Monday, December 21, 2009

Bad Photos of Good Birds

Well, I've fallen overwhelmingly far behind blogging about my birding adventures. The insanity of finishing school before break plus scouting for Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) left me very little spare time. I'll give you some pictorial highlights of the CBCs.

This is the third year I've participated in the Inland CBC. Each year, I've helped with the Peters Canyon/Lemon Heights section of the count. Lemon Heights has always intrigued me. A lush, hilly neighborhood boasting numerous old trees, the place nearly always turns up something interesting. I spent the week prior to the count biking as much of the area as possible. By far the most interesting bird I found was this one: an Olive-sided Flycatcher. Though common during migration in the county, it is extremely rare in southern California in the winter, and for a good reason: at this time of year, they're supposed to be in South America! Unfortunately, the one day I drove instead of biking was the day I found this bird, which I still need for my Bigby list.

A species I was hoping to bump into while scouting in Lemon Heights was Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Rare in the county, but annual. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I found this hatch-year male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Arroyo Elementary School last Sunday. Bigby bird #273.

Unfortunately, Arroyo Elementary School (actually the lush estate across the road) has a history of having rare birds disappear and never be seen again. This was exactly what happened with the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. We couldn't find it on the CBC a week after I originally found it. HOWEVER...on count day, I ran into a different Rose-breasted Grosbeak a couple miles away, this one a female! Talk about luck!

Golden-crowned Kinglets are annual in small numbers in the winter in Orange County. They can be tricky to pin down for CBCs, however. I turned up a total of eight in Lemon Heights, though only two stuck around for count day. Only ones for the count circle!

Lemon Heights is known for its numbers of wintering Western Tanagers, a tough bird in the winter in the county. So, when I heard a tanager-like rattle while birding along Brier Lane, I assumed that was what I had. When the bird popped up, however, it was a female Summer Tanager!

All empids are notoriously rare in the county in the winter--any empid would be a great bird for a CBC. So, I was surprised to find TWO Pacific-slope Flycatchers while scouting Lemon Heights. I could find only one of them on count day, though.

Possibly the most surprising bird I found on count day was this Rock Wren. While not unheard of in the Peters Canyon section of the circle (I had one on a rocky hill in Tustin on Friday, and others saw one in the park itself), I was not expecting a Rock Wren sitting in a driveway in Lemon Heights, at least a couple miles from suitable habitat!

In addition to the unusual birds discussed above, I found two Hermit Warblers, two Red-breasted Nuthathes, two White-breasted Nuthatches, fifteen Western Tanagers, one Costa's Hummingbird, and several Mountain Chickadees in Lemon Heights.

The only unusual bird I saw on the South County CBC on Saturday was this Red-necked Grebe in Dana Point Harbor. Tom Benson, John Fallan, and I covered the harbor and pelagic areas within the circle on John's boat, and the grebe was one of our targets. Sure enough, we found it puttering around the channel.

This last bird isn't within any CBC circle, but it's still a decent bird. Gray Flycatcher is a annual wintering bird in Orange County in small numbers, and prior to today I needed it for my Bigby list. Unfortunately, I knew of none within reasonable biking distance of my house. Happily, Doug Willick saved the day by finding one along the Santa Ana River in Yorba Linda. After sleeping in horrendously late (until 8:30 a.m.!), I headed out in the late morning and arrived at the spot in the around midday.

After an hour of searching the perimeter of the small citrus grove the bird had been frequenting, I finally located the small, gray, tail-wagging empid. Though hardly a pretty bird, I find myself strangely attracted to them. It was a new Bigby bird--#274.

That, in a nutshell, is the last week of my birding life. Now that I'm on Christmas break (woohoo!), I'm going to bird as much as possible, and look for as many new Bigby birds as possible. Two eighty or bust!

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