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Saturday, March 5
Back to birding again.† Yesterday, Christina and I flew down to San Diego for a party weekend with my siblings.† My brother and two sisters are here, along with three spousal units, including Christina.† The main party site is my sister Kathyís house in Rancho Santa Fe.
Anyway, we are staying at the Morgan Run golf club, which is very close and convenient for Kathyís house.† This morning, on the golf course, I picked up GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE for my year list, and the trip had truly begun, as far as birds were concerned.† They are relatively new to this area, having expanded their territory from the east.† Kathy says she has never seen one around here, except here on the golf course.
I had set it up with a local birder who goes by the name of BJ to meet him at 9:00 out east of here, to do some birding in Mission Trails Regional Park.† I had several target birds and he thought we ought to be able to see some of them.
We met at a gas station out there, and went into one part of the park.† It was a beautiful sunny day, destined to get quite warm eventually, and we were sweating by the time we finished.† He said the high was forecast to be 80 today, and it was getting up there by noon, for sure.
The first new bird we got onto was a WRENTIT.† It was a great bird for me; I had only seen one, once before, several years ago.† I got really good looks at it, and was pleased.
There were other good birds, most of which I had already seen this year, but I still enjoyed seeing them again.† California Towhee, White-throated Swift, Northern Mockingbird, among others.† Next BJ got onto a kingbird, and it was a CASSINíS KINGBIRD.† To me, it looked like a Western Kingbird, which I have seen many times, but he pointed out the differences, and I learned something.† It was a good bird to have seen with a knowledgeable local birder.
We had some great looks at a couple of Red-tailed Hawks, looking down on them while they soared around in the canyon below us.† It was fun to see them from above, as they usually are way up above in the sky.† Then some swallows showed up, and most were Tree Swallows, which I had seen up in the Sacramento area in February, but there was also at least one NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW, one of the first of the spring migration.† Another one for my list (if you will remember, the birds in ALL CAPS are the first sighting of the year for me, and go onto my Year List).
We continued to look for the most important target bird of the day, a lifer that I really wanted to see, as it only lives here in Southern California and in Mexico, so if I didnít see it on this trip, I wouldnít see it this year.† We saw a lot of little birds flitting around in the right environment, but never got a good enough look to make an identification.† He was getting frustrated, as he considered this little bird to be a ďgimmeĒ, one that we would certainly see.
About that time a small hawk or falcon showed up overhead, and when it got closer, BJ could see it was a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK.† This was another case where the local birder helped me, as I would have thought it was too large to be a Sharp-shinned Hawk, but he told me that the female Sharp-shinned Hawk was about the same size as the male Cooperís Hawk, which was something I hadnít realized.† I got a very good look at the bird as it soared overhead, and BJ pointed out the points of identification.† When we got back to the car, I looked at the field guide, and it indeed was a Sharp-shinned Hawk, which I was very happy to add to my Year List.
We finally gave up on that location for my primary target bird, and we went to another place nearby where he has seen them.† While approaching that place, we had great looks at a couple of Red-shouldered Hawks soaring around above us.† They were flying around interacting, doing something, but it was hard to tell what.† At one point, one of them flew up high and folded up his wings and dove like a falcon toward the ground.† It was very impressive.† Then the two of them flew into a tree across the street, and mated.† So, that is what all the aerobatics was about, I guess, the male impressing the female with his flying prowess.† After they ďdid itĒ, they sat next to each other on the branch and seemed at peace.
So, we went on and when we came to the entrance to the site we wanted to access, there were signs up saying there was powerline construction going on in the area and there was no admittance.† We decided to ignore that, and Iím glad we did, as we soon got on to a couple of CALIFORNIA GNATCATCHERS (lifer), my primary target bird of the day.† Success!
By that time it was getting on to almost noon, and I had to head back to the family party, but it had been a great morning of birding.† That brought me to 185 species total for the year, of which 17 are new for my US list, and 16 are lifers.† Tomorrow I am scheduled to meet my old friend John and his teenage son (both non-birders), and we will try for more.† What a life!
Sunday, March 6
I was up at 7:00 this morning, which is quite early for me.† I took care of my morning stuff and was at the meeting place on the San Diego River near Sea World by the meeting time of 9:30.† John had been delayed, and he and Ryan got there about 10, but by that time I had added two birds to my year list.
The first was a couple of CASPIAN TERNS, loafing on a bar in the river with some gulls.† I figured to see them sometime this year, and today was the first time.† I moved up the river a little, and when I got out of the car, I noticed a couple of LITTLE BLUE HERONS on the river bank.† That was a species that I especially wanted to see here in San Diego, as they donít live anywhere else I will be visiting this year.† I got out my trusty camera and got a lot of pictures of them.† There was a third one nearby, and for the rest of the day, I saw them everywhere.† I saw more Little Blue Herons today than the total of all the ones I have seen in the rest of my short birding career.† I think they are a very attractive little bird.† Here is a picture of one:
Here is a picture of a Whimbrel, at the same place:
So, when John and Ryan showed up, we headed down to Imperial Beach.† I wanted to try for Clapper Rail, an uncommon bird that is very shy and secretive.† People had repeatedly told me that I would hear them, but may or may not see one.† I knew it was a longshot, but I wanted to try.
