March Species Seen
Journal - March, 2008
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This log is in chronological order and the most recent entries
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The last update was on Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Saturday, March 1, 2008
First of two days of general birding with Tom Lewis and Norm Woolsey, both from Gilbert, AZ. Today we visited Sulphur Springs Valley and the Mule Mountains. The weather was close to ideal with clear skies and very little wind.
We began in the valley by checking the fields on Davis Road and Central Highway. Irrigation rig changes were in effect in the westernmost field on Davis and the field only seemed attractive to the large blackbird flock and raptors, including the clan of FERRUGINOUS HAWKS. However, the short, dry grass in the traditional best plover field on Central (2nd field north of Davis) had attracted a dozen or so LONG-BILLED CURLEWS and a handful of MOUNTAIN PLOVERS. Those plovers (or rather the lack of those plovers) cost me a couple of hundred miles yesterday!
We then worked the back roads for a little while seeing a large flock of SCALED QUAIL, a perched and unflinching ROADRUNNER, a perched up and singing BENDIRE'S THRASHER, CANYON TOWHEE, PYRRHULOXIA and the usual variety of sparrow species. Interestingly, we saw a sizeable group of LONG-BILLED CURLEWS in a grassy area with dense mesquite on Davis Road near McNeal (hardly expected habitat but I have witnessed it before).
Whitewater Draw produced the usual suspects (except Burrowing Owl) including a very tolerant GREAT HORNED OWL, perhaps the most gawked at LONG-EARED OWL currently in Arizona; and a handful of BARN OWLS (probably many more out of sight). A small group of white geese were present early and the main flock arrived at their "usual" mid morning time. I counted at least 5 ROSS'S, the hanger on GREATER WHITE-FRONTED and a couple of Blue Phase birds in the main body of (150ish) SNOW GEESE.
We didn't attempt to weed out every shorebird/wader present and noted 10+ AVOCETS, 1 WILSON'S SNIPE, a large group of LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, a couple of SPOTTED and scattered small groups of LEAST SANDPIPERS.
TREE SWALLOWS provided some evidence of impending spring. Raptors included SHARP-SHINNED, & COOPER'S and FERRUGINOUS HAWKS, the latter being quite scarce here.
It was a tad warm in the Mule Mountains in the early afternoon and activity was low compared to recent visits. BLACK-CHINNED SPARROW numbers were way down but we still managed to see a couple (perhaps they are already moving to higher elevation as spring approaches). A pair of ROCK WRENS were busy working on a nest beneath a pile of rocks. WHITE-WINGED DOVES and HUTTON'S VIREOS were singing. Spring is in most definitely in the air. Other species included RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW and SPOTTED TOWHEE. Missed Western Scrub-Jay.75 species recorded:
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Out again today with Tom and Norm. We visited San Rafael Valley, Patagonia Lake and Kino Springs. Another warmish day becoming extremely windy in the afternoon.
When general birding, I normally wouldn't consider San Rafael Valley due to its low species diversity and often tough to find specialty birds. However, kites are always good to see and it's been a good year for Baird's Sparrow so I decided to push my luck one more time. I'm happy to say that the gamble worked and we had excellent scope views of a 2-3 BAIRD'S SPARROWS and 2-3 GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS. We also saw 2 WHITE-TAILED KITES putting on a good show and a (briefly) perched MERLIN.
The burned area at the west end of the valley on the north side of FR58 is already greening up.
[Baird's Sparrow Notes: Today concludes my visits to San Rafael Valley for the winter season. It's been an excellent year to see Baird's and I was successful on 12 of 14 visits starting on October 3. Although I had two spectacular misses on January 1 and February 10, overall results were well above average. Numbers were impressive too -- on most visits I saw at least two or three; sometimes five or six; and a dozen on one occasion. Disclaimer (for those who may hire me in the future): your mileage may vary.]
I usually don't stop during the drive down Harshaw Canyon into Patagonia, but a stop today was very productive. In addition to the regular ACORN WOODPECKERS and MEXICAN JAYS, we had good looks at RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, a male EASTERN BLUEBIRD (singing), BRIDLED TITMICE (also singing), RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW and SPOTTED TOWHEE. Other singing species included RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, BEWICK'S WREN and HUTTON'S VIREO.
The snowbird population at Patagonia Lake is approaching its peak and I'll be happy to miss the Spring Break crowds that will soon be showing up while I'm in CA (no crowds there of course!). We saw a solid 55 species while wandering around (didn't walk the creek where Elegant Trogon was seen yesterday). Highlights were a stunning male BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD, EASTERN PHOEBE (my 43rd three phoebe species day in AZ) and VERMILION, GRAY & ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHERS.
The wintering flock of COMMON MERGANSERS was greatly reduced today and contained only one male among 30 or so females. A large flock of WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS and three flavors of swallows were further evidence that spring isn't far away.
An hour at Kino Springs was a little disappointing, although the wind had already started blowing hard by the time that we arrived (but nothing like the severe wind later in the day). Not content with whacking down all the weeds at the first pond, the powers that be have now swealed away the remainder and it was still burning as we birded around the pond. Species at Kino included GREEN HERON, a pair of BUFFLEHEADS (a species that I haven't seen very often at this location -- only 10 total records); GREAT HORNED OWL and GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE.
As we drove back to Sierra Vista, BLACK VULTURES were circling over the roadside rest area and a PEREGRINE FALCON flashed across the road. Perhaps they are nesting here again for the second consecutive year.91 species recorded:
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Out today with Nancy Waldron from Michigan, currently wintering in Patagonia (our second outing, we birded together last month); and Marsha from Oregon, also wintering in Patagonia. We took the road less traveled and birded at St. David Monastery and in the Mule Mountains with no objectives other than to enjoy the day. After a week with above average temperatures, the past couple of days have seen overnight lows dip below freezing in Sierra Vista. A reminder that it's really still winter despite the fact that the great SE AZ migration event (known as a dribble, building to a trickle) is underway. Today saw some improvement and after a chilly start the afternoon was on the warm side.
