Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The Bay Area Bike-birding hits keep coming!

Locals have found so many great birds around here these last few weeks that I'm wondering if my legs are ever gonna get a rest! I guess there are worse problems to have, and I'm fortunate that breaks in my writing and guiding schedules have coincided to allow regular pursuits. I will recap one particularly involved chase in this post.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (BTBW) is an eastern species which makes rare cameos on the West Coast. One was found in Robertsville in Southern Santa Clara County in October of 2017, but it was out of my range (45 miles each way) in those early Bay Area bike-birding days because I was still recovering from a torn calf suffered ahead of my May move. As that was the only regional record across the last few years, I was stoked to learn that Nina Bai found a beautiful male in the San Francisco Botanical Garden on Saturday, October 2nd. Spotting on an Alvaro's Adventures pelagic on that day and locked into family stuff on Sunday, I had to delay my pursuit until Monday the 4th. Fortunately, the bird stuck, and a mini-mob pointed me towards it ten minutes after I arrived. Pro-tip: make sure you put the battery in your camera before leaving the house so that you don't have to resort to digi-binocs when your SLR is powerless. It was so dark in the understory that I was just happy to get anything with the phone.

Black-throated Blue Warbler - Bay Area Bike Bird #341 (SF #249)

With that first target secured, I hustled over to Crissy Field on the Presidio waterfront to look for the female Bobolink which others had reported for the previous ~3 days. Bobolink is another eastern species, but it reaches farther west than BTBW; it is therefore a more 'common' stray in California. 

Bobolink range

I spent 90 minutes stomping through wet grass but was unable to locate the field-loving bird, it clearly departed as suggested by additional negative reports from that day and the next. I did add a previously-reported female Blue-winged Teal (BWTE) on the lagoon as consolation (SF bike bird #250). That duck is regular around the Bay, but there's very little habitat for it in San Francisco. The female Blue-winged Teal can be differentiated from the very similar female Cinnamon Teal by the better defined eye-line and light patch at the base of the bill (among other subtle field marks). Note - the second/front bird in the below photo is NOT a female Cinnamon Teal, it is a female Green-winged Teal (GWTE). The confusion never ends......

Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field

Female BWTE (with female GWTE front) - SF Bike Bird #250

From Crissy, I proceeded east along the water to Fort Mason. David Assman's Lark Sparrow (LASP) had continued for the previous ~10 days, but I wasn't able to find it despite two hours of searching. The bird wasn't reported on that day -- October 4th -- or any day after, so I was clearly looking for another departed example. I can live with missing birds which aren't present because they've moved on, but over-looking a bird which others later re-find sucks. I have LASP on my San Mateo and Santa Clara County bike lists, and I'm sure I'll get it in SF eventually.

My route on October 4th - 50% ain't bad.......

I already have a backlog of content for you, so I'll try to crank additional entries in the next few days. Good birding until then - cheers!

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Post #204 - Fall Migration in Full Swing!

The stream of interesting migrants continues! I've been out on the bike a fair amount lately, and I'll use this entry to highlight a few birds I've intersected since my last post. Let's get rolling....

Canada Warbler (CAWA) is an eastern species which occurs in California as a rare migrant, usually in fall (range map below). Beyond a would-be addition to my Bay Area Bike List, CAWA would be a state bird for me because I'd not intersected it anywhere in California -- by bike or by car -- since moving from Boston in April of 2015. That as a backdrop, I sprung into action when Aaron Maizlish reported one at the Colma Creek mouth on the San Mateo bayshore on September 14. The report came in 2.5 hours after the original sighting, and I wasn't optimistic about relocating the bird given the huge wind which had materialized in the interim. I saddled-up regardless and -- to my surprise -- relocated the bird after a ten minute search. Other birders arrived a bit later, and the subject showed well through the afternoon and the next day. It was the first CAWA reported in the county since 2014, so it was well-received by all.

Canada Warbler
Bay Area Bike Bird #340
San Mateo County Bike Bird #291


While I was looking at the Colma CAWA, Noah Arthur found another in the San Francisco Botanical Garden. I didn't have the time to continue to SF for that second bird, but I caught up with it two days later, on September 16th (SF Bike Bird #248. No photo, sorry). So, after seeing zero CAWAs in California across six years, I saw two by bike in the span of three days. I think it was karma since I decided not to drive for a cooperative CAWA in Contra Costa County the previous week.


