Saturday, September 29, 2007

A foray to San Diego

My dad and I made a quick run down to the San Diego area this morning to chase the Bar-tailed Godwit at Famosa Slough, which has become quite a celebrity over the past week. We found it within minutes of driving up. Bar-tailed Godwits are normally found in Eurasia, and a few breed in Alaska, but they are very rare in southern California. A lifer! The bird was quite cooperative, but it was rather distant and the light was poor so I couldn't get any decent shots. You can tell what it is, though! There were tons of birders there enjoying the bird - some drove down from Santa Barbara and Los Angeles! Here's another shot of the Bar-tailed Godwit:

There were plenty of other interesting birds at the slough, including a single Little Blue Heron and at least four Blue-winged Teal, both decent birds for California. Other more common birds there included Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Black-bellied Plover, both Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers, and many more.

On the way home we briefly stopped at La Jolla Cove, about five miles north of San Diego. There are lots of scenic cliffs, and the area was jammed with people. It was jammed with birds, too! I actually got three lifers here - Brandt's Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, and Wandering Tattler. It was my first time birding rocky cliffs/shoreline, hence the relatively common lifers. There were lots of Brandt's Cormorants, a handful of Double-crested Cormorants, and one Pelagic Cormorant. Also present were a bunch of seals. Here's a shot of a Wandering Tattler with two Black Turnstones and a Willet:

There were a few Whimbrels hanging around as well - this one was resting on a shelf, preening.

Lastly, here's a shot of several Brandt's Cormorants loafing on a rock offshore. The leftmost bird is a Double-crested Cormorant.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

More Hermit Warblers

This morning I briefly birded at Santiago Hills Park, which is a small urban park about half a mile from my house. It is a grassy park with lots of tall exotic trees, which migrants love as I found out today. I saw a Hermit Warbler in a row of conifers near the intersection of Newport and Chapman on the way to the park (yes, I do screech my bike to a halt and whip out binoculars whenever I hear warbler chips). The park had lots of Yellow-rumped, Yellow, Orange-crowned, and Wilson's Warblers, along with two Black-throated Gray Warblers and a single Townsend's Warbler. I found another Hermit Warbler poking around in a small pine tree, providing excellent looks from just ten feet away.

Also, yesterday I birded Peters Canyon. I didn't see anything unusual, and no birds cooperated for photos. I did add five new birds to my PCRP list - White-faced Ibis, Western Wood-Pewee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Chipping Sparrow, and Lincoln's Sparrow - bringing the list up to ninety-nine. Just one more...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Rare and Elusive Redstart

Yep, that's an American Redstart - I saw it this afternoon at Huntington Central Park in Huntington Beach. Even though I've seen countless numbers of them in the East, I was still very excited to see it. American Redstart is probably the most common "vagrant" warbler in California - but still notable. Huntington Central Park had quite a few warblers this afternoon, but there didn't seem to be as many as at Irvine Regional Park yesterday. There were good numbers of flycatchers (lots of Pacific-slope Flycathers, three Western Wood-Pewees, lots of Black Phoebes, some Cassin's Kingbirds, and a couple unidentified empids), and I also saw my first Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Hermit Thrushes of the season. A couple Great Horned Owls were sitting right above the footpath, attracting quite a crowd of passersby. Back in the parking lot, just as we were about to leave, a couple of gorgeous Townsend's Warblers were foraging at eye level. This lovely guy/gal came in with a short bout of pishing, posing cooperatively in good light.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rainy Day Misadventures

Rain? What's that?! We got heavy showers several times today, and I birded right through it. I rode my bike to Peters Canyon, giving myself and my bike a generous coating of mud. The trails were muddy, it was cool, breezy, and drizzling - lovely birding weather! The birds didn't seem to mind the rain, however. The lake had many of the same birds as on Wednesday, but the Pectoral Sandpiper didn't show up. I found a couple Wilson's Warblers and a single Townsend's Warbler along the Willow Trail, both overdue Peters Canyon firsts for me. As I walked around south of the dam, the weather got nastier. A Vaux's Swift (new Peters Canyon bird) and some swallows flew overhead. I resorted to crawling under some bushes to wait out the rain. By stripping off my shirt and wrapping up my camera, cell phone, and list pad, I was able to keep these objects safe and dry. When I finally got back to my bike in the parking lot, things had dried out and the sky was clear, so I biked up to Irvine Regional Park.

