Friday, January 23, 2009
I've had some random birding experiences this week. To make things even more random, here's a random photo of a random rabbit. Anyway...
On Wednesday morning I took a ramble through Santiago Oaks Regional Park. I wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary - Rock Wren and Golden-crowned Sparrow were still conspicuously absent from my Bigby list. After locking up my bike, I walked down a trail a short distance and began pishing at the first patch of decent bushes I came to. One of the first birds that popped up was this:
Many would pass this colorful bird off as a regular American Robin. Orange breast, gray back - case closed. However, check out that orange eyebrow and the complex wing pattern. Also, if you squint carefully at the breast, you can make out a very faint breast band. Not a robin after all, but a Varied Thrush! This striking but retiring thrush breeds from northern Alaska to northern California, and regularly wanders south in the winter. In Orange County, it is a relatively rare visitor, though in some years modest numbers are present. It was a new Bigby bird, and may very well be the only one I see in Orange County all year; after extensive hunting at Irvine Regional Park I managed to find one in December for last year's Bigby list.
After the thrush dove into cover after I tried to maneuver into a better position to photograph it, I happily moved on. The common resident and wintering species were out in force (Santiago Oaks has the highest density of Spotted Towhees of any place I've visited; some mornings I count at least thirty there.) A trio of White-tailed Kites were floating over the park, sparring for airspace. The population of this species has taken a nosedive, and I don't see them locally very often. This was another new Bigby bird.
It only took me five minutes to pin down the long-staying male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. He was busily pecking away at a pepper tree very close to the trail, but this bird is extremely wary and I couldn't get nearly close enough for a good shot. I tried...
On Wednesday afternoon, my mom, brother and I took a visiting friend to Treasure Island Beach in Laguna Beach. This wonderful beach is partially lovely sandy beach and partially dramatic rocky coastline with interesting tide pools. My brother and I spent a lot of time playing extreme frisbee (tossing the frisbee around at the water's edge, occasionally swimming out into the frigid water to rescue an errant throw), but I could hardly ignore all the birds. This beach is a good spot for rocky shorebirds - in a couple hours I saw Black Oystercatcher, Wandering Tattler, Surfbird, Black Turnstone, Ruddy Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, and Willet. Willets are adaptable; I've seen them on sandy beaches, rocky beaches, coastal estuaries, and even freshwater ponds. This one was hunting for small crabs and other tasty morsels in the tide pools.
Surfbirds are classic rocky shorebirds. They can occasionally be seen on mudflats close to the coast, but they prefer rocky beaches hands-down. I saw a total of about ten around the rocky areas. They weren't very cooperative for photography, but I caught this fellow off guard.
Little kids weren't the only ones running around at the edge of the surf on the sandy sections of the beach. Sanderlings, perhaps one of my all-time favorite birds, were dashing about madly at the edge of the waves. It was a good day for photography Sanderlings, as the cloudy skies muted the harsh sun rays that often wash out the pale plumage of Sanderlings on clear days.
Apart from these delightful shorebirds, I saw mostly the regular beach fare - a few Brown Pelicans, one Brandt's Cormorant, lots of gulls of a several different flavors, and one lazy Harbor Seal that lounged on the same rock the entire two hours we spent at the beach.
Today we were scheduled to visit the Huntington Library in Pasadena. Pasadena is a rather dull place for birding, but a certain young birder by the name of John Garrett lives there, and I figured that we could get together and look for birds in Pasadena while everyone else did boring (well, in comparison to birding) inside stuff. Unfortunately, it rained most of the afternoon, but we set off from John's house on bikes like the two idiots we are. Because of the wetness, I decided against toting my non-waterproof camera around.
We zipped madly through the streets on bikes, sloshing through immense puddles and raging torrents in the gutters. The bike I was riding (actually John's dad's bike) seemed to be having a bit of trouble getting traction on the wet pavement, because I could feel the bike fishtailing dangerously as we were shooting down a couple hills. Finally we arrived at Johnston Lake dripping wet. Johnston Lake is a small private lake surrounded by a fence that is plastered with "No Trespassing" signs, but we managed to peer in and see Ring-necked Ducks, Ruddy Ducks, a Mandarin Duck, a Pied-billed Grebe, and a Green Heron. The latter was a Bigby bird for John, much to his excitement.
The Lower Arroyo Seco Park was next on the agenda. The arroyo, a concrete ditch usually mostly dry according to John, was rushing with water from the rains. This pitiful ditch is lined with some nice trees and brush, and in a short while we rounded up a few decent birds, including Wilson's Warbler, California Thrasher, and Hermit Thrush. The rain finally began to abate somewhat, but I was already soaking wet. After unintentionally stepping in a couple puddles, I stopped attempting to avoid the treacherous mud wallows.
With little time left, we raced over to Lacy Park where we found some of the best birds of the day. Shortly after arriving, we tracked down a little warbler chip to a Hermit Warbler in some tall pines near the entrance. This species is a rather rare wintering bird in Southern California, and it was a new bird for my Los Angeles County list. It didn't take long to find the Gray Flycatcher that is wintering there. Another new bird for my county list. At this point, we decided we'd better get back to John's house before the rest of my family left without me, so we pedaled the mile or so back.
So, I had an interesting (but kind of random) week. Unfortunately, my weekend is going to be pointless - I'm taking the SAT tomorrow. What a way to waste a Saturday morning...