Thursday, September 22, 2016

Getting My Just Deserts. - Calibirdication Day 5

After three days in the desert fun
I was looking at a river bed
And the story it told of a river that flowed
Made me glad to see all the birds getting wet

Tuesday August 23

One thing I have learned about finding hard to locate nemesis birds, is that you must plan multiple modes of attack. From the site's description, we should have had Le Conte’s Thrasher in Borrego, and yet we did not.

Dunlin Schulman had suggested Piute Ponds. I also heard that she had tried for the Thrasher at Borrego and also did not get it. Upon return home I heard from Peter Shorebirder and he too did not get the Thrasher at Borrego. So note to readers, try elsewhere if you want that bird!

We awoke early to get a head start on the desert heat. We were not too far away, and having gotten permission and access to the ponds we entered the facility. This facility is on military property, it is imperative that you get permission first. It is not difficult to do, other wise you might get shot. Not by the military, but by birders who would be upset if you ruined access for them.

During my preparation I discovered that LA Audubon was having a walk at the ponds a few days before when I had it scheduled. Reaching out to the leader of the trip was great because he gave me a map of the place with descriptions on the areas where he typically found the thrasher.

There are a lot of ponds and trails in this wetland that is within Edwards Air force Base. Driving the road to the parking area we stopped frequently to check out the activity which included Loggerhead Shrikes, and in sharp contrast to Borrego, this place was teeming with life - birds were everywhere. Marsh Wren sang from the sedges, and Red-winged Blackbirds flew all about. We set out on the Duck Bill Pond loop and quickly added a lot more species. Lisa stayed behind because she wanted to get some photos of the birds near the parking lot, while I pressed on in search of my quarry.  

Song Sparrow

Black-necked Stilt
A Horned Lark was a surprise, but BC Night Heron and Green Heron were very much at home. There were a lot of Egrets and even more Stilts. White Pelicans and ducks of the Ruddy and Shoveler variety were present, as well as Song Sparrow, Common Throat, and Great-tailed Grackles, again the latter without great tails. 

Green Heron (L)           Black Crowned Night Heron (R)

We walked the trail to the north west corner of the pond. We got great looks at Bell’s Sparrows, but no thrasher, and this was supposed to be the spot they were usually found.  We continued east. Along the way we had good looks at Western Meadowlark, a lifer for Arlene. There were Western Kingbirds fighting in the tree tops, and some Ash-throated Flycatchers as well. An Empid was feeding, we wanted to know who it was, but it wouldn't talk with his mouth full.  

Empid sp. Hammond's? Willow?
About midway east was the other recommended location, and still a no show. In the water were White-faced Ibis and White Pelicans, and a bonus bird was a Franklin’s Gull. We also scared a rather largish bird out of the tamarisks, and though it was distant I was able to get a view in my scope.

It was a Great Horned Owl! The ID was made difficult by the heat shimmer, and some sort of malfunction with my telescope. I discovered that my eye-piece cover had gotten lodged inside. I had removed the eye-piece for travel, covering both ends with its caps. When I had placed it back on the scope I neglected to remove the inner cap and it came off and got lodged inside. Oh yay. 

Squirrel species on sentry duty
So for the rest of the trip I could not focus to the extreme as the cap was interfering with the mechanism. Fortunately Arlene got her new fancy shmancy Vortex scope and I have to say that it is quite impressive. It too has a 20-60 zoom, but the field of view appears larger. One detraction is that I am not a fan of angled scopes; I prefer straight through. So scope wise all was not lost.

But I was still thrasher-less. When we got to the north east corner we stopped when we saw Lisa approaching from the south. I yelled "Run!" but Arlene smacked me for some reason. We then noticed that Lisa was approaching with another person, so we waited for them to see if they had anything interesting to relay. Lisa told us of the good birds she had in the pool south of us, but the other birder was new and green and nice enough but not terribly informative.

Told of our Meadowlarks, Lisa wanted to head the way from whence we had come. Jeff wanted to see the birds she mentioned and continued on. I wanted to give the thrasher another chance, and so did Arlene, so the three of us back tracked to find Lisa the birds she wanted and attempt to relieve my lifer desperation.

