Tuesday, December 31, 2013

San Diego County Bird #200: Vesper Sparrow

While working outside yesterday I heard the faint refrains of a singing Vesper Sparrow. That is county life bird #200.

My birding in San Diego includes these previous visits. In September 1981 I drove into the Anza-Borrego visitor center on the way from the Salton Sea to Ventura. That netted me 4 species. I held those 4 species alone for over 20 years. In April 2004 I took a 5-day pelagic trip from San Diego, but no other birding other than the harbor and open ocean. That bumped my total to 29 species. I visited San Diego twice in 2008. In March, Troy Guy and I flew from Portland to Cabo San Lucas to ride back to San Diego on an empty whale watching boat the entire length of Baja. Then Terry Hunefeld showed us around to some favored birding sites, including San Elijo Lagoon. My county list jumped to 99. In October 2008 I came back with Marlene on an "anniversary" trip (our 30th!). Marlene hung out on the beach at a bed and breakfast in Encinitas, while I spent 3 days on a boat trip at sea. That brought me up to 112 species.

Marlene and I moved to San Diego county in late September 2013. Starting a new job, losing a job, unemployed and searching for a new job, and starting another new job, not to mention moving 3 times in 60 days, prevented a whole lot of birding. Nevertheless, birding one morning per week in those 3 months, I tallied 186 species to bring my life total in the county to 200.

Tomorrow starts a new year. I think 300 for the year in San Diego County is a good goal to try for. To get that many I have to bird desert, mountain, coast, and ocean (which I was going to do anyway). But it is not so many that I have to chase every rare bird reported. For instance, eBird reports that Barbara Carlson leads all county birders this year with 391 species. [Not all birders use eBird. Inconceivable!] In 6th place for the year, at 301 species, is Nancy Christensen whom I met last Sunday at Oceanside looking for a Glaucous Gull that showed up after we left. That seems just about the right goal to try for. It allows me to explore new areas, search for several life birds, and have fun, without stealing time from more important things.

So expect to hear about my efforts...

ABA area bird #520 (#515): Nutmeg Mannikin

Nutmeg Mannikin
Nutmeg Mannikin. Lake Hodges, California. December 1, 2013. Greg Gillson.
In September 2013 the American Birding Association, following the lead of the California Bird Records Committee, accepted Nutmeg Mannikin onto the official list of "countable" birds north of Mexico as an established exotic. In other words, their great-great-grandparents may have escaped their cages in San Diego or Tijuana, but they've been reproducing like mad for a decade or more in the wild and are not going away any time soon.

Actually there are 8 criteria they need to meet before they are accepted. And, bummer, if an established exotic ever dies out you have to take it off your list. For instance, if all the starlings or house sparrows die out in North America, they never counted--it's as if they never existed. This actually happened to me with Crested Mynas that lived for a century in Vancouver, British Columbia. I saw them in 1973 and/or 1975 (my notes are missing from those trips). Poof! They're gone. I've never seen one. The rules say so. So you see, that, as they say, is that.

Birds in southern California from San Diego north to Santa Barbara are countable. Even though there are large populations of these birds in Florida they are not countable there,... yet.

Nutmeg Mannikin

Speaking of countable, there may be a few non-countable birds on my list of 520 species seen north of Mexico. I am using eBird to come up with the numbers. eBird lets you track non-countable birds (non-established exotics). I think the  Monk Parakeet and Mute Swan I saw in Oregon are not countable, and Chilean Flamingo, African Collared-Dove, and Nanday Parakeet in California from many years ago (probably countable if I saw it today, but not "bankable"). So, this is more like ABA species #515 for me. That's pretty good for never having birded SE Arizona, Texas, Florida, or Alaska.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Thanksgiving--playing on the freeway

Our move to San Marcos on November 28 to start our new job was supposed to be quick. We had a small U-Haul and friends to help us load and unload. But the 30 minute trip ground to a quick halt immediately after getting on the I-15 freeway.

We learned there was a bomb threat from a car parked under the overpass you can just make out in my cell phone photo above.

We sat for 2 and 1/2 hours on the freeway. Many people got out of their cars. As there was no traffic from the other direction some played catch with a football while others did hand stands and cartwheels in the empty lanes. Actually, I didn't see anyone overly upset. I used the time to rest. I wish to thank the Dunn's for helping us to move and sitting with us on the freeway and not complaining (out loud, at least).

