Short-tailed Albatross in SoCal Waters

Short-tailed Albatross 1

Arriving at the Short-tailed Albatross.

Even on the most banal of days, birding is always an adventure. You often miss expected birds and see surprises. Sometimes, a rarity shows up and the chase is on. On Saturday, June 5th a few miles out of San Pedro, California, a fishing boat captain found a bird he did not recognize, so he texted a photo to a friend he knew could help. The bird turned out to be a Short-tailed Albatross!

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A Common Ringed Plover in Orange County California

While birding at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in southern California on 31-AUG-19, we found a plover with an unusually heavy black breast band. This bird was feeding on the mud of the ponds beside a handful of Semipalmated Plovers, and other shorebirds. Compared to nearby Semipalmated Plovers, this plover seemed slightly larger – just a tiny bit huskier and longer-winged. Further observation of the bird suggested we had found a wildly out-of-place Common Ringed Plover, Charadrius hiaticula. We sent word out to the local birding websites and hotlines, and at that point, the circus began!

What Makes It A Common Ringed Plover?

The male Common Ringed Plover showing the heavy black breast band.

The male Common Ringed Plover showing the heavy black breast band. Photo © Jeff Bray, 2019

Many features that distinguish Common Ringed from Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus) are minute and subtle. They can be very hard to observe, let alone document. There were seven Semipalmated Plovers clustered around the pond where the mystery plover was foraging. All of them were either females or juveniles; not a single adult male Semipalmated Plover was present. This was, in itself, a little odd. The unknown plover male really stood out with its very wide, black breast band. Continue reading

Painted Lady Migrates Through So Cal

Painted lady ButterflyThe 2019 Painted Lady movements through Southern California were impressive. In a time when immense wildlife explosions of anything are almost unheard of, this colossal migration was distinctive. Thoughts of enormous arthropod (insect) invasions so often bring concerns of other hostile species to mind. The Painted Ladies were a magnificent blast of beautiful color.

In March 2019, the Painted Lady northward migration saw huge spikes in the number of butterflies over previous years. This was thought to have been their single largest migration since, possibly, the late 1960s. Remarkable waves of Painted Ladies flowed through the cities and deserts alike. Previous, yet smaller, movements of this butterfly happened in 1998 and again in 2005. The 2005 migration year was estimated at one billion butterflies. The spectacle of this movement was striking. The soft orange butterflies travel at fast speeds with direction, intent, and purpose. Continue reading

A Most Unusual “Raccoon”

The coati coming over the fence to steal some sugar water

The Coati makes its entrance

On a recent birding trip to southeastern Arizona, I ran across a mammal I have long wanted to meet: the White-nosed Coatimundi, Nasua narica. Known as a coati for short, this attractive beast is a member of the raccoon family, Procyonidae, as suggested by its facial mask and faintly ringed tail. All of the world’s four coati species reside only in the Americas. Other species include the Eastern and Western Mountain Coatis, and the South American Coati. Only the White-nosed Coati occurs in the United States, where it is found from southern Arizona, across the southwest corner of New Mexico to south Texas from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico. The White-nosed Coati?s range extends all the way through Central America into northwestern Columbia. Continue reading

Andean Condor: Let’s Float Down to Peru!

Adult Male Andean Condor in Cochahuasi Animal Sanctuary

Adult Male in Cochahuasi Animal Sanctuary

While every corner of the globe brings its own plethora of bird species to the table, few countries attract such attention as Peru. Second only to Columbia in the sheer number of species, Peru’s vast array of climates house species from all areas of the birding spectrum. Perhaps the most intriguing species in the nation is the Andean Condor.

