10-18-06 and on 'til sunrise...

Cricket and I have been not-so-secretly thinking a home for a while. Our thinking began more than 2 years ago when the market was probably better, and I was excited for a little while. We went to a few open houses. We met with a strange husband-and-wife-team in South San Francisco that had been recommended by a friend. They owned an equally strange mortgage brokerage real estate business-thing neither Cricket nor I completely understood. They ran the numbers and said they could have us in a house in no time. How did we feel about an 45 minute to 1 hour commute...? I lost interest and things just never happened. Cricket kept thinking...

You see, she had saved like crazy since she was a teenager, and before we got married she told me quite earnestly that she'd live anywhere if we could be together BUT she would never live in a trailer... She wanted a real home. Ok, I said. And the wedding soon followed.

That was the end of it for a while. There was little or no discussion for many months, three years in fact. We'd visited France, Costa Rica and Australia in that time... We'd seen Resplendent Quetzal, Southern Cassowary and even Yellow Rail. I hadn't been thinking about a home, in other words. Earlier though I had inherited some money from my grandmother but I did a dumb thing and just put it into a money market account for several years where it earned an embarrasingly low interest. I had no other savings but that money was still sitting there.

...And sitting there.

It was all so complicated. The whole 30-year mortgage thing, the piles of papers and the reality of our modest incomes just gave me a headache. A home. Yeah, sure... But Cricket was still dreaming. She'd been living in the same apartment for almost 10 years and I... well, I'd flitted from crummy room to crummy room in a typical bachelor fashion not considering the future.

Soon we were celebrating our 3rd anniversary in Australia. We went to the opera for the first time and drove on the wrong side of the road. We'd eaten kangaroo together. My parents had meanwhile moved to Foster City where they'd bought a lovely place on the water. It got us thinking again. They did it, maybe we could too. So we ramped up our efforts. We made some calls. We called Tracy Southerland, the same mortgage advisor that helped my parents, and she spoke very reassuringly to us. Ok, we thought. so far so good... There was also Nicole Aaron, the same real estate agent that helped my parents, who met with us and took down some notes. No trailers. No 45 minute commutes... she summarized. Then came the looking for us, the nervous would-be buyers. Home after home each Sunday until we began to feel like it might just happen. We saw maybe 50 properties by the end of it all. Some we liked and some we didn't. One we almost made an offer on, but something held us back. It just didn't feel right.

Then came the house in Mountain View. Bigger than anything else we'd seen. Two stories, three bedrooms, a redwood deck and a gas fireplace... There was an office for each of us, and vaulted ceilings. Sold! It wasn't long before we were signing papers and faxing forms late at night to the title company. That was an experience in itself, but the result of it all was that we soon had the keys and our parents were helping us move things into our new place. Later, some other wonderful wonderful friends of ours agreed to help us move the really heavy stuff and start the serious moving, namely Leonie Batkin, Kay Matthews, Eric Goodill, Ashutosh Sinha, Brian Christman, and Nicolai Lokteff (the Russian)... Before we knew it we were moved in with piles of boxes in every room. Leonie had prepared a lunch banquet for us all, and after two truck loads of items, we were eating in our new living room.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged us to make this significant jump toward adulthood. We love our new home, and we love entertaining friends in it. We hope many of you will be able to see it soon and share a meal at our great big dining room table!


After we discussed the concept of "reverse migration" in Tropical Kingbirds in class it occurred to me it would be helpful if I forwarded some excerpts from the CalBird thread to everyone. Below you will find two posts, the first by Kimball Garrett, a noted California bird authority. His general assertion, which challenges an earlier message sent by Thomas Miko, Kimball asserts that the arrival of Tropical Kingbirds in our area is due, primarily, to simple errors in navigation. This explanation seemed odd to me, as I mentioned in class, because of the near total absence of other Kingbirds during winter... Why should one species be cursed with such poor a navigation system, I thought? What is so improbable about a population of birds within a species, choosing to colonize an area outside their normal winter range?

