County Birding

As I slowly creep towards 600 ABA birds on my life list I have looked for other birding challenges in my home state of California.

California is a great place to bird because it has just over 600 species that have been found here, only Texas ranks higher in species total. It is also one of the most populated states which means more traffic, higher housing prices, and more expensive lattes but is also means more birders in the field, reporting more birds!

My latest challenge has been to increase my species totals by county. Three counties are the focus of my challenges: San Francisco (were I live), San Mateo (where I work), and Santa Cruz (where I relax). The goal for each county is to see 200 species in each county. Which means that previously a bird that is being seen in San Mateo County ( a black vulture, for instance) that I had already seen (in the Everglades, for instance), then I was less likely to chase it. But now I gave myself the challenge that if a rarity showed up in one of my three target counties, I would give chase, even if the bird was already on my ABA life list.

Which brings me to the subject of my featured sketch: the California thrasher (Toxostom redivivum). As the name implies, this mimid is endemic to California and I have seen this sometimes illusive and sulky bird in the North and East Bay Area and in Joshua Tree. In fact in it’s range it is listed as “common and widespread”. Normally if one is reported, I wouldn’t go but when one wintering individual was reported on a hillside off of  Diamond Heights in San Francisco, I grabbed my bins, and headed east! A California thrasher in San Francisco is considered rare for the county. A new bird to add to my City List was only 15 minutes away!


A journal spread about my issues with thrashers, from Joshua tree.

So 15 minutes later I was on the sidewalk on Diamond Heights, peering into the dense bushes on the hillside. Nothing. I looked up to the west and saw a large congress of ravens, circling over Twin Peaks. Before the 1980’s the common raven was not so common in San Francisco. Their population has risen since that time and they are now very common on the west side of San Francisco. Could the same thing be happening to the California thrasher? Too early to tell.

After twenty minutes of searching I was still having no luck. And then off to my left I heard the unmistakable song of California’s coastal thrasher. I ran over and found the bird singing, perched on top of a bush. I had great views of the songster for over five minutes before it finally dove down into the bushes.

A new San Francisco City and County bird!


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