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!