Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Up to the Mesa and Back at Bolsa Chica

A Rock Dove aka Pigeon on the railing of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve footbridge. They roost under the bridge and come up to sit on the railing.

I always see or hear Rock Doves as I cross the Bolsa Chica footbridge. Today was no different.

Willet stand off.

I like Willets even if they are as common as sand on the beach. They are always in and around the pickleweed by the footbridge.

Just beyond the bridge, opposite the first lookout, a rare bird for the OC--White-winged Scoter.

I wanted to hurry and get up to the mesa to see the activity up there, but go distracted on the way up by a White-winged Scoter. It was still there. I had seen it the other day on the way to work.

Marbled Godwit--Limosa fedoa a bird often seen in the mudflats or shallow water. In the pickleweed they are often found wing to wing with Willets--Catoptrophorus semipalmatus.

I like both Willets and Marbled Godwits which I think are quite pretty.

Semipalmated Plover. Cute little guy scooting along the soggy ground.

Snowy Plovers and Semipalmated Plovers are just about the cutest little birds in the wetlands.

Male Ruddy Duck in breeding plumage.

I always like seeing the Ruddy Duck in breeding plumage. Its blue bill is so pretty.

Snowy Egret--Egretta thula strutting through the water.

I always enjoy seeing Snowies. You never know what you will see. They are so active and full of personality.

A mature Double-crested Cormorant--Phalacrocorax auritus. They have beautiful turquoise eyes.

I don't know if they have Bette Davis eyes, but they sure have great eyes. the turquoise is so unusual. I was near the foot of the mesa. Almost there.

There is always an Anna's Hummingbird--Calypte anna or two up on the mesa as you come up the path.

Of course the Anna's was there on a shrub at the top of the mesa.

A turn of the head flashes fluorescent rose.

Up on the mesa, a disturbing sight--one of many of the European Starlings making themselves at home on the mesa.

I have to see European Starlings. They are aggressive birds who really reduce the populations of our cavity nesting birds.

Mourning Dove--Zenaida macroura on the chain link fence on the top of the mesa. I love their soft owl-like call and the whistling sound of their wings as they fly away. Mourning Dove--Zenaida macroura are common in Orange County, California.

On the mesa there was a symphony of springtime birds singing for mates: Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Yellowthroats , Northern Mockingbirds, Anna's Hummingbirds, Song Sparrows, and more I couldn't sort out. Nothing like the mesa in springtime.

Who is that masked yellow bird? A Male Common Yellowthroat singing for a mate. Common Yellowthroats can be heard down by the bridge and in the bushes and shrubs along the PCH side of the water, and up on the mesa to mention a few places you will find them. They are hard to spot and are most often heard: Witchety, witchety, witchety.

The warm smells of sage and flowering plants filled the air.

Male Red-winged Blackbird displaying for mates up on the mesa.

A female Northern Harrier--Circus cyaneus flew by and then perched up in a bare tree. When the inlet was opened, it flooded an area below the mesa and killed some trees. There are a few dead trees at the top of the mesa, too and that was where it perched.

Great Blue Herons Nesting at Bolsa Chica from OC Birder Girl on Vimeo.

A pair of Great Blue Herons were building a nest in a dead tree on the mesa. It consisted seemingly entirely of large sticks.

Great Egret--Ardea alba hunts on the mesa for some tasty non-fishy morsel, surprising many used to seeing them in the water hunting fish.

A Great Egret--Ardea alba was hunting below in among the flowing plants. I was so enraptured by the sights, sounds, and smells, that a snake moving fast across the path by my feet startled me. I forget there are there. I didn't even get a shot of it.

The first Great Egret flew away and either another one flew onto the mesa, or it returned within 10 minutes and flew behind the chain-link fence.

Yummy! A tail disappears down a Great Egret's throat proving that it ain't just fish in their diet. There were lots and lots of lizards sunning themselves on the mesa and so I am guessing at least one was gobbled up by this hungry Great Egret--Ardea alba.

