Sunday, June 19, 2011

California/Arizona, Feb 2011 - Day Ten

Our last morning in California, we decided to get up early (what a surprise!) and drive across the city to Huntington Park where some Spotted Doves had been seen recently. The traffic was pretty bad and the neighbourhoods sketchy but we eventually made it to the park, where we found about 15 Spotted Doves within a 2-minute walk from the van! Well, that was easy.

Spotted Dove

We then got out of there and headed to the airport after a quick breakfast to dump the rental car and catch our flights. It was a pretty amazing trip, not just for the birds either! Great times were had despite the lack of sleep and food at times, and the amount of time we spent sitting in the van. We ended up putting 5000km on the rental van, something that the rental company probably wasn't too happy with! Considering we only had eight full days down there that's quite a bit of driving but it was well worth it as we ended up with 260 species! Pretty good for a short trip in February eh? 210 of these were in California and 135 in Arizona.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed the report even if it was a little late and spread out! I'll post some stuff about what I've been up to since early May next weekend - don't have a lot of internet access at work.

Here's the trip list, lifers for me (15) are in bold:

Greater White-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Ross's Goose
Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Surf Scoter
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Scaled Quail
California Quail
Gambel's Quail
Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Least Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brandt's Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
White-faced Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Prairie Falcon
Clapper Rail
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Black-bellied Plover
Pacific Golden-Plover
Snowy Plover
Black Oystercatcher
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Spotted Sandpiper
Wandering Tattler
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Black Turnstone
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
Bonaparte's Gull
Heermann's Gull
Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Thayer's Gull
Yellow-footed Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Caspian Tern
Forster's Tern
Royal Tern
Black Skimmer
Pomarine Jaeger
Parasitic Jaeger
Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Xantus's Murrelet
Ancient Murrelet
Cassin's Auklet
Rhinoceros Auklet
Rock Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Spotted Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Inca Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Barn Owl
Western Screech-Owl
Whiskered Screech-Owl
Burrowing Owl
Short-eared Owl
Common Poorwill
White-throated Swift
Anna's Hummingbird
Costa's Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Allen's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Gila Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Red-naped Sapsucker
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Arizona Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Gray Flycatcher
Hammond’s Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Cassin's Kingbird
Thick-billed Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
Plumbeous Vireo
Cassin's Vireo
Hutton's Vireo
Steller's Jay
Island Scrub-Jay
Western Scrub-Jay
Mexican Jay
Yellow-billed Magpie
American Crow
Chihuahuan Raven
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Mountain Chickadee
Mexican Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Bridled Titmouse
Oak Titmouse
Juniper Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Cactus Wren
Rock Wren
Canyon Wren
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Winter Wren
Pacific Wren
Marsh Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Western Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Bendire's Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
California Thrasher
Crissal Thrasher
Le Conte's Thrasher
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Pine Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hepatic Tanager
Green-tailed Towhee
Spotted Towhee
Canyon Towhee
California Towhee
Abert's Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Brewer's Sparrow
Black-chinned Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow
Sage Sparrow
Lark Bunting
Savannah Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Yellow-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Lazuli Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Purple Finch
House Finch
Red Crossbill
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Number of Species: 260

California/Arizona, Feb 2011 - Day Nine

We again arrived at the Ventura Harbour early after making sure the boat trip was a go and spent a little time wandering around before we had to board. Our wanderings along the beach found us Heermann's Gull, Western and Clark's Grebes, Pacific Loon, Brown Pelican, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Sanderling, Black Oystercatcher, Osprey, Brandt's Cormorant, American Pipit and Anna's Hummingbird. The shorebirds were especially exciting as Surfbird was a lifer for me!


Surfbird and Black Turnstone

We then climbed onto the boat and cruised out of the harbour into open ocean. In the harbour itself we added Red-necked and Eared Grebe, and on the way out had Willet, Whimbrel and Red-throated Loon.

