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You Win Some, You Lose Some: Big Year Species 251

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve added a new species to the Big Year count. I think it’s getting to that point where I actually have to make a concerted effort to find new ones, primarily by chasing after species reported by others. While I’ve been birding for over 30 years all over the Americas, I’ve never been much of a chaser of species found by others. The reasons are pretty simple:

  1. Urban parks are not my thing. For some reason or another, it seems the majority of rarities show up in city parks, often in the middle of very urbanized areas, and not the type of places I enjoy spending my time in, such as more remote areas that you could call wilderness. I highly doubt that there are actually more rarities in those places. They are just more likely to be found. There is an argument, however, for a verdant spot in the middle of a city being like an island oasis in the middle of an ocean.
  2. I hate waiting and wondering. It is commonplace when you chase after a bird for that bird to not be immediately evident upon your arrival. So, you wait. You wonder. You wander. You poke around in the places where others have reported seeing it. If you don’t find the bird relatively quickly, you begin to wonder if you are going to be the first person to miss it. How long should I wait? Am I wasting my time? I guarantee someone will find it right after I leave.
  3. I hate it when someone finds a bird I missed. That I specifically sought. Immediately after I gave up and left the place it was previously found. It happens to all who chase birds regularly. “Birds have wings and they do things…” is a quote often attributed to Roger Tory Peterson. Whether he said it or not, it’s accurate, and the thing they do quite often is avoid detection when you are looking for them.

So, given all of the above, I chased an immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron on Thursday. The bird had been seen in a variety of places centered around the Ballona Channel in Marina del Rey. It was just my luck that I had to do a short nesting bird survey on a rather small property about two miles away. After completing the survey, I went straight to the parking lot at Del Rey Lagoon, got out of my Jeep, and there was the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron feeding on the narrow mud flat right in front me. There was no effort on my part. I got out of my Jeep, set up my camera, and snapped pictures until someone walked by with their dog and it flew to the other side.

Why can’t they all be that easy?

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Del Rey Lagoon. Photo by Marcus C. England.

As a reminder of my points above, and their general applicability outside of my own experience, I subsequently walked north to bird the Ballona Channel wherein I met another birder.

Other birder (chewing on a sandwich): “Did you see it?”

Me: “You mean the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron?”

Other birder (chewing on a sandwich): “Yes.”

Me: “Yep. I just came from there. It was feeding on the southwest shore.”

Other birder (putting away sandwich): “Really? I didn’t see it. Guess I’m heading back over there.”

I never saw him again, and I do not know if he ever saw it, but I do know the bird has been seen daily through today. In some sense, though, I also became that birder (chewing on a sandwich) when it came to the rest of my day. I still do not have Common Tern or Black Skimmer for Los Angeles County for the year. Birders have observed both species recently, repeatedly, at the Ballona Channel. Once again, on yet another visit there, I come up empty. I continued my day a little further inland at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh. My primary goal bird there was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak that had been reported the previous few days in an elderberry above the road on the south side. I spent about a half hour there, by the elderberry, agonizing whether to stay or go. I decided to leave. When I reached the north side of the marsh and my Jeep, I looked back at the elderberry far away and saw some birders looking up at it. I later got an ebird report in my email stating it had been observed in the elderberry at just about that time.

It figures.

A pair of Barn Swallows in Marina del Rey. Photo by Marcus C. England.

A Caspian Tern flies over the Ballona Channel. Photo by Marcus C. England.

A juvenile Pied-billed Grebe at Ballona Freshwater Marsh. Photo by Marcus C. England.

Some pictures from the field on Earth Day...

We should preserve every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity. - E.O.Wilson.

Left to right top to bottom: Cassins Kingbird, Least Sandpiper, Snowy Egret, and the landscape near where we are conducting a riparian bird survey.