Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: The Scarlet Kingfisher

The Scarlet Kingfisher: Discovery of a new species
August 2014
Robert Henry Benson

Genre: Fiction ("Birder murder mystery"?)

When Mr. Benson asked me to review his new novel I did let him know that I had never reviewed a fictional book before. In fact, I remember reading only two fictional books in the past 25 years--both science fiction. Now, wait; the protagonist in "The Scarlet Kingfisher" is a scientist discovering a new species, so this is science fiction, right? No? Well, I'll give it a try anyway. But be forewarned, I called David Sibley's 2014 update to his groundbreaking book on birds "unreadable." But that wasn't the material; it was the microscopic font size.

This fast-paced story is very engaging, and becomes more so as the story reaches its climax. The story begins with the protagonist--a biologist, Dr. Beach O'Neill--locked out of his field research area on a private ranch in southern Texas. Apparently, some ranch hand reported an improbable undescribed bird in southern Texas. Dr. O'Neill sneaks on to the property to reach his study area, but comes upon a dead body! Now he's the prime suspect in the murder! He has to evade the bad guys and the sheriff, repair his relationship with his girlfriend, save his career, and somehow clear his name! And all the while search for the improbable titular bird.

Written by a birder, Mr. Benson takes us on a realistic drive through the south Texas countryside. We see the geography, botany, and birds through his accurate descriptions of what is really there. Likewise, we get a realistic glimpse into academia, in this case Texas A&M University. There is also some history of Texas towns and people, but how much is true and how much is fiction? Nevertheless, it made it personally realistic to me, because I would pay the same exact attention to the plants and animals.

The fast-pace of the book necessitated shallow character development of many of the characters. I found the antagonists rather stereotyped and lacking in character development. The falconer/bird trapper was an unkempt individual with no redeeming qualities. The "muscle" killed without remorse. The bad guy was a shadowy egomaniac. On the other hand, O'Niell's girlfriend botanist and fellow professor at the university was almost "too good." But by the end of the story, as events were reaching a nail-biting and page-turning confrontation, none of that mattered. Good story-telling carried the day.

Though there are sixty-one chapters in the book, there are only 211 pages. Thus, the chapters average less than 3.5 pages each. Personally, I might have increased the descriptive elements of the story even further (landscape, birds and animals, character development). For instance, in places Texas or desert-specific vegetation is named, but not described. I am reminded of the "Ox-Bow Incident" where more than half the book is devoted to a 15 or 20 minute period building the suspense for the quick actions at the end of the book. The painfully long time to get to the action actually increased the tension of dread of what was inexorably coming. The "Scarlet Kingfisher," on the other hand, kept building tension by moving quickly, then just before climax, switching the story line to another character's perspective of the same time period.

There were some brief uncomfortably graphic descriptions in the killing of a couple birds and one man. The bad guys did some swearing. The sex scene... That was a sex scene? Bullfrog? Really?

An engrossing, fast-paced, bird-themed murder mystery adventure. I have never read anything like it before.

Ps. Marlene loved it!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Pelagic birding trip from San Diego: What's it like?

San Diego pelagic trip
Sunrise: Pelagic birding trip aboard Grande out of San Diego, California. September 21, 2014. Greg Gillson.
I've spent nearly 200 days at sea watching birds. I've organized and led over 150 pelagic trips--ocean bird watching boat trips--from Oregon during the past 21 years. I've taken another twenty pelagic trips in North America and Mexico, including some multi-day trips, and 3 cruises on luxury liners.

I enjoy watching birds at sea. I enjoy being at sea.

On September 21 I was privileged to be one of the guides on a pelagic trip from San Diego, sponsored by the Buena Vista Audubon Society. The trip was aboard the 88 foot Grande. Though not as large as the 95 foot Searcher, also out of San Diego, it is much larger than the 45-55 foot charter fishing boats available for these purposes off Oregon. Even with 50 birders aboard it was not crowded.

San Diego pelagic trip
Passing Point Loma and entering the Pacific Ocean.
This is the third time I've traveled on Grande--all as a guide. The first time was a double-overnight trip in 2008. Then I went out last October on a single-day 12 hour trip to 30 Mile Bank. The trip just completed was another 12 hour trip over 9 Mile Bank to 30 Mile Bank and back.

