Archive for the ‘Birding’ Category

The Temple of Hephaestus at the Ancient Greek Agora in Athens, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

My family and I just recently visited Greece for the first time. We spent the first half of May 2023 traveling to several locations across southern Greece including Athens, the Island of Crete, and The Peloponnese. It was a really interesting trip with a lot of history, great food, delicious wine, beautiful landscapes, and some amazing birds! During our travels, several things struck me about birding in Greece and I wanted to put those down in writing. I also wanted to share the species that I saw, some species that I missed, and some of the picture I took. I hope you enjoy.

We landed in Athens and spent the first two days of the trip exploring the city and overcoming the jetlag that resulted form crossing 10 times zones. Right off the bat, the new birds started with Common Swifts circling over the city seen from the window of our Air BnB. We spent those first couple of days exploring the Ancient Greek Agora, the Ancient Roman Agora, and the surrounding city. The agoras both include green spaces. The Ancient Greek Agora, in particular, has a nice sized area of grounds surrounding the reconstructed Agora, the Temple of Hephaestus (which is spectacular!), and other temples and ruins. These green spaces attracts quite a few birds including Eurasian Magpie, Alpine Swift, House Martin, Common Blackbird, Hooded Crow, Eurasian Jay, Great Tit, Collared Flycatcher, Common Gull, Rose-ringed Parakeet (which are non-native to Greece), and most excitingly for me, Eurasian Hoopoe!

Eurasian Hoopoe at the National Botanical Gardens in Athens, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman
Indian Peafowl at the Palace of Knossos on Crete, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

After we got our travel legs under us, we took the overnight ferry from Athens to the island of Crete where we spent several days. Crete is amazing! Wonderful history, incredible food, some of the nicest people, good wine, and nature that is wild and beautiful and right at your doorstep. The biggest birding treat of Crete (and my favorite bird of the whole trip) were the flocks of European Bee-eaters that flew past on a daily basis. I never saw these birds land, but I would hear their odd vibrating blip-blip calls from quite a distance. The calls would get louder and louder and soon a flow of birds would stream into sight, fly overhead, and then disappear to parts unknown. Sometimes they would be very high, but other times they would be low enough for me to get great looks at these stunningly beautiful birds!

Great Tit in Epidavros, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

On Crete, I added Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Wood Pigeon, Common Buzzard, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Red-rumped Swallow, Golden Oriole, Western Jackdaw, Griffon Vulture, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Hobby, Common Redstart, Scops Owl, and more to the species list. On Crete, we also visited museums and aquariums, first played in the Mediterranean Sea, hiked down into a steep gorge where we found figures of beautiful women carved into the rock walls, and we wandered through local street markets. Unfortunately, one species that I did not get to add to the list was a Lammergeier. The Lammergeier, or Bearded Vulture, is a fairly rare species in Europe, but that has a breeding population on Crete. It has been one of my top bucket list species for a very long time, and I was hoping to see one during our visit. However, these birds generally stick to the high and rugged mountains of Crete, and we did not cross paths with one.

Heraklion Harbor on Crete at sunset as the ferry left to return us to Athens. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

Hooded Crow at the fountain in Corinth, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

We once again crossed the Sea of Crete to return to Athens by overnight ferry, but did not stay in the city. Instead, we rented a car and drove through Corinth to The Peloponnese which is the southwestern peninsula of Greece. We spent most of our time in the small town of Epidavros, but also drove on day trips to other parts of the peninsula. The Air BnB we rented was right on the water in a small and sheltered cove surrounded by orange groves. We swam in the Mediterranean every day seeing all sorts of sealife, visited the breathtaking theater of Asclepius, enjoyed shopping at a local market, collecting shells along the beaches. One of the day trips took us to a terrific wetland at a place called Nea Kios on the outskirts of the town of Napflion.

