Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Final Frontier

I'll take a break from my narration of the Young Birder's Conference to report on my day of biking and birding today. Last night, upon discovering that I had no plans for the next day, I decided to ride my bike down to the beach and try to get some sea birds for my Bigby list. Pelagics are awfully hard to get for Bigby lists, and prior to today I had only gotten Black-vented Shearwater and a few loons for a couple brief seawatching sessions.

One common misconception of seawatching is that it can be done at any time of day. This is simply not true. Seawatching is overwhelmingly more productive the first couple hours of day. This presents a problem for bigbying. The nearest beach is a twenty-one mile ride from my house, probably an hour and half of riding. To remedy this problem, I left my house very early, around five-twenty, and pedaled like the devil to the west. I didn't allow myself any stops; I didn't even stop when a Clapper Rail sounded off near the road at Upper Newport Bay. It was my first new Bigby bird of the day.

My relentless pedaling paid off; I reached Little Corona City Beach at ten til seven. Unfortunately, seawatching conditions weren't optimal; it was clear, and the ocean was as slick as glass. Under conditions like these, the birds are usually farther offshore. They were. After a few minutes of scanning, I managed to spot a couple Black Storm-Petrels way out over the ocean. A few Sooty Shearwaters began to trickle by several miles out. After an hour of staring out to sea, I finally spotted a bigger shearwater with lumbering wingbeats; when it banked, I could see its pale underparts. A Pink-footed Shearwater! To make matters even sweeter, an out of season Pacific Loon winged by. All these, along with Elegant Tern, were new Bigby birds for me. Also new for my Bigby list were these sea stars clinging to a rock below the overlook.

After eight o'clock the sea birds thinned out, so I loaded my bike back down and retraced my steps. I actually stopped for birds on my return trip around Upper Newport Bay, but I didn't find much. A smattering of early migrant shorebirds - Willets, Western Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, and others - were present, but otherwise it was very quiet. Even the large Black Skimmer colony, usually bustling with noisy activity, was deserted. Here's a shot showing a smattering of the birds present: Mallards, Snowy Egrets, Caspian Terns, Black Skimmers, Willets, and Marbled Godwits.

After the mandatory lunch stop at In-N-Out Burger, I birded around San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine for about an hour around midday. I wasn't expecting much, and indeed there weren't too many birds around. I did, however, find one exciting new Bigby bird. I was poking around the edge of one of the ponds looking for dragonflies when I heard the unmistakeable call of a Least Bittern from a nearby stand of tules. I crept forward, craned my neck, and peered into the tules, but it was buried out of sight. I walked around to the other side of the pond to scan the tules, and after a couple minutes of futile searching, the bittern suddenly burst from the vegetation and gave me a very brief view as it flew across the pond and melted back into the tules. This species is incredibly elusive and I was not sure whether I would get it for my Bigby list this year.

Birds may not have been overly plentiful at San Joaquin this afternoon, but dragonflies were. Unfortunately, since I had my scope, I couldn't bring my good camera to photograph them with. Several got away unidentified, including one that I'm fairly confident was a Spot-winged Glider. One dragonfly that actually cooperated for photos was this gorgeous Blue-eyed Darner. I digiscoped it from fifteen feet away... I can't say I've digiscoped a dragonfly before!

I headed for home around twelve-thirty. I took my time getting home, particularly going up the arduous hill along Jamboree Road, since it was hot and I was weary. I rode forty-four miles and saw seven new Bigby species - over six miles per bird! Despite this seemingly low number of new species, it will probably be the most new species I get in one day for the rest of the year. I will have to get back down to the beach by bike to get some more sea birds for my Bigby list - alcids and jaegers, perhaps?

No comments: