Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hammond's Flycatcher!


Today I got a lifer - a Hammond's Flycatcher! I saw it at Harriet Wieder Regional Park in Huntington Beach, at the south end of Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. I first saw it teed up on a chain link fence, and thought "Hey, that looks like a Hammond's!". The bird promptly dove into a nearby ravine filled with willow thickets, but eventually came out and gave great views back on the fence. Brian Daniels, who was there today, first found the bird Monday. I didn't know it was there, so I was really excited to see it! Hammond's Flycatcher is very unusual during the winter in southern California. Now I've seen all the regularly-occurring empids in the ABA area!

There were other interesting birds around Harriet Wieder Regional Park this morning - a single Pacific Golden-Plover still hanging out with the huge flock of Black-bellied Plovers, a Yellow Warbler in "Fisher's Gulch", and flocks of American Pipits and Western Meadowlarks. Brian also found a "Red" Fox Sparrow in the parking lot the other day, but I couldn't find it. Earlier in the morning my mom and I birded Bolsa Chica proper for a little while - some of the more interesting birds we saw there included a single Reddish Egret, lots of Surf Scoters, Ruddy Turnstones, and several Glaucous-winged Gulls.

Yesterday, while my mom and brother were shopping for textbooks on the UCI campus, I wandered around San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary for awhile. I birded the front three ponds. The first pond had low water levels and held Western, Least, and Spotted Sandpipers, plus Long-billed Dowitchers. The second pond was quiet except for a few stilts, avocets, ducks, and a Green Heron. The third pond held a good variety of ducks - lots of Northern Shovelers, Cinnamon Teal, and Ruddy Ducks, along with small numbers of Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Bufflehead, and Lesser Scaup. Here's a photo of a "feeding circle" of Northern Shovelers.

I returned to the parking lot after a while and turned up a few Hermit Thrushes, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Song Sparrows, and more. Here's a picture of a Hermit Thrush - unfortunately it wouldn't come out of the shadows.

Suddenly, a new bird appeared on the scene:

Huh? What? I got quite a shock when I first saw this bird, but quickly I realized it was some sort of exotic/escapee.

I was puzzled even after flipping through the few foreign guides I own. I posted a photo and description on http://birdforum.net/, and the helpful birders there helped me identify it to a weaver, probably a Taveta Golden Weaver (Ploceus castaneiceps) or a Golden Palm Weaver (Ploceus bojeri). Both of these are native to Africa! Obviously this bird escaped from captivity. Still, it is a very cool bird and really interesting to see!

We also swung by the Irvine Civic Center on Wednesday morning to check out if the Wilson's Snipes that had been reported on and off the last month or so were still there. After scanning for awhile, I spotted a single snipe sitting on a small berm in the middle of the river - then I spotted several more, and then even more! I counted at least thirty, and there were undoubtedly more. A state/county bird for me!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

White Christmas


This photo proves that it can snow in California! There has been a little bit of snow in the upper San Gabriel Mountains the last few weeks. Down in the lowlands, however, I was enjoying an awesome birding day - sunny skies and temperatures hovering around seventy. I spent literally all day today biking around places near my house birding (what else is there to do on Christmas Eve?)

I knew it was going to be a great day before I even got out of bed. At six a.m., just as I was dragging myself out from under the warm covers, I heard a Western Screech-Owl out my window. Suddenly I was wide awake. It called several more times before the roosters starting crowing (yes, some crazy people in my neighborhood keep roosters). After getting ready, I headed out to Peters Canyon Regional Park first. I arrived just after seven and started birding. The lake had lots of ducks - including a female Common Goldeneye which gave great views at close range. One by one, I picked out different species of ducks - a few Hooded Mergansers and Redhead, singles of Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintail, and more. I worked my way around the lake at a good pace, picking up new birds constantly. I heard a sapsucker calling from the edge of the nearby neighborhood, but couldn't spot it. Fox, Golden-crowned, White-crowned, Song, and Chipping Sparrows were all around. California Quail and Cactus Wren, usually tough birds to get, fell into my lap with no trouble at all. I was out of Peters Canyon by ten a.m. with over seventy species in the bag.

On the way to Irvine Regional Park, my next destination, I stopped at Subway to pick up lunch and my only Great-tailed Grackles of the day. Irvine Park was nearly devoid of people but was teaming with birds. Near the entrance I found a flock of Lark Sparrows (usually tough to find), Acorn Woodpeckers, and trees FULL of finches. Pine Siskins were everywhere. At one point, I started pishing to try to pull some more finches into view. I immediately was surrounding by a swirling flock of about a dozen Pine Siskins! They flitted around right above my head, only a couple feet away. One even briefly landed on top of my cap! I was able to slowly raise my camera and snap this shot while this curious Pine Siskin sat about four feet away.