The double-overnight trip in 2008 was what some might call "roughing it." Biggest problem for me was there was only one head (marine toilet) each for men and for women. I had to get up before the crack of dawn to make sure, well... if you are older you know. If not, then you don't want to. There were no showers available for those three days. Sleeping was in bunks--stacked 4 high. There is a left and right aisle with bunks on left, center, and right of the boat. The center bunks shared a common wall between their neighbor on the opposite aisle. The "wall" was just a canvas divider. The 45 passengers slept in their clothes. It was not a luxury liner. On the other hand, I've gone overnight in a small fishing boat sitting on the floor with my back against the oven and my feet down the stairwell, almost, but not quite, falling asleep.

Not everything was primitive, though, this boat has a galley and chef to provide meals. As far as I know, no other pelagic trips in North America have this available (except Searcher, also from San Diego, California). I had purchased and brought along a Subway sandwich to eat during the day, but took advantage of the galley to have a breakfast burrito.

San Diego pelagic trip
A view from the stern.
This trip started pretty much as all pelagic trips--looking for a parking space before dawn. Even the pay lot was full when I arrived at 5:30 am (the consequences of an insanely great, and badly needed, bluefin tuna fishing season). I found street parking 4 blocks away. The charter was busy. As a guide I didn't have to go to the office to check in, rather just sign the passenger manifest on the clipboard handed around. Then I helped load chum onto the boat and set up some deck chairs.

Passengers were loaded and an orientation speech by the trip leader began. The captain discussed boat safety as we departed.

Most West Coast pelagic trips are damp and cool to cold. However, on this September date it was nearly 70 degrees as dawn approached. I left my hooded coat in the car and only brought my light weight rain jacket/wind breaker. But I never put it on. It was a shirt-sleeve trip from start to finish. Even if cloudy, one can be sunburned. I always tell everyone to put on sun block, but didn't take my own advice. Even though I work outside all day, the left half of my face is now peeling.

San Diego pelagic trip
The Coronado Islands on the horizon are in Mexico, 15 miles from the San Diego harbor.
The bird watching trip ran out the bay, past the bait barges with hundreds of attendant Brant's Cormorants and some egrets, pausing near Ballast Point to view several Black Oystercatchers and a hybrid Black x American Oystercatcher on the cobble beach. Brown Pelicans and Royal and Elegant terns flew overhead. The boat then passed the tip of Point Loma and entered the ocean.

It's a bit confusing until you get used to it, but the mouth of San Diego Bay faces due south, not west. So our trip went south, straight out the bay heading along shore in the direction of the Coronado Islands off Tijuana, Mexico. Brown Boobies nest there, and we saw 3 along this section of our trip. Black-vented Shearwaters are regular here, and there were many Red-necked Phalaropes flying about. When we neared the Mexican border we turned around and headed northwest to Nine Mile Bank, an underwater mountain range about (yes) 9 miles offshore.

San Diego pelagic trip
In Oregon these backpacks would be drenched with wave splash! But not here.
Birds dropped in number as we moved farther offshore. We were hoping for the numerous Craveri's Murrelets seen a couple of weeks earlier, but were not here this day. We did pick up Cassin's Auklets and the first of several Common Terns. Trip leaders took turns chumming popcorn all day and had a burlap sack of fish scraps hanging over the stern rail, dripping into the water. Western Gulls were present the entire trip, Heermann's Gulls were common, more so near shore, and we had a few California Gulls.

Birds were nearly absent between Nine Mile Bank and Thirty Mile Bank. We did spot a couple Pink-footed Shearwaters and barely discernible Black Storm-Petrels flitted about at about a quarter mile distant, but didn't approach the boat more closely. A Blue Whale spouted several times and finally sounded. I didn't get a photo--I was too entranced by the sight of this huge animal!

For "county listers," those concerned with keeping lists of birds in each individual county, we left San Diego County and entered into Los Angeles County. Now Orange County is between the two on the mainland, but ocean birding follows the "closest point of land" rule. We had been traveling from Point Loma, San Diego County (the nearest point of land), toward San Clemente Island, which was officially owned by Los Angeles County. When we reached half way, over Thirty Mile Bank (yes again, about 30 miles from San Diego Bay), we crossed into the new county, skipping over Orange County, which owns none of the southern California islands.

