Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cacti and Wrens

I took a ride over to Oak Canyon Nature Center in Anaheim Hills this afternoon, mostly for a lack of anything better to do. I had most of my work for the day done, and I couldn't think of anywhere else to go for an hour or two in the late afternoon. I miraculously found the place after driving around the hilly neighborhoods of Anaheim Hills (very accurately named, I discovered), lost. This obscure little nature area is tucked back in a little canyon, surrounded by housing developments.

Surprisingly, I'd never been to the place before. I wandered around the trails, not really knowing where to look, turning up a lot of birds. Towhees, Scrub-Jays, California Thrashers, Wrentits, Yellow-rumps. I hiked up the Roadrunner Ridge Trail to take a look at the adjacent Walnut Canyon Reservoir. On my way up, I came across a huge patch of prickly pear cactus. A nice big hillside of cacti often will have some Cactus Wrens in it, so I did my best imitation of the wren's throaty chortle. A Cactus Wren instantaneously popped up a few feet away, chattering back at me.

The bird glared at me for a little bit before wandering off and joining a second Cactus Wren on a jumbo prickly pear. This was possibly the best look at a Cactus Wren ever. It is one fun bird to see - they are so pretty and have so much character!

I followed the ridge trail all the way to the top to quickly check the reservoir. The only birds on the water were a few American Wigeons, singles of Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Double-crested Cormorant, Eared Grebe, and a few Mallards. I headed back down along the hillside down into the oak-riparian area along the small creek that winds through the park. Until then, I had been in mostly open sage scrub/cactus areas, with tons of wildflowers as well.

I found some other interesting species among the stream side oaks, including my first Black-throated Gray Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and Warbling Vireo of the spring. Unfortunately, the dim light underneath the thick canopy prevented me from getting more photos.

All in all, I am very glad I ventured out to Oak Canyon Nature Center for the first time ever. I was pleasantly surprised by the numbers and variety of birds I saw in the short time I was there. The Cactus Wrens were a treat. I've never been able to get good shots of these guys in California, since the cactus patches they inhabit are generally a long distance from trails. I'm sure I'll be back at Oak Canyon soon.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I had a few hours to spare this morning, so after dropping my dad off at the airport (he's flying to Germany for a week for business), I hopped over to San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine, taking advantage of my shiny new driver's license. I decided to waste another good chunk of time fruitlessly searching for the elusive Northern Waterthrush that has supposedly been wintering there. That's exactly how it happened. I pished at and peered into the flooded thicket where it's supposed to hang out, but for about the sixth time this winter I struck out.

However, there were plenty of other birds to keep me satisfied. I found a Long-billed Curlew in one of the shallow ponds near the front. I can't recall ever seeing one here before, though they are common just a couple miles away at Upper Newport Bay.

The extensive back area (the alleged haunts of the waterthrush) was hopping with activity. Newly-arrived Bell's Vireos, my first for the spring, were chattering away in the riparian areas. As I was strolling along, I heard what I could have sworn was a Northern Parula singing out in the middle of a big riparian area, but the bird remained devilishly hidden in the thick vegetation and I never got a look at to figure out precisely what it was. Ah well.

I also kept a sharp eye open for dragonflies, but I didn't see any apart from a few Green Darners. Butterflies were out in force enjoying the plethora of wildflowers. I managed to photograph this duskywing sp., but I can't figure out what it is. There are only three or four possibilities for Southern California, and none of them look exactly like this.

A Gadwall in a small backwater provided good photo opportunities. He was looking rather scruffy, but the reddish on the wings is difficult to see while the bird is at rest.

I headed back to the parking lot and continued on to check some other areas. I briefly stopped by Orange Coast College to look for and hopefully photograph the Palm Warbler in the community garden, but the garden was filled with people and I did not see the warbler anywhere. I drove a few more miles to Estancia Park in Costa Mesa to visit the Pine Warbler that has been wintering there for the third winter in a row. I saw it last winter a couple times, but I figured I could try to get some better photos. I heard the bird singing as soon as I stepped out of the car and quickly tracked it down. The bird was feeding at eye level in pine trees, aggressively chasing away any Yellow-rumped Warbler that got too close. I was able to get a decent shot or two, better than what I managed last winter.