We went to the end of Seacoast Drive, as all the books and advice had told me, and looked around.† We saw Willets, curlews, a Killdeer, and a nice Great Egret that caught a lizard as we watched, but didnít see or hear any Clapper Rails.† I could tell by looking at the environment that it was going to be totally unlikely to actually see a rail there.
So, we went over to the Visitor Center and almost immediately I saw two birds in one little tree.† One was a COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, a bird that everyone had said was very common around here, but one I have only seen 3 or 4 times before this, in my 12 years of birding.† The other one was a female hummingbird with brown sides.† That meant it was either a Rufous Hummingbird or an Allenís Hummingbird, and I needed both of them for my year list.† However, the females of those two species look exactly the same, so I couldnít count it, as I didnít know which species it was.† Too bad!
When we had gotten there, there was a large group of people with binoculars and scopes Ė obviously some kind of tour or walk, looking for birds.† They had gone off down the trail that leads south from the Visitor Center, and had stopped on a bridge over a little creek.† When they had moved on, we went on down to the bridge, just to see what we might see.† There was a Willet and a couple of Wimbrels along the creek, but not anything else.† Earlier I had been playing the call of the Clapper Rail, so we might recognize it in case we heard one, as everyone had suggested we might.† As we stood on the bridge, a bird came scurrying out of the bushes and ran along the bank of the creek, under the bridge we were on.† We looked on the other side of the bridge and saw it run into some other bushes.† We all got great binocular looks at it, from maybe 15 feet away, and it was indeed a beautiful CLAPPER RAIL (lifer).† It even gave a loud call, which was just what we had heard when we listened to the Clapper Rail call earlier.† All three of us were stunned by the whole experience.† I had my lifer, and we all had had great looks at it.
After that, we went on over to the Sports Park in Imperial Beach, where people had been reporting a pair of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, another very uncommon bird that would be a lifer for me.† We struck out on that, but did see three Black-crowned Night-Herons in a tree next to the one that the Yellow-crowned ones were supposed to be in.† I plan to go back again later this week, and try again.† We also tried for a Hepatic Tanager that has been seen in that park, but dipped on that, too.
While driving around Imperial Beach, I saw some doves on a wire.† I have written here before about the Eurasian Collared-Dove, after seeing them in Oregon, Sacramento, Monterey, and Sequim.† They are the introduced species that has been spreading across the country in the last several years.† Well, they have reached the extreme south-western corner of the continental US, too, as I saw two of them in Imperial Beach today.† They look very much like the native Mourning Dove, and Iíll bet that most people never notice the difference.† I wonder if they will compete with the Mourning Dove, or other native species, and cause decreases in the populations of other species.
Next we headed north back to the Mission Bay area.† I was hungry by then, but we didnít pass any fast food places before we got to Coronado.† I had a location where a warbler called a Northern Parula has been seen, and we tried for that, but failed there, too.† We did pass a Burger King, but the parking lot at the little shopping center was completely full, so we moved on, with me muttering under my breath about ďCaliforniaĒ and how crowded it is.
Back in Mission Bay, we stopped at a Mickey Dís and I loaded up on calories to get me through the afternoon.† Our next target was Black Skimmer in the north end of Mission Bay, but we never saw one, despite driving all around and looking in a number of places.
Having missed the Black Skimmers for today (Iíll be back), we went over to Robb Field, on the south bank of the San Diego River.† The tide was out by then, and there were hundreds, if not thousands, of birds there, busily feeding on the mud flats.† There were a number of duck species and shorebirds and gulls and a few terns.† I had seen most of them already this year, but it was a good place to show John and Ryan a number of species through my scope.† A scope is nice with a group, because you can set it up on a particular bird and then let others look at the bird.
I got onto a couple of terns there, and I eventually decided they were ROYAL TERNS, in full breeding plumage, not the less common Elegant Terns, which look very much like them.† A duck flew in, and I immediately knew it looked different, and it was a beautiful male BLUE-WINGED TEAL, which was another species I had targeted for here in San Diego.
Another species I had wanted particularly to see here was the Short-billed Dowitcher.† There are only very subtle differences between them and the Long-billed Dowitcher, which I had already seen last month up north.† You are supposed to differentiate between them by their voice, but the one I spotted there today wasnít talking. †I eventually decided that I would count it as a SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, based on a couple of things, including the extensive spotting on its sides and flanks.† Later this week, I would still like to hear some dowitchers make their calls, to see if I can tell the difference by the voice.† Both species are around this area in the winter.
