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Saturday, September 15
This isnít a normal ďreportĒ, in as much as I havenít gotten anything new for my year list.† But, Iím on a four day trip to Central Washington, doing county birding, and I have some pictures to share, along with the story of my travels so far, after three days on the road.
I left on Thursday morning, and drove across the Cascade mountain range.† At a rest stop near Vantage, I got five birds for my Kittitas county list, including the desirable Red-breasted Nuthatch.† I wasnít planning to even pick up any birds in Kittitas County on this trip, but there they were.
I crossed the Columbia River at Vantage, and then I was in Grant County.† I wasnít planning any birding there until today and tomorrow, but I did pick up Black-billed Magpie as I drove along.† The birding started when I crossed the Columbia again, into Benton County.
I picked up four species at a rest area just inside the county, and a couple more along the road.† My first actual birding stop was at W.E Johnson Park, in Richland.† Here is a picture of the Yakima River at that park.
I saw a couple of Ospreys from that point, and I picked up a couple of other birds there.† Here is a picture of one of the trails in the park.
From there, I went to Chamna Natural Preserve, which is in Richland, along the Yakima River.† Here is one of the trails in Chamna.
There were a lot of White-crowned Sparrows there, but little else.† Neither of these first two places was very birdy at all, at least in the middle of the day.† I suspect the time of day made a huge difference.
From there, I went across the Columbia River to Kennewick.† Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco are called the Tri-cities, and they are located at the intersections of the Yakima River, the Columbia River, and the Snake River.† In Kennewick, I stopped at Bateman Island first.† It is an island in the Columbia River that is connected to the mainland by a land bridge.† Here is a picture of the island and the land bridge.
I saw the first Great Egret I have seen in Washington State there.† They are rare on the west side of the mountains, and I havenít done much birding here on the east side.† Here is a picture of it.
I picked up a couple of Belted Kingfishers there, but little else.† The middle of the day was just not a good time to be birding in Central Washington, I think.
I moved on to Columbia Park, which runs along the river in Kennewick.† It is a lovely park, and I stopped several places and picked up some birds.† The only gull I have seen over here so far is Ring-billed Gull, and here is a picture of one.
You can see how it got its name.† I took that picture at a little pond in Columbia Park where some people were feeding bread to a whole pack of domestic and Canada Geese, along with a few ducks and some gulls.† Not much of interest for me, but then I suddenly noticed a different bird, a Greater White-fronted Goose.† I have seen them a number of times, but never this close, and I had never gotten a picture of one before.† Here is the little darling.
The ďwhite-frontedĒ in its name refers to the white on the face, behind the bill.† I donít know why the ďGreaterĒ.† Maybe there is a lesser one in some other part of the world, but not here.
By that time it was getting on for five oíclock, and my day was done.† I checked into my humble motel, which turned out to be really great, and settled down for the evening.† So far on this trip, Iím eating a very low carbohydrate and pretty low calorie diet, which is quite different from my usual travel practice.† Iíll be interested to see what my weight does after the trip.
On Friday I was up and out of there by about 8, and I headed across the Columbia to Franklin County and Sacajawea State Park. †This turned out to be the birdiest place I have seen yet on the trip.† I think that is mostly because of the time of day, about 8:30 am.† I stopped there in the afternoon, just to see what it was like, and it was dead.† The lesson to learn is that birding is far superior in the morning, and the earlier the better.† That is definitely the conventional wisdom, and my slovenly late rising habits are a big problem for me, and that is one reason that I call myself a dilettante birder.
I got this picture of a Black-billed Magpie there.
I have seen them in just about every county over here, but it is hard to get close enough to get a decent picture.† Taking a picture of a black and white bird is hard, and it is especially hard to get the eye, when it is in the black part of the bird.† With their long tails and their distinctive coloration, they are easy to spot as they fly around.
Hereís an amusing tale, or at least, I think it is amusing.† When I got to the park, one of the first birds I counted was Canada Goose, as I saw a number of them across the water, at the tip of an island.† A little later, there were sounds of shotguns firing, and I looked across the water and saw a dog fetching a bird that had been shot.† It turns out that my ďCanada GeeseĒ were actually decoys, and the brave hunters were hiding in the reeds, waiting for a poor sucker of a goose to fly in and land.† Here is a picture that shows the brave hunters and the dog, retrieving the bird:
It is safe to say that the ďbirdsĒ you see in the water there are all decoys.† There must have been at least 20 of them.† Here is another picture of the hunters.
I guess there are all kinds of hobbies, and birding is certainly a strange one, so Iím not one to talk, but I just canít understand the attraction of sitting out in the reeds for hours to shoot birds who come in because there are decoys in the water.† It takes all kinds, though, I guess.† I ended up taking Canada Goose off my list for Franklin County, and I never saw another one there.† The hunters were still there six hours later when I came back by there.† Just a note Ė I looked at a map later, and those hunters were about 600 yards away from where I was Ė pretty damn good for my little camera, I think.
Sacajawea State Park is a very nice park, and it was almost deserted on a Friday in mid-September.† Here is a picture.
By the time I left the park, I had accumulated 26 species for my Franklin County list, including nice ones like California Quail, Spotted Sandpiper, Wood Duck, Downy Woodpecker, Belted Kingfisher, and American White Pelican.
Next I headed across the Snake River to Walla Walla County.† It is probably the first time I had ever been in Walla Walla County, and it may very well be the last.†
My first stop was at Hood Park, on the shores of the Snake River.† It is a lovely park, but it was closed on a Friday in mid-September, no doubt due to budgetary constraints.† There is a boat launch next to the park that was open, though, and here is a picture of part of the park.
I walked along the shore, following a guy with a couple of dogs that spooked all the birds.† I picked up Spotted Sandpiper, though, and a few others.† From there, I moved south to McNary National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).† It was pretty dead there, but I flushed a pheasant from near the parking area, and got a couple of other species.
From there, I moved on down to the delta of the Walla Walla River where it comes into the Columbia.† I had my lunch at Madame Dorion park (which was really pretty much nothing but an outhouse and a few picnic tables).† There were a couple of overlooks of parts of the delta, and I got a few species there.† Here are some pictures of the Walla Walla River delta area.
That was a dry part, on the banks of the delta.
Thatís one of the wetter parts of the delta.† There were some ducks on that pond, and I got Northern Pintail and Green-winged Teal there, the only place I have seen either species so far on the trip.† On another part I saw one Northern Shoveler, a type of duck, the only one I have seen on the trip so far.
It was time to head back north, toward my motel in Kennewick, but I was a little short of birds in Walla Walla County, so I stopped in a tiny ďtownĒ called Wallula.† I put town in quotation marks because there was a post office, but absolutely no commercial establishments.† Not a market, a gas station, or anything else.† Anyway, I drove up and down the streets, looking for House Finch and House Sparrow, figuring that they must be there.† I did finally get them both, along with the bonus birds Western Wood-pewee, Cedar Waxwing, and American Goldfinch.† Later, I took a little detour and picked up Mourning Dove, American Kestrel, and this lovely Osprey.
Check out that tongue.† I donít think I have ever gotten a picture of an Ospreyís tongue before.† Pink with a black tip.† Who knew?
I stopped at Sacajawea again on my way home, just to see how birdy it would be in the afternoon.† The same place that was absolutely jumping with birds at 9 am was completely dead at 4 pm.† An interesting lesson.† I did pick up a couple of species, including some Wild Turkeys that were wandering around.† Here is a picture of one of them, a young male, I think.
So, that was Friday.† This morning I was up at 6 (trying to get in shape for my 5 am alarm tomorrow, more on that later), and out of my room by 8.† I headed north and stopped at Scooteney Reservoir, to try to get a couple more birds for Franklin County.† Here is a picture of the reservoir, with the campground area on the right.
From there I moved on to Adams County, my main target for the day.† I stopped in Othello to get gas, and I drove around a bit to look for town birds, but had no luck at all. †It turned out that they were getting ready for a parade and the main street was closed off.† I managed to get around the blockades and get my gas, and then I headed out of town.† I wonder what the occasion was for a parade in Othello today.† I should have asked at the gas station where I filled my tank.† It was a Union 76 station that didnít have Pay At The Pump, which amazed me.† Not only that, but you pumped your gas first, before you paid.† Talk about small town America.† I didnít know such stations still existed.
