Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Hairy Kind of Day

My Orange County list, which grew rapidly for the first several months after moving, has now ground to a halt. New county birds have been few and far between this winter. Happily, I garnered two new ones today: an unexpected bonus and one that I should have gotten last spring.

I was interested to see a report of a Hairy Woodpecker at Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea on the Orange County Rare Bird Alert a couple weeks ago. I initially passed it off as a misidentified Downy Woodpecker, but it was confirmed this week by reliable sources. I’ve seen many Hairy Woodpeckers throughout my lifetime – they were commonplace in my Michigan backyard – but in southern California they are found only in pine forests high in the mountains. Well, usually. Orange County actually has a tiny population high up in Silverado Canyon, but a long hike is required to get into the right habitat. My dad and I ran up to Carbon Canyon to look for it early this afternoon.

It turned out to be one of those ridiculously easy rarity chases. We parked, walked a short distance to the spot, heard a woodpecker drum, and looked up. There it was. That was incredibly easy! On this photo, notice its beastly size (like a Downy Woodpecker on steroids) and the all-white outer tail feathers (Downy Woodpeckers have black flecking on these feathers.)

The woodpecker hopped up into the open and flew off after a few moments. This photo shows the long, powerful bill – much more impressive than the Downy Woodpecker’s wimpy little bill.

Our main target nailed, we wandered around the park for a while more. Carbon Canyon Regional Park is a very lush park (well, at least the parts that didn’t burn last fall) with lots of tall trees that make it a great spot for birding. We came across a Pacific-slope Flycatcher near the tennis courts, undoubtedly freshly arrived from its wintering grounds.

We took a short hike along the nature trail, which winds through the creek bed and parts of the park that were badly burned last fall. Birds weren’t plentiful, but wildflowers were everywhere. I’ll have to look up this lovely purple flower, though I saw lots of others that I recognized. The fiddleneck was doing very well here.

As we were headed back to the car, I suddenly recognized the distinctive call notes of Lawrence’s Goldfinch drifted down to earth from the skies above. I got a glimpse of the bird as it rocketed overhead without stopping. I somehow managed to miss this species in Orange County last spring, so it was a long-overdue county bird for me. Hopefully I’ll be able to add this species to my Bigby list later in the spring.

As I was unsuccessfully searching for the Lawrence’s Goldfinch, I noticed a Brown Creeper inching up a nearby tree trunk. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, this species is not very common at all in Orange County, so I was happy to see it. By now the mid-afternoon lull was beginning to set in, so we loaded up into the car and headed home.

I was delighted to pick up two new county birds on a casual Sunday afternoon jaunt to Carbon Canyon. I haven’t added a new county bird for over a month. This puts my Orange County total at two eighty-one. I guess that isn’t too crummy for having lived here for not even two years and not having a driver’s license (though I do take my road test in two weeks!) Only nineteen more to get to three hundred!

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