San Diego pelagic trip
Returning to San Diego Bay in late afternoon.
We finally had a couple of Craveri's Murrelets--requiring photos to make sure. And we added Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers.

Was this a disappointing trip for passengers? I'm not sure. In Oregon we always have the big Black-footed Albatrosses (always a crowd-pleaser) and at least 3-5 species of shearwaters, as well as 3-5 species of alcids: murrelets, auklets, puffins. But these birds are not common in southern California waters. Instead, storm-petrels are the draw. But we only had very distant Black Storm-Petrels, no big rafts, nor anything unexpectedly rare.

Personally, I added 10 species of new birds for the year in San Diego County: Black Oystercatcher, Brown Booby, Pomarine Jaeger, Cassin's Auklet, Pink-footed Shearwater, Black Storm-Petrel, Common Tern, Sabine's Gull, Common Murre, and Craveri's Murrelet. In fact, Brown Booby was a first for me in all of California. Additionally, the Sabine's Gull and Common Murre were new birds for me in San Diego County.

I've got another trip scheduled for next weekend. So, if it doesn't get weathered-out by rough seas, I'll have lots of seabird photos to share over the next few weeks. I'm not a guide this time, and had to pay my way aboard. But I probably won't do anything less than I've done the last 20 years--point out, teach, and explain about pelagic birds, fishes, and marine mammals; sharing my excitement with whoever is nearby.

San Diego pelagic trip
Returning to the marina at sunset.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Chipping Sparrows at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

Chipping Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow. Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California. September 14, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Two weeks ago at FRNC I photographed a sparrow I thought might be Brewer's Sparrows. Some of these desert sparrows had been reported there along with the common resident Chipping Sparrows. Later at the cemetery I encountered similar sparrows and decided these new birds were Chipping Sparrows in non-breeding plumage. When I looked at the photos, it turns out that they were all the common Chipping Sparrows. Nothing rare after all.

Chipping Sparrow

The photo above is of the first bird that I thought might be Brewer's Sparrow. It was in bright sun and this photo has been adjusted to bring down the over-exposed breast and face from the bright sun. In the field, the dark whisker mark stood out to me and the lores (feathers between eye and bill) appeared pale. These two field marks should indicate Brewer's Sparrow. However, looking again I do see that the lores are somewhat dark and the whisker mark is diffuse. Tricky!

Chipping Sparrow

Another possibility is Clay-colored Sparrow. But that bird has well-defined crown streaking, especially a broad white central crown stripe that this bird lacks. Chipping Sparrows in breeding plumage have a solid chestnut cap, but here you can see the crown is slightly chestnut with black streaking. Brewer's Sparrow would not show any chestnut color on the crown.

Chipping Sparrow

Young sparrows, just out of the nest, are heavily streaked below, as this bird shown above. In the field I didn't know exactly what species this was, and concentrated on getting several photos that I could examine later. There were adult Savannah Sparrows and Song Sparrow there and I thought this might be a young Savannah Sparrow. The wing bars and a rather plain facial pattern (with just a line through the eye and not much of a lateral throat stripe) point to this being a juvenile Chipping Sparrow.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Juvenile Wilson's Phalarope at San Luis Rey River Mouth

Wilson's Phalarope
Wilson's Phalarope. San Luis Rey River mouth, Oceanside, California. September 7, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Of the over 200 species of shorebirds in the world, the three species called phalaropes are the only ones that are usually found swimming. The Red Phalaropes and Red-necked Phalaropes breed on the Arctic tundra in both the Old and New World, and migrate south in fall to spend the winter far at sea in tropical oceans. The Wilson's Phalarope is more of a landlubber, breeding in prairie potholes in western Canada and the United States and wintering primarily at inland ponds in western and southern South America.

Most shorebirds have unwebbed feet. Some shorebirds, however, have partial webs between their toes. The phalaropes are unique among shorebirds in being lobate--having flaps or lobes that aid in swimming, much as the feet of grebes and coot.
Lobate: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Foot_of_phalarope_%28Anton_Reichenow_1913%29.jpg
Phalaropes also reverse their sexual roles. Females are larger and more brightly-colored than males. The females pursue the males and fight off other females from their mate. As with many shorebirds, the males take all the work of raising the young--incubation and chick care. Vocabulary word for the day: Serial Polyandry: females take multiple mates, one after the other, abandoning their mate after they lay eggs.