My first actual birding stop in Adams County was the Para Ponds, just north of Othello.† Not much there, but I did spot a male California Quail on a fence post by the road.† I donít know if I have mentioned it, but I have a project going to gather my pictures of all the species I can in North America.† I found that I didnít have a picture of California Quail, and I was able to rectify that today.† Here is a male California Quail on sentinel duty.† The rest of the covey is down in the grass somewhere, and this guy is keeping watch for danger.
While stopped there, I got pictures of White-crowned Sparrows, which are pretty common out here.† The interesting thing to me is how different the first year birds look from the adults.† Here is a first year White-crowned Sparrow, that is, one that was hatched this year.
Here is an adult bird, with the distinctive black and white stripes on its head.
Also at the Para Ponds were a couple of Long-billed Dowitchers, and I got this picture of them.
From there I went north to Morgan Lake Road, and stopped a couple of places.† Here is a picture of Morgan Lake, with the interesting rock formations around it.
My next stop was an unmarked road that gives access to Crab Creek.† It was interesting country, and I did see two or three good species there, including Sayís Phoebe and Marsh Wren.† Here are some pictures of that area.† First, the sagebrush as you approach Crab Creek.
Next, Crab Creek itself.
There is a bridge over the creek, and this trail on the other side.
And here is a little lake near the creek.
From there I continued north and west, and stopped at the overlook for the Drumheller Channels.† They are a geological thing that Iím not about to try to understand, let alone explain.† It is quite hazy over here, due to the smoke from wildfires, so this picture doesnít do it justice.
That was the last of my Adams County birding sites, and I was kind of low on my count, so I drove around some back roads at the edge of the county.† It did pay off, as I added a few more species, including this raptor that flew in and landed on a pole in front of me.† I got this one picture, and it flew off.† I think it was a Northern Harrier, but it might have been a Cooperís Hawk.† Here is the picture, if you want to second guess me.
I finally gave up on Adams County, having gotten to 26 species there, and moved on to Grant County, where Iím staying tonight.
I had a late lunch at Potholes State Park.† The temperature was surprisingly pleasant, only 73 at 1 pm.† I had expected the 90ís, or at least the high 80ís when I planned this trip.† After lunch, I drove across OíSullivan Dam to Lind Coulee.† Iím not sure exactly what a coulee is, but this is an arm of the reservoir, extended upriver, so to speak.† It turned out to be pretty productive, in terms of species.† There werenít a lot of birds, but I added ten species there, including Great Egret, Least and Western Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Long-billed Dowitcher.
After my experience on Friday with the decoy geese, I was interested to see some Canada Geese on Lind Coulee that were decoys, when I looked closely.† Later, I saw the hunter.† Here are some of the decoys.
While there, I saw a couple of shorebirds that were too distant to identify.† It seems like I should have been able to ID them, but I couldnít.† Here are a couple of lousy, very distant pictures, in case someone better than me can ID them.
Maybe they were Western Sandpipers, but they seemed a lot larger than that.† Size is always tough, though, at a distance, with nothing else to compare them to.
On my way out, I got this picture of part of the coulee, with a couple of kayakers.
So, I checked into my humble motel about 3:30.† It is an odd situation.† I have two rooms, which they always rent together, not separately.† Both are quite small, and they are connected.† One has a queen size bed and one has a day bed that makes into two single beds.† The one with the day bed has a little kitchenette.† They both have bathrooms, which seems like a surplus when it is just me here tonight.† No TV, no phone.† Very old-fashioned.† It is located at a resort on a large lake, Potholes Reservoir.† I stayed here because tomorrow I am booked to go on a birding trip on a boat that will leave from this resort.† Ten birders and the boat driver, in an open boat, sitting on kitchen chairs.† I plan to take pictures and send another report tomorrow.† There are two potential lifers I could see on the trip, but each one is about a 50% chance, I figure, so we will see.† We leave at 6:30 am, and Iím dreading getting up that early.† We are supposed to be back by 1:30, with a couple of rest stops on islands.
For the trip, I got 28 species in Benton County, 31 species in Walla Walla County, 33 species in Franklin County, and 26 species in Adams County.† I also have 15 in Grant County, but will get a whole lot more tomorrow.
It is getting late, and I need to get this out, so I can go to bed.† I hope the internet connection here can handle it.
What a life!
Sunday, September 16
Iím writing a report today, mostly for my own records.† No new birds for my year list, sorry to say.† I wanted to tell the story of my boat trip on Potholes Reservoir today, since I mentioned it in yesterdayís report.
I got to bed by 9:30 last night, and was up at 5 am sharp this morning.† I took care of my morning duties, packed up my car, and was at the dock by about 6:20 for the 6:30 departure time.† As it turned out, the driver of the boat had gotten the day wrong, and we had to wait for him.† We got out of there at about 7:10, which was just fine,actually.† The temperature was in the low to mid 50ís, and it was sunny and a beautiful morning.† I had been afraid it would too hot (it was over 90 by the afternoon on last yearís trip), but it turned out that I wore my jacket all day, and the temperature was only about 73 when we quit at about 1 pm.† Here is a picture of our boat at the dock.
This boat was a big improvement over the ones they used the last two years, with much more comfortable seats.† We had three people cancel at the last minute, and it was just as well, as there was only one extra seat, even with our diminished numbers.† I donít know what we would have done if everyone had shown up, but the boat was perfect for our group of 7 people plus driver.† I sat in the front most of the day, until the wind came up and the captain decided we had to move some weight from the front of the boat to the back of the boat, as water was coming over the bow at times.† Naturally, I was the logical weight to move, so I moved back under the canopy, which was actually not a bad thing at that time of day.
We started by cruising along the shore past Potholes State Park, where I had lunch yesterday.† Here is a picture of the park from the water side.
Iím not going to try to list all the birds we saw, but Iíll do a summary of the high points at the end, maybe.† Suffice it to say that there were quite a few birds early on, and I was kept busy adding to my Grant County list.
We came upon some guys in canoes who seemed to be doing some kind of historical reenactment thing.† When we saw them, they appeared to be packing and loading the canoes after having camped on the shore overnight.† Our driver mentioned that he had seen them the day before, about ten miles away, so they had been doing some paddling.† Here is a shot as we approached.
And, hereís a closeup as they passed us.† I love the hats, especially.† The wooden canoes are nice, too.
There were a lot of Western Grebes and Clarkís Grebes on the lake, many of them with young ones still.† The two species are very similar, with two main things that distinguish them.† The bill of the Western Grebe is more yellow, and the bill of the Clarkís Grebe is more orange.† The other thing is the location of the eye with respect to the coloration on the face.† We say that on the Western Grebe ďthe eye is in the blackĒ and on the Clarkís Grebe ďthe eye is in the whiteĒ.† Here are a couple of pictures that illustrate both things, which are both more obvious in the summer than in the winter.
First a Western Grebe, with the eye in the black.† They are much more common than the Clarkís.
And here is a Clarkís Grebe, with the eye in the white and a bill that is more orange.
I know, all you non-birders are rolling your eyes, but such is birding, looking for small differences sometimes.
I got pictures of both species with chicks, too, and in these pictures, at least, the chicks look very different.† That might be at least partly because the chicks might be different ages, but I was struck by the obvious differences in appearance.
Western Grebe with chicks:
And a Clarkís Grebe with a chick:
Finally, before we leave the Western/Clarkís Grebes, here is a Western Grebe with a fish.
OK, that was our lesson for the day.† Now on with the pictures.† Here are some American White Pelicans.
They look ungainly when they are walking, but they are surprisingly graceful and beautiful in flight.† They are also very good at hiding the black on their wings when they are not flying.† You can just see a little black on the wings of the bird in front, in that last picture.† When they fly, they reveal the striking color pattern of their wings.
There were hundreds of them out there today.
After a couple of hours we made a stop on an island so us old folks could take a whiz.† You can see in this picture how the water level has dropped over the summer.
Here is our boat, pulled up to the island so we could step off the front.
All day we were scrutinizing the gulls.† 95% or more were Ring-billed Gulls, but there were a few others.† I got pictures of a couple of gulls for my photo project, which I may have mentioned before.† Iím going through my pictures and collecting them into folders, in an attempt to get pictures of as many American species as I can.† I needed pictures of two species, Herring Gull and California Gull, and I got them today.† Here is an adult Herring Gull in winter plumage.
And here is a California Gull in its winter plumage.
The gull that we were really looking for is Sabineís Gull, which would have been a lifer for me and a desirable one for everyone.† They saw several of them two years ago, but none last year on this trip.† It is smaller than the common Ring-billed Gulls, and at one point we did see a small gull and everyone got excited.† Our guide, who is extremely knowledgeable called it as a Sabineís Gull at first, but then as we got closer, he changed the call to Franklinís Gull.† Franklinís is actually more rare here than the Sabineís, so it was fine for everyone else, but I had seen Franklinís Gulls in Texas in April this year, and I wanted the Sabineís.† Here is a picture of the Franklinís Gull, with a Ring-billed Gull in the frame as a size comparison.
Here is the Franklinís on its own.
This plumage is in transition from summer to winter, but closer to winter.† In full winter plumage, there would be even less dark coloration on it.† Here is a picture I took in Texas this spring of a couple of them in their summer plumage:
I find it very interesting to see the changes in plumages with the seasons, in many species.
Later we saw another desirable small gull, a Bonaparteís Gull, but we never managed to see a Sabineís.
In the afternoon we visited a couple of places that are usually good for shorebirds, but they were strikingly absent today.† As a result, the birding was very slow after about 11 am, and mostly we exchanged birding stories, as we motored around trying to find the birds.† The wind came up more in the afternoon, and the waves got bigger.† We were rocking up and down and back and forth a lot more, and I was worried about getting motion sick, but it turned out to be no problem at all, Iím glad to say, other than when the water started coming over the bow and I had to move back to the rear of the boat to balance the weight better.
Some of the good birds we saw included a Peregrine Falcon, a couple of Sharp-shinned Hawks, Sandhill Cranes, Pectoral Sandpipers, a Red-necked Grebe, an American Avocet, Horned Grebes, and a couple of Common Terns.† I saw about 43 species on the trip, and now my Grant County list stands at 49 species.† My trip produced nice numbers for five counties, and now I have at least one species in 15 of Washingtonís 39 counties.† One of the women on the boat today has over 100 species in each county, and one of the men has over 175 in each county.† I would be quite happy to see 10 or 15 species in each of the 39 counties, which would mean going to a whole lot of places I have never been to before.† After that, the goal is to see 39 in each of the counties, but I donít expect to ever get to that level.
We finished at about 1 pm, and I climbed into my car and headed for home.† I had a great drive, wasnít sleepy at all, despite having gotten up at 5, and was home by 4:10, including a quick stop at the local supermarket.
My next trip is in just 6 days.† Iím heading to Southern California, and I plan to spend five nights in the San Diego area and then two nights out by the Salton Sea in Imperial County, before going on to a reunion with a couple of my old college buddies in Orange County.† I hope to do a tiny bit of birding there, too.† My spreadsheet indicates I ďshouldĒ add about a dozen species to my year list on the trip, so there ought to be some reports from that trip.† As a reminder, Iím at 441 for the year now, so it is hard to add more at this point.
Life rolls on.
Sunday, September 23
San Diego.† I had a nice flight down yesterday afternoon, I picked up a rental car (a standard sized SUV, a Kia Sorrento), I stopped at a supermarket and Trader Joeís, and checked in to my studio apartment near Mission Bay that will be my home for four nights.† I have a little kitchenette with a fridge and microwave, and I plan to prepare all my own meals, as I like to do.† Iím trying to stay very low-carb and fairly low calorie on the trip, so we will see how I do.† Normally I gain weight on my trips and lose it again when I get home, but Iím trying not to gain as much, to see how that works.† I actually lost a little bit on my last trip to Central Washington, with the low carb approach.
I was up this morning at 6, to meet a local birder, Stan, at 7:30 up at La Jolla Cove.† There are half a dozen sea birds that would be lifers for me that Stan regularly sees there at this time of year, so I was hopeful.† I wasnít at all sure how it would work to try to spot new birds that were flying about a third of mile to two-thirds of a mile offshore, but I was willing to give it a go.
As it turned out, the early start wasnít at all necessary.† It was fogged in, and we waited and talked, expecting it clear at any minute.† But, the fog went on and on, and it was after 11 before it cleared.† Stan was supposed to be home by then, but he stayed on, as it kept seeming like it was going to clear any minute.†
While we waited, I got this picture of a Western Gull, just in case I donít have a good picture of that species already.
After a couple of hours or more, we put our scopes in his car and walked a little way down the coast to try for another bird I needed for my year list.† It was still foggy, and he saw one through the fog, but I couldnít get on it before it moved out of sight.† Eventually, though I found a WANDERING TATTLER where I could see it easily, and I had one for my year list.† I think it is the first time I have seen one other than in Hawaii, too.† Here is a very poor picture of it, sitting down.
While we were on that walk, I got this picture of a Harbor Seal.† For some reason, I like chubby animals.† Go figure.
It started to clear for real while we were down there, though, so we got the scopes and went back to ďStanís benchĒ, which all the local birders are familiar with.† Stan is down there almost every day, at the same bench, checking out the sea birds.† He was a real font of information, and the time that we spent waiting for the fog to burn away was well spent and it seemed to pass very quickly.† Iím sure I told more than my share of birding stories, too, and he was a great listener.
Once back at his bench (where we could sit down and use our scopes Ė civilized birding in the extreme), it only took a minute or two for him to show me what BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATERS (lifer) looked like.† We saw them sitting on the water and also flying by, going south today.† I saw several hundred today, and got quite familiar with them.
The next lifer to fall was a jaeger.† There are three jaeger species on the west coast, and I had never seen any of them, so they were high on my list.† He pointed out a POMARINE JAEGER (lifer), and I got an excellent look at it as it flew south.
Not long later, there was a PARASITIC JAEGER (lifer), a smaller bird whose tail is a bit different.† We ended up seeing several of each species, and I got quite good looks at them.
There were also a few SOOTY SHEARWATERS, not a lifer, but a bird I needed for my year list.† I got fairly good looks at one of them, although I would like to see one better.† When I have seen them before, they were off the coast at Monterey, and there were thousands of them, but today there were just two or three in the two hours that we had enough clearing to see well.
Eventually we called it quits, about 1:30 or so.† I needed my lunch, and Stan was overdue at home.† I plan to meet him again on Tuesday morning, to see if we can pick up one or two more species for my year list or my life list.† I think we got the easy ones today, though.
After I left Stan, I ate my lunch in the car while driving south to Mission Bay.† I had my traditional ham and cheese sandwich, but without the bread, in deference to my low-carb approach these days.† I had rolled up some ham slices around pieces of cheese.† I also had some nice veggies Ė carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and sugar snap peas.† I am surprised how satisfying it is to eat a lunch without any bread, chips, or dessert.† It held me until it was time for my drinkies and some nuts this evening.
I stopped at Point Loma Nazarene University to look for parrots that roost there, but they werenít around in the middle of the afternoon.
I moved on down to Point Loma itself, and stopped at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, which is a local birding hotspot.† But, I didnít know where to do my birding there, and I didnít see any other birders, so I ended up just driving around to see what I could see.† I was looking for a kingbird (a type of flycatcher), and I saw other flycatchers, like Black Phoebe and Sayís Phoebe, but no kingbirds at all.† There were also a lot of Western Bluebirds around, and I got this picture of one of them.
Here is a Sayís Phoebe:
I also saw a sparrow that was different from what I normally see at home, and I had to get a picture and consult my field guide before I decided that it was a Chipping Sparrow in winter plumage, probably a juvenile one.† It didnít look very much like the breeding plumaged Chipping Sparrows that I have seen in the past, but I think that is what it was.† Here is a picture, for anyone who would like to point out my error.
Other pictures I have are more Chipping Sparrow-like, possibly of different birds, though.
Here is a picture of part of the cemetery, which is quite extensive.
I drove on out to the end of the road at Point Loma, which is the Cabrillo National Monument, but I didnít see any birds of note out there.† I headed for home, and stopped again at the Nazarene University, but there were still no parrots around at 4:45 PM.
