Saturday, February 7, 2009
Lack of birding time can easily make a week rather dull. I've known this for a long time. Instead of my usual four or five (or six or seven...) outings a week, I succeeded in slipping away only twice all week. Horrors. However, I am immensely glad that I live within a few miles of several prime birding spots, even if I only visited Irvine and Santiago Oaks Regional Parks.
I spent a couple hours at Irvine Regional Park before school on Monday morning. I quickly found a new species for the year - not a bird, but a butterfly: Sara Orangetip. At first glance, this classy butterfly might be mistaken for one of those obnoxious Cabbage Whites, but when I glimpsed that little flash of orange as the butterfly flitted by, I knew what I was seeing. Unfortunately, it was wary, hence the detestable photo.
After circling around the "Picnic Loop" at the front of the park, I pedaled over to the small lake in the heart of the park. Despite its small size, this lake occasionally attracts an unusual duck. Vast numbers of Wood Ducks of questionable origin reside there (my high count for the park is one hundred forty-one!), and among them was this lovely male Mandarin Duck. A decidedly flamboyant species native to Asia, it is popular in collections that it often escapes from.
Genuine wild ducks were present as well. An impressive fifty-two Ring-necked Ducks were floating amongst the battalions of Mallards. They were accompanied by three Redheads that have been present for weeks, along with a brace of female Bufflehead. A few American Wigeons were grazing on the edge of the lake. That's a pretty impressive variety for this tiny lake. The lake's tininess makes it an ideal spot for waterfowl viewing; the birds are extremely close, to the point where I could easily see the fabled neck rings on the male Ring-necked Ducks!
I resumed my tour of the park. The usual residents of oak woodland - Oak Titmouse, Acorn Woodpecker, Nuttall's Woodpecker, and others - were out in full force, along with common wintering species. I stumbled across a very confiding pair of Western Bluebirds that already seemed to be thinking about starting housekeeping. Here's the male.
And the female. The female is a muted version of the male, though she has her own air of loveliness.
Fast forward to Wednesday morning. After winding through the streets of Orange Park Acres (a convenient way to avoid the treacherous hill along Santiago Canyon Road), I cruised into Santiago Oaks Regional Park. I never fail to be struck at the noisiness of the place - scrub-jays screshing to each other, titmice whining, and Acorn Woodpeckers laughing maniacally. My first mission was to find my dear friend the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a bird that is half my age and has been present so long that no one really cares about him any more (*sniff*). I easily found him tapping new wells into his favorite pepper tree while religiously guarding old wells from thieving Yellow-rumped Warblers. Unfortunately, this bird is rather shy and simply refuses to emerge from the shadows, so photography is virtually impossible.
My visit with the faithful old sapsucker over, I poked around the labyrinth of trails that wind through the park. I nearly tripped over a bold California Thrasher int he middle of the trail. Upon noticing me, the bird scurried into the brush by the trail and popped up to serenade me. That was nice of him.
I should have known better, but once I was finished photographing the thrasher I walked backwards without turning to see what was behind me. A tiny branch somehow managed to tangle my feet together and I fell quite substantially on my hindquarters. I stood up, dusted myself off, and rebuked the branch for being so unkind (yeah, right). Thankfully, no one was around to witness my antics. I looked up just in time to notice an abnormally large and dark Mourning Dove shooting overhead with a small bird gripped in its talons. Wait. Something is wrong here. Turns out that the bird was actually a Merlin! For some reason or another, this species has eluded my Bigby list, so I was happy to see it. I've been receiving quite a bit of grief from certain people about Merlin's absence from my Bigby list.
Heartened, I made the trek out to the Villa Park Dam, perhaps a half-mile distant. Despite several hikes back there, I hadn't seen a Rock Wren this year. Rock Wrens are quite tricky to find in Orange County, and the bird or two that has been wintering here (and perhaps resident) are the easiest to access for me. I managed to cross the flooded creek on a "sketchy" bridge composed of a few rocks and began scouring the area for Rock Wrens. Moments later I spotted a little brown thing jumping around a nearby rock pile, and I excitedly brought my binoculars to bear on a Rock Wren. Unfortunately, the bird was on the other side of a fence, so I couldn't approach very closely (normally, a fence wouldn't deter me very much, but this one was plastered with imposing "No Trespassing" signs.) Another new Bigby bird.
I was pressed for time, so I hustled back in the direction of my bike. I couldn't resist stopping to photograph some clownish Spotted Towhees engaged in a little domestic scuffle over perching rights.
Now facing the real danger of getting home late (theoretically, I could be out all day, but schoolwork doesn't do itself), I jogged the trails to the parking lot. Again, I got delayed by a photo opportunity: sycamore bark. Nothing too exciting about that, but I thought it looked pretty neat - it resembles dried, cracked mud.
That rounds out my week quite nicely. I spent a good chunk of today slouched at a desk in a classroom sweating over the ACT. Fun. At least it was raining today - birding would not have been very pleasant. Maybe I'll be able to slip out for a bit tomorrow, and hopefully I won't be as busy next week!