Birding at the monastery was very pleasant and we saw a decent variety of species (but nothing unusual). The highlight was a singing NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET that was initially difficult to track down then foraged in a leafless mesquite at very close range for 5 minutes. I shot 50 images but all except the one that I published had a twig in the way or the shadow of a twig on the bird. Murphy at his finest.
We had a three goldfinch day in perhaps the exact reverse order that you might expect -- first AMERICAN GOLDFINCH then LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCH (sorry Phil!) and finally, LESSER GOLDFINCH. We saw only one individual of each species.
A silently foraging HUTTON'S VIREO at the main pond represented the least common location species (I only have 3 records in 3 different years in the last 16). Other species around the main pond and adjacent area included singing WHITE-WINGED DOVES, a heard only "rattling" BELTED KINGFISHER, a male VERMILION FLYCATCHER, ABERT'S TOWHEE and LINCOLN'S SPARROW. 40 species in all.
In the Mule Mountains we enjoyed the sunshine, views and a few birds of the oaks, chaparral and rocky habitat. After being scarce on Saturday, BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS were common again today (well into double figures) but never came really close. I couldn't buy a WESTERN SCRUB-JAY on Saturday but quite a few were present today. Multiple ROCK WRENS were much in evidence and very entertaining. RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROWS were alternately elusive and then easy to see.
Most of the regulars were vocalizing and included CACTUS WREN, BRIDLED TITMOUSE, HUTTON'S VIREO and CANYON TOWHEE. A lone BREWER'S SPARROW seemed very out of place in this habitat. CHIPPING SPARROWS were abundant. Other regulars included BUSHTIT, SPOTTED TOWHEE, PYRRHULOXIA and LINCOLN'S SPARROW.
This was my last scheduled birding day in Southeast Arizona for March -- I head to California on Saturday for the remainder of the month. I expect to publish the journal while on the road, although I suspect updates will not be daily! See you when I see you. By the way, I've been using my new laptop for the past couple of weeks to iron out all the bugs before hitting the road. If you've seen (or see) any anomalies in the journal that seem computer related (not down to the loose nut behind the wheel), please let me know -- thanks.60 species recorded:
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Today marks the start of a trip to California where I'll be until the end of March. It's also the first of 6 days with Jim and Joan Clapp from Hebron, KY who I've birded with on three previous occasions, twice in SE AZ and once in the White Mountains. Today was mostly a driving day but we did get some birding done. We began near Buckeye in Maricopa County, AZ then drove to Ventura, CA. A brief report follows.
I was up at the crack of night to meet Jim and Joan in Tucson. After dropping my vehicle at the airport long term parking, we drove directly to the "thrasher spot" located at the intersection of Baseline Road and Salome Highway in Maricopa County. Years ago, this location was firmly "in the middle of nowhere". However, due to incessant development, it's now barely on the edge of nowhere. We began our search for LE CONTE'S THRASHER at 7:00am and first laid eyes on a bird at 7:30am. Over the next 15 minutes, the three of us managed brief views of the bird on several occasions as it easily evaded our advances (always on the ground and on the move). Apart from multiple pairs of BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHERS, the area was very quiet and a perched CRISSAL THRASHER was the only bird singing. 10 species in all.
We stayed around for a couple more hours and worked other areas without finding another individual. A somewhat hollow victory to get the trip underway -- but a victory nonetheless.
Now came the always fun drive (not!) via I-10, 210 and 101 to Ventura. The journey was uneventful and we arrived with about an hour of daylight remaining. We made good use of the time with a visit to Marina Park where we managed to pick up five target species -- CLARK'S GREBE, PELAGIC CORMORANT, BLACK OYSTERCATCHER, BLACK TURNSTONE and SURFBIRD. Conditions were excellent -- clear sky and zero wind. This landlubber sure hopes for more of the same for the boat ride tomorrow! Why couldn't it be Shore Scrub-Jay?42 species recorded:
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Day 2 with Jim and Joan. The weather cooperated for our trip to Santa Cruz Island (part of the Channel Islands National Park) and we had a very successful outing. Even though it was calm on the mainland and on the Island, it was fairly windy in the channel and quite choppy on the outbound journey. Scanning for birds wasn't easy but we did find a few of interest. Very smooth for the return journey and very few birds, which is usually the case. Best of all, the world's most confirmed landlubber (me!) survived another trip without generating any chum.
Before departure, a short spell of birding near the harbor produced a few common species including BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, WILLET, BLACK TURNSTONE and a large gathering of SANDERLINGS. A lone TREE SWALLOW was the first swallow of the trip.
The most common species on the journey to and from the island were WESTERN & CLARK'S GREBES and SURF SCOTER. Target species seen were BRANDT'S CORMORANT, 4 COMMON MURRES and 20+ PIGEON GUILLEMOTS. Other species included COMMON LOON, many BROWN PELICANS, BLACK OYSTERCATCHER, PELAGIC CORMORANT and the ever present WESTERN GULLS.
We arrived at Prisoner's Harbor at 11:00am and departed at 3:10pm, plenty of time to be on the island. It's a pity that all the ancillary stuff (like the boat ride! and picking up and dropping passengers at Scorpion Landing) mean that it's an all day job. Still, where else are you going to go to get that pesky jay? It's the nesting season for ISLAND SCRUB-JAY and I expected that we might have a little difficulty. However, despite the fact that we never heard a bird calling the entire time, we found our first bird (a fairly well concealed individual) shortly after landing and encountered several birds over a period of 4 hours on the island. Generally though, bird activity in the immediate vicinity of the landing area was quite low. Perhaps this was due to the work going on there -- a bunch of guys with chain saws clearing and burning brush and trees. It certainly diminished our experience and I can't imagine the birds liked it either.
