Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The rest of California.

I arrived in San Diego on a foggy St Patrick's Day morning, ready to take on some birding before Sunni would get done with work.  The sun emerged while I stopped for a sandwich and by the time I arrived at Lake Hodges things were hot and dusty.  Quite the difference from the snowy death march only 24 hours before. 

I was supposed to be looking for sparrows but I was quickly distracted by grebes doing that thing they do...

Both Western and Clark's Grebes were getting in on the mating ritual, sometimes one of each.  I sat and watched for a long time before deciding to drive over to Oak Hill Cemetery.  Birds love dead people.

Another Western Bluebird caught a caterpillar and proceeded to beat it into submission atop a gravestone.

Other birds around the cemetery:

 Lark Sparrow

Mountain Chickadee

My last stop near Liberty Station had this handsome Marbled Godwit feeding along the shore with a Willet:

And another Black Phoebe, because they are everywhere...

When Sunni was done with work we decided to head over to a pizza pub walking distance from the hotel to grab a bite and a beer.  It being St Patrick's Day, and us not having seen each other for awhile, this turned into a few beers.  And a few more.  Green ones.  Oh and tequila too.  So many bad decisions that led to my birding the next morning consisting of me sitting on the lawn behind the hotel with gatorade and iced coffee, trying not to hurl. 

At least a bunny showed up.

This bunny appeared out of the rubble along the shoreline and provided me with all kinds of combo possibilities.  The best was a Western Gull, Great Blue Heron, Marbled Godwit, bunny combo:

Yessss.  A ground squirrel also kept me company.

By the time Sunni was done with work at noon I was feeling alive again and we headed out to the desert.  You've already heard all about that.  The day after we returned from the desert we woke up in El Cajon, the only place with a motel room, and went over to Lake Murray for some misty cloudy birding.  Here I learned snails love a good cactus:

I picked up an un-exciting lifer here, the Scaly-breasted Munia (aka Nutmeg Mannikin):

Gross.  Shortly after that Don Francisco arrived at the park and we all went for a good walk around the lake.  We had some hummers that may or may not have been Allen's, which would have been a lifer had I been able to tell for sure.

After the park we brought Sunni to the airport, and continued birding at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. 

Black Phoebes love dead people more than most. 

We stopped for lunch at a burger place, then went over to Famosa Slough where the water was too high for rails and shorebirds.  Things went south there. 

I suddenly had to go to the bathroom.  Real bad.  Real real bad.  We made it to the car and to a gas station where a man with his child had just exited the bathroom, announcing to the cashier that "things are really stopped up in there."  FUCK.  The next place did not have a bathroom.  I was about to cry and accept the fact that Frank would have to watch me poop in my pants while driving around.  Then there it was, my savior, a Jack in the Box.  After accidentally stealing the men's room key from a ten-year-old I managed to acquire the ladies room key and get inside and took care of business without a misplaced drop.

When I was done I bought a small sprite out of guilt, walked back to the car, and never felt sick again that day.  We drove out to our next destination, the Tijuana River estuary, to look for a reported Pacific Golden-Plover. 

Ground squirrel - meadowlark combo

On the horizon we saw birders and followed in their footsteps down the dike to the beach.

Snowy Plovers were plentiful.

Royal and Forster's Terns were racing around, being awesome.

The other birders had turned around and it seemed like the plover was not to be found.  But then they found it. 

Yes!  ABA bird!  So good!  And to think if I had not had all those bathroom issues we would have arrived much earlier and probably not seen the bird.  Cheers to bad lettuce or whatever the hell did me in!

We took a quick walk out on the Imperial Beach Pier before leaving town.

We had planned to camp somewhere but Frank had forgotten his own sleeping bag and I refused to share, so we got off the highway at a random town, Pine Valley, and crashed at the local motel for the night.  In the morning we checked out the two eBird hotspots nearby starting with Sunrise Highway MP 14.5.  Ever heard of it? 

It's lovely.  Frank quickly noted that a couple of Black-chinned Sparrows were singing which I was super excited about.

This is one of the most pleasant birds I have ever met.  Listen to one sing on this action-packed video here.

This spot was was littered with abandoned mines and is apparently a Gray Vireo spot at the right time of year.  From there we headed back to town, stopping for a dead little bunny in the road:

We killed time at the local diner while waiting for the Pine Valley County Park to open at 9:30.  The park itself was well-maintained with a playground and ball fields, though we discovered a dusty trail leading out a gate on the east side.  We followed it for a long time through some awesome-smelling sage and found quite a few birds including Band-tailed Pigeons, Pine Siskins, Mountain Chickadees, Steller's Jays, and piles of Western Bluebirds.

