I spent most of the day yesterday birding with Ian Davies, a young birder from Massachusetts. We hit a lot of good spots - Fairview Regional Park, in Costa Mesa; Huntington Beach Pier, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Harriet Wieder Regional Park, and Huntington Central Park, all in Huntington Beach; and lastly Irvine Regional Park in Orange. We had an excellent day, finding 132 species without trying to hard - and we missed a lot of easy birds! I had 48 year birds (my first visit to the coast this year), three county birds, and two state birds.
We started at Talbert/Fairview Regional Parks, looking for a Burrowing Owl I had heard a rumor of. The only directions I had was "In a fallow field in the north end of Talbert Regional Park". We found several fallow fields, and walked up all the way into Fairview Regional Park, scanning all the mounds of dirt for Burrowing Owls. No luck. The only birds of interest were flocks of Western Meadowlarks and American Pipits.
The next stop I had planned was the Huntington Beach Pier. Our luck started to turn here; we found several good birds. Best of all was a beautiful dark Pomarine Jaeger attacking a Heerman's Gull at fairly close range. Ian spotted a Red-throated Loon just off the end of the pier, which was a county and state bird for me! There were amazing numbers of Aechmophorus grebes everywhere. There were thousands - large flocks were spread out as far as the eye could see. We were also treated to good looks at a few Clark's Grebes and a single Pelagic Cormorant at relatively close range.
We hit Harriet Wieder Regional Park next, in hopes of seeing the Pacific Golden-Plover that is wintering there. It was a good thing Ian had seen it earlier this week, because we couldn't spot it despite much scanning. We did see a lot of interesting birds though, including a Peregrine Falcon, White-tailed Kite, Ruddy Turnstones, Virginia Rail, Fox Sparrow, Wilson's Warbler, and Yellow Warbler. The latter three were in the willow-choked Fisher's Gulch. I can't wait to bird until next fall to bird this gulch - the habitat is really great looking for some interesting eastern vagrant.
No birding trip to coastal Orange County would be complete without a trip to Bolsa Chica proper. Lots of birds put on a good show right off the boardwalk - grebes, ducks and waders. I was looking at some Northern Pintail tucked in on the edge of the vegetation when I spotted an American Bittern sitting right out in the open! We were able to get EXCELLENT looks at this bird - the best looks I've ever had of this species. It posed in decent light, and we were even able to observe its "agonizingly slow gate" (inside joke... see Sibley).
We walked out a little ways out past the first look. Ian wanted to see the Reddish Egret that has been hanging around, but we couldn't find it. We did see a Glaucous-winged Gull, a Common Loon, and some Red-breasted Mergansers. As we rounded the bend just past the first overlook, guess who was sitting there out in the open right next to the dike - the Reddish Egret! I've seen this bird multiple times here before, but never so close. It posed well, and the sun even peaked out from behind the clouds a little bit.
After a quick lunch at Subway we accidentally found a Cackling Goose. We had to do a U-turn on Pacific Coast Highway to turn onto Warner Avenue, and while waiting for a hole in traffic, I noticed a large flock of Canada Geese resting on the water in Bolsa Chica. Ian spotted a lone Cackling Goose in amongst the flock! A county bird for me.
Our next destination was Huntington Central Park, undoubtedly one of the most-birded sites in the county. An insane number of good birds has shown up here - for a good reason. There are a lot of wet scrubby areas, along with tall exotic plantings, that attract regular migrants and vagrants alike like a magnet. Some interesting birds had been found here on the Coastal Christmas Bird Count, namely Winter Wren, Tropical Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe, and White-throated Sparrow. We headed straight towards "The Island" area, which was where the Winter Wren had been found. No luck. After about three circuits around "The Island" and making several forays into the wet interior, we began to get bored with the whole Winter Wren search. We wandered over towards the fenced in garden near the library, but couldn't find the White-throated Sparrow. A Merlin flew overhead, which was a nice bird to get. After awhile we cut back across dry Lake Huntington, and birded our ways back to the Slater parking lot. Just as we were approaching the car, I noticed a black-and-orange blur flit up into a nearby tree. I ran, and was rewarded with a gorgeous after second-year male American Redstart! It is probably the same one that was first found in mid-September.
We drove over to the western side of the park to look for the Eastern Phoebe that had been found near the frisbee golf course. Ian and I walked around the perimeter of the course, seeing hardly anything. We got really lucky and spotted the bird just as we were approaching the parking lot - sounds familiar! A great bird to get, and a state/county bird for me. Another of those birds that I've seen thousands of back east, but out here it is new and exciting. Here's an awful record shot of it - it was skittish and wouldn't sit still.
Our last spot for the day was Irvine Regional Park. We instantly found the Red-naped Sapsucker on her usual branch in her usual tree. A lifer for Ian. We road around the park by bike, and at first our luck was bad. The Barn Owl was a no-show, the Lewis's Woodpecker was nowhere to be seen, and there wasn't a single Red-crowned Parrot within earshot. Our luck changed at the end, though. While searching for Red-breasted Sapsuckers, I heard some parrots screeching. We jumped on the bikes and sped over there, stopping for a millisecond to see a Phainopepla up on top of a tree. We rapidly tracked down the parrots, and found a flock of at least thirty feasting on berries. Most were Red-crowned Parrots, of course, but there were also quite a few (5+) Lilac-crowned Parrots, and a single apparent Blue-fronted Parrot. Here's a shot of a Lilac-crowned Parrot.
Encouraged, we cycled back to the Lewis's Woodpecker spot and quickly spotted it on its favorite snag. Then a Lark Sparrow showed up, and I saw a Red-breasted Sapsucker, but Ian missed it.
Overall, it was a great day of birding. Can't wait to get out again and keep working on the year list...