I was pleased to read this morning the comments of another subsriber, Nate Dias, who seems to agree that the possible development of a new migration path is not such a crazy idea. The behavior has been noted in other species such as Blackcaps in the UK, supporting the idea that odd, or unexpected changes in migratory routes may actually be adaptations. These changes in route may actually develope in very short times, say a decade, and then become programmed into the birds' genetic makeup. Species, perhaps initially wander into areas by accident, but over time, can repeat the error. When they find food available in these new areas which are not "programmed" into their migration patterns, a pattern begins to develope. As well, newly colonized areas may have fewer other species competing for this food source... So, why not remain through the season, since the living is easy...?

I think what is important to remember is that migration has always been an dynamic process. It has developed over generations in response to food availability, weather conditions, shelter and nesting opportunities. It is beautifully organized and precisely timed. It has also remained essentially unchanged for many generations, but has on occasion shifted perceptibly in astoundingly short order. This sudden shift, often visible from one year to the next, is uncommon but is usually in response to changes in the environment, ie. food, nesting, etc. If this were not the case, species simply could not survive in the face of natural disasters. Nature has an uncanny way of finding its way around new obstacles, like water around a rock. It possesses a remarkable flexibility and adaptability. It also has a way of exploiting opportunities that may arise in an equally unscheduled fashion. Think of how plants rush to exploit the rich soil exposed when a large rock is overturned. This flexibility its limits however. Too many obstacles however, and a dynamic system fails, as we have unfortunately seen with some recently lost species.

Since the arrival of the Tropical Kingbird is a dependable situation, especially along the coast, how can we pass the 12-15 or so birds currently in the bay area as simple errors? Is it not possible this is an expansion of winter range, or an alternate migratory route, albeit uncommon in the species?

<<<<< From Kimball:

Tom et al.,

I am reluctant to wade into this, but fearing that the birding "audience" out there is going to come away from this thread with a very twisted understanding of bird migration, I had to throw in my 2 cents worth. One of the true migration biologists on Calbirds can certainly add a more coherent and correct version of what I am about to say, but perhaps their time is better spent doing biology...

Bird migration is a highly evolved phenomenon that essentially takes advantage of seasonal differences in resource availability in different regions. Most migration patterns are completely or almost completely innate - birds are programmed to go where they go when they go there. (The very interesting phenomenon of less hard-wired "facultative" migration is a different matter). An individual bird does not sit there and think "Hey, I'll go to California instead of southern Mexico (or wherever) because I have a feeling things are better there." In fact,
most of the Tropical Kingbirds (and other "reverse migrants" from the northern Neotropics) are hatch-year birds. They have no clue where California is and what is there once they get there. They're hard-wired to go southward (more or less) after the breeding season, and some individuals simply go the wrong way. [Once one successfully winters in California, that's a different matter - birds are also programmed to repeat migration routes that are successful.]

Our Tropical Kingbirds, etc., have merely gone the "wrong" direction. [By the way, I very much doubt they come from "Southeast Arizona" - there probably aren't more than a couple of dozen nesting pairs of TKs in Arizona, as opposed to hundreds of thousands farther south in Sonora, Sinaloa, etc.]. This "reverse migration" isn't limited to Neotropical birds - just ask the folks in the Canadian Maritimes, n./nw. Alaska, etc. about North American birds that go north in fall by mistake.

In short, Tom's suggestion that Tropical Kingbirds (etc.) reach California in fall from the south because they have made a strategic ecological "decision" to do so flies in the face of all we know about bird migration. Believe me, the resources (=insects) these kingbirds need to get through the winter are much more available in central and southern Mexico, etc., than they are here in California. It's possible that all of our plantings and the abundance of certain insects (like introduced honeybees) make it more likely now than a century or more ago that TKs will survive the winter in California, but it seems highly unlikely that a northward migration strategy has evolved in that time frame. [I acknowledge that very interesting work in Europe and elsewhere has shown that novel migration strategies can evolve rapidly, but no such work has been done on the phenomenon of northern Neotropical birds going north in fall.]. Even if our wintering TKs return to Mexico to breed and their offspring show a genetically-based tendency to go north like their parent, this is still a far cry from the "Dude, I think I'll try California" theory Tom espoused.

