Posts Tagged ‘carp without cars’

Sometimes when I’m birdwatching

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

Sometimes when I’m birdwatching

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Sometimes when I’m birdwatching Fifteen months ago the hills…

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

Sometimes when I’m birdwatching

Fifteen months ago the hills above Carpinteria burned. Last Sunday I hiked up the Franklin Trail before dawn; this is what it looked like.

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Hey so I’ve been thinking about joining eBird…

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

Reasons why you should get an eBird account:

It’s amazingly good. I’ve been building database-backed websites since the beginning of those. It’s easy to disappoint me and hard to impress me, and I’m very impressed by eBird.

It works hard to meet you wherever you as a user happen to be. If you want to use it as an online list-keeping tool that keeps track of all your data and lets you slice and dice it different ways, but you want to pretend no one else on the site exists and not let them see your data, it does that. If you want to do that but also make your information public it does that too, with a very full set of features to hide or show as much or as little of your information to the public as you want.

If you want to know what birds have been seen at a particular place and when they’ve been seen there, it’s awesome. If you want to know where you might be able to see a particular species, it’s awesome. If you want to set a personal goal to see as many species as possible within a given geographic region, it’s awesome.

All of the above refers to the website. The eBird app is also awesome, but differently. It’s a fantastic tool for entering your data in the field. And it continues to improve in significant ways at a steady pace. The recent update that lets you edit a checklist in the app after submitting it is fantastic, for example.

In terms of identification apps, I have all of them, but my favorite is the Sibley app. (Unsurprising, since I’ve been a Sibley fan since his field guide first came out.) It’s not as good as having the book with you, but it’s a lot easier to carry (since I always have my phone with me). I probably refer to it once or twice on most outings, and also use it occasionally for playback (though I’m ethically opposed to using playback myself in most situations).

If I were starting out I’d definitely use Merlin. The latest version, as you say, is very impressive. (One of the things that makes it so impressive is that it uses the distribution and abundance data from eBird to rank the identifications it offers you, so I guess this is another reason to use eBird: because the data you contribute is helping all the Merlin users.) Merlin isn’t directly useful for me currently, because I’m birding in areas I know so well that I have that information in my head already. If I’m having an ID challenge it’s because I’m dealing with a rarity or a relatively fine-grained distinction, and Merlin isn’t as helpful for that. But if I were traveling somewhere else I would definitely use it.

Final reason for joining eBird: if you do that and choose to make a public profile I can see where you’ve been birdwatching and vicariously enjoy your outings. 🙂

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blackjayx: Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)  ♂ #1 (#329)I’ve…

Thursday, February 21st, 2019


Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) 


#1 (#329)

I’ve mentioned (in tag screeds, so you might have missed it) that my level of birdy obsessiveness has crept down a notch since the end of 2018. I’m still birdwatching every day (eBird checklist streak at 429 days), but I’m not actively trying for the top spot in the eBird year rankings in the county. (Well. Not much.) (I’m currently in second at 189.) (But it’s not like I’m keeping track or anything.) (Mark’s ahead by 10 species.)

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the fun, and I thought instead of keeping track of the county year list (which obviously is ticking up relatively quickly in these early months) I could instead talk about my county life list.

The male Tufted Duck that I (barely) saw at Lauro Reservoir on January 6 was my first county life bird of 2019. The bird was hanging out with some Lesser Scaups, floating along with his head tucked in, which made it tricky to get a good view. But at one point his tuft stuck up a little and I was able to snap some very distant shots through a chain link fence:

So, not the most satisfying view, but the strong black-and-white pattern was enough to ID him even without the cowlick. And I had Curtis Marantz (one of the more intimidatingly awesome birders I’ve been lucky enough to see in action) standing next to me confirming, so there was no doubt.

The Tufted Duck was #329 in my Santa Barbara County life list, and he was a legitimate life bird overall for me, too, at least in eBird, and I think probably in reality. (I threw away my lists when I quit birding in my late teens, so I’m going by memory. But I’m pretty sure I never saw a Tufted Duck back then, and these days I just treat eBird, which I started using in 2004, as my canonical source.)

Fun fact: There are 18 Santa Barbara County birders who are listed on the county birders’ “400 Club” web page. There are only 6 eBird users with more than 400 species in the county in their eBird lists, and 3 of them haven’t bothered to include themselves in the 400 Club listings; a bunch of other birders who are in the 400 Club are also in eBird, but with fewer than 400 birds there. So there’s some messiness, with a lot of long-time birders having birds from older lists they haven’t bothered to import into eBird even if they’re using it, and other birders with big lists (whether or not they’re in eBird) that they haven’t bothered to send in to the people maintaining the 400 Club listing.