As with many shorebirds, phalaropes have a bright breeding plumage, a gray winter plumage, and the young have a long-held juvenile plumage they keep through the fall into winter.

For a photo I took of a bright female in breeding plumage in Oregon in 2010, see my Pacific NW Birder blog post: "Memorial Day weekend at Malheur: Part 9."

Friday, September 19, 2014

Black-bellied Plover at San Luis Rey River Mouth

Black-bellied Plover
Black-bellied Plover. San Luis Rey River mouth, Oceanside, California. September 7, 2014. Greg Gillson.
A rather unwary juvenile Black-bellied Plover was on the beach at Oceanside, California. I find these photos rather pleasing to look at, artistically. The camera angle is low. The sun is also low, creating side shadows that accentuate the shape of the bird. The focus is sharp and depth of field good. The seaweed provides an interesting background. The second photo shows the bird engaged in an activity--which always makes wildlife photographs more interesting.

Of course, with wildlife photography, you can't control many of these things in the field. You just keep taking photos while the bird will let you--paying attention to potentially distracting background elements and sun angle--and just hope one of the pictures turns out.

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bed In Summer

A Child's Garden of Verses
A Child's Garden of Verses
(First published 1885)
The 1957 version Illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa
(above) was my first book!

Bed in Summer 
by Robert Louis Stevenson

In winter I get up at night 
And dress by yellow candle-light. 
In summer quite the other way, 
I have to go to bed by day. 

 I have to go to bed and see 
The birds still hopping on the tree, 
Or hear the grown-up people's feet 
Still going past me in the street. 

And does it not seem hard to you, 
When all the sky is clear and blue, 
And I should like so much to play, 
To have to go to bed by day?

Besides sharing my first book and first memorized poem from that book, I want to share the reason the poem was written. Stevenson was Scottish and that far north there is a major difference in daylight hours, summer to winter. Thus, getting up in the dark in winter, and going to bed when it was still light in summer. There is much less of a difference in daylight hours, summer to winter, in San Diego, compared to Scotland, or even what I experienced in Oregon. In fact, that's one of the major reasons I left Oregon almost exactly a year ago.

I am totally solar-powered. When it is sunny, I am full of energy and good cheer. When it is dark or gloomy, so am I. And cold and tired. In Oregon in June I would wake with the sun before 5 am, and keep going until nearly 10 pm. November-February? I had a hard time staying awake. The marked difference in the number of daylight hours between summer and winter was hard on me. Every fall and winter I would experience Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms to some degree, sometimes rather severe. So, besides looking for a place that was warmer and drier and sunnier than Oregon in winter, I wanted to move south where there was less seasonal change in daylight hours... and less seasonal changes in my mood.

Near the equator there are about 12 hours of direct sunlight all year. But right now, in late September (and again in late March, the autumn and spring equinoxes), the earth is tilted perpendicular to the sun. Thus, the day (sun visible above the horizon) and night are both about 12 hours right now everywhere on the planet.

As I discussed, in late June in NW Oregon it was light (civil twilight) from 4:45 in the morning to 9:40 at night. Almost 17 hours! In San Diego the longest day of summer, dawn to dusk, runs from about 5:15 in the morning to only 8:30 in the evening. 15 hours and 15 minutes.

And winter? In late December in Oregon there was at least some light visible on the horizon from 7:15 in the morning to 5:00 in the afternoon. That's 9 hours and 45 minutes. Of course, it was usually overcast in western Oregon in winter, thus often much darker. In San Diego, the winter sunlight is extended from 6:20 in the morning to 5:15 in the evening. Just about 11 hours.

But that is not all. As Oregon is farther north, even when the sun is out, it is not as high in the sky. At noon in late December the sun only reaches 21 degrees above the southern horizon. Point your arm straight up, drop it half way to the horizon, then drop it half way again. That's as high as the sun gets during the shortest days of winter. The sun angle for San Diego at noon in mid-winter is 34 degrees.