 Nuttall's Woodpecker

Back in San Diego we made stops along Dairy Mart Road, Border Field, and some ball fields, picking up more year birds.  Bell's Vireo was one I had not planned on seeing, so that was nice.

That was about it.  I picked up 17 year birds down there including three lifers, had awesome times with Sunni and Frank, and got my warm and dry weather fix.  Good times!!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Anza-Borrego Desert.

A couple years ago my good friend Sunni and I visited Anza-Borrego briefly (blog post here) and we had both been wanting to go back ever since.  Since she had to fly to San Diego this past week for work and I was planning to meet her to get in some birding, it was a good time to make the drive.  We headed east in my second rental car of the year, stopped in Julian for an ugly baseball hat and pie, and continued through the mountains.

We drove through Borrego Springs en route to the state park headquarters passing some of the famous metal sculptures by Ricardo Breceda.

Bird claw gripping my shoulder. 

We made it to the visitor center and stopped for some cold water and to ask about wildflowers and hawks.  I had heard about the migration of Swainson's Hawks here and wanted to get the latest info.  Conveniently the person we asked was Terry Hunefeld, a name I recognized when I read it on his name tag, but did not figure out till later.  He was super friendly and helpful and gave us the scoop on wildflowers as well as the hawks.  I realized he is also the local eBird reviewer, and he had emailed me about a Vermilion Flycatcher I reported on my last visit. 

There are plenty of birds around the visitor center and we spent some time wandering around the area.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher catching a non-gnat. 

 This is not a photo I like, but this is the photo I took when I knelt onto a cholla, so I feel like I should at least post the reason I have a blood stain on my pants.

This is the same Costa's, perched directly above Sunni's head.


 On our last trip out here I only saw one Cactus Wren, a brief sighting by a motel on the main drag, so I was very pleased to find a pair hanging out right by the visitor center this time.

From the visitor center we headed out to the spots Terry had shown us for wildflowers.  Somehow we did not notice them on our way east, but on our return the flowers were blatantly obvious.  Apparently I did not take photos of them because I was so distracted by all the white-lined sphinx moth caterpillars.

These juicy nuggets are everywhere out there, and are the main reason all the Swainson's Hawks stop over.  We were excited to arrive at the Hawkwatch sight with hopes of seeing a view like this.  Unfortunately the birds dropped down low as they arrived and we could barely see them as they flew in.


Finding a motel proved a huge challenge as it is apparently desert season as well as spring break.  We finally found a place with ridiculously expensive rooms and took it.  Oh well.  The next morning I was eager to get up before sunrise and check out the Borrego Springs WTP settling ponds, as there were reports of Phainopeplas and Crissal Thrashers.  Sunni opted to sleep in, and hopefully got some of our money's worth out of that hotel room.

I had some leftover pie and bad hotel room coffee, then drove out to the spot.  Just as the sun was rising I heard a thrasher song and made my way towards it.  Unfortunately the bird was strongly backlit and I still don't know if it was a Crissal or a California.  Like they say, birding is hard.

Thrasher-Phainopepla Combo

I tried to make it around the shrub to see the bird not silhouetted, but it disappeared without singing again.  At least there were piles of Phainopeplas making me wonder how the hell I had managed to miss this bird on previous desert trips.  Also, it was beautiful.

Desert lily


 Phainopepla - Loggerhead Shrike Northern Mockingbird Combo

When I got back to the car I found these tracks.


I went back to the hotel to cash in my free coffee card and pick up Sunni to head out for some hiking.  We drove down to the Yaqui Well Trail near the Tamarisk Campground. 

It was a nice short hike with Brewer's Sparrows being the most abundant bird.  Lizards made a strong showing as well.

We stopped for lunch at the same place we had lunch on our last visit, Pablito's, and headed back out in the heat to hike by Pena Spring in the Culp Valley area.  The higher elevation made for more bearable temperatures (upper 80's) combined with a pleasant breeze.

The spring should have been a third of a mile from the trailhead and we were a mile up this hill when we decided to turn around.  It was an amazing view at least.

A couple of Black-throated Sparrows on the hike down were the only ones of my trip.

When we returned to the trail head we found another sign for the spring pointing in a different direction, so we tried that one too.

This California Thrasher was stuffing its bill with snacks along the trail.  I hate heavy crops like this next one, but I love that it has two different critters in its bill:

In the end, we never found the spring.  We tipped our sweaty hats to this Phainopepla and bid the desert farewell.

Good times!!!!  More to come from southern CA!