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER was perhaps the most common species on the island (many were singing and we took the time to see a couple of them). SONG SPARROWS were also quite numerous and vocal. Others present included a displaying ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD, a lone male ALLEN'S HUMMINGBIRD, a surprise grunting VIRGINIA RAIL in the small marsh south of the pier (at least two were present); BLACK PHOEBE, VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW, HUTTON'S VIREO, BEWICK'S & HOUSE WRENS and SPOTTED TOWHEE. 22 species in all.
After I subsequently looked through the images that I shot while on the island, a bird that I thought was an ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD turned out to be a more interesting ANNA'S x RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (or possibly ANNA'S x ALLEN'S). A little research on the web reveals that neither combination occurs very often. What can be seen of the back of the bird seems mostly rufous, so I'm going with the obvious Rufous. However, since the entire back can't be seen, the possibility of Allen's can't be ruled out. In fact, since Allen's breeds on the island and Rufous does not, you can perhaps make a case for Allen's being the more likely candidate. Nevertheless, I believe a migrant Rufous having a quickie is perhaps the best explanation. Any hummingbird experts please weigh in.
The drive north on 101 to Buellton was uneventful (a couple of RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS seen) and we arrived there at 7:00pm; tired, but well satisfied with the day. Excellent soup (as usual) at Pea Soup Andersen's.48 species recorded:
Monday, March 10, 2008
Day 3 with Jim and Joan. Today we started near Solvang then birded our way north with stops in Oceano, Morro Bay and several north coast locations; returning to San Luis Obispo for an overnight stay. The excellent weather conditions continued.
Alisal Canyon road has never let me down for YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIE and it didn't take too long to see several birds early this morning. We also saw a few additional targets -- a large group of CALIFORNIA QUAIL at close range, excellent looks at a pair of CALIFORNIA TOWHEES and brief looks at NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER. Others were possible but we didn't linger. Also present were lots of ACORN WOODPECKERS, a few WESTERN BLUEBIRDS, WESTERN SCRUB-JAY and BULLOCK'S ORIOLE (a little on the early side). The area was very birdy
A few hours in the varied habitats at Oceano were quite productive and we added to our target tally with CALIFORNIA GULL (many), CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE (fairly common), a singing CALIFORNIA THRASHER, the often elusive WRENTIT and a GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW. Wrentit is usually easier to see here than most locations but it took quite some time to get a decent view today. The sparrow had just bathed and we watched it preen for a while. We improved on the views of a male NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER interacting with a DOWNY WOODPECKER. Others seen included BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, RED-SHOULDERED HAWK, HUTTON'S VIREO, TOWNSEND'S WARBLER and the ubiquitous CALIFORNIA TOWHEE. 30+ species in all.
A stop on Coleman Drive in Morro Bay wasn't very productive but we did see PEREGRINE FALCON at the nest site on the rock. Birds in the bay included HORNED, EARED, WESTERN & CLARK'S GREBES, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER and PIGEON GUILLEMOT.
To the north of Morro Bay, a short time scanning from the pier in Cayucos paid off with a target PACIFIC LOON. Most of the species that we saw on Coleman Drive plus SANDERLING were also present here.
We spent most of the afternoon along the north coast looking for gulls. The Elephant Seal Rookery area was the most productive site that we checked and here we tracked down GLAUCOUS and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS. With persistent scanning, we saw at least two of each as plenty of gulls constantly flew to and fro amongst the many seals present. Other species present as we enjoyed the scenery included BRANDT'S & PELAGIC CORMORANTS, BRANT, BLACK TURNSTONE and BLACK OYSTERCATCHER.
An excellent day with 11 target species seen bringing the total so far to 23.80 species recorded:
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Day 4 with Jim and Joan. In stark contrast to yesterday, today was our least productive day to date (three target species seen). More of that good weather though. A very brief report follows (sleep is good).
We pissed away the entire morning looking for the oft reported Eurasian Wigeon on the UCSB campus in Goleta. We checked Devereaux Slough and Campus Lagoon where we saw lots of birds but not the object of our obsession.
In the San Gabriel Mountains (not the most productive location at this time of year), we picked up WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER and OAK TITMOUSE.
We finished up with a short visit to East LA where we easily found SPOTTED DOVE; then slogged our way south to Irvine through commute traffic. Oh joy.55 species recorded:
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Out again today with Jim and Joan. Day 5 was the only day of the entire trip when the birding logistics and travel logistics were in perfect harmony. We traveled south through Orange and San Diego Counties and managed to find all six target species that we sought. Another decent weather day, albeit quite cloudy for a significant portion of the day. Brief reports are the order of the day for the next couple of weeks.
We began at Crystal Cove State Park south of Newport Beach. The coastal scrub areas had plenty of activity but the rocky areas on the beach were almost devoid of birds. We were able to find several CALIFORNIA GNATCATCHERS with zero effort. The birds were calling spontaneously while perched in the open and afforded excellent looks. About 20 species noted during a short walk down to the beach including CALIFORNIA QUAIL, SPOTTED TOWHEE and CALIFORNIA TOWHEE.
Our next stop was Laguna Niguel Regional Park, a good location for TRICOLORED BLACKBIRD. Although we had to sort through a number of RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS, it didn't take long to track down a male and female foraging on the grass at close range. Excellent looks once again.