Crane in the harbour

Western Grebe close to the boat

As we headed across the water on our 30km voyage we kept an eye out for alcids, shearwaters and whatever else we could spot. We had a bit of luck with Rhinoceros and Cassin's Auklets, Common Murre and Xantus' and Ancient Murrelets. On the island itself we decided to walk down the road and see how many of the endemic subspecies we could find while looking for the Island Scrub-Jay, our main reason for visiting the island. Along the way we enjoyed the amazing scenery! We ended up seeing all the endemic subspecies except Horned Lark - these are Loggerhead Shrike, Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Allen's Hummingbird, Orange-crowned Warbler and Bewick's Wren. We also saw a good number of Island Scrub-Jays which proved to be much larger than their mainland counterparts and also much more wary of people! Some other birds we found on the island were Spotted Towhee, Anna's Hummingbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Hutton's Vireo, Bushtit, California Towhee, Say's Phoebe, Bald Eagle, Black Oystercatcher and Spotted Sandpiper. The best bird (for California anyway) was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, which is apparently quite rare out there (although very common out here!) We then had an hour or two to kill before our boat back so did some tidepooling and looking for herps, finding a few salamanders and lizards under logs along with many interesting things in the tidepools! The most interesting for me was the California Purple Urchin which we were studying in my developmental biology class.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Island Scrub-Jay

The amazing scenery on Santa Cruz Island

The catamaran that took us out to the island

Jerusalem Cricket found while herping

Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, California Purple Urchin

Flower amongst the rocks

Then it was back onto the boat for the ride back to the mainland, which had its own highlights! In addition to the alcids we'd seen on the trip across, we found a breeding-plumaged Pigeon Guillemot, an extremely early migrant. We also came across a huge pod of Common Dolphins that numbered at least 5000 individuals! Quite a few of them came to play in the wake of the boat and we spent a good amount of time in the midst of them. Definitely one of the trip highlights!

Leaving the island

Common Dolphin

Pigeon Guillemot

Cassin's Auklet

Closer to shore we stopped by an oil drum that had some California Sea Lions lounging on it, and a Common Loon was spotted out amongst the Pacifics.

At the harbour we added Snowy Egret, Belted Kingfisher, Pied-billed Grebe, Ruddy Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover and Wandering Tattler to the day list as the sun was setting across the ocean.

Scoping the shorebirds

Then it was back to Los Angeles where we stayed near the airport.

California/Arizona, Feb 2011 - Day Eight

We arrived in Ventura around 4am after a very long drive (for Josh and Matt at least, I slept most of the way!) only to discover that the Santa Cruz trip had been cancelled due to weather! Luckily we had planned to do a day in the mountains the next day, so we just switched it up and booked a trip out for the next day. We headed up to Happy Canyon, a place my friend had told me about before the trip. It turned out to be a great place to spend the morning with a range of habitats varying from low farmland to oak forests to mountain scrub right up to Ponderosa pine forest! On the drive up in the predawn twilight I had a Common Poorwill fly right over the road - unfortunately none of the other guys saw it and I was the only one who had seen one before. As we headed up into the canyon we got Mountain and Western Bluebirds, Red-tailed Hawk, Cedar Waxwing, Say's Phoebe, Brewer's Blackbird, California Quail, Acorn Woodpecker, California Towhee, Bewick's Wren, Western Scrub-Jay and many of our main target - Yellow-billed Magpie. They turned out to be fairly common in the lower part of the canyon and we had very good looks on the way up and again on the way back down!

Yellow-billed Magpie in the mist

As we got further up the canyon the bird life shifted slightly and we found Fox and Golden-crowned Sparrows, Wrentit, Cassin's Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, California Thrasher, Lesser Goldfinch and a large flock of Western Meadowlarks. Even further up the canyon we got into snow and the beginnings of the Ponderosa forest, and then to a road closed sign! I guess an inch of snow is enough to close a road in California... We decided to walk up the road a bit more into the forest and got Band-tailed Pigeon, Steller's Jay, Mountain Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker.