I hadn't birded the Colma Creek mouth prior to my CAWA visit, and I decided to return on September 24th since I liked what I saw the first time around. There's a lot of fennel along that stretch of bayshore, and I was hopeful I could find some interesting migrants. When I didn't find much beyond White-crowned Sparrows, Black Phoebes, Bushtits, I continued to the adjacent mudflats where I took a quick binocular scan of the various shorebirds.

What the hell is that? Could it be a Ruff ? No way - they're hella rare around here.

I jumped off the bike, fished out my the scope, and threw it onto the tripod, my subsequent view to the bird confirming my Ruff suspicion! I snapped a few digiscope pics, but the bird vanished while I was posting it to the Telegram group and list server. Fortunately, I relocated it from another vantage half an hour later, and at least one other person arrived in time to see it. Ruff is a great find for San Mateo -- there are only a handful of county records -- but it wasn't a Bay Area Bike Bird since I observed one in Santa Clara at Don Edwards on November 3, 2018.

Ruff - San Mateo Bike Bird #292


That's it for now. More to come in the next few weeks. Cheers!

Friday, September 10, 2021

Post #203 - My most ridiculous bike chases yet?

I know the title is high billing, but two of the three pursuits I'll recap in this post were laughable, albeit for different reasons. With that teaser, let's start with something standard to get warmed-up.

I saw Eastern Kingbird (EAKI) by bike in San Francisco a few years back, but I've been waiting for one to appear in San Mateo. That finally happened when biologist Rusty-something found one at Crystal Springs Reservoir on the morning of September 1st. Though positive reports rolled in through midday, non-birding responsibilities prevented me from getting out until 2:30pm. I wasn't optimistic about my chances given the howling wind which had materialized across the day, but the bird showed right after I arrived. It stayed well inside the fence, so even scope views were poor. 

        Eastern Kingbird - San Mateo bike bird #289
At least the white tail band is visible...

It's nice when rarities show up so close to home....

OK, now for the fun stuff! It began when Sonia and I drove to Garin Regional Park in the East Bay for a morning of hiking on Monday, September 5th. The birding in the parched hills was expectedly-slow -- the topography was selected to exhaust our energetic foster beagle -- but we swung through Coyote Hills afterwards to look for previously-reported Baird's (BASA) and Pectoral Sandpipers (PESA), two species which I needed for Alameda County (by car or by bike). I had great looks at two of each while Sonia gave the dog some additional walking, and we returned home via the Dumbarton Bridge at 3pm.

Sonia wanted to lay low through the afternoon, so I decided to hop onto the bike and sprint straight back to Coyote Hills -- 22 miles -- with hopes of adding the same birds to my Alameda bike list. All the shorebirds had vanished since my earlier visit, but a BASA and a PESA eventually flew-in with a flock of peeps. The sun sinking to the west, I turned-tail and arrived home at 7:50pm, twenty minutes after sunset. I've double-chased birds before but not on the same day, so this represents a new level of bike-birding obsession. Not sure if that's good or bad.......

Pectoral Sandpiper (left) and Baird's Sandpiper (right)
Alameda bike birds #193 and #194

What the hell was I thinking?!?!?!

Interestingly, in pursuing the above pair, I necessarily passed on the Phainopepla which David Assman found at Fort Mason earlier on that same day. That location is a headache to reach because of all the traffic lights, and I was already limited by daylight given how late I was leaving. Plus, I wasn't keen to bike into the city via the baseball stadium when the Giants were playing the Dodgers on a holiday weekend. Phainopepla would have been a great SF bike bird (I already have it in Alameda and Santa Clara), but I didn't feel I was set-up for success given the above considerations.

It was therefore apropos that Aaron Maizlish found another Phainopepla in San Bruno (San Mateo County) on Wednesday, September 8. I was walking the dog when the report came through, so I hustled home, jumped on the bike, and quickly covered the 6.6 miles to the location. 75 minutes of searching yielded nothing but a Chris Hayward sighting, so I folded the search and headed home with hopes of a productive afternoon. And wouldn't you know it? The crafty Brit found the bird about 20 minutes after I departed! I'd already covered 5 of the return miles with the aid of a stiff tailwind, but I immediately turned around and returned to the location. Chris kindly held onto the bird -- with Malia also en route he better have! -- and it showed shortly after my re-arrival (and again after Malia arrived). So yeah, with all the back-and-forth, I rode 23 miles to see a bird which was less than 7 miles from my apartment. Ugh.

