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Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Yesterday I had read that a particular loon species that I needed for the year had been seen at a spot about 25 minutes north of here.† The place is a Shohomish county park called Picnic Point Park, and it is at Picnic Point, of all things.† I had never been there, so it seemed like a good place to go today.
February was very rainy, even for the Pacific Northwest, and March is starting out the same.† The weather forecast said the rain would stop by 1:30 PM, so I did other things this morning and headed north after lunch.
It was still drizzling when I left home about 2 oíclock, but I wanted to check this park out, even if it was raining.† I found my way there, and it was just barely drizzling when I got there.† You park across the railroad tracks from the beach itself, and there is a pedestrian walkway over the tracks.† I went up and over the overpass with just my binoculars, which are waterproof, and took a look.† You get a good view from the water side of the walkway, so I went back to the car and got my scope, which is also waterproof.
I scanned around and saw some Goldeneyes, both Barrowís and Common, but not much else.† There were some Brant far out, and some gulls and crows on the beach.† Puget Sound was flat, which was good, but there just werenít many birds around.† Finally I saw some loons pretty far out.† I studied them through the scope, but they were very distant.† The three loon species we get here look similar in the winter, and I was trying to distinguish which species these three loons were.† I was still undecided when I saw a minor feeding frenzy by some gulls, closer in.† It always pays to look at feeding frenzies, because birds fly in to participate.† Sure enough, there were several loons joining in.† I was thinking that a couple of them were the species I was looking for, and then I saw a couple of loons together, and that cinched it.† By seeing them next to each other, I could easily see that one was a Pacific Loon, which I have seen several times this year, and one was definitely a RED-THROATED LOON, the one I had gone up there to see.† The Red-throated Loon had a thinner neck, the white went higher up on its face, and I could see the pattern on its back.† It also held its bill up at an angle, like that species does.† I hadnít even brought my camera from the car, but they were too far away for pictures anyway.† I had my year-bird, though.
That brings me to 190 species for the year to date.† Of course, I took the Red-throated Loon as my Bird-A-Day bird for today.
Catching up on my BAD birds, last Tuesday, February 25, I had gone up to the Edmonds pier.† I saw a couple of birds very far out, and studied them for a long time.† I was thinking they were Marbled Murrelets, which would have been a year-bird, but when I looked in my field guide I realized they were probably Rhinoceros Auklets, a species I had already used for a BAD bird earlier.† I saw one of them flying, and it had a white belly, which ruled out Marbled Murrelet.† †I ended up taking Western Gull that day.
I got this picture of a male Red-breasted Merganser that day, at Edmonds.
Here is a female Barrowís Goldeneye.
Here is another picture of a male Red-breasted Merganser, just as it came up from a dive.
On the way home that day, I stopped at Wallace Swamp Creek Park to look for the dipper still again, but again didnít see it.† I must have gone there at least 15 times so far, looking for it.† I got this picture of a male Spotted Towhee, though.† It makes him look shorter and fatter than normal because he facing away from me and looking back over his shoulder.
Back home I got this picture of a male Varied Thrush under our feeder.
So, that was Tuesday last week.† On Wednesday the 26th, I headed up to Crescent Lake WMA again.† I saw several species that would have made good BAD birds, including Northern Pintail, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and Brown Creeper, but I took Cackling Goose.† I have been looking several places for Cackling Goose in the last few weeks, and it was nice to finally catch up with them.† They were in the midst of a larger group of their larger cousins, Canada Geese.† Here is a picture that shows the size difference.
The two closer geese are Canada Geese, and the two smaller ones behind them are the Cacklers.† Note that the bill of the Cackling Goose is shorter than the Canada Goose bill, too.
Here is a picture of a pair of Northern Pintails.
You can probably guess which one is the male.† Iíve seen Northern Pintail every time Iíve been up to Crescent Lake (5 times so far).† Eventually, Iíll take them as my BAD bird for some day, but so far I keep seeing better candidates, so Iím saving the pintail for later.† It is a place I can go when it is raining, which is handy.† I think I have seen all five BAD birds I have gotten up there from the car.
Here is Crescent Lake itself.
It wasnít raining that day, and I walked around a bit.† Here is a picture of a Bewickís Wren.
There are always dozens of swans around in the fields up there, and the vast majority are Trumpeter Swans.† I had seen a couple of Tundra Swans back on February 23rd, and I had taken that as my BAD bird that day.† I saw a couple more on the 26th.† Here is a Tundra Swan that has the yellow dash on its bill in front of its eye, which is typical of them, but they donít always have it.
Here is a Trumpeter Swan for comparison.
I went over the differences back on February 23rd, so I wonít repeat the lesson.† You can consult your notes.† I didnít mention before that one of the best ways to tell them apart is the shape of the forehead where the feathers meet the top of the bill.† In the Trumpet Swan, the forehead is V shaped, like this.
In the Tundra Swan, the forehead is U shaped, like this.
So, that was Wednesday last week.† On Thursday I again went up to Crescent Lake to see what I could find.† I again saw Northern Pintails and Eurasian Collared-Doves, but I stopped on my way home just south of there, and I saw a raptor flying over the fields in the distance.† I looked at it through the scope, and it was a Northern Harrier, a bird I donít see here in Western Washington very often, so that was my BAD bird for that day.† No pictures from Thursday.
On Friday I went back to Edmonds, because I had read that someone saw a couple of Bonaparteís Gulls there.† That is one I still need for my year list, so I jumped right on it.† There were a lot of Mew Gulls around (Iím saving that one for when it is needed, as I see them every time I go there), but no sign of any Bonaparteís.† They are normally fairly easy to see at Edmonds in the winter, but this winter they have been absent so far, until this one report last week.† Iíll keep trying.
While I was leaving the pier I head a familiar call, though.† I turned back and saw a nice Belted Kingfisher, which was my BAD bird for that day.† Here is a picture of a female Belted Kingfisher.
She was very cooperative in posing for me.† A male wouldnít have that brown color on it, but otherwise it looks the same.
North of the ferry terminal, there was a large group of Brant, a small goose that I had taken for my BAD bird way back on February 9.† These were nice close views, though, so I took some pictures.
Here is what they look like when they are swimming.
I donít know why the trailing two in that last picture have white fringes to the feathers on their backs.† Maybe they are young ones, or maybe there is some other explanation.
Finally, from that day, here is a picture of a pair of Barrowís Goldeneyes.
I thought they looked nice with the sun shining on them.
Moving into March, on Saturday the 1st, I saw the White-throated Sparrow in our yard again.† Iíve seen it on 4 or 5 different days now, including today.† I headed up north to the fields outside of the town of Snohomish, in search of a goose that has been seen there the last few weeks.† The spot I was headed for happened to be the place where the Gyrfalcon I had seen a couple of weeks ago was now hanging out.† It is across the valley from where I had seen it.† When I got there, there were half a dozen birders already there, with their scopes trained on the gyr in a tree in the middle distance.† It was a pretty unsatisfactory view of the bird, in my opinion, and I had already seen it up close, so my interest was in the geese in the field behind it.† Sure enough, it was a flock of Snow Geese, as I had hoped for, so that was my BAD bird for Saturday.
Ironically, when I got home, I saw a female Downy Woodpecker at our suet feeder.† A little later there was a male Downy Woodpecker there.† That was the first time I had seen them in our yard this year, and I would be happy to have Downy Woodpecker for a BAD bird, but I had driven for a half hour to see the Snow Geese, so I took them.† Iím hoping that the woodpeckers will come back to our yard in the coming weeks.† Here is a picture of the female Downy Woodpecker.
It is quite a small woodpecker, only about the size of a sparrow or House Finch.† Here is the male, with his red patch on the back of his head.
On Sunday, Christina was flying to Southern California, and I had to take her to the airport about noon.† I had read a report of a couple of American Dippers on the Cedar River, which is down toward the airport, so I thought I would stop on the way home to go for them.† In the meantime, though, I went over to Log Boom Park to get an insurance bird, in case I missed the dippers.
As it turned out, I did miss the dippers.† It was raining when I was there, but I stood around in the rain, under a golf umbrella, watching the river where they had been seen.† I gave it up after about 45 minutes, though, and for my BAD bird, I ended up taking Common Goldeneye, which I had seen at Log Boom Park in the morning.
Yesterday, Monday the 3rd of March, it was raining again, so I headed up to Crescent Lake, intending to take either the Northern Pintail or the Eurasian Collared-Dove for my BAD bird, but I got lucky and saw a small group of Greater White-fronted Geese at the edge of a larger group of Canada Geese, so I took that one.† It is great to have a place to go birding from the car in the rain, and I have done well there on my five trips up there.
So, that brings things up to date.† As I said above, Iím now at 190 species for the year, after seeing the Red-throated Loon today at Picnic Point.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Weíve had a lot of rain in the last few days, and it has been warm rain, which has caused a lot of snow melt in the mountains.† As a result, the rivers are up, and I decided to go out this morning to Crescent Lake, which is in the Snoqualmie River Valley between Duvall and Monroe.† I had read online that the river was near flood level, up seven feet from last week, and I wanted to see what it looked like out there.
There was a lot of standing water everywhere in the valley.† The small ponds and lakes were bigger and lots of fields were now lakes.† The river was impressive, almost up to the tops of its banks.† There were lots of ducks along the way, and I stopped at one point and was able to spot a male Northern Shoveler (thatís a duck), which is a bird I have been looking for the last couple of weeks.† So, I had a good BAD bird candidate even before I got to my destination.
In the fields near Crescent Lake there was a whole flock of Cackling Geese, which is only the second time Iíve seen them up there, and the third time Iíve seen the species this year.† I saw the usual Eurasian Collared-Doves at the old Monroe Prison Farm, but there werenít any Northern Pintails (another duck) around, as there have been every other time I have been up there.† I later saw a couple in another place, though.
I decided to swing on over to the road down the east side of the valley and went down to the little town of Duvall and turned west toward home.† I detoured up the west side of the Snoqualmie River, though, as I had read that someone had seen a kestrel up there a week or two ago, and I wanted to check out the habitat up that road.† The road runs right along the river, and it was interesting to see how high the river was, maybe only 3 or 4 feet lower than the road, if that much.† I went to the end of the dead end road and came back.† The rain had let up by then, and I spotted a bird on a post that looked a little different, so I took a look.
It was indeed different than the usual suspects, and I couldnít even identify it at first.† It was a poor view, with the sky behind it.† Here are a couple of my pictures when it was on the pole I first saw it on.
At one point, it flew down into a field and came back with a caterpillar or grub or something.
By that time I had worked out that it was a bluebird, which is something I hadnít expected to see at all on this side of the Cascade Mountains.† I wasnít sure which of two species of bluebird it was, even after I got better looks at it on fence posts down lower, in better light.
It wasnít until I got home and looked at my pictures and consulted all three of my field guides that I decided it was a female MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD, a new species for my year list.† From what I can tell, they are quite uncommon here on the western side of the Cascades.† I reported the sighting on the local birding mailing list, Tweeters, with a link to my pictures, and I asked for confirmation or contradiction on my identification.† So far I havenít heard from anyone, but if it turns out that my identification is wrong, Iíll send out a correction notice addendum to this report.
Since the bluebird was such a good sighting, Iíll have to save Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and Northern Pintail for other days, and Mountain Bluebird is my BAD bird for today.
Yesterday I had gone down to Juanita Bay Park and played the call of Brown Creeper on my phone, and one flew right in.† Then I walked down to the boardwalks and played Virginia Rail.† I heard responses from the east boardwalk, and I not only heard responses, I saw one from the west boardwalk.† Either one would make a decent BAD bird, and I was still considering which one to use when I saw a Hairy Woodpecker in our yard, at about 5 PM.† The woodpecker had to be my BAD bird for yesterday, March 5, as I figure I can call up the creeper and the rail at other times.† Both the creeper and rail seem to be very responsive to calls, and they both are year round residents in the park.† It was only the second Hairy Woodpecker I have seen this year, so it was a nice surprise.