Thanks to Steve Hampton for pointing out the work of Dave DeSante that demonstrates (at least in some cases) that misorientation is more likely to be 180 degree off than other vectors. So perhaps TKs do go north more often than they inappropriately go west (not a good strategy if you've hatched on the west coast of Mexico) or east. But it's still misorientation, not a pre-planned vacation.


<<<<<< from Nate:


I am afraid I have trouble with this statement, having had experience in recent years with so many Cave Swallows' recent "ecological decision" to head north and winter along the U.S. East Coast (when so many more insects are available south of the border). This is a well-documented phenomenon with hundreds, probably thousands of individuals involved annually.

I also do not believe the propensity of Tropical Kingbirds to winter in coastal CA is 100% due to (180 degree) misoriented internal compasses. If this were the case, why aren't multiple Thick-billed Kingbirds found wintering each year in coastal CA? Or Fork-tailed Flycatchers? Or ...

Nate Dias - Charleston, SC (formerly SF, CA)



SFBBO Fall Challenge 10-08-06

My team "The DeDUCKtions" toured portions of Santa Clara County yesterday. We concentrated on two major areas: the eastern hills beginning at Alum Rock, and then Ed Levin Park, and after that, the bay, making several stops in Alviso before continuing to Shoreline where we finished birding. Sounds reasonable enough, but our original plan also included the western hills... oh, well.

Our team included myself, Kelly Dodder, Eric Goodill, Leonie Batkin, Ashutosh Sinha, Geoff Baum, Phil Lacroute, Janet Hanson, Janice Smith and Sandy Moore.

We gathered at Alum Rock Park at 7:00 where our first bird Wild Turkey was seen along the entrance road. Within minutes we had also logged Band-tailed Pigeon, California Towhee, Acorn Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Dark-eyed Junco and both Crowned Sparrows. Despite a long walk through the sulfur springs area, no additional birds were seen in that area.

We hiked up the chaparral trail from the parking lot where Rufous-crowned Sparrow was easily coaxed out of the underbrush. As we climbed both Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks were seen overhead. Also in this area were Spotted Towhee, California Thrasher and Song Sparrow. We continued up to the eucalyptus grove where we encountered Hutton's Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped and Townsend's Warblers, Anna's Hummingbird, California Quail, Hermit Thrush and Fox Sparrow. A Red-breasted Sapsucker flew into one of the tall trees, representing a FOS bird for many of us. Returning to the lot, we crossed the stone bridge toward the visitors center and found several more species, most notably a Wilson's Warbler, Hairy Woodpecker, and several Brown Creepers.

Sensing it was getting late (close to 10:00 now), we relocated the cars to the Rustic Lands picnic area. We walked along the road back to the rock wall by the overpass, hoping to see an Owl in the crevices or a Rock Wren, but neither appeared. We returned to the cars via the picnic area and began to worry about the birds we had not yet seen... American Robin and White-breasted Nuthatch. Turkey Vultures were now circling over the ridge. Yeah!

Next stop was Ed Levin Park where surprisingly little was added to our list. We hiked up to the sycamore grove where perhaps we would find something lingering in the trees. Lincoln's Sparrow was seen in the fennel on our way, but otherwise it was spooky how quiet it was. Say's Phoebe, Belted KIngfisher, American Coot, Mallard, American Kestrel, Golden Eagle were all seen eventually. but it was obvious that we should move on and cut our losses. Before we left altogether, we did a circle around the lower picnic area where we found evidence of Owls, like feathers and pellets, but we couldn't count those unfortunately.

We made our way to Alviso where we had several stops on the itinerary. The Environmental Education Center (EEC) was a perfect place for our lunch at 1:00, and as we drove in nine or more species were suddenly added to the list. Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Western and Least Sandpipers. As well there were Loggerhead Shrike and Osprey. The covered observation area was a nice place to regroup and while we ate an adult Peregrine Falcon buzzed by at low altitude, frightening the various smaller birds. Northern Harrier coursed over the marsh and Double-crested Cormorants criss-crossed the sky. Next we walked the boardwalk finding Willet and Dunlin as well as all of the earlier Shorebirds. Once on the levy we were able to get a good look at the Gull mob and identified Western, Ring-billed, California and Thayer's. We also had fly over Herrring and Glaucous-winged Gulls. White Pelicans were numerous and a string of 14 Brown Pelicans flew beyond the distant shore. Ducks were now a frequent sight with Northern Shoveler and Ruddy Ducks dominating the group. Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall and Mallard were present as well. We continued in a clockwise direction, stopping near the marsh grass. Common Yellowthroat was seen briefly, but we could not find any Marsh Wrens... curious. A Barn Owl was visible (with difficulty) in the nest box in the trees over the channel. It was now after 3:00. Yikes.