I was wandering around a nearby open park-like area when I noticed a tree riddled with sapsucker holes. I stopped, listened, and sure enough, I heard soft tapping. Then I spotted it - a female (I think) Red-naped Sapsucker! The light was bad, but I still tried to get some photos.

A few minutes later, I found two Red-breasted Sapsuckers. I ended up seeing about half a dozen sapsuckers (plus a couple unidentified ones) - the one Red-naped and the rest Red-breasted. I found a few more new common species for my list for the day and moved on. As I biked behind the stables, I spotted a dark bird with large white wing patches flying overhead. Screeching to a halt, I was treated to fine views of a lone male Phainopepla. Very nice bird! I continued onwards towards the Lewis's Woodpecker location. It took less than ten seconds to find the bird as it sat atop its favorite snag. I wish it always worked like that! After watching it for a few minutes I cycled by the Barn Owl tree. There he was, staring down at me from the depths of his hollow tree. I hit the lakes next, and easily found the resident Wood Ducks. I decided to "waste" some time photographing ducks. They were easily bribed with offerings of a crumbled up granola bar. I was surprised to see a few Ring-necked Ducks coming in within six feet of me, diving to get the food.

I blew about an hour in a fruitless search for Hutton's Vireo. I've had days when I see a couple dozen at Irvine Park, so it was extremely frustrating to not find any. I was able to find Brewer's Blackbird and Brown-headed Cowbird in the stables (good location for those birds!) I also found a tree full of Amazonia parrots, including this confiding individual that looks like a Red-crowned Parrot.

Around 2:45 p.m. I left Irvine Park, after finding nearly every possible target bird (with the exception of Hutton's Vireo, of course). I biked up to the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery to search for the Brown Creepers I saw there a few days ago. I found a couple Mountain Chickadees soon after arrival. There were so many people around that I ended up stashing my binoculars in my backpack - relying on my ears to find birds -since I didn't want to get kicked out. A big bonus was a calling Red-breasted Nuthatch near the back of the cemetery. I hadn't seen it there before. I biked through the entire cemetery several times, and criss-crossed it on foot, but I couldn't find any Brown Creepers. As I was about to leave, however, I heard a vireo scolding - yep, you guessed it, the Hutton's Vireo I had been looking for all day. I left the cemetery and arrived back in my neighborhood as the light was failing. I found the wintering Yellow Warbler along the Yellowthroat Creek in my neighborhood in about three seconds. Inspired, I tramped along the creek trying to flush out a Green Heron, and found a few Cedar Waxwings. My last new bird species of the day.

I ended up birding straight for about ten and a half hours. I never strayed more than a few miles from home, and I was limited to my bike and legs for transportation. Despite these limitations, I tallied 102 species for the day! My biggest biking-birding day ever.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Genuine Ring-necks!


Many birders wonder how the Ring-necked Duck got its name (honestly, wouldn't Ring-billed Duck be better??). There isn't a ring on that duck's neck! Was the name a mistake? Well, actually, it isn't. Ring-necked Ducks do indeed have a subtle brownish-orange neck ring, but it is completely invisible most the time. Today at Irvine Regional Park there were roughly fifty Ring-necked Ducks on the two small lakes there. I haven't seen them there before. They were so close and the light was so good that I could see the rings on the necks of the males! Here's a shot that shows the neck ring.

There were a few Lesser Scaup and a single female Canvasback on the lower lake as well. Really strange! I think they came from Peters Canyon, since we didn't see as many ducks there on the CBC Sunday. We also saw the Barn Owl in his hollow tree by parking lot thirteen, but didn't see the Lewis's Woodpecker in the five minutes we spent looking for it.

Earlier in the morning my dad, my dog (Chestnut), and I birded Yorba Regional Park along the Santa Ana River in Yorba Linda. Yorba Park isn't too large, but it has a few small lakes, large grassy areas, and lots of big trees. Today, there weren't too many ducks on the lakes, but quite a few herons and egrets, including this cooperative Great Blue Heron.

There was also a large flock of American White Pelicans fishing in one of the shallow lakes. They kept in a tight group, dipping their heads under to feed.

I noticed an adult Black-crowned Night-Heron tucked in amongst some rocks on the edge of one of the lakes. By slowly, stealthily zig-zagging my way towards it, I was able to get close enough for a few decent shots.

We walked all the way to the eastern end of the park, birding along the way. We didn't find anything extraordinary land birds, but a couple Mountain Chickadees were nice. We also found lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a Lark Sparrow, two White-breasted Nuthatches, and more. I was also pleased to see lots of Cedar Waxwings eating crab apples - one of my favorite birds. I like this shot with the two waxwings tucked away amongst the colorful leaves.

