California Birding, 2-8 Apr 2013
by Henry Detwiler

An excellent week-long adventure with Göran and Lena starting in San Francisco and ending in San Diego

213 species seen  Click here for bird checklist
Click on thumbnail pictures for full-sized photos.

April 3 - Redwoods & Monterey

   Early on Wednesday morning we wound our way down to Big Basin HanssonsRedwoods State Park, stopping at several vista points to look over the fog-shrouded hills. On the nature trail in the center of the redwood basin we hiked a loop through the towering giants, being serenaded by Winter Wrens, Dark-eyed Juncos, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Brown Creepers, and a couple of early Pacific-slope Flycatchers.
    Driving out of the forests and along the coast we stopped next at Moss Landing. Lingering waterfowl dotted the lagoon and hundreds of shorebirds scampered on the mudflats. Several of the Common Loons were sporting fine breeding plumage. We ate lunch in a restaurant overlooking the water as we watched a band of sea otters lounging about and feeding.
    Off the fishing pier in Monterey it was interesting to watch a flock of Pigeon Guillemots chase each other, Black Oystercatchergiving their piercing whistle calls. On Point Pinos we located Black Oystercatchers but missed the other rock-loving shorebirds. As we traveled south the fog started to move in, and by the time we made it to Andrew Molera State Park there wasn't a ray of sunshine left in the sky. Nevertheless we got decent photos of an obliging Wrentit and found our first Golden-crowned Sparrow. Next to our lodging we were entertained by a flock of Wild Turkeys. After dinner we tried to find two hooting Spotted Owls, but they remained out of sight high on the mountainside.

pigeon guillemot

April 4 - Big Sur

The clouds were low as we hiked along the creek path in Andrew Molera. Wilson's Warblers were singing and we scattered a number of California Quail. California CondorLena spotted a Great Horned Owl perched in a eucalyptus stand and we got some distant photos. It was tough scanning for condors with the clouds and fog as we made our way down the coast. At one stop a California Thrasher was singing loudly and Göran and Lena scored another lifer. During lunch, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, we spotted a couple more Gray Whales. Afterwards the clouds started to lift and we were able to see the Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks soaring above the ridge line. We drove back to Julia Burns Pfeiffer State Park and started down the trail to McKay Falls. Looking up to the mountains I saw a likely candidate and binocular views confirmed our first California Condor! A short while later we had a second. A Wrentit was the only other bird we saw along the trail, but the view of the cove and the falls was gorgeous.
Elephant SealSouth, at Piedras Blancas, we stopped to hike the rocky bluffs above the Elephant Seal nursery. Most of this year's seals were already a few months old, and there was plenty of activity.

mckay falls

April 5 - Nojoqui Falls to Idyllwild

   Our first stop this morning was at the Santa Maria River Park. At the entrance Golden-crowned, White-crowned, Lincoln's, and Song Sparrows were feasting on seeds spilled from a hanging feeder. We looked in vain for a Mountain Lion spotted the prior week. A Downy Woodpecker was chiseling away in the willows for breakfast. At the river mouth we scanned the teal, Gadwall, and wigeons. Göran called my attention to a family of wild hogs at the edge of the lagoon. The stiff winds and blowing sand made for unpleasant birding, so we headed back inland and south to Nojoqui Falls County Park.
   On the drive south to Nojoqui we spotted two Yellow-billed Magpies; unfortunately there weren't any of them at the park itself. Our first songsters at Nojoqui were Oak Titmouse and Yellow-rumped Warbler.Hooded Orioles  Hooded Orioles were flitting about a large palm tree, and two males appeared to be competing for a single lovely lady. We hiked up to Nojoqui falls, spotting our first Nuttall's and Hairy Woodpeckers for the trip.
   After a quick bite to eat in Ventura we endured the drive from hell--three and a half hours of bumper to bumper traffic--five lane's worth of a moving parking lot. It wasn't until we left the highway at the Ramona Expressway that we began to drive at a reasonable pace again. At San Jacinto Wildlife Area we watched a number of handsome Cinnamon & Green-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Wilson's Snipe, and our one and only Peregrine Falcon for the trip.
   An hour later we were up in Idyllwild, a winter and summer playground for Palm Springs residents high in the San Jacinto Mountains--and a good birding destination, too!