Here is a news report about the bomb hoax.

If you are in any doubt, no, it is not a good idea to stick a cardboard box in the back of your sister's car with the word "bomb" written on it. Go directly to jail, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Prickly Pear Cactus and the Mexican-American War


Prickly Pear cacti (genus Opuntia) are fairly uncommon in the hills of San Diego County in the native coastal sage scrub habitat. Evidently they are harder to identify than Empidonax flycatchers. My best guess is that these are Western Prickly Pear (O. occidentalis). However they may also be Coast Prickly Pear (O. littoralis). They could also be a hybrid between these and/or other species. It doesn't help that Wikipedia doesn't even recognize O. occidentalis. Perhaps the cacti expert on Wikipedia thinks that it the same as O. engelmannii, which goes by about a dozen common names (Cow Tongue Prickly Pear, Desert Prickly Pear, Texas Prickly Pear, Engelmann's Prickly Pear, etc.).

The photo above was taken at San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park, about 5 miles SE of Escandido. The name is bigger than the park that commemorates a nasty battle in 1846 in the Mexican-American War. Unless you count stealing Texas from Mexico, the only good thing that I can see that came from this war was the creation of this little park where there is at least one Cactus Wren that I saw on December 8th.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Western Grebe mystery

Western Grebe
Western Grebe with chick. Lake Hodges, California. December 1, 2013. Photo by Greg Gillson.

It is inevitable that moving 1100 miles southward I would encounter some bird status differences that would surprise me. But I am unable to find anything written that would lead me to understand finding multiple Western Grebe chicks in December! Yet there they are on Lake Hodges at Rancho Bernardo.

If anyone can enlighten me on this subject, please do so in the comments section below. Thanks.

Western Grebe
Mating display of Western Grebe. Lake Hodges, California. December 1, 2013.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Black Skimmers at Mission Bay

Black Skimmer
Black Skimmer at Mission Bay, California on December 22, 2013. Photos by Greg Gillson.
Skimmers are odd gull-like birds with long lower mandibles that they drag (skim) like a knife through the shallow waters, snagging fish. Black Skimmers are found year round in San Diego County, though they are more common in summer. They first arrived in California in the 1960's and have been increasing ever since. They first nested in the San Diego area and the Salton Sea in 1976.

Black Skimmer

Though large numbers of these gregarious birds can be found, they are rather local at favored sandy beaches in shallow lagoons. I found 121 of these birds with a big flock of Black-bellied Plovers and other shorebirds at Crown Point on the north shore of Mission Bay.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Two old Gillson family photos

Thomas and Lorena (Kraft) Gillson and family about 1924.
Back row (left to right): Russell, Pearl, Walter, Helen, Esther, Edwin.
I've been hanging on to these family photos in my email inbox for 5 years! My sister, Sheri, received them from cousin Mike Gillson (Esther's grandson), who has researched the family history more fully. Neither Sheri nor I had ever seen these photos before. Time to put these photos in a more permanent place.

The first is my paternal great-grandparents and great uncles and aunts likely taken in Mankato, Minnesota about 1924 (guessing Helen is about 11 years old). My paternal grandfather is Russell Gillson, though everyone knew him as "Buck." He is the youngest of the boys above. The dates below are mostly from family history, but I've used dates found on the US Census information on the web if different.

As an adult, besides my grandfather, Russell, I only knew aunt Helen and her husband Harold. He made great peanut brittle when he visited!

Thomas Gillson (b. June 14, 1870; m. May 14, 1892; d. May 13, 1942)
Lorena Hulda Dena Kraft Gillson Ballard (b. March 11, 1875; d. January 8, 1957)

Pearl Lorena Gillson Spear (b. December 18, 1893; m. Leon Spear; d. June 22, 1977)
Esther Florence Gillson Gillson Adkins (b. June 17, 1896; m. 3rd cousin Alfred George Gillson December 6, 1919; m. Adkins July 7, 1928 (annulled); d. August 29, 1977)
Edwin Robert Gillson (b. June 11, 1899; m. Emmaline Sauter December 1947; d. April 8, 1964)
Walter Earl Gillson (b. February 1904; m. Irene O'Brien June 24, 1929 (div. June 19, 1941); m. Eva Roberts; d. June 26, 1948)
Russell Marvin Gillson (b. January 22, 1911; m. Leora Gertrude Blanshan January 19, 1929; d. December 31, 1991)
Violet Gillson (b. March 6, 1912; d. March 16, 1912)
Helen Marcella Gillson Cornwell (b. October 24, 1913; m. Harold Cornwell; d. April 25, 2001)

Then we go back another generation--my grandfather's grandfather!

