Sunday, January 20, 2008
Owling by Bike
First of all, I must say that I am not proud of this photo. If you use your imagination, you might be able to see that it is a Western Screech-Owl (the large orange blob is its eyeshine). Yesterday evening I braved Mountain Lions, rabid skunks and axe murders to look for owls at Irvine Regional Park on my bike after dark. I spent most of the afternoon wandering around the park, waiting for the sun to sink. The only birds of interest were the continuing Lewis's Woodpecker and Red-naped Sapsucker. As the sun slowly sank behind the hills, I realized my mistake; I had forgotten to stash my sweat shirt in my backpack. When I arrived, it was a sweltering 68 degrees in the sun; now it was more like 55 degrees, and the sun was gone. Chilled, I rode my bike around, whistling for screech-owls as it continued to get darker. I crossed the wash and began to explore the old campground area; almost as soon as I started whistling a Western Screech-Owl swooped across the road right in front of me and landed in a nearby tree. I crashed after it, shining my light up into the tree trying to spot it. Then I saw it - ten feet above my head! I got great looks through binoculars while spotlighting it with my headlamp. The photo, however, is far from great; I'll have to go back to try again. A year bird, and I had gone on my bike to add it to my Bigby list. I cycled out of the park just minutes before it closed.
My dad and I attended the Sea & Sage Audubon's Junior Naturalist field trip to Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, no cameras are allowed on the refuge (it is part of the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station), so I couldn't get any shots of the great birds we saw. The birding was simply fantastic - there were raptors everywhere in the fields and marshes, and ducks, shorebirds, and large waders abounded in the marshes. John Fitch, our leader, quickly spotted a gorgeous Ferruginous Hawk. A lifer for me! John then guided us to a small patch of poison oak out in the middle of the marsh, and we easily found one of the two Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows that are wintering there. I was hoping to see the Mountain Plovers which had been seen there on and off the last couple weeks, but we never saw them despite scanning the extensive plowed fields. A Burrowing Owl standing atop a roadside culvert was an excellent consolation prize, however. Seal Beach NWR is an awesome place - I look forward to going there again.
On Friday I assisted with the MoSi banding at Starr Ranch. The pace was agonizingly slow; we banded only eight birds. My favorites of the day were three Bushtits that were caught together in the same net. Two were females and one was a male - females have pale, staring eyes while males have completely dark eyes.
I was also excited when we captured a familiar face to me, the "Myrtle" subspecies of the Yellow-rumped Warbler that is found mostly in the eastern US. "Myrtle" Warblers winter fairly commonly in southern California, but they are often lost in the crowds of "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warblers. In this photo you can see the bird's obvious pale supercilium as well as the pale throat that curves up around the auriculars.
During a slow period between net runs I stalked the herd of deer that occasionally wander through the banding area. These deer are very used to people, but they were very wary of me when I tried to photograph them... hmmmm...