twitching update

in the last few days I have twitched (travelled specifically to see)

a Vermilion Flycatcher (4th state record and first since 1995)

a Common Gallinule (basically a Moorhen)

a Pacific Loon

this is what happens when you are spending time somewhere where there isn’t much to do out of season (obvs I am not currently in God’s own city)

I have just googled the vermilion flycatcher. 

It did not look as I expected, it’s a funny bright red tiny flying blob.  

Like a particularly angry sparrow. 

What would you say were the best birds you've seen over there?  I was over in Virginia briefly earlier this year, and although the very first birds I saw were introduced/invasive European house sparrows and European starlings, there were some pretty neat birds around - all pretty common, but to the UK birder, new and interesting.  I thought the bright splash of red of a cardinal was amazing, the bright yellow of an American goldfinch (so different to the European version, which is also an extremely neat bird), the blues of eastern bluebirds and indigo buntings, and when a red-headed woodpecker flew past - wow!  (Sadly I never got to see the larger pileated woodpecker.)  Then there were the birds that were similar but just a little different - an American robin behaves so similarly to our blackbird, but has that red breast; the blue jay acts similarly to the European jay; the purple martin zips around like a larger darker house martin, etc.  I can't understand why, even though the ecological impact of introduced species wasn't understood then, we wanted to release English birds in America.  

Have you seen a hummingbird yet?  I staked out a bunch of firecracker flowers (Russelia), which I know sunbirds like, at the place I was staying hoping that one would show up, but never got lucky.  It's nothing short of amazing how such tiny creatures get up as far north as southeastern Canada.  

Scylla - I was in Sydney once for a couple of weeks but in the only free time I had I went climbing in the Blue Mountains as I was more in to that then 

as an aside, the first time I kissed my now wife was in a multi story car park in Sydney on that trip 

My father saw a bird here yesterday, that he has never seen before, a pair of Black Koel. 

They are called the Storm Birds here.. as they usually start calling out very loudly before rain. 

And guess who is completely flooded in today after massive storms overnight?!  


stupid cursed birds. 

Pez - this is my family summer home from when I was growing up so the birds aren’t all that new to me. I also band birds 2-5 days a week when I am here during fall and spring migration. My personal best bird from this trip is Black-throated Blue Warbler which I had not seen in the hand before but I have now banded 6. I have seen Pileated Woodpecker near my sister’s house in Missouri and it is a magnificent bird.
The only regular hummer here is Ruby-throated, which I see at my Dad’s feeders in season and which I have extracted from mist nets but can’t band (you need special training which my banding pal has done do she can band them). I have seen many more in Ecuador but that is a different story.

@Merkz - gotcha, so it's our birds that are/were new and different to you!  Were you already into birding when you came over, or was that something you picked up over here? 

@Scylla - do your black koels start calling ridiculously early in the morning?  The ones in Singapore and elsewhere in East Asia do - if shotguns were allowed in Singers there would be a fusillade of gunshots at around 5.30am every morning.  The mistle thrush here is sometimes called the "storm cock" because of its habit of singing in high winds - I have seen one do exactly that, high in a tall tree in Regent's Park in steadily gathering wind.  A most handsome bird with great character.  

Had to go to the SF Bay Area this year and, given that it was a 10 hour flight, went over a couple days before - which allowed a fair bit of birding in a city I'd never visited.  Once again I was in the enjoyable situation of seeing lots of birds that were different and interesting, although in many cases they behave very similarly to the ones at home.  A skipping dark thrush acting very much like a blackbird turns out to have a distinctly red breast - an American robin.  There's a flock of nondescript finches foraging in dry grass - on a closer look some have rosy-pink heads - house finches.  Then there are others that are truly different.  Late afternoon on my first day - a tiny bird flits across the road near the visitor centre at the Presidio and perches up in a bush.  It's got a long narrow bill and all of a sudden its head lights up bright pink - an Anna's hummingbird.  