Misty mountains in Happy Canyon

The awesome Happy Canyon Road

Snow in the Ponderosas

Checking out Steller's Jays

By this point it was getting a bit late in the morning so we had to head back down the canyon, picking up Oak Titmouse, Hermit Thrush and Savannah Sparrow. Our next stop was Lompoc on the coast to look for Chestnut-backed Chickadees at their southernmost breeding spot. A quick check of the estuary got us Red-shouldered Hawk, Bald Eagle, Sanderling, Black-bellied and Snowy Plovers, Least and Western Sandpipers, Western and Clark's Grebes, Great and Snowy Egrets, Pacific Loon, Surf Scoter, Mew and Glaucous-winged Gulls and many other species of ducks and gulls. Over and in the marsh were Tree and Rough-winged Swallows, Common Yellowthroat and Marsh Wrens. We then noticed the willows where the chickadees apparently hang out, so we headed over there. While combing through the willows we found Short-eared Owl, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Anna's and Allen's Hummingbirds, Bushtit, Pacific Wren and American Goldfinch, and at least one Chestnut-backed Chickadee!

Flowers in Lompoc

Having found our target, we grabbed some lunch and headed back into the mountains, toward Mount Piños. On the way we added Lark Sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike and American Pipit. As we headed up into the high mountains it got steadily colder, and near the top it was -10ºC with close to two feet of snow on the ground! We spent a bit of time here playing in the snow as there didn't seem to be any birds around other than a Golden-crowned Kinglet. Then it was time to head down the mountain before a snowstorm moved in and we went back to Ventura for supper and to get a hotel, our first sleep in a bed (and shower) in several days!

Tobogganing atop Mount Piños

California/Arizona, Feb 2011 - Day Seven

We started our longest day of the trip (and also the least bird-filled) shortly before sunrise up in Cave Creek Canyon, which we promptly left to head to the desert where the sun would warm the birds up faster! We got to the NM/AZ border a little after sunrise and in the beautiful morning light found Scaled Quail, 'Lillian's' Meadowlark, Vesper Sparrow, Lark Bunting and Ferruginous Hawk on the New Mexico side of the road, and Loggerhead Shrike, Horned Lark, Western Meadowlark, American Kestrel and Prairie Falcon in addition to the previous birds on the Arizona side. Our main target here near Willow Tank was the longspurs that had been seen on and off for the past month or so.

Lark Bunting

Western Meadowlark

Unfortunately they didn't show up for us and I couldn't convince a Scaled Quail to run across the road into Arizona so we headed up to Dave Jasper's feeders, where we picked up Cactus Wren, Green-tailed and Canyon Towhees, Curve-billed Thrasher, Pyrrhuloxia, Pine Siskin, Lincoln's Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Gambel's Quail and Western Scrub-Jay. By this point in the morning it was starting to warm up so we decided we'd better head up to the mountains again. A quick drive down the road to Paradise scored us good looks at a Black-chinned Sparrow along with Rock Wren and Golden-crowned Kinglet. In Portal we made a quick stop at a feeder station which had Chipping Sparrow and Acorn Woodpecker. On our way up to the canyon a Northern Mockingbird flew across the road, and in the canyon itself we got Mexican Jay, Canyon Wren, Red-naped Sapsucker, Bridled Titmouse, Hermit Thrush, Spotted Towhee, Arizona Woodpecker and four subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco.

The entrance to Cave Creek Canyon

Composite of a cool plant near Paradise

Looking for bugs

We took a little break from birding to hike up to a cave which on my previous visit housed a Mountain Lion. It wasn't in residence this time so we got to explore the cave a bit, which was pretty awesome! I also made an attempt to climb to the top of the mountain but it was pretty difficult with camera gear and binoculars.

The cave!

Looking for cougars

Inside the cave - photo credit Josh Vandermeulen

Then it was back down to the canyon where we headed up to Barfoot Park at the very top. Along the way we had Yellow-eyed Junco, Brown Creeper, Juniper Titmouse, Hairy Woodpecker, and a flock of Mexican Chickadees! Once we got up to Barfoot it was a bit of a hike to the lookout, but well worth the view. Despite the wind at the top, some Pygmy Nuthatches kept us company, and a couple Steller's Jays were seen on the way back down.