Hunting behind the fence in deep grass and weeds, the Great Egret--Ardea alba mixes in with lizards, snakes, and rodents like rabbits (too large for a meal) and ground squirrels(again too large), gophers, and other little rodents that are just right for a tasty meal.

Song Sparrow singing among the flowers.

A path through the mesa near the fence. Lined with bladderpod, sage, and wildflowers, it's a nice walk by the fenced in meadow.
The baked smells of the afternoon perfumed the air. I took another sort walk along the path by the fence this time.

A Northern Mockingbird can usually be found on the mesa and there were several this day.
A Northern Mockingbird sang tirelessly. Since it wasn't midnight outside my house, I enjoyed it. I headed back down the mesa and took the path that I had come along. Wasn't in the mood for the dusty, broken PCH trail.

Male Ruddy Duck in breeding plumage.

Horned Grebe swims by--not seen here as much as the abundant Eared Grebe--Podiceps nigricollis.

As I got near the bridge a pair of Killdeer--Charadrius vociferus blocked the way standing in the path. As I waited, they began the "broken wing display," trying to draw several people away from their nest. I never saw it, but they were very persistant trying several times.

A Killdeer--Charadrius vociferus does it's famous distraction drama--"I've broken my wing and am easy prey!" All this to save eggs and or chicks from the predator lurking near by. I never saw a nest or chick, but they must have been nearby.

Killdeer--Charadrius vociferus protecting its young by drawing attention to itself. Known as the Broken Wing Display.

Finally, they gave up and flew away.

What ya didn't go for it? Killdeer--Charadrius vociferus decides to move on and I get to head for the bridge.

Back near the footbridge I ran into the White-winged Scoter again. He had some friends with him this time.

Immature White-winged Scoter now hanging out with two female Scaups--lesser or greater I'll let you decide.

Western Sandpiper? foraging by the Bolsa Chica footbridge.

All in all, it was a great day of birding in Orange County. I headed back to my car satisfied.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Irvine Regional Park on Friday

Male Wood Duck--Aix sponsa swimming in the lake at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California

Decided to take off a few days to bird. Joined the Sea and Sage Audubon field trip to Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California. I like to join field trips to learn from the leader and other members about the birds we see and about the place we are going. Sometimes even places I have gone many times before like Irvine Regional Park, has places I haven't gone or there are facts I haven't learned before.

A male Peacock in a hurry at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California.

There is a small population of Peacocks that are in Orange and go between Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California and Santiago Oaks Regional Park.

Male Ring-necked Duck at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California

The Ring-necked Duck has a thin cinnamon ring around its neck that can't always be seem. I do almost always see Ring-necked Ducks in the lake at Irvine Regional Park.

Male Ring-necked Duck with his cinnamon ring showing at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California.

The great thing about Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California is the oak woodlands and the large areas of grass. It is that combination that attracts some great birds like the Acorn Woodpecker--Melanerpes formicivorus, Western Bluebird--Sialia mexicana, Wood Duck--Aix sponsa, Red-Shouldered Hawk, and the American Robin--Turdus migratorius.

Female American Robin--Turdus migratorius at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California.

In the picnic area across the railroad tracks from the lake, there was an American Robin--Turdus migratorius couple foraging in the grass.

Male American Robin--Turdus migratorius at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California.

It was nice to see the American Robins--Turdus migratorius. I don't see them that much any more. The leader of the field trip had studied with Sea and Sage leader Sylvia Gallagher who teaches several classes including "Birding by Ear." American Robins evidently have several songs.

European Starling. An unwelcome sight in the Colonies and here at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California. This aggressive cavity nester kills other cavity nesting birds and punctures their eggs. Partly responsible for the decline of cavity nesters in the United States. Released in New York's Central Park by a misguided Shakespeare fan in the 1800s. Not a nice bird.

Unfortunately, there were lots of European Starlings competing with the cavity nesters at the park. European Starlings are very aggressive alien birds that will kill birds and puncture their eggs if they are in a cavity they want or even in a nearby cavity.