We found Lisa the Meadowlarks, but not the Thrasher. We continued west to the other spot and we looked around, enjoying the Bell’s Sparrows that were chasing each other around. I was becoming a bit worried that I would be skunked yet again, and then I heard a unique call. I asked Arlene who has far superior hearing to that of mine, if she was hearing the call and she said yes, and its definitely the bird! WHERE IS IT COMING FROM? I somewhat excitedly asked, and she pointed to the tamarisks ~behind~ us. We had been looking out into the sage and creosote, but this bird was grooving in the shade of the dense tamarisk.  

The Tamarisks.

The sign. 
We then also heard it sing! The best part was with Arlene’s acute hearing she was able to pinpoint a location for us and when the bird popped out briefly, we were able to get a satisfying look!! Nemesis no more :)  YAY!!  { note two exclamation marks } The elusive Le Conte's Thrasher was a nemesis no more; worth saying twice. The photos above show the sign where we had the bird, it occurs to me that there should have been a cut out of a Thrasher here, just like they had done at Tijuana Slough for the Ridgway's Rail.

Elated, we made tracks to join up with Jeff. Together we all got nice looks at both Western and Clark’s Grebes, and an Eared Grebe as well. Lisa found a tree with some activity and we got Wilson’s and Yellow Warblers.  

Clark's Grebe

Western Grebe
Satisfied by the success of our morning’s birding, we moved on as the midday sun was a bit much. We made a brief stop at Quail Lake, but only scored Brewer's Blackbird and Ravens.

When we arrived in Lebec we checked into our lodging. It was also a -gasp- Motel 6 and I had an uneasy feeling about it. Once I spoke with the manager and she checked us in, my fears were allayed. She was very professional, the rooms were quite nice, and she offered good advice on places to procure victuals. Quite, and I mean quite, the contrast from the experience in Palmdale. That’s the thing with this chain in particular: some can be quite nice, clean, and modern and others are shit-holes. The benefit of online reviews is only so helpful because many of the reviews are plain useless.

We got Brewers Blackbird and of all things a lone Starling in the hotel parking lot. We then grabbed a quick lunch at Jack in the Box, a place we would frequent all to often on this trip, and headed up Mt Pinos. On the way we had California Thrasher and a covey of California or Mountain Quail, but they didn’t give me the best look or ID ability opportunity. 

Western Bluebird
At McGill campground we found the place deserted of both people and birds. But we walked about and slowly but surely, just like in Munchkinville, the residents made themselves visible.  There were Mountain Chickadees, Steller’s Jays, and a House Wren that loved playing hide and seek with us in the underbrush. The Western Bluebirds were nice, and the Pygmy Nuthatches were very noisy and thus begging us to look at them.  

Mountain Chickadee


One of the birds I had promised the others was the White-headed Woodpecker. This was supposed to be a good place for them; the places I had good luck with them in the past were not on our route. We met the ‘camp host’, the person who stays at the campsites and helps with things that campers may need and is mostly a 'presence'.

He knew about the woodpeckers we were looking for, but offered that he only sees them in the spring, and they are noisy and flying all around the campsite. Doh! Well undaunted we thanked him for the info and continued birding about the place. And then Arlene spotted one! We played hide and seek with this bird too as it alternately looked at us and then moved just out of view behind the trunk before flying off to other trees. 

White-headed Woodpecker
Arlene then spotted some other birds and asked me if they were just MODOs. A concerted look into awful lighting was made, but it appeared that they were not and by moving to a more opportune location I confirmed that they were two Band-tailed Pigeons!  Elsewhere we would find a whole bunch more; interesting because at times it can be a tough bird to find.  

Band-tailed Pigeon
We moved on to a few other locations while there was still daylight where we added the soon to be once again Audubon’s Warbler, Brown creeper, Orange-crowned Warbler, Western Tanager, and Clark’s Nutcracker. 

rodents are so dam cute

Clark's Nutcracker
On the way down the hill I spied something out of the corner of my eye, and we decided to backtrack a bit to see if we could locate it. We did. It was the first of many Acorn Woodpeckers we would have on this trip, but this one was a lifer for Arlene. One must be careful as a birder to not utter the deadly kiss of death phrase: “Oh don’t worry, we’ll see plenty of them”. I was taking no chances. 

Acorn Woodpecker
After freshening up at the hotel, we went out for a superbly tasty meal at the nearby Los Pinos Mexican restaurant. A hearty meal, a celebratory beer. What could be better?

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