Phainopepla (immature)  - San Mateo bike bird #290

If at first you don't succeed.......

That's it for now. I'm sure there will be additional chases as fall progresses, so I'll post about those as they unfold. Cheers!

Monday, August 30, 2021

Post #202 - August Bike-Birding in San Francisco

Spring migration was really slow here in the Bay Area, but fall might be more interesting if recent trends continue. There have been a number of exciting shorebirds found in the East Bay, and Sandwich Tern and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher have sent many birders sprinting towards the North Bay. As those destinations are a bit ambitious on the bike, I'm thankful that a number of unusual birds have presented in San Francisco, a destination I can reach under my own power.

The first of those is Ruddy Turnstone (RUTU), a species I've already observed -- by bike -- in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. Representatives have made sporadic appearances in San Francisco County since I moved to the Bay Area four years ago, but all disappeared before pursuits were possible. Fortunately, Sam Cooper found the first of three eventual birds on Ocean Beach on August 11th, and the trifecta hung in there until the 13th when I was able to catch up with two of them. These digiscoped photos are awful, but the birds kept running and flying under pressure of dogs and runners. I was just glad to get something.

Ruddy Turnstone - San Francisco Bike Bird #245

To Ocean Beach and back, with bit of time at the Cliff House
The SF excitement continued when Nina Bai found a Costa's Hummingbird (COHU) in the Presidio on August 18th. COHU would be new for my cumulative Bay Area Bike List -- the bird usually much farther south and east, in drier habitat -- but it was too late to organize a chase on that discovery day. When the bird was reported early on the 19th as well, I handled morning responsibility before powering north early-afternoon. The diminutive bird appeared in its favored bottlebrush 30 seconds after I arrived, and it spent the next fifteen minutes defending that food source as though it owned it. That behavior suggested that it might stick around for a while, and it's been reported daily through August 29th. A cool and cooperative regional rarity!

Costa's Hummingbird
Bay Area Bike Bird #339 and San Francisco Bike Bird #246.

Since COHU appeared so quickly, I had time to look for the Brown Thrasher (BRTH) which Daniel Scali found in another part of the Presidio four days earlier, on August 15th.  I pursued the bird by car on that day, while returning from the Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher in Sonoma, but I failed to intersect it on that petroleum-powered pass. It favored a 200-yard stretch of impenetrable tangle, and I didn't have recourse beyond staring into the occupied ravine, a restriction rendering the search among the most boring I'd ever experienced. Given that consideration, I put the bird out of biking mind through the 16th, 17th, and 18th because I had better things to do than stare into bushes. However, when the bird continued through morning of the 19th, I decided to try for it post-COHU since I was already in the area. Anticipating a protracted and futile vigil, I was hella stoked when I spotted the shifty birding picking its way through the foliage after just 15 minutes. I never had an unobstructed view of the goddamn thing -- the flank visible at one point, the tail at another, and the head at a third -- but I was able to capture a record shot for blog purposes. This was only the second BRTH in the city in 20-some years, so it was great find by Daniel (and a strong poach by me). Coupled with COHU, it made for an amazing day on the bike!

Brown Thrasher
Bay Area Bike Bird #339 and San Francisco Bike Bird #247

To The Presidio and back

Otherwise, we at Alvaro's Adventures have been killing it on the ocean this month. Every trip is turning up something sweet. Between Hawaiian Petrel, Cook's Petrel (4), Short-tailed Shearwater (2), Flesh-footed Shearwater, Laysan Albatross, Manx Sheawater (2), Guadalupe Murrelet (2), and thousands of storm-petrels (mostly Black and Ashy with dozens of Wilsons and single Fork-tailed and Leach's mixed in), it's been a epic August. If this keeps up, then fall will be amazing! Many boats are already sold out, so don't delay if you're thinking about joining us.

https://www.alvarosadventures.com/pelagic-dates-2021.html

That's it for now. Cheers!

