From Birding

Lifebird #37 – I’ll Need a Real Field Guide

Species  Chestnut-backed Chickadee / Poecile rufescens
Where Patrick’s Point State Park, Humboldt County, CA
When May 29, 2004
Who Joann, Dad
Number 37

In 2004 I still did not consider myself a birder. Joann and I watched and identified birds at our feeders, and we enthusiastically checked off each new species in our copy of Birds of Minnesota and Wisconsin. But the only birds other than “yard birds” that occur prior to this Chestnut-backed Chickadee on my list are the three Hawaiian birds that somewhat accidentally and retrospectively head it (see A House Sparrow in Paradise for an explanation), and a handful of large and hard-to-ignore birds seen without binoculars near our house. (In fact, I did not own a decent pair of binoculars at this point. Joann and I shared a cheap pair of miniature Bushnell 10×25 binos to look at birds through our living room window.)

But even then a visit to California was an opportunity to see new birds, though I didn’t always take the time to record any details. On this occasion I had an extra pair of Dad’s binoculars with me during an overnight trip to the coast. Dad was a fairly new lister at this time and had his copy of Sibley Guide to Birds with him, and was eager to add any new birds he might see on the west side of the coastal mountains. As we mulled around a picnic table at the top of the bluffs that overlook Agate Beach, Dad spotted a chickadee in some nearby bushes and called Joann and me over for a look. This wasn’t the Black-capped Chickadee familiar to us from Minnesota (it’s not found in California at all). What we were very excited to see was a small chocolatey chickadee that we were able to confirm, using Dad’s copy of Sibley’s, as a Chestnut-backed Chickadee. It’s found almost exclusively along the West Coast from San Francisco Bay north through the Alaskan panhandle.

This Chestnut-backed Chickadee was the first bird outside of my yard that I took special notice of, and of which I remember the specific day and circumstances of my first sighting. To this day (more than six years later), it is the only individual of this species I have seen. This bird was the first (of many) species I owe to my Dad’s prowess as a birder, and it led directly to the purchase of a my first real field guide, the Sibley Guide to Birds.

XXXXYou may have noticed that the photo which accompanies this account is not of a Chestnut-backed Chickadee. Instead, it is a photo taken one day following the sighting (by an unknown person, but with my camera) of a large contingent of Bachmans and Bachman-related beachgoers at Patrick’s Point State Park, just a long downhill trek from where the bird was seen.

See lifebird index.