In late June the angle of the sun at noon in Oregon reaches 68 degrees above the horizon. In San Diego it is much closer to overhead--at 81 degrees (as you'll recall, straight up is 90 degrees).

By moving to San Diego I gave up pronounced seasonal changes, including not being able to go birding for an hour or two before work in late spring and early summer, as I used to in Oregon. But I'm getting a more even amount of sun now, throughout the year. Even so, I've noticed that it is now dark when I get up in the morning... reminding me of a poem I knew in childhood.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Birding Site Guide: Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery
Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California. August 31, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Recently, I posted a question to the San Diego Region Birding email list about how to bird the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. I am beginning to discover that a large portion of the rare birds that are found in San Diego County each fall and winter are from this location on the peninsula of Point Loma. I had driven through twice, but was unsure how, or exactly where, to bird. After more than 40 years of bird watching, I had never birded in a cemetery until last winter. In Oregon, cemeteries and golf courses are birdless grass "deserts"; in real desert areas they are green oases for birds!

In her web site to birding San Diego County (last updated about 2008?), Mary Beth Stowe gave brief directions to birding here, but I wasn't sure where to even park the car. Somehow, the directions were unclear. The first thing I had to do was reorient myself--the peninsula runs from the north almost straight south (not west, as I was trying to make it in my mind). Once that transition was made, compass directions made sense.

I received several replies to my request to the email list--some offering to show me around, others giving me directions and tips, including 3 maps. From these I made a huge map (below). Thank you, especially, to Annie Stockley, Nancy Christensen, Sara Mayers, Jennifer Baldwin, Susan Smith, and Geoff Rogers.

Getting there: From Hwy 8: Take it west until it ends into Sunset Cliff Blvd, then continue on to Nimitz Blvd. In 1/2 mile take the Famosa Blvd exit and follow the signs to Catalina Blvd/Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery/Cabrillo National Monument. From San Diego Airport: Take N Harbor Dr to Nimitz Blvd, turn left on Chatsworth until it ends at Catalina Blvd. Take Catalina left to the Cemetery. Parking: No charge. Most birders park on the east side of Cabrillo Memorial Drive in a dirt lot just outside the main entrance (see map below) and walk into the cemetery grounds. Some birders also drive into the cemetery proper (see "other notes" below). Hours: The Cemetery seems to be open at least dawn to dusk now. In the past the Cemetery grounds did not open on weekends until 9:00 AM, but was open much earlier on weekdays. Map Navigation: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, San Diego, CA 92106.

Where to bird: The main birding locations are noted on the map below. The ficus trees on the Northeast Loop and the pines along "The Dip" west of Cabrillo Memorial Drive are two popular locations to find rare birds. Birders move from tree to tree, examining each one. Many birds are also found along the perimeter fence line. Though probably best at dawn, a recent birder found different rare birds from dawn to late afternoon, apparently on several visits during the same day.

Other notes about birding this cemetery: Apparently there are no interments on weekends any longer, thus some birders drive into the cemetery area and park on the sides of the road. There are restrooms at both the Entrance and Administration buildings. Respect the privacy of any mourners. At dawn and dusk you may hear the National Anthem played from the nearby military base as the flag is raised or retired for the day. In 2004 the Palomar Audubon Society wrote up a Visitor Conduct Guide.

So using this map I can now figure out where all this week's rare birds were!
Swainson's Thrush at The Wall
Rose-breasted Grosbeak outside perimeter fence in far NE corner
Northern Waterthrush in the ficus trees in NE
American Redstart in the ficus trees in NE
Prairie Warbler in SE
Tennessee Warbler in ficus in NE loop
American Redstart (continuing) same ficus tree in NE
Prairie Warbler (moved) Torrey Pine north of The Dip on the west side of Cabrillo
Olive-sided Flycatcher fence at the top of the hill north of The Dip
Brewer's Sparrow on west side along N Fence under pines
Prairie Warbler (continuing) same area north of The Dip on west side
Green-tailed Towhee (#1) west of NW loop
Green-tailed Towhee (#2) south of NE loop
Tennessee Warbler pines just north of The Dip on west side
Yellow-green Vireo in NE corner near Registrar of Graves
Grace's Warbler southeast of Admin Bldg
(And yes, I misspelled "Entrance" on the map. I had "Enter" and then changed it.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Large-billed Savannah Sparrow