Irvine Regional Park is home to the abundant and noisy Acorn Woodpeckers. You can't help but enjoy their striking plumage and crazy antics. This bird above flew in to investigate my pishing, peering out from behind the branch...

Irvine Park was also loaded with warblers - they were everywhere! I didn't see any unusual ones, but I got crippling views of an adult male MacGillivray's Warbler, and there were lots (15+) of Black-throated Gray Warblers present. Probably the best bird there was an adult male Summer Tanager foraging up in the tops of the eucalyptus trees near parking lot thirteen. I also spotted this gorgeous Barn Owl tucked away in a hollow sycamore.

Here's a close-up digiscoped shot. After I got home, my dad was so jealous of my sighting that we went back so he could see it, and I brought my scope to digiscope it.

So, it was a fun morning, even if the weather was less than perfect. I got eighty-two species total for the day, and two state birds (Summer Tanager and Barn Owl). I'm tired, muddy, sweaty, and wet after biking and walked many miles through mud and rain. But happy. :-D

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Peters Canyon XIV

This morning I again birded Peters Canyon. I walked the Lakeview and Cactus Point Trails as usual, but also the Willow Trail, which has been closed due to nesting Bell's Vireos and other birds over the summer. It was a bit slower than usual, especially with passerines - the cool, cloudy, breezy weather might have had something to do with it. However, the lake continues to be excellent for birding. Numbers of coots and ducks were roughly the same as last week, and the number of Ring-necked Ducks jumped from two to five. However, the best bird was a single Pectoral Sandpiper that I found. It's an annual bird in fair numbers in southern California, and one of the most common shorebird "vagrants", but it was still fun to find. It was a state bird for me! I didn't get a good look of it on the ground, but it made a couple close fly-bys, giving me good looks at its "bibbed" appearance, near lack of a wing stripe, rather chunky feel, and wide dark stripe down the middle of the rump. It was slightly smaller than the Killdeer it was associating with, and it called several times. I've pretty much given up hope of finding lots of migrant warblers at Peters Canyon - they seem to prefer lush, exotic plantings over the dry riparian willows. I also found a couple White-crowned Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers, which were both new Peters Canyon birds for me. These, along with the Pectoral Sandpiper, pushed my Peters Canyon list to ninety-one! I also got good looks at a beautiful Say's Phoebe - very neat birds, and one of my favorites - you can't beat the subtle pink on the underparts and the jet black tail. Here's a shot of one that I took in June in New Mexico:

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hermit Warbler!

This morning I found a Hermit Warbler at Irvine Regional Park. Apparently it's a pretty good bird for the fall here. I managed really great looks at it as it foraged fairly low down in some sycamores - I could clearly see the yellow face and pale, unstreaked underparts. It had a small amount of black on the throat. There were lots of other warblers there - I had nine species! Other birds of note included my first White-crowned Sparrows of the fall, Western Tanager, California & Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and a lot more. It was cool and mostly cloudy, with a fairly stiff breeze - really felt like fall!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Swarming hummers!

The last few days there have been more hummingbirds at my feeders in the backyard than usual. The Black-chinned are gone, but Allen's and particularly Anna's remain abundant. At one point this morning, there were about a dozen buzzing around one of the feeders! It's fun to sit on the patio and watch the resultant "Hummer Wars". I've found them to be very tame - to the point where they will come and drink while I'm holding the feeder! Here's a shot of a female or young male Anna's. I'm inclined to think it is a female, because a lot of the young males are growing in their gorgets, making them look patchy! Next, here's a short movie of a male Anna's Hummingbird visiting the feeder. Listen for its smacking call notes!

