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Posts Tagged ‘California’

California Patch

California Patch

When my friend Myrna asked me to visit her in her new California home, of course I said “yes”. I had birded Southern California in April a couple of years ago, so I didn’t expect many new birds. It would be fun just to see Myrna and explore her new part of the country together. I flew to Palm Springs on March 31 and we checked out her Sun City Palm Desert neighborhood that afternoon. The lakes were still covered with ducks and coots. The ducks included American Wigeon, Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks, Mallard, and a single male Red-breasted Merganser. Evidently, the merganser was a bit unusual for this location as it required quite a few emails messages with the eBird reviewer to convince him of our sighting.

Myrna and I found the Black-crowned Night-Herons more interesting. First, we found this cooperative juvenile.

Black-crowned Night-Heron (juvenile)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (juvenile)

A couple of days later, we found the first summer bird and the adult in the photos below. It’s a very common bird, but it was fun to compare the three different plumages.

Black-crowned Night-Heron (first summer)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (first summer)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (adult plumage)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (adult plumage)

 

On our first full day, we went to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park . Myrna had been there two weeks before my visit and witnessed the spectacle of wildflowers, White-lined Sphinx Moth caterpillars, and hundreds of migrating Swainson’s Hawks feeding on the caterpillars. But, in the California desert, all life depends upon the unpredictable seasonal rains. Alas, there had not been recent rain when I arrived, so we saw no caterpillars nor Swainson’s Hawks and few wildflowers. Regardless, we had a wonderful day exploring the gorgeous desert.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

White-lined Sphinx Moth caterpillar

Our favorite birds that day were Rock Wrens. We’re pretty sure that they were building a nest in the crevice in these rocks. I had a very difficult time taking photographs in the bright desert sun, but if you look closely, you can see a wren on top of the left rock. In the same very dry desert area with the wrens, we also found a Black-throated Gray Warbler, Brewer’s Sparrows, and the ever-present White-crowned Sparrows.

Rock Wren nest

We walked the trail to Pena Spring, also dry desert, and found a Phainopepla, Cactus Wren, more Brewer’s Sparrows, and the most orange House Finch that either of us had ever seen.

Myrna at the Pena Spring trailhead

Myrna at the Pena Spring trailhead

The Anza-Borrego Visitor Center is a little oasis where we were pleased to get great looks at Nashville, Orange-crowned, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

We took it easy the next day and stayed close to Myrna’s home. On Friday, we had another big day at San Jacinto Wildlife Area, a 19,000 acre site with 9,000 acres of restored wetlands. As expected, the water brings in the birds and this was the birdiest place that we visited. Most were common western birds, with Eared Grebe in breeding plumage a highlight.

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

We also enjoyed close looks at a very cooperative American Pipit.

American Pipit

American Pipit

Myrna saved the best for last and on Saturday we visited Big Morongo Canyon Preserve and Covington Park. These parks consist of both desert and woods, but most of the birds that we saw were in the wooded areas. A pair of Vermillion Flycatchers thrilled all the birders in the park that day. We were just as happy to see a pair of Phainopeplas cavorting in the trees. Lesser and Lawrence’s Goldfinches presented themselves for comparison as well as Hooded and Bullock’s Orioles. Three species of hummingbirds charmed us – Costa’s, Anna’s, and Black-chinned. These parks are also home to both Ladder-backed and Nuttall’s Woodpeckers and we were told that many of the birds there were hybrids. And, here, we finally got our Swainson’s Hawk.

Phainopepla pair.  Photo by Larry Noelker.

Phainopepla pair. Photo by Larry Noelker.

Back at Myrna’s, most of the ducks and coots had left, but the Verdins and White-crowned Sparrows in Myrna’s yard were a constant delight. These White-crowned Sparrows are the Gambel’s subspecies, different from the birds that we normally see in the east. Note the pale lores on Myrna’s bird.

White-crowned Sparrow (Gambell's subspecies) on Myrna's feeder

White-crowned Sparrow (Gambell’s) on Myrna’s feeder

In four and a half days, we had seen 85 species of birds and Southern California habitat ranging from desert to oasis to mountain forest to wetlands. Myrna and I had a wonderful visit and fun exploring this beautiful part of the country that she now calls home.

Desert Cottontail in Myrna's neighborhood

Desert Cottontail in Myrna’s neighborhood

 

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Bill Drummond’s Southern California trip was a wonderful adventure that included great looks at some difficult to find birds and gorgeous scenery.  Sixteen birders in four cars covered several coastal areas near Santa Barbara and most of Kern County with its varied habitat from forest to desert.

Island Scrub Jay

Island Scrub Jay. Photo by Eric Labato.

We got off to a great start on our first day by exploring Santa Cruz Island.  Close-up views of our target bird, Island Scrub Jay, which is a brighter more intense blue than the Western Scrub Jay, delighted us all.  We certainly enjoyed these gorgeous cooperative birds, but the highlight of the day may have been the Island foxes.  Historically, foxes were the top predator on the island, but introduced feral pigs and the Golden Eagles they attracted pushed the fox population to near extinction.  Santa Cruz Island fox was listed as an endangered species in 2004.  Things turned around with a science-based recovery program established by The Nature Conservancy and its California government agency partners.  The fox population rebounded and the recovery is described as one of the ”fastest and most successful endangered species recovery programs in U.S. history.”

Island foxes

Santa Cruz Island foxes.  Photo by Eric Labato.

Dave Pereksta joined us the following day to help with our search for Mountain Quail.  We headed north towards Lake Casitas and then we continued north into Los Padres National Forest.  On Lockwood Valley Road, we had our first Sage Sparrow (the dark coastal California subspecies belli), now Bell’s Sparrow with the recent split.  At Iris Meadow, we had several extremely cooperative Thick-billed Fox Sparrows.  While they were not a life bird, I enjoyed the opportunity to leisurely observe every detail of the birds up close.  Other highlights were Lewis’ and White-headed Woodpeckers.  After a full day of birding, we headed to Bakersfield for the night.