Large-billed Savannah Sparrow
Large-billed Savannah Sparrow. San Luis Rey River Mouth, Oceanside, California. September 7, 2014. Greg Gillson.
While looking at shorebirds at high tide at the San Luis Rey River mouth I noted additional shorebirds in the beach-cast seaweed between the river and the ocean. (The river doesn't quite reach the ocean as the beach blocks the river mouth with sand.) Also, a small bird was running around chasing flies among the piles of seaweed. It was pale and plain brown above--barely showing a few streaks on the back, heavily streaked below. It had a pale eyebrow and submustachial stripe, both bordered with darker brown. The way it was behaving reminded me of a pipit--but the tail was also pale, not black with white outer tail feathers as in pipits.

It was soon apparent by its rather large conical bill that it was a sparrow--looking very much like a pale Song Sparrow. But it lacked Song Sparrow's very heavily streaked back, and the facial stripes weren't quite right. I then knew what it was: Large-billed Sparrow, a primarily Mexican race of Savannah Sparrow. It differs from other Savannah Sparrows in generally lacking the yellow lores that help beginners recognize Savannah Sparrows.

Large-billed Savannah Sparrow

In 2009 there was a proposal before the checklist committee of the American Ornithologists' Union to split Savannah Sparrow into 3 or 4 species: 1) the main North American group of Savannah Sparrows, 2) Belding's of the salt marshes of southern California, 3) Large-billed Sparrows of coastal NW Mexico, and 4) San Benito Sparrow of an island off the coast of Baja.

DNA evidence actually groups Belding's and Large-billed. At first this may seem strange. Belding's, after all, is quite dark and Large-billed pale. But both are birds of salt marshes and both have rather large bills compared to other races. At any rate, the proposal to the AOU didn't pass. They wanted more studies on Belding's from north of San Francisco and more study of the San Benito form. Future research may answer the gaps in knowledge, so a split could come one day soon--if nothing else, splitting the Belding's/Large-billed group from the main Savannah Sparrows.

See my previous post on Belding's Savannah Sparrows, that also pictures a western form of the main continental Savannah Sparrow.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Closet Vikings fan

I began watching birds for a Junior High School science project in November 1972. It was also in November 1972 that I remember watching a Minnesota Vikings football game versus the Los Angeles Rams.

As I was born in Minnesota, the Vikings were a natural choice to follow. I remember the "One eyed, one horned, flying, Purple People Eater" song from grade school about 1967. The Vikings strong defensive unit of the late 1960's and early 1970's with Page, Marshall, Larsen, and Eller was named the Purple People Eaters.

In that 1972 game the Rams led 20 to 10 at half time. I think that is about the time I started watching the game. It was in the TV department of some store. That's all I really remember about where I was. It must have been in Albany, Oregon. As that is where I lived.

In the 3rd Quarter, Paul Cruse returned a Rams fumble for a touchdown for the Vikings. Then, Fran Tarkenton threw a touchdown pass that went for 76 yards to Bill Brown to put the Vikings in the lead for the first time. The Rams answered back with a touchdown of their own to take back the lead. It was now 27 to 24 in favor of the Rams and things got a bit crazy.

In the 4th Quarter, Tarkenton threw another long touchdown of 70 yards to put the Vikings up again. Both the Rams and Vikings scored twice more. When it was all over, the Vikings won, 45 to 41.

The Minnesota Vikings have been to four Super Bowls, losing in all of them, much to the delight of heckling fans of division rivals the Packers, Bears, and Lions.But those weren't the only heartbreaks for fans of the Vikings.

There were many years when I didn't watch football. But I remember the losses at the NFC Championship Games that prevented the Vikings from playing in additional Super Bowls. Former Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre played for Minnesota in 2009. After beating the Giants 44-7 and the Cowboys 34-3, they faced the New Orleans Saints in the Championship game. The Vikings were still playing tough until their 5th turn-over of the game: Favre's ill-advised throw near the end of the game was intercepted, when he could have ran a few feet for the first down and a win! Overtime ensued and the Saints won, 31-28. In 2000 the favored Vikings met the New York Giants and were embarrassed 41-0. And who could forget the 1998 game (following a 15-1 season) with the Atlanta Falcons. Kicker Gary Anderson hadn't missed a kick all year. With less than 2 minutes left he missed a game winning 38 yard field goal! There were 30 seconds left and the Vikings were driving for the winning score! With dynamic receivers Randy Moss and Chris Carter a win was almost assured! What's this? Vikings coach Denny Green had quarterback Randall Cunningham take a knee to end the game in a tie and force overtime! Of course, the Falcons naturally won.

