Sunday, March 9, 2008

Forty Miles, Five Birds

The only thing better than birding is birding by bike. I've really been enjoying Bigbying (birding under my own power - biking and walking) this year, though the pace is slowing down considerably. On January first, I biked/walked approximately ten miles and recorded sixty-nine new Bigby species. That's a respectable 6.9 species per mile. Last month, when I biked to Upper Newport Bay, I gained twenty-six new Bigby species for about 0.65 species per mile. Today, I biked to San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Upper Newport Bay, and Sepulveda Vista Point, a total distance of roughly forty miles. I logged only five new Bigby species for about 0.125 species per mile. If one looks just at the numbers, it may seem as if my day was quite unproductive. On the contrary, it was fantastic!

I left home shortly after seven and headed straight down the mountains to sea trail, my sights on San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. I was hoping to see the Tropical Kingbird again, this time for my Bigby list. Somewhere along the way I realized that the bird might leave its roost and wander away earlier than last week, since it was sunny and warm this morning. I pushed the pedals harder. I rolled into the entrance to San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary around 8:20 - I had made it in an hour and ten minutes. Never has the entrance road into San Joaquin seemed so long! Instead of stopping at the Audubon House, I continued straight on down the dirt path that follows the San Diego Creek. A birder visiting from England pointed out the Tropical Kingbird to me as it fluttered around in the same trees it had been in last Saturday morning. It put on a great show, chasing Cassin's Kingbirds away from its favored tree and calling. Around 8:50 it flew over the creek and landed over in the golf course. A couple Canada Geese in Pond Two nearby were also new for my Bigby list. About time!

Satisfied, I continued on to Upper Newport Bay. As I pedaled around the loop road, I saw birds everywhere - American Avocets, Marbled Godwits, and Willets resting on islands, Ospreys flying around, and a grand assortment of ducks floating on the water. The outlet at Big Canyon was hopping with activity. Most obvious was the resident flock of very noisy Black Skimmers loafing on the ground.

My heart jumped when I spotted a white goose swimming through the water nearby. I knew a Snow Goose had been reported from the bay. Yup - nice Snow Goose... but why does look so much like a Ross's Goose? Oh... because it is a Ross's Goose! But wait - why does it have that little "grin patch" and long bill? The answer: hybrid. From a distance, it actually did look very much like a Ross's Goose.

However, at close range, the thin black "grin patch" on its bill was apparent. Ross's Goose does not have this mark. Also, the bill was too long for a Ross's Goose, but too short for a Snow Goose. Overall, it was intermediate between the two species. Since it is a hybrid, it doesn't count for anything on my Bigby list. Initially, this frustrated me greatly since I am not likely to see either species on my bike this year, but it was the first hybrid "white goose" I have encountered.

Lots of birds were gathering at the outlet to drink the fresh water. I spotted a couple Greater Scaups amongst the Lesser Scaups nearby - another new Bigby bird. Here's a male American Wigeon threatening some American Coots that were approaching him too closely.

After gobbling up an elegant lunch of smashed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I started towards Sepulveda Vista Point, located near UCI. Earlier in the winter, a pair of Rock Wrens had been hanging out there. I toiled up a couple hills and finally arrived. I scanned the rocks - nothing. I jumped around in the boulder field, trying to find them. No luck. Lastly, I resorted to pishing and was met with a deafening silence. However, it was pleasant up there - the point is located on top of a hill and overlooks much of Orange County. I also kicked up a few Horned Larks, another new Bigby species for me. The photo at the top of the page was taken from here - it's quite scenic! I also found several singing Western Meadowlarks, a Lark Sparrow, and some Red-tailed Hawks here.

It was a fun day, filled with exercise and birds. I managed to pick up the Tropical Kingbird for my Bigby list, along with some others. My goal is to find two hundred species on my Bigby list this year, and I have only forty-some more to go. That'll take awhile...

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