Yesterday I biked over to the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, which is close to my house. The cemetery was jamming with people putting Christmas decorations on graves, which limited my birding. One has to be very careful not to annoy people while birding in cemeteries. I found two calling Brown Creepers hanging out together and flitting from tree-to-tree nonstop. There were also several Mountain Chickadees and a few Western Meadowlarks around. While I was at the back of the cemetery, I spotted a large clump of pines out in the middle of the adjacent flood control basin. There are pines in the cemetery, but this was a large, mysterious-looking clump of pines that looked like it could house anything. It appeared to be about a half-mile distant. It ended up being over a five-mile round bike trip. Just before I got to where the pines were, I hit a fence plastered with "No Trespassing" signs. Rats! I did find Greater Roadrunner, California Thrasher, and California Gnatcatcher, though.

On the way home I stopped by the small lakes (people in Michigan would call them "ponds", but in California they are considered lakes) in our neighborhood. A Gadwall has been hanging out all week there, and I tried to get some pictures of it. It was fairly tame, but the light wasn't too great. I'll have to keep trying...

Monday, December 17, 2007

It's that time of year...

Yep, that's right, it's the time of year for Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs)! This weekend I participated in two CBCs: on Saturday, the South County CBC and on Sunday, the Inland CBC. An amazing weekend!

On Saturday morning I helped out with the pelagic section of the South County CBC, along with Kaaren Perry, Tom Benson, and Dave Raetz. We spent the whole morning out on a boat looking for pelagic birds. A BIG thanks to Mel and Linda who happily let us use their boat and "drove" us around. On the way out of the harbor, Tom spotted a Horned Grebe, which is a decent bird for the CBC.

We also spotted a couple Glaucous-winged Gulls and a Herring Gull in the harbor. Once outside the harbor we began to chum for the gulls. There were a few shorebirds on the jetty, and a Pacific Loon was also floating right by the jetty. We weren't very far offshore when we spotted our first Black-vented Shearwaters of the day. I was thrilled, since it was a lifer for me. Throughout the course of the day several flew through our attending gull flock at close range, giving great looks. We also began seeing Rhinoceros Auklets in good numbers; by the end of the day we had tallied about thirty! Singles of Pomarine Jaeger and Sooty Shearwater also put in brief appearances, and we saw several more Pacific Loons. Orange County generally has poor pelagic birding, but we had a fantastic morning, especially considering we didn't go more than three miles offshore!

This photo doesn't look like much, but those dorsal fins sticking out of the water belong to a couple Risso's Dolphins. We also had a good morning for dolphins, with three species seen: Risso's, Common, and Bottlenose Dolphins. All three were "life" dolphins for me. We also observed California Sea Lions and Harbor Seals.

In the afternoon we covered Saddleback College in Laguna Niguel. Since we had taken on this area at the last minute, we didn't really know where we were going and ended up wandering around the campus counting birds. I didn't see anything spectacular, but I did see a Pine Siskin and a Mountain Chickadee. As the sun sank, THOUSANDS of American Crows flew in to campus to roost. It was impossible to get an accurate estimate on the numbers, since there were so many. They blanketed the ground and filled the trees. The light was really bad, but here's a shot to give you an idea of how many there were.

I awoke at a ridiculously early hour on Sunday morning to go owling at Peters Canyon Regional Park for the Inland Count. Linda Oberholtzer, Brad Dawson, my dad and myself listed for a couple hours before dawn and were rewarded with a couple Great Horned Owls, a Virginia Rail, and a Marsh Wren. Once the rest of the group arrived (Linda had recruited an entire army of help), we split up and covered the park in the morning. Oddly, duck and coot numbers were down on the lake from a couple weeks ago, but the diversity remained high. For example, there was ONE (just one!) Green-winged Teal there, and just TWO American Wigeon. Shorebirds were plentiful (for Peters Canyon) - I saw Long-billed Dowitcher (7), Least Sandpiper (3), Killdeer (2), Spotted Sandpiper (1), and Greater Yellowlegs (1). I spotted a late Barn Swallow swooping over the lake, and while taking a breather on top of a large hill we saw a Merlin whip overhead. In the late morning we returned to the parking lot for lunch and to compile the list.

In the afternoon, several of us counted birds in the Lemon Heights area adjacent to Peters Canyon. Bent Tree Park was loaded with birds, especially Hermit Thrushes; there were at least twenty thrushes there. We wandered around a few residential areas, finding a Red-breasted Nuthatch, Hutton's Vireos, Townsend's Warblers, and more. After finding another Red-breasted Nuthatch at a nearby elementary school, we headed back to Peters Canyon in the late afternoon. Singles of White Pelican and Osprey had arrived at the lake - we had missed them in the morning. It was a lot of fun and we had a great day!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Southern San Diego County


Yesterday my dad and I spent the entire day birding southern San Diego County. We had an excellent day! We birded from Point Loma to San Ysidro. The above photo was taken at the Tijuana Estuary, a coastal salt marsh in Imperial Beach. The ridge in the distance is Mexico!