I figured I was done by then, but then I saw some little peeps that looked different, and sure enough, there was a group of about 20 SEMI-PALMATED PLOVERS out there.
By that time, John was getting cold and it was time to head for the barn, so I dropped them at their car and made one last drive around Fiesta Island, looking for the Black Skimmers, but came up empty again.
So, that was 8 more species today, with one of them a lifer.† My totals now are 193 species total, of which 18 are new for my US list and 17 are lifers.† Another great day of birding, and I still have at least three more days of birding here.
Monday, March 9
Monday was a bonus day of birding.† Family stuff was over, other than shopping expeditions by my sisters and Christina, so I was free to try to see some more birds.
I first went to the park above San Dieguito Lagoon, looking for California Quail.† I didnít see anything new, but did see Northern Mockingbird, California Towhee, and a couple of other little birds.
I moved on to San Elijo Lagoon, and approached it from the south side, at Rios Ave.† The weather was threatening, but I walked on down the trail that leads east along the lagoon.† There were various birds around, but I was looking for a specific one.† I played the call a couple of times, on my fancy new phone, but no joy.† After about ten or twelve minutes, I came to a fork and took the ďnature trailĒ path to the left.† Within twenty or thirty feet, I saw some little birds, and eventually got a great (but brief) look at a BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, which was my target species there.† On Saturday, I had seen the very similar but less common California Gnatcatcher, and now I had finished off the pair of them with the Blue-gray.† I saw the white wing bar that is one of the distinguishing features, and also it was much lighter underneath than the ones we saw on Saturday.† It was also bluer.† Success, and without any help.
After that, I moved on to the Sorrento Valley Pump Station, where there is a nice little pond.† There were a number of good ducks there, all of which I had seen already, but it was still nice to see them again.† I also got the target bird for that site, the WHITE-FACED IBIS.† I will no doubt see many of them later in the year, inland and north, but they are now on my year list.† I was trying for a couple of rails there, but knew they were real longshots, and I didnít see them.† Here are some of the ibises:
There were various ducks there, too, and I like this picture of the attractive Northern Pintail.† The males are the more striking ones, of course.
Here is a picture of a male Northern Shoveler.† Check out that bill:
From there, I headed over to La Jolla, on the coast.† I was looking for a couple of species that hang out on rocky coasts.† It was approaching noon, and I realized later that I should have stopped at the Subway sandwich place on the way into La Jolla, as La Jolla itself is much too highbrow for things like the fast food places I patronize, at least, in the middle of town, where I ended up.
I had no idea where to go to look for my rock birds (Ruddy Turnstone and Wandering Tattler), but I found a place to park along the sea front (not at all easy), and had one of my ďbarsĒ for some balanced nutrition, to carry me over.† A bar is okay to sustain me for an hour or two, but I need a real meal, with some real protein, eventually.† Iíve learned that my body needs protein to be satisfied, and wheat or soy protein just doesnít do the job like real animal product protein (meat, cheese, milk).† Maybe that is just me, but that is what I have learned about my own body.
So, I wandered along the coast.† There was a huge mob of Pelagic Cormorants and pelicans sitting on one side of the rocky cove, and I took a lot of pictures.† Some of the cormorants were nesting, but the pelicans were just loafing.† There were Brandtís Cormorants, too, nesting there.† Here is one on a nest.† The blue on the throat is only there during breeding season.
There were several Black Turnstones among them, but no Ruddy Turnstones, like I was looking for.† Here is a picture of a Black Turnstone:
Here is a picture of a Brown Pelican flying:
Later I moved down the coast, stopping a couple of places to look for my rock birds, but never saw them.† It was a stormy, windy day, and there were lots of gulls and other seabirds out over the water, but I donít know enough to have been able to identify anything interesting.
Eventually, I was getting pretty hungry, but I saw a little bird scurrying over the rocks, eating the algae that was left when the tide had gone out.† I couldnít identify it, so I went back and got my camera and took a number of pictures.† I still couldnít identify it, even after looking all through my field guide.† I was sure it was a lifer, but I couldnít figure out what it was.† I decided to check out the pictures later and send them to someone if necessary, to identify it.
By that time it was getting on for 2 oíclock, and I was needing some food in me.† I wandered through La Jolla, and found a Vonís supermarket, where I got a beef and cheese sandwich, with double beef, and that really fixed me up.† After I stuffed that down, along with some potato chips, I really felt much, much better.
I went back to the coast, but never saw anything else interesting, and so I headed back to the hotel, to look at my pictures of the mystery bird.† I had been in touch with a local birder by the name of Steve that day, and I told him I would email him pictures of my mystery bird, for help.