So, with the addition of Mountain Bluebird today, my year list now stands at 191 species.† On Tuesday next week Iím supposed to fly down to San Diego for a two week trip, and that should produce a number of new year-birds (and therefore reports).
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Iím in San Diego now, or at least in San Diego county, north of the city.† Iím visiting my sister, Kathy, who lives in Rancho Santa Fe.† I flew down today and had a good flight.† I had booked a rental car through Costco with Avis, a ďfull sizeĒ car, for $370 for the two weeks Iíll be here.† I had originally booked an intermediate SUV with Budget, for $540, but when Avis lowered their prices last week, I switched.† Iíd prefer an SUV, but for $170 I decided I could do without it.† I had signed up for an Avis Wizard number, which meant they dropped me off at a special check in counter, ahead of the ďregularĒ reservations.† When I checked in, I asked how much more it would cost to upgrade to an SUV.† Much to my surprise, the woman behind the counter said that would be no problem, and no additional charge.† So, I ended up getting a very nice Ford Explorer for my rate of $370.† If I had booked that car ahead of time with Avis, it would have been $650 or so.† Amazing.† The car is red, which isnít ideal in sunny Southern California (because of the heat build-up when it sits in the sun), but the a/c seems to work great, so Iím sure Iíll be very happy with the car.† I like to sit up high, for visibility, and it is much easier for me to get in and out of an SUV than a regular sedan.
OK, that had nothing to do with birds, but I like the story, so I told it.† I needed to find a BAD bird for the day, and I wanted it to be something I wonít see around home.† I detoured to the San Dieguito River, near the Del Mar Fairgrounds, and soon saw both a Great Egret and a shorebird called a Willet.† Iím taking the Willet for my BAD bird for today.† I certainly wonít see one anywhere near home, so it was just what I was looking for.
At my sisterís house, I got unpacked and settled in, and sat down in the living room, looking out at the back yard.† Kathy has a couple of feeders and she gets lots of birds in her hard.† There is also a nice fountain, which provides a nice sound effect and also attracts the birds.† Here is a picture of the back yard from the sliding glass door where I was taking pictures from.
There were lots of birds coming in.† Here is a female Western Bluebird that came to the fountain for water.
Later the male Western Bluebird flew in.
Here is another picture of him, showing his red breast.
There was a continuous stream of goldfinches to the Niger Thistle feeder, with both Lesser Goldfinch and American Goldfinch represented.
There are 7 goldfinches on the feeder in that picture, but at one point, I counted a dozen of them.† Here is a male Lesser Goldfinch at the fountain.
There were at least two male Annaís Hummingbirds coming in to the hummingbird feeder, and one female eventually.† Here is one of the males.
There were tons of Red-winged Blackbirds on the finch feeder, and the House Finches had to wait for them to go before they could feed.† From time to time the blackbirds would leave, and the House Finches would move in immediately.† There was one male Brown-headed Cowbird as well, but none of my pictures of him came out.
Then a new one flew in.† It was my year bird for today, thus triggering this report.† I had hoped to see this species here, and here is a picture of a NUTMEG MANNIKIN, known popularly as a Spice Finch.† They are Asian birds that are popular in the cage trade, and escapees have formed sustaining populations around the San Diego area.
The mannikin is the bird in the foreground.† The one behind is a male House Finch.† This is a young mannikin.† The spots on its breast are the beginning of the adult pattern, which would cover the entire breast and belly.
So, with that addition to my year list, Iím now at 192 species for the year.† In the morning I plan to head over to the San Elijo Lagoon, where a lifer sparrow has been seen recently.† It is only about 15 minutes from here, so I plan to go over every morning until I see it.† There are other good year birds there, too, so I hope to have another report tomorrow, one way or another.
To catch up with my BAD birds, on Friday, March 7, I went up north to the park at the Mukilteo ferry dock and picked up Brandtís Cormorant for my BAD bird for that day.† They are kind of hard for me to identify in their winter plumage, but one of the birds at Mukilteo had developed the bright blue color under its bill that they get in the breeding season, so that made it easy to identify.
On Saturday, March 8, I went up to Lake Crescent again and managed to see one pair of Northern Shovelers (ducks) that I took for my BAD bird for that day.† I stopped by the place where I had seen the bluebird on Thursday, but it seemed to have moved on.† Three people reported seeing it on Friday, but as far as I know, no one had seen it after that.† It was probably migrating north for the breeding season, on the wrong side of the Cascade Mountains.
On Sunday, March 9, I again went up to Lake Crescent and again didnít see the bluebird.† I did find a couple of pairs of Northern Pintails (ducks), though, so I took them for my BAD bird for that day.† I had been seeing lots of them up there on every visit, but suddenly they were almost absent.† They are just about due to head north to breed, so maybe they have mostly moved on now.† Later, in my yard, I saw a Downy Woodpecker, but I decided to use the pintail as my BAD bird and save the woodpecker for later.† That same day there was a male Pileated Woodpecker in the yard, too, but I had already used that one earlier in the year as a BAD bird.† I got a picture, though.
On Monday I was very busy getting ready for my trip, but I made enough progress on that in the morning that I went up to Edmonds in the afternoon, and I picked up Red-breasted Merganser for my BAD bird for that day.† That is another one that I have seen most times I have gone up to the Edmonds pier, but less so lately.† They are also fixing to head north soon, I think.† Iím trying to get the winter birds now, before they head to their breeding grounds up north.† I have a list of those to go for when I get back home.
So, that brings me up to date.† I have hopes of adding another 25 birds to my year list while I am here in Southern California, in the next two weeks.† We will see.† Stay tuned for reports.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Today I had a lot of tax stuff to do with my sister, but she had a morning meeting, and I needed to do some birding, so I went out about 9 AM to San Elijo Lagoon to look for the rare sparrows that have been seen there for the last few weeks.
I found the place where they have been seen, but I never saw them.† There were some little sparrows feeding on the ground in the right place, and I got my hopes up, but they turned out to be the Beldingís subspecies of Savannah Sparrow.† Here are a couple of pictures.
On my way back to the car, I saw several Sayís Phoebes, and here is a picture of one of them.
A few minutes later I saw a Kingbird, and I was able to tell that it was a CASSINíS KINGBIRD, a new one for my year list.† They are common in this area, and I knew I would get them eventually, but now that species is on my year list.† The trick was to distinguish it from Western Kingbird, which migrates and is just arriving back here.† This bird today had white tips to its tail, though, and the tail was dark underneath.† It also had a white chin that contrasted with the gray head and breast.† Cassinís Kingbird, for sure.† The bird was too far away for a decent picture worth showing.† I expect Iíll get pictures later in the trip, though.
Back at my sisterís house, there were the usual birds at the feeders in the back yard.† There have been Mourning Doves all the time, but today there was one Eurasian Collared-Dove, too.† Here is the Collared-Dove.
Here is a Mourning Dove for comparison.
The Collared-Dove has that black mark on the back of the neck, and the Mourning Dove has spots on its back.† There are some other differences as well.
I thought I was through with new birds for the day, but suddenly there was a hummingbird at the water fountain, taking a bath.† I got two pictures.
It was a male, and it was one of two very similar species.† I decided it was a RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD, rather than an Allenís Hummingbird, although the evidence is confusing.
A Rufous Hummingbird is supposed to have only some green highlights on the top of its head, and this one seems pretty green on the crown to me.† On the other hand, the Allenís should have more green on the back.† I went back and forth on it, but I decided to call it a Rufous Hummingbird.† I would rather have seen an Allenís Hummingbird, because I can see Rufous up in Washington, and Allenís can only be seen along the California coast, but I still have a lot of days to see an Allenís here.
So, that was my birding for today.† I added two more species to my year list, to bring me to a total of 194 species.† For my BAD bird for the day, I will take American Avocet, which I saw over at San Elijo Lagoon.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
I had a lot of work to do on my sisterís taxes today, but I still headed over to San Elijo Lagoon at about 9 AM.† When I got there, there werenít any parking places, which made me wonder if a group was there.† As it turned out, there was a group.† An Oceanside birder has a bird walk once or twice a month, and today he had people meet him at the trailhead at Rios Ave.† As I started down the trail, I saw a group of about a dozen birders where the lifer sparrows I want to see have been seen.† I walked down there and asked the first guy I met if they had seen the sparrows.† No, and he was able to tell me that as far as he knew, they hadnít been seen for about a week.† I guess they have moved on.† Too bad.
While I was talking to the guy, though, a flight of about 6 or 7 BROWN PELICANS flew along the beach, within our view.† I had missed that species up in Monterey in January, so it went on my year list today.
I soon gave up on the sparrows, but I decided to look for a couple of gnatcatchers I have seen there before.† I walked the trails for about 45 minutes, but never got a sniff of a gnatcatcher or anything else of interest.† I have seen House Wren there, too, but not today.
Wait, I did see something of possible interest.† I saw several hummingbirds, and I think one was the one I still need for my year list.† Here is a possible ALLENíS HUMMINGBIRD.† I think it was an Allenís because of the green on its back, but my field guide says that 1 to 2 percent of Rufous Hummingbirds have some green on their backs.† I probably would have counted this particular bird, but later I saw one much closer in my sisterís yard, and I am much surer that it was an Allenís due to the extensive green on its back, so Allenís Hummingbird goes on my year list today.
Here is the one at the San Elijo Lagoon this morning.
Here is one from my sisterís yard, taking a bath in the fountain.
From that picture, it is hard to see how much green there is on the back, but this next picture is the same bird in a tree.
There is lots of green there, so Iím going with Allenís Hummingbird for my year list today.† I canít believe that both of those birds were part of the 1 to 2 percent of male Rufous Hummingbirds that have green on their backs.
So, back at Kathyís house, we worked on her taxes for the rest of the day.† I did keep an eye out for birds in the yard, though, and got some pictures from time to time.† The Western Bluebirds came around a few times, and I got this picture of the female in a tree, in a nice setting, I think
Here she is on top of the fountain, which really attracts the birds.
Here is a picture of a female Lesser Goldfinch on the top of the fountain.
The Nutmeg Mannikins come around from time to time, and I got this picture I like of one in adult plumage.
At one point, they were dominating the feeder.† Here is a picture of six of them around the feeder.
So, that is my story for today.† I added two more species to my year list, to bring me to 196 for the year.† For my BAD bird for the day, I am taking the Brown Pelican.
Tomorrow Kathy and I have an appointment with her accountant about her taxes, and I hope that the work we have done is enough.† In the afternoon, my sister, Betsy is flying into town, and my brother, Rick, and his wife are driving down from El Segundo.† It will be fun to have all four siblings here for a couple of dinners and a day.† I would guess that some alcohol will be consumed, and there will be much loud talking.† Iím very much looking forward to it.† I need to get a BAD bird each day, but that should be easy, and I wonít worry about year birds.
Friday, March 14, 2014
This morning we took care of my sisterís tax issues in an appointment with her accountant.† Now that part of the trip is over.† For the next day and a half, it will be family stuff, since all four of us Brugman siblings are going to be here.
I did get out for a couple of hours this afternoon, though, and I went back to San Elijo Lagoon.† I went down to where the Nelsonís Sparrows had been seen, but saw nothing.† They had been seen all through January and February, but the last time they were reported was March 3, so they must have moved on.† That species breeds up in Canada, so maybe they have started their annual journey back to their breeding grounds.
As I got back up to the street where I had parked, I saw a bird on the ground, and it turned out to be a CALIFORNIA THRASHER, one for my year list.† Here is a picture.
I knew that they lived there, but I hadnít really expected to see one, so it was a nice surprise.† Iíve birded there a number of times over the years, and I hadnít ever seen one there before.
I walked on down the trail to the east, looking for two or three little birds that live there, but didnít see any of them.† It was a lovely day and I enjoyed the walk in the sun.† I stopped to sit on benches a few times, but I couldnít find any of my target birds.† I did see some birds flying overhead, though, and I was surprised to see that they were WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS, another one I hadnít expected to see today.† So, I had two for my year list, much to my surprise.
Toward the end of my walk, I saw a Red-tailed Hawk sitting up on the hill, on an owl box.
Finally, as I trudged up the hill back to the car, I saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitting around in a tree.† They are really hard to get a picture of, because they never sit still, but I managed to get one picture this time.
So, that was it for the day, for birding.† I had a nice outing and enjoyed the sunshine.† My two year birds today bring me to a total of 198 species for the year.† For my BAD bird today, Iím taking the California Thrasher.
Saturday, March 15, 2014
Today was Birding With Barry day for the Brugman siblings and Rickís wife, Cindy.† We had a nice brekkie here at Kathyís house, made our own lunches, and the five of us piled into my rental SUV and headed down to Mission Bay.
Our first stop was the road along the San Diego River across from Sea World.† We stopped and looked at birds several times.† It is nice to be able to set up my scope and let people look at the different birds.† At about our third or fourth stop, I spotted a LITTLE BLUE HERON, my first species for my year list today.† Here is a picture of it with its neck extended.
Usually they have their neck pulled in, like this:
We also got good looks at a flock of American Avocets which were just coming into their breeding plumage.† As we were driving away from that road, there was a lovely OSPREY flying around fishing, and some of us got good looks at it.† In addition, there was a Red-tailed Hawk flying around and also a Peregrine Falcon that flew right overhead at one point.
Next we made our way across the river to the Famosa Slough.† I had never birded there before, but I knew where it was.† We walked around there and saw some birds.† We got good looks at Black-necked Stilts and some ducks.† We also saw a Common Yellowthroat, a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and an Orange-crowned Warbler.
It was getting to be time for lunch, so we made our way through the Saturday morning traffic to Robb Field, which is along the San Diego River near its mouth.† The tide was going out, so we ate our lunch and then the tide was better for birds.† We got good scope views of Marbled Godwits, Long-billed Curlews, Brant (goose), and some terns.
I was able to add both CASPIAN TERN and ROYAL TERN to my year list.† They were all too far away for pictures, though.
We were ready to head for home by then, but we stopped at Crown Point on the west side of Mission Bay, hoping to see another tern I needed.† Sure enough, we saw a flock of BLACK SKIMMERS sitting on the beach.† Here is a picture of that flock.
Here is a picture of a part of Mission Bay on a lovely Saturday in March.
We stopped once more at the end of Crown Point Park and I saw another flock of skimmers.
Here is a close-up of some Black Skimmers.
Note how large their lower bills are.† Black Skimmers feed by flying right along the surface of the water with that lower bill skimming along the water, attempting to scoop up fish.† Iíve only seen them do that once, and it was the first time I saw the species, on the Salinas River many years ago.† Iíve always felt a special affinity for Black Skimmer, since that first time, when it was a complete surprise.
So, that was it for the birding today.† I added five species to my year list, bringing me to a total of 203 species for the year.† I guess Iíll take the Black Skimmer for my BAD bird for today.† The Little Blue Heron would have been fine, too, but I like the skimmer, so Iím going with that one today.
Tomorrow I head east to El Cajon to visit an old friend there for one night, so I will need to pick up a BAD bird somewhere.
Monday, March 17, 2014
Yesterday I didnít do any actual birding, for the first time this year.† Before I left my sisterís house in the morning, though, I did hear and see a Northern Mockingbird, so that was my BAD bird for the day (Sunday, March 16, 2014).† I spent the rest of the day visiting my friend, John, who lives near El Cajon.
This morning I was away from El Cajon by about 9:15, I think.† My first stop was at Kitchen Creek Road, which is in the mountains east of San Diego.† I was a couple of weeks too early in the year for a couple of special species I have seen there before, but I thought it would be fun to see if could see anything new for my year list there.† I stopped at the place where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the road and I walked a little way down the trail.† It was windy, though, and there wasnít anything around, so I moved on.† My next stop was at a creek crossing (Kitchen Creek?† Maybe.) where I had seen some birds last year.† There were indeed birds around, and I saw 6 or 7 species there.† One of them was a YELLOW WARBLER, my first of the year.† I also saw my first CLIFF SWALLOWS of the year there.
I moved on to the campground at the head of the canyon and I walked around a bit, but I didnít see anything interesting there.
I continued on to the Imperial Valley and had lunch at a Mickey Dís in El Centro.† Between El Centro and Brawley, I saw a couple of CATTLE EGRETS fly over.† I knew I would get that one here, and I did so today.†
I was able to check into my motel in Brawley when I got there at about 1:15, and I put my food in the fridge.
It had heated up to the low 90ís by then, but I headed over to Cattle Call Park, where I have seen several good species in the past.† On the way, I stopped at a house that has a couple of hummingbird feeders in the front yard.† I had read reports of Costaís Hummingbird being seen there, and I would love to see that one.
I sat in my car with the engine running and the a/c on, and watched the hummers coming into the two feeders.† Some of them were obviously the common species, Annaís Hummingbird, but one female seemed to be something else.† I took some pictures, and even after studying my pictures, I donít know what species it was.† Female Hummingbirds look pretty similar across species, but you can look at things like bill length, wing length, and some subtle marking things.† Here are a couple of pictures of a female hummingbird that I am going to call Unknown at this point.
The bill is too long for Annaís Hummingbird, which has a bill shorter than the length of its head.† The other two possibilities here are Black-chinned and Costaís, with Costaís more common here.† There are various things I looked at, but the evidence seems inconclusive to me, so I am leaving it as an unknown, and Iím not counting it as anything today.† If I had to guess, I would say Black-chinned, but Iím not going to guess.† Iíll go back there tomorrow and watch some more.† Male hummers are much easier to identify than females.
So, I moved on to Cattle Call Park.† I parked my car and got out in the heat and walked around the area where I had seen several species before.† My first new one today was ABERTíS TOWHEE.† I called that one Albertís Towhee (with an ell) for a long time before I realized it was Abertís, not Albertís.† I wonít see that one anywhere else I am going this year, so that was a ďgoodieĒ.† Here is my only decent picture of the Abertís Towhee.
The bird is kind of stretched out there.† Normally they are much more compact than that, and you usually see them on the ground, not in a tree.
Before I left there, I heard another one that I have seen there before.† The call itself was enough to count the bird, as it is very distinctive, and even I can recognize it, but I kept looking and eventually saw a couple of GILA WOODPECKERS.† Here is a picture of one of them.
I moved on around the park and I saw a couple of COMMON GROUND-DOVES on a fence.† Here is a pretty poor picture of one of them.
I had a little time left, so I decided to head out east of Brawley to the Alamo River Wetlands Project, which I had never visited before.† It is fairly new, and it seems to be a series of ponds with vegetation to support birds.† It is at the end of a dirt road, but I had no problem with that, in my big boy Ford Explorer, which seems to be 4 wheel drive if I need it.† I was looking for a particular species of cormorant there, and I soon found a number of NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS.† I donít think I have seen those in California before; I saw them in Arizona and Texas, but this was my first California sighting, I think.† Here is one swimming.
Here is a picture of a perched one that shows the white feathers at the base of the bill that are part of its breeding plumage.
So, that was a successful little side trip and I wonít have to go back there again.† As a bonus, on my way out, I saw two male YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS, another one I hadnít really expected to see here in the Imperial Valley, although I do expect to see them at Malheur in Central Oregon in May.
So, at that point, I headed for home, stopping at the supermarket next door to pick up dinner and some other supplies.† I have a little fridge and a microwave, so I am good for my meals while Iím here, with the store next door so handy.
It was mostly a travel day today, but I still added 8 species to my year list.† I doubt I will get that many on any other single day on this trip, and it brings me to a total of 211 species for the year.
For my BAD bird for the day, I guess Iíll take Gila Woodpecker.† I wonít see them anywhere else I am going this year, so I might as well take it today.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
I was up by 7 this morning, but it took me a couple of hours to get out of here.† One thing I had to take care of was to call my insurance agent.† Yesterday a rock flew up from a truck and put a ding in my windshield, right in front of the driverís eyes.† It is small, but I imagine that the rental company is going to want me to pay to fix it, whatever that entails.† So, I called my insurance agent, and it sounds like I should be okay, with maybe a $100 deductible at the worst, but it is going to depend on how Avis handles it.† We shall see.
So, when I finally got out of here after 9, I stopped at the hummingbird feeder place, which is just a few blocks away.† Yesterday I was unable to decide on the species of the female hummingbird I showed, so I wanted to try to see a male.† Sure enough, I did get a pretty good look at a male COSTAíS HUMMINGBIRD.† Here is a picture of him.
Here is another one, for good measure.
In the second one, you can just barely see a little of the purple color that marks this species.
So, with that one under my belt, I headed north and west to the southeastern edge of the Salton Sea.† There are unpaved roads right along the edge, up on a dike that isntí really needed, unless the sea rises a whole lot someday.† Here is a picture of one part of the shore, from up on the dike.
I got my second year-bird there, a couple of GREATER ROADRUNNERS.† Here is a picture of one of them.
I was hoping to see a roadrunner here, but it was far from certain.
Moving along the dike/road, I saw this Black-bellied Plover.† Not a new one for the year, but it is interesting that it was starting to develop its breeding plumage, which will give it a black breast and belly.† Soon it will fly to Northern Canada or Alaska to breed.
Along that stretch of the sea, there are a lot of cormorants in dead trees.† Most of them are the common one, Double-crested Cormorant.† But I spotted two Neotropic Cormorants, a species I had added to my year list yesterday.† Here is a picture of one of them
Here is a picture of a more common Double-crested Cormorant.
There are several differences, but the easiest one for me, if I can see them well enough, is that the Double-crested has some orange on top of the bill, in front of the eye, and the Neotropic doesnít.† The Double-crested is also larger, which you can see in this next picture, with the Double-crested on the left.
This particular Neotropic Cormorant is lighter colored, but that is because it is a young one.† A mature one would be as black as the Double-crested one.
There were numbers of Great Blue Herons along the edge of the sea, including some on nests.† This one was just begging for a picture, sitting out in the sun and posing.
A little farther along, there were a lot of Eared Grebes and Ruddy Ducks.† There is an outflow of fresh water there, and I guess that attracts them.† I suppose there is food in the outflow.† None of my pictures of Eared Grebes came out worth showing, but here is a male Ruddy Duck, in his breeding plumage.
He will get a little redder and his bill will get a little bluer, as he reaches his full breeding plumage.
Still a little farther along, there were a bunch of Caspian Terns loafing on the shore.† Here is a picture.
There were a bunch of Brown Pelicans there, too.† Here is one of them.
I think of pelicans as ocean birds, but there are plenty of them here at the Salton Sea, 150 miles from the ocean.† There were also hundreds of American White Pelicans here today.† Here is one of them.† They develop growths on their bills during breeding season.† I have no idea what the function of the growths is.
Here is a picture of both pelican species, which shows how much larger the white ones are.
There were Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets feeding in the shallows.† Here is a Black-necked Stilt.
I was seeing a lot of different birds, and good numbers of them as well, so it was fun.† Next I picked up LESSER YELLOWLEGS for my year list.† Here is a picture of that guy.
There are two yellowlegs species, and the Lesser is smaller than the Greater.† It is hard to tell size when there arenít other birds around to compare them to, but the bill is relatively shorter in the Lesser, too.† I didnít have much trouble identifying this one as a Lesser Yellowlegs, but then as I was leaving, a Greater Yellowlegs flew in to provide a comparison.† Here is the Greater Yellowlegs, with its longer bill.
Just in case you canít tell that the bill is longer in that second picture, here is a picture of the two species together, with the Greater on the left.
Here is a picture of a Long-billed Curlew.† There werenít a lot of them today, but I saw several.
I drove part way out to Obsidian Butte, in the hopes of seeing a Yellow-footed Gull, but I soon gave it up as the dirt roads seemed too daunting.† As it turned out, I came back later and tried again.† While I was there the first time, though, there was a male GAMBELíS QUAIL on the top of a hill, and I got this picture.
They look a lot like California Quail, but there are some differences.† I also got a poor picture of a female, but is the only one I have a female Gambelís Quail, so Iíll show it.
Next I stopped at the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge visitorís center.† Last year I had seen an owl there, and presumably the same one is still roosting there during the day, in the same palm tree.† Here is a picture of a BARN OWL, my first of the year.
I think it is interesting that the bird would roost every day in the same tree, for over a year.
I walked out along the Rock Hill trail, hoping to see some terns that had been reported within the last week.† They migrate, and these were the first ones back this year.† I got out to the edge of the sea, which meant about a half mile walk, and sure enough, I saw two GULL-BILLED TERNS working their way back and forth along the coast.† As I turned back, I saw a couple of little birds chasing each other, and one of them landed on a tree not too far away.† It was a VERDIN, another desert species I wonít see anywhere else, except possibly in the Hill Country in Texas.
As I walked back toward the visitor center, I played the song of another species I wanted to see there, and I was rewarded with a male BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER flitting around and singing back to me.† Here is that little cutie.
Here he is, singing to me.
I was getting hungry by then, but on my way back I saw an interesting looking bird sitting up on a pole.† Here is a picture of an American Kestrel with a lizard.† Right after this picture, it took off with the lizard and flew away.
I ate my humble lunch (ham, cheese, mini peppers, and sugar snap peas) at a table and watched a feeder under a tree, at the visitorsí center.† There were a number of Great-tailed Grackles around, and here is a picture of a male.
Here is a picture of a couple of Abertís Towhees on the feeder.
After my lunch, I headed back toward ďhomeĒ, which is a motel in Brawley.† I drove around on a lot of the dirt tracks at Obsidian Butte, and I saw a lot of gulls, but I never saw a Yellow-footed Gull, unfortunately.† As I left that area, I did see some little shorebirds off to the side of the road, though.† There turned out to be four of them.† I couldnít figure out what the heck they were, although I got my scope out and got good close looks at them.† I took a lot of pictures and looked in my field guide, but I couldnít figure it out.† I was thinking Pectoral Sandpiper, but I didnít know if they came here in the spring or not.† It turns out they donít.† I didnít figure it out until I got back to my room and looked up some things online, but I ended up deciding that they were RED KNOTS, another new one for me this year.† Here are a couple of distant pictures that show the overall shape and the bill shape, which is the key point.
One of them stretched its wing at one point, and the wing pattern corresponds with Red Knot, too, so I feel pretty good about the identification.
Moving along, I kept checking out all the gulls, hoping for Yellow-footed.† Here is a picture of my best candidate.
The gull in question is the larger one on the left.† I ended up deciding it probably wasnít a Yellow-footed Gull, although I donít really know what species it is.† Perhaps it is one of the 1% of Herring Gulls that have yellow legs in late winter/early spring, according to my field guide.† I wonít go into all the factors and field marks I considered.
Back in Brawley, I decided to go to Cattle Call Park and see if I could see something new there.† There are a couple of species I have seen there before that I still need this year.† I walked around and I drove around, and at one point I stopped and got out to look at a flicker on the grass.† It didnít seem quite right for Northern Flicker, which I see all the time at home, in our yard.† It was a female, and it had some coloring on its head that seemed consistent with Gilded Flicker.† When I got back to the room, though, I discovered that Gilded Flicker isnít seen around here, so it must have been a Northern Flicker.† If there was a Gilded Flicker living at Cattle Call Park, the local birders would be all over it, Iím sure.
While I was looking at the flicker, though, I noticed some small birds in the grass.† They turned out to be CHIPPING SPARROWS, a surprise year-bird for me.† Here is a Chipping Sparrow.
So, that was it for today.† I saw tons of birds, took tons of pictures (232 in total, most of which I threw out, as usual), and had a good time.† I added 10 more to my year list, which surprised me greatly.† Iím now at 221 species for the year.
Iím going to take the Verdin as my BAD bird for the day.† I seriously doubt I will see that one again this year, unless it is tomorrow.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Today was a very slow day of birding.† I had seen a lot of birds yesterday, and I had visited the best places in the area already.† I guess I planned one more day here than I really needed, although I couldnít have known I would do so great yesterday.
Anyway, I started my day today at a site referred to as Carter and Fites, named for the road intersection near there.† It is south and west of Brawley, less than ten miles away.† An expert birder from San Diego had told me about it a couple of years ago, and I have visited it before.† I have never gotten anything good there, and I donít understand why the San Diego birder thinks it is so great.† He does see good birds there, though, and others do, too, so I guess I am just not doing something right.† I suspect I stay too close to the dirt road and donít venture through the bushes into the wilderness enough.† Iíve never felt comfortable at the place, for some reason, so I stick close to my car.† It just seems to have bad vibrations to me, somehow.† Anyway, today I played the calls of Cactus Wren and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher there, as those two are ones I still need and they are reported from there.† I did get a gnatcatcher responding to my calls, but it turned out to be another Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, like I had seen yesterday.
So, I moved on to Ramer Lake, north of Brawley.† There were some ducks and cormorants on the lake, and a ton of gulls, but nothing interesting to me.† I guess I did see one Verdin there, which is a good bird, but one I had seen yesterday (and taken as my BAD bird).† I drove the dirt roads for a while, but gave up when there was nothing going on.
Next was Finney Lake, south of there.† There is a campground there, but it is one of the most dismal campgrounds I have ever seen.† It is dry, dusty and littered, with no tables or fire pits or anything much, including water.† There is a rest room of sorts nearby, but I canít imagine camping there.† I wandered around, and there were some Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting around, but nothing else of interest in the trees.† I was looking at the lake when I spotted a bird that looked different, and I only had a brief look at it before it swam behind some reeds when a couple of Mallards flushed next to it.† I distinctly saw the red bill and black body, so Iím calling it a COMMON GALLINULE, formerly called Common Moorhen.† It was a good one to get, as we donít get them up in Washington, as far as I know.† I wish I had had a longer look, but it never showed itself again.
Then, at the same place, all of a sudden there was a bird out on the water, where nothing had been a few minutes before.† It was a Western-type grebe.† I say Western-type because there are two species, and they are very similar.† One is much more common than the other, so I expected the common one.† However, this one looked like the good one, through my binoculars.† I snapped 4 or 5 pictures of it, and went to the car for my scope.† By the time I got back, the damn bird had disappeared.† So, all I had to go on was my memory and my pictures.† Based on both of those, Iím calling it a CLARKíS GREBE, which is new for the year for me.† Here is a distant picture.
There are two main ways to distinguish the two species.† In Western Grebe, the more common one, the feathers around the eye are black.† In Clarkís Grebe, we say ďthe eye is in the whiteĒ, meaning that the transition from white to black is higher on the face in Clarkís Grebe.† In this bird, the eye clearly is in the white.† The second way to tell them apart is the color of the bill.† The bill of Western Grebe is more yellow-orange, and the bill of Clarkís Grebe is more orange-yellow Ė that is, it is more orange-colored than the Westernís bill.† This one seems to have a more orangey colored bill to me.† I think that normally I see at least 20 times as many Western Grebes as Clarkís Grebes, so it is pretty amazing that the only one that showed up today was a Clarkís.† I also happened to see it during its short stay on the lake.
So, I added two birds there at Finney Lake, and both were kind of flukey.
I moved on from there to Wiest Lake, but there was nothing at all there but a few coots.
It was getting on toward lunch time by then, so I went back to town, gassed up the car, and went to Cattle Call Park to have my lunch.† I had made a ham and cheese sandwich using bread from the breakfast the motel provides, and I had some veggies and some chips as well.† I had taken advantage of Mickey Dís ďany drink for a buckĒ promotion to get a large Diet Coke as well.† It was very pleasant sitting in the park eating my lunch.† The temperature was again about 80 for a high, which was great if you werenít out in the direct sun.† There was a gentle breeze, too.† While I was eating I saw a few birds, but nothing new.† I saw a pair of Gila Woodpeckers, but didnít get any more pictures of them.† A female Northern Flicker was around, too, probably the same one I had seen yesterday that made me think of Gilded Flicker.† Here are a couple of pictures of her.
Her strange stance in that picture is because she was just about to hop forward.† Here is a more conventional picture of her in a tree.
I see in my field guide that they have a different subspecies of Northern Flicker here than we do in the Pacific Northwest, so that may be why she doesnít look completely familiar to me.† I think the coloration around the head is different.
Chipping Sparrows came around to keep me company while I was eating.† Here are a couple of them.
I also had an Abertís Towhee come by, and there was the constant singing of the ubiquitous Northern Mockingbirds to listen to.† Their repertoire is absolutely amazing, and they just keep going and going, with dozens of different musical phrases.† They are everywhere out here, in the towns, in the fields, and along the roads.
When I finished eating, I drove on around the park, stopping to play the calls of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Cactus Wren, both of which I have seen there before. †I did attract another Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and a Verdin, but neither of my target species.
At one point I saw a hummingbird, and it turned out to be a male Costaís Hummingbird, which I had counted yesterday for my year list.† Iím always looking for pictures, though, and I took some distant pictures of this guy.† Here is one that shows a bit of the pretty purple color of his gorget.
Here is a more conventional side view, although the gorget just looks black, as it usually does, unless the light is right.
When I gave up there, I drove up to the north side of town to the Riverview Cemetery.† There have been a few good birds reported there, but I didnít see anything interesting.† There were Chipping Sparrows and several Yellow-rumped Warblers and one Killdeer, but nothing else.
After that, I drove around town a little, going past some parks, hoping to see Inca Dove somewhere, but I didnít see any little doves.† Maybe Iíll see Inca Dove down in Texas next month.† I did happen across three Cattle Egrets, which was interesting.† You see them in the fields a lot around here, but I was surprised to see them on a lawn in town.† Here is a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage (the red-brown feathers).
So, that was it for my birding today.† Just two more for my year list, bringing me to a total of 223 for the year.† For my BAD bird for the day, I have five excellent candidates Ė Clarkís Grebe, Chipping Sparrow, Cattle Egret, Costaís Hummingbird, and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.† The last two are probably the ďbestĒ birds, and I guess Iíll take Black-tailed Gnatcatcher for my BAD bird today, as I certainly wonít see one anywhere else this year.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Before I get into todayís report, Iíd like to note that I was wrong the last two days about my BAD birds.† Two days ago I said I wouldnít see a Verdin anywhere else this year, and then yesterday I saw one again.† Yesterday I said I wouldnít see Black-tailed Gnatcatcher again this year, and today I saw another one.† Go figure.
Anyway, today was mainly a travel day, from Brawley, which is in the Imperial Valley of Southern California, near the Salton Sea, to San Diego.† I decided to take a roundabout scenic route that had some birding possibilities.† My first destination was Unit 1 of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR.† A particular sandpiper species has been reported in and around that area, and I have only seen that species once before, so I was keen.† The reports said to look in flooded fields.
As I approached the area, there was a field in the process of being flooded, so I slowed down and took a look.† There were tons of Cattle Egrets, some White-faced Ibis, lots of Red-winged Blackbirds, lots of gulls, and two Greater Yellowlegs, but I didnít see the species I was looking for.† A little farther down the road I had a problem.
My car dinged at me, and on the display on the dashboard, it said one or more of my tires had low pressure.† Oops.† What I definitely do NOT need is a flat tire in the middle of the desert or the mountains.† I immediately turned around and went back the 4 or 5 miles to the little town of Westmoreland.† The big gas station in town didnít seem to have air available, but I noticed a really junky looking car repair place just across the street that said they did ďtires, tires, tiresĒ, so I pulled in there.† I interrupted the guy working on a car under the hood and he checked the air in my tires.† They were all lower than he thought they should be, one more so than the others (the warning indicator didnít tell me which tire it was).† He said that modern tires like mine should have 40 to 45 psi of pressure in them, and one was in the high 20ís and the others in the low 30ís.† My experience with tires is that they should be 30 to 35 psi, but he insisted that the new ones take a higher pressure, and I would get better gas mileage with the higher pressure.† He pointed out that the tires themselves said maximum 51 psi.† So, I let him jack them up to about 45 psi, and asked what the charge was; and he said no charge, so I was on my way.† If I wasnít such a cheap bastard, I would have tipped him a fiver, but I didnít.† Later I wished I had.† I hate car problems, and having car problems on a trip is the worst.† Hopefully, they were just inflated too low and I wonít have any more problems.† Knock on wood, cross my fingers, etc.
