After striking out on three separate occasions on the ultra rare dusky warbler in South San Franciso, I was in need of a life bird. Once you have crept into the 500s, a completely new North American species can be very hard to find. But with time and patience, anything is possible.
Nicasio Reservoir in western Marin County has always been a great place to bird. In September of 2012, DICK and I had great views of a pectoral sandpiper on a fall afternoon. What brought me back to this reservoir, just across the channel from where I first saw the pectoral, was a small twitcher of a bird with a streaky back and a buffy wash. It was a rare red-throated pipit. This Eurasian pipit has a very limited breeding range in Alaska and a few red-throateds make their way down to the California coast each fall.
When I arrived I scanned the eastern shoreline from Nicasio Valley Road. The first birds to catch my attention were two killdeer and then I noticed smaller birds working their way among the grass, American pipits. This was a promising sign. The red-throated tends to associate with Americans during migration.
I scampered down to the shoreline and headed towards the channel off to the northwest. There were at least 15 pipits on the shoreline ahead. I scanned the flock for the one that looked different, the one with the streaky back. No luck.
I returned to the shoreline where the pipit had been seen over the past few days. I sat on a boulder and waited for the bird to come to me. Slowly small groups of pipits returned to work the shoreline. I carefully examining each bird, trying to turn the plain back of the American into streaks.
Then at 12:20, a pipit seemed to appear out of the grass, directly in front of me. This was a pipit of a different sort, bluff wash, white wing bars, and a streaked back. Bingo, North American life bird #503, red-throated pipit (Anthus cervinus).
I called DICK to coax him out to western Marin, which was not hard to do. While I waited for him to arrive, I sketched the shoreline of the reservoir. He arrived half and hour later with containers of golden hoppy celebration. He raised glasses, then we raised glasses, toasting to a new life bird.
A fellow birder on the beach commented, “You guys sure know how to bird!”
And indeed we do!