With that, I decided I'd better get home, since I was supposed to be home by noon. I swung by El Modena Park just a couple miles down the road from my house to look for a Little Blue Heron that had been reported from there yesterday. There's a scummy little pond here, and last week while out and about I found two Hooded Mergansers there. I was very surprised to see those mergansers in this unlikely spot, and I was even more shocked to see the report of the Little Blue considering how tiny the pond is (actually, I was more surprised to find out that somebody else birded the place!)

Unfortunately, the heron was nowhere to be found. The park was very birdy, though. I found Chipping and Lark Sparrows, American Pipits, and Barn Swallows in the area around the pond. The pond itself was rather birdless, with just Mallards, a Spotted Sandpiper, a Snowy Egret, and a family of Killdeer with a couple tiny little fuzzball baby Killdeers.

It was a fun few hours of birding. Even though I didn't see anything groundbreaking (though Pine Warbler is a pretty good bird for California; I know of certain people who would love to see it!), getting out on a beautiful spring morning is always delightful.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Dragonfly Lifers #4-5

As the days have become warmer the last week or so, more and more dragonflies have been emerging. This afternoon I circuited around the neighborhood in search of basically anything capable of flight: birds, dragonflies, and butterflies. Down along the Yellowthroat Creek I came across a few Pacific Forktails (Ischnura cervula) fluttering around in the low vegetation right along the creek. If it reminds you of the Black-fronted Forktail from a while back, good eye. These two species are very similar, but note the four bright blue dots on the top of the thorax in Pacific Forktail.

While poking around along the creek I also several species of butterflies, including Mourning Cloak, Western Tiger Swallowtail, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, and singles of skipper sp. and duskywing sp. Though my eyes were mostly pointed down in search of dragonflies, I also noted Hooded Oriole, Cedar Waxwing, and Red-shouldered Hawk around there, along with the more common residents and wintering species.

I proceeded to the lakes, finding dozens more Pacific Forktails zipping around low to the water. A few days ago, while walking the dog around the lake, I noticed a darner, undoubtedly a Green Darner, buzzing around. I found it again, and confirmed it as a Green Darner (Anax junius.) He was accompanied by a lady friend, and the pair was busily creating the next generation of Green Darners.

Green Darners are huge, commanding dragonflies; they made a nice break from the nearly-microscopic damselflies I've been studying recently. I know I've seen them before, and you probably have too, since they are very common and demand attention. However, since I'm starting my dragonfly list from scratch, it was a lifer for me.

I could hardly ignore the birds around the lake. Normally only Mallards and American Coots are around, but today a Double-crested Cormorant was hanging out. I was pleasantly surprised at how nicely this picture came out, because I quickly shot off a couple pictures as I strolled past.

I was also pleased to see a Green Heron awkwardly flying around the lake with a twig in its bill, indicating its intent on nesting. However, it couldn't seem to decide where to build the nest; first, it tried in the thick tules at the far end of the lake, but later flew up into a nearby tree still carrying the twig.

I popped up to the smaller upper lake to see what was happening up there. I flushed a Spotted Sandpiper from the lake's concrete edge. A pair of Wood Ducks reposing on the lake's edge was a big surprise, since I only rarely see them in the neighborhood.

Not bad for a short neighborhood walk. The two dragonfly lifers put me half-way to double digits for my list! Impressive.

Totally unrelated note: on Wednesday I GOT MY DRIVER'S LICENSE! A major cause for celebration. Of course, I don't have my own car, and probably won't for a long time, but hopefully I'll be able to get out a bit more often to chase rarities.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Good Stuff

Good stuff. A vague term, to be sure. Often one will pause after an enjoyable experience (i.e., a good birding outing) and think, "Good stuff!" That's what I did today, even though it wasn't a hard-core birding expedition.

