Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Peters Canyon & Irvine Regional Parks

Today I couldn't resist hitting my local patches, Peters Canyon and Irvine Regional Parks. I birded Peters Canyon before school, arriving around seven a.m. I birded for about two hours, walking the Lakeview, Willow, and Cactus Pt. Trails. The lake was peppered with ducks and coots. It was mostly the same varieties of ducks I've been seeing the last few times, but I was happy to see two Hooded Mergansers, quite a few Canvasbacks, and several Redheads. Passerines were mostly silent and hard to detect because of the gusty winds. I did see a flock of ten Western Meadowlarks around the Cactus Pt. Trail. I got great looks at a Northern Mockingbird perched on a cactus along the trail there as well. It was really tame, allowing me to walk within six feet of it! They're dirt common birds, but really neat nonetheless.

A couple weeks ago I hung a couple thistle feeders by my back patio. The Lesser Goldfinches love it! I've also seen American Goldfinches, House Finches, and Pine Siskins on it as well.

In the afternoon I birded for several hours at Irvine Regional Park. It was windy! I managed to root out some good birds anyway. I easily found the Lewis's Woodpecker by parking lot number sixteen again. Really amazing bird. He was sitting on a dead sycamore in the middle of the dry wash, where he hangs out most of the time. Here's a shot of the general area, showing the couple dead trees that he likes to spend his time.

I wandered around the park for a couple more hours, not finding too much of interest. The Barn Owl was back in his sycamore by parking lot number thirteen. I looked briefly for the Red-breasted Sapsucker there as well, but didn't spot it. I was headed home when I briefly checked the two lakes. The lakes usually are relatively birdless, being crowded with feral ducks. I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple American Wigeon and singles of Double-crested Cormorant and Pied-billed Grebe at the upper lake. At the lower lake I was very surprised to spot a female Hooded Merganser! That makes a total of three Hooded Mergansers for the day. The light was failing, but I decided to try to photograph it. It was very skittish, but I managed to get some reasonable shots by crawling through dirt, sharp sticks, and dead leaves.

As it was starting to get dark, on my way out of the park, I stopped briefly near group area number four to check out a large flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers and juncos. I was very surprised to find three sapsuckers hanging out together in a clump of evergreens near there. Two were Red-breasted Sapsuckers and the other was a Red-naped Sapsucker. I tried to turn the Red-naped into the Yellow-bellied, but it clearly showed red on the nape as well as neater black and white patterning on the upperparts. Still, it was pretty neat to see three sapsuckers together!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

It's a Short-eared Owl! Honest!

I know - it's an awful photo, but a great bird. Believe it or not, it's a Short-eared Owl. It's not a mega-rarity or anything, but its numbers have crashed in Orange County to the point where it is only a rare winter visitor. I saw it on Saturday morning at Upper Newport Bay, near the Muth Nature Center. There was an extreme high tide on Saturday (over seven feet), so I was looking for birds flooded out of the marsh. Other than the Short-eared Owl, I saw an American Bittern which was flying around looking very bewildered-looking, tons of Common Yellowthroats and Marsh Wrens, but no rails of any kind. Still, both the owl and the bittern were state/county birds for me, so I was very happy.

On Friday morning I birded Peters Canyon for a few hours in the morning with my dad and Bob Scrimger. The lake was absolutely fantastic for waterfowl; I had seventeen species. Some of the more interesting ones included Canvasback, Hooded Merganser, Common Goldeneye, Redhead, Northern Pintail, and much more. The rest of the park wasn't shabby either. In under three hours I found seventy-nine species, including eight new Peters Canyon birds for me: Canada Goose, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Bonaparte's Gull, and Marsh Wren. It was a beautiful morning with no wind and pleasant sunshine.

On Thursday morning, my dad and I slipped away for a couple hours to chase the Bay-breasted Warbler at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley again. One word will sum up the chase: failure. We did see a Red-breasted Sapsucker and a Gray Flycatcher, however. In the afternoon, I escaped the boredom of waiting for Thanksgiving dinner by wandering around Irvine Regional Park for several hours. I ran into birders Tom & Tiffany, from Manhattan Beach, looking at the Lewis's Woodpecker up on his dead snag in the middle of the wash by parking lot number sixteen. We were able to get great looks at it as it sat out in the open. We then tried for my "ultra-reliable" Barn Owl in a hollow sycamore by parking lot number thirteen. The owl was not there. However, I did manage to find them the Red-breasted Sapsucker that hangs around there. Later I saw a second Red-breasted Sapsucker at the other end of the park. By about one p.m. large crowds of noisy people had suddenly invaded the park, so I left.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Duck Days

I'll admit it - I love ducks. The striking coloration on the males and the subtle patterns of the females make them lovely birds to look at. Their behavior - diving underwater and popping back up, or tipping bottom up for food in shallow water is enjoyable to watch as well. I've been seeing lots of ducks lately, much to my satisfaction. I photographed this Ruddy Duck on one of the neighborhood lakes on Sunday afternoon. I love the peaceful effect created by the snoozing bird and the calm waters.

