Posts Tagged ‘closer…’

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

Monday, December 25th, 2017


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

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

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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