Kentish Plover at the Nea Kios Wetlands at Napflion, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

We spent about an hour exploring this coastal wetland and the beach at its edge, and that hour provided the highest rate of lifers per hour than I have experienced in a long time! Kentish Plovers and Little Stints greeted us right away, and these were quickly followed by Little Egret, White-winged Tern, Common Ringed Plover, Black-winged Stilt, a Greater Flamingo, and many more! After we left the wetland, we found our way to an amazing Mycenean bridge that is one of the oldest and best preserved structures in Greece! This was a really special spot with a very narrow, magical little road that led through the hills and green meadows surrounded by singing Sardinian Warblers and colorful wildflowers. At the bas of the bridge, my wife found the most amazing Preying Mantis that I have ever seen. We looked it up later and found it to a species called Empusa faciata. This amazing mantis had really long antenna which marked it to be a male which use those antennae to detect and trace the pheromones released by the females. In The Peloponnese, I also added European Serin, Cirl Bunting, Great Spotted Woodpecker, European Shag, and other species to the list.

Preying Mantis (Empusa faciata) found nest to the Mycenean Bridge near Napflion, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

When our stay in Epidavros was over, we drove back across The Peloponnese, stopped at the very commanding and dramatic Mycenean Citadel at Midea, and returned to Athens for the last few days of our trip. Unfortunately, on our first evening back in Athens, a thief stole my wife’s purse in which was her cell phone, driver’s license, bank card, and all of our passports. That put a damper on the next few days as we got documents organized and then waited until Monday for the US Embassy in Athens to open. We did visit the Acropolis which was pretty amazing and definitely worth making the time for , and the National Botanical Gardens where I added what ended up being the last new bird species of the trip, Monk Parakeets (also not native to Greece).

Eurasian Jay at the National Botanical Gardens in Athens, Greece. Aaron N.K. Haiman

When Monday morning rolled around, we got to he US Embassy bright and early. We were worried because Monday was scheduled to be our final day in Greece, and our flight out of Athens International Airport was at 3:50am on Tuesday, so that did not leave a lot of time to get new passports organized so that we could go home. But, every member of the State Department we interacted with at the Embassy was fantastic! Not only were they really well organized and impressively multilingual, they were also very reassuring and confident that we would have our new passports in plenty of time to get to our scheduled flight. They were correct, and after submitting documents to them and then waiting for a few hours in a very nice café with excellent pastries, we returned to the Embassy and picked up our new emergency passports! We had a final dinner in Athens which was delicious, headed to the airport, and flew back to the USA with no problems.

All in all, though the trip included some bumps and complications and stressors, it really was an amazing trip filled with extraordinary experiences. We saw things and touched things and tasted things and heard things that will stay with us for a lifetime.

Common Blackbird in Epidavros, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

One thing that surprised me about birding in Greece was how little attention the birding seemed to get. In preparation for this trip, I looked into the bird books and was surprised as how few there were. The best guide for birding in Greece was a bird book that covers all of Europe! There is a slim book on the Birds of Greece, but it is brief and only focuses on the most common species found in the country. And there seemed to be no bird books exclusively focusing on specific areas of Greece such as Crete, The Peloponnese, any of the other islands, etc. In North America, one can find numerous books discussing in detail the birds of the whole continent, the USA, each of the states on the USA, specific cities or counties, specific parks or nature areas, etc., etc. There was definitely nothing close to this level of detail that I was able to find relating to the birds of Greece. Social media is similarly bereft. Look through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. for things like “#BirdsOfNorthAmeria” or “#BirdsOfCalifornia” and the like, and you will find results numbing in the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions! A search for “BirdsOfGreece” or “GreekBirding” and the like will yield results in the hundreds or maybe thousands. And birding guides tell the same story. I searched for birding guides in Greece, and only found a few websites, and several of the organizations I did find were no longer active. This all leads me to suspect that Greece is a generally under-birded area which makes it exciting to visit as it feels like more of an unexplored frontier. However, I wonder what explains this lack of birding attention. Maybe it is just that the birders of Greece are not plugged into social media very much, so they are active, just not where I was looking. And maybe the guides work more by word of mouth, and do not need websites. However, this seems unlikely to me. Greeks are plenty tech-savvy, and so Greek birders would be just as likely to be active online as other birding populations. Maybe it is more that Greek is known for its history and amazing Mediterranean beaches and coasts, so the tourist attractions are mostly focused on these types of activities and not genuinely not on the birds and other wildlife.