Well, when I got back to the hotel and looked at my pictures, I realized that my mystery bird was a Least Sandpiper, a pretty common bird that I had seen up north in January or February.† Normally, they are in groups, on sand or mud flats, and this one was all alone on rocks.† Seeing it in the different environment of a rocky shore, all alone, had completely misled me.† I still sent the pictures to Steve for confirmation, but it was kind of embarrassing to not recognize a Least Sandpiper.† It once again brought home to me what a poor birder I am.† But, I do enjoy it a lot, and that is the point, really.† It does bother me to participate in something that I will never be very good at, as I am very competitive and am used to winning or at least putting up a good fight, but I guess the rewards are great enough, because I persist, even after I know I will never be very good at it.
So, that was it for Monday.† Only two more species for my year list, but I had a great time, and I was out and about.
Tuesday, March 8
Today was the day that Christina was flying home, and then I am scheduled to stay on for another three days, for birding.† I got her to the airport by about 10:30, with a stop at the Sorrento Valley Pump Station to see White-faced Ibis again and look for the rails (no joy, of course).
After dropping her off, I went on over to pick up a local birder by the name of Mark, who had kindly offered to show me around.† Our first stop was in Balboa Park to see a GRAY FLYCATCHER that has been hanging around.† This is a bird that should have wintered down in Mexico, but it has been hanging around this particular place in the park all this winter.† The bird was extremely cooperative and repeatedly flew up and posed in a tree for us, and I got great looks at it.† I had only seen this species once before in my life, and looking back on it now, Iím not even 100% sure I had identified it correctly then, as it does look very much like one or two other flycatchers.† This particular one has been seen by a lot of knowledgeable birders, though, so I feel confident of the identification.
Next, Mark guided us over to Point Loma, where he has been seeing some Eastern warblers that have been wintering here.† He had warned me that to actually see them, you had to be there before dawn or right after dawn, but I wasnít sure I could face that, so I had him at least show me where they have been seen.† As expected, we didnít see anything, but if I feel like dragging myself out of bed at 5 oíclock one morning this week, I can go look for them.† Iíd love to see any of them, but I donít know if I can manage to actually get up that early.† We will see.† Dawn is about 6 AM.
After that, we got some lunch at Mickey Dís, and picked up another local birder by the name of Steve.† The three of us set out in search of the flock of Black Skimmers that hang out around Mission Bay.† First we tried the place they had been the last three days, but they were not there, to everyoneís surprise.† It was the old birding story ďYou should have been here yesterdayĒ.
We had a couple of other places to look for them, but first we went looking for an Eastern Phoebe that had been reported at Mission Beach.† Again, we didnít find it, but we had a good time in the sun, on a lovely winter San Diego day.
At the next place we went looking for the skimmers, Steve spotted a BONAPARTEíS GULL, flying across the water.† I got onto it, and when it landed near another one, I got great scope views of them, and I added another bird that I donít expect to see anywhere else this year.† It is interesting how often you see something good while looking for a different bird.
That happened again at our next stop.† We did see the flock of Skimmers in the distance, but there was also a group of Western Grebes just offshore.† I scanned them and found one that I thought looked slightly different, and after studying it through his scope, Steve concurred that it was a CLARKíS GREBE, and I had another one for my year list.
We moved on up the shore a ways and scoped out the skimmers, and I added BLACK SKIMMER to my list.† That is another bird that I wonít see anywhere else this year, so I am very glad to add it now.
We then went on to an interesting urban creek area, called Rose Creek, I think, in Pacific Beach.† There were several homeless-looking people camped along the creek, and we saw a number of little birds in the trees and bushes in the area.† We didnít manage to identify any of our target birds, although we did see several very pretty Townsendís Warblers, along with a lot of Orange-crowned Warblers, some Bushtits, some Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and some Common Yellowthroats.† It was good birding, but without anything new.
After that, we navigated our way through San Diego rush hour traffic to get Mark back home.† On the way to Steveís house, he suggested another bird we could go after, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, which is another east coast bird that was clearly lost this winter.† He had seen this bird a couple of weeks ago, and others had seen it since.† So, we made a little detour and looked for it, along the San Diego River, in Mission Valley.
We spent the best part of an hour looking, but didnít see it.† We did manage to see both a male and a female WILSONíS WARBLER, though, and that did add to my year list, anyway.† By the time I got Steve home and had stopped at Vonís to get provisions, it was 6:30 when I checked into my humble new home away from home.† I was an hour and a half behind my planned schedule, but I had had a great day of birding, with too much city driving to suit me.† I prefer the remote areas of Australia.
