Sunday, April 27, 2008
Here, There, and Everywhere...
in Orange County, that is. Yesterday I raced around Orange County finding as many species as possible as part of Sea & Sage Audubon's annual bird-a-thon. I birded for more than twelve hours (I know, twelve hours isn't really a "Big Day", but...) and recorded 143 species, which isn't too bad considering I did hardly any scouting and I threw together the route late Friday night. I used the good ole bird-inland-areas-in-the-morning-and-coastal-areas-in-the-afternoon plan. With more scouting, better planning, and a more concentrated effort, 150-160 species would be attainable.
A singing Northern Mockingbird that woke me up out of a restless sleep at 2:23 a.m. was my first bird of the day. My dad was driving home from San Diego in the morning, so I had to set off on my bike. I quickly knocked off a few tough birds around the neighborhood, including Say's Phoebe and Green Heron. I then pedaled to Irvine Regional Park to join the other Junior Naturalists for a couple hours. I managed to find many of my targets, including Lazuli Bunting, Acorn Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, Hutton's Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcathcer, and American Robin, but the Lewis's Woodpecker was nowhere to be found. Must be gone. A fierce wind started howling through the trees and the temperature rose. There were virtually no migrants to be had. I left around 9:30 a.m. and biked to Peters Canyon. By the time I got there fifteen minutes later, the sun was beating mercilessly down and the wind whipped the trees around. There go my chances for my target birds, I thought as a hot gust of hot wind whipped dust into my face.
Surprisingly, I was wrong. The Yellow-breasted Chats chortled in the willow thickets; a variety of ducks, including my only American Wigeons and Ring-necked Ducks of the day, floated on the lake; a pair of California Quail trotted ahead of me on the trail; a Greater Roadrunner sang from the brush; and a California Gnatcatcher whined from a hillside. While not countable, I enjoyed watching a large (30+ birds) flock of Nutmeg Mannikins flitting around in the Black Mustard (an exotic species perched on an exotic invasive species... thrilling!).
I sped home and my dad and I set off for some coastal areas. We picked up Bob Scrimger on our way. Our first stop was Harriet M. Wieder Regional Park, delightfully cool with an ocean breeze. Lots of ducks and shorebirds were in the marshes below, including my only Redheads of the day. My list for the day passed one hundred at this point.
We visited Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve next. We hit it just right - the tide was low and hundreds upon hundreds of shorebirds were foraging on mudflats at close range. I quickly spotted about a dozen new species of shorebirds for the day, including Red Knots, a Snowy Plover, and Dunlins. Terns jousted in mid-air and screamed at each other with harsh voices. Among them were several Least Terns, my first ones of the year. A large flock of Lesser Scaups asleep on the deeper water included several breeding-plumaged Horned Grebes. Bolsa Chica is never boring, and it was now simply fantastic. We then battled the traffic down PCH towards Upper Newport Bay. In Huntington Beach, people and surf shops outnumbered birds. Coffee & Surfboards, Est. 1991 - that's like, older than me!
We cruised around the loop at Upper Newport Bay, finding few birds. The only new species for my list here was a Blue-winged Teal. We maneuvered our way around PCH, avoiding most of the traffic, and then stopped at Little Corona City Beach in Corona Del Mar. Too bad I forgot that this is a very popular beach - people swarmed everywhere! A scope scan of the inaccessible rocks just offshore revealed a few rocky shorebirds, including singles of Wandering Tattler, Surfbird, and Black Turnstone. A few Brandt's Cormorants were loafing on the rocks as well, and a Pacific Loon winged by. All these were new birds for the day
On a whim we decided to hit Sepulveda Vista Point in Irvine. This turned out to be a good decision, since we picked up several new species. As we drove up, I noticed the extensive fields and wondered out loud if there were Grasshopper Sparrows in there. Sure enough, soon after stepping out of the car, the feeble buzz of a Grasshopper Sparrow greeted us. A Lark Sparrow flew in and landed in a nearby tree, and just as we were leaving I spotted a Horned Lark sitting on the sidewalk right next to the car. Encouraged, we stopped by San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, where we added three new species: Wilson's Phalarope, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and Western Tanager.
It was a very tiring but fun day. Will I be doing it next year? Yep. Will I scout and plan better, and therefore find more species? We'll see...