Orange County's lowly Santa Ana Mountains are generally ignored by birders in favor of the bigger, more exciting mountain ranges like the San Bernardinos or San Jacintos. For a legitimate reason, too: the Santa Anas do not rise high enough to host specialties like White-headed Woodpeckers, Dusky Flycatchers, or Cassin's Finches. In comparison with their taller neighbors, the Santa Anas are downright boring.
Upper Silverado Canyon, only a twenty-minute drive from my house, offers a nice serving of mountain birding within Orange County. It seems that I stumble upon something exciting every time I head up there--Green-tailed Towhee, Painted Redstart, breeding Olive-sided Flycatchers, Lewis's Woodpecker...
I haven't learned my lesson. I kept intending to visit the canyon all summer, but I kept putting it off, figuring there was nothing new to see. Boy, was I wrong.
It was shaping up to be pretty average morning. Sure, a few highlights: Canyon and Rock Wrens, a whole mess of Western Screech-Owls before dawn, and several Olive-sided Flycatchers. All neat birds, and some of them extremely local in Orange County in the summer. Still...this is a tad disappointing, I thought as I gazed out over the canyon to the fog-shrouded lowlands below.
Tik, tik. Whaaaaat...?
The bird was invisible, so I blast it with my most irresistible pish mix.
Pssshhh psh pssshhhhhhhpshhhpshhh PSSSHHH PSSHHHHHHHHHHH
My opponent hesitated for a moment, and then popped up and launched itself at me. It landed in a bush about fifteen feet away. It was a sparrow, it was a....
HOLY SMOKES, A SAGE SPARROW!
I've lived in Orange County for three years without seeing one. Legends of their continued existence deep in impenetrable tracks of the Santa Anas constantly circulate, but finding one borders on impossible. A most excellent way to save the morning, no?
Thomas Jefferson looked upon my success with stern approval.
I built a stone cairn to mark the spot in case other birders wished to search for this phantom sparrow. Tommy did his part.
A side effect of my pishing assault was an infestation of spunky Blue-gray Gnatcathcers. This bright-eyed little gnome landed at arm's length.
By late morning it was hot, dusty, and I was more than ready for lunch, so returned to my (err, my mom's) extremely rugged Subaru and coasted down the mountain. Driving this battered dirt road is fun--you just have to watch out for steep drop-offs, random boulders in the road, and suicidal Mountain Quails.
I wasn't hungry enough to skip a brief search for butterflies lower in the canyon. The paucity of butterflies this late in the summer is yet another reason why I should have visited the canyon earlier. Ah well, you learn from your mistakes...right?