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sbcoBIRDING Santa Barbara County Birding

It is hard to believe that it's been ten years now since "The Birds of Santa Barbara County, California" was published and I moved out of the county and state! That now equals half the time period I lived in Santa Barbara: from 1974 to 1994. That period was--in many ways--the heyday of initial discovery in much of the county, and so those of us active during that period were responsible for many a first county record. Back then, even things like Chestnut-sided Warblers and Northern Parulas caused great excitement. We weren't jaded yet! Heck, we even chased all the way to Jalama State Beach in autumn 1978 to see our first Great-tailed Grackle in the county. My how times have changed!


Beginning in the early 1970s, people such as Richard Webster, Louis Bevier, Brad Schram, T. Nelson Metcalf, and Kevin Aanerud were beginning to find a number of the migrant and vagrant traps in Santa Barbara and Goleta. Beginning in the mid-/late '70s, we then fanned out to "find" such great spots as the Patterson ag. fields and Atascadero Creek, Carpinteria Creek, the north Goleta creeks, Gaviota (R.I.P.), Refugio, and El Capitan State Beaches, spring seawatching at Goleta Point, the winter wonderland that are the well- vegetated residential areas in Montecito, Hope Ranch, and Mission Canyon, the entire North Coast (especially the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez River mouths), boat trips on Lake Cachuma, the Santa Ynez River watershed riparian, Big Pine Mountain, and the Cuyama Valley. Some of those sites, especially the various rows of South Coast tamarisk trees that were so good for vagrant warblers in fall, no longer exist or have been negatively impacted substantially. Other sites have stayed the same, and some new great places have been found.


There are countless exciting moments that occurred during that 20-year period, many with good birding friends including Webster, Bevier, Schram, Aanerud, Joan Lentz, Larry Ballard, Jon Dunn, Chris Benesh, Hugh Ranson, Tom Wurster, Robb Hamilton, Guy Tingos, Joan and George Hardie, Shawneen Finnegan, Karen Bridgers, Jim Greaves, Nancy Crawford, Eileen Gray, Paul Collins, Mark Holmgren, Richard Jeffers, Brad Hines, Ken Hollinga, and many others. Many a rare bird found in the A.M. was followed by a group chase of that bird in the P.M. once folks got out of work or school, which was then followed by a (usually) celebratory Mexican dinner and predictions of what the next great birds and first county records would be (usually wrong).


Since that period, there have been great advances in bettering our knowledge of a number of riparian systems, Vandenberg AFB (e.g., "the Ponds"), the backcountry, and the offshore pelagic waters (far more whalewatch and scheduled pelagic trips go offshore now than before, as my still "missing" such things Black-footed (!) and Laysan albatrosses, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Red-billed Tropicbird, all boobies and Pterodroma petrels, etc. for the county testify to).


I have lost track of how many first county records I found between 1974 and 1994, or even what my 400th county bird was. Since moving away in 1994 I have added only the wintering Broad-tailed Hummingbird in Hope Ranch to my county list.


I certainly still remember well the very first week I arrived in Santa Barbara in September 1974--as an incoming freshman at UCSB--and how Brad Schram didn't call me about a Great Crested Flycatcher only a few miles away because he thought that since I came from New York I wouldn't be interested in such a bird! We soon cleared up that misconception! (And I later would see two GCFLs in the county.) Some of my 20-year highlights certainly included my finding the first Little Curlew for North America in the Santa Maria Valley in September 1984 while looking for a Curlew Sandpiper found earlier in the day, and having a White Wagtail and Sulphur-bellied Flycacther very close to each other in autumn 1978 at Devereux.


The other fondest memories would probably include the wintering Yellow-billed Loon at Goleta Beach Pier in early 1982, Roseate Spoonbill at Devereux Slough in September 1977, Garganey at Santa Maria in autumn 1989, Wilson's Plover at the Santa Barbara harbor in August 1992, Red-necked Stint at the Santa Maria River mouth in July 1990, my lifer Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at Devereux in October 1977, the first Little Gull for the county plopping in front of us at Devereux in April 1977, expecting to see a reported Common Ground-Dove at a north Goleta feeder in January 1992 but having a Ruddy Ground-Dove fly in instead, a Whip-poor-will roosting for a day in Dean Bazzi's backyard in north Goleta in November 1982, the wintering Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at UCSB in winter 1992-1993, two separate flocks of Pinyon Jays over Atascadero Creek in the falls of 1981 and 1987, Dusky Warbler in the Patterson ag. fields in October 1993, my first stunning Golden-winged Warbler (Botanic Gardens, October 1982) and Yellow-throated Warbler (Sandpiper Golf Course, September 1976), having a skulking Connecticut Warbler almost walk over my shoe near Patterson Avenue in September 1990, and the first of the wintering Grace's Warblers in Montecito (1980+).


There were also the "simpler" exciting moments of discovering many first summer/breeding records for the county on our first Big Pine Mountain trip in 1981, watching the Santa Barbara CBC species totals rise over the years to consistently vie for the national high, doing a seawatch in moderate rain and wind at Goleta Point in early March 1977 and having a White-winged Dove fly in off the ocean from as far out as could be spotted with a scope, and watching my county Bendire's Thrasher and a Dickcissel sit side-by-side in the Patterson ag. fields. But such a list could go on forever, so I'll stop here!


--Paul Lehman                                                                                                                                                                                                 


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