 Hiking up to the lookout

Cactus at the top

Group shot! L-R Josh, Matt, Brett and myself

Panorama at the top

We then piled back in the van and headed on our way back to California! A quick stop at the Shannon-Broadway Desert in Tucson gave us a last shot at some desert birds, and I finally picked up a Costa's Hummingbird (after everyone else had seen at least two on the trip...). We also got Phainopepla, Anna's Hummingbird, Verdin and Gila Woodpecker. We then headed to Red Rock again for another shot at the rarities, which we promptly missed despite a thorough search which included spotlighting fields for Mountain Plovers! We did get Lark Sparrow, Abert's Towhee, and most of the birds we'd had on our last visit though. After supper back in Tucson we headed off on an overnight drive through patches of torrential rain to Ventura, California in the hopes of getting on the Santa Cruz Island trip the next day.

Sunset in Red Rock

California/Arizona, Feb 2011 - Day Six

Just before sunrise we awoke to the sounds of Mexican Jays moving around the canyon and within a few minutes we were up and ready to go. We made our way down to the Santa Rita Lodge, about midway up the canyon where there is a nice feeder station. We decided just to wait there while the birds woke up and warmed up (it was hovering around freezing at this point). In attendance at the feeders and surrounding trees were Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, three subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco, Acorn Woodpecker, Hermit Thrush, Chipping Sparrow and a bright male Hepatic Tanager that made a quick pitstop. 

Acorn Woodpecker

Mexican Jay

Hepatic Tanager

We then decided to head down to the mouth of the canyon where it would be warmer in the early sunlight. There we stumbled across a mixed flock of sparrows containing White-crowned, Vesper, Sage, Brewer’s, Savannah, Song, and Lark Sparrows, Canyon and Green-tailed Towhees and a few Lark Buntings for a solid ten sparrow species in about fifteen minutes! Also around were Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Cactus Wren, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Pyrrhuloxia. 

Brewer's Sparrows

Our next stop was at Peña Blanca Lake to look for the Least Grebes that were spending the winter there. In this venture we had some luck, eventually finding all six of them! Some other birds around the lake were Black Vulture, three species of swallows, Pied-billed Grebe, Bewick’s Wren, Lincoln’s and Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Winter and Rock Wrens, Sora, Gray Flycatcher, Orange-crowned Warbler and six species of ducks including Greater Scaup and a flock of “Mexican” Mallards.

On I-19 to Pena Blanca - notice the sign is metric!

Black Vulture

Least Grebe in bad light

After this rather quick stop we drove over to the Patagonia area via Nogales. Our first stop was at Patagonia Lake State Park where we had another shot at some Rufous-backed Robins, which of course we failed to find. We also missed the trogon that was wintering there. What we did find was White-throated Swift, Western Grebe, House Wren, Vermilion Flycatcher, Hammond’s and Gray Flycatchers, Plumbeous Vireo, Northern Cardinal, Great Blue Heron, Marsh Wren, Canvasback and some Double-crested Cormorants. Despite looking pretty thoroughly we couldn’t turn up a Neotropic Cormorant, which I had the last time I was there. 

Bridled Titmouse by the lake

One of the many belligerent cows at Patagonia Lake

Then it was off to the Paton’s famous feeders where we found Inca and White-winged Dove, Lazuli Bunting, Rufous and Anna’s Hummingbirds, Red-breasted Sapsucker and Gambel’s Quail in addition to the regular feeder birds. 

Anna's Hummingbird

Lazuli Bunting hiding behind the feeder pole

After watching the feeders and the skies for a while we made our way to the San Rafael Grasslands, just east of Patagonia. This area, while not the best for birding, was pretty awesome and definitely worth a visit. The highlight here by far was a herd of Pronghorns that allowed for good scope views. The few birds that we found while failing to find a Baird’s Sparrow were Northern Harrier, Grasshopper Sparrow, ‘Lillian’s’ Meadowlark, American Pipit, “Prairie” Merlin and a White-tailed Kite. 

Our first look at the Grasslands


Enjoying the open space

Random agave(?) plant

360º of grasslands

One last look at the Pronghorn

Afterwards we headed back to Patagonia for supper at the Wagon Wheel which had pretty good food, and then it was off on the long drive to Portal in the dark, where we camped up in Cave Creek Canyon under the millions of stars that we could see in the dry desert air. Unfortunately my camera decided it didn't want to take any pictures at this point in the day so my efforts at star shots were wasted!