Sunday, April 2, 2017

My Last Spring Break

Exactly what it says on the box. Here are some memories from one beautiful day of my last Spring Break as an undergrad, and probably ever, when my partner and I went to Natural Bridges State Beach:

Brandt's Cormorants on Natural Bridges' famous rock arch.

A cormorant with a piece of very dangerous prey - kelp. 

A Black Phoebe darting around the brackish creek entering the ocean.

The same Phoebe, in between flitting after bugs.

Alex on the Monarch Butterfly Trail.

Thank you to Alex, and to my parents, for a lovely and loving week. I'm so happy that I was able to spend my last Spring Break with the people who I love most.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The start of an end

Yesterday marked the beginning of my very last semester of college. Isn't that a trip?

Speaking of trips, my partner, Alex, and I took Monday to drive around the Bay Area a bit. We took off in the morning with no plan other than "let's go to IHOP and then somewhere pretty," and ended up going to Treasure Island, accidentally going to San Francisco, accidentally going back to Treasure Island, then on purpose going to Land's End.

(IHOP was amazing.)

(The rest was also amazing.)

My favorite pictures from our adventures:

American Crow. Treasure Island, California. January 16, 2017.

Bay Bridge towards San Francisco, California. January 16, 2017.

Bay Bridge towards Treasure Island, California. January 16, 2017.

Alex doing her thing on Treasure Island, California. January 16, 2017.

Shipping container on Treasure Island, California. January 16, 2017.

I have a migraine so I'm not going to identify this gull, but please have at it in the comments! Treasure Island, California. January 16, 2017.

Western Grebe. Treasure Island, California. January 16, 2017.

Western Grebe. Treasure Island, California. January 16, 2017.

Bay Bridge towards West Oakland, California. January 16, 2017.

Common Raven. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Common Raven. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Anna's Hummingbird. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Anna's Hummingbird. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.
Alex at Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Alex at Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Sutro Baths. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Snowy Egret. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Snowy Egret. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Snowy Egret. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Snowy Egret. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Snowy Egret. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Snowy Egret. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Towards the Pacific Ocean! Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

White-crowned Sparrow. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Hello, 2015! It's so exciting to ring in this new year. And always so surprising to look back on the previous year - how does SO MUCH happen in 12 months?? I hope all of you had good 2014s, and that 2015 is even better! One thing I highly encourage you to keep an eye on is Noah Strycker's Big Year. Noah normally holds the position of Associate Editor at Birding magazine, but as I'm sure you can imagine, his plan to travel the globe gets in the way of commodities like reliable internet connection. He's starting his year in Antarctica. You can keep up with his incredible journey at - I know I will be!

My year may not begin in Antarctica, but it's still off to a great start. And last year ended wonderfully, too. I've had some great bird experiences since my fall semester came to a close.

The day after Christmas, I sure found a lot to be thankful for. My dad and I tried to go birding at our normal haunts, but they were both closed for certain reasons. We resorted to Lake Solano Park, which is about a 40 minute drive away. This ended up being such a great choice.

I usually love watching the ducks & other waterfowl at Lake Solano, and there certainly were a lot to watch. There were a large number of Bufflehead and Goldeneyes on the water.

Those Goldeneyes gave me a pretty fun identification challenge. I already see waterfowl so rarely, and it had been an achingly long time since I had gone birding at all. I was flipping through my field guide to refresh myself on what female Bufflehead looked like when these female Goldeneyes showed up. I'm not complaining at all - it was a great chance to try out a new toy! My dad gave me a Phone Skope  for Christmas. It's a cover that slides onto your phone, tablet, iPod, or GoPro and allows you to easily line up your camera with the lens of your optics to take a picture. I got the picture below through this cute gadget:

Armed only with this picture, I pounced on two people who showed up with scopes. We hummed and hawed over the bird's beak and forehead for a while, and ended up settling on Barrow's Goldeneye mostly due to the largely yellow beak. This was a great refresher in bird identification, and an opportunity to try out a new gizmo.

