Saturday, March 21, 2009

Good Stuff

Good stuff. A vague term, to be sure. Often one will pause after an enjoyable experience (i.e., a good birding outing) and think, "Good stuff!" That's what I did today, even though it wasn't a hard-core birding expedition.

My dad and I took a drive down to Laguna Hills this morning to scout around the Laguna Hills DMV (my road test is on Wednesday, *gasp*). Laguna Niguel Regional Park is just a few miles down the road, so we meandered around there for awhile. I had been there only once previously; it passes under most birders' radar screens. However, it is a lush park with a lake, lots of big trees, and a creek. We pulled into the park entrance and I promptly spotted a Cattle Egret wandering around the large lawn in the center of the park. This species is surprisingly uncommon in Orange County (I've only seen one other in the county), so it was fun to see.

The park was hopping with bird activity. Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Townsend's Warblers seemed to be in every single tree. Many of the birds were singing, so we were treated to the songs of all the common residents plus wintering birds tuning up. We headed to the south end of the park, seeing Ruddy Ducks, Gadwall, and Common Moorhens on the lake as we drove past. The southern end of the park was also loaded with birds. After enjoying some more Townsend's Warblers, Hooded Orioles, and Bullock's Orioles near the parking lot, I headed over to a swampy ditch nearby. I pished vigorously and a Swamp Sparrow, giving its distinctive chink call notes, popped up right in front of me. I was surprised, to say the least. I've seen many over the years, but none in California.

Happy to have seen a Swamp Sparrow, we drove around the park a bit more to check a couple more spots. As we were cruising slowly by the lake, I noticed a Least Bittern flying across the lake. It quickly disappeared into the cattails on the other side, but a minute later it reappeared and buzzed into another clump of cattails. Not a crummy bird to see on a casual morning outing. I was also surprised to see a Western Gull on the dam. This species is obnoxious a few miles away on the coast, but inland it is decidedly uncommon.

We wandered around a bit more, finding nothing to beat the Cattle Egret, Swamp Sparrow, or Least Bittern. I did find a Cassin's Kingbird perched low in a tree near the tennis courts, but unfortunately the combination of the thick cloud layer and my camera's dying batteries prevented me from getting a really good photo of it.

Good stuff. The Swamp Sparrow was a state and county bird for me, and Cattle Egret and Least Bittern are both decent birds for Orange County. It was fun just to get out for awhile with lots of birds out singing. It really felt like spring!