Monday, December 24, 2007
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.
Posted by Neil Gilbert at 9:30 PM