January 31, 2012

I done been Falcated!

I saw some terrific birds out in California on this trip. Biggest highlights were FALCATED DUCK and ARCTIC LOON followed by California Condor, Thayer's Gull, Spotted and Short-eared Owl. This is my full trip report. Pics at the bottom...

JANUARY 16 – I've had an exciting start to my California trip! On January 13 we drove from Mountain View to San Luis Obispo on Route 1 along the coast. We stopped in Monterey where I was excited to find a RHINOCEROUS AUKLET in the harbor. Also had nice looks at many Mew Gulls; a species I've had little experience with so far. Somewhere near Big Sur we pulled over to check out the scenery and I was extremely lucky to glance up the slope behind us where an adult CALIFORNIA CONDOR was perched! This wasn't my first encounter with a condor; back in 2008 I had a brief view of one flying by in almost the exact same location. Very nice, slightly distant views this time around. The bird waited until I had my camera ready, then lazily flew off. Yellow wing tag was #22 I believe. Truly impressive. I also had a couple GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS here which were my first in several years. Now for the really exciting part... yesterday morning I was able to see the ARCTIC LOON (Life Bird) at San Simeon Lagoon in San Luis Obispo county! Beautiful looks at close range in great light. Dosen't get a whole lot better and I was able to get some really nice pics. I've also made some progress identifying THAYER'S GULLS in a couple different plumages. There was a nice adult right at San Simeon, first time I've been confident about finding that bird on my own. Noah and I checked some spots along the coast on our way back and found a few shorebirds; Black Oystercatchers, Black Turnstones, Long-billed Curlews, Snowy Plovers, etc. My year list is now at 85.
January 24 – Got home yesterday evening from California. It was a great trip with lots of birding highlights. On January 17 we visited Mill Valley, CA in Marin county. At the end of Elinor Road there was a trail that Noah and I had been on a couple years ago. This time we found a single SPOTTED OWL sitting in a bay tree directly over the trail. So much easier this time. Varied Thrush and “Sooty” Fox Sparrow were other nice finds along the trail. The following day we drove all the way up to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge where we had the amazing, continuing, celebrity FALCATED DUCK (Life Bird) near the viewing platform. What a bird! I really wasn't prepared for just how cool this bird was. I'd seen some pics online but hadn't looked it up in a field guide because I didn't expect to go see it. It's plumage was impeccable; even in dim light the head had this beautiful purple sheen when I looked through someone's scope. The bird was actively feeding and my own pics don't do it justice. Other notable birds present were two CACKLING GEESE (not Richardson's, probably Aleutian, so a new subspecies!), a drake EURASIAN WIGEON, wonderful looks at Cinnamon Teal and the most Greater White-fronted Geese I've ever seen at one time. That evening we stopped on Skaggs Island Road by the north bay and were treated to an impressive show with at least 10 SHORT-EARED OWLS, White-tailed Kites and Northern Harriers all cruising the fields in great light. Most were too distant to photograph but we had really great looks. Great end to a great day of birding. Picked up a few more new year birds during the rest of the trip. On January 21 we found a flock of SURFBIRDS, Black Turnstones and Sanderling in “the cove” just south of Davenport, Santa Clara county. My year list is now at 128.

Falcated DuckArctic Loon
California CondorSpotted Owl
California, Mew & Thayer's Gulls