Monday, September 19, 2016

The Adventure Begins! - Calibirdication Day 2

We were up and out very early but “Sunny California” as we discovered, was a bit of a misnomer. The marine layer, what you and I would call fog, was out and making it very grey. Dude, fog sounds way too gnarly, but marine layer is bitchin!
Never the less, we were excited to make our way to our first stop: Tecolote Canyon.  Before we did though, I pointed out Western Gull to the goils at our hotel because it was a lifer for the both of them, and the best of our first three California species, the other two being Americrows and the Rock Doves.

At Tecolote one of our first acquisitions was Black Phoebe, again a lifer for the goils; a refrain that would be repeated ad nauseam throughout the trip. But I got to enjoy the vicarious thrill of their getting a lot of great birds. We walked the lower sections because the park itself looked very closed. It payed off, as we quickly got Hutton’s Vireo and Anna’s Hummingbird, then joined by Cassin’s Kingbird, Mockingbird and the first of the anemic House Finches.

Hutton's Vireo
Here on the east coast the male House Finches have a good amount of color, but those present throughout the trip gave us pause as they were much less colored and quite ratty looking. In fact, many of the bird species we saw were disheveled, perhaps a function of wear post breeding, and underdeveloped young birds.

We walked some scrubby areas, and heard strange calls. We puzzled over who the calls could be from until we finally caught sight of California Towhees. A California Thrasher popped up not to be outdone, and serenaded us with a song that was thrasher like, unlike the towhee songs that threw us for a loop. 

California Towhee, looking for a fight with his reflection

Speaking of loops, we made our way back to the parking lot and investigated the chips notes. There were Lesser Goldfinches, but a small flock of other birds alighted in a tree and revealed themselves to be Scaly-breasted Munias, a lifer for me! Truly though, it was both exciting and not so much so. This after all, was an introduced species. Sure they sexied it up by changing its name from Chestnut Manakin, a bird I had uncountably seen in the Everglades, but introduced species just don’t have the same gravitas as native species. A yay, not a YAY! 

A nice as yet unidentified Ode

Now that some time had passed, folks arrived and the gates seemed to be open so we ventured up the canyon proper. Song Sparrow and then Bullock’s Orioles greeted us from the slopes, and then from the top of the ridge we found California Scrub-Jays. The latter Arlene continued to call Western Scrub-Jays, perhaps not up on the recent split, or perhaps influenced by the ‘out of date’ field guide. Remember when a field guide was correct for more than a year at a time?

Bullock's Oriole

California Scrub-jay
Up the canyon we got looks at soaring Red-shouldered Hawks, and more dicky birds. We had Spotted Towhee, Wrentit, and more Lesser Goldfinches. 

But the stars were the Allen’s Hummingbirds. Apparently they are a well known here, reliable at a home adjacent the trail, with an abundance of red flowering shrubs. We went back and forth a bit on the ID but the experts on the Pelagic we took the next day not only were very familiar with the place but insistent that they were Allen’s. It’s always good to have local knowledge.

Allen's Hummingbird

One of the main reasons for choosing this place was its hosting California Gnatcatchers. But despite our best efforts we never found them. We could have easily spent far more time exploring this place, but other birds and locations awaited us.  Especially since some of the research I had done in preparation listed a place where a much desired target species was supposed to be quite easy if one got there at high tide... And having looked into the tides well in advance, it was time to head to Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach.

It is said that the high tide pushes the birds up to the sidewalk, and this was no exaggeration. We could see lots of birds in the expansive wetlands; the Great Egrets and the Snegrets were obvious of course. But looking at the many Willets revealed Marwits amongst them and Whimbrels as well. 


We scanned from a number of vantages before coming to small promontory with an informational sign and a large cut-out of a rail below it. 

Well isn't this convenient?

Within moments we had a Ridgway’s Rail within a few feet of us! Nice looks, and lifer number two for me! Of course, this was a split, so again not as exciting as a non split, but then again it was a California bird for me, never having had formerly known as Clapper Rail in CA before. Yay!

Ridgway's Rail

We also had YC Night Heron, Caspian Tern, Little Blue Heron, Brown Pelican, Brant’s Cormorants, and American Bittern. Making our way to the end of the road we scanned from the boardwalk / platform and found a perplexingly plumaged bird. We eventually ID’d it to Long-billed Dowitcher, but not in any plumage I’d ever seen. 

We walked over to the beach entrance, and I was very pleased to see a Heerman’s Gull, and to point it out to the goils. It is one of my favorite gulls. It is just a sharp looking bird, and one that can make anyone love gulls.

Heerman's Gull

These are the goils, not to be confused with the gulls, though both will try to steal your french fries.

Shortly thereafter we noticed another birder and we engaged him in conversation.  What else happens when the four of you are the only folks around with binos and scopes? He was a Brit and was scheduled to go on the San Diego pelagic the next day as well. I cannot recall his name, but he was a heck of a birder, staying steadfastly at the bow of the boat and being both sharp eyed and extremely capable with ID. It would prove a big bonus having him aboard.

And we spotted yet more birders, one of which I recognized. It was Peter Shorebirder, from Hamster county, NY and his co-conspiritor Marc{?}. They too were in town for birding and the pelagic the next day. Small world.

Together the 5 of us revisited the Dowitcher. Funny thing was as we were trying to get them on the bird they were on an adjacent one that we had apparently overlooked before and dismissed as one of the very numerous Willets. It was a Wandering Tattler! 

From here we checked out San Diego Bay, where the goils got more lifers like Long Billed Curlew, while I managed to get chiggers. Nice numbers of Skimmers and Elegant Terns were loafing, and we also saw Western and some Least Sandpoopers. 

Long Billed Curlew
Black-tailed Jack Rabbit
The Avocets were nice to pick out in the distance, and we also found some Sanderling and Black-belied Plovers. We had hoped to see Snowy Plovers here, but since we dipped we decided to walk out along the beach back by the Tijuana Slough. 

It was a lovely walk, and found them way down the beach and but a stones throw from Mexico. We also got close looks at an unhappy Brant’s Cormorant. It was ill or injured; otherwise not a bird expected to allow such close approach.

Brant's Cormorant

In the surf we had a Pacific Loon, and in the ocean there were many Brown Pelicans plunge diving for fish. A nice place to be as the sun was setting. Lisa collected shells after I told her there were none on California beaches due to the surf conditions. Doh!

We ended the day by meeting up with Jeff Critter and having a nice dinner in anticipation of the next day’s adventure on the high seas.

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