Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Surprise

Early this afternoon, my dad and I made a feeble attempt to get some birding in, but very strong winds and rain soon discouraged us. Now, don't think we're wimps; it was really the wind, not the rain, that killed the birding today. I've found that birding in the rain can actually be excellent, but the wind today was strong enough to blow over my scope and make my eyes water whenever I tried to use my binoculars. It kept the birds hunkered down anyways. However, we managed to find a few interesting birds, including the one pictured above.

One of our stops was Eisenhower Park, located near the intersection of Tustin and Lincoln in Orange. A Brown Creeper had been seen there, and I was keen to add it to my Orange County year list. After arriving, however, it immediately became apparent that finding this bird was impossible. Brown Creepers are tough to find on days even with decent conditions, but winds like these drowned out any of the high lisping notes that it might make. I instead scanned the small, round pond near the parking lot. Lots of Mallards and American Coots, along with some Lesser Scaup, American Wigeons, and singles of Ring-necked Duck and Pied-billed Grebe. A lone gull - a Ring-billed, I figured, floated amongst the ducks. I was suddenly struck at how small and petite it looked. A quick glance showed that it was not a Ring-billed Gull, but a very nice nonbreeding adult-cycle Mew Gull!

The short, narrow bill, round head, dark eye, petite size, and primary pattern are all distinctive Mew Gull characteristics. It was a state/county bird for me - I've kept an eye out for one all winter, but for some reason I haven't seen one. It also qualifies as a "kind-of" lifer - I saw Common Gulls in Germany. Here we have a sticky situation. European birders consider Common Gulls and American Mew Gulls as separate species, while American birders consider them to be subspecies.

Our other stop was the Burris Sandpit, located along the Santa Ana River in Orange. The Burris Sandpit is a rather anonymous-looking body of water, but it is the only reliable wintering location in Orange County for Common Merganser, that large diving duck with a permanent bad hair-day. Sure enough, I spotted a flock - nineteen of them, all females - snoozing on a sandbar. Another state/county bird, and the first ones I have seen since last winter in Michigan, where they are common winter visitors.

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