I was planning on focusing on the waterfowl all morning. That plan abruptly changed when a dark shape flew overhead. It was the right size and shape for a woodpecker, but the dark coloring on the bird's underside was new to me. Most of the woodpeckers I see have white and black patterns on their bellies and underwings. I tried not to get my hopes up, but the moment I got a closer look, I couldn't deny it - this was a Lewis's Woodpecker.

I've wanted to see a Lewis's Woodpecker ever since I found out they existed. I had no idea they were right here, 40 minutes away from my house! Within moments, more came into view. There were at least 4 of these beautiful birds flying from tree to tree and pestering each other. They actually pestered each other the entire time I watched. I never expected such gorgeously colorful birds to be such jerks. (This is said out of love and adoration.)

I sent pictures of these lovely birds to probably 5 people. Everyone needs to know the gospel of the Lewis's Woodpecker.

There were plenty of other great birds in this park, too! I got to watch a Hermit Thrush scuttle along a building, a White-breasted Nuthatch creep along the bark of a few trees, and my actual target bird - a male Phainopepla that lives in this park - flutter from tree to tree.

A few days later, I got another Christmas gift. A month ago, a friend sent me a link to West Coast Falconry, a falconry center outside Yuba City. West Coast Falconry is one of only 12 places in the country with the proper permits to allow untrained civilians to hold falconry birds. They're currently offering sales on tickets to experience the birds, and I can't recommend it enough. I got a ticket to the Falconry Experience at 11:30am, where I and a number of other raptor-lovers learned about the sport, got to call a trained Harris's Hawk to our gloves, and watched her go through a number of exercises with her trainer. It was soooooo cool. When else are you going to get the chance to see a Harris's Hawk up close? Much less watch her eat, see her mantle over her prey, and watch the amazing interactions between raptor and trainer.

The second event was an Owl Encounter at 1:30pm, which both my dad and I had tickets to. This was a more sedentary experience. We sat with the other people in two rows, and the trainers carried the owls out to us. The trainers were so incredibly knowledgeable. That was already clear from the Falconry Experience, but this is where they really pulled out all the stops. They taught us about owl anatomy, evolution, and the difference between all of the species. It was SO COOL!

Barn Owl

Eurasian Eagle Owl

6 month old Spectacled Owl!

I would absolutely love to go again. This isn't the kind of experience you have every day - unless you're a falconer yourself. ;) I highly encourage you to get a ticket while the sale is still on!! It's completely worth it. But if you go in the winter.... Dress warm. It got quite chilly.

This morning, my dad and I took a good friend of mine out birding. The goal? To see Sandhill Cranes. There's a reserve in the Central Valley called the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve which is a marvelous place to see cranes. I don't think I saw any at all last year! I really missed hearing the swans and cranes flying in at the beginning of the winter.

Anyways, we headed out, and we started passing cranes along the highway more than 15 minutes away from the reserve. When we made it to the actual reserve, it turned out that there weren't a huge number of cranes there, but there were a smattering in a few fields here and there. The largest group of cranes was in a growing orchard. There were probably 30 scattered amongst the posts. I didn't get any good pictures, but you can use your imagination. It was super fun showing these gorgeous cranes to my friend. She asked the best questions about their mating habits, what they ate, where they breed - all kinds of stuff that I absolutely did not know. It was a learning experience for both of us!

It was a gorgeous, crisp day. There were plenty of other birds out, as well. We found a surprisingly accommodating Northern Shrike by the wetlands.

Further down the road, we came across a field of at least 400 Greater White-Fronted Geese, across from a huge flooded pond full of Tundra Swans. That was a great place to turn off the car's engine and sit with the windows open. I love the nasal honks of the geese, and the coos of the swans. Those calls, along with the throaty purring of the cranes, are among my favorite waterfowl sounds.

My favorite part was that I got to spend the first beautiful morning of 2015 with a great friend and my dad. This winter has been good to me so far.

I hope that your winter is also going wonderfully! Best of luck in 2015. And happy birding!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I'm joining Birding magazine!

