Saturday, March 07, 2009

Birds of the Irvine Ranch: Mountains to the Sea Driving/Hiking Tour

Today was awesome. We birded the Irvine Ranch Conservancy Lands, from Baker Canyon, along Hick's Haul Rd. through Limestone Canyon, and out Hangman's Tree. The weather was fantastic, sunny with puffy white clouds, but with a cool breeze to keep us from cooking on the ridge lines. We had a spread of abilities on the trip, but the interest level was equal across the board, everyone was so happy to be out birding. We started the day off right in Baker Canyon with a Red-tailed Hawk being mobbed by a pair of American Kestrels. We racked up some great species for the brand-new birders, including Oak Titmouse, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Acorn Woodpecker. We headed up along Hick's Haul Rd. where we saw Osprey flying from Irvine Lake, Cassin's Kingbird, and dozens of swallows in a mixed flock of Cliff and Tree. From there we headed over the bridge that crosses Santiago Cyn Rd, and started to get some serious wildflowers, including CA poppies, lupins, telegraph weed, and wild hyacinth or blue dicks.
We continued birding and even stopped for a quick herp - a life species for me, the coast spiny lizard. Hope my photos turned out, I have a backlog of pics to sort through and post from last weekend too! We carried a few harvester ants into the car with us as we continued upwards. On the ridge we stopped for views and saw some Sara Orangetips, Ladies, Cabbage Whites, Western Tiger-swallowtails, and sulphur species. Butterflies are coming out!
The best bird of the day for me was a "porno view" (as my friend Torcuil would say) of a Grasshopper Sparrow. This normally sulky species was perfectly visible low in the mustard on the side of the trail. Unfortunately only our car saw it, but darn did we get a good look! Continuing on the sparrow trend, we caught Song, Savannah, White-crowned and Golden-crowned. A good sparrow day!
We dropped down to Bolero Springs where we had a picnic under the oaks. A Hutton's Vireo called persistently, as did chorus frogs. A flicker called "clear clear" as we munched. Then it was onward, and Dark-eyed Juncos wandered alongside the cars, as we exited the area. Chaparral Pea, a pretty little plant was growing alongside the trail in droves - perhaps it's a fire-follower species?
We exited through a river/creek crossing, and headed back along Santiago Cyn Rd to the staging area where we'd left our cars. It was a beautiful day and everyone felt relaxed and happy. Birding is like a drug for me, with finals and mock trial nationals coming up, I couldn't have asked for a better day to really take the stress right out of me!

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