My dad and I took a drive down to Laguna Hills this morning to scout around the Laguna Hills DMV (my road test is on Wednesday, *gasp*). Laguna Niguel Regional Park is just a few miles down the road, so we meandered around there for awhile. I had been there only once previously; it passes under most birders' radar screens. However, it is a lush park with a lake, lots of big trees, and a creek. We pulled into the park entrance and I promptly spotted a Cattle Egret wandering around the large lawn in the center of the park. This species is surprisingly uncommon in Orange County (I've only seen one other in the county), so it was fun to see.

The park was hopping with bird activity. Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Townsend's Warblers seemed to be in every single tree. Many of the birds were singing, so we were treated to the songs of all the common residents plus wintering birds tuning up. We headed to the south end of the park, seeing Ruddy Ducks, Gadwall, and Common Moorhens on the lake as we drove past. The southern end of the park was also loaded with birds. After enjoying some more Townsend's Warblers, Hooded Orioles, and Bullock's Orioles near the parking lot, I headed over to a swampy ditch nearby. I pished vigorously and a Swamp Sparrow, giving its distinctive chink call notes, popped up right in front of me. I was surprised, to say the least. I've seen many over the years, but none in California.

Happy to have seen a Swamp Sparrow, we drove around the park a bit more to check a couple more spots. As we were cruising slowly by the lake, I noticed a Least Bittern flying across the lake. It quickly disappeared into the cattails on the other side, but a minute later it reappeared and buzzed into another clump of cattails. Not a crummy bird to see on a casual morning outing. I was also surprised to see a Western Gull on the dam. This species is obnoxious a few miles away on the coast, but inland it is decidedly uncommon.

We wandered around a bit more, finding nothing to beat the Cattle Egret, Swamp Sparrow, or Least Bittern. I did find a Cassin's Kingbird perched low in a tree near the tennis courts, but unfortunately the combination of the thick cloud layer and my camera's dying batteries prevented me from getting a really good photo of it.

Good stuff. The Swamp Sparrow was a state and county bird for me, and Cattle Egret and Least Bittern are both decent birds for Orange County. It was fun just to get out for awhile with lots of birds out singing. It really felt like spring!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dragonfly Lifer #3: Black-fronted Forktail

I had some spare time this afternoon, so I headed down to the Yellowthroat Creek in my neighborhood to look for dragonflies. It was warm, practically hot (82 degrees!), so I figured there had to be some out. After thrashing around in the vegetation at the creek's edge for awhile, I came across a tiny (only about an inch long) black and turquoise damselfly perched right above the water. It stayed too close to the water's surface for me to capture and examine in hand, but I took some photos. Later on I came across another one, which was very similar except that it had tan markings where the other had turquoise.

It didn't take me long to identify once I was home: Black-fronted Forktail (Ischnura denticollis.) This is a very common and widespread species in California, but since I'm just getting into dragonflies it was a new species, number three on my official dragonfly life list. The one with the turquoise markings was the male, and the tan one was a female. It was great to see another new damselfly (one that I could actually identify!), and hopefully I'll find a lot more soon!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Seeing Rufous

I've got a hummingbird feeder that I occasionally remember to fill hanging just outside my second-story bedroom window. With hummingbird migration full upon us (I should technically keep it filled all year, since there are always tons of hummingbirds around, but I'm too lazy), I cooked up a batch of sugar water, did my best to clean all the disgusting scum off the out-of-service feeder, filled it, and waited. At first, only the occasional Anna's Hummingbird or House Finch would stop by, but this morning a gorgeous Rufous Hummingbird was carefully driving away any other hummingbird that tried to steal a sip of its precious sugar water.

Rufous Hummingbirds are fairly common migrants in Orange County - I've seen several in the last week or so buzzing around the flowering eucalyptus trees in the neighborhood - but this was the most cooperative one I'd ever seen. He held his ground as I carefully slid the window open and poked my camera lens out. Rufous Hummingbirds are certainly an attractive hummingbird, shining bright orange like a freshly-minted penny.

The bird's gorget shimmered from blackish to fiery red as it cocked its head to investigate its surroundings. The gorget sometimes even has a greenish sheen, which I captured with this photo.