Last November, I got the first email inviting me to do some copy-editing for the American Birding Association's Birder's Guide. Since then, I've edited a number of issues for Birder's Guide as an Assistant Copy Editor and Birding as a Copy Editor. This September, I got a very exciting email from Ted Floyd, the Editor of Birding. Their Associate Editor, Noah Strycker, is taking next year off for a massive global Big Year. His incredible goal is 5,000 species. This is the kind of amazing adventure that birders across the world dream of. And Noah is really going for it! In the meantime, he has to put aside his Associate Editor position. So Ted asked if I might be interested in standing in for him. You bet I'm interested! So here's my good news... I'm very excited to join Birding as their Associate Editor for 2015. Noah will be off adventuring the world... I'll be adventuring right here at home into the world of Birding. I'm so honored that the American Birding Association considers me a good choice for the role. And I'll give it 100% of my energy and effort! Wish me luck!

You can read Ted's write-up of the whole saga here. It's a very flattering description of me, so I urge you to read it. ;)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Sierra Nevada & The Pacific Ocean

I'm back in school! It feels like every time I get around to updating this blog, I'm somewhere new. It must feel like time travel to you readers who don't know what I'm up to every day. Anyways... Yes, school.

I'm taking this really cool environmental studies course that's a combination of environmental science and English. In the very first lecture of the class, the professors challenged us to write extra credit responses, with 2 copies of a very special book as prizes for the fastest answers. I loved the challenge itself, but of course the book was an added incentive - David Lukas' Sierra Nevada Birds. I won't bore you with the details of the response, but I'll give you this hint as to how it went:

One of the copies is MINE, and it's wonderful. This is the first bird guide that I've had that's more than just plates of images, descriptions of field marks, and range maps. Those field guides have their value, of course, but this is a whole new breed of book. Lukas writes about each of the species' natural histories. I'm learning about the birds' breeding habits, food preferences, and way more. And much of the information is collected by Lukas himself, after 15 dedicated years of hiking the Sierra Nevada. It's so good!! If you're looking for a fun & educational read about birds you can find in California, I highly recommend this guide.

In terms of real birds, I was also lucky/stubborn enough to find the time to go down to the bay this morning. It was an overcast morning - just like every other morning has been this past week. I'm starting to like the overcast quite a bit. And the birds don't mind it, either. The very first bird I came across (besides the gulls, who are always everywhere) was this Pelagic Cormorant!

I haven't seen a Pelagic Cormorant in something like 2 years. They're real cuties! I should have realized that they would be around Berkeley. This babe was on a rock right at the water level and occasionally a wave would surge up and catch its feet.

I'll have to pay more attention to the cormorants around the Bay Area, because originally I was assuming that they were all Double-crested Cormorants, which you can see below. Even from these handfuls of pictures, you can see big differences between the two species. The Pelagic Cormorant is a slick black color all over its body, with some greenish sheen to its feathers, where the Double-crested is brownish with a paler belly. The Double-crested has its famous yellow face - no other cormorants have that yellow on their faces. And their bill shapes are very different. The Pelagic has a black bill that's super thin, which makes it look way longer, while the Double-crested has a sturdier yellow bill.

And I'm just including this next picture because the cormorant looks ridiculous, and birds looking ridiculous are maybe even better than them looking elegant.

Another really fun bird surprised me when I walked around the other side of the parking lot... Two Spotted Sandpipers! The little brown and white sandpipers with their white facelines looked immediately like Spotteds, but the clinching field mark was their bobbing walk. These sandpipers wag their butt up and down enthusiastically with every step. It looks like they're tripping all over their feet everywhere they walk. They moved a bit too fast for me to get good pictures, but this picture shows the energetic butt-waggle pretty well.

There were a number of other species around the bay, such as Black Phoebes and Red-winged Blackbirds. But the most visible species of all were the gulls. I don't put even 1% of effort into identifying gulls these days, but there is one species whose adults I will always recognize... The elegantly gray Heermann's Gulls.

This was a really nice day, and I'm glad I made it out for a spot of birding, because I'm not sure how often I'll be able to go out once the school year really gets going. :P I hope all of you have been doing well! Happy birding!