Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Monday, August 20, 2012

California - Part I

Hello, readers. Since I neglected to post last month, I'll give you a quick recap on what's been going on in my humble life of birds.
June: Nothing horribly spectacular, no lifers, but some excellent birding trips to Phinizy Swamp Nature Park. Here are the lists from Trip 1 and Trip 2.
July: Early July was great! A trip to Phinizy Swamp on the 7th resulted in my lifer Cliff Swallow and my long-awaited nemesis, the Least Bittern. Not to be forgotten, however, was my state Black-crowned Night-Heron. I reported a total of 48 species on this trip, which isn't bad at all for the middle of Summer. Later in the month, we were visited by extended family from California. They had heard all about the swamp were interested in seeing it. This trip to the swamp hailed my first of the year Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, a favorite of mine, but I counted only 31 species by the end. The rest of July in my area was pretty normal as far as Summers in Georgia go. However, after the extended family flew back to California, I heard news that they wanted Kyle and I to visit them the following week! I was skeptical at first, we never get to vacation, but my doubt faded when we finished packing and drove to the Atlanta Airport at 3:30 in the morning on July 26th.

Day 1 - Atlanta and Orange County

It's great having family connections. My dad's cousin works for Southwest Airlines and hooked Kyle and me up with non-rev stand-by tickets from Atlanta-Denver and Denver-OC. Though we didn't know it at the time, we were extremely lucky on our flights there. Everything went smoothly, even though we did get the last two seats on the Atlanta-Denver flight. When we arrived in Orange County, we were greeted by my wonderful 2nd cousin Aimee and her family. Birding in her neighborhood I found my lifers White-throated Swift, Lesser Goldfinch, Acorn Woodpecker, Bushtit, Anna's Hummingbird, Black Phoebe and California Towhee. It was a long day, with 3 extra hours, but the results made it worth it.


Day 2

Bolsa Chica

Day 2 we woke up bright and early, though I didn't feel tired; it was 11am on the East coast and I was used to waking up around that time. We ate, dropped Shane off at camp (where I located an Acorn Woodpecker in the parking lot), and went birding at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. I had originally planned to meet with my birding friend Dinuk here, but unfortunately he had work. The trip went on as planned without him, though, and as exciting as it was, I can only imagine how spectacular it would have been with him birding with us. The first thing I heard when we stepped out of the car were the terns - Royal and Elegant. We have plenty of Royal Terns on the East Coast (emphasis on 'plenty'), but the Elegants were a new species for me. As we started walking down the boardwalk, I noted species I'm familiar with: Snowy Egrets, Black Skimmers, Rock Pigeons, and Common Terns. However, when we reached the designated nesting area, I found another new bird, a Belding's Sparrow, a subspecies of the Savannah Sparrow that Bolsa Chica is well known for harboring. There was a pair flitting across from the Inner Bay towards the designated nesting strip and perching in the chain-link fence. I had some good views of these birds, which look quite different from the Savannah Sparrows I see on the East coast. Belding's Sparrows are more drab and have longer bills than the Eastern invididuals. Needless to say, I prefer the Eastern birds, but this local bird was neat to see.
P.s. savana on left and P.s. beldingi on right
A quick look at the nesting area yielded Western Gulls (known to Dinuk as "trash birds", but a lifer for me nonetheless), Double-crested Cormorant, Black-bellied Plover, Willet, and Least Sandpipers. Further down the path was a view of a nearby sandbar that was crawling with shorebirds. First in sight was a conspicuous Marbled Godwit swagging through the tide attempting to catch a meal and beside it a handful of Willets and a Short-billed Dowitcher - a new lifer! Also present on this sandbar were Black-bellied Plovers, including a stunning adult in alternate plumage! As a Double-crested Cormorant passed and a Snowy Egret landed close-by, I used the huge zoom on my little point-and-shoot to see what I could find on a distant sandbar. Common, Forster's and Caspian Terns sat within a mixed flock of Black Skimmers, Least Sandpipers, and of course Willets. When we walked on, I located a few Least and Western Sandpipers feeding on the shore with a Semipalmated Plover. While watching these birds, I was distracted by a large shorebird flying past, which after landing, revealed itself to be my lifer Whimbrel! This species I always felt went hand-in-hand with the Long-billed Curlew, and sure enough, not a minute later I spotted my lifer Long-billed Curlew on a sandbar between myself and Rabbit Island. This individual was a juvenile, so the bill was shorter than I would have expected, but an adult with a scythe-like bill appeared on the shore of the Inner Bay. After this, we decided to hike back to the parking lot so we could visit the beach. On the way back, I was able to photograph this immature Forster's Tern that was being rather cooperative.

When we reached the beach, I caught my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, and with it, my first sighting of a Heermann's Gull. Both of which made me pretty ecstatic. I always thought the Heermann's Gulls were the best-looking Larid.
Our time was limited, so we dipped our feet in the water and drove back to Aimee's place.

Mission San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Beach

After picking up Shane (who is a hilarious child) and eating lunch, we decided to see Mission San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Beach. Kyle and I knew next to nothing about California history, but the Mission gave us a good impression on how California was colonized. The architecture and gardens were very pleasant and the chapel and church were unique. Plus it was home to my lifers Western Fence Lizard, Marine Blue, and Allen's Hummingbird.

Allen's Hummingbirds

Marine Blue

 Laguna Beach was a neat place. There is a walkway overlooking the beach lined with desert-esque plants, flowers, and lizards. It was here I found a flock of Brewer's Blackbirds feeding along the path. They're an extremely populous species in California apparently, but a new one for me.

Yeah, where I come from all the Blackbirds are just as Rusty as everything else
Walking down to the beach, we found Western and Heermann's Gulls and a group of Brown Pelicans. As I noted earlier, Heermann's Gulls are without doubt the coolest gull in America, and the gulls at Laguna were extremely cooperative.

At this point, I was running out of battery power and we were all pretty hungry, so we called it a day and headed back.

Stay tuned, more coming soon!

1 comment:

    Hey Liam! How cool that you were in OC!! :-O That's really near where I abide. :P Beautiful pics of the birds!