But it’s a game, and for game purposes I’m just going to look at eBird. I’m currently ranked #20 in the Santa Barbara County all-time rankings there, but Conor is only one bird behind me and likely to pass me at any time; he’s a great birder and quite active.

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Being a brief discourse on my Little Big Year, during which I identified as many bird species as I could within the confines of Santa Barbara County (CA)

Friday, January 4th, 2019

327. That’s how many species I ended up getting.

Among active county users of eBird I finished in first place, one bird ahead of Mark Holmgren, whom I suspect could have beaten me if he’d tried, but who probably didn’t realize it was a contest. The only times I really made up ground on him are when he was on extended birding trips away from the county.

I’m pretty sure there were at least a few other county birders who beat me. My guess is that Nick Lethaby and Wes Fritz both identified more birds than I did in the county this year. But they mostly don’t do eBird, so who knows? (Well, they know, presumably. But I don’t.)

The one-year record for Santa Barbara County is 358, set by Wes in 2008. I finished well short of that, and looking over the list he got that year I doubt I could get into that range, at least in my current state of bird knowledge. Someday, maybe.

I recorded at least one eBird checklist every day last year; at the moment my streak (which I’ve kept going) is at 382 days. A few times when I was sick I only did a 10-minute count in my backyard, but I always got at least one birding session in. I made a few brief trips to the Eastern Sierra during the year, and on my long-commute days was sometimes reduced to entering a 2- or 3-species list while walking to Starbuck’s through the bird desert surrounding my employer’s office in LA, but other than that it was all Santa Barbara county. I finished the year with 730 checklists entered in the county; the next highest total of checklists submitted was (again) Mark Holmgren with 547.

Fun facts: I had 845 checklists total entered during the year, including those outside the county, which ranks me 484th among active eBird users in the ABA area (North America north of Mexico). I’m not aware of any way to compare my single-county species total with those of other eBirders, but I think I’d probably be toward the upper part of that list, Santa Barbara being such a good county by ABA standards. But I dunno; there are a lot of counties, and a lot of birders more obsessive than I am.

My species total for the ABA area was 350, which ranks me roughly 14,000th among active eBird users in 2018. Tops in 2018 in the ABA area in eBird were Nicole Koeltzow with 775 species, which is amazing, and Barbara Combs with 11,147 checklists submitted, which is also amazing. Barbara averaged slightly more than 30 checklists per day in 2018; some poking around shows that she’s opting for maximum granularity; my guess is she’s basically entering a list of the birds seen in every 15-minute chunk throughout the day, every day.

Things I learned:

  • Birds are not evenly distributed in the landscape. I mean, I knew that already. But now I appreciate it more.
  • They’re really out there (those rare/difficult species I’d always seen in the field guide but never in person) — except when they’re not.
  • Finding is better than chasing.
  • Different kinds of birding are their own discreet knowledge domains. I was a beginner at most of them; still am at some. But I’m learning.
  • So many rungs on that ladder. I’m a way better birder than I was at the start of the year, but I’m more aware than ever of how far below the real experts I am.
  • Avid birdwatchers are a flash mob waiting to happen. All it takes is a report of a rarity (”Mississippi Kite at Alisal Ranch!”) for them to suddenly coalesce. I now know most of the top 20 people in the county eBird rankings from last year, but when I started they were just names. That’s almost all from hanging out with them at the site of reported rarities.
  • eBird is the best. I love eBird.

Favorite bird I saw this year: Prairie Falcon. I saw this species first outside the county, on March 30, during one of the trips I made to the Eastern Sierra. I first saw it in the county during the birding trip I made to the Cuyama Valley on April 29. I also saw it once on Lake Cachuma, and once along Happy Canyon Road north of Lake Cachuma. But the place I saw it the most, on four different visits, was the place I’m going to talk about next.

Favorite place: The intersection of San Miguelito Road and Sudden Road in the hills south of Lompoc. I can’t really describe why this spot is so cool to me. It’s just a grassy valley with a few farmhouses and cows. But in that grassy bowl are about 100,000 ground squirrels and a lot of amazing raptors. It was the last place I went in 2018, on New Year’s Eve, after I’d more or less given up on adding any new species because it was too windy at the other spots I’d chosen. I’d given it the old college try but the birds just weren’t cooperating. So I decided to stop trying, and just go to my favorite spot. So I went, and had a glorious time watching three Golden Eagles and a bunch of Red-tailed Hawks and the one Ferruginous Hawk that hangs out there, and then, blasting straight overhead before it landed on the hillside west of me and ran around harassing squirrels, my fave:

I appreciate all the nice comments people have made about my silly obsession this past year. If you have any questions I’d be happy to go on (and on) about it some more; the Ask Box is always open.

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