Sunday, January 4, 2009
Starting out on a fresh year list is always great fun. I've kept a year list for many years. In past years I started the year off with some interesting birds (in 2005, my first bird of the year was a Snowy Owl in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan!) Not so this year. I puttered around some local areas the first couple days of the year, finding nothing unusual save a Red-breasted Nuthatch at the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery (pictured above). I didn't get out for an audacious bike ride until January 3rd.
Since many common species such as Great Blue Heron and Turkey Vulture were lacking from my all-new 2009 Bigby list, I figured I was guaranteed to pick up at least a couple dozen new Bigby birds. I managed to find eighty-two Bigby species the first two days of the year, so I decided a ride to the coast was in order.
Dark clouds threatened rain as I left home on Saturday morning. I hoped it wouldn't rain on me. Riding in wet clothes isn't fun. I found my first Bigby birds in the Peters Canyon Creek before even arriving at my primary destinations, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary and Upper Newport Bay. The Peters Canyon Creek is just a little trashy trickle in the bottom of a small concrete ditch, and I seldom stop to look for birds there. However, on Saturday morning, I found my first Snowy Egret, White-faced Ibis, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Cinnamon Teal of the year in the creek. I also found a bonus bird: Hooded Merganser. A pair of these beautiful ducks was loafing in the shallow water of the creek. This is a key species that I didn't find until late November last year.
I made good time to San Joaquin, arriving around eight thirty. I hiked around many of the ponds and found at least a dozen new Bigby birds. I didn't see anything out of the ordinary, but seeing all the regular birds for the first time of the year was fun. I searched for the Northern Waterthrush in the flooded riparian area yet again, and as usual failed. I'm beginning to sincerely dislike that bird!
After finishing up at San Joaquin I pedaled on to Upper Newport Bay. A whole new suite of birds typical of coastal estuaries was waiting to be added to my Bigby list. I spent a couple hours biking along the bay, often stopping to comb through the immense flocks of shorebirds and ducks. In the first few seconds after arriving at the bay, I added a bunch of easy species, including Marbled Godwit, Willet, Forster's Tern, and Redhead. Careful scoping of the open water and mudflats revealed lots of "goo" (as a certain friend of mine would say) birds. The best of the bunch were two Greater Scaup among the dozens of Lesser Scaup. Greater Scaup is an uncommon species in Orange County, though its status is somewhat difficult to determine due to its similarity to Lesser Scaup.
Other birds of note that I found while riding along Upper Newport Bay were Loggerhead Shrike, Red Knot, and Blue-winged Teal (sixty-six of them, to be exact - a rather high count for Orange County.) I also enjoyed a couple neat experiences with raptors. While looking at shorebirds at the northern end of the bay near Jamboree Road, I noticed an Osprey perched on a nearby lamp post. I tried imitating its call, a series of whistled yelps. Much to my surprise, the Osprey immediately swooped off its perch and glided twenty feet over my head, yelping back a challenge. Sorry buddy, didn't know you were so easily offended!
Later, while cruising along the bay at nearly twenty miles per hour, I looked to my right and saw a Northern Harrier hunting a short distance out in the marsh. It kept pace with me for about half a mile, thirty feet to my right! Finally it dropped into the marsh, perhaps to nab a mouse, and I continued on without a harrier escort.
I turned homeward in the early afternoon, and was dismayed to see dark storm clouds piling up in the direction of home. Uh oh. My fear of rain now seemed much more realistic. This didn't stop me from pausing at Mason Regional Park on the way home to search for a White-throated Sparrow that had been found there a couple days previously. White-throated Sparrow is a very common and familiar eastern bird, but in California it is rare. A few show up in the county every winter, but I still needed it for my county list. Fortunately, I found the bird after five minutes. It provided excellent views as it scratched at the side of the path with a big flock of White-crowned Sparrows.
The rain finally caught up with me as I left Mason Regional Park. At first, I felt only a light sprinkle on my face. Later on, some heavier rain passed through, but I managed to wait out the worst of it under a bridge. I arrived home only slightly damp, much to the amazement of my mother. Apparently it rained heavily around home for a good part of the day, and she expected me to look like a wet rat. After counting up all my lists, I discovered I had seen no fewer than forty-six new Bigby birds. A good haul! That brought me up to one hundred twenty-eight for the first few days of the year. Not too crummy - only a hundred and nine to go to break last year's total of two hundred and thirty-six!