Robert and Orella (Brooks) Gillson and family about 1887.
Back row (left to right): Ezra, Jane, Emma, Frank, Eliza, Tom.
Front row (left to right): John, Robert, Blanche, Orella. Not shown: Charles.
This photo was also likely taken in Minnesota or Michigan. Dating it is a bit harder, but the 1887 date is based on guessing that Ezra looks to be about 6 years old and John about 11 years old.

Robert George Gillson (b. October 25, 1831; m. Millicent Baxter 1853; m. Orella Brooks; d. November 25, 1924)
Orella Brooks Gillson (b. September 22, 1842; d. July 24, 1914)

Frank Gillson (b. 1860; d.?)
Charles Gillson (b. March 5, 1862; m. Eva Miller; m. Maggie Margaret O'Brien November 25, 1899; d. September 9, 1932)
Eliza Ann Gillson Johnson Weber (b. October 12, 1865; d. July 25, 1939)
Emma May Gillson McNeil (b. May 4, 1868; m. Calvin Douglas McNeil before May 1919; d. February 20, 1952)
Thomas Gillson (b. June 14, 1869; m. Lorena Dena Kraft May 14, 1892; d. May 13, 1942)
John Rutherford Gillson (b. 1876; m. Cora Hardin September 10, 1897; d. September 29, 1957)
Jane Gillson Trotter (b.?; m. Trotter; d.?)
[Twin (b.?; d. of smallpox in 1870s)]
[Twin (b.?; d. of smallpox in 1870s)]
Ezra Gillson (b. January 31, 1881; d. July 30, 1929)
Blanche Gillson Benewitz (b.?; m. Bill Benewitz; d.?)

Interesting history passed on to Sheri from Mike: "Thomas Gillson's family. He is on the far right. His parents are Orella (Brooks) and Robert Gillson. Orella is supposed to have been 1/2 French and 1/2 Indian (probably Chippewa). But she lied on 4 different federal census forms, giving different names and places of birth so I haven't been able to identify her parents yet. She was born in 1841, most likely in upper Michigan, which was Canada at the time. This would have made her an English citizen and Mike thinks she was an "illegal alien", funny when she was 1/2 native American that she could also be illegal. Robert came over from England with four of his brothers who all settled in the Michigan area. He later moved to Pillager, Minnesota. He was born in 1831 in Buckworth England. He married his childhood sweetheart, but she died at sea [emigrating from England to Nova Scotia] just a couple of months after they were married. Six months after he arrived in Michigan, he married Orella."

Ancestry.com gives Quebec as Orella's birth place, but she was evidently hiding her identity even then. Interesting that I can't find US census information on the younger children.

So I have preserved some family history before it becomes lost and distorted even more. There are some additional photos and stories of my paternal grandparents that I want to share another time.

Friday, December 20, 2013

California Ravens

Common Raven
Common Raven, Mission Hills Regional Park, San Diego, California, October 4, 2013. Photo by Greg Gillson.
When I first arrived in San Diego I was somewhat surprised at all the Common Ravens in town. In general I noted a pair of ravens for every 3-5 pairs of crows. Both crows and ravens are common and scattered throughout the residential areas of San Diego. In western Oregon, ravens are birds of more open country and mountain forests, and stay away from residential areas.

I have also noted that the ravens in San Diego are obviously smaller than birds in the Pacific Northwest, less wary (downright friendly), and have a higher voice. The call is rough, but not nearly as deep or raspy and croaking as ravens elsewhere. In other words, ravens are more similar to crows in the SW than elsewhere in North America. Ravens are told apart from crows by the raven's wedged tail, heavier bill, deeper raspy voice, and more hawk-like flight style. See this ID and range information from eBird.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe
Black Phoebe at Santee Lakes, California on October 11, 2013. Photo by Greg Gillson.

The Black Phoebe is one of my favorite birds. With its perky behavior and sweet '"chip" call note it flycatches over ponds, porches, and out buildings throughout its range.

I first saw Black Phoebes in Death Valley on a visit there on Spring Break from High School in March 1976. Back then they could be found in Oregon, but only in the extreme SW corner. They have expanded their range remarkably since then throughout western Oregon. The first I saw in Oregon was on the south coast near Bandon in December 1993.