Oh yes, when I dropped Steve off in Ocean Beach, there were some very noisy parrots in a palm tree.† I managed to get great looks at two species Ė Lilac-crowned Parrot and Red-crowned Parrot.† I havenít decided yet whether to count them or not.† They have been living and breeding in the wild for decades, but some birders count them and some donít.† They are descended from escapees, and birders often debate about how long it has to be before you ďcountĒ escapees that breed in the wild.† I think the Red-crowned one is on the ďofficialĒ California list, and I might end up compromising and counting that one.† I need to do more research before deciding.
So, I added five more species today (not counting the parrots), bringing me to a total of 200 species for the year now, of which 18 are new for my US list and 17 are lifers.† That gets me up to a total of 21 species on this trip, which already exceeds my expectations for the whole trip.† Iím going to count the RED-CROWNED PARROT, as it is on the official California list, but not the Lilac-crowned.
Tomorrow, Steve and I are planning to go down to Imperial Beach and look for several great species that I would love to see.† He is coming by here at 7 AM, which will be a challenge for me, and I expect we will have a long day, with too much urban and suburban driving again for this old Rambler.
I have two more full days to bird here, and it will be interesting to see what else I can add.† I have knocked off most of the easy ones, so adding any more at all will be excellent.
Wednesday, March 9
So, today started early, and Steve and I headed south toward Imperial Beach.† I was up at 5:45, to be ready to leave at 7.† That is pretty damn early for this old Rambler.
Our first stop was in Chula Vista, to look for the Reddish Egret at the J Street Marina there, but we dipped on it.† There were a lot of shorebirds, but my only new bird for the year was an OSPREY, a bird I expect to see a lot of this year.† Still, it was one for my year list.
Next, we went to Sunnyslope Park, somewhere down there, and looked for some rarities. †We didnít see them, but came up with great looks at a HOUSE WREN.
After that, we went to a site where a number of people had seen a particular rare kingbird, and after looking around a little while, we picked up THICK-BILLED KINGBIRD (lifer), a rarity here that I hadnít expected to see here in San Diego.† It is really interesting to me that a bird like this will hang around all winter in basically the same tree, and numbers of birders will come to see it.
Then we looked for some Orioles at a site south of Imperial Beach, but 40 minutes or so there didnít turn up anything interesting.
We next went up to the south shore of San Diego Bay and walked out on a trail to look for a Palm Warbler that had been seen there, but we didnít see it.† We did see some terns, though, which we made a note of, to return later to check them out, from a closer vantage point.† My GPS application on my phone helped pinpoint where we needed to go to get a closer look, later.
We got some lunch then, Mexican food, from a combination of Carlís Junior (so I could take a leak) and a taco wagon, and took it to the Sports Park in Imperial Beach.† After we ate, we looked for the Yellow-crowned Night-Herons that everyone sees there (and I had looked for on Sunday with John and Ryan).† The tacos were fine, but no joy again on the Yellow-crowneds.† There were a number of Black-crowned Night-Herons in the area, but no others.† We did manage to get great looks at the HEPATIC TANAGER (lifer) that seems to be spending the winter in and around the Coral tree there (although we hadnít managed to see it on Sunday).† It is really a different kind of birding to be ďchasing raritiesĒ that others have reported at a particular site, and I have mixed feelings about it.
We looked around the other side of that area, at the Visitor Center for the Tijuana Estuary NWR, but didnít see anything new there, either.
So, then we made our way back to the south edge of San Diego Bay, to look at the terns we had seen there earlier.† The closer group were just Royal Terns (they have been back from their wintering grounds for a month or so now and there are a lot of them around), but the more distant group also contained some Forsterís Terns (smaller) and a group of about 17 ELEGANT TERNS, which was the one I needed, as I wonít see them anywhere else this year.† Score!† The Elegant Tern is migratory, and they only started coming back from their southern wintering grounds this last week, so I was very glad to have seen them.† 17 was a good number of them so early in the year, and I think that Steve is planning to report them to the mailing list.
We still had plenty of time left, so we headed inland to the Lower Otay Reservoir, to look for still more rare eastern warblers that had been reported.† This whole warbler thing is fascinating to me.† Good birders know the bird calls, and they pick them out in trees where I would have seen nothing at all or only common species.† On my one trip to the East Coast, when we went for Johannaís PhD award ceremony, I had read about all the warblers in the area, but I was astounded at how hard they were to actually see and identify.† Warblers are very much an East Coast birding thing, although there seem to be a small number that get lost each year and migrate to the West Coast instead.
So, we got to the Lower Otay (pronounced Ohí- Tye) Reservoir and looked in this little group of about six eucalyptus trees and eventually, Steve spotted the PALM WARBLER (lifer) that is wintering there, and we got great looks at it.† It is a very strange kind of birding, to chase these rarities that others have found and reported, but it is also very interesting.† There are three Palm Warblers that have been reported in San Diego County this year, and we had missed on one of them, and found the second.† Without the internet, this kind of birding wouldnít even exist.