On Tuesday we dropped by Bolsa Chica briefly to see what was around. There were loads of ducks here - Buffleheads, Surf Scoters, Lesser Scaups, and more. There was a large waterbird fishing right by the boardwalk as well - and it wasn't a duck.

A loon - a Common Loon! I was pretty surprised to see it there, and at such close range - it repeatedly would swim under the boardwalk. A county bird for me. We were also entertained by an acrobatic Brown Pelican diving mere feet away. Other interesting birds I noted during the brief visit were a couple Glaucous-winged Gulls, lots of Eared and Western Grebes, and a few "Belding's" Savannah Sparrows.

This morning my mom and I attended Sea & Sage Audubon's Upper Newport Bay boat trip. I had registered months in advance, since the trips are popular and the boat is small. We had a fun morning, going all the way up to near the old salt dike. We got distant looks at a single male Eurasian Wigeon (state/county bird for me) near Big Canyon. We also were treated to at least six Blue-winged Teal, another county bird for me. Eventually, we had to turn around and head back. On the way home, we quickly checked Big Canyon to see if I could get a shot of the Eurasian Wigeon. To my great surprise there wasn't one Eurasian Wigeon but three! All were in a large flock of American Wigeons. They were all fast asleep but one briefly awoke to preen, and I managed a few decent shots.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A couple lifers!

I had a good day of birding today. In the morning my dad and I chased the Bay-breasted Warbler that had been spotted at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley a couple days ago. I did not see it despite walking around the nature area fence a couple times. I was very frustrated since the nature area is closed on weekends, but open on weekdays! Nevertheless, I saw some great birds there. I spotted a Plumbeous Vireo in the willows by the small pond in the nature area - not a county bird or anything, but still fun to see because it hadn't been previously reported.

One of my other major targets at Mile Square Park was a Greater White-fronted Goose that had been reported there several days before. It proved to be very easy to locate, grazing out on a lawn with a few Canada Geese. Greater White-fronted Geese show up almost every year in Orange County, and I was happy to see it since it was only the third time I've seen one. It proved to be fairly unwary, so I could get some nice closeups.

As we continued our fruitless Bay-breasted Warbler search, I heard the subtle whit call note of a Gray Flycatcher. I tracked it down, and sure enough, there was a drab gray empid wagging its tail on a fence. I found a second one nearby. They had also been reported recently. A lifer! Sure, it isn't gaudy, but still a very neat bird to observe. I also had a very brief sighting of a Merlin jetting overhead.

Once we gave up on the Bay-breasted Warbler (alas, it was seen half and hour after we left... oh well, I'll just have to try again), we headed to Huntington Central Park. We stopped in on the west side of the park first (I'd never been there before), looking for the Snow, Ross's, and Cackling Geese that had been reported there. Upon arrival, the only geese in sight were three giant white barnyard geese and a lone Canada. It was fun to watch the hordes of tame coots and wigeons, though. We tried our luck on the east side of the park, and came through with a female Summer Tanager in "The Island" area. We didn't see the Clay-colored Sparrow or Winter Wren, which had been my primary targets.

This afternoon I hopped over to Irvine Regional Park for a little birding. The Barn Owl was back in his hollow tree by group area three (he'd been absent the last couple times I've been there). Otherwise, bird activity was low. I wandered over to the dry wash, looking for herps and whatever else I could find. Suddenly I noticed a large, dark bird was flying around over the wash. "That's either the biggest Acorn Woodpecker or the smallest American Crow I've ever seen" I thought as I lifted my binoculars. The bird banked, revealing a bright pink belly. A Lewis's Woodpecker!! I got amazing looks at this drop-dead gorgeous bird as it sallied out from a large sycamore to catch flying insects. Unfortunately, I had no camera with me. I bolted home, and my dad and I rushed back with scope and camera. And... the bird was nowhere to be seen. We were about to give up when it flew up into a dead snag down the wash a ways. Before I could get closer to it, though, it flew and landed closer by in a sycamore. Another life bird!

