Where I've been/What I've seen
This past weekend, I drove out to Anza-Borrego for the first time, up and down the curvy roads of the mountains until I arrived. To not let a nearly two hour drive go to waste, I decided to check out some of the local birding spots around there, just to catch up on some of the desert birds that I had not quite seen yet this year. The first spot I visited was just a quick trip to the Anza-Borrego State Park Visitor Center, a nice, quick, reliable spot to see many of the more common birds that reside in the deserts of San Diego County. There I encountered a personal favorite, a Black-throated Sparrow, as well as Verdin, Yellow and Wilson’s Warblers, and numerous Costa’s Hummingbirds. This was a fairly quick stop for me, as I had seen practically all the birds that I wanted to almost immediately, and on the way out I saw a Cactus Wren flying from one cholla to the next.
. I then drove for around ten minutes to get to Mesquite Bosque, a place I had never birded before. Mesquite Bosque was...interesting to say the least. At the end of the road where I parked there was an abandoned little one-story house, with an old limousine parked in the side yard along with boats and cars in the very visible back yard. I continued to walk out into the bosque itself, with dead mesquite trees lining an old sand road that I used to get where I needed to go. A burnt down house was among one of the other things I noticed while walking along here, along with many trashed electronics, not limited to but including refrigerators, old, boxy TVs, and many other things that had been so scrapped, their original state was almost impossible to determine. I approached a clearing in the bosque, where the dirt flattened out and became firm, and the vegetation thinned out. I decided to look in the bushes for birds, and was not disappointed. A MacGillivray’s Warbler, a new bird for San Diego county for me decided to show itself, however hopping deep into the center before I could snap a photo of it. A few Western Tanagers flew over, their bright orange faces contrasting with their neon-yellow bodies and black wings. I went east from this point, trying to find the coordinates that a friend had sent me of where to possibly find a Crissal Thrasher. I continued to bird and head in that general direction and encountered a lone Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, not very cooperative, but some of the better looks that I have had of the species. I had just about given up on the Crissal Thrashers when I heard one far in the distance. Because Crissal Thrashers are incredibly loud, I decided not to try to find it, for it could be quite a ways away, and I accepted just hearing it for this trip out. I began the long walk back to the car, and along the way decided I wanted to make my last stop of the day Tamarisk Grove, a campground where I have had much luck in the past year.
Last month, I headed up to the mountains of San Diego for the first time this year with fellow young birder Max leading the way (driving, as usual). After a quick car trip to Lake Cuyamaca, we got out of the car and unsuccessfully tried to look for previously reported Cassin’s Finches. We unfortunately dipped on them, probably due to the cold, breezy weather (there was somehow snow in the parking lot). However, we did pick up the continuing Greater White-Fronted Goose, with extraordinary views of under ten feet, and picked up the highest rated photo of the species for California on eBird. At the lake I also picked up a few year birds, including Violet-green Swallow and Canvasback, two birds of some difficulty to get near the coast, but much easier at higher elevations in the county. We continued to look for the Cassin’s Finches for quite some time before giving up and moving on to Stonewall Mine, on the other side of the lake.
This was a super fun day, and considering it’s the last time I went birding (a month as of today), I most certainly am not taking it for granted.
With almost my entire family sick somehow, I decided to try to escape the house and chase a nearby Grace’s Warbler at one of my patches (San Dieguito Lagoon/Crest Canyon OSP), which happened to be maybe a 15th county record according the CBRC. So anyway, I arrive at the canyon and travel up a nearby side street for maybe an eighth of a mile until I come to the house with three pine trees in the back, perfect looking habitat for a Grace’s. Sure enough, I hear the distinctive Grace’s chip note before long and try to pish for it to come nearer. This bird, despite being plenty vocal, made an appearance only once before I had to go back to the car and head home (it was starting to get a bit dark with it being overcast). Here’s a very low-quality picture of this incredible warbler:
Hello! Been quite a while since I did my last post (2 months wow, thanks school), and I recently got back from a casual trip to London, so here goes nothing.
Despite this trip being mostly for leisure, I still managed to get some birding in, bringing in somewhere around fifty lifers, well above my target species list. Most of my birding around the city was casual and included birds that I mainly saw when doing touristy things.
The next day (Christmas), I woke up to go on an early morning walk (which happened to be 8am) to Kensington Gardens. This was my first time “birding” per say, and the number of birds which I saw was likely reduced due to rain. Here is where I found my lifers Common Pochard and Tufted Duck, probably my two favorites at this location. Also new to me were Egyptian Geese, Eurasian Coot and Moorhen, Rose-ringed Parakeet, and Eurasian Wren, among others.
I didn’t really see anything new until the 28th, the day my family had set aside for me to go birding in one of the neighboring counties (which happened to be Hertfordshire) in the Lea Valley. I went out with a local, one of the owners of Birding London, a nice birding tour company that operates in the counties around London. My targets for the day were the few shorebirds around, as well as many of the harder to get passerine birds around the city.
At this next stop we did not pick up very much that was new for the day, however I’ll go over the highlights. We made a few stops at the blinds along a trail where we picked up a Chiffchaff, White (Pied) Wagtail, dipped on Common Kingfisher, but also heard a few Water Rails over in the section of the preserve with reeds.
Unfortunately, I had to go to the airport at this point, concluding a very fun trip, I ended the trip getting around 50 lifers, and several more European subspecies that I would probably not see back in the states.