All hummingbirds are aggressive, and many consider the Rufous Hummingbird to be particularly tough when it comes to defending feeders. When another hummingbird came anywhere near the feeder, he'd give a warning chatter. If the other hummingbird was foolish enough to ignore this, the Rufous would zoom off his perch in a flash of orange and send the intruder packing. This photo, which I clicked off just before he took off on such a chase, shows the spread tail. The tail feathers (or retrices, in birder jargon) are broader in Rufous Hummingbird than on the very similar Allen's Hummingbird. On females and immatures, the shape of these feathers is often the only way to distinguish these two species. Fortunately, the males are more distinctive, and a Rufous with a completely orange back like this one is unmistakable.

I had better enjoy the Rufous Hummingbirds as they pass through, since they'll only be around for another month or so. I'll also have to keep a sharp eye out for Calliope Hummingbirds, which are uncommon spring migrants in Orange County in March and April. I've never seen one, but hopefully I'll find one this spring. And of course, I'll always treasure the Allen's and Anna's Hummingbirds, which are omnipresent around here.

A Hairy Kind of Day

My Orange County list, which grew rapidly for the first several months after moving, has now ground to a halt. New county birds have been few and far between this winter. Happily, I garnered two new ones today: an unexpected bonus and one that I should have gotten last spring.

I was interested to see a report of a Hairy Woodpecker at Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea on the Orange County Rare Bird Alert a couple weeks ago. I initially passed it off as a misidentified Downy Woodpecker, but it was confirmed this week by reliable sources. I’ve seen many Hairy Woodpeckers throughout my lifetime – they were commonplace in my Michigan backyard – but in southern California they are found only in pine forests high in the mountains. Well, usually. Orange County actually has a tiny population high up in Silverado Canyon, but a long hike is required to get into the right habitat. My dad and I ran up to Carbon Canyon to look for it early this afternoon.

It turned out to be one of those ridiculously easy rarity chases. We parked, walked a short distance to the spot, heard a woodpecker drum, and looked up. There it was. That was incredibly easy! On this photo, notice its beastly size (like a Downy Woodpecker on steroids) and the all-white outer tail feathers (Downy Woodpeckers have black flecking on these feathers.)

The woodpecker hopped up into the open and flew off after a few moments. This photo shows the long, powerful bill – much more impressive than the Downy Woodpecker’s wimpy little bill.

Our main target nailed, we wandered around the park for a while more. Carbon Canyon Regional Park is a very lush park (well, at least the parts that didn’t burn last fall) with lots of tall trees that make it a great spot for birding. We came across a Pacific-slope Flycatcher near the tennis courts, undoubtedly freshly arrived from its wintering grounds.

We took a short hike along the nature trail, which winds through the creek bed and parts of the park that were badly burned last fall. Birds weren’t plentiful, but wildflowers were everywhere. I’ll have to look up this lovely purple flower, though I saw lots of others that I recognized. The fiddleneck was doing very well here.

As we were headed back to the car, I suddenly recognized the distinctive call notes of Lawrence’s Goldfinch drifted down to earth from the skies above. I got a glimpse of the bird as it rocketed overhead without stopping. I somehow managed to miss this species in Orange County last spring, so it was a long-overdue county bird for me. Hopefully I’ll be able to add this species to my Bigby list later in the spring.

As I was unsuccessfully searching for the Lawrence’s Goldfinch, I noticed a Brown Creeper inching up a nearby tree trunk. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, this species is not very common at all in Orange County, so I was happy to see it. By now the mid-afternoon lull was beginning to set in, so we loaded up into the car and headed home.

I was delighted to pick up two new county birds on a casual Sunday afternoon jaunt to Carbon Canyon. I haven’t added a new county bird for over a month. This puts my Orange County total at two eighty-one. I guess that isn’t too crummy for having lived here for not even two years and not having a driver’s license (though I do take my road test in two weeks!) Only nineteen more to get to three hundred!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dragonfly Lifer #2: Aztec Dancer (probable)

I've waited impatiently for spring to roll around in anticipation of seeing lots of new dragonflies. I've seen nothing but Variegated Meadowhawks since I began my official dragonfly list in late December of last year. I was able to add a new one to my slowly-growing list this afternoon.