So, I set out again, and when I came to the flooded field again, there was a car stopped there, and a couple with binoculars were just getting back in their car.† I stopped and asked if they were looking at the birds, and they said yes.† I asked if they had seen any of the sandpiper species I was looking for, and they said not in this field, but that they had seen half a dozen of them a short while ago at the first wetlands at Unit 1, which is where I was headed.† I got good directions and set out to search.† On the way, there was a bird on a wire, and I stopped and went back to see what it was.† It turned out to be a kestrel, which was nice, but then as I was ready to start up again, I noticed two more birds on a wire.† These were NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS, my first of the year.† I was glad to see them perched on the wire, as they are kind of hard to identify when they are flying.† I probably had seen them earlier in the week, but I hadnít been able to be sure of the identification.† So, I had a year bird, and I was on the track of another one.
Soon after I turned on to the road to Unit 1, I saw some sparrows by the road.† I stopped and looked, because you never know what they might be.† The first ones I looked at were White-crowned Sparrows, which are quite common in the valley, but the third one was something different.† It was an interesting one, meaning I didnít know what species it was.† So, I quickly grabbed my camera and got off two pictures before it flew away.† Neither one shows the head very well, and it is the pattern on the head that distinguish most sparrow species, but here are my two pictures.
When I looked at my pictures tonight, I decided that this was a VESPER SPARROW, an excellent one that I donít see very often.† I wish I had gotten a better picture of its head, but I am pretty confident that this is indeed a Vesper Sparrow.
I got to the pond the couple had described, and as they had said, there were tons of dowitchers feeding there.† They said the species I wanted was feeding with the dowitchers.† Well, there were hundreds of dowitchers, all spread out across this pond, and I was looking for one of a half dozen specimens of a very similar species that feeds in the same manner.† I set up my scope and scanned the birds.† No joy.† I scanned again.† The birds kept flushing and flying around, and then landing in another part of the pond, and I kept looking.† One of the things the couple had told me was that there was a Burrowing Owl pipe near where they had seen my species.† I saw the pipe and the owl, so I knew I was at the right place.† I guess they put these pipes out there so the owls donít have to dig a burrow to nest in.† Here is a Burrowing Owl standing next to his pipe.
Here it is again, with the owl looking at me.
They are very cute little guys, arenít they?† They seem to stand outside their burrow all day long.† I wonder why.
I was getting ready to give up on my sandpiper when a small group of dowitchers, maybe 8 or 10 of them, flew in close by.† I scanned them, and one was different!† It was smaller, had different coloration, and its bill was also different.† It was a STILT SANDPIPER, a species I have only seen once before, down in Texas in 2012.† Outstanding!† It was close enough for pictures, but before I could take any, they all flew away, never to be seen again (by me, anyway).† Birding can be pretty interesting.† If I hadnít had the low tire pressure indication, and if I hadnít stopped to talk to the couple, and if I had given up just a little sooner, I wouldnít have seen this species today.† Likewise, I wouldnít have seen the swallows or the sparrow either, since the timing would have been off.† On the other hand, maybe I would have seen some other mega-rarity, and I would be famous among birders.† That is part of the fun of it for me, the randomness of it.
So, with the sandpiper under my belt, I headed toward San Diego, via the edges of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Rancho Cuyamaca State Park in the mountains.
I stopped at Tamarisk Campground in Anza-Borrego SP, and paid my four bucks to park and use a table there, to eat my humble lunch.† I talked to the guy at the entry, and he gave me some tips about birds there.† There have been several excellent species reported there, and he showed me the nest hole of a pair of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, but I never saw either of them.† In fact, I saw damn little there.† I wandered around and I did see another Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, but other than that, I only saw White-crowned Sparrows, Common Ravens, and one Yellow-rumped Warbler.† All in all, it was a very disappointing stop, birding-wise, although it was a very pleasant spot to eat my humble lunch (another ham and cheese sandwich with chips and veggies).† The temperatures were only in the mid-70ís, which was very comfortable.
So, I eventually moved on from there, and I stopped at another place where a couple of interesting species had been reported recently, but I didnít see anything, despite playing the calls.† My next real stop was at Paso Picacho Campground, in Rancho Cuyamaca State Park.† I was running short of time, but I walked around for about 15 or 20 minutes, playing the call of a nuthatch I wanted to see there.† I saw a couple of White-breasted Nuthatches, but that was the wrong species.† I had seen them in Sacramento earlier in the year.† There were several Acorn Woodpeckers around, and I got this picture of a female Acorn Woodpecker.
I saw a pair of Western Bluebirds, a couple of Stellerís Jays, and finally I saw three little PYGMY NUTHATCHES, feeding in the tree above me.† They moved around too much for a picture, unfortunately, but I had them on my list.† I donít know if they flew in because of the call I was playing on my phone, or if they just happened to be there.† They didnít seem to react at all to the call I was playing.
It was getting late by then, so I headed down the mountain and down the freeway to my current humble abode at the Best Western Yacht Harbor motel in San Diego.† I got moved in and I processed my pictures from today.† I had my first drinkie and was writing my report when I noticed some squawking from outside.† I stepped out onto my balcony and could hear squawking like parrots do.† I was thinking of going downstairs and walking around to locate them, when I saw them just across the street at the top of a big tree, almost on my level.† They were RED-MASKED PARAKEETS (lifer)!† My first lifer of the year!† I didnít even have them on my target list for this trip, although I knew they lived in the area. †I had a picture I had printed out a year or two ago, in case I ever saw one.† These were very obvious, and they sat there and squawked while I took pictures.
Here is the view from my balcony on the sixth floor.† The birds were in the tree in front, at the top.† I canít see them in this picture, though.
So, is that cool, or what?† I had finished for the day, and I was writing my report, when I picked up a lifer.† Amazing!
With the 5 birds I added today, Iím now at 228 species for the year, of which one is a lifer.† Iím going to take the Stilt Sandpiper for my BAD bird today.
I have five nights here in San Diego now, which seems like overkill at this point.† I donít know what Iíll do for four full days and a half day next Tuesday, but I hope to see a few more birds for my year list, and I expect to have fun.† What a life!
Friday, March 21, 2014
My friends the Red-masked Parakeets were back in their tree this morning at 7:30.† I had been up for half an hour by then.† I wonder what it is about that tree that they like, and I wonder why they sit there squawking for a half hour or so in the evening and in the morning.† They are there again tonight, and I suspect they will be there every morning and every evening.
I got away from here by 8:30 or 9 this morning, and my first stop was Robb Field, on the south bank of the San Diego River near its mouth.† I was looking for a particular tern species, which I hadnít seen last week.† There werenít many birds around, but there were a couple of dozen gulls and with them was one tern.† Damned if it wasnít an ELEGANT TERN, the very one I needed.† Here is a very distant picture that shows enough to identify it, barely.
With my scope, the identification was easy, actually.† The yellowish bill was slightly downcurved and thinner than the bill of a Royal Tern, and the black crown extended down the back of the nape.† In the scope, it was much more obvious than my poor picture, which suffers from being hand-held.
There were other birds around, and I looked at them.† Here is a Whimbrel and its reflection.
A couple of other terns flew in and eventually landed.† I wasnít sure what species they were.† I was thinking maybe they were Least Terns, which I havenít seen yet this year and probably wonít, but they turned out to be Forsterís Terns, which I had seen up in the Monterey area in January.† Least Terns donít show up here until mid-April, it turns out, so I was kidding myself with my hopes.† I saw a pair of them last year here, but it was a month later in the year than this.
Next I moved on up to La Jolla.† I had a couple of target species there.† I had thought that parking would be reasonable on a week day, but the place was really hopping, with people and cars everywhere.† I eventually found a place to put the car, just a couple of blocks farther away that I would have liked, and I took my scope over to the edge of the bluff and looked out to sea.† I had been shown some sea birds last year or the year before by a local expert, and I was hoping I remembered enough to pick up a species that is pretty common at this time of year.† As it turned out, I did remember enough, and I saw several groups of BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATERS flying south.† That was satisfying, and I put my scope back in the car and walked along the bluff with the hundreds of other tourists, looking for my other target species.
There werenít many birds to see, but I did see a couple of groups of Least Sandpipers on the rocks.† Here is a picture of one small group of them.
There were Brandtís Cormorants nesting at the Cove, as usual in the spring, and they had their blue throat patches that they get in breeding season.† None of my pictures was good enough, though, so I wonít show them.
I had parked down the coast by what is referred to as the Childrenís Pool, I suppose because it was intended as a sheltered place for children to swim.† These days it has been taken over by Harbor Seals, though, so the people are fenced off from the water.† Here is a picture of the La Jolla Childrenís Pool.
Those are Harbor Seals on the beach in the little cove area, and people are on the breakwater, looking at them.
The bird I was looking for is usually in the area just north of the Childrenís Pool, so I spent a lot of time there looking.† At one point I saw a bird fly in to a rock island, and it looked encouraging.† It turned out to be a Spotted Sandpiper, though, and here is a poor picture of it.
The one I was looking for is a little larger than that one, and the bill isnít yellow.† A little later another candidate flew in, but this one was too large, and it turned out to be a Willet.† Here is a picture.
Willets winter on the coast, and they are plain gray all winter.† This one is starting to develop its breeding plumage with the barring on the back of the wing.† Soon it will fly off to the interior Rocky Mountain area, between Northeast California and North Dakota to breed.
So, I had one that was too small and one that was too large.† I was about ready to give up when I saw a bird fly across the mouth of the Childrenís Pool, and it turned out to be the one I was looking for, a WANDERING TATTLER.† It landed on my side of the Childrenís Pool, I got a good look at it with my binoculars, confirming the identity, and I was able to get off one picture before it flew on, out of sight.† Here is the only picture I got of it.
I didnít have any doubt about my identification of it, but it is still nice to have confirmation with a picture.† Just after it flew off, a couple with a scope and binoculars showed up, and I talked to them for a while.† They were from Arizona and were also looking for the Wandering Tattler.† I told them I had seen one, and we all looked for a while, but never saw another one.† They had stopped at the Salton Sea on their way to San Diego, and we exchanged stories of birding out there.† Tomorrow they are going to be in the same area I plan to go, down by the border, so I may run into them again.
It was time for lunch by then, and I needed to pee.† I had walked way up to the Cove area, to use the rest room there, but they were working on them, and they were closed.† So, I set off south through Pacific Beach and into Mission Beach.† I stopped at a pier, where I could get a parking place, but I couldnít find a public rest room.† That part of town is too high class for fast food restaurants or gas stations, so I just kept driving south.† Eventually I came to Mission Bay Park, and I found a rest room that was open.† Later I discovered that not all of them are Ė some are closed for the winter, to save money.† Anyway, having taken care of that urgent need, I found a picnic table in the sun and had my humble lunch Ė a ham and cheese sandwich, some veggies, and some Cheetos.† I have enough ham for one more of those, and then I will try something different for lunch, I guess.† Maybe a Subway tuna sandwich, or even In ĎNí Out Burger.
After my lunch I went to Famosa Slough to see what I could see there.† I wasnít expecting much, but it was a place to bird, and anything could show up.† I saw several Orange-crowned Warblers, and later got a picture of one.
They are a very plain looking greenish-yellow bird, and you identify them because they have no other markings and are the right size and shape.
There were a number of Bushtits around, too, and I saw Song Sparrows and House Finches as well.† I was looking for Wilsonís Warbler, which had been reported there this last week, but didnít see one.† I did see an orange-yellow bird, though, and it turned out to be my first oriole of the year, a male HOODED ORIOLE.† I only got a couple of pictures, and neither of them is very good, but here is the better of them.
