Well, this was promised to be out a while ago so it's a little late, and I left my notebook in Guelph so might be a bit sketchy on details, but here goes:
Day 1, 2: Feb 19-20, 2011
Matt Strimas, Brett Fried and I hopped in a car with Josh Vandermeulen in the afternoon and headed for Detroit to catch out flights for what would be a pretty interesting 9 days. On the way we looked at all the cool Western birds we'd be seeing in the books, etc, while seeing Tundra Swans and Red-tailed Hawks and the like on the way. We ended up being a bit early for our flights so decided to wander around the Detroit airport a bit after going through security. One of the trip highlights actually came during the security screening when one of the x-ray operators asked if I was going on a mission! I explained that no, we weren't spies...just birders.
Cool tunnel in the Detroit airport
Anyway, the flight was fairly uneventful, and we arrived in Los Angeles a few hours later, collected the rental car, got some food, and found Josh standing by the side of the road at the airport after we'd gotten lost (he was on a different flight)! We ended up getting to the hostel at around 2 a.m., and had to leave at 3 a.m. to pick up John Garrett in Pasadena. So, we did what any sensible people would do, and used the time to get our gear ready and sorted instead of
sleeping! Then at 3 it was off to get John and head out on our (sort-of) Big Day. It turned out that we needn't have been so early, as it had snowed quite a bit overnight and the mountains were closed, cancelling our attempts at montane species (which we missed for the whole trip). Wait, what? Aren't we in southern California?! Why is there snow? Yep, we started the trip at a colder temperature and with more snow than we had left behind in Ontario. Great.
Snow in the mountains!
We spent part of the morning cruising around the snowy mountains of LA county, picking up birds such as California Quail, Red-naped Sapsucker, Anna's Hummingbird, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, California Towhee, Western Bluebird, and a few other western specialties, most of which were lifers for Brett, Josh, and Matt who hadn't really been out west before! Then it was down into the desert and farmlands, picking up Verdin, Black-throated and Sage Sparrows, Red Crossbill, Ferruginous Hawk, Loggerhead Shrike and Burrowing Owl. We stopped at a dried up riverbed that supposedly had Le Conte's Thrashers breeding in it - so, we wandered down it. Along the way down the wash, we had Rock Wren, Sage Sparrow and many White-crowned Sparrows. After a while, everyone was pretty much ready to head back to the car as we had other places to go, but I wanted to see this bird so I kept going. Perseverance ended up paying off, with a pair of them another hundred yards down the wash! We all ended up with good views before we had to work our way back to the car and move on.
Joshua Trees in the desert
Our next stop was at Apollo Park, with its cool entrance road song (if you go here, drive in the left-most lane and you'll know what I mean!). The main story here was the waterfowl, but we also had ridiculously good looks at Brewer's Blackbirds, California Gulls and some Violet-green Swallows. Snow, Ross's, Greater-white Fronted and Canada Geese were all seen at point-blank range, as well as Ruddy Ducks, Eared Grebes and several other duck species that we usually see way out on a lake or pond out east.
Then it was two quick stops at Lake Palmdale and Malibu Creek SP, where we got California Thrasher, Bushtit, Canyon Wren, Spotted Towhee and Western Scrub-Jay. After that we headed to the coast, where some seawatching at Point Dume scored us Pacific Loon, Brown Pelican, Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorants, Western and Clark's Grebes, Snowy Egret, Heermann's Gull and Royal Tern. A little further down the coast, we stopped in at Malibu Lagoon, getting awesome looks at Snowy Plovers as well as Black-bellied Plover, Whimbrel, Sanderling, Willet and Least Sandpiper. Lots of ducks included Green-winged Teal and some Gadwall. Among the hordes of California Gulls we picked out Heermann's, Mew, Western, Glaucous-winged and Ring-billed. Our only Black Skimmers for the trip were seen here as well, and a bit of landbirding in the shrubs around the lagoons got us Allen's Hummingbird, Marsh Wren, Black Phoebe and a small flock of Bushtits. Then it was off into the depths of LA, where in fading light we realized that we didn't have any time to try for some other stuff, and brought John back to Pasadena, stopping in for some obliging Western Screech-Owls on the way. After dinner at a Lebanese restaurant somewhere in Pasadena, we headed off down the coast to our sketchy hotel in San Diego. It was a very long first day with a lot of driving around, but well worth it as we managed to see 131 species - half our total for the trip! I also got 4 lifers (Pacific Loon, Allen's Hummingbird, Le Conte's and California Thrashers).
Stay tuned for Day 3 and more adventures!