Thick-billed Fox Sparrow

Thick-billed Fox Sparrow at Iris Meadow

The next morning, Dave Pereksta joined us again to continue our search for Mountain Quail in the Los Padres National Forest. Dave found a pair on Mount Pinos Road, but he was the only one to get a good look. A few others got glimpses of the birds, but no one saw them well.

Bitter Creek NWR signWe were more successful at Bitter Creek NWR where the California Condors appeared at exactly the time Dave predicted (just after 9:30 AM).  Everyone was thrilled with our wonderful views of these majestic birds.  We said goodbye to Dave and headed back to Bakersfield and Beale Park, where we met Ali Sheehey and found our target – beautiful Rose-ringed Parakeets.

Dave Hursh, assisted by Zach Weber, gets great views of the parakeets for the kids in the park.

Dave Hursh and Zach Weber showing Rose-ringed Parakeets to kids in the park.

Ali is the expert on Rose-ringed Parakeets, but she is also full of energy and enthusiasm for just about every living thing in Kern County and we enjoyed our time with her.  Thanks to Ali’s knowledge of the area, we got a bonus bird at Beale Park – Spotted Dove.

Wood Ducks

Hart Park, near Bakersfield, CA. World’s tamest Wood Ducks?

American Dipper

American Dipper immediately before delivering the fish in its bill to the nest.

On the 22nd, we headed towards Kern River Preserve. The drive along Kern Canyon Road was spectacular. We made several stops along the way and found Lawrence’s Goldfinch at the Democrat Fire Station. At the boat ramp in Keyesville, we watched one of my favorite birds of the trip, an American Dipper fishing and attending a nest.

Kern River Preserve was delightfully birdy and I especially enjoyed great looks at Tricolored Blackbirds.

Tricolored Blackbird

Tricolored Blackbird. Kern River Preserve, California

After leaving Kern River Preserve, we found a California King Snake and this Horned Lizard on the road.

Horned Lizard

Horned Lizard

Mountain Quail

Mountain Quail.  Photo by Eric Labato.

The following day we drove to the famous birding hot spot, Butterbredt Springs, a small oasis in the Mojave Desert.  We hoped to find Mountain Quail there and I have to admit that I was skeptical since with stops along the way, we arrived in the middle of the day.  We were incredibly lucky, though, and nearly everyone in our group had spectacular views of a pair in the open for over five minutes.  This was a life bird for many of us and we were all thrilled.

California desert from Jawbone Canyon Road

California desert from Jawbone Canyon Road

On April 24th, we drove Jawbone Canyon Road again.  It was sad to see how badly the fragile desert habitat has been damaged by illegal off-road vehicle use.  How could anything survive in such conditions!  But, again, we were lucky and found our targets, Le Conte’s Thrasher and Chukar, as well as the canescens (interior) subspecies of Sage Sparrow. So, now we had two subspecies of Sage Sparrow on the trip, but both are Bell’s Sparrow after the recent split.  We visited Butterbredt Springs again and then we found another oasis in the Mojave Desert, Silver Saddle Ranch and Club.  The private resort 20 miles north of California City generously allows birders on the property.  Local birders consider it one of the best hot spots for migrants.  The day ended with a stop at the Tehachapi Loop overlook on Highway 58.  The Tehachapi Loop is a 0.73-mile ‘spiral’ on the Union Pacific Railroad line through Tehachapi Pass.

Tehachapi Loop overlook

Tehachapi Loop overlook

Desert Tortoise

Desert Tortoise

April 25 we started at Silver Saddle and then stopped at the Desert Tortoise Natural Area before lunch in California City.  The naturalist called us over as we arrived, saying to hurry because they had a tortoise.  The guy in the photo at the left is #589, a 15-20 year old male, just reaching breeding age.  Individuals may live 60 to 100 years.  The desert tortoise (Gopherus agazzizi), listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, is the official California State reptile.  We got good looks and photos before #589 wandered off into the desert.

After lunch, we birded nearby Central Park.  Mary, a trip participant with over 700 ABA area birds, still needed Hermit Warbler.  She got her bird that day at Central Park and amazingly, I found the bird.  Because of my poor vision, I usually have difficulty getting on birds that others find.  So, being the one to actually see the warbler first and help Mary get it was absolutely thrilling.  Next, we went back to Silver Saddle where we found more Hermit Warblers and many other migrants including my life warbler for the trip, MacGillivray’s.

Hermit Warbler

Hermit Warbler

The 26th brought the drive back to Santa Barbara.  We stopped in the charming Danish village of Solvang for lunch and saw Yellow-billed Magpies on our way out of town.  Back in Santa Barbara, we had hoped to see Elegant Terns, but it was one of the few misses of the trip.

Our last day of birding was a pelagic trip out of Ventura.  The cocktail of seasickness drugs that worked for me last summer in Florida were no match for the rougher waters of the Pacific.  I was sick for most of the trip.  After I finally stopped throwing up, I just wanted to sit inside with my head on a table.  Even when I heard “Laysan Albatross!”, I could not muster the energy to get up and look for it.  Memories of pain fade with time, though, so I suppose that one day I’ll try a pelagic trip again.

My totals for the trip included 15 countable ABA area birds, California Condor and Rose-ringed Parakeet.  This was a wonderful trip with a nice group of birders and great leadership by Bill Drummond and Dave Hursh.  More of my photos are in my California – April 2013 set on Flickr.  For additional (and better) photos, see Eric Labato’s California 2013 Flicker set.  The trip took place between April 19 and 27, 2013.

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