Chaffinch at the Palace of Knossos on Crete, Greece. Aaron N.K. Haiman

Overall, I saw a total of 48 bird species on this trip, 35 of which were lifers for me. These birds were beautiful and exciting. I loved finding each and every one, and the photos and memories that I returned with will stay with me and enrich me for a long time to come. If you ever get the chance to visit Greece (and Crete in particular), I highly recommend it!

I will be sharing more experiences, thoughts, photos, and information about Greece and the birds I saw there on my Instagram account and YouTube channel (links at the bottom of this post), so feel free to follow along if you are interested.

Theater at the Sanctuary of Asclepius, Epidavros, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

Bird Species List (+ indicates lifer):

Rock Dove

Eurasian Collard-Dove

Common Swift +

House Sparrow

Eurasian Magpie +

Collard Flycatcgher +

Eurasian Jay +

House Martin

Eurasian Hoopoe +

Rose-ringed Parakeet +

Barn Swallow

Common Gull +

Alpine Swift +

Common Blackbird +

Great Tit

Yellow-legged Gull +

Hooded Crow +

Sardinian Warbler +

Blue Tit


Indian Peafowl

Common Buzzard +

Wood Pigeon

Eurasian Hobby +

Common Kestrel +

Blackcap +

Western Jackdaw

Red-rumped Swallow +

Golden Oriole +

Griffon Vulture +

Common Redstart +

European Goldfinch

European Bee-eater +

Scope Owl +

European Shag +

Cirl Bunting +

Great Spotted Woodpecker +

Little Egret +

Grey Heron

Black-winged Stilt +

Common Ringed Plover +

Kentish Plover +

Little Stint +

Common Term

White-winged Tern +

Black-headed Gull +

Greater Flamingo +

European Serin +

Monk Parakeet +

Other Fun Species of Note:

Peloponnese Wall Lizard

Empusa faciata (a species of preying mantis)

Marbled White (a species of butterfly)

Marginated Tortoise

White Butterfly (yes, that is actually the accurate species name)

Violet Carpenter Bee

Mediterranean Damselfish

Rainbow Wrasse

Saddled Seabream

Atlantic Purple Urchin

Greek Poppy

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Human vision can be odd.

It can be odd how frequently seeing one thing makes a person so used to it that then seeing a different thing is surprising. And it is also odd how then seeing that different thing frequently can then make seeing the first thing a surprise!

I was struck by this on a recent camping trip my family and I took to Death Valley National Park. We stayed for a few days, and decided to have breakfast on one of the mornings at a place called Zabriskie Point. This is an easy spot to get to that offers some very impressive vistas of the desert landscape with beautiful views of amazing rock formations, and of the intricate details of canyons and gullies and washes that have been carved out of the rock by wind and water.

The Common Raven I saw in Death Valley. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman.

While we enjoyed our morning repast, a Common Raven (Corvus corax) landed nearby. I was immediately struck by how large the birds was and how long and heavy its bill was!

It was really pretty impressive. The bill looked long and strong and curved enough to be counted as a serious piece of hardware! And the head and chest of the bird, with its shaggy feathers at the neck, had obvious mass to it as well.

But why did this strike me so? I have seen many, many ravens in my life. Where I grew up, and at many of the places where I did much of my youth birding, ravens were very common. I saw them on a daily basis, was frequently able to get quite close to them, and so was very used to their size and proportions. So, what was going on this time? Was this raven an especially large individual? No. Was it especially close? Not really. So what was it?

I think it was a matter of exposure.

An American Crow from my neighborhood. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman.

I think what was going on was that I have not been seeing all that many ravens recently, and so my eyes and brain did not have the familiarity with their shape and proportions that my past, more frequent, exposure had yielded.

American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) are incredibly common in the neighborhood where I live and have lived for the past ten years. They are far and away the most common member of the corvid family that I now see on a daily basis. This has given me a large amount of exposure to the size and proportions of a crow. But my current exposure and familiarity to their smaller, slimmer build and lighter, thinner bill left me open to be surprised by the larger and heavier raven when that bird dropped by to check on our breakfast in Death Valley.

And all of this simply resulted from what I have been looking at recently. Like I said, human vision can be odd.

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman.

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Rain falling outside my window. Photo by Aaron N.K. Haiman

I few days ago, my daughter and I were standing in our backyard when it rather suddenly started to rain!

The rain was not a tremendous downpour, so we decided to stay out and enjoy the weather. And it turned out we were not the only ones to make that choice.

I was somewhat surprised to see a Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) fly out of cover and up to the top of one of the trees near our yard. The reason form y surprise is that, most of the time, birds tend to seek shelter during wet weather. Exposure to wet weather generally means wet feathers, and wet feathers are cold making it harder for a bird to stay warm. A wet and cold bird then has to use more energy to maintain its internal body temperature, which means it will run out of energy faster. This in turn means that the bird will need to go out and find more food which is time-consuming, uses energy as well, and may expose a bird to predators. So, staying dry and warm seems like a good, general survival strategy.

A Northern Mockingbird fanning its tail in a similar way to the bird I watching in the rain. Photo by Aaron N.K. Haiman

However, this Northern Mockingbird had other ideas. It decided to ignore the many trees that could have provided the dense shelter of leaves or needles, and instead specifically choose a high and exposed branch with no leaves or shelter of any kind. In the rain, it started fanning its tail out and spreading its wings to catch the drops for a rain bath. It was wonderful to watch this bird enjoy the rainfall. And, as if to illustrate how much the bird really was enjoying its shower, it started singing! A bird singing in the rain!

This drove home a point that has been driven home for me many times, but still sometimes surprises me, and the point is this. Many birds are so well adapted to their environments that they often don’t need to guard and horde their energy reserves so jealously. They have the energy reserves to spend on getting a bit extra cold if it means getting some feather maintenance done. This birds was confident enough that it would be able to get warm, and get food, that it did not have to worry about the rain. It was even willing to get a bit extra wet and cold by taking some extra time to sing in the shower.

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Dear Reader,

I am posting this to ask for your support of the longest running youth bird-a-thon team, and the team that I lead, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings. The Point Blue Conservation Science Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon is currently underway, and the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings are looking forward to participating again this year!

This year, the team will be meeting up in-person on October 1st! We will crisscross Marin County in a fast-paced day rocketing from site to site and habitat to habitat in search of as many species as we can possibly find!

The 2021 Drake’s Beach Sanderlings members. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

This event, and the Drake’s Beach Sanderling’s wild day, is a fundraiser for Point Blue Conservation Science. As such, I ask that if you have the means to please donate and support this amazing team of young birders (the longest running youth team that I know of!), and Point Blue.

By donating to this cause, you will be supporting the amazing work that Point Blue Conservation Science does around the world from climate research to habitat conservation to the effects of urbanizations on birds. Your donation will also support and encourage this group of young birders who represent a hope for the future of our planet that is badly needed. You can donate by following this link (also added at the end of this letter) and clicking the ‘donate’ button just to the right of the team photos.

My heart-felt thanks goes out to each person who contributes in support of this amazing cause.

Sanderlings Donation Page: https://pointblue.securesweet.com/teampage.asp?fundid=937#.Yyih2nbMI2w

#richstallcup #birdathon #countingforconservation

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For the third year, Black Birders Week is back! It is taking place this year from May 29th through June 4th.

In 2000, a birder approached a dog owner in Central Park, New York, NY to ask that the dog be put on a leash. At the outset, nothing seems odd about this, especially because the area these two people were in was an area where dogs were supposed to be on-leash. What happened next was absolutely insane, and you don’t have to take my word for it because the encounter was recorded and the video is available from several sources such as this one and this one.

What happened next is that the dog owner, who is a white woman, announces that she is going to call the police and tell them that she is being threatened by a black man. The birder was indeed a black man, but was doing nothing more threatening then asking the woman to obey the rules of Central Park. The woman then makes good on her threat, and calls the police. During the call, she becomes more and more strident as she repeatedly states that a black man is threatening both herself and her dog.

In response to this weaponization of race by a white woman against a black man, a group called Black AF in Stem came together with several black members of the birding community to launch the first Black Birders Week. After the success of that first event in 2000, the second Black Birders Week was held in 2021.

This year the theme for Black Birders Week will run from May 29th to June 4th, and the theme is “soaring to greater heights.” Each day of the week has a particular topic and accompanying hashtag: May 29 – #BlackInNature, May 30 – #InTheNest, May 31 – #LearningToTakeFlight, June 1 – #DayOfRoost, June 2 – #FlyingTheCoop, June 3 – #AsTheCrowFlies, and June 4 – #LifelongJourney. Other events such as bird walks, panel discussions, and more are also taking place. To learn more about the topics of each day and the other facets of the week check out the schedule website.

As a birder who is not black (I am a white guy), I get a great deal of value from attending the talks and other events of Black Birders Week. It gives me the chance to listen to people who have had very different experiences with birding and the great outdoors in general and to learn what they have seen and heard and the obstacles they have faced, and are continuing to face.

To all the birders who may read this who are black, I want you to know that your perspectives are valuable and there are many people who want to hear them. This is the type of event that gets richer and richer with each additional person who is willing to participate and share, and I hope that lots of black birders feel comfortable and encouraged to do so.

To all the birders who may read this who are not black (like me), I encourage all of you to attend at least some portion of Black Birders Week. Meet new people. Expand your circle of birding companions. Help make the birding community open, friendly, welcoming, and equitable!

And to absolutely everyone, I hope you enjoy #BlackBirdersWeek!

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About a year ago, we had a bit of an invasion in our yard. Rats, in ever growing numbers, were eating the birdseed from the feeders in our backyard (and also eating just about everything else they could find). So, to make the area less hospitable, we decided to take down the bird feeders and so remove the birdseed as a food source. Let me me tell you, I really missed having birds frequenting the yard to eat!

But it worked! We removed all the food sources we could find and trapped the rats like crazy for quite a while, and we have not seen a rat in a couple of months. So we, tentatively, refilled the bird feeders and rehung them in the yard.

Once the feeders were rehung, I was curious to see how long it would take for them to be rediscovered, and which species would be the first to notice and take advantage of this food source. For the first two days the feeders went ignored, but on the third day a flash of feathers dropped onto the pole that the feeders hang from.

It was an Oak Titmouse!

Oak Titmouse (Photo by Aaron N.K. Haiman)

The titmouse looked the feeders over from its perch on the top of the pole, and then flew off without dropping down to actually take a seed; its exit just and sudden and purposeful as its arrival. Just a few minutes later the flash of feathers appeared again, and once again there was an Oak Titmouse on the top of the pole. This time the titmouse did drop down to one of the feeders, grabbed a sunflower seed, and rapidly departed. A few minutes after that, the flash of feathers occurred once again, and again there was a titmouse on the pole. This time, it only paused there a moment before going for a seed, and while it did so, a different flash of feathers appeared! A second Oak Titmouse joined the first on the feeder, each bird took a sunflower seed, and both flew off. The two birds, very likely a mated pair, visited the feeder numerous more times that afternoon and evening.

Watching these birds appear to drop out of nowhere so suddenly is such fun! They are so filled with character and curiosity that watching them investigate the bird feeders and the rest of the surroundings is a constant source of entertainment, and they fly in so fast and with so little warning, and then leave so abruptly, that each flight coming or going is a surprise and gives me a thrill of excitement.

The Oak Titmouse pair has continued to be frequent visitors to the feeders. They have been joined, so far, by a handful of House Finches, a California Scrub-Jay, a pair of Mourning Doves, and a pair of Lesser Goldfinches.

It is hard to put into word just how happy I am to have birds back in the yard! I just hope the rats stay away.

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I have gotten a lot out of birding. Being a birder has brought me joy. It has brought me knowledge. It has eased my frustrations. It has gained me friends. It has built my career. I have gotten a lot out of birding.

And I think others should be able to get all these things and more out of birding as well. If there is a desire to learn about birds, the natural world, science, or any such topic, I think that everyone should have all the same opportunities open to them so that they can pursue those opportunities to whatever extent they like. These opportunities should not be limited by a person’s skin color, religion, nation of origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, ability, age, health concerns, or any other component of a person.

I have been trying to learn more about, and pay attention to, issues of privilege and the restrictions and complications that many people face when trying to experience nature, particularly relating to birding. One my aims is to learn how to make birding as welcoming an activity and community as possible to as wide a range if people as possible. As I have been exploring these ideas, I have come across several organizations, events, and other resources that I have found to be really interesting, educational, and useful. I know that I would have liked to have had information about these organizations, events, and other resources gathered together into one place, so I am doing exactly that here.

Below is a list of links to resources on a variety of topics, and aimed at a variety of groups, that deal with and help to overcome obstacles to enjoying, participating in, and learning about birds, nature, and science. This list is by no means complete. In the comments below, please let me know about other organizations, events, and other similar resources that you think should be included, and we can build this list together.

I hope that this list helps members of these communities find like minded groups and individuals. I also hope that this list helps allies of the members of these communities to learn, find additional ways to support them, and make birding an ever more welcoming activity and inclusive community.

Diversity in Birding Resource List:

Amplify the Future – Seeks to “amplify opportunities for equity to the historically excluded in conservation, STEAM, and birding.” This organization oversees the Black & Latinx Birders Scholarship which provides funds to “Black birders or Brown birders that lives in the United States or Puerto Rico and identify as Black, African-American, and/or Latinx/e/a/o; and who are also an undergraduate student studying in STEM.”

Birdability – Is an organization that, “through education, outreach and advocacy, Birdability works to ensure the birding community and the outdoors are welcoming, inclusive, safe and accessible for everybody. We focus on people with mobility challenges, blindness or low vision, chronic illness, intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental illness, and those who are neurodivergent, deaf or hard of hearing or who have other health concerns. In addition to current birders, we strive to introduce birding to people with disabilities and other health concerns who are not yet birders so they too can experience the joys of birding.” This organization also puts on Birdability Week each year in early October.

Birding For All – This organization is “a national voluntary organization seeking to improve access for people with disabilities to reserves, facilities and services for birding.”

Black AF in STEM Collective – This organization “seeks to support, uplift, and amplify Black STEM professionals in natural resources and the environment through professional development, career connection, and community engagement.” This organization puts Black Birders Week together at the end of May each year.

Freedom Birders – This is a project organized by Amplify the Future (see above) that “seeks to change the culture of bird watching in the United States by developing a racial justice curriculum and bird education project resourced by the lessons and inspiration of the Civil Rights Movement, the Freedom Riders, the Black Lives Matter Movement, the 1619 Project, and Black Birders Week 2020.”

Hispanic Access Foundation – This organization “connects Latinos and others with partners and opportunities to improve lives and create an equitable society. One day, every Latino individual in America will enjoy good physical health and a healthy natural environment, a high-quality education, economic success and civic engagement in their community with the sum of improving the future of America.” It also organizes Latino Conservation Week in July each year.

Latino Outdoors – This organization seeks to “inspire, connect, and engage Latino communities in the outdoors and embrace cultura y familia as part of the outdoor narrative, ensuring our history, heritage, and leadership are valued and represented.”

