Wednesday, May 11, 2011

California/Arizona, Feb 2011 - Day Four

Our third day in California once again started bright and early as we grabbed a quick breakfast, packed all our belongings into the van, and headed off to the famous Salton Sea for what turned out to be a great day of birding. At the north end of the sea, our first stop was at Bombay Beach, a little sketchy town right beside the water. A friendly dog came out to greet us, and we named it Jimmy, our trip mascot. In and along the sea, we found Black-necked Stilts, American White Pelicans, Eared and Western Grebes, and a nice adult Thayer's Gull amongst the hordes of California Gulls.

American White Pelican

 Black-necked Stilts

Josh with Jimmy

Moon over the Sea

After that quick stop, we worked our way down the 'coast' to the Wister wildlife management area, where we were greeted by Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and Gambel's Quail among others. We continued on down a fairly muddy road and followed a side road over to the shore of the sea. The number of birds here was pretty incredible! Thousands of ducks, coots, gulls and shorebirds were out wandering around in the shallow water and there was a large flock of Audubon's Warblers working the bushes nearby. Included in the flock were Cinnamon and Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Lesser Scaup, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Marbled Godwit, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Western Sandpiper, both Yellowlegs, Willet, Caspian Tern, American Coot, Snowy, Great and Cattle Egrets in nearby fields. Also out with the huge numbers of waterbirds were 3 Lesser Flamingos which was pretty cool. Another highlight at this stop was a Peregrine Falcon hunting the fields nearby. After thoroughly scanning through everything, we moved on into the agricultural fields nearby where we managed to find 2 Burrowing Owls right beside the road which posed for a few pictures at the mouth of their burrow. We also had a Ferruginous Hawk perched on a power pole.
Burrowing Owls

Snowy Egret

After that we headed to the Sonny Bono NWR and walked around the trails, picking up Common Ground-Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Abert's Towhee, many more Gambel's Quail, Verdin, and a Barn Owl which was roosting in a palm tree outside the visitor centre. On the road in we also had a flock of Snow Geese out in a field which was joined by quite a few Ross's Geese, White-faced Ibis and Long-billed Curlews.

2 Snow and 2 Ross's Geese allowing for good comparison!

Barn Owl

We then worked our way south to Brawley which supposedly has wintering passerines in their neighbourhoods and cemeteries. We didn't find much of anything here however, other than a White-winged Dove. Our next stop was at the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge where we worked through the many flocks of shorebirds and waterfowl, finding Redhead, Stilt Sandpiper, Wilson's Snipe and 'Yuma' Clapper Rails in addition to most of the birds we'd had earlier in the day. In the fields nearby we had our only Sandhill Cranes for the trip, along with more Snow and Canada Geese. In the distance along the shore of the Sea we could see many gulls and shorebirds, so we decided to make the long walk out there to try for one of our targets, Yellow-footed Gull. We ended up walking quite a ways up the shoreline in the baking sun, finding Snowy Plover, Dunlin and Black-bellied Plover in addition to the shorebirds, ducks, pelicans, coots, grebes and such that we'd already seen. We sorted through the flocks of gulls but it was all for naught as we didn't find a Yellow-footed. After what seemed like hours we were all dying of heat and thirst so we decided to give up and headed back to the van. Imagine our surprise when we discovered it was only 16ºC (61F)!!! Guess the Canadian winter was getting to us.

The barren wasteland around the Sea

We then worked our way west along the bottom of the Sea, stopping in at a few points to search for gulls without luck. After a while we decided it was getting a bit late so we high-tailed it up to our last stop in Salton City. This proved to be our lucky day as within a few minutes of arriving at the shoreline we'd picked up both of our targets - Pacific Golden-Plover and 2 Yellow-footed Gulls! We also added Bonaparte's Gull here with a small flock of them.
Pacific Golden-Plover

We ended up making the entire loop around the Salton Sea, following the sun so we always had nice lighting! At the end of the day we headed off to Buckeye, AZ where we camped in a trailer park under the millions of stars.
Palm Tree and stars in Buckeye

