Saturday, February 16, 2019

Rare Lesser Black-backed Gull at Coronado

The beach at the historic Hotel del Coronado was the picturesque site of a rare bird this winter. Ron and Shawn Miller of Wisconsin discovered a Lesser Black-backed Gull there on November 23, 2018.

Lesser Black-backed Gull. Coronado, California.
Lesser Black-backed Gull. Coronado, California. December 30, 2018. Greg Gillson.
Lesser Black-backed Gull. Coronado, California.

The identification of this gull is straight-forward, but it will be unfamiliar to most West Coast birders. Large with a dark mantle it has a white eye and yellow legs. Western Gulls have pink legs and often pale grayish or brown eyes. California Gulls are slightly smaller but always have dark brown eyes.

Lesser Black-backed Gull. Coronado, California.

The Miller's didn't identify it immediately; it was "discovered" a few days later, apparently after they posted photos of it on iNaturalist. Fortunately for local birders, the bird was settled in for the winter and will probably remain until early April.

Lesser Black-backed Gull. Coronado, California.

This species breeds on the Atlantic coasts of Europe. It winters south to West Africa. In the last third of the 20th century it underwent a range expansion. It now shows up regularly in eastern North America (southern Atlantic Canada and Great Lakes southward through the Mississippi River Valley), but especially right on the Atlantic coast.

It is more or less annual in San Diego county, now. It wasn't reported in 2010 or 2013, but has averaged about 3 birds per winter since then.

Lesser Black-backed Gull. Coronado, California.

Being the big chaser of rarities that I am (NOT), I didn't make plans to go see it until it had been present over a month. But as you can see, my sloth mattered not. I'm an unenthusiastic chaser, even though I love to find rare birds on my own. Yes, even this life bird.

View of Point Loma and the mouth of San Diego Bay from Coronado
View of Point Loma and the mouth of San Diego Bay from Coronado.
The Lesser Black-backed Gull is on the rocks dead center of the photo,
while a Heermann's Gull and Brown Pelican fly past.
Photos of this and other Lesser Black-backed Gulls in San Diego on eBird. Click on the photos to rate (1 awful, 2 poor but identifiable, 3 average or small, 4 very good, 5 magazine cover worthy).

Friday, February 15, 2019

Heermann's Gull at Coronado

Heermann's Gull. Coronado, California.
Heermann's Gull. Coronado, California. December 30, 2018. Greg Gillson.
My "recent photo" is a couple of months old already, as I catch up on some photos from the end of 2018. I'm not sure this one shouldn't have appeared on My 10 best bird photos of 2018. No doubt I'll have more opportunities to gather shots of this photogenic species.

I'm not the only one to get great shots of Heermann's Gulls in San Diego, check out the eBird photos. Click on the photos to rate (1 awful, 2 poor but identifiable, 3 average or small, 4 very good, 5 magazine cover worthy).

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Western Grebes in San Diego Bay

Western Grebe, San Diego Bay.
Western Grebe, San Diego Bay.
Western Grebe, San Diego Bay.
Western Grebe, San Diego Bay.
Western Grebe, San Diego Bay. January 1, 2019. Greg Gillson.
The Western Grebes above were photographed from our chartered boat on the January 1st pelagic birding trip. They were right in the marina next to the docks. The first photo was taken in the early morning and has that warm golden glow many find pleasing. The other photos were in early afternoon.

Western Grebes are common wintering birds on large lakes, bays, and nearshore ocean waters. They also breed on large inland lakes. Western Grebes are more numerous than Clark's Grebes, in the same locales and seasonality, but Clark's seem to me to be more numerous on fresh water lakes as opposed to ocean, at least in my experience both in Oregon and southern California.

Follow this eBird link to other photos of Western Grebes in San Diego ordered by highest quality. Click on the photos to rate (1 awful, 2 poor but identifiable, 3 average or small, 4 very good, 5 magazine cover worthy).

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Fieldcraft: How can you find more birds?

Has this ever happened to you after coming home from a day of birding? You read the local online birding list only to find that others had been to the same places as you, but recorded many more species? Or maybe you've made several trips to see a reported rarity, but it just didn't seem to be around--but others found it just before or after you?

If you are familiar with the local birds--so that identification skill is not the issue--then somehow these other birders found more birds in the same area. How? The answer might not be luck. It might be... fieldcraft. What is fieldcraft?

Hide-and-seek: Wilson's Snipe. Oregon, October. Greg Gillson.
I see you. Do you see me? Wilson's Snipe. Oregon, October. Greg Gillson.
Birding can be broken into two parts: 1) Identifying a bird, and 2) Finding a bird in the first place.

Identification is about the bird: how it looks, sounds, behaves. Bird finding is more about the observer: how you look, listen, and behave.

These days there are many tools for identifying birds. There are field guides, online apps, and specialty books and articles dedicated to those hard-to-identify pairs or groups of birds. You know them: Accipiter hawks, Empidonax flycatchers, waterfowl in flight, hawks in flight, female hummingbirds, white swans, streaky sparrows, and more, depending upon where you live in the world.

There isn't a lot of information, though, on fieldcraft--finding birds that may be near you, but hidden from your view at the moment. Today people are more isolated from nature than ever. People don't understand the behavior of other wild living things, as perhaps did our ancestors. To remedy that need this article introduces the topic. It is my intention to create a series of articles on fieldcraft and post them here regularly. When, where, and how to find birds. How to approach birds without frightening them away. Equipment and tools. And more. (I've added a widget in the sidebar (web view) that leads to all posts labeled "fieldcraft." Check them out!)

If one article a month, or so, is too slow for you, there is one book I recommend every birder own in their personal library. It is the National Geographic Birding Essentials, published in 2007 and written by Jonathan Alderfer and Jon L. Dunn, both co-editors of recent versions of the National Geographic birding field guides. This 224 page book is nearly evenly split between identification and fieldcraft. It is a great overview of the topic.


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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Brown Booby off San Diego

On the annual First of January pelagic trip from San Diego we saw about 7 Brown Boobies. This is pretty typical for the past 5 years or so, when they increased markedly and then declined slightly. They breed regularly on the Coronado Islands, in Mexican waters about 20 miles SW of San Diego.

The following photos are of 3 different birds. The first 3 photos are an adult male in flight not far out from San Diego in the morning. The next two photos of a bird on the water are of a presumably a different adult male about noon at another location farther offshore. The last photo is a near-adult, probably a female, back closer to San Diego in mid-afternoon.

Brown Booby off San Diego
Brown Booby off San Diego
Brown Booby off San Diego, California. January 1, 2019. Greg Gillson.
Brown Booby off San Diego
Brown Booby off San Diego
Brown Booby off San Diego
Brown Booby off San Diego

To see other photos of Brown Boobies in San Diego, follow this eBird link. Click on the photos to rate (1 awful, 2 poor but identifiable, 3 average or small, 4 very good, 5 magazine cover worthy).