We didnít see the other two Eastern warblers that have been seen in that area, but while looking for them, Steve pointed out a nest he knew about, and we saw two GREAT HORNED OWLS, on and next to the nest.† It was a bonus trip bird, one I expect to see later in the year, but it is always good to knock off a bird.
Likewise, a little while later Steve pointed out a COMMON MOORHEN, and I had another common bird for my year list.
By this time, it was getting late, but Steve had particularly wanted to look for the wintering Pacific Golden-plover that has been in the Tijuana NWR, so we went back to the coast and looked for it.† He got his scope onto a bird that was a possibility, and later onto another one, but he ended up deciding that he couldnít be sure they werenít Black-bellied Plovers, and so neither of us is going to count them.† Steve did manage to get distant views of a couple of Clapper Rails, and that was nice.† Later tonight, I saw a report that someone else had seen the Pacific Golden-plover there this morning, so I guess we should have gone there first today.
It was past our pre-determined cutoff time by then, so we boogied on back to my motel, where Steve had left his truck, and I was back in my room by about 6:30 PM.† Again, I was about an hour and a half behind my mental ďscheduleĒ, but it had been another really great day of birding.† I had been out for over eleven hours, which a long day for my fat old body.
But, that was eight new birds for today, of which 3 were lifers.† Outstanding!† That brings me to 209 species for the year, of which 22 are new for my US list and 21 are lifers.† I had come to San Diego projecting about 20 new species, and I have seen 30 so far; and I could see more tomorrow.
I feel ready for an easy, laid back day tomorrow, and I have seven species in mind to hunt for, at five specific locations, so weíll see how I do.† Iíll be pleased with two, and thrilled with three of them.† I could still decide to get up early and look for the 3 or 4 Point Loma warblers as well, but I think I am going to pass on that (although Friday morning is still an option).† It is too damn early, I might very well not see them anyway, and even if I did, I might not be able to identify the particular species I saw.† As Christina observed, Iím a dilettante birder.† I enjoy it very much, but Iím not really very good at it.† I am also much too addicted to my personal comfort to ever really be a great birder.
What a life!
Thursday, March 10
I was up about 6:30 this morning and out of here by 7:30.† I have been making myself a double decker ham and cheese sandwich for my brekkie, and today I even made one to take along for lunch.† For my dinners, I have been having nuts with my drinkies, followed by prepared dinners that I have been heating in the microwave downstairs.† I really like being able to prepare my own meals and not have to waste time in restaurants.†
My first stop today was Tecolote Canyon.† My instructions were to walk up the trail and watch and listen for my target bird to be calling from the top of a bush.† I had just barely started on the trail, though, when I noticed a bird on the ground nearby.† I thought it was a California Towhee with something in its bill, but when I got the binoculars on it, it was my target bird, a lovely CALIFORNIA THRASHER.† It looks a lot like a California Towhee, but with a longer tail and a very long down-curved bill.† No one had told me, and the field guide hadnít mentioned, that this bird is a ground feeder and runs around like a towhee, scratching in the leaf litter.† The only other one I have ever seen was sitting on a wire.† Later I saw another one scratching around on the ground, and I never saw or heard one singing from the top of a bush.
I had another bird I was supposed to look for there, too, so I continued up the canyon, listening to the call on my phone, so I would be ready.† I had been told they would be singing all over the place.† I stopped under a big oak tree and sat on a bench there for a while, and pretty soon I noticed a little bird that met my criteria, flitting around in the tree, and sure enough, it was a HUTTONíS VIREO.† They look very much like a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, which I see all the time, but there are several points of difference, and I was able to observe all the differences on this bird.† Another one even came along and sang the same two-note song I had been listening to earlier.
So, I went two for two at that stop, and I headed on to Western Hills Park for my next target.† This next one was another Eastern warbler that is way out of its territory, and people have been seeing it at this location for two or three weeks.† I had very explicit instructions, although everyone agreed that to really see it well, you needed to be there as early as possible, definitely before 7 AM.† It was about 9 AM when I got there, and I sat myself down and patiently waited for it to appear.† After about twenty minutes, I got a brief look at the target bird, an OVENBIRD (lifer).† I saw the plain back and the bright orange stripe on the top of its head, although I wasnít able to see the streaked/spotted breast, as it was walking away from me.† I would have liked to have had a much better look at a lifer, but I didnít see it again in another ten minutes, so I moved on.† Iím satisfied that the bird I saw was the Ovenbird, though, and Iím not likely to ever see another one, unless I do some birding in the East.
After that, I moved on up to La Jolla, for another try at the shore birds I had missed there earlier in the week.† It was another beautiful sunny day, and La Jolla was sparkling and teeming with tourists.† I managed to find parking places when I needed them, though, and I moved from place to place, looking for birds.† I scanned the sea a couple of times, too, for sea birds I might need, but didnít see anything interesting.† The Wandering Tattler wasnít where it normally is, so I missed that one again.