We started our day at Friendship Park in Chula Vista. A Pine Warbler had been reported there a couple weeks ago, and had been hanging around ever since. Within five minutes I spotted the Pine Warbler hopping around in a... yep, you guessed it, pine tree. We also saw a Brown Creeper there, as well as Townsend's Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and more. We then briefly stopped at the J-Street Marina, also in Chula Vista. A Eurasian Wigeon had been sighted there, but we couldn't find it. There was a large flock of over a hundred Brant spread across the protected bay, and a large assortment of ducks.

After we finished up in Chula Vista, we headed down to Imperial Beach. We dipped on the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that roosts in the eucalyptus trees in Imperial Beach Sports Park, unfortunately. Next, we swung by the Tijuana Estuary. There wasn't a whole lot around, but we saw some ducks, shorebirds, and a Clapper Rail. The rail was sticking its head and neck up out of the marsh vegetation. A very cooperative "Belding's" Savannah Sparrow posed atop a large rock in great light near the parking area of the estuary. I couldn't resist digiscoping it...

The Imperial Beach Pier was our next destination. A female Black Scoter had been seen there recently, and I was eager to see it. We walked out to the end of the pier, but didn't spot the scoter. We did see a couple jaegers off the end of the pier, including a Parasitic that put on a good show by flying around at close range. I also spotted several Pacific Loons way out in the distance being tossed around by the waves - a lifer for me (finally!). As we were about to leave, I spotted the Black Scoter with a few Surf Scoters a fair distance off the pier. While not a big deal back in Michigan, Black Scoters are rare in southern California, so I was excited to see it. A quick drive by the end of 7th Street was our last stop in Imperial Beach. We didn't see much save a Little Blue Heron.

We spent a couple hours birding the Tijuana River Valley. There were some good birds reported from that area - Crested Caracara, Common Ground-Dove, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Black-and-white Warbler, and Snow Goose. We dipped on all of them. We actually didn't see too much at all except a few Eurasian Collared-Doves. However, at Border Field State Park, I found a Green-tailed Towhee along the entrance road. This was a good consolation prize for missing the other birds - they are rare visitors outside the mountains. Otherwise, Border Field State Park was almost completely dead.

Our last stop was the San Diego River in Pt. Loma. The river was loaded with ducks and shorebirds. I was surprised to find quite a few Blue-winged Teal amongst the more common ducks. We also found our first and only Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitchers, Western Sandpipers, and Whimbrels of the day. There were also several Little Blue Herons hanging around, but I couldn't get any great shots because the sun was mostly hidden behind clouds.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A second county record!

I nearly hit the roof last night when I read a report of an immature ROSEATE SPOONBILL along the upper Santa Ana River in Orange, not far from my house. Spoonbills occur occasionally at the Salton Sea in Imperial County, but are extremely rare in the coastal counties. Orange County has only one other record; three birds together at San Joaquin Marsh over the summer of... 1977!

My mom and I chased it in the late morning, encouraged by a couple early-morning reports that the bird was still present and the identification was confirmed. The bird was hanging around in a small section of the Santa Ana River, just south of the Tustin Avenue bridge. As soon as we pulled up I jumped out of the car, grabbed by scope, and ran! A couple birders pointed it out to me on the opposite side of the river. We enjoyed good looks for just a couple minutes before the spoonbill disappeared behind a small dike in the middle of the river. Over the next hour it was elusive, occasionally poking its head up above the dike but out of view most of the time. Finally, it hopped over the dike and gave us fantastic looks while it fed. It was interesting to watch its strange behavior of walking through the water while swishing its bill back and forth. The light was very bad (by this time the sky had become completely overcast with thick, dark rainclouds - there's a b-i-i-i-g storm coming even as I write this), but I still managed to get a couple decent pictures.

Eventually the Roseate Spoonbill stopped foraging and climbed up onto the dike to preen and take a short rest. Here's a shot showing the "spoon bill".

There were lots of other interesting birds along the river - shorebirds, ducks, and raptors. It was amazing to watch a pair of Peregrine Falcons - the big female and the smaller male - chase each other around and engage in incredible aerial acrobatics. The female, at least, was unbanded. They eventually landed on a wire stretching across the river. Here's a shot of the female (I wish I could have gotten a photo showing the difference of size between the two sexes, but they were sitting too far apart).

Monday, December 3, 2007

Birding the North Pole


This afternoon I spent several hours birding Irvine Regional Park (aka The North Pole) after school. The area around the the railroad track has been decorated extravagantly with lights - twinkling, flashing, and shining Christmas lights of every color of the rainbow. The birds didn't seem to mind too much though. Indeed, the park was nearly deserted; there were very few people around except for a few workers installing more Christmas lights. It was a nice contrast with the weekends when pishing brings not only mobbing birds but also curious people.