Male Western Bluebird--Sialia mexicana on the lawn searching for a meal at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California.

There didn't seem to be as many Western Bluebirds--Sialia mexicana as usual and I wondered if the presence of so many European Starlings had anything to do with it.

Male Western Bluebird--Sialia mexicana on a tree trunk at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California. It is not unusual to see a Western Bluebird--Sialia mexicana perched on a tree trunk.

We also went up into the hills and had a nice walk with great views of the park.

Hilly terrain above the more developed Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California proper. There are several natural wilderness-type areas that are part of the park, but provide great hiking and birding.

We saw a lot of wildflowers.

Gooseberry--lots of animals like the flower and the berries.

And a large group of Turkey Vultures--Cathartes aura soaring below us.

Turkey Vulture--Cathartes aura flying high above Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California.

And above us at times.

Turkey Vulture--Cathartes aura from the ridge looking down a about 7 circling Turkey Vultures--Cathartes aura. This is the only vulture we have in Orange County.

We also saw an American Kestrel--Falco sparverius and several wrens.

Dodder is also called "Witch's Hair." It is a parasitic plant that often kills the host plant.

Dodder has always been an interesting plant to see in the hillsides. I don't see it along the roads like I used to see it.

Raven at the park. Ravens are larger than Crows, have a diamond or wedge-shaped tail and make deep croaking noises rather than repetitive caws.

The croaking Ravens made some unusual noises.

One of many feral parrots that live at Irvine Regional Park and in the nearby area including Santiago Oaks.

The parrots were noisy. The crows were noisy. The Acorn Woodpeckers were noisy. A difficult place to take a nap.

Parrot checking out a potential nesting cavity. These parrots are competing for nesting cavities with Acorn Woodpeckers, owls, and European Starlings to name a few.

And of course, we saw a Black Phoebe--Sayornis nigricans. It is a very common bird in Orange County.

A Black Phoebe on a log.

Red-tailed Hawk soars above.

A Red-Tailed Hawk--Buteo jamaicensis and a fast moving Red-Shouldered Hawk after the trip.

A flock of American White Pelicans above headed for a lake or river. They often fly for long distances each day to find good fishing spots in fresh water. It is not unusual to see them overhead in Orange County on their way somewhere.

The most unexpected, but not unusual sighting was of a flock of American White Pelicans. I stayed after the field trip and took a lot of pictures. It was a great field trip with the leader knowing the park well and knowing how to identify birds by their song as well as their appearance. I learned a lot birding with Sea and Sage Audubon.

External Link

An informative article on the parasitic orange plant called Dodder.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Breezing Through Bolsa Chica

Snowy Egret by the parking lot.

Thursday 03/26/2009 was a beautiful, sunny, and breezy day at Bolsa Chica. The kind that makes me smile as I step out of the car and hang my camera around my neck, put on my back pack, and put my old zoom binoculars over my shoulder. Ah, what can be better than to be on vacation and outdoors in the Spring? The Least Terns, Royal Terns, and Forster's Terns were noisy and raucous as they set about housekeeping on the little islands and strands in the Bolsa Chica waters. The cacophony of calls was like music to my ears.

Belding's Savannah Sparrow on the footbridge railing.

As I was about to step onto the bridge, I saw Belding's Savannah Sparrow on the footbridge railing. It's an endangered sub-species of the Savannah Sparrow. These cute little guys live in marshy habitats like Bolsa Chica and it didn't seem at all bothered by the noisy nesting terns.

Least Terns, Royal Terns, Forster's Terns, Ring-billed Gulls, Brown Pelicans, and more are out on the little strips of land out in the water at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve .

And Spring at Bolsa Chica means chaotic noise from thousands of Least, Royal, and Forster's Terns. No doubt about their presence or the start of nesting season. The noise is incredible. Add to that Brown Pelicans in breeding plumage and thousands of gulls and you have a spectacular and noisy sight. Usually I also see Black Skimmers, but none were in sight today.