Monday, August 9, 2021

Post #201 - My epic, bike-birding quest for California Condor

Among Golden State birds, none are as majestic or storied as the California Condor (CACO). The enormous vultures suffered near-terminal declines in the second half of the twentieth century -- poaching, habitat destruction, power line collisions, and lead poisoning reducing the population to 27 captives by 1987 -- but breeding programs and vigilant management have enabled a slow-but-steady recovery since that nadir. The birds currently number near 500, and the wild half of those are highly-localized in California, Utah, Arizona, and Northern Mexico.

California Condor from Brian Sullivan - ten-foot wingspan!

Setting my bike-birding sites on the iconic species, Pinnacles National Park emerged as my best bet; with 120 miles separating that location from my San Mateo apartment, it would be a significant undertaking. Triple-digit temperates would complicate my course, but I decided to brave the heat because a coastal detour on the outgoing leg would bring Black Swift (BLSW) into play, the uncommon breeder to depart the region by mid-August. If I went down the coast via Santa Cruz, spent an extra day kicking around the northern portion of Monterey County, continued to Pinnacles via Hollister, and returned north via San Jose, then I figured I pound out ~320 miles when all the twists and turns were considered. I'd also have chances for Cassin's Kingbird (CAKI) and Canyon Wren (CAWR) in Hollister and at Pinnacles, respectively, so the six-day journey could grow my cherished Bay Area Bike List by four species if everything went to script. 

My prototypical plan

Day 1 - Tuesday, August 3 - The San Mateo and Santa Cruz Coasts
Black Swift had been reported from south of Davenport across the previous six evenings, so my plan was to reach that area by 6:30pm and hope a representative revealed itself before nightfall. I left home at 9:30am, crossed the coastal mountains on Highway 92, and turned south onto Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay. Sunny skies prevailed, and a slight NW tailwind lent assistance as I achieved Pescadero and Año Nuevo through the morning. Crossing into Santa Cruz County, I found Olive-sided Flycatcher at Rancho Del Oso, Purple Martin on Swanton Road, Peregrine Falcon on the Davenport bluffs, and California Thrasher on Bonny Doon Road. Continuing to Yellow Bank Beach, I set up shop on the cliffs and waited. Then I waited some more. Unfortunately, zero Black Swifts appeared by my 8:20 departure, and I winced when I saw eBird reports which noted that a single representative buzzed my approximate vantage at 8:22pm. It was a nice day regardless, the night spent with a cycling couple in Davenport.

My end-of-day vantage at Yellow Bank Beach

Approximate route from San Mateo to Davenport.
The Strava App measured exact distance with twists, turns, backtracks.

Day 2 - Wednesday, August 4 - The Santa Cruz Coast
Looking to avenge my BLSW miss, I returned to Yellow Bank Beach at 7:30am and immediately spotted my quarry buzzing over the bluffs for Bay Area Bike Bird #334. Additional swifts appeared in the next few minutes, and I had seven in my binoculars at one disbelieving point, the aerodynamic fliers offering eye level views as they knifed and wheeled over the ocean breakers. I didn't tote a proper camera for weight reasons, so forgive this sorry-ass digi-binoc. I had to go with a bird that was far away because the phone couldn't focus on anything closer. It was also kinda cool to add Pink-footed Shearwater to same the checklist as the swift, that pelagic spotted during a subsequent seawatch.

Black Swift at one million miles-per-hour

I spent the remainder of the day weaving along the coast and amassed 107 SCZ species after exploring Natural Bridges, Neary Lagoon, Corcoran Lagoon, and Pajaro Dunes. I'd submitted only one SCZ bike checklist previously -- from Skyline in winter -- so that haul increased my SCZ bike total to 117.

Approximate route from Davenport to Watsonville

Day 3 - Thursday, August 5th - Monterey County
I'd not done any bike-birding in Monterey, so I decided to use the first part of this day to dip into that county. A stop at Moss Landing revealed a continuing Long-tailed Duck, and I spotted an out-of-season female Black Scoter in the inlet. Moonglow Dairy yielded a mid-morning Bar Owl hunting over the marsh, and Elkhorn Slough produced a lone Wilson's Phalarope. My morning birding completed with 95 Monterey species claimed, I headed east into San Benito County. I didn't find much around Anzar Lake, but I did spot a pair of Cassin's Kingbirds (Bay Area Bike Bird #335) near the Hollister WTP.  I was so tired that I didn't think to take a picture, but I did snap a record shot of another the next day. 

