Monday, November 10, 2014

California Dreaming

Over the past weekend, I felt a strong urge to go to California.  So we got into our car and drove.  I had mapped out this trip a couple months in advance.  The purpose?  To find the wild and feral populations of exotic birds that have spread throughout the Southern California region.  While we were there, we would also study the rare California Gnatcatchers that lived in the preserve by our nearby hotel. 

Before I begin with this incredible bird list, I'd like to clarify a birding rule of mine.  In the United States, we have a very important organization known as the ABA or the American Birding Association.  While I do not always follow their rules, I do understand them.  They are the organization that tells birders which birds "count" and which ones "don't".  Over the years, invasive non-native species(to the US) like the House Sparrow, Monk Parakeet, Rock Pigeon, European Starling, Eurasion collared dove, Muscovy Duck, Rosy-faced Lovebird and many others have been added onto the lists and now "count" for birders. But ONLY if you go to the areas where they "count".  For example, you can only count a Rosy-faced Lovebird in Maricopa County, Arizona.   There are strict birders who only bird according to the ABA list.  Anything off that list is not worthy of their effort nor time.  And while that's certainly one way of looking at the birding world, it isn't necessarily mine. 

My criteria for "counting" a bird is a bit different. If the bird is not an escapee and has proven to breed and thrive in numbers, I will count it. Surprisingly, all of the birds featured today are countable in several areas around the US while others may join the list soon.  As a side note, ABA allows for the Spotted Dove to still be counted around the Los Angeles area while it appears that much of their population has almost disappeared!  I found one recent report around the LA area.  So what happens when these feral birds have a fallout?  Do they also fall off the ABA list? 

Red-lored Parrot
Anyhow, let's get started. I was absolutely excited to find wild parrots flying free around the Orange County and the San Diego area.  

Let's begin with the Lilac-crowned Parrot below.

Lilac-crowned Parrot
This was a parrot at the top of my list.  It's disappearing from the wild in its native home of Mexico due to poaching and habitat loss.  Surprisingly, this bird has been around for quite some time in Southern California where it has sustained a slowly growing population.  The flocks are large and loud! Often they will be mixed in with their closely related cousins, the Red-crowned Parrots. Oh yes....another one of those almost cryptic species!

Red-crowned Parrot
The Red-crowned Parrot is now the only ABA countable parrot in California. It can also be counted in Texas. Their numbers have grown substantially over the past years in California, Texas and Florida.  Again this parrot is also from the Mexican region where it is also listed as endangered. However this parrot is not doing well. Its numbers have severely decreased in many parts along the Atlantic slope of Mexico. Will these parrots eventually only survive in the US?  Only time and conservation efforts will tell. 

Northern Red Bishop
Let's head over to Africa.  One bird that is being considered as an addition to the ABA list is the Northern Red Bishop.  In the Orange County area, these finch-like birds are common around parks and stream areas.  They are actually considered weavers and prefer grassy areas near water sources.  There are now feral populations in Southern California, Texas, Puerto Rico and several other Caribbean islands.  This is a stunner for sure!

Scaly-breasted Munia
Now this bird was JUST added to the ABA list.  This spice finch(formerly known as the Nutmeg Mannikin) now goes by the name Scaly-breasted munia.  Often they are heard quickly flying over your head but on a very special day, we noticed sparkles of raspberry purple coming from the reeds along an estuary.  When I got the binos on the bird, I was able to count 4 of them!  This is a stunning bird from India and Sri Lanka.  Its numbers have taken off and now these birds can commonly be seen at almost any locale you visit!

Egyptian Goose
Two birds considered for the ABA list were a bit surprising for me.  In Florida, the Egyptian Goose can be counted.  In California, more research needs to be done on this bird but they seem to be expanding their range.  Soon this bird may be "countable" on that precious ABA list.  We were lucky to spot two that flew into the woods and ponds we were scouting.  

Indian Peafowl....for now
Now this bird I've always wondered about.  I saw reports of these birds known as Indian Peafowl.  What in the world were they?!!  Turns out that the Indian Peafowl also goes by the general public name of Peacock! Except that Peacock refers to the male of the Peafowl!   Yes, these birds may also be added soon to the ABA list in California as they are breeding and expanding their range in wild areas.  However, the Indian title may be dropped and Common added instead.  

Pin-tailed whydah
Finally,  I had to end on one of my favorites.....the Pin-tailed whydah.  If I didn't have my ears, I wouldn't have been able to locate these tiny birds.  In fact,  they acted like little mice crawling through the grass.  This is a bird from Africa but now has established itself in places like Southern California and Puerto Rico.  During breeding season, the male develops a long tail that will make your jaw drop.  A field mark to help ID these little birds in their non-breeding plumage is that red bill. 

Birds are amazing creatures and I hope you enjoyed this inner city world travel.  Southern California is a strange place to bird.  It's saturated with buildings and people but if you look hard in between the cracks, you'll discover some hidden gems. 

I'll have more next week for you all on the native Californian species that we observed around Orange County and San Diego.  Until next time......

