Sunday, July 5, 2009
YBC: Day Five
The last day of any camp is always sad. Friends that are quickly made quickly leave; life returns to its boring old routine. We spent the last full day of the Young Birder's Conference birding the Laguna Mountains of southern San Diego County searching for species typical of higher elevations.
After yet another very early departure time, we arrived at Kitchen Creek Road soon after sunrise. This spot, along with the next few places we birded, were fairly low in elevation - two thousand feet at most. In the oak groves and boulder-studded slopes clothed in chaparral, we found species such as Phainopepla, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Rock Wren, Oak Titmouse, and Western Wood-Pewee. The out-of-staters were most excited by the Lawrence's Goldfinches. This normally elusive species was easy to find that day; we ran into them in several places.
When everyone had had their fill of the Lawrence's Goldfinches, we jumped back into the vans and drove higher into the mountains. Among the ponderosa pines a couple thousand feet higher, we found Mountain Chickadees, Pygmy Nuthatches, Violet-green Swallows, Purple Finches, and Steller's Jays. As the morning progressed and the sun rose higher in the sky, bird action dropped off only to be replaced by butterflies. Here's a Mormon Metalmark we found on a short hike.
We paused to enjoy a crude picnic lunch at a campground high in the mountains. I think I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch every day of the conference. Fortunately, the leaders had purchased chunky peanut butter, which is, as we all know, far superior to creamy. While wandering the campground after lunch, someone spotted a Gopher Snake and we managed to grab it. I was involved in the capture of the snake, so I didn't get any photos of it. However, I did have someone take a picture of me holding it.
A stop to snap some landscapes at a random pullout along the highway after lunch produced some decent birds. At first, all was quiet. A Lazuli Bunting showed up, then a pair of Black-throated Sparrows, and then a Black-chinned Sparrow! These species were lifers for many of the participants. I had a cause to celebrate, also: all three species were new county birds for me, although the novelty of finding new county birds for San Diego had quickly worn off, since I found over sixty new county birds during the conference.
A number of practically microscopic butterflies were flitting about in the brush near this pullout. This one, which I incidentally photographed from about two inches away with my short lens, appears to be a Gold-hunter's Hairstreak.
We pressed on. Cuyamaca Lake was too close to the highway to skip, so we paused there. A quick foray along the lakeshore produced several dragonflies, including this Bluet Sp., probably a Tule or Arroyo Bluet.
Some strange whistling calls that sounded oddly like Say's Phoebes turned out to be some juvenile coots on the lake.
Our last stop of the day, Paso Pichacho Campground, was probably the highest spot in elevation of the day. We were hoping to find White-headed Woodpeckers here; unfortunately, none were found, much to the disappointment of the non-Californians were were eager to see this awesome species. However, a quick walk produced species such as Olive-sided Flycatcher, Hairy Woodpecker, Lawrence's Goldfinch, and Western Bluebird. On our way back to the vans, someone spotted this Wild Turkey (or, as I insist, a Not-So-Wild Turkey, since it is not native to California) wading across a meadow of deep grass.
Thus ended our birding for the day and actually the entire week. On the way home, I discovered why people do not eat Coke Floats as opposed to Root Beer Floats. I tried adding coke to some ice cream, and the result almost made me sick.
Instead of spending our last night owling, many of us decided to hang out in the lounge deep into the night. Long games of cards, air hockey, wrestling matches, and taping shut the mouths of certain hyper thirteen year-olds kept us occupied until two-thirty in the morning. It was a fitting end to an awesome week of birding and camaraderie.