Wednesday, July 1, 2009

YBC: Day One

The first day of any camp or conference is generally the most awkward; no one knows each other, and the daily schedule of events is unfamiliar. However, by the end of the first day of the Young Birder's Conference, we all felt like old friends. It was a great day of birding and getting to know each other.

Since we were birding areas close to San Diego the first day, we didn't leave University of San Diego, our base of operations, until relatively late (5:45 a.m.!) We spent the morning birding around the Tijuana River Valley. Our first stop was Dairy Mart Pond, where we found nothing unusual, but I distributed celebratory punches at an alarming rate as non-Californians saw their life Spotted Towhees, Nuttall's Woodpeckers, among others.

We headed south to the border, and, in a hillside covered in sage scrub a stone's throw from the border, we found specialties such as California Gnatcatcher, California Towhee, California Thrasher, and Greater Roadrunner. Nearly everyone was exciting by these birds. I passed out congratulatory punches, not bothering to tell people that I have seen all these species in my neighborhood.

Our last stop before lunch was the Bird and Butterfly Garden in Tijuana River Valley. The most exciting find here was a gorgeous Black-throated Magpie-Jay, an exotic species that doesn't officially count but is still fun to see. Another interesting find here was a lone Willow Flycatcher, either a late spring migrant or possibly of the endangered local subspecies.

True to its name, the Bird and Butterfly Garden also had lots of butterflies. Here are a few of the ones we saw, plus a victim of the butterflies' foraging activities.

Around lunchtime we headed into Imperial Beach, and, after unsuccessfully searching for Yellow-crowned Night-Herons in a random little park where they are supposed to nest, we birded the Tijuana River Slough. Here we found species such as "Light-footed" Clapper Rail, "Belding's" Savannah Sparrow, and Little Blue Heron.

A brief scan of the beach produced a few more species, including a bunch of Brown Pelicans. This annoying common species for me was actually a life bird for several people.

We finished up the day at La Jolla, where we scanned the rocks and ocean for new species. It was afternoon, crowded with tourists, so we didn't see much. Highlights included a Peregrine Falcon, California Sea Lions, and Harbor Seals. One of the cooler sights was a Western Gull chick being fed by one of its parents just twenty or thirty feet from the sidewalk.

This was the official end of our birding for the day, but that didn't stop us from doing more. Several of us roamed around campus that afternoon and evening like the band of sketchy teenagers we are. The campus offered nothing extraordinary, but one of the cooler sights of the day was a Barn Owl that floated around like a giant moth, screeching. There was a nest up in the campus belfry, and from the deserted sidewalk below the few of us who stupidly defied our need for sleep could hear several young Barn Owls rasping away.

I suppose it would be superfluous to say that it was a fun day. Nothing beats running around birding with a bunch of other intense young birders all day.

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