Thursday, December 13, 2012

As the bird turns

Is that soap opera still going?

John's big year is a bit like a soap opera. Yesterday, when I tried to post my 12/12/12 blog, it kept balking. New Motel 6, in Williams, new internet connection, the blog posted!

The last Motel 6 also had very noisy tenants, especially between 3 and 5 AM. Consequently, I am really tired tonight.

Back to business, this AM we woke a bit late, got to Rush Ranch about 8:30 AM. Heavy dew, and some frost on the trail to Mallard Marsh. We were hoping for some Black Rail conversations, but they were silent. Somebody else was making chipping, chortling, tootling calls, thrasher? parrot? I saw a large dark ball on the trail ahead, then two large dark balls, wiggle-waggle, rub on the trail, somersault, skinny tail, RIVER OTTERS! John got some pictures. The otters went off the trail. There was even more noise. We got up to the spot where we last saw the otters. Three otters were tumbling and grumbling in the reeds right at our feet, too close for John to take pictures. A fourth otter was grunting from the other side of the trail. Finally, the otters declared a cease-fire. With hardly a glance at us, one crossed the trail to join the fourth otter, the other two went further into the reeds. SO COOL!

Next stop, Novato, for a reported Black Rail. We arrived well before high tide. There was lots of salicornia, John thinks they like that, and the tide kept coming in until all of it was covered. No little black chicks emerged. John saw a little bird, rounded wings, short tail, zoom from the tidal flat into a cattail marsh, but it was not enough of a sighting to call it anything. Nearby, we found a large lake and more than 300 Common Goldeneyes! Oh, and one clearly marked Barrow's Goldeneye male.

Now, we headed back to Robinson Road, arriving about 2:30 PM, last chance for the Mountain Plover. We were looking at every blade of grass, every dirt clod, every meadowlark. We were almost to the end of the best areas. I looked way out to the right. There was a beigy brown bird back. Was it just another meadowlark? A Killdeer? I got John on it with his 18 power image stabilized binoculars. THE BIRD TURNED! Big white belly, beigy brown throat and collar. Mountain Plover! I got out the telescope, the bird turned away and squatted. Then it took off and at least one other flew away with it. This sighting wasn't good enough for a life bird, but was plenty good enough for his big year list. 682 

Hurry, hurry to beat the sunset! Colusa Wildlife Refuge on Highway 20. Several people were still on the viewing platform. The Falcated Duck had just swum behind an island of reeds. It never reappeared. A ranger stopped by and tried to help us spot it from a side trail. Nope, too dark, have to come back in the morning. Fingers crossed!


  1. My 2012 Big Year bird of the day Dec 13 was also a Mountain Plover seen near Pearsall, Tx.

    I meet John on a pelagic trip out of San Diego in August. I told him I had been keeping track of his Big Year via your blog postings, which I've enjoyed very much. My wife Dorothy helps me with my blog.

    I have not been able to spend as much time as John on the Big Year pursuit, but I'm pleased to be at 635 for the year. My goal for the year was 650. With CBC commitments and family obligations for Christmas, it will be very difficult to make the goal. Maybe I'll consider this year a good learning experience and give it another try in a few years.

    Good luck John. Hope to see you again.

    1. Another try! Over my dead body!

      John was very impressed with your total. I am sure your viewing of the MOPL was better than ours.