I walked along the path on the north side of Point Loma Drive, and did manage to see a WESTERN KINGBIRD there.† They migrate and are just arriving back in the last week or so.† It was too far away for pictures, but I was able to see the gray breast and throat and the black tail with white on the outer edges, to identify the species of kingbird.
Back on the south side, I saw an Osprey flying high above me, and I was able to get my camera to actually focus on the bird, and I got this picture.
There were various water birds there as well, including some ducks.† I got this picture of a pair of Northern Shovelers that I like.
Here is a male Blue-winged Teal.
So, eventually I gave that up, stopped at the grocery store again, and came back to my humble digs.† While I was writing this, my parakeet buddies showed up again, and I took more pictures, as I wasnít very happy with the one I showed yesterday of two of them. †Here is a better one of just one of the Red-masked Parakeets.
This time a third one joined them in their tree, with lots of squawking going on.† I wonder if it was some kind of love triangle or something.† Weíll see if they show up again tomorrow morning.
So, I managed to add five more species to my year list today.† It seemed like the birding was very slow, and I wasnít really excited about it.† I think my lack of excitement was due to the fact that I wasnít seeing anyplace new or any new birds, so it just seemed kind of boring.† I wonder sometimes if I am getting jaded with birding.† I canít think of anywhere new to go that I would want to go to, but the places I have been donít seem so interesting any more.† Iím looking forward to my trip to Texas next month, because I have only been there once before and I saw so many new birds on that trip that it doesnít seem ďoldĒ yet, but after that, I donít know.† We will see.† I wish I had a birding buddy to travel with.
Back to today, I added five species, to bring me to a total of 233, of which one is a lifer (my friends the Red-masked Parakeets).† For my BAD bird today Iíll take the Red-masked Parakeet.
Tomorrow I plan to go down to Imperial Beach and other areas near the border.† I have 4 or 5 target species, so weíll see how I can do.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
I was up and out of here by about 8:40 this morning, and I headed south, down by the border, to the Bird and Butterfly Garden there.† My parakeet friends were back again this morning, as I expected, and again this evening, although they didnít stick around long this evening.† I wonder what it is about that particular tree that attracts them, and I wonder why they sit there and squawk for up to half an hour.
Down at the Bird and Butterfly Garden, I walked around the side of the building there and almost immediately heard a wren singing.† Iím getting better with bird songs and calls, and at least I recognized this as a wren.† I got some looks at it, and it turned out to be a HOUSE WREN, one of the species I was looking for there.† I had been there less than two minutes, and I had scored!
Moving along, I heard some interesting calls, and they turned out to be from the main target species I had there, BLACK-THROATED MAGPIE-JAY.† I saw three of them.† They arenít on the official American Birding Association list (neither is the Red-masked Parakeet that I see outside my hotel room), but I count them.† They are descendants of escapees of cage birds from Tijuana.† I understand they are a popular cage bird there.† I canít imagine how large the cages must be, as the birds are huge.† Here is my best picture of one of them.
Their body is as big as a crowís, but they have this very long tail.† Here is a closeup of oneís head.† It was hard to get good pictures, as they were above me with lousy light, and they had a tendency to stay behind branches.
Here is a picture that shows how long the tail is.
Is that an amazing tail, or what?† It just keeps going.† They must be kept in large cages.
So, I had my main target species and one other one, but I wandered around for a while.† I saw the Arizona couple I had talked to in La Jolla yesterday, and we talked about our plans.† They had wanted to see the magpie-jays as well, so they were pleased.† I talked to another local birder and he gave me some tips about the park and the area.† There were a couple of other species I hoped to see there, and he gave me advice.†
I did see an Orange-crowned Warbler there, though, and I actually saw the orange crown, which I donít recall that I have ever actually seen before.† Normally it isnít visible.† I saw a woman with a camera with a huge lens, and we talked a bit.† She was interested in the warbler with the orange crown, and she saw it, too.† I left her trying for a picture of it, and moved on.
My next stop was the Sports Park in Imperial Beach.† There is a skateboard park there and there are also several baseball diamonds.† I realized before I got there that Saturday morning maybe wasnít the best time to be going to a place with baseball diamonds, and that turned out to be true.† There were no parking places at all, and people were everywhere.† I parked at the nearby visitor center for the Tijuana Valley National Wildlife Refuge and walked back the two or three blocks to look for my two target birds at the Sports Park.† The Arizona couple was just leaving Ė they had looked for the same two species there, and they had not found either one.
I was there, though, so I soldiered on, to see what luck I might have.† Right away I saw one of the two species, a YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON.† I have seen them in that same area two or three times before, and I had no problem today.† I donít know why the Arizona couple missed it.† It was roosting back in a tree, and you couldnít get a really clear shot at it but it was fairly obvious, at least to me.† Here is a picture of it, more or less.† As I said, it was back in the tree, and there was no clear shot at it.
You can see the yellow crown that distinguishes is from its cousin, the Black-crowned Night-Heron.† Here is the best closeup I could get of the face.
So with that one under my belt, I went on back to the Coral Tree where a rare (for this area) tanager has been wintering for years.† I had seen it there before, two or three times.† One trouble is that it is red, and the coral tree was in flower, with bright red-orange blossoms, making it difficult to see the bird.† I looked for ten or fifteen minutes and couldnít see it, so I went back and took some more pictures of the Night-Heron.† Then I went back to the Coral Tree again, and tried some more.† This time I saw it move, and I got a good binocular look at a male HEPATIC TANAGER, presumably the same bird I have seen a couple or three times before, in the same tree.† It comes back every year for the winter, I guess.† It is supposed to be wintering down in Mexico somewhere, but it must like Imperial Beach.† I wonít see that one anywhere else this year, for sure.
Having gotten both target species at the Sports Park, I moved on over to the NWR.† I looked for Green-tailed Towhee, which has been seen there this winter, but didnít see or hear one, despite playing the calls (which I donít think you are supposed to do in a National Wildlife Refuge).† I should see that one in Yosemite this year.† I also walked down to the bridge over the little slough, to try for Clapper Rail, which I have seen there a couple of times before.† Not today, though, even though I played the calls (really forbidden, as they are an endangered species, supposedly, or at least an endangered subspecies.† There are lots of Clapper Rails in Texas, and I hope to see one there next month).† Since I now am counting birds I only hear but donít see, I thought I might hear one respond, but I didnít.† While I was at the NWR visitor center I saw a couple of guys who were birding, and I sent them over to the Sports Park to try for the night-heron and the tanager.† I saw them again later, and they did see the night-heron, but not the tanager.
After trying the end of Seacoast Street for Clapper Rail again, I stopped at the Subway near there and got a tuna sandwich.† I stopped briefly at the 7th St access to South San Diego Bay, but saw nothing of interest.† I also stopped at the pullout on the road up Coronado peninsula, but the tide was too high, and I saw nothing there either.† I had found a small park on Google Maps at a place called Coronado Cays, and I went there to eat my sandwich and veggies.† As you turn in to Coronado Cays, there is a guard shack, but the guard just waved me through, so I guess I looked like I belonged there.† It is a very large development (hundreds of homes, maybe thousands), and many or most of the properties are on canals, with boat docks at each dwelling.† I canít imagine how much money the place represented.† Many hundreds of millions of dollars, that is for sure.† There is a whole lot of money sloshing around in this country of ours, and some people have a lot of it, for sure.† It was a pleasant place to eat my humble lunch, although it wasnít interesting for birds.
While I ate my lunch, I thought about where else I could go today.† I have done so well that there is little left to look for.† I decided to backtrack and go back to the Bird and Butterfly Garden, as that seemed my best chance to add something new to my year list.† On the way, I stopped at the 13th St access to South San Diego Bay.† There is a bike path that runs all around the south end of the bay, and this was another access to it.† There was a small flotilla of Eared Grebes there, and some avocets and stilts, but nothing much to interest me.† I was looking for Reddish Egret, which is pretty rare in San Diego.† I did see some swallows, though, and I added BARN SWALLOW to my year list.† Iíll see lots of them later in the year, but these were my first.
Back at the Bird and Butterfly Garden, I walked around and sat on benches from time to time.† I ended up spending about two hours there this afternoon.† There wasnít much bird action, but I found some Cape Honeysuckle bushes that had lots of hummingbird action, and I spent some time trying for pictures there.† Here is a picture of what I believe is a male Rufous Hummingbird.
I saw its back well, and it was completely brown.† Here is another picture of the same bird.
OK, those two pictures are practically identical, but I like them both, so I am showing them.† Here is another picture of what is probably the same bird, but it could have been a different one, and it could have been an Allenís Hummingbird, which has a green back.
Meanwhile, in the same bushes, an Orange-crowned Warbler flew in.† I managed one picture, and it was taken just as the bird was taking off to flit to a lower branch.
I thought that was pretty cool, to catch it just as it took off.
Here is a female Annaís Hummingbird, with its head in a flower, feeding.
Here is a picture of some of the flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle.
I saw some Common Ground-Doves, a species I had seen out in the Imperial Valley.† I donít know anywhere else in the San Diego area where they show up, but I am no expert on this area.† I saw at least five of them.† They are quite small, only a little larger than a House Finch or House Sparrow.† Here is a picture of one.
I met another couple of birders and we talked, as birders do.† I mentioned the species I was looking for, and they said they had just heard one of them, a flycatcher I wanted to see.† Based on that, I stuck around longer, sitting and walking, and playing the call of the flycatcher, although I donít think I have ever had a flycatcher respond in any way to a call I played.
I didnít see any flycatchers, or hear any either, but I did sit for a while and watch a tree that had blossoms on it, and it had lots of bird action.† Almost all the birds were Yellow-rumped Warblers (called Butterbutts by some birders), but I sat there and watched them.† There were as many as a dozen in the tree at a time, and they just kept moving around and chasing each other.† Then I saw a different one, a Yellow Warbler.† I had seen that species before on this trip, but at least it was something different.† An Orange-crowned Warbler showed up, too.† It was pleasant sitting there watching the birds, and eventually I was rewarded with a great view of a male WILSONíS WARBLER, one of the species I was hoping to see there.† They are migrants, and they are just now coming back to this area.† I wonít see one anywhere else this year, so this was great.
It was finally getting on toward the end of the afternoon, so I headed back to my car.† On the way, near the building on the property, I saw a bird just ahead of me, and it was a PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER, the bird I had been looking for for the last hour or so, after the two guys had told me they had heard one.† I had great binocular looks at it from ten or twelve feet away, but it flew off before I could get a picture.† This is another species I probably wonít see again anywhere else this year.† I had a brief look at another Wilsonís Warbler there, too.
So, that made seven species for my year list today, which far exceeded my hopes.† I headed back toward home, stopping briefly at the J Street Marina in Chula Vista, but I saw nothing of interest there.† There really arenít any shorebirds or waterbirds left to look for here.† I stopped and gassed up the car, and got back to my hotel about 4:40.† I had 8 hours of birding, including travel time, and I had done much better than I had expected to do.
My seven species today brings me to 240 for the year, of which one is a lifer.† For my BAD bird today, I guess Iíll take the Black-throated Magpie-Jay, as I certainly wonít see that anywhere else this year, and the BAD bird people donít care if it is on the official list or not.
I need to do some research tonight, to see what to look for tomorrow.† Before I left on this trip, I made a spreadsheet, as I do, and I came up with an expected value of 27.1 species for the trip.† Well, I have now seen 49 species, blowing that 27.1 projection out of the water.† I have very little else to look for, and I might very well not see anything else new for my year list on the trip.† We shall see.
Sunday, March 23, 2014
Well, I thought today I might not see any new year-birds, but then my luck kicked in.† Before I could even have my breakfast, I head some parrot squawking outside, and the calls seemed different this time.† I went out on the balcony and looked down the street toward the squawking, and I could see at least a couple of parrots that were not the same as my usual visitors.† There are two other very similar species (similar to each other, that is) that live around here, and I was too far away to tell the species.† I grabbed my room key, my binoculars, and my camera and headed to the elevator.
