Monday, March 24, 2008

Night Birding (and Toading)

This evening, my dad and I spent about an hour looking for night birds at Irvine Regional Park. We arrived around seven, just as the towhees, Wrentits, and Northern Mockingbirds were shutting down for the night. The wonderful smell of sage filled the cool evening air. It wasn't dark yet, but starting to get dim.

We headed across the wash at the far eastern edge of the park on foot. A pair of Lesser Nighthawks coursed through the air above the wash. It was just light enough to make out the white slashes on the undersides of the wings. As I watched them silently float around foraging, I realized that it was a new year bird. No Common Poorwills calling yet, which was what I really wanted to hear.

I realized that the poorwills might not be calling for a time yet, so we continued around the wash into the sycamore/oak woodland, playing recordings hoping to attract Western Screech-Owls. No luck. Large flocks of Common Ravens rustled through the treetops, settling in for the night. We encountered lots of Western Toads (like the one pictured above) hopping across the road, undoubtedly headed for the puddle in the middle of the wash. After awhile we gave up and headed back across the wash. I pulled out the iPod again, cranked the volume, and played the Common Poorwill's song. I kept playing it for several minutes, and... there! The mournful little whistle of a Common Poorwill wafted down out of the hills. It called almost constantly, and other one answered it from the other side of the wash. Unfortunately, they were both very distant. Still, a new state/county bird! I'll have to ride my bike over there some evening to get it for my Bigby list.

"Hey Neil, is that a bird in that tree?" my dad asked and gestured with his flashlight towards a lone tree in the middle of the wash. I switched on the spotlight,and sure enough, there was a beautiful Barn Owl sitting there! It remained there for only about ten seconds before lifting off to start hunting. A great way to end the evening.

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