I did make one other stop, at Robb Field, at the mouth of the San Diego River.† There was a shorebird I needed that I was looking for there.† The tide was pretty high, but there were some shorebirds in one spot, so I drove there and set up my scope.† Unfortunately, just when I got there, a couple of guys with a couple of dogs off-leash came along and soon the dogs were spooking the birds and making them fly.† I did see a couple of Common Terns, which I have only seen twice before in this country, and I got this picture that I like.† It shows a couple of shorebirds that have long downcurved bills.† The bills have different lengths, and the birds are different sizes and have other differences, but when you see just one of them, you sometimes wonder which one it is.† This is the only picture I have ever gotten of a Whimbrel and a Long-billed Curlew in the same frame, so I like it.† The Whimbrel is the smaller bird on the left, with the shorter bill, and the curlew is the larger one on the right with the really long bill.
You can really see the size difference in the two species, as well as the coloration and bill length differences.
And, despite the damn dogs (okay, the damn owners who let the dogs terrorize the birds Ė I donít blame the dogs), I saw my RED KNOT that I wanted to see for my year list.† Here is a picture:
It is the bird in the center, on the right.† The two in front of it are Black-bellied Plovers.
So, with that, I headed for home, getting back about 5:30.† A ten hour day of birding is a long one for the Old Rambler.
Tomorrow I plan to head south to the Tijuana River Valley, after a stop at a local canyon where I hope to see another one for my year list.† I hope for another report tomorrow, but we will see.
After a great day today, when I added 6 species to my year list, of which 3 were lifers, I now stand at 447 for the year, of which 109 are lifers.† A really wonderful start for my trip.
Monday, September 24
Hereís another report, so I must have seen at least one more year list bird today, right?† Read on for the whole story.† Lots of pictures today.
I slept for nine hours last night, which is almost unheard of for me.† I was up at 7 and out of here by about 8:30.† My first stop was Tecolote (Teck-o-LOWí-tee) Canyon, which is just down the street from my apartment.† I had one specific target bird there, which I had seen there last year.† As I started up the trail into the canyon, I played the song of the target species (just so I would be familiar with, you understand), and lo and behold, a couple of CALIFORNIA THRASHERS flew right in.† One of them flew up to the top of a little tree, in stages, and when he got there, he sang his song for me for several minutes.† Here are a couple of pictures of him (or her):
With that bill, it is a difficult species to mistake.† Here is a picture of the bird while it was singing its song:
They are ground feeders, and are usually seen on the ground.† A little farther up the canyon, I came on two more of them, and here is one of them running on the ground, showing the orange color under its tail.
I walked on a little farther, and I saw some House Finches and a California Towhee.† I got a couple of pictures of the towhee, and couldnít decide which one I liked the best, so Iíll show both.† They arenít really very good pictures, but Iím not sure I have ever gotten a picture of a California Towhee before.
They are quite plain looking, other than the cinnamon color under their tail, which doesnít always show.
At one point I had a view of a backyard with a couple of hummingbird feeders, and there is one species of hummingbird Iím looking for on this trip, so I spent some time there.† I saw several hummingbirds, but couldnít ever get a good enough look to determine the species.† None ever went to either of the feeders while I was there.† I did notice a plant on the side of the yard, though, one that I always notice when I see it.† It is called a Brugmansia, named after some unknown Brugman of the past.
It is the one with the orange trumpet-like flowers.
As I left the canyon, back in the parking lot, I got this picture of another California Towhee up in a tree:
You can just barely see the cinnamon color under its tail, if you look closely.
From there, I headed south, to the Tijuana River Valley.† I had never been there before, and there were 2 or 3 species I could potentially see there, one in particular that wouldnít be anywhere else in the US.
The valley is just across the border with Mexico, and is agricultural in nature.† I drove slowly around the back roads, keeping my eyes peeled for birds.† I came upon a little flock of Bushtits, working their way along the road, and I managed to get a picture that I like a lot of one of them.† They are really hard to photograph, as they are constantly moving along from bush to bush.
It is a female, because it has a light colored eye.† Males have dark eyes.
After a while, I came upon one of my target birds, sitting on a wire Ė a CASSINíS KINGBIRD.† They donít have a very big range in the US, and I had only seen them once before, I think, although they are quite common around San Diego.† Here is a picture of it.
As I was fixing to leave that place, a female American Kestrel flew in and posed in a tree for pictures.† Here is that little beauty:
Now it was time for my primary target of the day.† I found the Bird and Butterfly Garden, which is part of a larger preserve, I guess, and before I could even park my car, I saw a BLACK-THROATED MAGPIE-JAY (lifer) fly into a tree.† It is not a bird that you can mistake, as it is large and has a very long tail.† I got out of the car and there were three of them in the area around the parking lot.† I managed one poorish picture, and they flew off.† I walked in the garden, though, and almost right away, I had at least six of them in the trees above me.† I wonder if people feed them, as they seemed very interested in me and hung around for a few minutes.† Here are some pictures of this interesting bird:
Thatís quite a tail, isnít it?
That picture shows the crest and the blue color of the back and tail.
This one is perhaps the best overall picture of the bird, with its crest, its blue back, its long tail, and its black throat.† It is not on the official USA list that is published by the American Birding Association.† It is a Mexican bird, and these are probably descendents of escapees from captivity.† The rule is that an escapee species has to be self-sustaining for ten years to get onto the list, and even then it can take a lot longer.† I donít know how long these have been living in the Tijuana River Valley, and I donít know if they are reproducing, but Iím counting them for my year list anyway, and as a lifer, because they are obviously wild and I havenít ever seen them before.
The Bird and Buttterfly Garden was really quite birdy.† I saw a number of species, including a warbler that I guess must have been a Townsendís Warbler and a bird that was some kind of vireo, I think.† I also saw a Common Ground-Dove, but couldnít get a picture.† True to its name, there were a lot of butterflies there, too.† Here is a picture of a Swallowtail.
Here is a view of one of the birdier parts of the garden that I visited.
It was warm, with the temperatures in the mid-70ís, I would guess, but with a nice breeze that felt good when you stood in the shade.† At one point, I caught a glimpse of a bird that I thought was a Wrentit, a species that I have only seen three times before (including earlier this year).† I played the song on my phone, and a couple of them responded, and sang back to me.† They are a pretty shy bird and were constantly on the move, so it was hard to get pictures, but I did get a couple of halfway decent ones, so here they are:
They look a lot like their cousins, the Bushtits, but their behavior is completely different, as is their song.† Bushtits are almost always in little flocks, too.
There were a lot of hummingbirds around, but I never could identify the species I need for my year list, which is Allenís Hummingbird.† I saw Annaís Hummingbird and a lot of Black-chinned Hummingbirds.† I think this is a female Black-chinned Hummingbird:
After I left the Bird and Butterfly Garden, I stopped at a couple of view points for south San Diego Bay, in Imperial Beach.† I was looking for a particular species of tern for my year list, but never saw any terns.† At one point I saw a lot of shorebirds in a pond, at a long distance, and some of thm were interesting.† They were obviously phalaropes, but I ended up deciding that they were all Red-necked Phalaropes, which I had gotten earlier this year on Whidbey Island.† They were too far away for decent pictures, unfortunately.
I ate my humble lunch in the car about then.† Another ham and cheese sandwich without the bread, and some vegetables, brought from home.† I headed back north after that, and stopped at the J Street Marina in Chula Vista.† I was looking for the tern I needed, but the only tern I saw was a single Forsterís Tern, not the one I needed.† I did see some more Red Knots there, the year list species I had seen yesterday afternoon at the San Diego River.† Here is a picture of one of them.
I moved on to the San Diego River at Robb Field.† There were a lot of birds there, and I spotted a couple of terns.† I got my scope and decided that they were ELEGANT TERNS, the tern species I was looking for.† Here is a picture.
Here is another picture of one of them, a little later:
I was pretty sure of my ID, but when I got back to the car and looked at my field guide, I started doubting myself.† The Royal Tern is quite similar, and there are a lot of those around here at this time of year, too.† When I got back here to my room, I looked at my pictures and decided that they were indeed Elegant Terns, but I emailed a couple of pictures to Stan, the local birder I birded with yesterday, and he confirmed that they were indeed Elegant Terns.† Phew!† I thought so, but I didnít want to make a mistake.
There were also some Forsterís Terns there, in their winter plumage, and I got this poor picture of a couple of them.
Okay, we are almost done now.† There were a couple of Little Blue Herons there, though, and I have a special affinity for that bird, for some reason, so here is a picture.