I get to see these birds every day now!

Hmm... looking at the photo above I believe I could have cropped it better and removed the blurry rock or whatever it is in the upper left. Let me see; I'll be right back...

OK, here. Try this...

Black Phoebe

What do you think--which one do you like better?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

San Marcos, California

Nice warm December morning in San Diego County.

This is our new home. Marlene and I started a new job in December 2013--managing a mobile home park in San Marcos, California!

We had been managing an apartment in Oregon for two years. Actually, Marlene was the manager and I was her assistant, working only part time. But we had a job we could do anywhere.

Oregon is beautiful and green west of the Cascades, but it comes at a price. Portland receives about 35 inches of precipitation per year--mostly in the form of fog! OK, maybe not. But there are numerous gloomy, drizzly days, and not just in the winter.

Summer 2013 was the warmest and nicest I can remember in Oregon--ever. It reached a high of 80-85F nearly all of July and August, but cooled down nicely at night. Now, Portland averages 83F in August, but that's usually with several colder, cloudy days of 60F interspersed with a few terribly hot days of 100 degrees. Summer 2013 didn't have those extremes. It was great. We didn't want the nice weather to stop.

No one I talked to claims to remember, but the previous summer we only had two days over 80 degrees. We set a record of about 90 rainless days, but it was cloudy and 65 degrees all summer. Tomatoes and zucchinis rotted on the vine. So, a cold drizzly winter, no summer, and cold damp winter again. That was followed by the warm, sunny summer of 2013. We asked ourselves as we did at the end of every summer: "Do we really want to go through another Oregon winter?". After years of complaining about the weather, we finally did something about it.

I'm totally solar powered. When it's sunny I'm happy and full of energy; when it's cloudy I'm as gloomy as the skies. I was looking for a place where it was sunny and 78F every day of the year, and without too much day and night variation. San Diego County fit the bill--if we stayed inland 5-15 miles--away from the immediate coastline and cooler marine air and away from the desert summer heat and cold winter nights farther inland.

We took an apartment management job in La Mesa (a most beautiful town on a hill overlooking San Diego). It didn't work out. As a manager, our house goes with our job. Thus, all through November we had neither. So, at the last hour we found this great job in San Marcos. Marlene is the manager handling leasing and collections of space rentals. I am the maintenance manager, which consists of janitorial, landscaping, and utility repair duties. Yes, I'm the pool boy and I drive around in a little golf cart!

San Diego County is quite large. It has 70 miles of coastline and is almost square at 4525 square miles. It has forested mountains that reach 5500 feet and the eastern portion is the Anza-Borrego desert. The southern border of San Diego County is common with Mexico.

San Marcos is inland about 10 miles from the coastal town of Carlsbad. It is 30 miles north of downtown San Diego. However, Rancho Bernardo is only 10 miles to the south and is the northernmost town within San Diego city limits. So that creates the peculiar situation where there is a sign that says: "San Diego city limits, population 1.3 million" followed immediately by a big green freeway sign that says: "San Diego 20 miles"!

How has the weather been? Really nice. Yes, we had a couple of rainy days, but interspersed with sun. We had frost two nights last week, but reached 68-70F by noon. Today was 84F. Not bad for the middle of December, huh? Early October had a few hot days into the 90's. But it is usually warmest about 11:00 am. By noon most days a cool marine breeze comes up with a few fluffy clouds and drops the afternoon temperatures to a perfect 72-75 degrees. I wore sandals and short-sleeved "Hawaiian" shirt for most of October. If you knew me, you'd know how unusual that is for me--I frequently wear a sweater indoors in summer!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Blank canvas

There's something wondrous about a new blank journal or notebook. Like a blank canvas the potential for creation is unlimited, but at the start you can't tell exactly what the finished product will look like.

So it is with a new blog. My previous blogs were on the topic of birds, but educational rather than personal. Each post was strictly on-topic and often planned out weeks or more in advance. Now that I have moved from western Oregon to San Diego and started a new chapter in my life it only makes sense to start a new blog.

I hope to make this blog more personal than previous blogs. My recent bird photographs and birding adventures will still be prominently featured--now in San Diego County rather than Oregon, but I intend to discuss additional topics and share my other interests. Less educational, more spontaneous and creative.

Let's see how it goes....