Sunday, January 18, 2009


Being stranded generally isn't a whole lot of fun, but it is fun being stranded in certain places. Bolsa Chica is one of those places. A Junior Naturalist field trip was scheduled there in the afternoon yesterday, and since I was home in plenty of time from my bike ride I decided to attend. I thought it was a bit strange that no one was around when my mom dropped me off five minutes past the scheduled meeting time, but I headed off down the footbridge anyway.

One of the first birds I saw was this funky little fellow. It's a Zebra Finch (Poephila guttata), a popular cage bird native to Australia and Indonesia. I'm now kicking myself for not getting closer to obtain better photos (people were photographing it from a couple feet away), but I guess I was distracted by the wild birds.

Ah, wild birds. There were many. At this point, Trudy Hurd from Sea and Sage Audubon (Queen of San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary) showed up, equally bewildered as to why no other Junior Naturalists had shown up. We loitered around the footbridge for awhile, photographing and watching the numerous birds. An American Bittern flew across the open water near the footbridge and quickly disappeared into the cord grass. This photo shows just how "sneaky" these shy birds can be.

Ducks of all shapes and sizes were rampant. Northern Pintail was one of the most common species. This elegant dabbler is one of my favorite ducks. This pair was feeding close to the footbridge, but it was difficult to catch them with their heads above water!

Diving ducks were also well-represented. Surf Scoter, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, and Red-breasted Merganser were common. Most of them were too far from the footbirdge to be well-photographed, but one tame Ruddy Duck was paddling around in the shallows within a couple feet of the bridge.

Near the first overlook we found some different birds. A Reddish Egret was dancing in the shallow water nearby. This species is regular at Bolsa Chica - up to three individuals show up every eyar - but is very rare in California. I picked a Thayer's Gull out from the swarming masses of gulls resting on the islands near the overlook. The tide was high, resulting in very few mudflats, but a few common shorebirds were hanging around on whatever small patches of mud they could find - Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Black-bellied Plover, et cetera. I finally touched base with my dad and arranged for him to pick me up. We drifted back to the footbridge, finding mostly the same birds, but a few birds had also drifted closer to the footbridge, including this handsome drake Lesser Scaup.

A Pied-billed Grebe casually swam under the boardwalk, bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun.

My dad showed up around four-thirty to pick me up. Even though none of the Junior Naturalists showed up (turns out that the trip was canceled - I just never found out,) it was a pleasant afternoon of birding at Bolsa Chica. Numbers of ducks is always impressive in the winter, and photographic opportunities are usually very good.

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