Thursday, January 08, 2009

Birding at Quail Hill

This morning I went birding for the first official trip of 2009 (finally!) at Quail Hill, a park open to the public from dawn to dusk, and managed by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. It was with a scheduled program that the IRC offers, so at 8am, 8 of us hit the trail after a short introduction to birding and binocular use for those who were less familiar with it.
Before leaving the parking lot, we'd already racked up a few good species, the usual song sparrows and Anna's hummingbirds were supplemented with a nice look at a Say's phoebe, and a great view of a perched American kestrel. What a bird to practice focusing your bins on!
When we headed onto the trail, the fog had become very dense, and I started to wonder how many birds we would actually encounter. Right away we saw a large shape perched in the tree, and upon closer inspection, discovered it was a white-tailed kite - awesome! Due to the fog, the raptors were grounded and so we got to study this gorgeous species for quite some time before we moved on. We passed another one (perhaps a mated pair?) a few paces further.
Next we had a flock of pipits and house finches that appeared quite suddenly through the fog, and circled us a few time, disappearing and reappearing eerily. A bit further up we heard a strange call which we though sounded lark-ish. Sure enough further up we had a horned lark on the trail, and some western meadowlarks also flushed up from nearby.
We continued on and caught looks at a Lincoln's sparrow, and had a discussion about distinguishing this species from similar looking song sparrows. Further ahead, more sparrows, this time white-crowned. I enjoy this species, especially when they're really freshly molted because they're plumage is very subtly beautiful, and that crayola orange beak is so cute.
To our left we had calling western meadowlarks, and a large flock of red-winged blackbirds.
Moving up the trail further we found a mourning dove, one of the few truly common species we encountered.
We passed another kestrel on the trail, which flushed off to the side, and we climbed the hill. Reaching the top, we were graced with a good look at a norther harrier, which circled around us once, beginning it's morning hunt.
On our descent we nabbed some more looks at Say's phoebes and a very uncooperative but gorgeous male common yellowthroat. It was a nice, slow, relaxing day of birding, and with enough great species to kick off my new year right. As you may have noticed, no pictures. I thought my camera battery was dead when I got there and it wouldn't turn on... turns out I had charged the battery and stuck it in a side pocket of my case. Fully charged, just not put back into place. Drat. At least I can console myself with the fact that the fog ruined a lot of good photo opportunities anyhow ;)

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