OK, so that is my report for today.† It was another very successful day of birding for me.† I added 4 more species to my year list, and one of those was a lifer.† I got some pictures that I like.† I had a great day out in the sunshine, moving around and seeing stuff.† Iím now at 451 species for the year, of which 110 are lifers.
I had another sea watch with Stan planned for tomorrow, at La Jolla, but this morning was even more foggy than yesterday, so we are not sure what we will do.† I hope we can try for more sea birds tomorrow, but I could do it on Wednesday if necessary, or tomorrow afternoon.† Afternoon is not nearly as good as morning because the sun is in the southwest, and it restricts the angle you can watch at.† The other thing I want to do tomorrow is go up the coast to the San Elijo Lagoon to look for California Gnatcatcher, and I hope to do that, either before or after a sea watch at La Jolla.† It could be tough to add another species tomorrow, so there might not be another report until Thursday or Friday, when Iím out in the Salton Sea area.† We will see.
What a life!
Tuesday, September 25
Before I get in to todayís adventures, here is a picture of Mission Bay from the top deck here, last night after sundown.† The deck is built above the second story and has a commanding view, all around.† Too bad about the gas station in the foreground, but you look right past it when you are enjoying the view.
So, I was in bed last night by 10 and up this morning at 6.† By the time I took care of my morning stuff, including eating breakfast and making a lunch, it was 7:20 by the time I got out of here.† The traffic was heavier today than on Sunday, too, so I didnít get out to La Jolla Cove until 7:40.† Stan had been there since 7, but he said that nothing I needed had shown up yet, although the birds were closer to shore, in general.† It was a pretty clear morning, so we could see out at least a couple of miles.† Most of what we were looking at was between a third of a mile and a mile out, though.† Beyond a mile, Stan canít even always identify the exact species of some birds, and for me, a half mile is pretty distant.† The birds at a third of mile out (about 500 yards) show up pretty well in the scope at 20X, though.
There werenít as many birds as on Sunday, and there was more swell on the ocean.† A bigger swell makes it harder to see birds sitting on the water, as they dip up and down and are out of sight much of the time, behind a swell.† Most of what we see is flying, though, so the swell doesnít matter all that much, unless it gets really high and obscures the flying birds, which often fly right down close to the water.† I suppose the name ďshearwaterĒ has something to do with how low they fly, because they indeed do fly right over the water.
Here is a picture of Stan.
And here is Stanís Bench, where he can be found on most mornings.
It is really nice to be able to bird while sitting down.† You can see how the two back legs of my scope are sitting on the bench, and I could sit between them and use my scope very comfortably.† I wouldnít want to have to stand for hours at the scope; it would kill my back.
Here is our view of the ocean:
There is a white speck in the middle of the picture, just below the horizon, and I think that is a boat that was about two miles out.† You could see birds out that far, but they were hard to identify.† At half the distance to that boat, it was fairly easy, though.
Anyway, there were Black-vented Shearwaters out there today, the most numerous bird, as on Sunday.† I got excellent looks at a couple of Sooty Shearwaters today Ė much better than I had had on Sunday.† Stan pointed out a pretty close in Pomarine Jaeger and later a close in Parasitic Jaeger, so I got to hone my ID skill on jaegers.
When it was getting near time to quit for the day so Stan could go to work, he saw a CASSINíS AUKLET (lifer) and was able to get me on to it, as it flew south.† I wouldnít have been able to identify it at that distance (maybe 500 yeards?), but I saw the field marks that Stan pointed out Ė dark on top, white underneath, it flew with its head higher than its tail, and it was much smaller than the Black-vented Shearwaters.† It was a close call, but I decided that it was a good enough look, so I counted it.† They arenít rare or even real uncommon, but you donít usually see them from land, and I havenít ever been out on a boating birding trip.† So, I had a new one for the day, and a lifer at that.
We left about 9:30, I guess, and I moved on up the coast to San Elijo Lagoon, which is just north of Solano Beach.† Here is a picture of part of the lagoon, which is largely filled in and vegetated.
There are several entrances to the area, which is a preserve, with trails all through it.† I parked at the Rios Street access, on the southwest end of the lagoon area.† I took my camera and my binoculars and walked east on the trail that goes down from there.† I had one particular target bird, as well as the hummingbird that has continued to elude me.† I saw a couple of hummers, but I still havenít caught up with Allenís Hummingbird, and now I might not, although I could still see one this weekend up in Orange County.
I walked the trails and sometimes played the call of my target bird Ė not to attract it, of course, as it is an endangered species.† You are definitely not supposed to ďharassĒ endangered species, and many people think playing the birdís call is harassment.† (Personally, I donít consider it harassment, but the law isnít at all clear on the subject.)† I was only playing it so I would be familiar with it, in case I heard one.† Nevertheless, when I encountered a ranger who was doing trail maintenance, I was glad that I was not playing the call at that particular time.† I asked about my target species, and he said he had just heard one calling a little farther up the trail, so I went the way he had come, rather than turn back like I had intended to.
That turned out to be a great decision, and a little while later, while again refreshing my memory of what the call sounds like, a couple of little birds flew in to me.† Sure enough, they were lovely little CALIFORNIA GNATCATCHERS.† I guess hearing my phone inspired them, because they hung around for several minutes, serenading me.† I managed to get some pictures, which turned out much better than I had ever expected to get of such a small, active bird.† Here is my favorite one first:
Is that a little cutie, or what?† I love the pose and I love the blurry background colors.
Here is another one, with the bird just posing for the camera:
And another one of a calling bird, in a bush:
So, that was really fun, and when they moved on, so did I.† Later I saw another California Gnatcatcher, without playing the call that time, but only got one poor picture, which I wonít show.† Here is a Western Scrub-Jay that I saw at about that point, though:
I got a pretty good look at a Bewickís Wren, but no pictures.† Then I saw a female American Kestrel eating something on a snag.† I got a picture of her, and I like the colors Ė of the bird and of the background.
A little later I saw another small bird, and it turned out to be what I believe was a House Wren.† I have two pictures of it, neither one of which is inspiring, but House Wren is a bird I donít see very often at all, so here are my two pictures of it.
House Wrens are very plain, and their bills arenít as long or as curved as some wrens, but this one was calling, and I could tell what it was by the call, which I checked on my phone.
By the time I got back to my car, it was noon, so I drove around to the northwest corner of the area, where the Visitorís Center is.† I found it easily enough, but it wasnít anything at all like what I remembered of it.† It is obviously a new building, but even the approach to it and the location is different from what I remember.† Memory can be really tricky sometimes, I have noticed.† Here is a picture of the new building.† I had my lunch on the second floor observation deck, under that canopy in the right front upstairs, which is actually solar panels.
It was a great place to eat my lunch, at a table in the shade, with a great view of the ocean and the lagoon area.
When I had finished my humble lunch (again a ham and cheese sandwich without the bread and some vegetables), I walked around the paths near the Visitor Center a little, mostly looking for my Allenís Hummingbird.† I saw one good candidate, but didnít get a good enough look to confirm it.
At one point, there were some shorebirds feeding fairly close by, and one of them was larger.† The bill was fairly long, but not long enough for a dowitcher.† I thought maybe Red Knot, but the bill seemed too long for a knot.† I couldnít think what it could be; I had a good size comparison because there were some little peeps feeding with it, and I knew that they were about 6 inches long.† It was definitely larger than they were, but not twice as big.† I got a bunch of pictures and resolved to send them to Stan for help.† As it turned, out though, when I saw my pictures back here in my room, I could see the shape of the bill better, and I realized that the bird was a Dunlin.† I hadnít picked up the drooping tip of the bill, and I thought the bird I was seeing was larger than the 8 Ĺ inches of a Dunlin.† Here are a couple of pictures.
With the pictures, the identification was easy, as the drooping bill is diagnostic, but at the time, I was stumped.
I got a picture of one more bird before I left there, a Western Sandpiper.
I think that is what the birds with the Dunlin were, too, Western Sandpipers, but the light on this bird was much better, and it was closer, so I could tell that the legs were definitely black, and not yellow, like those of a Least Sandpiper..
So, it wasnít even two oíclock, and I didnít really have any other birds to look for.† I have seen everything I thought I had a good chance for here in San Diego, except Allenís Hummingbird, and they could be anywhere, so there was nowhere special to go look for one.† Since I was out in the north end of town, I decided to visit my parentsí gravesite, at El Camino Memorial cemetery.