As I approached the corner with all the activity I could see that there were at least 15 or 20 parrots flying around and perching briefly, all the time keeping up the cacophony of calls.† I was a little unclear on the differences between the two similar species (I hadnít done my homework, as I really hadnít expected to see either species), but I soon decided that at least some of them were RED-CROWNED PARROTS, a species I had seen here in this area once before, two or three years ago.† It is actually on the ABA official list for the US, so I guess there are enough populations (in California, Texas, and Florida) and they have been living in the wild long enough that they made the list, unlike my friends the Red-Masked Parakeets that have been visiting me regularly.† There were actually two Red-masked Parakeets in the crowd this morning, too, probably my two buddies.
Here is a picture of a bird that I think is a Red-crowned Parrot.
The key point of identification is that it seems to have a white ring around its eye.† Here is another picture that I think shows a Red-crowned Parrot, and the eye ring is even more obvious.
Note also the width of the band of red across the forehead.† In the other species it is narrower and is a deeper color of maroon red.
I did eventually decide that some, and maybe most of the birds were LILAC-CROWNED PARROTS (lifer).† The Red-crowned ones are supposedly more common around here, but there were plenty this morning that I thought were Lilac-crowned.† Here is a picture.
There doesnít appear to be a white area around the eye Ė the blue and green come right up to the eye.† Here is another picture.
In that picture, you can see that the blue on the head goes on down the back of the neck, which is another sign it is a Lilac-crowned one.
The differences are pretty subtle, and I read in one place that the two species can hybridize, so I donít feel certain of anything, but I am going to count both species on the strength of my research and my pictures.† I hadnít expected to see either species, as they usually are only obvious early in the morning and after sunset.† The rest of the day they feed quietly or just roost somewhere out of sight.† Since Iím not out there birding that early or that late, I didnít expect to see them.† It was just lucky that they showed up right down the street and I noticed the calling and was able to hustle down there and see them.† They only stuck around for about 10 or 15 minutes, and then they were gone.† The Lilac-crowned is not on the official ABA (American Birding Association) list of North American Species, but I counted it anyway.† It wouldnít count in an official ďBig YearĒ competition and it canít go on my official ABA life list.
So, I had two more year-birds, and I hadnít had my breakfast.† I didnít know what else to look for, but a rail species I would like to see has been reported over at Famosa Slough, which is only about ten minutes away, so I went over there, hoping to get lucky (after my brekkie, of course).† I knew where two of them had been seen last week, so I went there and played the call of the bird.† At first there was no response, but in a minute or so, I heard loud responses from just down the path a little bit.† Since I am counting ďheard onlyĒ birds this year, I could count them then, but I wanted to see them, and get pictures if possible.† So, I moved on down the path a little and played my call again.† Again I got responses and this time I spotted the birds.† Two CLAPPER RAILS had come out of the reeds and were actually taking baths right across from me.† Here is a picture of each of them.
They were flapping their wings, taking baths and preening, so it was hard to get pictures.† On top of that, there wasnít much light, as it was an overcast morning.† I was very pleased to see them at all, though, let alone get any kind of pictures.
Next I went over to Robb Field on the south bank of the San Diego River near its mouth.† The tide was way out, and there were a few birds around, but nothing of interest to me.† I had been hoping to see some Elegant Terns for closer pictures than I had gotten the other day.† From there, I moved across the river and upstream a little, to the access road across from Sea World.† There were more birds there, and among them were several groups of dowitchers feeding close to the road.
There are two species of dowitcher (a shorebird with a long bill that feeds with an up and down motion like a sewing machine) on the west coast, Short-billed Dowitchers and Long-billed Dowitchers.† Despite the names, the bill lengths are not a reliable way to distinguish between the species Ė some Short-billed ones have longer bills than some Long-billed ones.† They also look very similar (pretty much identical as far as Iím concerned Ė I certainly canít tell them apart by their appearance).† The best way to tell them apart is by their voice.† Their calls are different.†† I guess that during breeding season they are in different locations, too, so that is another way to tell them apart, if you are in a place where that species breeds.† In the winter both species are on the California coast, but only the Long-billed ones are in the Central Valley of California.† I had seen them near Sacramento earlier in the year, so I had counted Long-billed Dowitcher already.† I really didnít know how I was going to get Short-billed this year, since Iím so terrible on bird calls.
Anyway, today I sat in the car and looked at them and I realized they were calling once in a while, especially when a small group would fly from one place to another.† I listened and compared the calls I was hearing from time to time to the calls on my phone app.† I gradually started hearing the differences and could actually tell after a while that these calls were from SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS, and I added them to my year list.† Then I noticed that my field guide says that Short-billed Dowtichers are ďmuch more commonĒ on tidal mud flats (which is where they were) than Long-billed ones, and that gave me added confidence.
So, to my amazement, I had added four more species today, when I thought I might very well get none.† Tomorrow is going to be very sporty, but we will see what I can do.† I have a couple of species I can chase after, and maybe my great luck will hold.
I was done birding by about 11:30, and I decided to go out to El Cajon (about 15 miles inland) to see my old friend, John.† John had just moved from one apartment to another yesterday, and his phone wasnít hooked up yet, so I just drove on out and knocked on the door of his new place.† He had given me the address a week or two ago.† He was there, so I got to see his new digs and meet his new roommate, Terry.† The three of us went out to lunch and ran a couple of moving-related errands that John needed to do, including buying him a new TV at Walmart.† It was nice to have another little visit with John and hear about his move, and it was nice to see his new place and to meet Terry.
So, that was it for today.† Tomorrow Iím meeting another old friend, one I worked with for about 20 years, starting in 1977.† He lives near me in Bellevue, Washington, and we get together regularly, but he is down here in San Diego at his mother-in-lawís house, so we have arranged to spend a day together.† We will do some birding, but I donít have a lot of hope for anything new.† Mainly, it will be an activity to pursue while we talk.† I plan to go out to San Elijo Lagoon to look for California Gnatcatcher, which I looked for three times last week and didnít find.† I know they are out there, though, so I thought I might as well try again.
My four species today (one lifer!) bring me to a total of 244 for the year, of which two are lifers.† As I mentioned last night, my projection for this trip was 27.1 species, and now I have seen 53!† Almost double!† It has certainly been a successful birding trip, and maybe tomorrow Iíll get one more.† If you donít see a report tomorrow, it means I didnít add another.† I leave for Texas on April 8, so the reports will start up again then, hopefully, God Willing And The Creeks Donít Rise.
For my BAD bird, I guess Iíll take the Clapper Rail, although either of the parrot species would be great, too. †I might see the parrots again tomorrow morning or Tuesday morning, though, so Iíll go with the Clapper Rail for today, an excellent bird to see.† I might see one down in Texas next month, but I wonít see one anywhere else this year.
PS Ė It is 6:25 PM now, and my two Red-masked Parakeet buddies are back in their usual tree, squawking away.
Monday, March 24, 2014
Before I start into my report for today, I wanted to mention something that I left out from yesterday.†† Before I left the Mission Bay area for El Cajon in the late morning, I stopped by the San Diego River overlook across the road from Sea World, and I got a picture of a Western Grebe.† They are common, and it isnít a great picture, but I wanted to show it because last week I showed a distant picture of a closely related bird that I counted for my year list, Clarkís Grebe.† Here are pictures of both of them.† First is the Western Grebe from yesterday, and second is the Clarkís Grebe from the Imperial Valley last week.
Can you see the differences?† The bill color (yellow-green vs yellow-orange), and even the bill shape is different, and the eye of the second one is ďin the whiteĒ, while the eye of the first one is surrounded by black.† Such subtleties matter to birders.† These are two different species, with slightly different geographic ranges, but they do hybridize, according to my field guide.† It does make one wonder how the birds tell the two species apart, though.
OK, so that was yesterdayís news, as they say.† This morning I was actually up and out of here very early, for me.† The other day when I was at Famosa Slough, I talked with a guy who was working on cleaning his bicycle (he told me at one point he was ďsort of homelessĒ right now), and he told me that there was a huge flock of a couple of hundred parrots that roosted for the night in some trees down the trail, at the northern end of Famosa Slough.† I wasnít completely happy with my identifications of the two very similar parrot species yesterday, so I headed over to Famosa Slough, arriving there about 7:30.† I got four hard boiled eggs from the breakfast room here and heated five frozen turkey sausages in my microwave first, and I ate those as I drove over there.† I spent 15 or 20 minutes there, but wasnít able to see any parrots.† I had wanted to approach the place he had indicated from the west side of the slough, but it turned out that the apartments there were in a gated community, so I had to look from the south side, and I had to walk a little.† Anyway, it was a total bust, but I was out and about, and I was birding.† Thatís what I do; Iím a birder.
So, I went back to my room and showered and finished my other morning routines, and I headed out to pick up my old friend, Dan, the guy who lives near me that I worked with for almost 20 years, who happens to be here in San Diego now.† There was very damn little left for me to look for today, but spending the time with Dan was the real point of the day, not the birding.† We went up to San Elijo Lagoon, where I had gone three times last week, or maybe it was the week before Ė it all becomes a blur when Iím traveling.† I was looking for California Gnatcatcher, a bird I certainly wonít see anywhere else this year, unless I come back here to Southern California for some unknown reason.† This is the only place they live.
We set out on the trail from the Rios St access and soon heard and saw a singing California Thrasher.† I had gotten that species here last week (or the week before), but today I got pictures.† Here is a picture of that guy singing.
Here is what he looks like when his beak is closed.
They feed on the ground, as far as I know, so I donít know why its bill is so curved.† A curved bill is a characteristic of the thrasher family.
We walked the trails and I played the song of the California Gnatcatcher, even though it is an endangered species and politically correct birders say you shouldnít do that, as it harasses the bird.† But, I never got a response and I never saw one.† Iíve seen them there before, at least three times, and they were responsive to playback then, but maybe it was later in the year.† It might be early for breeding, and maybe they donít respond to playback until it is breeding season.† That seems to be the case with some birds.† Anyway, I struck out on California Gnatcatcher today.
There was a little flock of Lesser Goldfinches as we made our way back to the car, and I got a couple of pictures I like of a male Lesser Goldfinch.
We drove around to the visitorsí center on the north side of San Elijo Lagoon and after walking around some trails, we had our lunches, which we had brought with us, overlooking the marsh.† I had a ham and cheese sandwich, some veggies, and some Cheetos that I hadnít eaten yesterday, because John, Terry and I had gone out to lunch at Dennyís.† It made a fine lunch, even if it was a day old.
After our humble lunch, we headed back south to the Mission Bay area, and went to Tecolote Canyon, at the western end.† We walked up the canyon, in the very faint hope I would see a bird I saw there a couple of years ago, and we never saw it (Huttonís Vireo).† I did get this picture of a Song Sparrow that I like.† The Song Sparrows here seem smaller than the ones back home, and they are much lighter in color.
I was looking for a Swamp Sparrow, a rarity here, but I had already seen one in the Monterey area (where it is also a rarity) earlier in the year, so missing it was no big deal.† I would have liked a picture, though.† I might see the species again down in Texas; that is the other place I have seen it, in 2012.
After that, I took Dan back to his mother-in-lawís house, where he and his wife are staying.† It was after 3:30 by then, and the rush hour traffic was building.† I hate traffic, but I took the more scenic route along Mission Bay, rather than the freeway, and I decided to take the loop around Fiesta Island.† I had some kind of stupid hope of seeing a Bonaparteís Gull, which was stupid because they only show up out over the ocean, and not at a place like Fiesta Island, which is in the middle of Mission Bay, a half mile from the open ocean.† Still, I had a little time, so I drove around the loop.
To my total amazement, as I was going down the far side of the island, I saw two or three little birds, and I took a look at them, because that is what you do when you are birding (you never know), and by golly, they were HORNED LARKS.† I hadnít ever even considered Horned Lark as a San Diego bird, for some reason.† It was completely not on my radar screen at all, but here it was.† Here are two pictures of Horned Lark, a very striking bird.