Our total for today was 103, not including the flamingos! Third day in a row of 100+!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

California/Arizona, Feb 2011 - Day Three

Pier just north of Tijuana Slough, San Diego

Our second day in California (third day of the trip) started off bright and early with a Peregrine Falcon flying over our hotel as we checked out. We headed down to the famous Tijuana Slough shortly after sunrise to see what was around. As it turned out there was quite a bit! The visitor centre was closed but the area was well worth the visit with many shorebirds including Black-necked Stilt, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Least and Western Sandpipers, both Dowitchers, American Avocet, Whimbrel and Dunlin. In the marsh, waterfowl included Snow Goose, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Ducks and there were Great and Snowy Egrets along with many 'Light-footed' Clapper Rails. Offshore there was a lot of activity with Western and Clark's Grebes, Pacific Loons, Heermann's Gulls, Brandt's Cormorant, Forster's, Caspian and Royal Terns and a Parasitic Jaeger. For land birds, we had American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, Anna's Hummingbird, Western Meadowlark, and 'Belding's' Savannah Sparrow along with a possible "Large-billed" Savannah Sparrow.

Western Gull

Tijuana Slough

Palm Trees in the Sunrise

 Marbled Godwit

 Anna's Hummingbird

From there we headed down to Borderfields State Park (I think that's what it's called anyway), stopping at a butterfly garden on the way which didn't seem to have many butterflies but definitely had a lot of birds! Here we added Pacific, Bewick's and House Wrens, Hutton's Vireo, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Western Scrub-Jay, Violet-Green Swallow, Orange-crowned, Yellow and both Myrtle and Audubon's Warblers, Pine Warbler (super-rare in SoCal apparently!) and Cassin's Kingbird. At the state park, we came across a road closed sign pretty much on the Mexico border so opted to walk up the road.

There wasn't actually a flood

We climbed up the hill in the background of the above photo, mainly to see what we could see but also to try and find some specialty birds. We had some luck with close views of a Wrentit along with California Thrasher and a White-tailed Kite flying over the fields. We also had an encounter with a friendly Border Patrol agent who checked our passports and commented on all our gear then bade us good day.

The view from the hilltop

From there it was off to Chula Vista to try for a Thick-billed Kingbird which had been hanging out for the past little while, but hadn't been reported for about a week. Turns out it was still around and we got good views of it within a few minutes of arriving!

Thick-billed Kingbird

After lunch at a Mexican restaurant which had delicious food, we headed up to La Jolla, just north of San Diego where the nice weather and the holiday meant that the streets were packed. We checked out the sea cliffs quickly and had a Ruddy Turnstone in with a few Black Turnstones, and offshore there were Brant, Pelagic Cormorants, and more of the same birds we'd had earlier in the day.

All three SoCal cormorants in one pic - can you spot them all?

Then it was a cruise around the neighbourhoods to look for parrots, a venture in which we had no success and very few birds around for our efforts. We decided to cut our losses and head up to San Dieguito River Park, where a road closure gave us a bit of trouble. We ended up getting to the park eventually after a bit of a detour, and in fading light explored the park. Our main target here was California Gnatcatcher, after missing them everywhere else during the day. We ended up missing them here too which was disappointing as we wouldn't be in their habitat again during the trip. The stop was well worth it though, as we added species like White-throated Swift, Gray Flycatcher, Western Bluebird, Great-tailed Grackle, more Cassin's Kingbirds, Lark Sparrow (nearby), Say's Phoebe and got good close looks at Clark's Grebes out on the lake. 

Part of the park

 Western Scrub-Jay

As the sun was setting, we headed off over the mountains to stay at a friend of the family's house in Desert Hot Springs, who graciously provided us with beds and a good meal (as well as leftovers for the next day). Thanks again!

Our day's total was 105 species, with Wrentit being my only lifer of the day. More to come soon!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

California/Arizona, Feb 2011 - Day One/Two

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!

Red-naped Sapsucker

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.

Ross's Goose

Brewer's Blackbird

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).

Snowy Plover

Stay tuned for Day 3 and more adventures!