Saturday, January 12, 2008

Morning at Dana Point


My dad and I birded for several hours this morning down in Dana Point. We arrived at Doheny State Beach around 7:45. Doheny State Beach is a famous spot for gulls; many rarities have been found here. We weren't the first birders there; Bruce Aird, Steve Sosensky and several other birders were already there scanning through the large flocks of gulls. At first, the only gulls of note were a few Glaucous-winged Gulls and Herring Gulls. Bruce then spotted a first-cycle Thayer's Gull just down the beach. A county and state bird for me! I've only seen a handful in the past, so it was a great bird to see. It was a "classic" first cycle, with a small bill, chocolate wingtips, rounded head, etc. Here's a photo with a yellow arrow pointing to the Thayer's Gull.

Next, we swung through Dana Point Harbor in search of the first-cycle Glaucous Gull that had been found recently. No luck. The harbor was relatively quiet, but it was strange to see a Green Heron walking amongst the gulls and pelicans on the jetty!

My dad and I decided to check out a place that I've never really birded before - the Headlands area near the Ocean Institute at the end of Dana Point Harbor Drive. It is pictured at the top of this post. At first, things seemed relatively quiet, but I started walking down the rocky beach. After about 1/4 of a mile, a small bird popped up on top of a rock - a Rock Wren! This is only the second time I've seen Rock Wren in the county (and the first was just two weeks ago!), and I had no idea this bird was here. I did hear a rumor from Kaaren Perry that for several consecutive winters a Rock Wren had wintered here, but it wasn't found on this year's Christmas Bird Count. It put on a great show by posing atop rocks at close range.

Here's another photo, showing it in profile. Rock Wrens really are very interesting birds to watch. We even heard it calling several times, which was a treat!

We walked farther along the beach, and then I set up my scope and looked offshore. I was surprised to immediately see Black-vented Shearwaters - lots of them! Lines of them flew south constantly. In about an hour I saw several hundred. Most were very distant, but a few came in relatively close. At one point, I spotted a different bird shearwater - bigger with a completely different flight style. Instead of the hyper buzzing wing beats of the tiny Black-vented Shearwater, this bird had heavy, lumbering wing beats with long glides. Its plumage pattern was similar to Black-vented Shearwater. Suddenly, it clicked - Pink-footed Shearwater! A great bird for the winter. I was able to keep it in sight for a short time as it continued south, like all the other birds.

Other interesting birds that I saw while sea watching at the Headlands included a single Parasitic Jaeger, about a dozen Pacific Loons, and a single Red-throated Loon. We made a quick spin back through Doheny State Beach, but human activity had scared away most of the gulls. Unfortunately, just after getting home, I read on Orange County Birding that Bruce and Steve had seen an American Oystercatcher in Laguna Beach (we drove right by the place, but the fog and traffic was so bad we kept going). AAARRGGHH!!

Also, I saw my first "spring" migrants of the year yesterday, believe it or not. I was at Peters Canyon again, scoping out the lake for Hooded Mergansers which I still need for my Bigby list. No luck with those (indeed, duck variety and numbers have plummeted alarmingly there the last couple weeks), but I noticed a flock of about thirty swallows swirling around. I was surprised to see it composed of mainly Barn and Northern Rough-winged Swallows, with only a few Tree Swallows mixed in. A quick look in the San Diego County Bird Atlas revealed some interesting information regarded swallows. First of all, those Rough-winged Swallows were undoubtedly spring migrants. They are one of the first migrants to return, often by January. The Barn Swallows, on the other hand, were probably wintering. They winter annually, albeit in small numbers. I found in ironic that Tree Swallows were the least numerous of the three species, even though it is supposed to be by far the most common swallow during the winter.

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