I see now they are reported regularly, in numbers up to 30, on Fiesta Island, but I had simply overlooked the species in my research.† I was totally blown away by a year bird when I had completely given up on seeing one today.† I had already decided to post a report anyway today, as I wanted to share my pictures of the California Thrasher and the Lesser Goldfinch, because I donít figure I will be posting any more reports until I get to Texas in April (leaving April 8, two weeks from tomorrow, I think).† With the lark, though, my report is ďlegitimateĒ, because I did see a new year-bird today.† Amazing.† This has been an amazing trip, birding-wise, for sure.† I have gotten 54 species for my year list, exactly double what I had projected.† I guess I am overly-conservative in my estimates, but still, 54 species is nothing short of amazing, to me.
So, now I have 245 species for the year, of which 2 are lifers.† Iíll take the California Thrasher for my BAD bird for today.† Iíll be looking for several species back at home in the next two weeks, and maybe Iíll even take a short trip in Washington if the weather forecasts look good, but otherwise, Iíll see you in April in Texas.† Iím hoping for over 100 more species for my year list on that trip.† We shall see.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Iím home from San Diego now, and I know Iím not supposed to be picking up year-birds at this point, but I went out birding today, as always, to find a good BAD bird for today.† Before I get into todayís report, though, I wanted to correct something from my last report a couple of days ago.† I said I was taking the California Thrasher as my BAD bird on Monday, but those of you are taking notes and following my adventures closely enough will remember that I had already used California Thrasher earlier in the trip, on March 14.† I realized it after I had sent out my report on Monday, so I took Nutmeg Mannikin instead for March 24.† I had seen one Nutmeg Mannikin at Tecolote Canyon that afternoon.
Jumping ahead to today, I headed up to the Edmonds waterfront, as there are several winter species that I have been seeing there on every visit, and some of them will be heading north for breeding soon.† Since I leave for Texas in less than two weeks, Iíd like to record those as BAD birds before I leave.† I figured Iíd take Horned Grebe or Red-necked Grebe, unless I got lucky and saw a gull I have been looking for all year so far.† That gull is generally around Edmonds in the winter, but this winter there werenít any reported until the last week.† A guy had reported seeing 14 of them yesterday, though, so I was hopeful.
When I got there, it was raining lightly, but I bundled up and went out on the pier, leaving my scope in the car.† There are shelters on the pier (probably intended for fishermen), so I could get out of the rain as needed.† As soon as I got out to the main arm of the pier, I saw gulls, and they were BONAPARTEíS GULLS, the species I had been looking for for months.† I saw at least 30 of them, mostly just sitting on the water, but flying around from time to time.† Here is a picture of a Bonaparteís Gull in winter plumage.
It is a fairly small gull and that black smudge behind the eye is how you tell what species it is.† In the summer, their entire head turns black.† They spend the winter along the West Coast, from here all the way down to Mexico.† In the spring they migrate to the interior of northern Canada and Alaska and breed.† I usually think of gulls as ocean birds, but this species breeds well inland, all across Canada, well north of the US border.† Here is a distant picture of one gull that is starting to get its breeding plumage (a black head).
Here is another picture, showing two gulls, and both of them are getting their black heads.
The birds I saw today are probably in the midst of their migration, having wintered somewhere south of here along the coast.
So, that was a nice surprise, and now Iíll have to go back to Edmonds 3 or 4 more times, to pick up the rest of the winter birds there that will be leaving in April or early May.
Since I was up in Edmonds anyway, I decided to check out a new (for me) birding place, Yost Park.† I donít recall even hearing of it before, but the same guy who reported the Bonaparteís Gulls mentioned that he had seen two vireos there yesterday, and they are a species of vireo that I have been looking for all year, in various places.
I used Google Maps on my phone and found Yost Park.† It is a beautiful woodland park (mixed deciduous and evergreen trees), quite large, right in the middle of residential neighborhoods.† There are trails all through it.† I walked down one of the major trails and played the song of the vireo I was looking for.† Within 5 or 10 minutes, I heard a response and a couple of birds were flitting around acting interested.† They didnít stay long, but they kept calling and I got a couple of short looks at HUTTONíS VIREO, another one for my year list.† I walked on a little farther and tried again when I came back, and I heard a response the second time, but didnít see any bird.† I guess you can fool them once, but not twice.
So, with the addition of two more species today, I am now at 247 for the year, of which 2 are lifers.† I realized today that I will probably see more species in the American Birding Association North America territory (continental US and Canada, including Alaska) than I have ever seen in that territory in a single year before.† I saw 461 species in 2012, the year of my first Texas trip.† I donít have a detailed analysis for the rest of this year, but I expect to get at least 110 or 120 additional species in Texas this year, so I should be able to beat that total of 461 species.† That isnít exactly a Big Year, but it is respectable for a dilettante birder.
My BAD bird for today will be Huttonís Vireo, I guess.† The Bonaparteís Gulls will likely be around Edmonds more in the next couple of weeks, and when they are there, they are easy to see.
Yesterday was my travel day, to come home from San Diego.† My flight wasnít until 2:50 PM, so I went out birding in the morning, to get a good San Diego BAD bird.† I visited Sunset Cliffs for the first time, looking for Bonaparteís Gulls, actually, but I didnít see any, of course.† I next went to the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, which is located on a Navy base at Point Loma and is open to the public from 9 AM until 5 PM.† I saw Western Bluebirds there, but I had already used that one.† There were a couple of Western Kingbirds, but I might see that one here in Washington later, so I didnít take it yesterday.† There were also Chipping Sparrows, and I got this picture of one on a headstone.
I could see that one in Washington, too, I think, so I kept looking for a San Diego BAD bird.† Finally I saw a Cassinís Kingbird, which looks very much like a Western Kingbird, but they only live in the Southwest, so it made an excellent BAD bird for yesterday.† Here is a picture of that one.
The light color at the tips of the tail feathers is the tipoff to the species identification Ė Western Kingbird doesnít have that.† The throat on this bird is also lighter gray than on a Western Kingbird.† I had to see my picture to feel certain of it, though.
Thatís my report for today.† Not a lot of action, but I just keep cranking along.† Iím settling into my home routines again, but I leave for Texas on April 8, and that seems awfully soon.
Report for Thursday, March 27, 2014
Whoops!† Here I am again.† I just keep coming back, like a bad penny.
I was up and out of here this morning about 9 and headed on up to Edmonds again, to get a BAD bird.† I was hoping the Bonaparteís Gulls would still be around, since I had decided to use Huttonís Vireo yesterday.† At first I didnít see any small gulls (the large gulls are Western Gulls and Glaucous-winged Gulls, and Iím saving those for May or June, as they are here year round).† Then I saw a small gull, but it was a Mew Gull.† Fortunately, there were two or three Bonaparteís Gulls around, too, so I got that for my BAD bird for the day.† I hadnít realized how much smaller the Bonaparteís Gull is than the Mew Gull, but here is a picture showing both of them.† The Mew Gull is on the left.
Here is a picture that shows a different Bonaparteís Gull that has gotten almost all of his breeding black head feathers.
They should be around for another month or so, so Iíll probably see ones with completely black heads by the time the last of them head north in early May.† The Mew Gulls supposedly leave for a month or two after mid-May, too, so Iíll get that one for a BAD bird before they leave, I hope.
Here is a picture I got this morning of a Pigeon Guillemot in winter plumage.
In the summer they are completely black, with that same white wing patch that this bird has.† Here is a picture of one in summer plumage, which I took in June of 2011.
I guess I make a big deal out of the changes in plumage that birds go through from non-breeding season to breeding season, but it fascinates me, and I like to record the different plumages when I can.† I think the changes take place feather by feather, as they shed the old ones and grow new ones.† That process is called molting.
Continuing that theme, here is a picture I took this morning of a Horned Grebe in winter (non-breeding) plumage, mostly, but it is starting to get its summer (breeding) colors.† In the winter, it would be all black, gray and white, and in the summer it will be reddish brown and dark gray, and it will develop an interesting pattern around its head, with golden ďhornsĒ.† The red-brown feathers on this bird are the first of its summer feathers.
I donít think I have ever seen one in full breeding plumage, as they breed in inland Alaska and Canada, only as far south as extreme northern Montana.† They should be around here for another 4 or 5 weeks, though, so maybe this year Iíll see one in breeding plumage before it takes off for its breeding grounds.
So, having gotten Bonaparteís Gull for my BAD bird, I figured my birding for the day was over.† I went out to lunch with my friend, Chris, and after lunch we stopped briefly at Phantom Lake in Bellevue, just to walk out to the dock on the lake.† There was a swarm of swallows, over 200 of them I figure, over the lake, swooping around and presumably gobbling up insects.† They turned out to be my first VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS of the year, so that compels me to write this report today.† I was bound to see them, they are quite common, but they migrate down to Mexico or Central America in the winter, and they are just returning to the Northwest about now.
That brings me to 248 species for the year, of which 2 are lifers.
Monday, March 31, 2014
Nothing new for my year list today, but I want to finish off March with a report on my BAD birds of the last few days.
We have had our rainiest March since records have been kept here, and the last few days (until today) have been pretty rainy, so I havenít done much real birding lately.† On Friday, March 28, I went on up to Edmonds anyway, and it was only raining lightly when I was there.† I bundled up and went out onto the pier, where there are some shelters.† There were still a few Bonaparteís Gulls around, along with the usual suspects.† I added Red-necked Grebe to my BAD bird list, as they will be flying north to breed about the time I get back from Texas at the end of April, if not sooner.† Here is a picture of one in partial breeding (summer) plumage.
It will color up some more by the time it reaches its breeding grounds in inland Canada somewhere.† Here is a picture of a Red-necked Grebe that I took in February, to show the difference.
In February you might have wondered why it was called a Red-necked Grebe, but now it has become obvious.
On Saturday, March 29, I again went up to Edmonds in the rain.† I did see a very distant Rhinoceros Auklet that day, but I had already taken that species for a BAD bird earlier in the year.† I ended up taking Horned Grebe, another one that is due to fly off to its breeding grounds in inland Canada in the next month or so.† Here is a picture of one of them that is almost into summer plumage.
Like the Red-necked Grebe, it will color up some more by the time it reaches its breeding grounds.† You can see the golden ďhornsĒ developing, though.† Here is a picture of three of them that I took in February, to show how this one has come along.
As you might be able to tell, I am fascinated by the plumage changes that some species of birds go through every year.
Yesterday, Sunday, March 30 it finally wasnít raining, but it was very windy.† I went over to Log Boom Park to look for Ruddy Ducks for my BAD bird, but they seem to have moved on already.† I tried Juanita Beach Park as well, but they have left there, too, I guess.† I saw another duck that will leave in a month or two, though, and I took Bufflehead as my BAD bird yesterday.
Today it was again dry, and I had done some online research, looking to see if Ruddy Ducks were still hanging around anywhere.† They have been reported up by Duvall, near Crescent Lake, at the Monroe prison farm pond, so I headed up there this morning.† It was foggy in the Snoqualmie Valley, but it was just clearing when I got there.† By the time I left it was sunny and you could see Mount Rainier, which must be 80 or 100 miles away.† I managed to see four Ruddy Ducks on the prison farm pond, so that is my BAD bird for today.† The prison farm has been abandoned, by the way, but the large pond is still there.† It is owned by a hunting outfit now, and there are a couple of dozen duck decoys on the pond.† The decoys had me going the first time I went there, but I soon realized that they were just decoys.† It isnít hunting season now, but they seem to leave the decoys out there anyway.† The decoys represent 4 or 5 different species, a couple of which are imaginary species as far as I can tell, unless they are just poor imitations.
So, that is my BAD bird report.† I plan to head for Texas a week from tomorrow, so there should be more reports from there.† Maybe Iíll write one more report next Monday, to catch up on BAD birds before I leave for Texas.† The whole Bird-A-Day thing has been fun, although it gets kind of tiresome sometimes, too.† It has gotten me out birding every single day so far this year, which was one of its main attractions to me.† I figure that with my planned trips, I ought to be able to get into July before I run out of new species to add to the list.† Thatís better than I imagined when I started.