Sunday, December 31, 2006

Birding on New Years Eve

Today was the last day of birding in 2006. I spent the day with Caity, a young birder from South Dakota, who was in town visiting family for the holiday. We started at the crack of dawn at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, which was quiet, foggy and cold! (in the 30's cold for Newport, but from her point of view, not so chilly)
We then birded Upper Newport Bay, where we got great views of a female Belted Kingfisher, a Light-footed Clapper Rail walking in plain view, and generally had a lot more bird activity with the sun shining. We ran into Steve Alter, who helped us to hear some Virgina Rails and Sora calling. I tried the clapping technique to get them to call and it worked pretty well.
We got her life Cal Gnatcatcher and birded around the boardwalk, then headed back to SJWS to end our morning of birding. All in all a good, if fairly quiet, day of birding - farewell 2006!

This guy is a partially leucistic American Coot, nifty huh?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Gifts From the Marsh

Today I went birding at SJWS, and let me tell you, the marsh kept giving me dozens of little holiday gifts. A close up view of a WTKI here, an Osprey flying directly overhead with a fish there, an inquisitive Fox Sparrow, a 'chupping' Hermit Thrush. Over and over again I got amazing sightings, too many to even describe. Went back around 4pm and saw the Clay-colored Sparrow that's being seen by the Red-throated Pipit spot. Thanks to Doug Willick for the tips, it did in fact fly up to the barbed wire long enough to get a decent look at it, hooray!
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 'gnatcatching'

Song Sparrow peaking out at me

Osprey with fish

Anna's Hummingbird with glowing gorget

This Fox Sparrow was incredibly responsive to my pishing

American Kestrel on hawk perch

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher posing

White-tailed Kite with rodent

Coachella Valley to San Jacinto Mountain in a Day

Yesterday Pete and I drove out to the Palm Desert area where we started on the desert floor in the morning, and ended the day up 10,834 feet at the top of San Jacinto. This is one of my absolute favorite day trips to take. Pete and I started in the desert at a sunny 75 degrees at the Living Desert Zoo and Botanical Gardens, a really cool spot where they spotlight native plants and animals of the deserts. The best feature in my opinion is the wildlife hospital, where people can actually watch surgeries and check-ups being performed on the zoo's inhabitants. What a great educational experience!

From there we drove to the Arial Tramway were we were carried up the side of the mountains to the top where it was closer to 30 degrees with an inch of snow to play in. From the upper observation deck you can see the top end of the Salton Sea! Pete and I took a short hike, we got there pretty late and the daylight was fading, but we heard chickadees, nuthatches, ravens and stellar's jays as they were settling down for the night. I want to go back sometime next week and just spend the entire day hiking around San Jacinto, it's just such a wonderful park.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

CBC: Starr Ranch and Caspers Wilderness Park

Well, today was my first CBC of this season, and it started, despite the weather, pretty well. I was up at 5am, to get myself down into Rancho Santa Margarita area by 6:30ish, where we all gathered at Starr Ranch, private property of the Audubon Society, occasionally opened to birders for events like this, to receive our marching orders from Justin Shew, a biologist from the ranch, and the compiler of the count area.

I was given Caspers Wilderness Park, a place I have fond memories of my first camping trips with the Junior Naturalists back when I was beginning birding. I was accompanied by Barbara Bruce, and her daughter and grandson. We worked our way from the back of the park, towards the nature center and entrance, where I ran into a ranger friend of mine who used to work at Upper Newport Bay, Joy Barnes. I hadn't seen her in a while and it was great to catch up.

