changes in SBCO fall birding

Shawneen Finnegan/Paul Lehman <lehmfinn@...>

Dear SBCO Birders,

Sorry I can't report a local rarity, but given I am in New Jersey that's a bit
tough! But I thought I'd share a few thoughts on the changes over the years in
autumn birder coverage in Santa Barbara County and how that might affect what is
being seen. My first-hand knowledge, of course, is from the mid-1970s to the
mid-1990s, a period during which huge changes took place. I also have a
reasonable feel for how things are going the past few years, as I keep in
regular contact with several of the local birders, visit periodically, and keep
up with the sightings on the rba transcripts and now also through "sbcobirding."

What first strikes me is how the "hot spots" keep changing every year or every
few years, and such changes may not be actually the result of changing habitat
quality and food supplies (which obviously due play an important role), but may
just be the reult of changing interests and mind-sets of local birders (myself
included). I have seen a sad decrease (significant) in the number of vagrants
found over the years (particularly warblers, Bobolinks, and a few other
seedeaters), from the peak in the 1980s. I assume this has been the result of
changing observer coverage, habitat loss (e.g., do the the words "Gaviota" and
"Black and Beteravia" mean anything to anybody?!), and probably to declines in
eastern passerine source populations. Of course other factors, such as a
season's weather (on both a local and regional scale) paly a role as well, but
those effects show up more on a month to month basis, or in comparing 1999 to
1998 for example, but not so much in looking at long-term trends.

So, as I sit here in New Jersey, I read of the current hot-spot beeing a Stow
House grove of eucalyptus of all things (I can't remember a bunch of eucs being
particularly good in fall, although in winter they are often very good, of
course)--but hey, maybe that's one of those mind-set "problems" I mentioned
earlier that many of us have had from time to time! But last year (or was it the
year before?) wasn't the mitigation site near Atascadero Creek the new hot-spot?
What happened to it this year? Has the habitat deteriorated, or is hardly
anybody going there?

That brings me to a slight aside: Do you know what the definition is of a
"birding hot-spot"?? It is any place that birders regularly visit!

Is Carpinteria Creek having a slow year or has coverage or habitat quality there
declined further? Atascadero Creek barnyard grass and willows? Along the creek
at the Botanic Gardens? Does anyone go to Pershing Park any more? Or the trees
around Laguna Blanca late in the day just before dark? I am sure Karen is
scouring the various north Goleta creeks, but I haven't heard too much from
there this season; they clearly suffered from some fair amount of habitat
degradation since first being "discovered" in the late 1970s, but they certainly
still have some good habitat. And we will try not to mention all the losses of
tamarisk trees in Goleta, Hope Ranch, and Carpinteria, and the disappearance of
their leaf hoppers even before that... But, back in the 1970s (into the early
80s) it was several lines of tamarisks there, and the now-defunct student
vegetable garden at Devereux, that were THE autumn hot-spots, especially for
warblers. Boy, has that situation changed! (One of my absolute favorite
spots--the Patterson ag fields--also aren't so "big" anymore, but I gather
public access and habitat quality have both suffered there a fair amount. But
that has resulted in a major decline in records of Red-thr Pipit, rare sparrows,
Bobolink numbers, longspurs, etc.) Also haven't heard much this fall out of
Refugio and El Capitan...

Fall birding destinations have changed greatly too on the North Coast of the
county. The realtively recent exploratrion of "the ponds" at VAFB have turned
up a long list of great birds, and their "discovery" and improved access has
been one of the biggest plusses in the past 5 years in the fall birding (rarity)
scene that I can put my finger on. On the flip side, what ever happened to
checking the willows along the Santa Maria River a bit inland of the river
mouth. During the 1980s we would regularly check the willows on the north side
of the road bordering the last few ag fields just short of just past the
entrance kiosk at SMRm, just after dawn when the early morning sun brought the
migrant and chickadee flocks out to the edge of the trees on the cool mornings.
We scored multi-eastern vagrants (mostly warblers) just about every visit. Is
there a private property access problem now? Or, perhaps, just nobody goes.
Ditto for lower San Antonio Creek on VAFB (definite access limitations).

The same changes in birder coverage are repeated in
summer. I think they are especially great in winter, where I think coverage
emphasis is quite a bit different than back 10 years ago. I certainly do not
wish to imply one era of birding has been "better" than another, not at all.
Just that they are different. And the resultant bird (especially rarity) lists
have changed over time as well.

Good birding! You certainly have another 3-4 weeks of prime fall rarity season
to go. Which makes an interesting aside: Peak fall vagrant season in Santa
Barbara County runs from about early September through early November (with
absolute peak around Sept 10/15 to Oct 25/30). But here in New Jersey and
neighboring states--despite our being farther north than you--our peak landbird
vagrant season in fall is clearly much later, from Oct 20/25 to Nov 20/25!