We opted to drive slowly back toward the entrance and walk the tracks. Nothing unusual new was located here however, save several Black-bellied Plovers. So it was off to State and Spreckles next where the "Peep-show" was astounding. Least and Western were abundant, numbering many many hundreds of birds, as were Dunlin. Again, nothing new in that order, but both Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes were represented by a single bird each. We also had a single Barn Swallow perched on a wire near the maintenance facility. Dean Manly pulled up to look at the birds and several members spoke with him, discovering that he had not been able to find the Cattle Egret earlier in the day. That gave us cause for concern, but we were still planning on giving it a try.

We made a quick loop through town, visiting the Alviso Marina to pick up anything we could. Another Barn Swallow and a new Cliff Swallow, as well as Clark's Grebe.

Driving along Disc Drive were finally able to locate Western Meadowlark, as well as Burrowing Owl on the field to the right of the road as we drove toward Jubilee Church. Eager to pick up any rare, or recently reported birds, we stopped in the Jubilee Church lot to look toward Arzino Ranch. It was difficult to see much because of the tall grass and the fence obscuring our view, but we were finally able to see the Cattle Egret as it occasionally popped its head up above the growth, and eventually flew to an open area. At this point, the sun was about two hands above the horizon, so we knew we'd better start moving faster. As we made our way to Hwy 237 a large flock of dark birds, European Starlings we surmised, was balling up in mid air in defense maneuver as a Cooper's Hawk shot back and forth in attack. Very exciting. It's after 4:00.

We were all tired now and the walk out to the radar station at Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Ponds (SWPCP) was a little daunting. The channel on the left is now completely drained, leaving little habitat for Green Heron or Common Moorhen, while on the right side of the levy, the water was abnormally high. We saw Common Moorhen further out, near the pumps, but Green Heron eluded us. Once at the pumps we saw Mary Ann Allen there who reported the she had not seen the Franklin's Gull. We looked anyway, finding Forster's Terns and a single Mew Gull in the large pond. Northern Pintails were now added to the list as was Green-winged Teal. Thanks Mary Ann!

The light was visibly getting golden and we made a quick decision about what to do next. Our original plan was now completely out the window, and maybe it wouldn't matter. We weighed the options we had and the species we still lacked. Steven's Creek Park was too far and offered only small numbers of new, easily seen birds. McClellan Ranch would have to be sacrificed as well. We'd already gotten Barn Owl, and we doubted we could locate Wood Duck quickly. Swifts were just chance... maybe at Hoover Tower. Finally, Shoreline Park was where we decided to wrap things up.

Once at the Shoreline Park Golf course, we parked quickly and deployed. White-tailed Kite and Burrowing Owls from the road. A walk to the lake produced what we expected Surf Scoter and a very welcome Greater Scaup. The large salt pond beside the lake contained nothing we hadn't seen, despite all our efforts to find Wigeons. But the marsh in Mountain View Forebay contained several Black-crowned Night Herons and two Sora. We returned to the golf course via the lake and decided it was too dark to do any birding beyone Owling and we were all very hungry and tired. So we caravanned to Thai City in Palo Alto and had our dinner there, after which we all went home and slept.

Thanks to everyone on our team, it was a great day! We ended up seeing 116 species, and we enjoyed everyone of them.

Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Clark's Grebe
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Black-crowned Night Heron
Turkey Vulture
Canada Goose
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Greater Scaup
Surf Scoter
Ruddy Duck
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Wid Turkey
California Quail
Virginia Rail
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope
Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Thayer's Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Forster's Tern
Rock Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Barn Owl
Burrowing Owl
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Loggerhead Shrike
Hutton's Vireo
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
Brown Creeper
Bewick's Wren
Marsh Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Northern Mockingbird
California Thrasher
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow