Thanks to Internet, birding news travels fast
Bird watching on the Internet is not limited to a few Web cams obtrusively placed in peregrine falcon nests. Internet discussion groups exist where birders post birding information from rare sightings to lists of birds seen on field trips. A few recent examples show how important this technology has become for birders.
Snowy owls have been abandoning their normal haunts and exploring new areas this year. Birders had heard reports of the normally Canadian residents being seen in Oregon and Montana, causing some to plan North expeditions to see these snow-white owls.
Then, on Friday the thirteenth, Joan Humphreys spotted a snowy owl in Solano County. The last snowy owl recorded in California was seen in Humboldt County in 1978.
Thirty minutes later the information was posted on the Yahoo group CALBIRDS and birders from all over the state began making plans. By the end of the day, the Internet had pictures of the owl along with detailed directions and a guide to other birds in the area.
By the next day, a miserable cold driving rain filed the Central Valley and many people opted to wait for a better chance. Those of us who did go discovered the bird by the long line of cars sitting along a quiet country road. Brian O’Connor and I joined the crowd before noon. He had insisted that we go on Saturday and not wait for better conditions.
The owl sat on a white painted fence, looking decidedly out of place. Its beautiful white plumage with black markings, so well adapted to the Northern boreal forests, was utterly obvious in the green fields of the Central Valley. Good humor prevailed as we slid around in the mud setting up scopes and cameras along with some of the most notable birders in California.
By Sunday, when the TV cameras arrived, the owl had vanished – never to be reported again. Without the Internet the whole experience would have been limited to a few.
To check out CALBIRDS go to groups.yahoo.com. Some other Yahoo groups of interest to local birders are sierra-nevadabirds and central_valley_birds.
Bohemian waxwings are similar to our common cedar waxwings but with a larger redder body and red under the tail. They are listed as extremely rare in the Nevada County bird list and occasionally seen in the Great Basin in Nevada. There the primary birding group on the Internet is NVBIRDS, found at list.audubon.org/archives/nvbirds.html
Early in February, Greg Scyphers posted on NVBIRDS that he had seen 150 Bohemian Waxwings at Rye Patch, a small Nevada State Park on the Humbolt River off I-80, east of Lovelock.
Following that posting, Barbara and I set out to Rye Patch. After spending the night in Lovelock, we arrived before sunrise to find Bohemian Waxwings roosting in cottonwoods north of the river in a campground below the dam. As soon as the sun got above the horizon, the waxwings en masse went for a morning drink. An impressive sight as they dove in a flock, got a drink, then repeated the maneuver for more drinking. It was cold in the Great Basin before dawn, very cold.
I estimated the flock at 200 with about 10 percent being cedar waxwings. The warm sun saw them move to the other side of the river and begin to eat the fruit on the Russian olive trees, their red and yellow highlights brightening the desert scene.
The first thing I did upon returning home was to post a report on NVBIRDS and sierra-nevadabirds along with a picture. There followed several more visits by Grass Valley birders and their reports listed a couple of rarities that I’d missed.
Walt Carnahan is a member of the Sierra Foothills Audubon Society. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
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