Leaving Orange County behind, we continued south to San Elijo Lagoon in San Diego County. Our only target here was a PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER that has been present for some time. Although our timing was good from a tidal standpoint (plenty of mudflats exposed), heat shimmer around midday resulted in fairly poor views. Fortunately, the bird was quite easy to pick out from the BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS with which it associates.
La Jolla (a.k.a. Touristville) was next on the agenda. Our timing here at high tide was just about perfect and WANDERING TATTLERS were easier to find than parking places. We had to settle for immature HEERMANN'S GULLS (found after some walking and scanning). Most adults have returned to Mexico to breed.
We finished up at South Bay Ecological Preserve north of Imperial Beach. I've never failed to find ELEGANT TERN here at this time of year and I'm happy to say that today was no exception. The birds were just starting to return to their loafing spot as the tide receded and we enjoyed comparison views with ROYAL TERNS. A large group of FORSTER'S TERNS were also present along with scads of BRANT.70 species recorded:
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Day 6 and final day with Jim and Joan. Sadly, we were unable to finish on a high note and our journey from San Diego to the Salton Sea went unrewarded in terms of Yellow-footed Gull. It's been a poor winter for this species with very few reports compared to normal. Furthermore, this is not a good time to be looking for them as they drift back to Mexico to breed; so even in a good year the numbers are low at this time..
We left San Diego in darkness in order to reach the sea when viewing conditions were favorable. The cloudy and cool weather helped and we had good viewing conditions through mid morning. We worked quite a few miles of habitat along the south shore in areas where birds are regularly seen without so much as a serious false alarm.
We noted RING-BILLED, CALIFORNIA and HERRING GULLS during the search; cute-as-ever BURROWING OWLS were along Sinclair Road; and a MERLIN was on highway 111 south of Calipatria.
Although this was obviously a disappointing end to our six day adventure, our overall success and enjoyment factor were both very good. We found 31 target species (30 was a nominal goal) and saw 157 species in the bargain. I start with my next client on Sunday so I have a couple of days to myself. What will I do? Go birding of course!47 species recorded:
Friday, March 14, 2008
This morning I headed south from Carlsbad (where I'm staying for a couple of nights) and spent my leisure time doing a little casual birding and photography at San Elijo Lagoon. I focused on the water areas on the north side of the lagoon then tried to photograph gulls at the beach with a modicum of success. I didn't spend any time on the trails looking for landbirds nor did I look for the Pacific Golden-Plover. Conditions were quite decent -- mostly sunny and calm through midday, then cloudy and a little breezy by 2:00pm when I called it a day.
No surprises, just a nice selection of species to enjoy. Highlights were LITTLE BLUE HERON, a hybrid male EURASIAN x AMERICAN WIGEON, a male CANVASBACK, numerous delightful male BUFFLEHEADS, a female RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, a perched PEREGRINE FALCON, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, HEERMANN'S GULL (immature), CALIFORNIA GULL, BONAPARTE'S GULL, a large flock of ROYAL TERNS (couldn't find Elegant), HUTTON'S VIREO (a little out of place here I thought) and AMERICAN GOLDFINCH. As I was trying to photograph sparrows in a dark place, I was still able to fluke a half-decent image of a male BUFFLEHEAD taking flight despite the fact that the camera was set to a slow speed.
Although the Wigeon stood out from the crowd, it didn't show enough chestnut on the head nor enough gray on the flanks and back. Clearly a hybrid in my book.
Further up the coast, I stopped at South Carlsbad State Beach. In addition to the common gull species, I noted a small group of 11 SURFBIRDS at the end of the man made rock wall.58 species recorded:
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Today I birded in several Orange County locations, spending most of my time working on photography. At the end of the day I picked up my client for the upcoming week in LA and we drove to Ventura. Although it was mostly sunny after a cloudy start, from a birding standpoint the day was ruined by high winds. Evening sprinkles in Ventura was the first rain since I arrived in California a week ago.
I spent the first couple of hours at Doheny Beach studying gull plumages. As I was leaving, someone mentioned that Thayer's had been reported here but I found only the expected stuff -- WESTERN, CALIFORNIA, and RING-BILLED plus a lone BONAPARTE'S and a few immature GLAUCOUS-WINGED. The gulls were some distance away and I had to use my larger lens and a 2X converter (this plus low light translates into a poor image). Among the other species that I recorded were WESTERN GREBE, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, BLACK-NECKED STILT and NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW. About 30 species in the very limited geographical area that I covered.
My next stop was Crystal Cove State Park where it was already quite windy (but the light was much better). Despite lots of people present on this weekend day and the windy conditions, I didn't have any trouble at all locating CALIFORNIA GNATCATCHER perched close to a singing CALIFORNIA THRASHER. When I was here earlier in the week on Wednesday, I didn't see a single "rockpiper" working the rocky areas on the beach. Today I found almost the full set (tide timing is important) -- BLACK OYSTERCATCHER, WHIMBREL, WANDERING TATTLER, BLACK TURNSTONE and a SURFBIRD with well developed breeding plumage (a few were like this but most were still in all gray winter garb). Also present were BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, MARBLED GODWIT and WILLET. I spent a couple of hours trying to get the above images.
After a very brief stop at Huntington Beach Central Park (too windy), I
continued on to Bolsa Chica where it was even more windy. So much so, in fact,
that I couldn't use the scope and the many hundreds (thousands?) of birds out on
the distant flats went unidentified. Someone told me that a Reddish Egret was
present but I didn't see it. Species in the (relatively!) sheltered areas
included RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, LESSER SCAUP, DUNLIN, LONG-BILLED
CURLEW and CASPIAN TERN. I was able to photograph a
male SURF SCOTER at
close range (second
image with good detail of the bill) and a
female SURF SCOTER. 30 species in all.