I had just about given up on the turnstone I wanted, but then saw a Black Turnstone on a rocky outcrop, with some gulls.† There didnít seem to be anything else interesting there, but then a young man walked out among the gulls and looked over the outer edge at the water.† He scared two birds up onto the top of the rock, and I had my RUDDY TURNSTONE!† I ended up getting a lot of pictures of them, along with the Black Turnstone, a couple of Willets, a Great Egret, and a Black-bellied Plover.† So, I added another bird to my year list and I had fun taking pictures as well.† Success in La Jolla.† Here is the Ruddy Turnstone:
Here is a Willet:
It was getting on for lunch time by then, so I boogied on down the freeway to Chula Vista, to the J Street Marina, to look for the Reddish Egret again.† I didnít find it, but I ate my humble lunch there in the car by the sea, watching the birds loafing on the beach.† Very nice.
Next I tried again for the Yellow-crowned Night-herons again in Imperial Beach.† This was my third attempt, but it didnít prove to be the charm, and all I saw were the Black-crowned ones again.† This time a couple of them were sitting more out in the open, and I did take some pictures of one of them, at least.†
Here is a Black-crowned Night-Heron in the tree:
While I was looking up into the trees, Steve (my guide from yesterday) came along and we chatted briefly.† He had returned to Imperial Beach to look for the Pacific Golden-Plover, and he had found it this time.† It was a lifer for him, so I was very glad to hear it.† I could have gone for it, too, but it would have meant walking the best part of two miles on rocks and sand, and I just wasnít willing to do it.† There goes that dilettante birder thing again.† I put my comfort ahead of the birds, obviously.
I stopped at the J Street Marina again, to look for the Reddish Egret, since it was right on my way, but again dipped.† I drove on up to Robb Field in Ocean Beach, at the mouth of the San Diego River, in the hopes of seeing a Red Knot.† The tide was still too high, though, and there werenít many shorebirds there at all.† I did see a couple of Bonaparteís Gulls, though, which pleased me, since I have only seen them once before, on Tuesday, and this was a better view.†† I found them myself this time, too, while Steve had pointed them out to me on Tuesday.† There were also a couple of Caspian Terns among the Royal and Forsterís Terns, and I enjoyed seeing the three species and comparing them.
So, the birding part of the trip is over now.† I could theoretically get up early and head up to Point Loma for a shot at the warblers, in the morning, but I donít intend to do so.† Iíll take my time and make my way to turn in my rental car by about 10 or 10:30, for my 12:35 PM flight home.† It has been a really great trip, both for birds and great family times, but it is always nice to get home after being away.
I ended up seeing 34 new birds for my year list here in the San Diego area.† I had only been forecasting about 20, so that is outstanding.† It was due to the help I got from BJ, Mark, and Steve, of course, that I saw so many species, and so many great ones as well.† It has been a lot of fun ďchasing raritiesĒ, based on reports on the birding mailing lists in the various cities I have visited.† Well, more than just the cities I have visited Ė I have picked up a couple of rarities at home, too, from the Seattle birding mailing list (Tweeters).
My total now stands at 213 species for the year, of which 23 are new for my US list and 22 are lifers.† I probably wonít add any more or write any more here until my trip to the Southwest, which starts in about seven weeks, unless some rarity shows up in the Seattle area and I go off to twitch it.
Sunday, March 20
The local birding mailing list, Tweeters, had a couple of reports of a Little Gull in Edmonds, which is only about a 20 or 25 minute drive north of here.† It was a sunny day, so I headed north on a twitch, as Little Gull is a European species, also seen in winter on the East Coast of the US, but not often seen on the West Coast.† It isnít even in my spreadsheet for the year, so it would be a real plum to see one, although I knew it wasnít likely.
On the way north, I drove by the house I had visited in January to see Evening Grosbeaks and White-throated Sparrow, as they had had a flock of Band-tailed Pigeons coming to their feeders all winter.† I didnít see anything, but thatís birding.† You put yourself where the birds might be, and you take your chances.
At the waterfront in Edmonds, I was surprised to find how windy it was.† The temperature was in the mid-40ís, and it was plenty cold out in the wind.† I saw some interesting birds from the fishing pier, including Goldeneyes and Red-necked Grebes that were coming into their breeding plumage, but no Little Gull.† While I was there, I ran into three other local birders, who were also looking for the Little Gull.† I had met two of them before, at Marymoor Park, in January.
The Little Gull had been reported to be hanging out with some Bonaparteís Gulls, which look pretty similar but no one even saw any Bonaparteís Gulls that morning, let alone the Little Gull.† The other three birders knew each other, and just listening to them talk reminded me how inexperienced I am as a birder, despite my 12 years of playing at it.† Iím learning a lot of new things this year, though.
