Santa Monica Creek, Santa Barbara, California, USFeb 1, 2018…

Posted February 1st, 2018 by John Callender

Santa Monica Creek, Santa Barbara, California, US
Feb 1, 2018 5:19 PM – 6:03 PM
Protocol: Traveling
0.8 mile(s)

Comments: Sunset walk with Rory. Mesa Lane to El Carro Lane to the Santa Monica Creek trail, then north to Foothill Road and return. I was looking for, but failed to find, the Common Ground Doves Eric Culbertson had a few weeks ago in the avocado grove on the west side of the creek near Foothill Road. I did get to see a bat come out, though.

15 species

Anna’s Hummingbird  1
Acorn Woodpecker  1
Black Phoebe  4
Bushtit  1
House Wren  1
Wrentit  1
Hermit Thrush  1
Common Yellowthroat  2
Yellow-rumped Warbler  3
White-crowned Sparrow  17
Song Sparrow  2
Lincoln’s Sparrow  1
California Towhee  4
House Finch  1
House Sparrow  2

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

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A few weeks ago the hills above Carpinteria, the coastal town I…

Posted January 4th, 2018 by John Callender

A few weeks ago the hills above Carpinteria, the coastal town I live in, burned. I was talking to a neighbor today, someone who spent his career working in forest management. He’s retired now, but he’s an expert on wildfire behavior. He’s been volunteering since the fire on restoring the Franklin Trail, which leads from Carpinteria up into the hills. He showed me a map and pointed out the few strips of riparian habitat where the fire damage was relatively light. Except for those isolated pockets, the damage behind Carp is severe. He said he’s never seen a burn pattern like this. In the time leading up to the fire, drought and the persistent high pressure had driven humidity levels so low that when the fire came through the vegetation was like one big expanse of tinder.

The fire crews saved most of the structures. They successfully protected the  homes in Ojai, La Conchita, Carpinteria, Montecito, and Santa Barbara. As a result, in tomorrow’s (rescheduled) Carpinteria Christmas Bird Count, most of the accessible areas in the coastal strip where we were planning to bird are actually looking pretty good. Indeed, in the scouting I’ve done since the fire the birding seems better than usual. The unburned areas are filled with displaced chaparral birds; wrentits and California towhees and ruby-crowned kinglets everywhere you look. I think they’re refugees. The carrying capacity of the habitat they’re in won’t have increased. The extra birds will disperse more widely, or will suffer from predation, disease, or starvation. But for now it makes for exciting birding.

That’s the story in the “front country”, the area south of the Santa Ynez crest. The backcountry north of the crest is another matter. There the fires burned largely unchecked. Jameson Lake is seven miles north of Carpinteria. It’s hard to reach even under normal circumstances, requiring a day-long backpacking trip or mountain biking down miles of dirt roads that are closed to private vehicles. We don’t always manage to include it in our Christmas count; it’s great habitat for us, giving us a chance at an inland freshwater lake that we otherwise don’t have, but it’s hard to get there.

This year it’s especially hard. The whole area is closed to the public. The only people with access are fire and forest service crews, and the people who maintain the water facilities at Jameson for the Montecito Water District.

So… tomorrow, thanks to some really nice people pulling some strings on our behalf, we get to go count birds there. I’m going in along with two other birdwatchers, led by the water district employee who lives part-time at the lake (or used to, before his cabin burned down).

I don’t know what we’ll find. I was there on a scouting trip in November. Alan, the caretaker, has been in several times since the fire, and he’s told me not to expect much. Everything has burned. For all I know we’re going to spend all day in a sterile moonscape. But I think it’s important to document what happened. The Christmas counts are mostly for fun, but they also produce useful citizen science. Thousands of volunteers go out each year and catalog the birds they’re able to find. In some count circles above the Arctic Circle they go out in the midwinter twilight to record a single species (thank you, common raven). Next to that I’m getting off easy.

Anyway, that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes.

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sunwendyrain: Orchard Oriole Quintana, Texas When I was little…

Posted December 25th, 2017 by John Callender


Orchard Oriole

Quintana, Texas

When I was little I’d page through the field guides. We had two on the shelf, legacies of my dad’s upbringing in New Jersey with a mother who was a birdwatcher. There was an original-edition Peterson and an older all-in-one birds+mammals+fish+reptiles+amphibians guide, but both were east-of-the-Mississippi in terms of coverage, so there were a lot of species I never actually saw.

The male Orchard Oriole always caught my attention, though, because look at him: such a different color for an oriole, remarkable and gorgeous but so WEIRD. And then I spent most of my life as a non-traveler, living (and birding) almost exclusively in California. But on October 17 I was walking Rory along the channelized creek near our house and suddenly there he was, plain as day atop a patch of Cape honeysuckle: the bird that had occupied my imagination for 50 years.

It seemed too early for an overwintering bird; probably a fall vagrant on his way south. I didn’t even think about him sticking around for the Christmas count, then scheduled for December 16. But week after week he stayed, and it started getting close enough to hope. And then the fire happened, and half our circle was on fire or smoldering on count day with the rest under a thick pall of smoke, so we postponed to the last possible day: January 5. And again, the chances that he might still be there seemed slim.

There are a lot of misadventures that can befall a bird, especially one so brightly colored, out of its normal range and small for an oriole. More than once while waiting for him to appear I’ve seen an adult Cooper’s Hawk, a female, I think, from her large size, fly in and perch in the eucalyptus that overlooks that Cape honeysuckle patch, listening and scanning for movement just like me, and though I’ve appreciated her presence I’ve also been quietly anxious on the oriole’s behalf, and have felt relieved when she’s given up or been discovered by crows and chased off. Yes. Thank you. Go find some sparrows further up the path.

I haven’t seen him since we got back from evacuating, but someone else did 5 days ago. So he’s still there, or was. Maybe later today after the family event I’ll go look for him, my non-traditional avian family member. Merry Christmas. Please stay. Please be shy and cautious, and watch out for hawks and cats.

Eleven more days.

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California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica), photo by Aaron…

Posted September 20th, 2017 by John Callender

California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica), photo by Aaron Maizlish

Schedule of upcoming bird talks and bird walks in Carpinteria

Tonight (Wednesday, September 18, 2017) I’m giving a free bird talk at the Carpinteria Veteran’s Hall (details at the link above). Part one is on corvids: Crows, jays, and magpies, with a focus on the seven corvid species regularly seen in Santa Barbara County.

Part two of the talk will cover birdwatching at Carpinteria Creek, one of the best examples of coastal riparian habitat in Southern California. This Saturday I’ll be leading a bird walk there (again, see the link above for details).

Below are a few no-frills videos I’ve made as visuals for tonight’s talk. First is a Google Earth flyby showing Carpinteria’s three major creeks from the air. See if you can spot the difference between the two channelized ones (Santa Monica and Franklin Creeks) and the unchannelized one (Carpinteria Creek). (Hint: It’s the trees.)

Here’s a walk-through of the part of Carpinteria Creek where I’ll be leading the bird walk on Saturday:

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Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), photo by Wikipedia…

Posted September 6th, 2017 by John Callender

Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), photo by Wikipedia user Captain-tucker

I’m helping to organize our local Christmas Bird Count this year, and as part of that I’ve created a page listing upcoming classes and bird walks. If you live in or around Carpinteria, California and want to participate either in the pre-count fun or the count itself (which will take place Saturday, December 16, 2017), check it out!

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