59 species recorded:
Pied-billed, Eared & Western Grebes; Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great & Snowy Egrets; Am. Wigeon, Mallard, N. Shoveler, Lesser Scaup, Surf Scoter, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Sharp-shinned Hawk, California Quail, Am. Coot, Black Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, Black-bellied Plover, Long-billed Dowitcher, Marbled Godwit, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, Wandering Tattler, Willet, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Sanderling, Western & Least Sandpipers; Dunlin, Ring-billed, California, Glaucous-winged, Western & Bonaparte's Gulls; Caspian Tern, Rock Pigeon, Anna's Hummingbird, Black Phoebe, N. Rough-winged Swallow, Cedar Waxwing, California Thrasher, Wrentit, California Gnatcatcher, Bushtit, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, House Finch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Spotted & California Towhees; Song Sparrow and Brewer's Blackbird.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
First of five days with Brendan O'Sullivan from Mississauga, ON (a first time client). Not surprisingly, given the windy conditions yesterday, the Island Packers trip to Santa Cruz Island was cancelled today. In fact, the wind was much worse this morning and the sea conditions were more than I could have handled. Consequently, the whole itinerary and motels now have to be changed to accommodate rescheduling the boat trip for Tuesday. Not the most auspicious of starts to the trip. Windy conditions prevailed everywhere that we visited throughout the day and in the end we did extremely well to find a dozen target species on a revamped day.
The windiest spot was Marina Park in Ventura where we struggled to use the scope and dodge the surf. Over an hour or so we weeded out CLARK'S GREBE from the many WESTERN'S; BRANDT'S & PELAGIC CORMORANTS, BLACK OYSTERCATCHER and a few BLACK TURNSTONES. We eventually found a flock of ~15 SURFBIRDS roosting high on the rocks.
Other species included HORNED GREBE, SURF SCOTER, WHIMBREL, RUDDY TURNSTONE and my first-of-season BARN SWALLOW.
It was a little calmer by the time we reach Solvang and we soon found YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIES on Alisal Road -- 8 birds all paired up. Here and in Nojoqui County Park we also picked up OAK TITMOUSE (many singing) and PACIFIC SLOPE FLYCATCHER (at least five). Among the other typical species for the area were WESTERN BLUEBIRD, NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER (heard only), WESTERN SCRUB JAY, HUTTON'S & WARBLING VIREOS, PURPLE FINCH and SPOTTED TOWHEE.
Reports of lowland wintering Red-breasted Sapsuckers have been few and far between so we decided to follow up on a recent report of a bird at Waller Park in Santa Maria. The reported presence of a female Hermit Warbler gave us added impetus. We spent the remainder of the afternoon at the park and found neither.
I've visited Waller Park a couple of times in years past for CACKLING GOOSE and a bird is still present along with SNOW and ROSS'S GEESE (although I think the Ross's is a hybrid). A combination of the constant wind, strong at times, and the mass of Sunday afternoon humanity (and the associated noise and activity) made birding difficult to say the least. We found evidence of the Sapsucker in the location where it was reported (fresh, running sap) but no bird. A flock containing CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES and TOWNSEND'S WARBLER gave us a couple of targets (stolen from tomorrow) but no sign of Hermit. A heard only NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER (three times) made the bird into an instant nemesis, but hopefully not for long.
A tough day that we managed to redeem despite circumstances that conspired against us.64 species recorded:
Monday, March 17, 2008
Day 2 with Brendan saw a vast improvement in the weather -- not a cloud in the sky all day and zero wind. We birded mostly in San Luis Obispo County at Oceano, Montaña de Oro State Park and briefly in Morro Bay; then checked Waller Park in Santa Maria (Santa Barbara County) before returning to Ventura.
Our first bird of the day was a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK perched on a light pole on Broadway in Santa Maria. After a short journey north, we began birding at Oceano where it was a chilly 39 degrees. Oceano is one of the better locations to get good looks at WRENTIT and it didn't take too long to track down a pair of birds today (some mutual preening was observed). Although this species is widespread and extremely vocal in many places throughout southern California, it's not always easy to see well given its preferred habitat which is often dense and on steep terrain. The habitat at Oceano us relatively flat and not as dense. CALIFORNIA THRASHER was fairly easy to find in the same habitat for our fourth target bird success in short order (a little while earlier we had seen CALIFORNIA TOWHEE and a male NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER). A check of the pond produced GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL to get our morning off to a great start.
Other birds noted during our exertions in the dunes and a brief walk through the willows and pines included CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE, HUTTON'S VIREO, PURPLE FINCH, TOWNSEND'S WARBLER and SPOTTED TOWHEE. 40 species in about 90 minutes.
We moved on to Montaña de Oro, primarily to scan for alcids. Although we had instant success with PIGEON GUILLEMOT (conservatively 70 birds in breeding plumage below the bluffs), almost an hour of additional scanning didn't produce any further targets. We did see a couple of PACIFIC LOONS, RED-THROATED LOON, WESTERN & CLARK'S GREBES, BRANDT'S & PELAGIC CORMORANTS and a few BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS.
In the campground we soon added CALIFORNIA QUAIL (the lack of California Quail or California Towhee sightings yesterday is testimony to how windy it was). Also present in the campground were NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER, CALIFORNIA THRASHER, WRENTIT and GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW.
A quick check of the water from Coleman Drive in Morro Bay was unproductive for storm refugees; just a COMMON LOON and HORNED & EARED GREBES in close proximity for good comparison. PEREGRINE FALCON was at the nest on the rock.
After a brief lunch break, we traveled south to Santa Maria to the scene of yesterday's crime. Our persistence was instantly rewarded with good views of RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER in Waller Park (payback for yesterday's time and effort). The bird was foraging in a tamarisk at the Goodwin Street entrance.
