#400 Cassin’s Kingbird

While updating my life list, I discovered that the Red-naped Sapsucker seen on this month’s Sea & Sage Audubon trip to Santiago Oaks was in fact a life bird. That makes the Cassin’s Kingbird we found a little later #400! (I had previously seen this one on my own at San Joaquin Wildlife Refuge but misidentified it there as a Western Kingbird.)

However, that number is a little “soft”. It includes several exotics that don’t officially “count” including:

  • Muscovy Duck (in my opinion, this one should count. These are feral populations, but very well established.)
  • Common Peafowl
  • Yellow-chevroned Parakeet
  • Greylag Goose: I know I’ve seen Greylag Geese in multiple countries. I just don’t know if any of them were wild.
  • Black Swan: this one really shouldn’t count, but it was very early in my list keeping.

If I remove those, I’m only at 395.

In fact, we had another “doesn’t count” bird on this very trip: Nutmeg Mannikin, Bird #401 if I count them all.

They’re also a few species I’m hesitant about, usually because I’ve only seen them once and imperfectly. Often the first time you see a bird, is a brief look through someone else’s scope or a quick glance through a tree with binoculars while the trip leader is shouting, “There’s the bird!”. If it’s a locally common bird, this is usually followed up with much better looks, and a growing comfort level with the species. For instance, the first time I saw Cassin’s Kingbirds, I completely blew the ID, and called them Western Kingbirds. The second time I saw Cassin’s Kingbirds, they were far off but I had a local leader to help and at least I got the ID right. The third time I saw it on my own, and knew immediately what field marks to look for to conclusively call it. At that point, I feel like I really know the bird; and have no compunctions about counting it for my life list. However sometimes, you never get beyond that first quick look. For me, these birds include:

  • Wrentit: heard once, never seen; never identified on my own
  • Whooper Swan: seen once from a distance at Jamaica Bay without a scope
  • Mottled Duck: one view in flight from a moving car
  • Common Buzzard: a Buteo soaring over Venice, but was it this Buteo?
  • Philadelphia Vireo
  • Acadian Flycatcher
  • Vaux’s Swift
  • Iceland Gull
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Northern Goshawk

Some of these I’m more sure of than others. For instance, I know I saw Wilson’s Snipe and Northern Goshawk, because I trust the trip leader who found both of them; but I don’t feel like I really have those birds. I’d just like to firm them all up if I could. (There are also many species I’ve seen only once, but that I was able to see much better; in some cases even photograph. I’m fully confident in counting my recent Greater Roadrunner, for example.)

There are a few more species that I have very poor records of, or just didn’t see all that well, and would like to see again, including pretty much all my Storm-petrels and Shearwaters, the Upland Sandpiper, and Black-billed Cuckoo. However these birds are so hard to find, that I should probably just be happy that I’ve managed to find them at all.

On the other hand, there are some I’ve almost certainly seen, but just couldn’t conclusively ID, including Long-billed Dowitcher.

My life list also includes several dozen species from Europe so my ABA area list is only around 350 or so. Next month I hope to add a few dozen from China, and that should push me over 400 with no questions asked, even if the exact number is still a little fuzzy.

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