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.


Birdfreak said...

Merry Christmas and good birding to you!

Allen Chartier said...


Merry Christmas!

Your parrot looks more like a Red-lored Parrot (Amazona autumnalis). Don't ask me why parrot names don't make sense :-). But, Red-crowned Parrot (Amazona viridigenalis) would have an all red crown, not blue as can be seen in your photo. It is actually easier to identify parrots in the tropics, as there are only so many species that occur in any area. But in places like Florida and California, anything is possible!

Neil Gilbert said...

Thanks. I don't think the parrot is a Red-lored. Red-lored Parrots usually have duller grayish bills (this bird has a pale bill), and they also have yellow under the eye. I think it's a Red-crowned or maybe a Lilac-crowned. Separating Red-crowned and Lilac-crowned is tricky, especially since these two species have apparently hybridized in Southern California. See: http://www.californiaparrotproject.org/id_guide.html


Allen Chartier said...


Well, having just gotten back from Panama where I was seeing Red-lored Parrots daily, I would have no problem calling your bird that species. The yellow below the eye is variable in extent, and how much it blends into the green of the cheek. And distance tends to diminish the visibility of this marking also. Check out these photos of Red-lored. In my opinion, it they are dead ringers for your bird.



Lilac-crowned has more extensive pastel purplish in the crown and around the nape and onto the sides of the head, and much more extensive yellow-green on the cheeks, unlike your bird.


The red in Red-crowned Parrots extends to the rear of the eye, unlike your bird.


Since Red-crowned and Lilac-crowned Parrots are the most common parrots in southern California, it seems that perhaps your bird could be a hybrid of the two!