My Lewis's Woodpecker was still faithfully hanging around the cluster of dead sycamores near parking lot number sixteen. During the twenty minutes I spent watching it, it didn't leave the tallest dead sycamore. "Old Reliable" the Barn Owl was still in his hollow sycamore near parking lot number thirteen. Today he was sitting up higher up than usual in the hole, probably enjoying the late afternoon sun.

I saw a total of three Red-breasted Sapsuckers. One was alone near the train ride parking lot area, and the other two were hanging out together near group area number four. The two were chasing each other around and calling a lot. One was much duller than the other - maybe a male and a female hanging out together? Very neat birds to watch. Here's a shot of a sapsucker-hole-riddled eucalyptus tree near parking lot number thirteen.

Compare the sapsucker's neat, small holes in organized rows with the untidy granaries of the Acorn Woodpecker. The Acorn Woodpeckers drill these holes everywhere - in trees, in buildings, and in telephone poles. They then tap acorns into the pre-drilled holes to store them. It seems like a smart idea, but the birds go overboard, filling whole trees and telephone poles with acorns. Why? They surely can't eat all of them, and there are plenty of other food sources available year-round in Orange County's mild climate. Lisa Bender sums up the answer to this question quite well in my opinion in her article about Acorn Woodpeckers in the latest issue of Birding: "They [the woodpeckers] are obsessive-compulsives, senselessly repeated an inane activity."

Otherwise, I saw mostly the usual Yellow-rumped Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and others. I noticed a single female American Wigeon at the lower lake while I shared my snack bar with the tame domestic ducks.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

RAIN!


It rained almost all day Friday. After months of beautiful, cloudless weather, it was very welcomed and needed. The rain started in the wee hours of the morning Friday, and continuously fell until late afternoon. It started up again for a few more hours during the night. At times, it rained very hard, transforming the Yellowthroat Creek from a small, gentle stream to a wild raging river! The water rose quite a bit, carrying debris and litter downstream. There weren't many birds out, but I spotted a drenched Green Heron stalking around on the creek bank, apparently flooded out of the creek. Even the drainage ditches were filled with rushing water.

I spent most of Saturday morning scouting out Peters Canyon Regional Park for the Inland CBC with several other birders. We met at 8:30 a.m., and walked the Lakeview, Willow, and Cactus Pt. Trails. We finished up by 12:30 p.m. Soon after arriving, I noticed a Bald Eagle soaring over the lake. I was happy to see it, since Bald Eagles aren't nearly as common in southern California as they are in Michigan. A state/county bird for me. We were pleasantly surprised to find at least four (two male and two female) Hooded Mergansers on the lake. Other interesting waterfowl on the lake included Canvasback, Redhead, Green-winged Teal, and more.

This afternoon I went to Peters Canyon Regional Park again, partially for mountain biking, and partially for scouting out the southern half of the park, which I had never visited prior to today. I biked all the way to the retarding basin and back. The southern half of the park was really birdy, especially along the creek. The habitat in the southern part is quite different from around the lake - there are a lot more trees, there's a creek with marsh vegetation, and there are several large groves of eucalyptus trees. It looks fantastic for migrants. Wish I had gone there earlier in the fall! I also found lots of sapsucker wells in the eucalyptus - a couple trees were completely covered with the wells - but I didn't actually see any sapsuckers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Peters Canyon & Irvine Regional Parks

Today I couldn't resist hitting my local patches, Peters Canyon and Irvine Regional Parks. I birded Peters Canyon before school, arriving around seven a.m. I birded for about two hours, walking the Lakeview, Willow, and Cactus Pt. Trails. The lake was peppered with ducks and coots. It was mostly the same varieties of ducks I've been seeing the last few times, but I was happy to see two Hooded Mergansers, quite a few Canvasbacks, and several Redheads. Passerines were mostly silent and hard to detect because of the gusty winds. I did see a flock of ten Western Meadowlarks around the Cactus Pt. Trail. I got great looks at a Northern Mockingbird perched on a cactus along the trail there as well. It was really tame, allowing me to walk within six feet of it! They're dirt common birds, but really neat nonetheless.

A couple weeks ago I hung a couple thistle feeders by my back patio. The Lesser Goldfinches love it! I've also seen American Goldfinches, House Finches, and Pine Siskins on it as well.

In the afternoon I birded for several hours at Irvine Regional Park. It was windy! I managed to root out some good birds anyway. I easily found the Lewis's Woodpecker by parking lot number sixteen again. Really amazing bird. He was sitting on a dead sycamore in the middle of the dry wash, where he hangs out most of the time. Here's a shot of the general area, showing the couple dead trees that he likes to spend his time.