I woke up late yesterday and checked my email, just to make sure I had not missed anything important overnight. I looked in the eBird RBA thread, and it appeared to be just the usual continuing birds, Tricolored Heron, a White-winged Dove, a late staying Pacific-slope Flycatcher, until something caught my eye. So rare in fact, I had to blink twice to make sure that it was not my still half-sleeping eyes playing tricks on me. A Groove-billed Ani had been reported only fifteen minutes north of me (found by out-of-town birder Claudia Dias), and pending acceptance, a first San Diego record. I immediately told my parents who told me that we could go in a few hours. Waiting for these hours to pass felt extremely long, and there had been no reports since the initial finding. About an hour before we left however, the bird was found again, and there were twenty birders on it.
The time finally came where I could go after the bird, and I hopped in the driver’s seat of the car for only the second time and drove with my mother to the park where the bird was being seen. The drive felt like forever, and when we got to the park I grabbed my gear and ran about a quarter mile to where the bird was being seen. The location was not too hard to find, considering about twenty birders were surrounding the bird when I arrived. I walked over a little bridge to the side where it was being seen, and there it was, perched right out in the open, not minding the numerous cameras clicking away at it.
The bird disappeared in the bush several times and emerged with a grasshopper, which seemed to be its primary food source. The was never a period of more than five minutes where the bird was not seen, and it must be the easiest bird I have ever chased. I personally believe that this bird really looks like a dinosaur. A really, ugly yet cute, floofy velociraptor. Honestly this is one of my favorite birds that I have ever chased and as a result I spent about an hour just watching it, and showing it to people and birders who stopped by. The bird continues at the same spot as of today, and some people are giving it a 50% chance at staying the winter.
Please excuse the hideous pictures, it was over 100 degrees out and the heat waves were terrible
The Salton Sea; most who know of it think of it as a barren wasteland, a place that once upon time, was a tourist destination. The Salton Sea is the largest body of water in California, funny considering it was formed by accident. Birders everywhere flock to the sea to catch glimpses of Yellow-footed Gulls, and other species seen there found nowhere else in the state. I recently braved the summer heat with several other young birders from the California Young Birders Club, to experience the sea, before it disappears forever.
The day started at four-something in the morning, carpooling with a friend to another friend, who would take all of us to the sea. There we would meet up with several other young birders at Cattle Call Park in Brawley. After crossing the mountainous areas of San Diego, the outdoor thermometer started to climb, starting in the seventies, and climbing to the mid-nineties by the time we arrived at the park. Cattle Call is known to have one of the most reliable Gila Woodpecker populations in the state, and as soon as we left the car, one was found in the palm tree above us. Although not much time was spent in the park, a beautiful male Western Tanager was found, the eccentric yellow seemingly matching perfectly with the bright orange-red of the face, as well as an Abert’s Towhee bouncing around.
Leaving the visitor center, we decided to pay a visit to Morton Bay, a not truly well-known, and certainly under-birded rarity magnet. Species like Sabine’s Gulls, Roseate Spoonbills, Blue-footed Boobies, frigatebirds, and more have been seen here in the past, but today we had no such luck. Ryan spotted a Neotropic Cormorant here, which was the first of two for the day. The extent of the birds we saw at this location included two new birds for me, the first of many Black Terns in addition to a Least Bittern calling somewhere from the cattails. At this point, the temperature had crept into the hundreds, and thankfully, it was not expected to get much hotter
As we left for a quick bite in Brawley, the group made a stop in a residential area for a reported Bronzed Cowbird. The bird, was most likely avoiding the heat, and as a result, we could not find it. We were just about to leave when the group behind us could not get their car started. They finally could, and we went to a Subway at a Walmart so they could look at the car, while we grabbed lunch.
Turns out the alternator on the car broke, meaning the entire group would cram into two minivans, or we could wait it out. We decided to wait, up until some of the members grew impatient and we decided to sacrifice our comfort for seeing birds. On the way to our next stop, a roadside field yielded birds such as Laughing Gulls, Whimbrel, and White-faced Ibis.
The seawall was not extremely productive, besides the five Yellow-footed Gulls, a Neotropic Cormorant, and an interesting looking white-morph Eared Grebe. “Peeps” were numerous here, but all of them seemed to be Western or Least. We continued to drive along the wall until we came across another field, one with thirty more Yellow-footed Gulls, eight-hundred Black Terns, and numbers ranging in the hundreds for several other birds. These numbers, however, could not be compared to those of ten or more years ago, when the now toxic vat of chemicals known as the Salton Sea attracted the same birds, but in the thousands. It was hard to imagine at the time, five to ten more times the number of birds in this small field.
By now we had reached the hottest part of the day, as well as the last stop. Most of the group was growing tired, and about ready to call it quits. We decided to make our last stop Unit 1 of Sonny Bono, a reliable place for shorebirds and other miscellanea of the Salton Sea. We scanned for a bit, pulling out a Burrowing Owl, and several shorebirds when a life bird flew in, two Wilson’s Phalaropes. After this somewhat surprising bird, the group headed back to the cars and called the day a success.
On the way back we talked with each other, about what we thought the Salton Sea used to be like, what would happen to it, and the effect it would have. We practically came to a consensus. The Salton Sea, in its prime, was the place to go birding on the west coast. Perfectly situated for state rarities, it lays above the Sea of Cortez, and vagrants were ever common. Since water flow was cut off to the sea, it has begun evaporating, the average water depth now being just over nine feet. Because of the evaporation, it has become one of the saltiest bodies of water on the planet, so salty that currently, only one kind of fish can live in it, known as Tilapia. If this continues, even this fish will die, and the sea will become a pit of mixed pesticides and salt, leading to both a conservation nightmare and a biological one as well. If the Salton Sea dries up, there will be no birds for miles around in the deserts of California, and worse, toxic dust clouds will spread up through Palm Springs, reaching the extent of the eastern area of Los Angeles. There’s only one thing that can stop a tragedy like this from happening: to save the sea at any cost.