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Some remarks on birding in Santa Barbara County
by Barb Millett
For many years the only bird records I kept were for my California and North America lists. It wasn’t until this SBCO Birding listserve was in its 8th year that I decided to pull together what records I could find and join the fray of county listing. Those records added up to 372 species – a total which probably errs on the low side, but better that than an inflated number. And may I say that if I didn’t hate being seasick so very much, this total would no doubt be more impressive.
I’ll mostly comment on pre-
I began seriously studying local birds in 1978, when I took a vertebrate zoology course at UCSB, a course which includes being tested on bird identification in the field. On the quarter system you have to learn a lot pretty quickly. After finishing my biology degree, I moved away for four years. During that time I did a lot of birding in northern California, New York State, and New Jersey. My serious Santa Barbara County birding didn’t begin until December 1985 when I moved back to Santa Barbara.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s I was out birding often with my buddies Joan Lentz,
Guy Tingos, Allyn Bissel, and Shawneen Finnegan. They shared with me their knowledge
of bird identification, vocalizations, and where the best birding spots were in the
county. Before cell phones and this SBCO Birding listserve, there was an imperfect
“telephone tree” of sorts to alert birders to rare or unusual sightings. It was
all very ad hoc. Allyn used to say if you’re lucky enough to get one of those calls
you’d better show up where the bird was seen; or you won’t get called the next time.
It seems this is part of an unwritten Birders’ Code. I remember a phone call that
sent me running to Winchester Canyon to see the Red-
After spotting something unusual or noteworthy, to get the word out, we did have
the Rare Bird Alert – many thanks to Karen Bridgers -
I have never found a first county record myself, but one October day in 1989, I was
with three other birders when a new species was added to the list, and it’s one of
my favorite memories of birding in this county. Shawneen Finnegan, Joan Lentz, Tom
Wurster and I were birding near Guadalupe, in a spot referred to as “the pond at
the Blue Barn”. We saw a group of teal in basic plumage, and three of us, being
unimpressed, were ready to leave. But Shawneen thought she saw something different
about one of them. She was thinking Garganey, and that was in fact what the bird
turned out to be. None of us, including Shawneen, had ever seen this species before.
It’s hard to admit it, but we were puzzled by the attention she was giving this
rather plain looking duck. In breeding plumage, a male Garganey is very distinctive,
but in basic plumage, the field marks separating species of teal from one another
are subtle. And to make matters more difficult, the bird kept hiding in the reeds.
One field mark is gray legs (as opposed to yellowish legs in Cinnamon and Blue-
Anyone who has been birding more than 10 or 15 years has seen the major changes brought
about by the Internet, email and cell phones. These have all had major effects on
how we gain knowledge of birds and circulate that knowledge. And here I’d like to
thank Jamie Chavez and Guy Tingos for the fine job they’ve done moderating our listserve.
But for me at least, there is a slight downside to all the technology; I think some
of the fun of birding has been lost. Before cell phones, we would use charades
and sign language to communicate with fellow birders on the other side of the slough,
or over in the next broccoli field. And there was the fun of leaving notes under
rocks. “The Sharp-
One of the things I like so much about birding is that it generates so many stories. Two of the funniest stories I’ve heard took place here in Santa Barbara and have to do with Magnificent Frigatebird sightings (thanks to Larry Ballard and Chris Benesh for sharing these). Magnificent Frigatebird is in fact the bird I would most like to add to my Santa Barbara County list. I have missed it several times. So if you happen to spot one some summer, please call me ASAP. On my cell phone.
Barbara Millett’s Comments...