Moss Landing (north side of inlet)

Moonglow cows

Awful but diagnostic digi-binoc of Cassin's Kingbird

Approximate route from Watsonville to Hollister, via Monterey County

Day 4 - Friday, August 6th - Pinnacles National Park
I knew it was gonna get hella hot hella fast, so I left my motel at 6:30am, housed four donuts at Spudnuts, and cranked south along Highway 25. Paicines Reservoir held a nice assortment of waterbirds, and Phainopepla and Yellow-billed Magpie appeared as I battled through the rolling, up-and-down topography. By the time I covered the 35 miles to the Bear Gulch Trailhead, I'd netted 1,000 vertical feet from 1,600 feet of climbing.
    It was already 10am, so I hustled up the trail with high condor hopes. I'd barely covered a quarter-mile when I spotted several candidates soaring high above the rocky formations, and I managed distant views of six individuals as the massive birds spiraled skyward through the next half-hour. All the birds disappeared to the west by 10:40, presumably towards Big Sur, so I was stoked to have arrived in time. Bay Area Bike Bird #336 secured, I used playback to pull a pair on Canyon Wrens (#337) from the rocks before vacating the gathering inferno. The afternoon heat wrenched moisture from me on the return ride, but I outlasted the sweltering conditions, regained my motel, and spent the remainder of the day recovering while watching the Olympics.

View from Highway 25 in morning

California Condor, hella high up

Canyon wren digi-binoc. Just happy to get anything given how fast it moved.

Pinnacles formations

Approximate route from Hollister to Pinnacles (and back)

Day 5 - Saturday, August 7th - Southern Santa Clara County
Rolling north out of Hollister, I rode a fortuitous southern tailwind towards San Jose through the morning. I'd planned to spend the middle part of the day birding Coyote Creek and Almaden Lake Park before hunkering down for the night, but my aspirations swelled when my three target Santa Clara birds -- Wood Duck, Osprey, and Scaly-breasted Munia -- appeared without any effort. With sudden time and energy to spare, I decided to push home rather than drop $90 on a motel. Despite already putting down 55 miles, I managed to cover the final ~30 miles in ~2 hours! I'm not sure what The Wok put in my sweet and sour tofu the previous night, but I felt unstoppable all day.

Approximate route from Hollister to home

So, a great trip! I explored some new areas, saw some sweet birds, and overcame the usual cycling obstacles, most notably the scorching heat on Day 4. I originally estimated I'd ride about 320 miles across the six days, so I was spot on with the 324 which I ultimately amassed, albeit in only five days. And the bonus? I chased (and missed) the Golden Gate White-breasted Nuthatch the day after returning home, that 40-mile ride bringing my six-day total to 366. I'd not pounded those kinda miles since 2014, so it's nice to know my legs can still get it done. Oh, I also pushed my total county ticks to 1,548. That breaks down as follows:

This latest undertaking will be my most ambitious riding for a while, but I'd like to make a five- or six-day loop through Marin > Sonoma > Napa > Solano > Contra Costa sometime in early-winter. I haven't done any bike-birding in Sonoma, Napa, and Solano, so that trip would probably net me 250 - 300 county ticks and get me that much closer to 2,000. But, for now, it'll be occasional day rides with some pelagic birding in between. 

Whew. Hella Long. Later.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Post #200 - A hella slow spring on the bicycle - with one unexpected find!

My 200th post crept up on me since I allowed blogging to slide during the year's second quarter, but I'd like to use the milestone to recognize the The Speckled Hatchback's six-and-a-half-year lifespan! Though my online journal isn't going to garner me international fame and fortune, knowing that at least a few people enjoy my bike-birding tales, photography, and avian musings is enough. So, I like to say 'thanks' to whoever reads my ridiculous blog, however infrequently. I hope my content inspires you to explore the natural world and appreciate the birds around us. 

In that vein, I recently received an email from Brianna Camp (briannacamp37 on Instagram) who asked permission to use my Loggerhead Shrike photo as a template for some sidewalk art she'd been commissioned to do. I'm always honored when artists ask me to use my work to inspire/assist their own, so I immediately granted her permission on the condition she send me a photo of the finished product. I'm not sure if Patrick is obsessed with shrikes or if the bird holds special significance as a school mascot, but I thought the result was pretty cool regardless!

