Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Double Red Letter Day Plus!!!

What a day we had today. After spending 7 hours yesterday in which over half the time it was raining, we only had a near miss on seeing the brown shrike up here just north of Arcata, CA. I had flown into San Fran 2 days ago and Wes picked me up for our 6 hour drive up to Arcata. We were at the brown shrike site about 9 AM where we found Martin Meyers, a very good birder from Nevada that I had met earlier this year.

The rain started soon after we began our stake-out. Over the next 6 hours we saw 1 fly-by that could have been the shrike, and heard what we thought was the shrike call twice, but we could not find the bird. We did see lots of sparrows including swamp, song, lincoln's and white-crowned.

At 3 we saw 2 birders on the other side of the north pond high fiving. We made the error of moving towards their position instead of looping around the other direction in order to get across the wet area to be in the right place to try for the bird. They moved to where we should have been and found the bird again, but by the time we got there it had disappeared. Now it was 3:30 and we decided to call it a day.

This morning we were out birding first in the Loleta bottoms hoping to see a gyrfalcon that had been spotted there 3 days ago. John Spahr had joined us. He is the birder who has birded often with Bob Ake this year, and as a result he arrived in Arcata with 699 birds for his full ABA area big year. We found no gyrfalcon this morning, but saw lots of shorebirds including 20 pacific golden plovers, an equal number of black-bellied plovers, many killdeer, wilson's snipe and dunlins.

We finally made it to the shrike site about 10 under overcast but dry skies. Wes set up his scope at the spot that the birders from yesterday afternoon had 1st seen the bird. John, Martin and I fanned out looking for the bird toward the south pond. We talked to a woman birder from Phoenix, AZ that I had met on some pelagic trips back in late May out of Hatteras, NC. She had heard the shrike, and another birder had seen it briefly about 8:30. The photo above of the brown shrike was taken by Sean McAllister a couple of weeks ago.

At 11:20 Wes calls me on my cell and says to come to him that they were looking at the shrike in his scope. I was probably 300 yards away, and by the time I got to him the shrike had disappeared. Fortunately 15 minutes later it reappeared and I was able to get a brief look at it sitting about 1 foot off the ground in a bush. John, however, did not find it. Soon it began to lightly rain, so we went into town to regroup and have some lunch. After eating John decided to go back to look for the shrike.

Wes and I headed back down to the Loleta bottoms to look some more for the gyrfalcon. Martin met us there. Just as we turned onto Cannibal Island rd. we saw a huge number of blackbirds and starlings flying across the road. Right behind them we saw a gyrfalcon chasing after them. It circled back around and we proceeded to chase it down the road. We briefly lost sight of it, so we stopped to scan the area. We looked up on the wires to find it sitting only about 100 feet from us. When we got out of the car it flew off, and we lost it again as it flew towards a large red dairy barn.

We drove the length of Cannibal Island rd scanning for it, but did not relocate it. On the way back we checked out the shorebirds again. Then Wes and I saw a large group of gulls feeding in a dairy pasture. We drove down to see what all was there. We found lots of mew gulls, and glaucous-winged gulls, a few herring and thayer's gulls, 2 or 3 western gulls, a glaucous gull, and a slaty-backed gull. I had been hoping to see a slaty-backed this month because there have been a few found in recent years on the west coast. The only 1 confirmed this year in the lower 48 states was up in Wisconsin about 3 weeks ago.

When we got back to our motel we heard from John that he did get to see the shrike this afternoon, so he is now the 12th person to see at least 700 birds in the full ABA area in a calendar year. And on Thursday in Newfoundland Bob Ake saw a black-tailed gull which raised his total to 728. He is now all alone in 2nd place for a full ABA area big year. He will be here tomorrow to look again for the shrike.

For the first 2 days of week #50 we saw 51 birds. The brown shrike and gyrfalcon are both life birds (for Wes too) as well as new year birds. The slaty-backed gull is also a new year bird. So this post is justifiably titled A Double Red Letter Day Plus. The YTD is now at 701 which makes me the first birder to see 700 or more birds in a calendar year in just the lower 48 states.

Tomorrow Wes and I will bird in this area some more, including trying in the morning to get some photos of the shrike. I will be back in San Francisco tomorrow nite so that I can fly to Minneapolis on Monday. I will then drive to Valley City, ND to look for both common and hoary redpolls that have been visiting a feeder at a home there. Stay tuned!


  1. Awesome! Congratulations on both birds. Here's to wishing you at least two more rarities in the lower 48!

  2. Way to go! Hope you'll be able to fly into Minnesota tomorrow what with all the snow they've been having- Good Luck, your almost there.