I took a quick ride over to Santiago Oaks Regional Park this afternoon in hopes of photographing the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Unfortunately, I couldn't find him anywhere (he may have already left; I haven't seen him the last two times I've been there, and he's got a long way to go.) I took a hike around the Wilderness Loop, finding some California Thrashers, two Golden-crowned Sparrow, and a Lincoln's Sparrow, among others. I flushed a dragonfly from the edge of the path, but when it landed again, I could see it was another Variegated Meadowhawk - rats.

A few feet farther down the trail, I flushed a tiny blue thing which weakly fluttered into the grass at the path's edge. A damselfly! It was a pretty one, patterned in blue and black, though the vast majority of damselflies are colored similarly to this. I took some photos, hoping they would be enough to identify it back at home. After a few minutes of flipping through my field guide, I found a good match: California Dancer (Argia agrioides.) Unfortunately, to confuse things, there is a nearly identical species, the Aztec Dancer (Argia nahuana) that can only be distinguished by careful examination of the abdomen tips in hand. Rats. It's like having the second bird you look at being a Willow/Alder Flycatcher.

I referred to the text for some pointers. According to the species accounts, Aztec Dancer begins to fly earlier in the year than California Dancer - March opposed to April. So, assuming the information in the book is correct, I'm tentatively calling this an Aztec Dancer. If you have any opinions please feel free to comment.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Another Sojourn at The Sea

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend a day trip to the Salton Sea with the Junior Naturalists from Sea and Sage Audubon. I was just there less than a month ago with my dad and John Garrett, but birding around the Salton Sea is always worthwhile and I reckoned we might find a few different birds. I was right.

Instead of taking the boring freeway route to the sea through Riverside, we decided to take a more winding route through the mountains and desert of San Diego County. I met Kate Grabenstein (the head of the Junior Naturalists) and Alison George (one of the other Junior Naturalists) at the Audubon House in Irvine and we quickly set out. We met up with a few other Junior Naturalists at a rest stop near Oceanside, where I actually found some of my best photo opportunities of the day. A bunch of tame California Gulls and Red-winged Blackbirds roamed the parking lot, posing nicely for the camera.

After a lengthy drive through the heart of San Diego County, we pulled into the parking lot at Ocotillo Wells in the Anza-Borrego Desert. Birds were not very plentiful in this arid region.

We took a quick stroll through the surrounding desert to view the plentiful wildflowers. In a short time we found a variety of flowers, some with illustrative names, including Sand Verbena, Arizona Lupine, Brittlebush, Desert Sunflower, and Brown-eyed Primrose.

I also came across this gaudily colored lizard here. I was hoping it would be an exciting one I’d never seen before, but a quick check in my reptile field guide revealed that it was a Common Side-Blotched Lizard. All the lizards I photograph turn out to be Western Fence-Lizards or something with “common” in its name…

We drove the last few miles through increasingly desolate habitat towards the sea. It wasn’t until late morning that we arrived at Unit One of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR at the end of Vendel Road. The thousands of Snow Geese present last month were nowhere to be found. The lack of geese was somewhat disappointed, though we did find Loggerhead Shrike, Sora, and Clapper Rail as consolation prizes.

Our growling stomachs demanded food, so we drove on to Obsidian Butte for a picnic lunch. Perched on rocks above the beach, we studied gulls, shorebirds, and ducks while munching on sandwiches. Again, there seemed to be fewer birds than last month, but still plenty to keep us occupied. Once we finished, we packed up the remnants of our lunches and headed on to the headquarters of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR.

The patches of trees and bushes around the refuge headquarters provide some habitat for land birds, which are generally relatively scarce around the Salton Sea because of the lack of trees. It didn’t take long to spot an Abert’s Towhee, a new species for several of the other Junior Naturalists, clinging precariously from a feeder by the parking lot.