We finished the day at Marina Park in Ventura. What a difference in the weather from yesterday with almost serene conditions (our boat trip tomorrow shouldn't be a problem). Although the hope of a cheap Wandering Tattler didn't materialize, we saw many SURFBIRDS, BLACK & RUDDY TURNSTONES, WHIMBREL and several BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS -- a pleasant conclusion to a successful day with 8 targets located. The best bird was a female BLACK SCOTER hanging with the Surf Scoters.
80 species recorded:
Red-throated, Pacific & Common Loons; Pied-billed, Horned, Eared, Western & Clark's Grebes; Brown Pelican, Double-crested, Brandt's & Pelagic Cormorants; Great Blue Heron, Great & Snowy Egrets; Black-crowned Night-Heron, Mallard, Black & Surf Scoters, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered & Red-tailed Hawks; Am. Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, California Quail, Am. Coot, Black Oystercatcher, Marbled Godwit, Whimbrel, Willet, Ruddy & Black Turnstones; Surfbird, Ring-billed, California, Glaucous-winged & Western Gulls; Pigeon Guillemot, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Anna's Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, Tree & Violet-green Swallows; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Bewick's & House Wrens; California Thrasher, Am. Robin, Wrentit, Bushtit, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Loggerhead Shrike, Western Scrub-Jay, Yellow-billed Magpie, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Hutton's Vireo, Purple & House Finches; Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped & Townsend's Warblers; Common Yellowthroat, Spotted & California Towhees; Chipping, Song, White-crowned & Golden-crowned Sparrows; Dark-eyed Junco, Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds and Western Meadowlark.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Day 3 with Brendan was a glorious day for the trip to Santa Cruz Island -- completely clear sky, zero wind and, best of all, a calm sea. At the end of the day we drove to Santa Ana in preparation for Orange and San Diego County birding tomorrow. A long and tiring day = a short report.
We picked up the three expected target species -- on the boat trip we saw over 20 COMMON MURRES (most on the return journey), a few Pacific White-sided Dolphins (somewhat uncommon I'm led to believe) and several Gray Whales. On the island (Prisoner's Harbor) we found ISLAND SCRUB-JAY without any trouble, two pairs of them in fact. Unlike last week, one bird was vocalizing. Checking hummingbirds paid off with a male ALLEN'S HUMMINGBIRD.
Interesting birds on the island were an adult BALD EAGLE, continuing VIRGINIA RAIL (at least two) and GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW. Other species present included lots of ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRDS, RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD, HUTTON'S VIREO and newly arrived BARN SWALLOWS. 35 species recorded on the island near the landing site.
The boat journey and various harbors produced a fair number of species with noticeably more loon activity today. COMMON and PACIFIC LOONS were particularly numerous and a close swimming RED-THROATED LOON checked out the boat at Scorpion Landing. A five grebe day was dominated by WESTERN & CLARK'S GREBE'S, both species were abundant in the channel. SURF SCOTER, BRANDT'S CORMORANT and PELAGIC CORMORANT were all common. We also saw perhaps 10 PIGEON GUILLEMOTS.56 species recorded:
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Day 4 with Brendan. Another beautiful and calm day along the coast after some early morning clouds. We birded at Crystal Cove State Park and Laguna Niguel in Orange County; San Elijo Lagoon in San Diego County; and finished up in East LA. We managed to find 5 out of 6 species sought (dipped on Tricolored Blackbird). Yet another long day, much of it in heavy traffic, means another short report.
We started at Crystal Cove State Park where we had excellent views of CALIFORNIA GNATCATCHER within minutes of arriving. We then had to spend a little time walking along the beach to the most distant rocks to find 3 WANDERING TATTLERS roosting at high tide. Most of the common "rockpipers" were present along with a GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL.
Next, we visited Laguna Niguel Regional Park where we struck out on Tricolored Blackbird (ditto for a second visit later in the day). Last week it took no time at all to get great looks. That's birding. Nothing of particular note seen save for a trip first male BULLOCK'S ORIOLE.
A journey south to San Elijo Lagoon produced ELEGANT TERN and PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER. The views were not very good, especially of the plover, although I saw the bird well in flight. Seeing both species here saved us the pain of a drive further south beyond San Diego.
Our final target of the day was SPOTTED DOVE, seen well in East LA after about 30 minutes of searching. Fading light made for a nervous finish to the proceedings since we didn't want to have to look for the bird again tomorrow.75 species recorded:
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Fifth and final day with Brendan saw us down to just one hard target species. Due to the lack of Yellow-footed Gull sightings at Salton Sea, we had cancelled our visit there (especially after we were forced to reschedule the Santa Cruz Island trip earlier in the week). Consequently, today was our easiest day so far. Morning fog soon burned off and it was another very pleasant, albeit slightly cooler day.
We started with a visit to Whittier Narrows Recreation Area (close to our overnight location) to follow up on a recent Tricolored Blackbird report. Not only did we not find any, we didn't find a single blackbird of any flavor, just GREAT TAILED GRACKLES. We noted about 30 species walking around the greens and ponds. Two AMERICAN WHITE-PELICANS looked a little out of place with the domestic geese. A couple of BULLOCK'S ORIOLES were present.
WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER was easy to find in the San Gabriel Mountains where there was a little more activity than last week. We drove as far as the road closure point in the snow zone before leaving the mountains. Other species included ACORN (numerous) and HAIRY WOODPECKERS, PYGMY NUTHATCH, WRENTIT, MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE, OAK TITMOUSE and STELLER'S JAY.
An afternoon trip to Point Vicente on the Palos Verdes Peninsula to scan for offshore stuff was pleasant but not particularly productive. Species noted streaming north included a few PACIFIC & COMMON LOONS and many SURF SCOTERS. Also seen were CASPIAN TERN and a smaller unidentified Tern, probably Forster's. We were informed by a local that over 20 Gray Whales had been sighted here yesterday. None for us today.