I wandered around the park for a couple more hours, not finding too much of interest. The Barn Owl was back in his sycamore by parking lot number thirteen. I looked briefly for the Red-breasted Sapsucker there as well, but didn't spot it. I was headed home when I briefly checked the two lakes. The lakes usually are relatively birdless, being crowded with feral ducks. I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple American Wigeon and singles of Double-crested Cormorant and Pied-billed Grebe at the upper lake. At the lower lake I was very surprised to spot a female Hooded Merganser! That makes a total of three Hooded Mergansers for the day. The light was failing, but I decided to try to photograph it. It was very skittish, but I managed to get some reasonable shots by crawling through dirt, sharp sticks, and dead leaves.

As it was starting to get dark, on my way out of the park, I stopped briefly near group area number four to check out a large flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers and juncos. I was very surprised to find three sapsuckers hanging out together in a clump of evergreens near there. Two were Red-breasted Sapsuckers and the other was a Red-naped Sapsucker. I tried to turn the Red-naped into the Yellow-bellied, but it clearly showed red on the nape as well as neater black and white patterning on the upperparts. Still, it was pretty neat to see three sapsuckers together!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

It's a Short-eared Owl! Honest!


I know - it's an awful photo, but a great bird. Believe it or not, it's a Short-eared Owl. It's not a mega-rarity or anything, but its numbers have crashed in Orange County to the point where it is only a rare winter visitor. I saw it on Saturday morning at Upper Newport Bay, near the Muth Nature Center. There was an extreme high tide on Saturday (over seven feet), so I was looking for birds flooded out of the marsh. Other than the Short-eared Owl, I saw an American Bittern which was flying around looking very bewildered-looking, tons of Common Yellowthroats and Marsh Wrens, but no rails of any kind. Still, both the owl and the bittern were state/county birds for me, so I was very happy.

On Friday morning I birded Peters Canyon for a few hours in the morning with my dad and Bob Scrimger. The lake was absolutely fantastic for waterfowl; I had seventeen species. Some of the more interesting ones included Canvasback, Hooded Merganser, Common Goldeneye, Redhead, Northern Pintail, and much more. The rest of the park wasn't shabby either. In under three hours I found seventy-nine species, including eight new Peters Canyon birds for me: Canada Goose, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Bonaparte's Gull, and Marsh Wren. It was a beautiful morning with no wind and pleasant sunshine.

On Thursday morning, my dad and I slipped away for a couple hours to chase the Bay-breasted Warbler at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley again. One word will sum up the chase: failure. We did see a Red-breasted Sapsucker and a Gray Flycatcher, however. In the afternoon, I escaped the boredom of waiting for Thanksgiving dinner by wandering around Irvine Regional Park for several hours. I ran into birders Tom & Tiffany, from Manhattan Beach, looking at the Lewis's Woodpecker up on his dead snag in the middle of the wash by parking lot number sixteen. We were able to get great looks at it as it sat out in the open. We then tried for my "ultra-reliable" Barn Owl in a hollow sycamore by parking lot number thirteen. The owl was not there. However, I did manage to find them the Red-breasted Sapsucker that hangs around there. Later I saw a second Red-breasted Sapsucker at the other end of the park. By about one p.m. large crowds of noisy people had suddenly invaded the park, so I left.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Duck Days


I'll admit it - I love ducks. The striking coloration on the males and the subtle patterns of the females make them lovely birds to look at. Their behavior - diving underwater and popping back up, or tipping bottom up for food in shallow water is enjoyable to watch as well. I've been seeing lots of ducks lately, much to my satisfaction. I photographed this Ruddy Duck on one of the neighborhood lakes on Sunday afternoon. I love the peaceful effect created by the snoozing bird and the calm waters.

On Tuesday we dropped by Bolsa Chica briefly to see what was around. There were loads of ducks here - Buffleheads, Surf Scoters, Lesser Scaups, and more. There was a large waterbird fishing right by the boardwalk as well - and it wasn't a duck.

A loon - a Common Loon! I was pretty surprised to see it there, and at such close range - it repeatedly would swim under the boardwalk. A county bird for me. We were also entertained by an acrobatic Brown Pelican diving mere feet away. Other interesting birds I noted during the brief visit were a couple Glaucous-winged Gulls, lots of Eared and Western Grebes, and a few "Belding's" Savannah Sparrows.

This morning my mom and I attended Sea & Sage Audubon's Upper Newport Bay boat trip. I had registered months in advance, since the trips are popular and the boat is small. We had a fun morning, going all the way up to near the old salt dike. We got distant looks at a single male Eurasian Wigeon (state/county bird for me) near Big Canyon. We also were treated to at least six Blue-winged Teal, another county bird for me. Eventually, we had to turn around and head back. On the way home, we quickly checked Big Canyon to see if I could get a shot of the Eurasian Wigeon. To my great surprise there wasn't one Eurasian Wigeon but three! All were in a large flock of American Wigeons. They were all fast asleep but one briefly awoke to preen, and I managed a few decent shots.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A couple lifers!