Heavier than all other flying birds and second only in wingspan to the Wandering Albatross, this giant scavenger has always struck awe in the entire birding community. I am certainly no exception, and I finally got to see some myself in August of 2018. Continue reading

A Chaseable Red-flanked Bluetail in California

Red-flanked Bluetail on the grounds of the William Clark Library

Red-flanked Bluetail at the William Clark Library in Los Angeles, California

When word broke on a Monday of a Red-flanked Bluetail found at the William Andrews Clark Library, it caused a panic. We scrambled for our field guides to see what one even looked like, and then looked up the library hours of operation. The news wasn?t good: the facility only opened during the week when most of us are working instead of birding. This whole working-for-a-living thing really puts a damper on birding! We spent an anguished week watching the reports verifying the bird was still present. Fortunately, the bird hung around, so we drove to Los Angeles to chase it. A crowd of about 100 local birders milled around by the library gate, mixing with visitors from further afield. Promptly at 9:00 am, the gates opened and people started speed-walking towards the opposite end of the property. The grounds were beautiful: lush, with mature lawns, dense hedges, and concrete walkways shaded by huge ficus and magnolia trees. Continue reading

A Wood Sandpiper in Humboldt County

The Wood Sandpiper

First view of the Wood Sandpiper

Recently, a report of a Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) up in southern Humboldt County, California, sent our pulse jumping. The Wood Sandpiper is a Eurasian shorebird, related to our Solitary Sandpiper. There are comparatively few records of this bird for North America. Wood Sandpipers stray as far as New York occasionally, though most records come from Alaska. This bird is rare enough that some North American field guides don’t even illustrate it. When the photos came through, confirming the bird, we put together a whirlwind trip to go see it. It was a 12-hour drive to the Russ Ranch Wetlands where the bird was, so we set off the night before and drove through the night to reach the marsh the next morning. Continue reading

Barska Level ED Open Bridge

Goodbye Eagle Optics Rangers. Hello Barska Level ED

Barska Level ED 10x42 Open Bridge

Barska Level ED 10×42 Open Bridge

One of the most popular low-cost binocular series in the history of Optics4Birding has been the Eagle Optics Rangers. The Ranger went through several incarnations and improved each time. So, when Eagle Optics closed, we were disappointed to lose the Rangers, and we started looking for a good replacement. In January 2018, we found the Barska Level ED Open Bridge binoculars. Even without a head-to-head comparison, we knew had found our replacement. So, we arranged an evaluation piece from Barska to try them out. Read on to find out why we feel so strongly about the Barska Level ED binoculars. Continue reading

Bishops and Munias and Whydahs! Oh My!

Adult Scaly-breasted Munia drinking

Adult Scaly-breasted Munia drinking

Few subjects provoke the ire in a roomful of birders more rapidly than whether or not to count introduced species. The ins and outs of what is “countable”, what is “established”, and what is still an exotic alien has reddened faces and clenched fists among birders for decades. After that comes the discussion of which state bird records committee is loosest or tightest in their approach to exotics. By then, former friends begin to disperse faster than the young of the year.

But in the end, that is not really what matters here. When it comes to counting exotics, I find myself more and more adopting an eBird stance. That is: count them all, do it as accurately as possible, and submit your data. In the end, the importance of this goes far beyond a mere life list. What matters most is the impact that these growing populations of exotics have upon our native species and the environment in general. Make no mistake about it, that impact is huge. Continue reading

Exotic Parrots in North America

Rosy-faced Lovebird in a Phoenix, Arizona city park

Rosy-faced Lovebird in a Phoenix, Arizona city park

Any discussion of introduced bird species in North America would be incomplete without considering exotic parrots. In fact, parrots and their allies constitute the single largest class of exotic birds on the continent. According to Forshaw’s Parrots of the World, there are/were 356 parrot species extant in the world as of 2010. Over 20 psittacids (parrots and their relatives) occur frequently enough in North America that the major field guides illustrate them. Yet only eight species grace the official North American checklist. Of these, arguably only six became established anywhere. Those six are: Monk Parakeet, Nanday Parakeet, Green Parakeet, White-winged Parakeet, Red-crowned Amazon and Rosy-faced Lovebird. See the table of species and their status below.

The irony of it abounds. Historically, North America only ever boasted two native psittacid species: Carolina Parakeet and Thick-billed Parrot. The Carolina Parakeet is famously extinct. Thick-billed Parrot was extirpated from its tiny historical range in the United States decades ago. Moreover, they are endangered in their restricted Mexican range. All efforts to re-introduce Thick-billed Parrots in the southwest met with failure. So any parrot seen in North America is by definition, an exotic. Perhaps many species not on the official checklist are well on the way to becoming established. Continue reading