Our Avian Adventures tour in California followed closely the itinerary we have used in previous years: after flying into Los Angeles we worked our way up the coast via Ventura and Morro Bay to Monterey and then headed inland to spectacular Yosemite National Park before catching a return flight from San Francisco. It has been successful in the past and it worked well again this time.
As we headed north from Ventura we saw what is the only other species, apart from Island Scrub-Jay, that has never been recorded outside California - the Yellow-billed Magpie. Again they are easy enough to find although there have been reports recently of a decline in numbers. We also called in at Nojoqui Falls County Park where within just a few minutes of each other we found two vagrants from the eastern USA - Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Canada Warbler. As always when we find 'rarities' on tours we put word out about these birds as soon as possible.
Our one full day in the area was divided between Morro Bay State Park and Montaňa de Oro State Park and in terms of the number of species recorded this was the best day of the entire tour. Many of these were shorebirds, with Marbled Godwits, Willets, Western and Least Sandpipers and Greater Yellowlegs particularly numerous.
From Morro Bay we continued north along the picturesque Big Sur coast to Monterey stopping regularly to admire the scenery and to look for birds mainly on the sea - scoters, loons, grebes and cormorants. We also stopped at Piedras Blancas to see Northern Elephant Seals. Hunted nearly to extinction years ago for their oil-rich blubber, these remarkable mammals are now protected and have made a remarkable comeback.
Check Mate. It's amazing who you meet in such places! By chance, also there for the boat were old friends from the West Midland Club, Bob Normand, Jim Winsper and Mike West with their wives (a group that I also bumped into on a similar boat trip in Texas some years ago!), Mike Hodgson who I have met several times when leading tours in Lesvos, David Patick from Huntington, WV who June and I met in Texas earlier this year plus another tour group from the UK.
It proved to be one of the smoothest boat trips I've ever been on - the sun shone, there was very little wind and the sea was calm - and we saw an excellent variety of seabirds and marine mammals. Notable amongst the birds were Tufted and Horned Puffins, Rhinoceros and Cassin's Auklets, Pink-footed, Sooty and Buller's Shearwaters, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Black-footed Albatross, Sabine's Gull, Long-tailed, Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers and South Polar Skua. And, of course, there were whales and dolphins...
After 10 days along the coast we headed inland to spend some time in and around Yosemite National Park. One of these days was taken up by a visit to Mono Lake, famous for its abundant brine shrimps which along with the countless alkali flies that inhabit the shoreline provide food for huge numbers of birds, especially Eared Grebes, California Gulls and Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes. It is estimated for instance that more than one million Eared Grebes congregate on the lake each year to moult and to feed up in preparation for their migration and there is enough food for them to double their weight during this time!
Next stop: Tavira...
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