I also spent some time birding the neighborhood this morning. I found a beautiful Townsend's Warbler, a Marsh Wren, and a Willow Flycatcher. All three were new neighborhood birds for me. I found the flycatcher behind the stables. I heard its call note - a liquid whit - then tracked it down. After a bit of chasing and much frustration, I managed to get some good looks at it. It didn't have much of an eye ring, was mostly grayish-brownish overall, had two buffy wing bars, lacked yellow on the underparts, had moderate primary projection, had a relatively broad bill with an orange(ish) lower mandible, and didn't wag its tail. I also saw a couple "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warblers, which was neat. I'm sure the novelty will wear off within a week or so...

On Saturday morning, my dad and I twitched an Arctic Warbler (!) that showed up at DeForest Park in Long Beach, a forty minute drive from my house. We dipped, and so did the dozens of birders who were there looking for it. There were lots of warblers there, including Black-throated Gray, Townsend's, Wilson's, etc. If nothing else, I got a start to my Los Angeles county list, with forty-eight species for the effort.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Migrants around the neighborhood

This morning I spent several hours birding the neighborhood. The Mountain Chickadee was still behind the stables, with the Bushtits that always seem to be there. I then bushwhacked my way along the Yellowthroat Creek. I was pleasantly surprised to find fair numbers of warblers there - lots of Orange-crowned and Wilson's, but also singles of Nashville (new 'hood bird) and Yellow. There was also one Warbling Vireo (new 'hood bird). However, the biggest prize was yet to come. I tracked down a smacking chimp call note to a MacGillivray's Warbler poking around in a dense thicket! A lifer! I followed it around for several minutes, finally getting decent looks as it popped out into the open a couple times. I continued onward around both of the lakes. The trusty Wood Duck was nowhere to be seen, and the Spotted Sandpiper that has been hanging around for the past few days was gone. I took a spin around the Roller Coaster trail next, lucking into California Thrashers, Spotted Towhees and Bewick's Wrens, but I couldn't find the resident California Gnatcatchers. I found another MacGillivray's Warbler (man, I almost got tired of seeing them...) - I'm sure it was a different bird, since it was a good distance away from the first bird and had a slightly duller brown hood. A couple Killdeer flew overhead (new 'hood bird; the local mockingbirds have tricked me many times, but these were genuine), and I found some more Wilson's and Orange-crowned Warblers in a large eucalyptus grove, as well as my first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the fall. The five new new birds for the neighborhood put my 'hood list up to seventy-four!

Here's a shot of a Black Phoebe that was up at one of the lakes yesterday. They're really common, but still fascinating birds. They wake me up every morning, except when I get up in the middle of the night to go birding. :-)

This Great Blue Heron is a regular at the lakes. Another very common bird, but seeing that golden eye is always cool.

Lastly, here's a shot of the Spotted Sandpiper that I mentioned earlier. Yesterday I noticed him running around on a small patch of dirt and gravel next to the lower lake, actively hunting flies! When it spotted a fly, it would crouch down, holding completely still like a pointer dog. Then - SNAP - the fly would be gone! Amazing to watch. Look carefully at this photo - you can see the fly!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Peters Canyon XIII

This morning I birded Peters Canyon Regional Park again, for the thirteenth time! I walked the Lakeview and Cactus Point Trails. It was even more birdy than usual (in some respects at least), and I added five new species to my Peters Canyon list: Ring-necked Duck, Eared Grebe, Greater Yellowlegs, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Savannah Sparrow, bringing my Peters Canyon list up to eighty-eight. Hurray for migration! I was particularly surprised to see the Ring-necked Ducks (two), and thought it was a little early for them - sure enough, San Diego County Bird Atlas says, "In fall the Ring-necked Duck arrives rarely as early as late September but does not become common until November...", so I guess they were the best birds of the morning. Waterbird numbers on the lake have spiked noticeably since last week - there were at least three hundred American Coots there, along with growing numbers of American Wigeon, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, etc. The Belted Kingfisher and Osprey were still there as well. Migrant passerines were virtually non-existent - I heard a few unidentified warbler chips overhead a couple times, and the only migrant warbler I saw was this Orange-crowned. This isn't the greatest shot, but I love Orange-crowns and I also like the bird's posture.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

More 'hood birding

Yep, that's part of my neighborhood - Yellowthroat Creek, named by yours truly. I birded this area and other parts of the neighborhood this morning. The Mountain Chickadee I found a couple days ago was hanging out the resident Bushtit flock behind the stables. This female Western Bluebird cooperated for photos. Unfortunately, she seems to have a broken/damaged leg and had trouble perching.