I had a good day of birding today. In the morning my dad and I chased the Bay-breasted Warbler that had been spotted at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley a couple days ago. I did not see it despite walking around the nature area fence a couple times. I was very frustrated since the nature area is closed on weekends, but open on weekdays! Nevertheless, I saw some great birds there. I spotted a Plumbeous Vireo in the willows by the small pond in the nature area - not a county bird or anything, but still fun to see because it hadn't been previously reported.

One of my other major targets at Mile Square Park was a Greater White-fronted Goose that had been reported there several days before. It proved to be very easy to locate, grazing out on a lawn with a few Canada Geese. Greater White-fronted Geese show up almost every year in Orange County, and I was happy to see it since it was only the third time I've seen one. It proved to be fairly unwary, so I could get some nice closeups.

As we continued our fruitless Bay-breasted Warbler search, I heard the subtle whit call note of a Gray Flycatcher. I tracked it down, and sure enough, there was a drab gray empid wagging its tail on a fence. I found a second one nearby. They had also been reported recently. A lifer! Sure, it isn't gaudy, but still a very neat bird to observe. I also had a very brief sighting of a Merlin jetting overhead.

Once we gave up on the Bay-breasted Warbler (alas, it was seen half and hour after we left... oh well, I'll just have to try again), we headed to Huntington Central Park. We stopped in on the west side of the park first (I'd never been there before), looking for the Snow, Ross's, and Cackling Geese that had been reported there. Upon arrival, the only geese in sight were three giant white barnyard geese and a lone Canada. It was fun to watch the hordes of tame coots and wigeons, though. We tried our luck on the east side of the park, and came through with a female Summer Tanager in "The Island" area. We didn't see the Clay-colored Sparrow or Winter Wren, which had been my primary targets.

This afternoon I hopped over to Irvine Regional Park for a little birding. The Barn Owl was back in his hollow tree by group area three (he'd been absent the last couple times I've been there). Otherwise, bird activity was low. I wandered over to the dry wash, looking for herps and whatever else I could find. Suddenly I noticed a large, dark bird was flying around over the wash. "That's either the biggest Acorn Woodpecker or the smallest American Crow I've ever seen" I thought as I lifted my binoculars. The bird banked, revealing a bright pink belly. A Lewis's Woodpecker!! I got amazing looks at this drop-dead gorgeous bird as it sallied out from a large sycamore to catch flying insects. Unfortunately, I had no camera with me. I bolted home, and my dad and I rushed back with scope and camera. And... the bird was nowhere to be seen. We were about to give up when it flew up into a dead snag down the wash a ways. Before I could get closer to it, though, it flew and landed closer by in a sycamore. Another life bird!

Here's another angle. What an amazingly awesome bird! The pink belly, red face, gray collar, and iridescent greenish/black upperparts combine to make this one of the most elegant birds I've ever seen.

The bird spent awhile flycatching around the trees of the soccer field, before settling down in the top of an oak tree to catch some rays. I was treated to some fantastic close-up scope views. Needless to say, I took pictures! ;-)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

South County


Before today I hadn't birded much of southern Orange County at all. My dad and I spent this morning birding several different places in southern Orange County. I managed to get one life bird, a couple state birds and a few county birds.

Our first stop was Crescent Bay Point Park, a tiny park tucked in a residential area in Laguna Beach. The park is situated atop a high cliff, giving a commanding view of the ocean. There weren't very many birds there this morning, though. The only shorebird on the beach below was a Willet. I did spot a Parasitic Jaeger a short distance offshore, a state/county bird for me. I didn't see any Black-vented Shearwaters or loons of any species despite thorough scans of the ocean.

Our next stop was Treasure Island Park (where the photo at the top was taken), located a few miles south of Crescent Bay in Laguna Beach. It has a beautiful sandy beach, cliffs, and some rocky coastline. There was a whole flock of Surfbirds sitting out on a rock, but they were too far away to get good photos of. There were also lots of Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, Whimbrels, Black Turnstones, and one Ruddy Turnstone on the beach. I also saw a Pelagic Cormorant there, a new county bird for me.

We then drove down Pacific Coast Highway for several miles down to Dana Point, more specifically Doheny Beach State Park. This place is famed for gulls. There were plenty of them loafing on the beach! At first, I was only seeing the usual gulls: Western, Heerman's, California, and Ring-billed. Suddenly, I spotted a large, pale gull in amongst the flock - a first-cycle Glaucous-winged Gull! I then spotted a second individual nearby. A lifer for me, and an unexpected one at that. They aren't common in Orange County, but apparently they are fairly reliable at Doheny Beach. Here's a photo of one of the Glaucous-winged Gulls.

