October 01, 2008

California V – The Inevitable Birding Post

These are my birding journal entries.
Feel free to skip down to the pics if you get bored. August 31 – We arrived in San Diego on August 28 and stayed with Terry Akin and John McClure in Jamul. Picked up some common stuff but it was all pretty exciting for me. Some of the first birds we saw after we left the airport were HEERMANN'S GULLS (Life Bird) in the harbor. CALIFORNIA TOWHEES (Life Bird), Lesser Goldfinches, Western Bluebirds and Bushtits were all easy to find in the neighborhood. I also had a single LARK SPARROW (Life Bird) and a Say's Phoebe in the area. On August 29 I finally got a few decent looks at Anna's Hummingbird and my first looks at BLACK PHOEBE (Life Bird) in the yard next door. Later that afternoon we drove to Camp Cedar Glen near Julian, CA. Lots of neat more-or-less common birds like Mountain Chickadees, Stellar's Jays, Acorn Woodpeckers and Band-tailed Pigeons and a BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (Life Bird). My only new species on August 30 was CALIFORNIA QUAIL (Life Bird); a small group along the road into camp. This morning I had a very nice assortment of new birds including NUTTALL'S WOODPECKERS (Life Bird), a female WESTERN TANAGER (Life Bird and Year Bird #300), OAK TITMOUSE (Life Bird), PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCER (Life Bird) and a pair of PHAINOPEPLAS (Life Bird). There was also a beautiful dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk at the bottom of the hill and a fly-catching WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Life Bird) on a trail near the camp. My year list is currently 305.

September 8 – It's been an incredible week of birding in California! We flew to San Francisco on September 2 and met up with Sarah, Kailyn and Dave and stayed with our cousin Elaine in Alameda for a couple nights. I picked up several new birds in and around San Francisco. California Gull, Red-necked Phalarope and ELEGANT TERNS (Life Bird) were all seen from the ferry, CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES and PYGMY NUTHATCHES (personal favorites) were in Golden Gate Park, LONG-BILLED CURLEW and Western Grebes were very close to the Golden Gate Bridge! On September 4 we spent most of the day in Muir Woods and it was an amazing experience. Birding was a little quiet but I did have a couple TOWNSEND'S WARBLERS and HUTTON'S VIREOS (Life Bird) in with the Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets. Things started to pick up when we headed south toward Monterey Bay. On September 5 I finally got a definitive look at BRANDT'S CORMORANT (Life Bird) and our first MARBLED GODWITS of the trip. A highlight was watching several WHITE-TAILED KITES hunting over some fields along Route 1 near Watsonville; only my second look at them and by far the best. Sarah and I got up early on September 6 and had a very successful morning birding in the Elkhorn Slough area around Moss Landing. We had a lot of great shorebirds including Willets, Marbled Godwits, Long-billed Curlews, Red-necked Phalaropes, Black-necked Stilts, BLACK TURNSTONES (Life Bird) and SNOWY PLOVERS (Life Bird). Eared Grebe and a beached Pacific Loon were also great to see although we missed Clarke's and Western Grebes. Later that afternoon, we took a trip down to the Big Sur area with Noah and Kailyn. We made lots of stops along the coast; beautiful scenery. There were many vultures along the road but we saw one flying about eye level that caught our attention. We all noticed it was large with exceptionally spread primaries. I got a VERY brief look at the bird through binoculars and noticed the white underwings and distinctive bare head – it had to be a CALIFORNIA CONDOR! Unfortunately a high speed chase along the highway didn't give us another look. I was absolutely speechless at the time but I've since learned that condors are in that area and it could have been a legit, wild bird. Not sure what their status is as far as being countable and since the look was so short I've decided not to put the bird 'officially' on my list. But still, quite the encounter. My last new birds of the day were a small flock of BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS (Life Bird), thanks to Sarah who decided to pull over and check the rocks. September 7 was our long anticipated pelagic trip out of Monterey Bay with Debra Shearwater. We left the harbor with a packed boat at 8:00 AM and were out for about seven hours. SOOTY SHEARWATERS (Life Bird) were flying in and out of the fog within minutes, closely followed by our first PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS (Life Bird). After a while we had a single BULLER'S SHEARWATER (Life Bird), a striking bird that we enjoyed picking out all day. We had quite a few Rhinoceros Auklets and Red-necked Phalaropes as well as distant, judgment-call jaegers. I had at least one definitive PARASITIC JAEGER and a couple POMARINE JAEGERS (one being chased by an ambitious Heermann's Gull!) but the only Long-tailed Jaeger of the day went by before I could get a decent look. We had good views of two NORTHERN FULMARS (Life Bird), many BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES (Life Bird) and several SABINE'S GULLS (Life Bird) as well as definitive but distant and not very satisfying looks at ASHY STORM-PETREL (Life Bird). However, the real highlight of the trip for me was getting great looks at at least five SOUTH POLAR SKUAS (Life Bird). Two came right up to the boat; what an impressive bird! It was a great trip and a nice introduction to a whole new family of birds. This morning Sarah and I had a single WHIMBREL fly by us on the beach at Carmel-by-the-sea. My year list is now at 335.

September 15 – On the evening of September 8 we arrived in Yosemite National Park. The next morning Noah, Kailyn, Sarah and I went for a hike near Glacier Point. One of the first birds we saw was a WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER (Life Bird), one of our trip favorites! Between Taft Point and Sentinel Dome we had decent looks at WHITE-THROATED SWIFT (Life Bird) and CLARKE'S NUTCRACKER (Life Bird) as well as several TOWNSEND'S SOLITARES. On September 10 we went for another hike in the Tuolomne Meadows which were roughly 9000 ft elevation. Again, one of the first birds we saw was a beautiful PRAIRIE FALCON (Life Bird) that put on a great show and flew right over our heads! We went most of the way to Glen Aulin and while it was pretty much quiet we did get a look at a female WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER (Life Bird). On the morning of September 11 we walked around Mariposa Grove and got more great looks at White-headed Woodpecker and a quick view of a male Williamson's Sapsucker before we left for Sacramento. We met our hosts David Wright and Susan Jones that evening and enjoyed talking about conservation with them all weekend. Susan took us out to look for Yellow-billed Magpie along the American River on September 12 before we headed up to camp. No luck with the magpies but we did get another look at WHITE-TAILED KITE. No new birds over the weekend but before our plane left this morning Jim Stratton took us out one final time around Sacramento. We cruised through some riverside neighborhoods for a while before we finally found a group of about six YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIES (Life Bird); a juvenile right in the road and others scattered around on lawns, roof-tops and nearby trees. It was a great moment; bird number 130 for the trip and the final lifer a true California endemic! All told I had 32 life birds during the trip and 59 new year birds, bringing my year list up to 343!

Long-billed Curlew
Marbled GodwitWilletGodwits and WilletsRed-necked PhalaropeBlack OystercatcherWhite-headed WoodpeckerHeermann's Gull