Otherwise, birding was relatively slow. There were fewer migrants than the last few days, but I saw a few Orange-crowned Warblers and one Western Wood-Pewee. I couldn't resist a photo of my faithful birding companion, Chestnut, ready for more birding!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Cool 'hood birds & SJWS census

On Wednesday evening, while walking around the neighborhood, I noticed a couple Vaux's Swifts zooming around. Imagine my surprise when I realized there were at least two dozen of them! An unexpected lifer for me. While I was watching the swifts, I could have sworn I heard a Mountain Chickadee calling. I looked for it without success, but then tried some hearty pishing. It immediately popped out just ten feet in front of me - it was indeed a Mountain Chickadee! I was especially surprised because there are very few conifers in the neighborhood, and it was near none of them. To cap off the evening I spotted a Western Tanager nearby.

On Thursday morning I helped out with the monthly bird census at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. I was assigned to help Dick Purvis (bluebird guru of southern CA) cover several ponds. It was a pleasant morning, but relatively slow bird-wise. The best bird was a Peregrine Falcon that soared right above us for several minutes, and a couple White-tailed Kites and a bunch of American White Pelicans were neat as well.

This morning I spent awhile birding the neighborhood. Passerine migration has finally picked up a little bit, and I found a few interesting birds. I saw a colorful Wilson's Warbler and a not-so-colorful (but still beautiful) Orange-crowned Warbler hanging out with the resident Bushtit flock, and also Western Wood-Pewee, Western Tanager, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and Acorn Woodpecker. The six new neighborhood birds I've gotten over the last few days - Vaux's Swift, Mountain Chickadee, Western Tanager, Wilson's Warbler, Western Wood-Pewee, and Acorn Woodpecker - put my 'hood list at sixty-eight. Not bad for less than three months!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Peters Canyon XII

Today I made my weekly visit to Peters Canyon Regional Park. Per usual, I walked around the reservoir on the Lakeview Trail and also the Cactus Point Loop. Waterbird numbers at the reservoir were mostly the same as last week, but a small flock of eight Forster's Terns were new for my Peters Canyon list. I also saw a very sharp-looking Black-throated Gray Warbler, a new Orange County bird as well as a new Peters Canyon bird for me. Other than that, it mostly the ever-interesting usuals. At one point, I heard a covey of California Quail calling right next to the trail. A couple birds ran across the trail (boy do they move fast!), so I sat down with my camera ready and waited for more of them to cross the trail. Eventually the whole covey crossed, and I managed a few shots.

This Cassin's Kingbird also cooperated for photos. Just seconds after I photographed it, it darted out and captured a huge dragonfly (looked like a darner of some sort). It then spent several minutes getting it down the hatch...

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A(nother) morning at Bolsa Chica

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is now one of my favorite birding spots. Why? The answer: there are always so many good birds there! It's a great spot of shorebirds, ducks, terns, and more. The place was swarming with shorebirds today - mostly common ones such as Western Sandpipers, Marbled Godwits, and Willets, but I was thrilled to find a gorgeous Black Turnstone poking around a small area of rocky shoreline. A lifer!

After digiscoping lots of pictures of the Black Turnstone (it was tough going considering that it was only 20 feet away and moving constantly...), we walked out to the tide gates, birding the whole way. One of the Reddish Egrets put in an appearance, and there were plenty of shorebirds to keep me entertained. There were lots of Red Knots near the tide gates - about forty. My dad then noticed the waters around the tide gates were literally filled with thousands of small fish. It turns out they were being hunted by lots of large fish and a few small sharks! Here's a photo I managed of one of the sharks:

We also saw a couple of small rays. Any help with identifying the shark or the ray would be appreciated!

On the way home we checked the back part of Bolsa Chica, visible from Harriet Wieder Park. There were amazing numbers of Black-bellied Plovers and Western Sandpipers there! A couple of birders pointed out a Pacific Golden-Plover among all the Black-bellies, another lifer for me. A good morning out!