I found the cemetery, with a little help from Google Maps on my phone, and I found the Catholic part after only one false turn. †The Catholics have a nice little plateau area on a hillside, above most of the cemetery, and it is populated with memorials for the Stations of the Cross, which will only mean anything to you if you have a Catholic background, I imagine.† Here is a picture of what I think of as the Catholic ghetto:
I found the gravesite with no problem and here is a picture of the marker on it.
I found a bench nearby and sat and thought about them for a while.† They had 62 years together, which is pretty mind-boggling to me.† I think they were truly partners in life.† As I left the cemetery, I thanked them for all that I am and all that I have.
So, after that, I checked out one other birding site I had visited before - what is called the Sorrento Valley Pumping Station site, but there is no water there now, so there were no birds.† I returned to my room and have been working on pictures and this report.
Tomorrow morning I plan to join Stan again at his bench.† Iím going to set my alarm for 5:30 this time, and try to get there by 7.† Iíve arranged for a late checkout, so I wonít have to pack up or make a lunch in the morning before I leave.† There are still three fairly common birds that are possibilities there, although probably no one of them is likely.† Two of those would be lifers.† It is a great opportunity, to learn from Stan, so I want to take advantage of it, even though I donít really expect to see any new birds tomorrow.† Donít expect another report until at least Thursday, and more likely Friday.† Iíll be out in the Salton Sea area by then, in the high 90ís heat, with a chance of thunderstorms by Friday.† I have six species that I have decent shots at out there, and Iíll be happy if I see three of them.† I donít think that any of them are lifers.
So, my report card for the day shows that I got two more species today for my year list, and one of those was a lifer.† That puts me at 453 species for the year, and 111 of those have been life list birds.† It is also 12 new year species for the trip so far, and 5 of those have been lifers.† I am way ahead of the pace I expected for the trip.† Iíve been very lucky with the San Diego target birds, and having Stan to help with the sea birds has been a huge help, of course.
Thatís it for Tuesday.† Next is the Salton Sea, unless I get lucky at the Cove tomorrow morning.
Thursday, September 27
Yesterday, Wednesday, I got up at 5:30 and was out at La Jolla Cove by 7.† Stan and I scoped the birds for two and a half hours, but there wasnít anything new for me.† Lots of Black-vented Shearwaters, one good view of a Sooty Shearwater, and one good view of a Parasitic Jaeger.† All three of those species would have been lifers for me last week, but they were old hat by yesterday morning.† Ho-hum.
So, I went back to my apartment and showered and packed up.† I was out of there shortly after 11, and I went back to Point Loma Nazarene University, to look for parrots and Allenís Hummingbird.† I walked around part of the campus, and I did see a couple of hummingbirds, but no Allenís.† No parrots, of course.† Stan had talked me into trying again, but there werenít any parrots at all around, and darn few birds at all.† I felt good that I had given it a go, though, as the Aussies say.
Next I stopped by Mission Bay and had my humble lunch on a bench in the sunshine, overlooking the bay.† Ham and cheese again, with no bread or chips.† I guess I had some of my vegetables, too.† After that, I drove on out to El Cajon to visit my old buddy, John.† I found a botanical garden near where he lives, and we spent an hour there, mostly sitting on benches and visiting, but I was also on the lookout for hummingbirds again.† I saw several, but none were Allenís.† Annaís Hummingbird is the most common one here, and I think that all the ones I saw yesterday were Annaís.
Here is a picture of John, for those who have heard me mention him.† He is one of three guys from my college days that I keep in touch with.† Iíll be meeting with the other two starting on Saturday afternoon.† Here is John:
I spent last night at Johnís apartment, and this morning I was on the road by about 9:30.† I stopped at Kitchen Creek Road, about 30 or 40 miles east of El Cajon, and drove five miles off the freeway, to look for Black-chinned Sparrow.† It was too late in the year for them, but I gave it a shot anyway, as Stan had thought that there might still be a few around.† No joy.
I got to Brawley about noon, and I stopped at the local supermarket and got some sliced cheddar cheese and some sliced ham, and I took it to Cattle Call Park in Brawley.† The temperature was in the high 90ís by then, but I found a place where I could park my car in the shade and sit in the shade at a picnic table, and I consumed some of my ham and cheese.† No vegetables today, as I had accidentally left my veggies back in Johnís refrigerator.
Here is a picture of Cattle Call Park:
The main point of the park seems to be that they have a big rodeo there every year, and there are horses boarded at the far end of the park all year, I guess.† It is desert all around it, but they obviously water that big grassy field in the middle.† There is a one-way road around the park, with a wide path for bikes and walkers, too.† Only one guy was walking in the midday sun.† I presume the desert birds Iím looking for live around the edges.
While I was eating my lunch, I saw a little yellow bird, and got a good enough look at it to identify it as a male Wilsonís Warbler.† That is a nice bird, but not one I needed.† I didnít chase it for a picture.† I heard birds, but most were Northern Mockingbirds.† One call was different, though, and I got out my phone to check it.† Sure enough, it was the call of one of my target birds.† I played the call a few times, and after a few minutes, I saw my target, a GILA WOODPECKER.† Here are a couple of pictures, not very good, but they do show the bird, and I donít have many pictures for today.
I Hadnít even finished my lunch, and I had a year bird!† Outstanding!† I had identified 6 birds here that I thought I had a decent shot at, and 2 or 3 other longshots.† Of the 6 with a decent shot, I figured two of them were easy and the other four would be harder.† I also decided ahead of time that if I got three species for my year list out here in the desert, then the trip out here would have been worthwhile.
Well, the woodpecker was one of the harder targets, so that was a good start.† When I finished lunch, I drove around the loop again, and drove off the road on a dirt track that went up and behind some bushes.† It looked like possible habitat for birds, although I wasnít really expecting to see anything in the middle of the day.† As I was turning around my car, a bird flew down the hill and landed in front of some bushes about 50 feet away.† To my surprise, it was one of the easy targets, a male GAMBELíS QUAIL.† Two down!† I got some pictures of the quail, and again they arenít very good, but here they are.† First, here is one of a male (in front) and a female.
There just wasnít any contrast in the harsh midday light and all the gray brush.† Here is a slightly better one of a male by himself.
At that same place, there was a tiny bird in a tree, and I had hopes for another of my harder targets, but it turned out to be a Verdin.† Another very nice bird, and one I have only seen a handful of times, but I had worked hard to see one down in Texas, so I didnít need it for my list.† I tried for pictures, but it would never come out in the open, despite the calls I played.† Iíll try again tomorrow in the morning.
While I was trying to get pictures of the Verdin, I saw a bird up on the top of the ridge in front of me.† It was a brief look with binoculars, but I was able to see that it was my other ďeasyĒ target, an ABERTíS TOWHEE.† They look very much like California Towhees, but it is the only towhee that lives out here in the desert, and I got a good enough look to identify it.† Three of my targets, and I hadnít really expected to do any birding today, since I was arriving in the middle of the day in the heat.
I got a picture of another attractive bird in that same place, a White-winged Dove.
The harsh midday light is just brutal on pictures.† I was surprised what a big effect it has.† [Note Ė I just checked my camera, and there was a big fingerprint right in the middle of the lens.† No wonder my pictures today are so disappointing.† It wasnít just the midday light.]† As I drove through a residential neighborhood on my way to the motel, I saw some more doves, and these were little ones, Common Ground-Doves.† Here is a picture of one by a driveway.
I had seen both of those doves down in Texas, but they arenít ones I see very often.
I checked into my motel about 2:20 and moved all my stuff into the room.† I set the a/c lower and went out to check on a birding site I want to visit tomorrow morning, and maybe again on Saturday morning.† It is referred to as ďCarter and FitesĒ after the two roads it is near.† I had been given great directions and Google Maps coordinates by a San Diego birder that I met last year and corresponded with again this year.† He said it was a great place for most of my targets, although he had never seen anything there in the afternoon.† He urged me to be out there at sunrise (that is 6:30 here at this time of year), and to knock off birding by 10 or 11, as the heat was just too overwhelming and the birds go quiet in the middle of the day.† So, I didnít expect to see anything this afternoon, especially since I had already gotten three of the six possible target species that might be there, but I wanted to find the site and see what it looked like, so I could go there in the morning, if I liked the looks of it.