Let’s Go Birding Together – This is a series of bird walks and other event held in June in honor of Pride Month organized by the National Audubon Society which states that “walks are for everyone who loves birds and the outdoors. We welcome those who identify as LGBTQ, allies, families, and anyone who wants to enjoy an outdoor experience that is inclusive.”

Justice Outside – This organization “advances racial justice and equity in the outdoor and environmental movement. We shift resources to, build power with, and center the voices and leadership of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color because the health of current and future generations demands it.”

Outdoor Afro – This organization “has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. We are a national not for profit organization with leadership networks around the country. With more than 100 leaders in 56 cities around the country, we connect thousands of people to nature experiences, who are changing the face of conservation.”

Unlikely Hikers – Is an Instagram community, a nationwide hiking group and a podcast that seeks to create a “diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community featuring the underrepresented outdoorsperson.”

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The Point Blue Conservation Science Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon is back, as are the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings! Well, in some ways we never went away, but in 2020 the whole event was transformed into a virtual bird-a-thon with teams going out birding, but the team members birding in different locations due the inability to gather in groups because of COVID-19. Sanderlings members did participate in the event, and birded various sites in the bay area and West Sacramento.

But now that is over (hopefully). Teams will be able to meet again and head out to bird and raise funds for Point Blue Conservation Science.

As a member of the Bird-a-thon Steering Committee, I helped to organize the bird-a-thon and helped to choose the mascot bird this year: the Pine Siskin. We choose this species to highlight for a few reasons. One is that it is a generally underappreciated species. As you can see in the image above, the Pine Siskin is not an obviously flashy bird. But, to quote the new Hansen’s Field Guide to the Birds of the Sierra Nevada when noting that the perched bird can be on the drab side, “Taking flight, however, it changes from somber to eye-catching.” This striking change is due to the yellow patches in wing and tail that are generally concealed when at rest, but which flash dramatically when in flight. A second reason to highlight the Pine Siskin is that this species was hit hard by the salmonella outbreak in California that occurred in the winter and spring of 2021. This disease killed individuals of several finch species, but siskins seemed particularly susceptible. A third reason are the fires burning across California. The Pine Siskin is a finch that breeds in the conifer forests of North America. As such, they have lost a lot of breeding habitat in California this summer with so many fires burning through the conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada.

The Drake's Beach Sanderlings
The 2019 Drake’s Beach Sanderlings team standing on Drake’s Beach in Marin County.

So, in support of the Pine Siskin and the work of Point Blue Conservation Science, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings are once again asking for your support when we head into the field to race across Marin County to find as many species as we possibly can in one day (September 26, this year). As usual, this will be a face-paced day of blazing from site to site to visit as many habitats as we can and find lots and lots of birds!

This event is a fundraiser for Point Blue, and as such, I ask that if you have the means please donate and support this amazing team of young birders (the longest running youth team that I have ever heard of!), and Point Blue. By donating this cause, you will be supporting climate research that is badly needed, and also supporting and encouraging young birders who represent a hope for the future of our planet that is also badly needed. You can donate by following this link and clicking the ‘donate’ button just to the right of the team photos.

My heart-felt thanks goes out to each person who contributes in support of this amazing cause.

#richstallcup #birdathon #birds #conservation

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Sometimes three nights spent in the woods are more restorative and satisfying than even I expect them to be.

And that is exactly the experience I had camping at the Silver Fork Campground on the banks of the Silver Fork of the American River in the El Dorado National Forest. I have camped in this area before, but never at this specific campground, and it was lovely. The campground was quiet and clean. The river was close and beautiful. The forest was impressive. And the birds were thrilling!

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And the river itself was wonderful as well. The water was the perfect temperature for wading and swimming which was so refreshing in the heat of the afternoon. Not only were there dippers and the merganser to watch, but there were lots of different butterfly species coming down to drink and get some salts from the sandy shore, and also a huge variety of macroinvertebrates in the water. There were so many stonefly larva crawling around on the bottom with their carefully constructed tiny hard tubes made from tiny sticks and stones.