Over the five days, we found 29 of the 30 hard target species that we actively sought (missed Tricolored Blackbird); and saw a total of 139 species in the process.55 species recorded:
Friday, March 21, 2008
First of 5 days with David Patick from Huntington, WV, who I've birded with on one previous occasion. David has spent a little time birding in San Diego County so our target list lacks a few of the typical California specialty species. I picked him up near LAX at 7:00am and we birded in East LA, the Hansen Dam area near Sylmar, in the San Gabriel Mountains; and after a drive north, in Ventura. We enjoyed a beautiful weather day and managed 9 target species by the time we quit at 7:30pm.
The day began well with a relatively traffic free drive to East LA where we quickly picked up 3 SPOTTED DOVES in no time at all.
Next, we followed up on a recent post by Kimball Garrett on LAbirds and traveled to Hansen Dam. It didn't take long to find several LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCHES mixed in with many LESSER GOLDFINCHES. Thanks, Kimball!
For the second successive day, I drove the windy Angeles Crest Highway into to the San Gabriel Mountains. Target successes here were MOUNTAIN QUAIL, WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER (4 birds including 3 females), 5 BAND-TAILED PIGEONS and great looks at a singing WRENTIT in a location where they are typically harder to see well.
Birding the breakwaters at Marina Park in Ventura was very productive. Two sessions before and after a dinner break yielded 3 targets -- a lone BLACK OYSTERCATCHER, many SURFBIRDS and a WANDERING TATTLER (good views after much searching and very little daylight remaining). Other species included COMMON LOON, WESTERN GREBE, CLARK'S GREBE (this is currently an excellent location to study Western and Clark's together); a continuing female BLACK SCOTER, WHIMBREL, RUDDY & BLACK TURNSTONES, SANDERLING and FORSTER'S TERN. 30 species in all.
Good Friday was certainly a good Friday for us.67 species recorded:
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Day 2 with David was scheduled for the trip to Santa Cruz Island and we couldn't have picked a better day. The weather, birds and marine mammals all cooperated and a full boatload of Island Packers customers enjoyed a great trip. We managed a total of 7 targets for trip.
ISLAND SCRUB-JAY was far less obvious today than on two recent trips and we only saw two birds, possibly three, over the course of five hours at Prisoner's Harbor (10:00am-3:00pm). Over the years I've made enough trips to the island to have learned the areas favored by the jays. Consequently, although the birds were completely silent today, the strategy of focusing on those areas paid off well. As far as I know, none were seen on the guided hike on Nature Conservancy property.
We also had excellent views of an adult male ALLEN'S HUMMINGBIRD and I obtained a couple of decent images from close range (here's a rear view showing the extent of the green on the back). A lone GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW briefly posed before disappearing into dense shrubbery.
An 8:00am departure from Ventura (an hour earlier than the two recent trips) made for a chilly ride (even though the temperature on land was quite reasonable) and we saw very little on the outbound journey save for a single Gray Whale. The return was a much different story -- first we chased a couple of Humpback Whales then had a spectacular encounter with 2000 Common Dolphins that thrilled the masses as the captain stayed with them for about 15 minutes. We saw a few species with wings -- three HEERMANN'S GULLS flew across the boat during the journey from Prisoner's to Scorpion and we saw a PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER and several XANTUS'S MURRELETS on the ride back to Ventura. Other species included abundant WESTERN & CLARK'S GREBES, numerous PIGEON GUILLEMOTS and COMMON MURRES plus regular harbor birds such as SURFBIRD and WHIMBREL.
A very enjoyable day plus more of that delicious Pea Soup at the end.51 species recorded:
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Day 3 with David was a much revamped day as I changed the itinerary to take advantage of the fact that we were ahead of our "hard" target schedule. Consequently, we were able to chase a few "soft" target species. Another great weather day (high 70s in places) for Easter Sunday; and lots of people around! Brief reports remain the norm as I cannot find that elusive 25th hour.
We began near Solvang shortly after sunrise where it was a chilly 36 degrees. Nevertheless, we didn't have any trouble locating YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIE on Alisal Road and were on our way north in no time at all.
CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE was initially very silent at Oceano and it took a little while to find. However, finding the bird is really a forgone conclusion at this location. A walk around the willows and a packed Campground was eventually successful but we dipped on Nuttall's Woodpecker choosing to get one elsewhere.
Next, we drove to our furthest destination which was the Elephant Seal Rookery north of Hearst Castle on highway 1. The viewing masses had zero impact on our quest for THAYER'S GULL and the investment in driving time paid off after a fair amount of sifting through the motley collection of gulls.
Onward -- a drive southeast to Santa Margarita immediately produced the long staying LEWIS'S WOODPECKER in regular spot on Pozo Road (1.8 miles from Hwy 58).
Our next destination was the pasture adjacent to the Guadalupe Wastewater Treatment Plant. Amazingly, we saw the 2 continuing PACIFIC-GOLDEN PLOVERS before seeing the more common BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS. Excellent views, but just a little too far away for photos. The next target was a little more problematical and we had to sift through hundreds of RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS before getting killer looks at TRICOLORED BLACKBIRD (at least three present). A "flock" of a dozen or so GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS were also foraging in the pasture.
Our final destination of the day was Waller Park in Santa Maria. I thought the place was packed last Sunday but today you could hardly move as the local residents enjoyed the afternoon. However, I'm happy to say that, once again, there was zero impact on our results. After being rudely interrupted by NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER, we immediately found RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER in exactly (to the inch) the same place on the same tree as a week ago.
