean I'm a socially awkward weirdo? Fuck, I hope not.

Alright, bye.