Sunday, April 26, 2009

Birdathon 2009

Yesterday was Birdathon - a 24 hour birding competition to see the highest number of species from midnight to midnight. My team consisted of myself, Vic Leipzig and Neil Gilbert. We birded all over Orange county for an 18 hour period. Beginning at 3:30am we picked up Neil and headed into Silverado Canyon for owls. I knew it would be a good day when our first bird of the competition was a Spotted Owl - a life bird for me! The owl called beautifully for us, and we continued up the canyon in search of owls. As we headed up the canyon we ticked off long-eared owl, great-horned owl, and common poorwill. 
An exciting find of the day while we were trying for sawhet owl was a singing purple finch - a county bird for me. Dawn was showing its colors and we needed to get down to the coast, so we began our descent back down the canyon. Stopping at a pull-out we got out to try sawhet again, and got a green-tailed towhee calling from the bush in front of our feet, another county bird for Leigh. Dawn chorus was getting going as we were leaving the canyon, and we ticked off a few warblers and passerines like ash-throated flycatcher.
We headed to the coast to hit our usual spots in search of pelagics, and other coastal specialties. We did well, only striking out on a few expected species, some of which we would have opportunities for again later in the day. We ran into Bruce Aird, who was heading a rival (hehe) team, who we hopscotched along the next three spots up Laguna Canyon.
The theme of the day seemed to be that we were picking up less common species, at the expense of "sure things". An American redstart at Mason Park was a good find, yet we had no white-crowned sparrows, a winter migrant we were hoping would still be around. All along the weather was nice, cooler and a bit overcast in the morning - good for birding, then sunny but cool. Unfortunately, as we headed into the afternoon, the wind began picking up, and by the time we made it to Huntington Central Park, which is a migrant trap where we'd expect songbirds and other specialties, things had gone dead silent.
We spent the last few hours of daylight getting coastal shorebirds and terns at Bolsa Chica, where we saw yet another Birdathon team. A sweep through Upper Newport Bay, which we had skipped in the morning, provided us the usual rails and a few things we'd missed elsewhere. A few grabs in Irvine, and we headed back inland for a second stab at the crepuscular and nocturnal species before we called it a night.
It was an excellent day of birding, and I enjoyed getting to bird with Neil Gilbert, a transplant in Orange County who has a blog where he will undoubtedly post his version of events. I didn't take my camera out the entire day, too busy birding and driving, so sorry this is a photo-less post. Next year, I may be doing Birdathon in Vermont unless I can find the time to sneak back to the OC ;)

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