On the way back to the car I noticed a small tree filled with roosting Black-crowned Night-Herons. The tree was right next to a foot path, so the birds were very tame and didn't mind being photographed. One immature bird in particular cooperated well.

We briefly checked out the Dana Point Harbor in search of the King Eider that had been reported there a week ago. We dipped, but we did see another Pelagic Cormorant in the harbor. It was hanging out with a Double-crested Cormorant, so it was neat to get some comparison shots.

We decided to check out Laguna Niguel Regional Park, since we had never been there before. The lake held a fair variety of ducks, and the brushy area near the tennis courts was loaded with birds. Some of the more interesting ones included a "Myrtle" Yellow-rumped Warbler, Fox Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, and Townsend's Warbler. A really cool spot that I will definitely be visiting again in the future.

Our last stop of the morning was Forbes Road in Crown Valley in search of the Hooded Merganser that had been reported there. I've seen countless numbers of them back east, but they are not common in Orange County by any means. The bird had been spotted in a small, shallow drainage ditch in an industrial area. We looked for about half and hour and couldn't find anything.

In the afternoon I biked over to Irvine Regional Park to bird for several hours. One of the first birds I saw upon arriving was a gorgeous male Merlin that zipped by and attempted to catch a White-crowned Sparrow. I later saw it flying overhead. The park was crawling with Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-crowned Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kingles, and Dark-eyed Juncos. I saw a single Savannah Sparrow in a flock of White-crowned Sparrows in a large grassy area, and I also spotted a gorgeous Red-breasted Sapsucker near parking lot number thirteen. I got good looks at it as it hopped around in one of the eucalyptus trees there. I also saw a Pine Siskin in my backyard in the afternoon.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Peters Canyon & Starr Ranch

I biked over to Peters Canyon on Monday (I know, I'm posting late - been busy all week!), the first time I've been there in a couple weeks. I birded the Willow, Lakeview, and Cactus Point Trails. It was a rather chilly morning, and it was so heavily overcast that I didn't bother to even try to take photos. I managed to find seventy-two species in a couple hours, including seven new Peters Canyon birds for me: Redhead, American White Pelican, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Hermit Thrush, American Pipit, and Lark Sparrow. It was a pleasant morning to be out - the fog, clouds, and chilly temperatures probably drove away most of the bikers and joggers - I had the place almost to myself.

Wednesday was the first day of the winter MoSI banding at Starr Ranch. Starr Ranch is a very neat place, located smack dab in the middle of the thriving Dove Canyon subdivision. Unfortunately, it isn't open to the public. We banded for six hours, starting at six a.m. The banding area is a good blend of different habitats - riparian oak/sycamore, sage scrub, and an open grassy area. It was good to handle birds again after several months without banding! The pace was slow but steady; we caught at least a few birds on every net run. The highlight was a Brown Creeper which we caught and banded; it was the first record for the station. Brown Creepers are pretty rare in Orange County - only a few are reported every fall and winter.

I was actually more excited to catch several Golden-crowned Sparrows, a species I've never handled before. Great birds! I was very surprised to find that Golden-crowned Sparrows are much more common than White-crowned Sparrows at Starr Ranch.

The banding area was relatively birdy. There was a small flock of Purple Finches feeding in some tall sycamores above the nets, and a couple Pine Siskins flew overhead.

Today I again went banding at Starr Ranch. One of the first birds I saw in the morning was a beautiful male Scott's Oriole, which Justin Shew (the bander) had been seeing around the orchard recently. I was excited to see it - a state/county bird for me. Again, we caught birds slowly but steadily all day. We banded four "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warblers today, which was really nice.

We caught (and recaptured) quite a few Hermit Thrushes between the two days of banding. Lovely birds.

I was also very excited to catch this Bewick's Wren. A very sharp-looking bird! I love the white supercilium and the "Angry Wren" pose.

However, the most interesting bird of the day was yet to come. On one of our last net runs, another one of the assistants came across a California Gnatcatcher in the net! Unfortunately, we were not allowed to band it since it is an endangered species (this seems kind of backward to me; after all, shouldn't we be researching and finding out about these endangered species? Oh well...). Luckily, I had my camera in my pocket, so I snapped a quick photo before Justin let it go. Apparently, they are only very rarely caught at Starr Ranch; I think just one other has been caught there.

Other birds that we banded on the two days included California Towhee, Fox Sparrow, House Finch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Hutton's Vireo. In the late morning on one of the net runs I got brief looks at a Red-breasted Sapsucker that blew in and landed in a tree next the one of the nets while I was extracting a bird. Unfortunately, it took off after a few seconds and was never seen again. I would have liked to get better looks at it. Another new county bird! I heard a few Purple Finches throughout the day, and heard another Pine Siskin fly overhead while I was waiting for my parents to pick me up in the afternoon. It was a really great day - we banded a fair number of birds and observed some interesting ones.