On Species 196

(NOTE: This was an introductory post I wrote for bloombiological.com) Allow me to introduce myself: I am Marcus C. England, Vice President of Bloom Biological, Inc., a Senior Biologist, a birder, an ultrarunner, a husband, a stepfather, and a dog owner. It is important to note that the order in the list does not connote importance. At the beginning of 2015, I started what I am calling a “Pseudo Big Year”. A Big Year, in birding parlance, is when a birder spends a year of focused effort trying to observe as many bird species as possible in a defined area. In my case, this defined area is Los Angeles County, California. Why “Pseudo”, you ask? Because, unlike many birders doing a Big Year, the pursuit of a large number of bird species is not the sole focus of my existence during this effort. I still have a job, I still have a family to spend time with, and I still am spending a large amount of my free time as a trail runner. All of those things take up a large amount of my time. The thing that is different for me in 2015 is a significant effort to make time specifically for birding, and a significant effort in using ebird and other sources to “chase” particular species that have been observed by others. As a birder, even when it was a primary use of my outdoor time, I was never much of a “chaser”, so this is all new to me.

A male California Gnatcatcher, a threatened species, photographed by the author on a project site in San Diego County in February 2015.

When the new BBI website was being prepped to go live, I was asked to contribute to the blog regarding my Big Year activities. Of course, it is now April 2, 2015. I have been working at the Big Year for three months. Much has happened. I’m not sure it is really feasible for me to summarize it all. May it suffice to say that I started with a very strong January, ending the month with 176 species, which was only 22 species short of my total for all of 2014. Once February started, I have been mostly in the field working on various BBI projects, mostly outside of Los Angeles County. Consequently, my pace in adding in new species has slowed considerably, despite being outdoors somewhere pretty much every day. Being out in the field is a joy, but it matters little to my Los Angeles County Pseudo Big Year if that field location is in San Bernardino, Riverside, or San Diego counties.

So, with all of that said, I will just jump to a detailed description of how I obtained species 196, or better stated: My 196th bird species detected in Los Angeles County in 2015. It is a common one. It is a species that I would have obtained at some point with relatively little effort, perhaps even in my own yard. That species is Pacific-slope Flycatcher. This small flycatcher is a common breeder in wooded areas in southern California, often found in low and mid-elevation riparian zones. They just started moving into southern California on migration in the last few weeks. I first detected one (actually several) this year in Orange County, on March 21, as I was running the Old Goat 50 mile trail race. Of course, birds observed in Orange County don’t count toward my Los Angeles County total.

Today is an office day. When working in my office, I work from my home in the northeastern portion of the City of Los Angeles. If my workload and conference call schedule allows for it, I try not to work a 9 to 5 day on office days. Instead, I break my day up, often going birding or running. On running days, I will often try to run in the middle of the day because the warmer weather is better for race preparation. After doing some work in the morning, I began to consider where and when I would run. When considering such things, I think of how much time I have away from my desk, whether I really need cell phone reception along the entire route, and what sorts of habitats or views I am in the mood to run in. Also up for consideration: What birds use those habitats, and whether a running area could net me a new species for the year.

I chose a really difficult 10.5 mile route in the Verdugo Mountains with 3,500 feet of elevation gain. This is a place I frequently run in because it is close to my home. I also have more bird species documented there than anyone else. I have cell phone reception on the entire route in case urgent work issues come up. I also still needed Pacific-slope Flycatcher for the year, and I knew they breed in the canyon right at the start of the run. I arrived at about 10:30. Heard the first high-pitched call of a Pacific-slope Flycatcher at 10:32. Heard at least two more further up the route. If I were just birding, I’d probably have pictures. Unfortunately, taking bird photos isn’t practical on a run. I ended the jaunt with 27 total species. Pacific-slope Flycatcher was my 196th species for Los Angeles County in 2015. You can view the species list at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S22645550.

I will continue to contribute to this blog at irregular intervals as I add new species. Until next time, remember to get out. Enjoy life. Enjoy the outdoors. You have one life and one planet. Explore it.

Map of today's running route in the Verdugo Mountains in blue. Pacific-slope Flycatcher locations are symbolized by the red dots.