I found it easily enough, only about ten minutes away from my motel, and I got out of the car and walked around a little, but saw nothing, as expected.
I drove back into town, stopped at the supermarket, which is almost next door to my motel, and stocked up on food for the next couple of days.† Then I retired to my room, processed my pictures, took a nice cooling shower, and now Iím writing this and enjoying a little drinkie.
So, I ended up adding three more species to my year list today, when I hadnít really expected to add any today.† That puts me at 456 for the year, of which 111 are lifers.
Tomorrow I plan to hit Cattle Call Park and ďCarter and FitesĒ early, and then move on to the southeast corner of the Salton Sea to look for a gull that can only be seen there in the US, as far as I know.† There is another longshot gull there, too, but Iím not sure I could identify it if I did see it.† I hope to have another report tomorrow, but I could easily get skunked tomorrow.† I donít really like this 100 degree stuff much, and it doesnít really feel like a ďdryĒ heat, either, like you would expect in a desert.† Maybe that is because of the water evaporating from the Salton Sea and all the irrigation channels.† The internet tells me it is 30% humidity, which doesnít sound real low, but when it is 100 degrees and 30%, it doesnít feel dry to me.† I donít know what Iím going to do tomorrow in the heat of the day.† We will see.
Friday, September 28
Well, here it is, another report.† I must have gotten lucky today.† It will be a long report, with a lot of pictures.
I was up before my alarm went off at 6, and I was out at Cattle Call Park shortly after 7.† Not quite sunrise, but not bad for the Old Rambler, who is a night person.† The free breakfast here at the motel was disappointing, but they did have hard boiled eggs, so I had three of those, five of the turkey sausages I had gotten yesterday, and a Greek yogurt.† A good low carb breakfast.† I even had almost a whole cup of coffee, which I donít do often.
At Cattle Call Park, I drove around and got out at a few places and played some bird calls.† At one point I had a couple of small birds responding to my Blue-gray Gnatcatcher calls, but it was hard to get a definitive look at them.† There are two species of gnatcatchers here, and they are very similar.† I needed to see the color of the underside of the tail to really tell them apart, and when the bird is flitting around quickly, that can be a problem.† I tried some pictures, and I did get two that are nice.† I think that these two pictures show a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, which is a species I saw down in Texas.
Note that the bird has an insect in its bill.† Maybe it is a gnat, which would be appropriate.† My reason for calling this bird a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher rather than the other species is that the bill seems longer than the bill of the other species.† Here is another picture of the same bird:
Now, in that picture, there appear to be white spots at the end of the tail, which would indicate the other species.† So, Iím not certain.† What I am certain about is that there were two birds, they seemed to be responding to the recorded calls of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and that I clearly saw the undertail colors of one of the birds, and it was definitely a BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER.† No doubt about that.† It clearly had a black undertail with white outer feathers on it.† So, I had one of my target birds!† I also had a couple of pictures I like, even if Iím not 100% sure which species they show.† I think I was seeing both species, one of each, which seems strange, but that is what I think.
I didnít see anything else there at Cattle Call Park, so eventually I moved on to the ďCarter and FitesĒ site next to the New River, outside Brawley.† Before I could even get there, though, there were two birds on a wire, and I decided that they were Western Kingbirds.† They migrate south from here in the winter, and these must have been about the last of the ones still here.† Here is a picture of one of them.
I wandered around the ďCarter and FitesĒ area for half an hour or more, but never saw anything at all, except maybe a Mockingbird or two, and they are everywhere out here.† I guess I saw a White-crowned Sparrow, too, maybe.† So, I moved on from there, deciding to move on up to the Salton Sea, to look for my target gull up there.
My first stop was the sea wall near the intersection of Lindsey Road and Lack Road.† I hadnít been there before, and I found you could drive out on a dirt road along the sea wall that holds back the Salton Sea from overflowing into the adjacent land.† Before I even got out to the actual sea wall, though, there was a pond with birds on it.† Here is a picture of that pond:
You canít see them in that picture, but there were actually quite a few bird species on that pond.† There were two Black Skimmers, which is one of my favorite birds.† I got the best picture I have ever gotten of a Skimmer, which pleases me.
That bill is completely goofy, with the bottom part so much bigger than the upper part.† They fish by flying over the water with their bill open, and the lower part trailing in the water, attempting to scoop up a fish.† One of the skimmers was doing that when I got there, but I wasnít quick enough to get a picture of that, and then it landed.† I hadnít expected to see them out here, but I guess they are reasonably common here for most of the year.
Here is an American Avocet in winter plumage, which is less colorful than its breeding plumage.
Iíve seen Caspian Terns a lot, but I donít seem to have any pictures of them, so today I got one.† Here is an interesting picture where the bird had just skimmed the surface of the water, presumably in an attempt to catch a fish.† Obviously, he missed this time.
Moving on out to the sea wall, I saw lots of American White Pelicans.† I like this picture of a couple of them.
The light and the rocks make it a nice picture, I think.
There were Brown Pelicans, too.† I didnít know they lived out here.† I associate them with the ocean.† Here is a picture of both species of pelican.
I was scoping the gulls, looking for my target species, the one that can only be seen here, in the US.† Most of the gulls were Ring-billed Gulls, but I noticed a lot of some other species.† It was a little smaller than the Ring-billed Gulls, and it looked like one of the species of gull that has a black hood in breeding season.† Here is a distant picture of one Ė the gull in the middle of the picture.
Later I ran into a birder from Arizona and he told me that they were Laughing Gulls.† I had no idea that Laughing Gulls were here.† They are a Mexican species, and also are in the Eastern US.† They were the most common gull in Texas this spring, for example.† My field guide doesnít even show their range extending to here, but there is a note that they are fairly common at the Salton Sea, the only place in the Western USA that they can be seen.† A lesson learned.
Here is a picture from the sea wall that shows a mass of pelicans, gulls, and terns.† I donít know what that plant in the background is.† I didnít bother to try to figure it out.
I like pictures that show different species together, partly for size comparisons.† Here is a picture of American Avocets and Black Skimmers.
There are a couple of Black-necked Stilts in the background, too.
A Willet is a shorebird that is very plain, but they have very distinctive coloration on their wings, when they fly.† Here is a picture of a Willet landing, showing off its wing patterns.† I think it is interesting.
And here is a picture of an American Avocet and Black-necked Stilts.
When I got tired of taking pictures there, I moved along the sea wall to the north.† Here is a picture of the sea wall and a bunch of cormorants in a couple of dead trees.† Thatís the Salton Sea on the left.
By this time the temperature was in the 90ís, and it was pretty humid.† I was surprised how well I did in tolerating the heat, though, as usually heat takes all my energy away.† Today I did quite well, though, and even walked a little in the sun.
I was still looking for my target gull, and I caught up with a birder from Arizona who was also looking for the same gull.† I spotted a gull that I thought was a good candidate, and we looked at it through our scopes.† We couldnít decide what it was.† I thought it was our target gull, but he didnít think it was dark enough to be that one.† The trouble was, neither of us could think of any other alternative.† Here is a picture of that gull, from a pretty good distance.
A little farther along the shore, I got this picture of an Osprey that flew in.
After that, we were at the area called Obsidian Butte, and there are lots of dirt tracks all around the area.† I followed the guy from Arizona, as he had a sedan and I figured that anywhere he could go, I could go in my higher clearance SUV.† He led me places I would have never gone, but we made it through.† At one point I stopped and he went on, because I wanted to scope some gulls on the shore.† One of them was another candidate for my target gull, and I took some pictures, but the bird was pretty far away.† The Arizona guy had gone on ahead, and he called to me, so I drove up to where he was.† He pointed out a gull on a rock, and it was definitely my YELLOW-FOOTED GULL that I was looking for.† Here is a picture.† To me, it looks just like the picture of the mystery bird, but what do I know?† This bird was very cooperative, so I could get close and get great pictures of it.
It does have yellow feet, too, doesnít it?
After that, I moved on to the Visitor Center at the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).† I was ready for my humble lunch, and they had picnic tables in the shade.† Here is my lunch spot:
Before I ate, though, I walked out on a dike for a couple of hundred yards, but didnít see anything interesting.† Here is a picture of that walk:
I was surprised that I had enough energy to walk even that far in the heat, but it felt good, actually.† I would have gone farther if there had been any birds crazy enough to be out there in that heat.