I stopped at the fish hatchery in Edmonds on the way home, as there had been a Red-breasted Sapsucker reported there, but saw nothing of interest.
So, no new birds for my Quest, but it was a lovely outing on a sunny day, with the Olympic Mountains and Mount Baker in the Cascades out in all their snow-capped glory.† As the Aussies like to say, I gave it a go.
Tuesday, March 22
Today I felt like getting out and moving around, and the weather looked decent, so I went on down to my ďlocal patchĒ, as the British birders call it, Juanita Bay Park.† Mostly I just wanted to stretch my legs and enjoy the sunshine, but you never know what you might see.
It was pretty ďbirdyĒ down there this morning, and I ended up seeing 20 different species in the hour and a half I was there.† There were three other birders there, two of them with cameras with long lenses.† The one without a camera was a woman who could really whistle, and she was whistling bird songs and the birds would frequently answer her.
She mentioned the birds that had been around, and two of them were ones I needed for my year list, so I stuck around a while.† After a while, I got wonderful, close looks at a beautiful RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER, so I managed to add one to my year list, just like that.† I have only seen them a few times in the past, and this was the best look I had ever had, by far.† I only had it in my spreadsheet at 20% for the whole year, so it was a real coup to have gotten it today.
There were also a number of Virginia Rails around, and I heard them calling a number of times, but never saw one.† Once one called from just off the boardwalk, right below where I was standing, and I saw the grasses move, but didnít catch a glimpse of the bird.† The whistling lady could imitate their call and they would often answer her, but they are very shy, and it is hard to actually see one.† I wanted to play the call on my eBird phone app, but I was hesitant to do so with people around.† I hope to go back tomorrow and try again, as the weather is supposed to be even better tomorrow.† Iíll take my camera tomorrow, too, as the light was fantastic today, with lots of birds posing in the sunlight.† Iíve only seen Virginia Rail twice in my 12 years of birding, both times at Juanita Bay Park, so it would be great to see one there again.
So, I got a little exercise and now I am at 214 species for the year.† I also added two new species to my ďpark listĒ, for Juanita Bay Park Ė Golden-crowned Kinglet and Annaís Hummingbird.† That brings my park list to 82 species, which is pretty respectable for a little park in the middle of suburbia.
Wednesday, March 23
I went back to Juanita Bay Park today, in search of the rail I missed yesterday.† Upon arrival at the point on the boardwalk where I had heard it yesterday, within the first ten seconds, I saw a bird out in the open, right out in front of me, less than ten feet away.† I got the binoculars on it, and I had a several second great look at a VIRGINIA RAIL!† Talk about easy!† A couple of minutes later, I got more good binocular views of it in some grasses.† I hung around another hour or so, back and forth to that location, but never had another sniff of one.† I even played the call on my phone, but no answer and no action.
It was a fantastic sunny day at the park today, 60 degrees by the time I left at about noon.† I got a lot of pictures that I really like, and I will include a few here, since I like them so much.
In addition to adding the rail to my year list, I also added another bird to my Juanita Bay Park list, the Glaucous-winged Gull.† That brings me to 83 species at the park, over the years.† Iíve probably seen them there before, but until this year, I couldnít distinguish gulls apart very well.† The key characteristic of the Glaucous-winged Gull is that it doesnít have any black on its wings.† Here is a picture of one that had just caught something to eat:
I got as number of pictures of Red-winged Blackbirds today, too.† I have a hard time telling an immature male one from a female, but the pictures I got today are instructive.† Note the orange edges to the feathers on the back and the start of a red patch on the wing, on this immature male Red-winged Blackbird:
Same bird, in an interesting pose:
A pair of Wood Ducks came out from the reeds and made a pass in front of me, in the sunshine, and I snapped a few pictures.† Here are the two of these very attractive ducks:
Yesterday I had added Annaís Hummingbird to my park list, and today I wanted to try for a picture.† I went to the area where the male had been yesterday, but I didnít see him around.† So, I took out my phone and played the call of the Annaís Hummingbird, to see what would happen.† Almost immediately, he came flying out and took a position so the sun shone on his gorget and hovered and sat on branches, right out in front of me.† He was obviously ready to fend off any other male hummer who might be encroaching on his territory.† It was hard to capture him with my camera, as he flitted about so much, but I got two pictures that I like a lot.† Here is the one that shows his green back:
And here is my favorite, which shows him sticking out his tongue at me:
So, it was a great day at the park in the sunshine.† Now I am on 215 species for the year, of which 23 are new for my US list and 22 are lifers.† In four weeks I leave for my trip to the Southwest, where I hope to get over the 300 mark for the year.