With the beauty of the forests, the amazing wildlife to see, cooking over the fire, and sharing the whole experience with family and friends, this was a wonderful trip. I was aware that I really missed camping in 2020, but in a lot of ways I am fully realizing just how much I missed it now that I am camping once again! Being in the woods, getting to see and smell and hear the natural world around me, and getting to share it with you both here and on my YouTube channel (there will be a couple of videos coming out in the next few weeks) made me happier and more tranquil and excited than I have been for a while! I can’t wait until my next trip!

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List of Bird Species Observed:

Common Merganser

Common Nighthawk

Anna’s Hummingbird

Turkey Vulture

Belted Kingfisher

White-headed Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Black Phoebe

Steller’s Jay

Common Raven

Mountain Chickadee

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Red-breasted Nutchatch

Brown Creeper

American Dipper

Townsend’s Solitaire

American Robin

American Goldfinch

Dark-eyed Junco

Spotted Towhee

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Hermit Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Western Tanager

List of Other Species Observed (incomplete):

Western Tiger Swallowtail

Pale Tiger Swallowtail

Blue Copper

Lorquin’s Admeral

Sierra Nevada Checkerspot


Cadis Fly


Pacific Clubtail

Kibramoa madrona

Western Fence Lizard

Rainbow Trout

Douglas’s Squirrel

California Groundsquirrel

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I spent last weekend in the wonderful little town of Bolinas, CA. This special spot on the California Coast a relatively short drive north of San Francisco is a quite and quirky and very laid back. It is also right on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and Bolinas Lagoon and as such it provides access to a bunch of coastal and aquatic habitats, and I took advantage of this positioning to do a lot of birding!

Wildlife photographer captures osprey carrying shark, carrying fish in  'one-in-a-trillion photograph' | Fox News
Osprey carrying a fish. Photo Credit: Fox News

One morning, I went out to the beach to see what coastal and ocean birds I might spot and to do a bit of beach combing while I was at it. The sky was gray over the ocean, but not foggy. The tide was low and it was fun to spend a little time looking at washed up kelp, finding Sand Crabs as the waves broke on the shore, and looking out to sea at the rolling ocean. I was also enjoying watching the Western Grebes and Clark’s Grebes fishing off shore, the Double-crested Cormorants flying back and forth, and the Brown Pelicans cruising above the waves when I heard a bit of a commotion overhead. I looked up to see three birds chasing each other around in a mid-air tangle. One bird was an Osprey with a fish in its talons. The second bird was an adult Western Gull trying to steal that fish. The third bird was an adult Bald Eagle also trying to rob the Osprey! All three birds were engaged in some fancy flying over the waves as they attempted to secure their breakfast as the sun rose above the tree topped hills.

Sound Library - Bald Eagle - Yellowstone National Park (U.S. National Park  Service)
Adult Bald Eagle. Photo Credit: National Park Service

The tangle of birds did not last long. The Osprey was ultimately successful at defending its catch from the two would-be thieves and flew off to enjoy its meal. The gull quickly disappeared to forage elsewhere, but the eagle stuck around for a little while. It circled out over the Pacific for a couple of minutes, and watching for so long was a real treat for me. It then turned toward shore, dropped altitude, and flew along the beach. As it spread its huge wings about 50 feet over the sand, it flew slowly over beach goers and surfers. None of whom noticed at all! The humans were all absorbed in their own activities and did not realize that an enormous, not to mention iconic, bird was cursing right over their heads. I suppose that I should not have been surprised by this lack notice, and to a certain extent I wasn’t, but it was definitely amusing.

The Bald Eagle continued flying smoothly down the beach until it followed the bending line of the sand around a bluff and out of sight, and I continued my morning of beach exploration. It was a lovely morning that I enjoyed very much, and I hope you get out for some time on the coast as well.

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