An excellent end to an excellent day that saw us pick up 8 target species. David now needs just one more to reach 500. The pressure is on.
71 species recorded:
Pied-billed & Western Grebes; Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great & Snowy Egrets; Black-crowned Night-Heron, Am. Wigeon, Green-winged & Cinnamon Teal; Mallard, N. Shoveler, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered & Red-tailed Hawks; Am. Kestrel, Am. Coot, Am. Avocet, Pacific Golden-Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Long-billed Dowitcher, Whimbrel, Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Ring-billed, California, Glaucous-winged, Western & Thayer's Gulls; Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Anna's Hummingbird, Lewis's, Acorn & Nuttall's Woodpeckers; Red-breasted Sapsucker, Black Phoebe, Cliff Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing, Bewick's & House Wrens; N. Mockingbird, Am. Robin, Bushtit, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Oak Titmouse, Western Scrub-Jay, Yellow-billed Magpie, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Hutton's Vireo, Purple & House Finches; Am. Goldfinch, Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped & Townsend's Warblers; Common Yellowthroat, Spotted & California Towhees; Song, White-crowned & Golden-crowned Sparrows; Red-winged, Tricolored & Brewer's Blackbirds; Western Meadowlark and Great-tailed Grackle.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Day 4 with David. Another day of changes and lots of driving. After good success with target species, we decided to include a trip to the Salton Sea tomorrow (after initially removing it from the itinerary due to the scarceness of Yellow-footed Gull). From our overnight stopover in Buellton (and more delicious soup at Pea Soup Andersen's, my third such partaking of the trip), today we journeyed south down to San Diego then east to El Centro. Along the way we found two of three targets. Great weather continues.
Our first destination was the UCSB campus in Goleta where two hours of persistent searching eventually produced the continuing male EURASIAN WIGEON. Not a bad bird for David's 500th ABA species (has been a nemesis for him). During the search we recorded 45 species on campus including CINNAMON TEAL, GREATER SCAUP, several crowd-pleasing BUFFLEHEADS, a couple of CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS and newly arrived HOODED ORIOLES.
Next followed a couple of strikeouts on Snowy Plover at Bolsa Chica south of Huntington Beach and at South Bay Preserve in San Diego. However, we did pick up ELEGANT TERN which was perhaps a forgone conclusion.64 species recorded:
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Fifth and final day with David turned out extremely well despite missing Snowy Plover again. It was another long day with lots of driving but we had great success at the Salton Sea and in the San Jacinto Mountains with two difficult targets seen. It was a little windy in the mountains but I still can't really complain about the weather.
Our decision to try for "the gull" was vindicated by a recent sighting report. It took about 90 minutes to find an adult YELLOW-FOOTED GULL at Obsidian Butte (a regular spot for this species) at the second time of asking. We didn't see the bird on the first pass and looked elsewhere for a little while. Shortly after we returned, I spotted the bird standing on a rock and we had wonderful looks in the chilly morning air before heat shimmer became a problem. A minute later the bird was out of sight for a few minutes showing how easy it is to miss despite the fact that it's so large and obvious when not obstructed by rocks, pelicans and cormorants. An adult HEERMANN'S GULL was a noteworthy sighting in the same location (relatively scarce at the Sea).
Next came an unrewarded search for Snowy Plover at several south and west shore locations. The only bird of note was a GULL-BILLED TERN at the Poe Road access (a presumed recent arrival). Regular species recorded as we searched included both Pelicans, scads of CATTLE EGRETS, WHITE-FACED IBIS, CLAPPER RAIL, many CASPIAN TERNS and a BURROWING OWL. Among the species noted at the Wister Unit were LUCY'S WARBLER and several BULLOCK'S ORIOLES.
More driving was the next order of business as we slogged through traffic in the desert cities to the San Jacinto Mountains. I'm happy to say that our efforts were well rewarded with excellent views of a pair of PINYON JAYS as they went about their business of nest building. Persistence and careful listening were the keys to success. The location was on Butterfly Peak Road off the "Palms to Pines" Highway (route 74), not far from a recent sighting and just a couple of miles from where I found jays last year in April.
Even more driving was on the menu now as we drove back to LAX. However, two good birds mitigated 14 hours and 400+ miles of travel. Whatever it takes.
During our five days together, we picked up 28 target species which was an excellent return considering that David had already birded in Southern California and picked the low hanging fruit. Of the birds that we actively sought, Snowy Plover was the only miss. 164 species in all.
77 species recorded:
Pied-billed, Eared & Western Grebes; Am. White & Brown Pelicans; Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great, Snowy & Cattle Egrets; White-faced Ibis, Canada Goose, N. Pintail, Cinnamon Teal, N. Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Gambel's Quail, Clapper Rail, Am. Coot, Black-necked Stilt, Am. Avocet, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Long-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Curlew, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Least Sandpiper, Heermann's, Ring-billed, California & Yellow-footed Gulls; Gull-billed & Caspian Terns; Rock & Band-tailed Pigeons; Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning & White-winged Doves; Burrowing Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Ladder-backed & Hairy Woodpeckers; Black Phoebe, Western Kingbird, N. Rough-winged & Cliff Swallows; House & Marsh Wrens; N. Mockingbird, Western Bluebird, Am. Robin, Mountain Chickadee, Oak Titmouse, Pygmy Nuthatch, Verdin, Western Scrub-Jay, Pinyon Jay, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, House Finch, Orange-crowned, Lucy's & Yellow-rumped Warblers; Common Yellowthroat, Savannah & Song Sparrows; Dark-eyed Junco, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Great-tailed Grackle and Bullock's Oriole.
This log is in chronological order and the most recent entries
are at the bottom of the page.
The last update was on Tuesday, March 25, 2008
March Species Seen
Journal - March, 2008
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