My capture of a Loggerhead Shrike in Riverside County

Brianna's chalking

All that said, this spring was really, really slow on the birding front. I don't think it was specific to the Bay Area because I heard rumblings about low numbers and delayed movement from other corners of California (and beyond), but there wasn't much to get excited about through April, May, and June. I have to pick-and-chose my moments on the bicycle, and it felt like I was constantly waiting for a burst of activity which never materialized. This spring was very windy, so I'm curious if that contributed to the lack of birds, perhaps by blowing migrants farther inland than usual. 

One anomalous bird that did materialize was Indigo Bunting (INBU) at McLaren Park in San Francisco. I've seen the bird in Santa Clara (it was Bay Area bike bird #283 in June of 2019), but I was unable to connect with the SF example despite making two rides for it during its extended stay. Ugh.

My unsuccessful rides for INBU

I missed a bit of action while I was in Minnesota and North Dakota in the middle of June, but my interest was piqued by a Black Tern (BLTE) at the Sunnyvale Wastewater Treatment Plant in Santa Clara a week after I returned. I'd not seen that species anywhere in the Bay Area -- by bike or by car -- so it would be a nice addition to my cumulative Bay Area Bike List. Though the bird was seen by individual observers on the 23rd and 25th, several of us were unable to relocate it on the morning of the 26th. I did, however, hear something intriguing from the adjacent tidal marsh. Reaching for my cell phone and dialing up a Black Rail (BLRA) call, I was able to elicit a confirmatory response from a bird less than twenty feet away. I stared into the reeds for a while but was predictably unable to get eyes on the stealthy figment. Regardless, it joins my Bay Area bike list as species #332, my lone 'heard-only' among that four-year total. It was great to salvage that species in place of BLTE, particularly as I was able to share the rail with a handful of other birders. 

This map is from Strava, a running/cycling app which maps my movements in real time. It knows when I'm moving and when I'm stopped, so the time on this graphic (blue box, bottom) is the time I spent actively cycling. The Google time displayed on the INBU graphic above is only a prediction, so Strava is infinitely-more accurate in that respect. My 51 miles across 3 hours and 24 minutes translates to ~15 miles per hour, so that's about what I'd expect on flat ground without significant wind aid or impediment.

My ride Sunnyvale on June 26th

OK, that's it for now. Take care until next time!

Friday, June 4, 2021

Post #199 - A Morning of Marsh Photography in Sierra County, California

My goal when I head out with the camera is simple: capture one high-quality frame of whatever species I'm seeking. Sometimes I'll get lucky and end up with multiple shots of the desired target -- as occurred on the Canyon Wren and Whimbrel outings I chronicled in my last post -- but it's really, really rare that I come home with keeper shots of different species from the same outing. That's what happened in while I was shooting in Sierra County, California last weekend, and I'll use this post as a photo essay to recap a pretty memorable morning at the marsh.

Let's start with one of the most striking birds in North America - the male Yellow-headed Blackbird. This species is common in the Sierra Valley in summer, and the birds can be very confiding along the region's rural roads. It can be tough difficult to get birds on a natural perches with so many available fenceposts, but I was fortunate to intersect this individual as he belted out his song from a low shrub. The vegetation is a bit busier than ideal, particularly between the wings and tail, but I think it makes for a natural-looking frame.

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/1000 at f/7.1, ISO 800

The blackbird bagged, I turned my attention towards the morning's primary target, Virginia Rail. With marsh on both sides of the road, I laid down in the deserted thoroughfare and used a bit of playback to see what I could draw out of the reeds. I've had decent responses from this species in the past, but this was unlike anything I'd ever experienced, two birds sprinting across the road twenty feet in front of me within twenty seconds. They recrossed the road a minute later, and the more curious of the pair walked to within fifteen feet me of as I remained prone. I'll certainly remember the encounter for a long time! Fortunately, I was so low that the gravel road is mostly unrecognizable in these shots.

Virginia Rail - Rallus limicola
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Virginia Rail - Rallus limicola
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Virginia Rail - Rallus limicola
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX2
1/1600 at f/8, ISO 800

A bit later in the morning, this Wilson's Snipe landed on a roadside post. That perch was very big and blocky, so I decided the only way to minimize its distraction was to eliminate it altogether by going for a tight headshot. This bird permitted unexpectedly close approach, and I was really happy with the resulting feather detail. He wouldn't turn perfectly parallel to the light, so I'll have to live with diffuse shadows across the breast. Can't complain about the engaging head angle though!