Here's another angle. What an amazingly awesome bird! The pink belly, red face, gray collar, and iridescent greenish/black upperparts combine to make this one of the most elegant birds I've ever seen.

The bird spent awhile flycatching around the trees of the soccer field, before settling down in the top of an oak tree to catch some rays. I was treated to some fantastic close-up scope views. Needless to say, I took pictures! ;-)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

South County

Before today I hadn't birded much of southern Orange County at all. My dad and I spent this morning birding several different places in southern Orange County. I managed to get one life bird, a couple state birds and a few county birds.

Our first stop was Crescent Bay Point Park, a tiny park tucked in a residential area in Laguna Beach. The park is situated atop a high cliff, giving a commanding view of the ocean. There weren't very many birds there this morning, though. The only shorebird on the beach below was a Willet. I did spot a Parasitic Jaeger a short distance offshore, a state/county bird for me. I didn't see any Black-vented Shearwaters or loons of any species despite thorough scans of the ocean.

Our next stop was Treasure Island Park (where the photo at the top was taken), located a few miles south of Crescent Bay in Laguna Beach. It has a beautiful sandy beach, cliffs, and some rocky coastline. There was a whole flock of Surfbirds sitting out on a rock, but they were too far away to get good photos of. There were also lots of Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, Whimbrels, Black Turnstones, and one Ruddy Turnstone on the beach. I also saw a Pelagic Cormorant there, a new county bird for me.

We then drove down Pacific Coast Highway for several miles down to Dana Point, more specifically Doheny Beach State Park. This place is famed for gulls. There were plenty of them loafing on the beach! At first, I was only seeing the usual gulls: Western, Heerman's, California, and Ring-billed. Suddenly, I spotted a large, pale gull in amongst the flock - a first-cycle Glaucous-winged Gull! I then spotted a second individual nearby. A lifer for me, and an unexpected one at that. They aren't common in Orange County, but apparently they are fairly reliable at Doheny Beach. Here's a photo of one of the Glaucous-winged Gulls.

On the way back to the car I noticed a small tree filled with roosting Black-crowned Night-Herons. The tree was right next to a foot path, so the birds were very tame and didn't mind being photographed. One immature bird in particular cooperated well.

We briefly checked out the Dana Point Harbor in search of the King Eider that had been reported there a week ago. We dipped, but we did see another Pelagic Cormorant in the harbor. It was hanging out with a Double-crested Cormorant, so it was neat to get some comparison shots.

We decided to check out Laguna Niguel Regional Park, since we had never been there before. The lake held a fair variety of ducks, and the brushy area near the tennis courts was loaded with birds. Some of the more interesting ones included a "Myrtle" Yellow-rumped Warbler, Fox Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, and Townsend's Warbler. A really cool spot that I will definitely be visiting again in the future.

Our last stop of the morning was Forbes Road in Crown Valley in search of the Hooded Merganser that had been reported there. I've seen countless numbers of them back east, but they are not common in Orange County by any means. The bird had been spotted in a small, shallow drainage ditch in an industrial area. We looked for about half and hour and couldn't find anything.

In the afternoon I biked over to Irvine Regional Park to bird for several hours. One of the first birds I saw upon arriving was a gorgeous male Merlin that zipped by and attempted to catch a White-crowned Sparrow. I later saw it flying overhead. The park was crawling with Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-crowned Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kingles, and Dark-eyed Juncos. I saw a single Savannah Sparrow in a flock of White-crowned Sparrows in a large grassy area, and I also spotted a gorgeous Red-breasted Sapsucker near parking lot number thirteen. I got good looks at it as it hopped around in one of the eucalyptus trees there. I also saw a Pine Siskin in my backyard in the afternoon.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Peters Canyon & Starr Ranch

I biked over to Peters Canyon on Monday (I know, I'm posting late - been busy all week!), the first time I've been there in a couple weeks. I birded the Willow, Lakeview, and Cactus Point Trails. It was a rather chilly morning, and it was so heavily overcast that I didn't bother to even try to take photos. I managed to find seventy-two species in a couple hours, including seven new Peters Canyon birds for me: Redhead, American White Pelican, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Hermit Thrush, American Pipit, and Lark Sparrow. It was a pleasant morning to be out - the fog, clouds, and chilly temperatures probably drove away most of the bikers and joggers - I had the place almost to myself.