For more about other amazing birds from around the world, check out Wild Bird Wednesday!


  1. Very neat looking birds and great shots! I'd never heard of the ABA rules before, so it was interesting to learn!

  2. Awesome run through the exotics Chris! Reminds me of this:

    Can't wait for your next post.

  3. And to think I had to go all the way to South Africa to see a few of these. In fact the whydah I saw had a spectacularly long tail. Such an exotic weekend you had.

  4. I really don't know why they have to keep changing birds names. Don't like the new name of the Nutmeg Mannikan. that suits that bird better than the new name, (my opinion) Anyway, I loved see all your great bird shots and the video especially the 2nd shot.

  5. Such a colorful weekend!
    You will have to tell us one day where you are at with your own counting...
    You must be almost ready for a dictionary!

  6. Some good shots there! It's interesting about ferals etc. Some birders here don't record introduced species, but as was said at our last BirdLife meeting, 'How do you then record their spread, and the damage they are doing?'

  7. I so wish I could have gone on that trip with you! I didn't know about any of these birds, though, of course, I have heard of and seen peacocks. However, I did not know they were eBirdable anywhere in the USA!

  8. Wow, you're looking very pensive and Hollywood in that first shot, very handsome :) The birds you've featured here are so exotic, I guess with climate change we can expect habitat to shrink and stretch. Makes sense that birds, with their ability to fly, will be among the first to figure that out.

  9. A friend recently reported this on the ABA info...
    Interesting the ABA just recently provided clarification on birds like Spotted Dove--introduced, ultimately ABA countable populations that were once thriving but are now declining or have been eliminated (Budgerigar in Hernando Beach, FL, Crested Myna in Vancouver, BC). The new "rule" is that if they were countable when you saw them, they can stay on your ABA list forever, even if they become extirpated. So now is the time to get to Pasco County, FL for the last Budgie, or LA for the last Spotted Dove!
    Thank you Magill for this info!

  10. Well Kathie, if I tried ebirding an Indian Peafowl here in Arizona, I think I would get shot, but in California, it appears that they are actually wild! Thanks Rosemary for the compliment.

  11. no matter what continent, these are all exotics to me. :)

  12. A very interesting post, it's stunning to see the high number of invasive species.

  13. The parrots are gorgeous birds. The ABA ruels sound complicated. Interesting that peacocks are considered wild in California.

  14. How neat to be able to just pick up and go to California. BUT--I'm sure there was some great birds to be seen there.

    I didn't know the rules and regulations the ABA have... I would be just like you: Seeing the bird is what counts!!!!

    Love all of your birds today--but those colorful parrots are just amazing.

  15. Superb photos Chris and what a wonderful weekend you had :)

  16. This sort've reminds me of native plant species as opposed to introduced ones. Back when I thought we were going to retire in the foothills of the Virginia mountains, I had planned to join the Native Plant Society and create a garden of native-only plants. Sadly, I knew I couldn't have mullein in my garden, because I adore mullein--but it isn't native. BUT sometimes it's more than important to be a purist. Sometimes, you just need to enjoy the mullein and be happy you have some!

    Love the birds you are showing here, and I suppose most were originally escapees but now they are very much at home. The California climate must suit them. They are really beautiful. Glad you aren't a true purist, Chris! :-) Really enjoyed the post.

  17. I'm like Tex... all exotic to me as well, seeing as I livie north of the 49th. If I see a peacock it is in somebody's yard...oh, and I saw an Emu a big yard... hahahah...

    How did these things get a start anyway? Did somebody just bring one breeding pair or what? I'm so nosy I always need to know the rest of the story ... I bet they get a surprise in winter ...even in California some weeks....

  18. Hi BumbleVee! As Marie mentioned, most are escapees from zoos or people's cages. They found each other and flocked and then.....they expanded. Pretty amazing that they could find one another and create their own populations. It still boggles my mind.

  19. You learn something new every day. I had no idea that "birders" had such strict rules. I just watch birds for the sheer enjoyment of it.
    Anyway you had some fabulous shots of the different birds. I like those Parrots, so colorful.

  20. very informative post, thank you. I

    have seen the wydah in the garden and the parrots of course, but not any of the others. The Northern Bishop is quite exotic looking.

    thanks again for an educational post with beautiful photos.

  21. How lovely for me to see these unusual birds through your blog. Seems like terrible snobbery, but I understand why if its people passion. Me...well I am always delighted to see a blue tit or a grey squirrel, a butterfly or a ladybird, they are all special to me.

  22. A fascinating, and beautifully illustrated post, Chris. I loved the youtube clip!

  23. The only Parrot I have ever seen in the wild was in the rain forest on the island of St Vincent in the Grenadines. They were endangered there at that time. Same thing, poachers. Very nice photos.

  24. It must be exciting to get to photograph all these different birds. I know the ABA is important and probably has excellent reasons for why some birds count and others don't. I would count every new bird I saw, regardless..but I don't follow rules very well! Great shots, btw.


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