Wild TurkeyTurkey Vulturessurfbirds
April 6 - San Jacintos to the Salton Sea

   We started off our 39-degree chilly morning on the road leading up to Black Mountain. Spotted Towhees were calling in force. We finally got great looks at a Black-throated Gray Warbler singing from the top of a tree. Cassin's Finch and Mountain Chickadee were also vocal and easy to find. Mountain Quail, however, remained silent and elusive.
    Driving to the Lake Hemet area, we missed Pinjon Jay but added a singing Black-chinned Sparrow, another lifer for Göran. A stop in desert habitat on the way down the mountain produced the first of our Rock Wrens, Black-throated Sparrows, and a Say's Phoebe.
Osprey Lots of new species at the Salton Sea! A couple of quick stops along the western shore added Bonaparte's Gull, Caspian Tern, Marbled Godwit, Black-bellied Plover, Snowy Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Osprey, and others. We made a beeline to the headquarters, where the Barn Owl was ensconced in his palm tree and the Great Horned Owl pair was roosting at the edge of different palm in the closed area. Common Ground-Dove and Gambel's Quail were everywhere. Not far away Burrowing Owls were peering out of their dens along Garst Road. Burrowing owlMorton Bay was good for Red-necked Phalarope. At Finney and Ramer Lakes we added Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Phainopepla, and Verdin. Hundreds of Double-crested Cormorants and Cattle Egrets were massing on the island rookeries. A California king snake was a nice surprise. During the last hour of daylight Inca Doves were easy to roust in Brawley, but the Gila Woodpeckers were already bundled up for the night. When we tallied up the species total for the day over dinner, we realized that we'd found 123 kinds!
Apr 7- Salton Sea to the Laguna Mts.

Salton Sea sunriseWe started out at Unit 1 of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR before the sun rose, and were treated to a symphony of Clapper Rails, American and Least Bitterns, Marsh Wrens, and Common Yellowthroats. Skeins of Double-crested Cormorants streamed past the sun as it rose over the pond.

barrel cactus

At Anza Borrego State Park we poked into several canyons and washes, tallying Rock and Cactus Wrens, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Verdin, Black-throated Sparrow, and Costa's Hummingbird. We were also happy to see blooming cholla, beavertail, barrel, and hedgehog cacti. At the newly re-opened Tamarisk Campground we were fortunate to have the host, Becki, show us a ewe desert bighorn on the mountainside through her spotting scope. We also spotted a number of Phainopepla and a single White-winged Dove.
Pine Siskin    At the Birdwatcher store in Julian we watched as dozens of Pine Siskins and Lesser Goldfinches fed on thistle seed. In William Heise County Park we had our picnic lunch and walked part of the Cedar Trail. House Wren, Spotted Towhee, Oak Titmice, Acorn Woodpecker, and Steller's Jay were all on the menu. At Cuyamaca Lake we saw a beautiful Wood Duck pair and in the State Park we walked the visitor center trail. Lots of California Quail calling and strutting about, but still no Mountain Quail.

Tricolored Blackbird
   At Jacumba our main target was the Tricolored Blackbirds, which we found in fine numbers at the lake west of town. However, we couldn't track down the Harris's Hawks or Lawrence's Goldfinches anywhere.
   Our final stop for the evening was along Kitchen Creek Road, at a creekside stop that has seen breeding Larry's in the past.We had lots of singing House Finches and House Wrens, but not a peep from any goldfinches. And then we head a Mountain Quail let out his distinctive squawk! As others answered, we scanned the chaparral mountainside, hoping to glimpse one of these wily gamebirds. When I'd all but given up, I saw one crying from a large sandstone boulder just below the ridge line. Göran got on it quickly and called Lena over. She got a peek just before it hopped back down into the impenetrable brush.
Apr 8 - San Diego County

Our final day of birding was in stiff winds and mist in San Diego County. Brandt's CormorantAt La Jolla we had close-up views of breeding Brandt's Cormorants sporting their gular pouches. wandering tattlerA Wandering Tattler was avoiding the heavy surf, staying obligingly close in cove. At the western edge of the Imperial Beach Sports Park we finally located two Yellow-crowned Night-Herons exceptionally well concealed in a thick pine. Easier to spot were five Black-crowned Night-Herons, two of which were attending a nest.

SurfbirdsAt the end of the Palm Avenue Jetty were about a dozen Surfbirds in glorious breeding plumage, dashing in and out of the crashing waves in search of tasty morsels. As a group of locals braved the jetty rocks, the Surfbirds flew over to the sandy beach and allowed us to get some fine close-up photos.
At a couple of spots in the Tijuana River Valley we had Yellow Warbler and Bell's Vireo.

American Crow   At Dairy Mart Ponds we found new viewing blinds, benches, and lots of American Crows.  The San Diego River mouth was one of the birdiest areas we visited. Elegant, Royal, Caspian, and Forster's Terns were flying about and resting on the islands with Black Skimmer, gulls, and a mix of shorebirds. In the river itself were a large flock of Brant, some lingering ducks, and Little Blue Herons. A hovering Osprey dove down and pulled up an eel-like fish with a forked tail.
elegant tern   As I dropped off Göran and Lena at Fisherman's Landing a Red-crowned Parrot flew into a nearby tree and started loudly squawking. It was no doubt wishing them a Bon Voyage for their week-log pelagic down to Baja, Mexico!
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