The Best of the West

My vacation this summer has a very unique flavor to it. I’m currently writing from a physics research site at Stanford, where people far smarter than me do all kinds of science. My good friends Dylan and Aly have been kind enough to host me for a two-week visit to the Golden State. It has been over a decade since I last came to California, and I’m looking forward to exploring areas I’ve never seen before. The opportunity to catch up and share some adventures with some close Cornellians was a mighty fine excuse to revisit the West Coast.

An early morning flight landed me in San Francisco around 10 AM Pacific Time. Dylan picked me up at the airport and gave me a small tour of Palo Alto and the Stanford campus as we made our way to SLAC, the Stanford Linear Acceleration Center. My old college buddy made it through Cornell’s honors physics program with some seriously impressive scores, and for the past two years he has been studying at Stanford and learning even more about how the universe works. I got to see where the science gets done, and I was able to sit in on Dylan’s talk about some impressive, impossibly-complicated theoretical physics. Reuniting with Aly, we kicked the vacation off with an awesome first night and discussed our upcoming schemes. I’m glad I get to spend some quality time with familiar, sorely-missed faces after a crazy year of teaching.

This is not a birding trip. At times, it feels like it might even be more of a Pokémon GO trip. However, everyone knows that I will sniff out feathered fun no matter where I go and what I’m doing. A casual stroll around the SLAC facilities turned up my first lifer of the trip, a California Towhee feeding its young in a courtyard. I also spotted old friends in the form of “Oregon” Dark-eyed Juncos, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and Anna’s Hummingbirds as we ran errands around campus. We even located my first Oak Titmouse when we were picking up pizza for the physics talk. Dylan’s backyard proved to be lively this morning, hosting numerous squirrels and a delightful flock of Bushtits that swarmed through the trees like a twittering tornado. These little guys are even fluffier and cuter than I imagined.

The other new bird I’ve scored so far is one of the newest birds you can score in North America. Earlier this month, the American Ornithologist’s Union published their annual checklist supplement. This publication includes information about taxonomy and classification, including decisions about which species have been added or removed from the list of countable birds in our region. Birders often lose or gain lifers based on the deliberation of the committee, so the supplement’s release is highly anticipated in the community. This year, one of the changes made was a “split” of the Western Scrub-Jay into two distinct species based on the degree of distinctiveness between its coastal and inland populations. I had already seen the interior Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay in the past, but the newly-recognized California Scrub-Jay was a fresh blank space on my list. Checking it off felt very satisfying, and the birds themselves provide classic corvid entertainment.

While Dylan works, I keep making forays out onto campus for local specialties like Acorn Woodpecker and Lesser Goldfinch. One of my outings led to my first looks at a Hutton’s Vireo moving through the tangled branches. Pretty soon we’ll be headed back to the ranch to make preparations for the weekend. This evening sees us driving down to Monterey, and our Friday morning plans promise no shortage of excitement. Just as birders look forward to the AOU Supplement each year, the turn of the seasons heralds another major birding tradition that I will finally get the chance to take part in. Tonight we rest, and tomorrow…we set sail.

Year List Update, July 28 – 342 Species (+ California Towhee, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Oak Titmouse, Anna’s Hummingbird, California Scrub-Jay, Bushtit, Acorn Woodpecker, Hutton’s Vireo, Western Bluebird)

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About timhealz

A recent graduate (Cornell '14) and lifelong explorer cataloging my thoughts and travels.
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