The Vikings have been losing a lot in recent years. At the end of last year it was so bad the coaches were fired (again).

So, yesterday, in the first game of the 2014 season, under new coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings played the favored Saint Louis Rams (moved from Los Angeles in 1995). Minnesota dominated throughout the game, not losing in the final minute as they did 4 or 5 times last year. The final score was 34-6. Will they keep winning? If this was the last 2 or 3 years the answer would be definitely not. But this year? There is hope. The schedule is tough. Several pundits said the Vikings were likely to be zero wins and 8 losses to start the season. Not. But then, again, dashed hopes are the modus operandi of the Minnesota Vikings. Next week the Vikings face the heavily favored New England Patriots and Tom Brady. We'll see....

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument

Old Point Loma Lighthouse
Old Point Loma Lighthouse. Pretty, but too high up on the peninsula, thus often socked in with fog and low clouds.
Another lighthouse is placed on the tip of the peninsula, low down near the water where it is more useful.
Point Loma, San Diego, California. August 31, 2014. Greg Gillson.
This past Sunday Marlene and I visited Point Loma--the large peninsula that juts out into the ocean to create the northern edge of San Diego Bay.

San Diego Bay
San Diego Bay looking east as viewed from Point Loma.
We visited Cabrillo National Monument at the very western tip ($5 entry fee is good for an entire week!). It was in the bay just below here, in 1542, that Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo made landfall--the first Europeans to visit California.

After a brief tour of the visitor center we went back to the marina area at the base of the peninsula and had lunch at Harbor Town Pub. They had some yummy fish and chips that Marlene had been craving since leaving Oregon a year ago. I had the seared Ahi Club sandwich. Both were very good.

Point Loma
New Lighthouse (center and a bit right) and the Pacific Ocean at the tip of Point Loma.
After lunch we went back to Cabrillo and visited the tide pool areas. It was not low tide, so the tide pools were under water. I was hoping for Black Oystercatcher. This is a reliable spot for this shorebird that is fairly rare and local this far south. But it was not to be.

Point Loma tide pools
Tide Pools.
When we spent some time with the splashing surf, we went back up near the visitors center and walked around the Old Point Loma Lighthouse.

Cabrillo National Monument, Point Loma
Visitor Center with San Diego Bay in the background.
To reach Cabrillo National Monument you have to drive through Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, which is probably the best spot in San Diego for rare land birds during migration (and through winter), since it sticks out a couple miles into the Pacific, is covered in flowering trees and bushes, and usually does not freeze in winter (often stays in the 60's through much of winter winter). I still haven't figured out how to bird it, but am gathering information.

Wikipedia for Point Loma.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Image Gallery: juvenile Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper. San Elijo Lagoon, Cardiff-By-The-Sea, California. August 17, 2014. Greg Gillson.
The first juvenile Western Sandpiper of the fall that I have noted. Adults first appeared in early July. These are abundant migrants in the West on ocean beaches and mudflats inland.

The dark wing covert centers with broad, pale edges and hints of rufous on the shoulder indicate juvenile plumage--a bird perhaps 6 weeks old, just arrived from the Arctic. All 6 week-olds can migrate alone from the Arctic and find their way south to join the earlier migrating adults in South American, can't they?

Map of range of Western Sandpiper throughout the year.

Bill long (longer than head) and drooped at the tip, and black legs identify Western Sandpiper from among the smaller shorebirds of the West. Baird's Sandpiper and the rare Semipalmated Sandpiper, and the larger Dunlin are similar.

The Western Sandpiper above shows the partial webs between toes, called "semipalmated."

The scientific name of Western Sandpiper is Calidris mauri, given in 1838 by Charles Bonaparte for his friend Ernesto Mauri. Think how different European history might have been had Napoleon taken up ornithology like his nephew Charles.