The main highlights were the Cactus Wren in their typical location in the park, a Grasshopper Sparrow which we were able to I.D. by ear, after only seeing it singing silhouetted from afar, and a flock of Lark Sparrows feeding on the ground, which were absolutely gorgeous. A Sharp-shinned Hawk stooping on some birds in a tree, then going after a Red-tail that wandered too close was also fun to watch, as was the Great-blue Heron eating a gopher that fought valiantly, but unsuccessfully for its life.
We were lucky to get only sprinkles of rain sporadically through our count, but after around 10:30 everything hunkered down and shut up, and we added almost no new birds the second half of our count period. All in all, it was a very pleasant day of birding, weather notwithstanding.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Bird Counts

It's that time of year again, and with the holidays comes one of my favorite bird survey seasons, the Christmas Bird Counts, or CBCs. The CBCs are national bird counts, run primarily through the National Audubon Society, and held annually around the close of the year, mid to late December, where birders from all over the U.S. participate in counts of every single species seen in a particular count circle on a particular day, to get a better understanding of the variety and volume of species in that given area. The data is then collected, complied, and compared to previous year's counts to give scientists a better understand of bird diversity and density across the U.S., and how those numbers have changed since the first count, 107 years ago, in 1900.
I've done CBCs the last maybe four or five years now, and I always find it enjoyable. Not only is it an excuse to go birding, sometimes in places usually off-limits to the public, but you know that you're participating in data collection that helps science understand how we are affecting bird populations. It's really rewarding, and you don't have to be an expert birder by any means, the count leaders make sure to pair beginners with more experienced birders to make sure the information is accurate, and all parties have a chance to participate.
I'm doing the three Orange County CBCs, as well as the South End Salton Sea count, which is still looking for participants if you're available and interested in seeing the stark eerie beauty of the sea, the temperature is far more forgiving in the winter by the way...
Those interested in participating in the South Salton Sea count, please contact Oscar Johnson by e-mail at or by phone at (805) 276-8878.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Boy Kicks Hawk to Save Dog

This story makes me incredibly angry, not because the boy shouldn't have protected his dog, but the way that the media, and even the "wildlife officer" said that RTHAs are "vicious" and will "tear you apart". Are you serious?? We take away everything from these animals, my guess is that hawk was probably very hungry to go after a dog with a human so nearby. I think that there was a lot more that could have been done with this story... it could have been used to educate people on why we need to protect the environment, and keep these birds from having to resort to desperate measures. The way that it was played out just means more disrespect for the environment, and one more reason for people to misunderstand wildlife. *sigh*

Sunday, December 10, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

I finally saw Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth. I was really impressed with the professional and effective style it was made in, and I would urge anyone who has not yet seen it to do so. If you haven't seen it for political reasons, ie. disliking Gore, then you are really missing out on an imperative message. This film is not about politics, it is an international environmental crisis, and if we don't raise awareness and prompt action then we will have a global disaster on our hands.

It presents the information in a way as to be virtually indisputable. I think that most people don't understand that global warming is basically unanimously supported by scientists. The only doubts that exist about it exist in political arenas, not the scientific community.
The quote I found most interesting was one by Upton Sinclair:
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

Monday, December 04, 2006


Couldn't resist a little birding-related humor. I like AC/DC, and ironically it will forever be associated with birding for me because my old roomates/birder friends Matt and Ryan listened to AC/DC on birding trips often and loud. So when I saw this, I had to share...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Friday Birding Around the OC

Well... today was a failed chasing day, I was 0-2 on the yellow-throated warbler at Tewinkle, and the waterthrush at HCP. I console myself with the fact that both were reported to be hard to find. It was still a nice day, this week really feels like winter for the first time all season, even though the winter migrants have been here for ages. There were Variagated Meadowhawks all over, even found some mating.

Short-eared owl at UNB

Yesterday evening, around sunset, I joined Jim Lomax, a Calfornia county birder from.... I don't actually know where, to look for the short-eared owl being seen this winter at Upper Newport Bay, near the boardwalk. We had been told by John Luther, who had seen it the previous day that it came out at 5:05, a few minutes after the sun went down. At 5:03, I glanced up and saw a shape moving low across the skyline. It was our owl. It flew directly in front of us, and continued left until we could no longer follow it in the fading light. Not a lifer for me, but a county bird for both of us, and as always with owls, a treat.
Because of the low light, no photos, but here's one of the sunset.

BCNH flying in the dying light.