Wednesday was the first day of the winter MoSI banding at Starr Ranch. Starr Ranch is a very neat place, located smack dab in the middle of the thriving Dove Canyon subdivision. Unfortunately, it isn't open to the public. We banded for six hours, starting at six a.m. The banding area is a good blend of different habitats - riparian oak/sycamore, sage scrub, and an open grassy area. It was good to handle birds again after several months without banding! The pace was slow but steady; we caught at least a few birds on every net run. The highlight was a Brown Creeper which we caught and banded; it was the first record for the station. Brown Creepers are pretty rare in Orange County - only a few are reported every fall and winter.

I was actually more excited to catch several Golden-crowned Sparrows, a species I've never handled before. Great birds! I was very surprised to find that Golden-crowned Sparrows are much more common than White-crowned Sparrows at Starr Ranch.

The banding area was relatively birdy. There was a small flock of Purple Finches feeding in some tall sycamores above the nets, and a couple Pine Siskins flew overhead.

Today I again went banding at Starr Ranch. One of the first birds I saw in the morning was a beautiful male Scott's Oriole, which Justin Shew (the bander) had been seeing around the orchard recently. I was excited to see it - a state/county bird for me. Again, we caught birds slowly but steadily all day. We banded four "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warblers today, which was really nice.

We caught (and recaptured) quite a few Hermit Thrushes between the two days of banding. Lovely birds.

I was also very excited to catch this Bewick's Wren. A very sharp-looking bird! I love the white supercilium and the "Angry Wren" pose.

However, the most interesting bird of the day was yet to come. On one of our last net runs, another one of the assistants came across a California Gnatcatcher in the net! Unfortunately, we were not allowed to band it since it is an endangered species (this seems kind of backward to me; after all, shouldn't we be researching and finding out about these endangered species? Oh well...). Luckily, I had my camera in my pocket, so I snapped a quick photo before Justin let it go. Apparently, they are only very rarely caught at Starr Ranch; I think just one other has been caught there.

Other birds that we banded on the two days included California Towhee, Fox Sparrow, House Finch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Hutton's Vireo. In the late morning on one of the net runs I got brief looks at a Red-breasted Sapsucker that blew in and landed in a tree next the one of the nets while I was extracting a bird. Unfortunately, it took off after a few seconds and was never seen again. I would have liked to get better looks at it. Another new county bird! I heard a few Purple Finches throughout the day, and heard another Pine Siskin fly overhead while I was waiting for my parents to pick me up in the afternoon. It was a really great day - we banded a fair number of birds and observed some interesting ones.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Saturday Birding & Chasing

Yesterday my dad and I attended Sea & Sage Audubon's field trip to the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, which is part of the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station. Because of security reasons, the refuge is not open to the public. I jumped at the chance to go birding at this amazing place. After our leader Tim Anderson gave a short introduction to the refuge, we loaded up into as few cars as possible and drove out onto the dikes of the refuge. The refuge is mostly coastal salt estuary. Shorebirds, raptors, and waterfowl abounded. Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed on the base, so I wasn't able to take any photographs. The best birds were a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes, a new state/county bird for me. They have become increasingly hard to find in Orange County due to habitat destruction, so I was happy to see them. Unfortunately, we dipped on both Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow and Ferruginous Hawk, which Tim had seen the previous day. A great place with lots of potential for rarities - I can't wait until my next visit!

Around noon, when the field trip was over, my dad and I headed down to Harriet Wieder Regional Park, adjacent to the south end of Bolsa Chica Reserve. Singles of Red-throated Pipit, Palm Warbler, and Eastern Phoebe had been reported from there the previous day, and I was anxious to chase them, particularly the pipit. Red-throated Pipits show up in southern California every fall, but not very often in Orange County. Doug Willick and Jim Pike, a couple of the county's top birders were there, but they hadn't seen the pipit for half an hour. Finding it was a daunting challenge - there was a large flock of very skittish American Pipits roaming the bluffs. Nevertheless, we finally managed to pick it out. It had bold streaking on the underparts and upperparts, and was more richly colored overall. The light was bad and the bird was relatively distant, but I managed to get one good image.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the Palm Warbler or Eastern Phoebe, but they aren't as rare as the Red-throated Pipit and hopefully I'll soon see them in the county. There were lots of Western Meadowlarks there, and several American Kestrels. One female American Kestrel was very tame and allowed me to approach closely as she perched on stick.

She was very cooperative, with this lovely over-the shoulder pose. Kestrels really are very cool and under-appreciated birds!

I love this shot which clearly shows those black "tear streaks".