Friday, November 7, 2008

Behind the Times

Recently, I've been consistent in only one thing: neglected my blog. While it may seem as if I've dropped off the face of the earth, I am still here, alive and well. School takes up roughly 98% of my waking hours, and the other 2% I spend birding. That leaves 0% of my time for blogging, so technically I really shouldn't be typing this right now. I've finished my work for the week, so I'll try to catch up.

Precisely one week ago, I made an interesting discovery, but hardly an unexpected one. Last winter, I heard rumors of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at Santiago Oaks Regional Park, but I didn't actually get around to confirming the bird until late February. The bird departed a few weeks later. I was surprised to learn that last winter was the sixth winter in a row it had wintered in the same tree. Six years is a long time in the bird world, but I hoped it would be back. So, last Friday, I rode my bike to Santiago Oaks Regional Park, walked to the pepper tree it favored last winter, heard tapping, raised my binoculars, and spotted the bird. It doesn't get much easier than that. Incredibly, this is the seventh winter this same individual bird has gone hundreds, if not thousands, of miles out of its way to winter in the same tree at Santiago Oaks. Wow. Hats off to you, Mr. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

I spent another hour or so wandering around Santiago Oaks Regional Park, and in that short time I found two more species of sapsuckers: Red-breasted and Red-naped. The Red-naped Sapsucker was my first for the fall. Santiago Oaks nearly always is alive with birds, and last Friday was no exception. In addition to the sapsuckers I found Northern Flickers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, Fox Sparrows (photo at top of post), and multitudes of others.

Fast-forward to Wednesday. I rode my bike to Irvine Regional Park for a while in the morning, shivering a little as I rode (temperatures in the low fifties!). The mowers and leaf blowers were out in force, but I birded around them the best I could. I moseyed around, finding nothing extraordinary (another Red-naped Sapsucker and three Red-breasted Sapsuckers were nice... I'm already loosing count of how many sapsuckers I've seen this fall). The Lewis's Woodpecker still has not returned, much to my dismay. As I stared at its vacant snag, my mind conjured up images of the unfortunate woodpecker being nabbed by a hawk, or being hit by a car.

As I was biking along one of the roads in the park, I noticed a big dark bird in the top of a sycamore tree. Now, most big dark birds at Irvine Regional Park are Common Ravens; hundreds pour in late in the afternoon to roost in the tall trees. Dozens loiter around the park all day, raiding garbage cans and getting in all kinds of trouble. However, this bird wasn't a raven - it was a Turkey Vulture, and a young one at that. Turkey Vultures aren't very exciting for most people, but I hardly ever see them perched at close range. As I watched, it spread its wings to warm up.

Here's where the weird stuff starts. I circled around behind the vulture to try for an artistic backlit shot. This is what happened.

I have no clue how this happened, but it's pretty neat. This is picture right out of the camera - no photoshopping or anything. I couldn't replicate this effect either, no matter how long and hard I tried.

Also at Irvine Regional Park was a cooperative Say's Phoebe. This species is a fairly common wintering bird in the area, and this bird has been sitting on the same post the last three weeks I've birded Irvine Regional Park. Talk about a homebody.

Lastly, this morning I took a hike around the lake at Peters Canyon Regional Park. It has been interesting to compare the numbers and variety of waterfowl on the lake this year with what I saw last year. This year, water levels are much lower, and waterfowl numbers are also way lower. At this time last fall, there were hundreds of Ring-necked Ducks on the lake. Today there was one. This is undoubtedly not a drastic decline of duck numbers - I'm sure roughly the same number of ducks are around this fall, but they're just in different places. The lake probably had better food resources and habitat last fall, so the ducks moved on to try to find somewhere better. Still, I'm hoping that more will show up.

The lack of ducks today was made up by the presence of a couple Bonaparte's Gulls. I've seen this species only once or twice here, and surprisingly enough this was a new Bigby bird for me (#222). Somehow it eluded my grasp all of last winter. I was glad to finally snare it, since I was getting a bit worried about missing it.

Speaking of Bigbying, that's what I'll be doing tomorrow. I plan to ride down to the coast, birding Little Corona City Beach, Upper Newport Bay, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, and Mason Regional Park. There have been some nifty birds reported around that area, including Clay-colored Sparrow, Pacific Golden-Plover, and Pectoral Sandpiper. All three of these would be new for my Bigby list, and there are also a few others that I could potentially find. We'll see...

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