Birds flying every which way.

I peered through the chain link fence at the sight of thousands of white terns and gulls on the strands in the water. I walked up on the first lookout. I stood there just watching and listening--soaking it in. Something--probably a Northern Harrier spooked them and thousands of birds took wing simultaneously. Terns and Brown Pelicans filled the air. All birds on the right side of the lookout flew like something was after them to the left and crowded onto the strands shoulder to shoulder, leaving the left deserted with a few Double-crested Cormorants drying out on the empty land.

Quite a sight!

As I walked along the gravel path by the wetlands with its little channels cut through the wetlands, I came across an Eared Grebe coming into its breeding plumage.

Eared Grebe in the beginnings of breeding plumage.

The wetlands are beautiful at either high tide or low tide. The blue water and the green plants with the brown earth can be very dramatic. I saw a few Blue-winged Teals as I walked along.

Western Grebe in the Wintersburg Channel. One of several I saw today.

I walked out fast toward the mesa to see what might be out there and on the way saw a pair of Western Grebes, American Wigeons, American Coots, and a Snowy Egret in the Wintersburg Channel.

Perched on the fence before you cross the Wintersburg Channel was a wind-blown Snowy Egret. Then as I went along toward the mesa, I saw a funny sight.

The usual suspects lined up to get out of the wind. Bolsa Chica Snowy Egrets like a bank at their banks in the wind.

As I walked out toward the mesa, I came across a little group of Snowy Egrets on the rocks, who unlike the wind-blown Snowy, were trying to get out of the wind. They look so funny with their necks scrunched in and their feathers fluffed trying to keep warm, but I guess if I had a long skinny neck, I'd scrunch down, too. The Snowies are often lined up along the bank opposite to where the wind is coming from.

Overlooking the mesa a House Finch perches on a Bush Sunflower (Encelia californica).

Up on the mesa, it was full of flowers--mostly Bush Sunflowers (Encelia californica). This I say cautiously since this is not my field of expertise, but that's what they look like to me.

Just a few flowers.

Bush Sunflowers and sage on the sunny, breezy mesa.

Bush Sunflowers--a close up look.

Sage on the left and Bush Sunflowers on the right. I love the smell of the sun on sage. The view of the ocean from the top of the mesa an added bonus.

A beautiful Red-winged Blackbird shows his red epaulets up on the mesa. Time to go courting, and Red-winged Blackbirds on the mesa are flying up in the air singing and displaying their red shoulders in hopes of attracting a few mates.

Out on the mesa the sound of birds was everywhere. House Finches. Anna's Hummingbirds. White-crowned Sparrows. Common Yellowthroats. And the unusual call of the Red-winged Blackbird which always seems to have a boing in it to me. They where flying and calling out to potential mates. Perching on plants and fences singing loudly. It was something to behold.

This video would have been longer, but my card was running out of room and stopped. I changed cards, but couldn't get a good shot like this again. I hope to go back.

Male House Finch, lower left. Male Anna's Hummingbird on the top. Female House Finch upper right.

Of course the male Anna's Hummingbird that is always staking out a bush on the mesa was there. The sun was making its way down, and I wanted to get back well before dark. So I headed back to the parking lot.

And an unusual number of lizards were warming themselves in the late afternoon sun right on the path.

A Pied-billed Grebe halfway between winter and breeding plumage.

Dowitchers doing their sewing machine-like feeding.

On the way back I saw lots of Ruddy Ducks. Check out the almost completely blue bill on this male.

I walked back along the path that parallels PCH (Pacific Coast Highway). It is in disrepair and dusty, but it was quicker and sometimes there are some interesting birds to be seen there.

White-winged Scoter.

One last look out from the footbridge by the parking lot brought me the chance to see a new bird I hadn't seen before, the White-winged Scoter. (Click here for the Merriam Webster pronunciation if you don't know how to say Scoter.)

Cattails by the parking lot.

All in all a great day of walking and birding.

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