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St Vitus Cathedral on the Prague Castle grounds Trial by walking - that's how I'll remember today for the rest of my natural lif...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Rambling for a Brambling

Staring doesn't necessarily bring in the bird
Twenty fifteen seems a good year for bringing in the Eurasian vagrants. Hearing there is one in Arcata, got myself and birding buddy Don on the road. We joined loads of other birders in a sweet little neighborhood, in hope of seeing a rare vagrant bird, a Brambling. We searched all Friday afternoon. We stared at shrubbery hopefully most of Saturday. We gave up, shrugged and came home on Sunday. Hey, we gave it the ole' birder's try. Of course the bird popped up again after we left. Stupid birds. Really ought to give them up - but they're so flippin' cool.

Merlin

While we waited, many other birds were far more sociable. The best one was a little hunting Merlin; a small falcon that perched high up in a pine and sat bobbing its head for a long time. I managed some digiscoped photos of it using my iPhone and my Kowa spotting scope.

I got a big surprise when a White-throated Sparrow popped up. They aren't exactly rare on the west coast, being common in the eastern states. I actually thought I must be seeing things when I noticed a 'weird' looking sparrow in a white bib. Great bird to see here in California.

White-throated Sparrow

A second 'surprise' was a beautifully dark & sooty Fox Sparrow. They too aren't rare but I don't see one every year.

Fox Sparrow looking all perky & handsome
On the drive home we stopped for some sight seeing in rainy Patrick's Point State Park. Don hiked out to view the ocean at Rocky Point for a closer view of ocean ducks and such. I refused to go out in the rain but did see a solitary dolphin passing the point. The whole of the park was alive with Varied Thrush which seem to be having a bumper crop year - these birds are being seen all over.

Varied Thrush

When not staring at shubbery in hopes of the Brambling, Don & I treked around the area in search of other feathered treats. We saw an imature Bald Eagle. I have seen more Bald Eagles in California over the past 2 years than I saw in the previous 2 decades. We also enjoyed fields and fields of Aleutian Geese, aka Cackling Geese.These once rare mini-geese grazed like sheep. There are always a few of them with heads up, keeping an eye on things.


So we did not see our target bird, the Brambling but we sure saw some splendid bits of California and its wildlife. Here are close ups of some lovely soaking wet, soggy elk we saw over the weekend.

Broke, busted, disgusted, tourists can't be trusted - Oy - Name that reference!
Damn rain. Damn tourists. Damn in general.
Never a curry comb when you need one
Real elk. Not Santa's throw rug.
 So it was a lovely weekend, even with rain and no sighting of a Brambling. The highlight turned out to be visiting Sunday evening with Don's daughter Rose & son-in-law Nate. That pair are awesome and they entertained us with their well trained pets. First there was little 'George', whom I swear is the only trained Chihuahua I have ever met. That pup sits, lies down on command, gives high fives and is cuter than any doggie has a right to be. Oh, and Nate & Rose have chinchillas - adorable, sweet, chinchillas that like to be held and will hold up an ear for you to scratch behind. *heaven!* Rose made us a wonderful home made soup & salad for dinner. A young couple that not only know where the kitchen is, but how to use it! Brambling, or no Brambling, it was a wonderful weekend.  

UPDATE:  Here's a gorgeous photo of the Brambling, taken by a premier California birder, Rob Fowler. I couldn't get a shot that good meself unless the bird in question were glued to a twig.
WAAAHHH! Why didn't we get to see this beauty?

Monday, January 12, 2015

My Wild Goose Chase

What is the point of retirement, if you can't occasionally skitter off on the odd wild goose chase? In this instance I heard about a specific wild goose. It abandoned its Eurasian habitat, flying into Oregon, where it made itself all comfy at the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This particular 'rarity' bird is a Tundra Bean-Goose. As the bird has stayed put since early November, I decided it would likely to stay put long enough for me to see it.

The trek up to northern Oregon took half of forever - or so it felt. When I drove through the winding back roads onto the refuge, I looked over my shoulder, out the car window, through the trees, thinking 'the only silly goose here is me'. Then I saw the goose... there it was, grazing grass with its new buddies, a flock of Cackling Geese. Hurrah! I quickly ditched the car and hurried to take some opening shots of the goose with my camera. The bird was so far off, and getting a decent photo was a challenge.
The goose in the midst of Cackling Geese
I had to bring out the 'big gun', my spotting scope, and try for a digiscoped shot with my iPhone and Kowa spotting scope. Took me a while to get my iPhone rigged to the scope and even then I only managed two decent still shots.
Spot-billed, orange-legged and rare in these parts
Two decent shots beats the ole poke in the eye, right? It was late in the afternoon and when some other birders arrived. They introduced themselves; Ken & Barbie - sounded familiar somehow. They just flew in from the east coast to see this goose and get in some other Oregon birding. I was quite happy to share my scope with them. We also shared tales of birding around the country. By the time we were done chatting, it was approaching dark. I used the last bits of daylight to shoot some video of the goose. The honk near the end is not the goose, but Ken & Barbie bidding farewell to all friends, feathered and unfeathered.

This little video was shot with my iPhone 5, through my Kowa spotting scope.