We wandered through the trees by the headquarters and admired the Eurasian Collared, Mourning, and Common Ground-Doves waddling around all over the place. Gambel’s Quail, White-crowned Sparrow, and Verdin were also rampant. A ranger from the refuge headquarters appeared out of nowhere and asked, “Wanna see a Barn Owl?” Of course we did. He directed us to a palm tree by the parking lot, and sure enough, a lovely Barn Owl was tucked back behind some of the fronds.

The long loop trail around the refuge was too alluring to resist, so we spent at least an hour hiking the loop. We finally found a few hundred Snow Geese, along with some Ross’s Geese, feeding in the big field by the observation tower. There were lots of birds in the ponds and on the seashore, but nothing really new. It was a long and hot walk back to the cars.

Red Hill, perhaps the single most famous (and even infamous) site at the Salton Sea, was next on our agenda. I couldn’t resist taking some cheesy landscape shots here.

The birds did not disappoint at Red Hill. Thousands of gulls, shorebirds, and ducks swarmed all over the mudflats and water around the marina. In short order we spotted the first Dunlin, Western Sandpiper, Western Grebe, Marbled Godwit, and Long-billed Curlew of the day. With my scope I managed to spot a Yellow-footed Gull resting on a mudflat at least half a mile away. It was soon joined by a Glaucous-winged Gull. Alison and I took off across the mudflat, which was nice and dry in most areas but treacherously slimy in other parts, in order to obtain photos of the Yellow-footed Gull. When we finally drew close to the gull, we discovered there were actually two Yellow-footed Gulls.

We could have easily spent the remaining daylight birding at Red Hill (there are so many thousands of birds to sort through!), but everyone else was interested in seeing Burrowing Owls. We sped over to the intersection of Sinclair and Blair Roads were my dad, John, and I saw a pair in February. On the way we happened across a burned field covered in Mountain Plovers, which was worth a quick stop to scope out. We located the Burrowing Owls without any trouble.

By now light was fading as the sun slowly sank toward the hills to the west. Kate, Allison, and I (everyone else had headed for home by this point) made a quick stop at the Wister Unit to see what was around. We were treated to a lovely sunset over the sea. I attempted to document it, but my camera did wacky things to the background.

Daylight was almost entirely gone by now, but we decided to take a cruise down Davis Road to see if we could hear anything. An American Bittern flushed from a roadside ditch as we slid past, and a short distance farther down a Clapper Rail was calling incessantly from a small patch of cattails near the road. In just a few more minutes of birding, we heard several more Clapper Rails, a few Soras, and a Common Moorhen. Now birding in utter darkness, we left the Wister Unit to the howling Coyotes (there were many) and started the homeward journey. I finally got home around nine-thirty.

It was, as every jaunt I’ve taken to the Salton Sea has been, an awesome trip. I didn’t see any life birds, but everyone else got at least one. I just enjoy seeing the sea and all the birds it hosts. I can’t wait for my next trip over there, which probably won’t be until next winter; in the summer, the sea smells horrific and the temperatures are crushingly hot.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

You set a record?!

Birding by bike has always intrigued me, particularly since moving to California, which is much more biking-friendly than Michigan. I don’t do so much biking to reduce my carbon footprint (more on that at some other time), but because it is fun and convenient. Soon after becoming hooked on birding by bike, I was very excited to break the one hundred barrier for a day. Over the past year and a half, I’ve broken that record again and again, until my biggest biking day total was one thirty-six. This is a pretty intimidating total to break, but I figured it was possible. I had nothing better to do on Saturday, so on Friday evening I decided to take a crack at the record.

My route was roughly as follows: San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Upper Newport Bay, Little Corona City Beach, Irvine Regional Park, and Santiago Oaks Regional Park. This is a lot of ground to cover! I left my house at dawn and sped toward San Joaquin. This is always a fun ride; I can attain speeds up to thirty-five miles per hour going down the enormous hill along Jamboree Road. I arrived at San Joaquin at seven forty, having already picked up a few key birds on the way down, including Wilson’s Snipe, White-faced Ibis, and Yellow Warbler in the San Diego Creek and Chipping Sparrow at a little park near my house.

