Best hobby or best hobby?

Posted December 7th, 2016 by John Callender

Best hobby or best hobby?

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Apologies in advance. I’m getting very excited about the upcoming Christmas bird count, and am…

Posted December 7th, 2016 by John Callender

Apologies in advance. I’m getting very excited about the upcoming Christmas bird count, and am starting to drop references to it in all human interactions. “Why yes, I will have a Coke with that. Also, did you know the local Christmas bird count is happening on Sunday, December 18?”

I’ll try to keep it under control as best I can. More details after a cut.

This year instead of going into the remoter part of the front country in the normally-off-limits Rancho Monte Alegre parcel and the Santa Monica Creek headwaters, I’ve been offered a plum assignment by the local count organizer: The Carpinteria Salt Marsh.

This is a big deal to me.

You’ve probably noticed me talking about the marsh. I’m a volunteer docent there, which means that one Saturday a month (usually the first Saturday) I’m on hand to lead a tour for whoever shows up. I’ve been doing the docent tours for a few years now, but in the beginning, before I got roped into those, what brought me to the marsh was birdwatching.

It’s an amazing place for birdwatching.

These days I have a better understanding of why that is, having gone through the docent training, which involves lectures and field trips with experts in various aspects of marsh science. But even without knowing about how productive and densely interconnected marsh ecosystems are, how large a role wetlands play in the surrounding environment, and how important the native plant restoration has been in the city-owned portion where the docent tours happen, I knew it was a great place for birds.

The Christmas count is a team effort, and in the past I’ve enjoyed doing my part by hitting the local backyards where a Rufous Hummingbird would sometimes overwinter, or hiking up the Santa Monica Creek headwaters to get the occasional rarity (we had Wood Ducks one year). But in terms of sheer numbers and variety, the marsh is the crown jewel of our 15-mile-diameter count circle, and I’ve always envied the people who count there.

This year that’ll be me!

I’m a little anxious about it, because I know I’m not as good as some of the other local birders who’ve done the marsh in years past. But apparently they’re either unavailable this year or will be busy covering remoter parts of the count circle. So I’m doing my best to get up to speed on marsh-specific ID challenges: differentiating the two yellowlegs species, the two dowitchers, medium-sized winter shorebirds, immature gulls, distant terns. Also, getting stronger on the call notes of the various sparrows that hang out in the marsh. I mean, I know many of them. But I need to know them all.

It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks.

Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park, Santa Barbara, California, US
Dec 6, 2016 8:30 AM – 10:20 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.5 mile(s)
Comments:     Tide 3’ and bottoming out
46 species

Mallard  2
Blue-winged Teal  10
Bufflehead  7
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Western Grebe  2
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Brown Pelican  2     Actually outside of CSMNP, over ocean.
Great Blue Heron  2
Great Egret  1
Snowy Egret  1
Turkey Vulture  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
American Coot  8
Black-bellied Plover  2
Killdeer  1
Long-billed Dowitcher  15
Greater Yellowlegs  2     Watched it swimming and dipping like a dabbling duck in the marsh park channel near the culvert – caught and swallowed a small fish.
Willet  1
Western Gull  3
California Gull  7
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  3
Eurasian Collared-Dove  2
Anna’s Hummingbird  4
Allen’s Hummingbird  1
Belted Kingfisher  2
Black Phoebe  2
Say’s Phoebe  1
Cassin’s Kingbird  1
California Scrub-Jay  3
American Crow  5
Bushtit  12
Marsh Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
California Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  10
American Pipit  1
Common Yellowthroat  2
White-crowned Sparrow  44
Golden-crowned Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  2
Lincoln’s Sparrow  2
California Towhee  4
Western Meadowlark  13
House Finch  10
House Sparrow  2

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

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The sky keeps trying to distract me while I’m playing pokemon.

Posted November 27th, 2016 by John Callender

The sky keeps trying to distract me while I’m playing pokemon.

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freespiritandmindaz: Nature is so beautiful… look at this…

Posted September 4th, 2016 by John Callender


Nature is so beautiful… look at this beautiful display of the prickly rose gall. These galls are a parasitic sack formed by the cynipid wasp. The wasp, like many other parasitic insects, uses the wild rose plant as a safe haven for its offspring. They inject a substance into the plant and then lay their eggs in it, as the larva grows, so does the gall and that is what the larva uses as a food supply and as a protection sack until they are ready to join the world. You would think this type of parasitic infestation would be damaging to the host plants, but research shows that the plants are not affected by these types of infestations.

I find galls very interesting and these ones in particular are one of my favorite… the wasp that created these galls was surely an artist… it used the leaves to create the perfect bed for its children <3 here is another perfection of Nature’s artistry…

#galls #insects #parasitic #parasiticwasp #cynipidwasp #natureswonders #naturesbeauty #freespiritandmind #art #artistry #plantgeek #plantlove (at Love Nature)

Diplolepis polita is the wasp’s scientific name. These galls show up in the California wild rose (Rosa californica) at the Carpinteria salt marsh; I love showing them off to tour attendees. Russo discusses the species extensively in Field Guide to Plant Galls of California and Other Western States.

I’ve always wondered if the spines (which are flexible at first, then become brittle with age) represent the wasp repurposing the genetic code that produces the rose’s thorns.

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It’s my day to lead the docent tour at the salt marsh….

Posted September 3rd, 2016 by John Callender

It’s my day to lead the docent tour at the salt marsh. Lately it’s been hit-or-miss; sometimes there are attendees, sometimes there aren’t. I hope I get at least one person. I’ve learned that’s all I need to have a fun time.

I do the tour each month and have been doing it for years, so I’ve learned which months are my favorites. September is a really good month. The chaparral mallow is still in bloom, and the coyote brush has started flowering, with the yellow male flowers out in profusion and the white female flowers beginning to do their thing.

There’s a decent high tide (5’) at 11:30, which is right around when the tour will be ending (if it happens at all). The marsh full of water is the best.

I’ll have a nice time if no one shows. But I’ll feel sad that I didn’t get to share it.

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