After I ate my lunch, I moved on.† I saw a large group of birds in a field by the road, and they turned out to be a mixed flock of White-faced Ibis and Cattle Egrets.† Here is a picture of part of the group:
My Arizona buddy had suggested I stop at Finney Lake, so I found my way there with the help of my cell phone and Google Maps.† There wasnít really anything much there, but I did see a flycatcher, and I got some pictures.† Here is the only picture I have ever gotten of what I believe is a Pacific-slope Flycatcher.
As always I am ready to be corrected by a more knowledgeable birder than me.† Everything about this bird seems right for Pacific-slope Flycatcher, though, so Iím going with that, without any help from anyone.
It was definitely the middle of the day by then, but I went back to Cattle Call Park, mainly in the hopes of getting better pictures of Gila Woodpecker than I got yesterday when my camera had a big fingerprint on the lens.† Before I went into the park itself, I drove around the back side and found I could get a good view of the park from that side.† Here is a picture:
I drove down into the park and parked near the picnic area, where I had seen the woodpeckers yesterday.† I wandered around and there were some birds.† I chased a Wilsonís Warbler for a while, but never got a decent picture.† It just wouldnít stay in one place long enough.† I did manage to get my first pictures ever of Abertís Towhee, which was one of my targets that I saw yesterday.
Unfortunately, the bird turned away and so I didnít get a good picture of its head, but at least you can see the eye and the bill, sort of.
Eventually, I did see a Gila Woodpecker again.† Here is a picture of one on the ground.
Still not a great picture, but at least the lens wasnít smeary.† Here is a picture of one up high in a palm tree:
Again, not great, but it is an interesting angle.
There were doves around, of course.† There are lots of doves out here, at least five different species commonly.† Here is one that I saw today for the only time, an Inca Dove, a species I saw down in Texas this year.
It is just a little bigger than the Common Ground-Dove, but much smaller than the other species of doves here.† Here is a picture of an Inca Dove and a Common Ground-Dove together.
Can you see the differences?† The Inca Dove is the one in front, closer to the camera.
So, it was past three oíclock by then, so I came back here to my motel.† I had a cool shower and started in on sorting through all my pictures for today.† It was a large number, in case you didnít notice.
I got two more species today for my year list, which is great.† That means I have gotten five of the six targets that I thought I had a decent chance at.† I said I would be happy to get three of those, so getting five is great.† Tomorrow morning Iíll hit Cattle Call Park again early, and see if I can get the sixth one, which is Cactus Wren.† They are reported from there, as well as from the Carter and Fites site, but I like Cattle Call Park a lot more, so that is where I will try.
The two species today put me at 458 for the year, of which 111 are lifers.† I have now gotten 17 species on this trip, which exceeds the 13 or so that I expected.† I could see something tomorrow morning, in which case there would be a report tomorrow, or I could see something in Orange County while Iím there.† We will see.† In the meantime, it has been a very successful trip.
Saturday, September 29
Iím starting to write this on Sunday, and I donít know when Iíll finish it, but it is the report for Saturday.† I was up early again and was out at Cattle Call Park by 7:30.† Not dawn, but pretty early for me.
At the first place I stopped, I played the call of my main target bird of the day, and what do you know, one flew in and was calling back to me!† I even got pictures of a lovely little CACTUS WREN.† He was pretty shy, tending to hang out in the bushes, but here is on of him peeking out at me:
Eventually, it flew up higher in one of the bushes, and I got a side shot:
It was only 7:40, and I had my target bird for the day!
While I was there, I got this picture of a Northern Mockingbird:
Mockingbirds were probably the most common bird I saw out in the Imperial Valley, so I thought I ought to at least show a picture of one.
It was 7:40 AM, and I didnít really have any other year list birds to look for, so I decided to try for some pictures.† First I tried for the Gila Woodpeckers again, as I still wasnít satisfied with the pictures I had gotten.† I did see them again, three of them this time.† They stayed near the tops of tall palm trees, though, so I didnít get any close up pictures.† Here is the best I could do of two of them.
Next I went to an area up on a little hill, where I had seen some birds the other day.† On Friday, I had backed down the little hill and had felt my right side rear wheel slip into a hole.† The visibility out of the back of my rental car was terrible, and I just didnít pay enough attention to where I was going.† When I felt the wheel drop into the hole, which was at the edge of some bushes, I tried to go forward, but the wheel just spun.† Oh-oh.† I got that sinking ďcar problemĒ feeling in the pit of my stomach.† This was all on Friday, mind you.† I tried continuing backwards, and I was able to get out, but the car brushed through the bushes, and it sounded like it was getting scratched up.† Sure enough, there were a number of scratches, and I was figuring that I was going to end up paying the rental company for my lack of attention.† Back to Saturday, here is a picture of the hole.† You can see my tire tracks, and if you look closely, you can see an impression of the bottom of my car, where it bottomed out in the dirt.
The hole doesnít look like much there, but a sedan would have been stuck for sure, so I was glad I had my high clearance SUV.† The happy ending to the story came later, after I got to my buddy Chrisís house in Orange county, and we found that the scratches were actually only surface marks, and we were able to remove them by rubbing them off.† Whew.
At that same point, I saw another gnatcatcher.† I got a good look at it and it was another Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.† Here is a blurry picture of it:
And here is a picture of it from behind:
Both species of gnatcatcher present out there have the black feathers on the tops of their tails, and both have white outer edges to their tail feathers.† But, the Black-tailed has that characteristic white square at the tip of the tail, so this is definitely a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.† Okay, okay, more information about gnatcatchers than you ever wanted to read, but remember that this chronicle is as much for my own records as it is for other people, and I wanted to record what I saw.† Those are also the only pictures of Black-tailed Gnatcatcher than I have ever gotten.
A little later I saw another small bird and was able to determine that it was a Verdin, a species I have only seen a few times and that I had never gotten a picture of.† The bird flew up into a small tree, and when I looked up in the tree, I saw a nest there, where the bird had disappeared.† I took up a position in the car about 25 feet away and watched the nest.† The bird was coming to the nest regularly, like it was bringing food for young.† It seems really late in the season for that, but that seemed to be what was happening.† I did manage to get some pictures of the bird and the nest, although they arenít great.† The nest seemed to be one that had its opening on the bottom, as when the bird left the nest, it would come straight down out of the bottom of the nest.† Here are some pictures of the Verdin near its nest:
I call that one ďPeek-a-boo VerdinĒ.
That one shows the bird and the nest.
So, that was all pretty exciting, and by that time it was after 9, so headed back to my motel, had a shower, packed up, and checked out by about 10:30.
I had a four hour drive to Orange county, where Iím now having a reunion with two of my old time buddies, Chris and Fred.† (Oh, and Fredís dog, Tugboat, a Golden Retriever)† I did make one stop on the way, at the San Joachin Audubon preserve in Newport Beach, to look for a couple of birds that are reported from there.†† I didnít see either one of them, and I spent an hour walking in the sun, mostly, and getting overheated.† I did finally see some birds at the end of my time there, but nothing of much interest.
Oh yes, I did make another short stop in the desert to take pictures of an interesting plant, the Ocotillo.† Here is a picture of a number of them.† They are the strange plants with the long stems.
There are leaves on those stems, along with sharp spikes.† You can see the leaves and the spikes in this closeup.
So, that was the story of Saturday, September 29.† I got the one species, Cactus Wren, which put me at 459 for the year, of which 111 have been lifers.
Addendum report for Sunday, September 30 :
One of the birds I still needed to find on this trip is the hummingbird I have mentioned before several times.† There were hummingbirds coming to Chrisís back yard, so I was keeping my eyes on them.† Most were the more common Annaís Hummingbird, but this morning I saw a lovely male ALLENíS HUMMINGBIRD, one more species for my year list.† I had a good close look at him with binoculars, but I didnít have my camera handy.
So, now Iím at 460 for the year, of which 111 are lifers.† That should definitely do it for this trip.† I ended up getting 19 species for my year list on the trip, when I had only expected about 13.† Most of that increase is thanks to my sea watching buddy, Stan, but I had a lucky time out at the Salton Sea, too.† I plan to head for Hawaii in about 3 or 4 weeks, and I hope to get 30 or 35 more for my year list on that trip.† Stay tuned for reports.