I had already decided to not waste a lot of my precious time at San Joaquin. It is a great birding spot, but I often trick myself into searching for the Northern Waterthrush that doesn’t seem to exist there. I gave myself twenty minutes. My first spot to check was Pond Two, where some Ross’s Geese apparently have been spending the night recently. I was either too late or the geese have disappeared for good, because the only geese in the pond were Canada Geese. I did get a much-appreciated consolation prize in the form of a gorgeous adult-cycle Mew Gull mixed in with the Ring-billed and California Gulls loafing on one of the islands. I returned to the Audubon House, found the continuing Wilson’s Warbler in the vegetation around the parking lot, and then ran out to Pond B to see my only Black-crowned Night-Herons of the day. I pulled out of the parking lot at eight sharp.

Upper Newport Bay could make or break my day, since I depended on it to produce lots of ducks, shorebirds, and raptors for my list. The tide wasn’t optimal (high, but it was only a three-footer), but I found lots of birds anyway. Numbers and variety were a bit down from my other recent visits, and I struck out on a few much-needed species like Loggerhead Shrike, Merlin, and Eurasian Wigeon. However, I came through with a number of problematic species, including Sora, Horned Grebe, and Canvasback.

The beach is always an important spot on any Orange County Big Day. Little Corona City Beach isn’t the best beach for birding, but it is the closest and most convenient. On the way to the beach, I stopped to pish at a well-vegetated yard adjacent to Pacific Coast Highway near Fashion Island. I was hoping for a Townsend’s Warbler or something along those lines. I was downright shocked when the first bird to pop up was a White-throated Sparrow. While hardly a earth-breaking rarity (at least six or seven are wintering in the county this year), it was unexpected. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a Bigby bird for me, as I saw one in early January at Mason Regional Park. After a few more minutes of pishing, my hoped for Townsend’s Warbler did show up.

After weaving through some of the quaint neighborhoods of Corona del Mar, I arrived at Little Corona City Beach. The most conspicuous birds were the Brandt’s Cormorants and Brown Pelicans loafing on the rocks below the overlook. Among them I picked out a single Pelagic Cormorant. The few rocks that weren’t submerged were free of shorebirds. Finally, I spotted a few little bumps that were most likely shorebirds on some rocks at least half a mile down the beach. It was too hazy to scan offshore, so I set off down the beach to get a closer look at the shorebirds. It was more difficult than I anticipated. At several points, the tide forced me to spider along narrow cliff edges to continue down the beach (I had my scope on my shoulder the whole while, mind you.) I finally was able to approach the birds closely enough to identify Surfbirds, Black and Ruddy Turnstones, Willets, Whimbrels, and Marbled Godwits. I also spotted a Red-breasted Merganser, the only one of the day.

By now the haze had burned off somewhat, so I returned to the overlook to scope offshore. While munching on my lunch, I spotted a few Black-vented Shearwaters, singles of Common and Red-throated Loons, and a handful of Surf Scoters. Pretty meager fair, but it was better than nothing.

Around noon I headed back in the direction of Irvine and Santiago Oaks Regional Parks. After a long and difficult uphill ride, I arrived at Irvine Regional Park mid-afternoon. I quickly found most of my targets without difficulty, including Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Acorn Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, and Lark Sparrow. I continued on to Santiago Oaks Regional Park, hoping to scrape out a few additional species. The first bird I tried for, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, was nowhere to be found. I never seem capable of locating him when I really need to. However, I did managed to pish up one of the Golden-crowned Sparrows I had come across the previous day. After picked up a couple more common foothill species, I wearily pedaled home as daylight faded.

I anxiously tallied up my checklist upon arriving home. Did I find enough to break my record? I got a few surprise birds, but I also missed some easy ones (Green Heron, Wandering Tattler, Cooper’s Hawk, etc.) Turns out all the pedaling paid off (53.21 miles, to be exact) – my total for the day was one hundred forty-one. That’s a decent total for a day of birding in Orange County by car, let alone by bike. It will be extremely difficult to break this record, though if I really tried (i.e., looked for owls, kept a tighter schedule, staked out more birds) I could likely attain one fifty. Additionally, I added eighteen new species to my Bigby list, mainly common beach species. It was a pretty awesome day of birding.