San Fran is a pretty interesting place - the great gateway facing the Pacific, with Cantonese being the second most frequent language I heard and with signs in Tagalog and Chinese as well as Spanish and English.  Traffic of all kinds, including formations of cormorants and pelicans, enters the massive natural harbour via the Golden Gate, which would be an impressive enough sight even without the massive iconic bridge that spans it, a pretty incredible piece of engineering the scale of which one only really appreciates when you're on it and a massive tanker passes well beneath you - or when you see two Marine helicopter gunships fly under it.  I didn't fully appreciate how windy it would be - big brown pelicans effortlessly holding station in the updrafts at either end, eight to ten pound birds needing only to trim their wings in order to stay in position.  I didn't see the peregrines I was after at the Marin Headlands at the north end of the bridge but partly made up for the disappointment by having two red-tailed hawks come by really close, clearly less than bothered by the throngs of people snapping selfies up on the Spencer Battery.  

Birding in the parks was a quieter experience and arguably even more rewarding, although the grey and sometimes drizzly/misty mornings were not quite what I'd expected.  I tramped around the Golden Gate Park trying to find Cooper's hawks, to no avail, but was pointed by another birder to a Allen's hummingbird sheltering from the weather, its orange throat gorget glowing like a tiny fireball in the gloom.   Later that morning the Anna's hummingbirds were buzzing (literally) near a stand of firecracker flowers.  That nectar they sip must have the calorific value of rocket fuel as the males were in constant high-speed motion - driving off intruders, zooming up and down to impress the ladies so quickly it was ridiculous.  I mean I've seen peregrines go fast, but for such a tiny bird to achieve an estimated 40mph (per BBC Natural History Unit) was ridiculous.  On my last day, after tramping around the Presidio after the Cooper's hawks that were supposed to be around El Polin spring, I realized the conditions were sh1te for spotting accipiters but well nigh perfect for peregrines, jumped on a bus, and after hauling myself up Telegraph Hill (I hadn't fully realized how up and down SF was, either) and a further 234 steps up the Colt Tower, got to see the male of the downtown SF pair hunting from the Transamerica Pyramid, unfortunately each time going past my position so I never got to see what he was after.  After coming down from the viewpoint the garden on the hilltop was alive with hummingbirds (again), their colours brilliant in the afternoon sun that also lit up a flock of red-masked parakeets flying around the shoulder of the hill.  A great finish to a great afternoon's birding.  

I miss SF, but only a little.  On the very first day's birding upon my return my local pair of hobbies were up and flying beautifully - incredibly aerial birds with a lightness and delicacy on the wing that is wonderful to watch when they accelerate into rapid flight.  A fortnight ago I'd seen a group of eight to ten at Rainham, but then they were lazily catching insects, tanking up after the long migration from Africa.  This pair were making sure everyone knew their territory was occupied with big showy high-speed ups and downs, ending with both birds flying as one in a spectacular synchronized display.  At times like this, as American ornithologist Joseph Hagar once said, you feel the impulse to stand and cheer.  When I were a lad I never thought I'd see sights like this a short bus ride from home, now every weekend holds the promise of wonder and awe.  It's one of the few aspects of my life free from stress and worry and for that I'm grateful beyond words.  

A little earlier, taking a break from the docs I'd been so assiduously blozzing.  Thought about going up to the rooftop, but didn't have binos handy, and peregrines are damnably hard to follow without them.  Staring vacantly thoughtfully out the glass door to the little balcony just outside my fifth floor office, wondering what I could usefully do in five minutes...

...and all of a sudden a little tawny flicker caught my eye as a small bird flitted in and landed up on one of the balcony chairs.  For a few moments it just stood there, looking about, occasionally flicking its tail, while I tried to figure out what it was.  It was a kind of nondescript brown, larger than a finch or a house sparrow - not a black redstart (which you sometimes see on the neighbouring rooftops).  I thought about the spotted flycatcher I'd seen at Walthamstow a fortnight ago, darting from a high tree branch after its prey, but it wasn't that.  Then I noticed the patch of white on its chin, so to speak.  A whitethroat - a migratory warbler, leaving UK's the woodland and hedgerow with the summer; the urban jungle of EC1's rooftops just one of the obstacles  to be crossed on the long and hazardous migration to Africa.  

In a flash it was airborne, going to some potted plants, presumably looking for insects.  A moment later it darted out of sight.  It was only there for a few moments.  But thank you, little bird, for bringing that fleeting, yet vivid memory of grace and beauty into my world.  

“what the fvck IS this place? nothing to eat, everything is concrete or glass, nearly all the humans look stressed and unhappy…. and why is that weird human staring at me goggle eyed? bollocks I’m off”