Sunday, February 8, 2015

Talking Rustic Bunting and Common Scoter!

On Thursday night I finally decided to make a spur of the moment trip to northern California to try to see a rustic bunting (code 3) and a common scoter--the first ever recorded in the ABA area.  The bunting has been hanging out in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco for over 3 weeks.  Neil Hayward flew out on Thursday, and was able to photograph it that afternoon (the 4 photos of the 2 birds were all taken by Neil--click on any photo to enlarge).  I had delayed making the decision to go out because northern California is experiencing a pineapple express after having recorded the driest January in its history.

I arrived in SF at 1:40 on Friday, and was at the park at 3 PM.  It was pretty windy, with rain often flying sideways.  I found 2 birders from the Philadelphia area.  One of them recognized me from when we first met on a Debi Shearwater pelagic trip during my lower 48 big year in 2010.  Soon 3 birders from the Boston area showed up.  Neil had told me to look for them.  Two of them were Steve Moore and Barbara Volkle who I had also met in 2010 when they helped me join a Christmas bird count on the north shore of Boston in hopes of adding a thick-billed murre to my year total.  

The Philly birders first located the rustic bunting feeding with a group of juncos under some redwoods.  We only were able to watch it for a couple of minutes before it flew up into the trees.  With the weather getting worse, soon everyone else decided to call it a day.  I waited a bit for Neil to return from seeing the common scoter.  We went to have an early dinner at Hunan--a chinese restaurant that I have been returning to for 35 years.  After a nice meal, Neil headed down to the airport to check into his motel to be ready to fly to Texas at 6 AM on Saturday to try to see a gray-crowned yellowthroat and a white-throated thrush at Estero Llano Grande SP.  I pointed my car north to begin a 5 hour drive to Eureka.  It was one of the worst night drives in wind and rain that I have ever made, but I was checked in to my motel by 11:30 PM.

I was back in my car at 6:15 AM Saturday to cover the last 80 miles of the trip.  When I arrived at Crescent City, the wind was blowing quite hard, but the rain was just intermittent.  The common scoter was in the marina in the water right below the small shelter.

Within 15 minutes there were 25-30 birders spread around looking at the scoter.  The 2 Philly birders were there.  I met a young birder from Orange County, CA who recognized me from my blog.  I mentioned him to Neil who said he thought he was the guy who set the Orange County big year record last year.  It was no surprise that so many birders had come from near and far to see a potential new addition to the ABA area bird list.

After an hour of enjoying this very sleek and elegant scoter, I decided I needed some breakfast which proved to be a bit of work since the storm had knocked power out for much of Crescent City.  I stopped for another look at the scoter before I began my drive back towards San Francisco.  Even though Rob Fowler, a top birder in the Eureka/Arcata area, had responded to my email to say for over 2 weeks no one had seen the brambling that was first found in January,  I stopped in Arcata to look for it.  By noon the sun was out, and the temp was 66 degrees.  While I was staking out the feeders at 1740 Buttermilk Lane, a birder from Florida stopped by as well.  She was also on her way back from seeing the scoter.  After over an hour of seeing only many juncos, pine siskins, house sparrows and finches, and a couple of stellar jays, we both decided to move on.

I was up this morning early again to stop for a second time at Golden Gate Park.  When I arrived the rain was coming down, but the wind was much less than on Friday.  I met a birder from the Bay area who had seen the rustic bunting just before I got there.  It was with juncos and a few sparrows. A young couple arrived next, but with them also came heavier rain.  They told me they were on their way to Washington state from Arizona, and stopped in to try for the rustic bunting.  Next up for them would be the common scoter. 

About 8 AM a woman who I had met on Friday afternoon stopped in again to spread more bird seed.  Apparently when the bunting was first found, she decided to keep putting out bird seed for it, which may be why it has stayed around for so long making so many birders very happy.  About 9:30 we began to see a few juncos feeding along the edge of the shrubbery.  We changed positions, and were able to find the bunting further back in.  We got some nice views, some as close as 10-15 feet away.  When the bunting flew up into the taller trees, and with the wind picking up along with the rainfall, we all headed back to our cars.  I will be flying back to North Carolina tomorrow morning, and feeling very pleased with finding both these rarities. 

No comments:

Post a Comment