Wilson's Snipe - Gallinago delicata
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/2000 at f/8, ISO 1000

And lastly, I'll include this American Bittern since I photographed it at the same location, albeit on the previous evening (I ditched camped in nearby National Forest overnight). Cloudy conditions rendered the light pretty dodgy on that first visit, but I cranked up the ISO to combat the conditions. Topaz Denoise AI did a great job at reducing the noise and recovering the feather detail once I put the file into the computer. If you haven't used that program, it's definitely worth checking out. It can be used an a plug-in in Lightroom or Photoshop, so even Luddites like me can figure it out. I'm super stoked with this result because it's my first good frame of this species!

American Bittern - Botaurus lentiginosus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/2000 at f/5.6, ISO 3200

So yeah, a sweet pair of visits to the same spot. I'll certainly go back in the future, if not this summer then perhaps sometime in the fall. Cheers!

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Post #198 - Whimbrel meets Canyon Wren,

Wow - Tropical Birding responsibilities have kept me busy since my last entry a month ago! My Upper Texas Coast tour piled up 250 species when the Hill Country extension was included, and my South Florida Birding with a Camera© installment found most of the Sunshine State specialties plus Antillean Nighthawk, Shiny Cowbird, Black Noddy, and Black-faced Grassquit. Running back-to-back nine-day tours took a lot of planning and energy, but both ventures unfolded perfectly. I'll be tweaking the itineraries based on my experiences on this go-round, and I'll be sure to link the finalized versions when they're done.

I've been swamped with trip reports these last few days, so I have limited appetite for additional writing at the moment. Fortunately, I captured a nice panel of photographs before I left for Florida and Texas, and I'll use this post to share those with you. Canyon Wren is a new species for my photo collection, and the Whimbrel images represent a huge upgrade from anything I previously had of that elegant species.

Let's start with this Whimbrel. Getting super low really makes the bird look like giant, right?! This bird was on a slightly-raised tidal ridge, so I think I was shooting up on him from the low trough I'd assumed. The soft background is a distantly breaking wave.

Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Let's start with this Whimbrel. Getting super low really makes the bird look like giant, right?! This bird was on a slightly-raised tidal ridge, so I think I was shooting up on him from the low trough I'd assumed. The soft background is a distantly breaking wave.

Let's jump to the Canyon Wren for a moment. Given numerous intersections with the species in AZ, NM, UT, and CO, it's kinda funny that my first decent photograph of this Southwestern speciality came from outside San Jose, CA where it very unusual. This individual had been eBirded from a local park for weeks, so I went to look for it knowing it would be a Santa Clara County bird even if it didn't cooperate for photos (fortunately, it did). This favored perch featured several dried poops, so I used an old rag to scrub them off while he rotated through others. Who needs Photoshop when it can be done in the field, right? I was a bit nervous I wouldn't be able to freeze the pulsating beak in the cloudy conditions, but ISO 3200 did the trick. I'm not usually one for lat-light results, but the super-sharp details made this a keeper. 

Canyon Wren - Catherpes mexicanus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/1250 at f/5.6, ISO 3200

Returning to our Whimbrel friend, I liked this frame because the subject is almost perfectly isolated from the surroundings. Some might want more habitat context, but there wasn't much of that to be found in this wide, sandy expanse. This is also about the best example of direct eye contact that I have in my collection. 

Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 1250

This next frame represents the same wren as above. I was really happy with this result because the direct sunlight helped to bring out the colors on the bird and the rock. I liked the lichen so much that I went with a wide crop to included a lot of it.

Canon WrenCatherpes mexicanus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/7.1, ISO 1250

We'll close with a third Whimbrel shot. The other two images showed the subject closely, so I decided to back off a bit for this frame. Minus the reflection, I think I could be convinced he was walking across the sky. It's really hard to use negative space effectively in the Bay Area areas since buildings, people, dogs, bridges, trash, and all manner of other man-made distractions inevitably work their way into the background, so I was really happy with this result. Getting low delivers again!

Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/2500 at f/5.6, ISO 1000

Five keeper frames from two individual birds on two different days - can't argue with those results! That's it for now. Cheers!