Monday, 16 January 2012

Coastal Southern California

We’re just back from the USA, a trip that included a two-week Avian Adventures tour in California and Arizona. This was followed by a week on our own in Arizona with just a brief excursion into New Mexico. Almost throughout our stay we enjoyed clear blue skies and most days the temperature rose to at least 21º C. Early mornings were sometimes cold but we always knew that it would soon warm up.

We flew to Los Angeles and spent our first night in Newport Beach, about 45 miles to the south. Birding began the following morning (Christmas Eve) on the hotel car park where Western Bluebirds, Orange-crowned Warbler, Anna’s Hummingbird and Black Phoebe were very confiding and threatened to delay our departure. However, we were soon on our way to Upper Newport Bay where our visit coincided with one of the year’s highest tides and ideal conditions to see the area’s most notable bird, the “Light-footed” Clapper Rail. Not only did we see several of this restricted range subspecies but also Soras, a Virginia Rail and two American Bitterns, all of them forced out of the cordgrass by the rising water. It was an ideal place to start the tour and in no time at all we had seen 40 or more species – ducks, shorebirds, pelicans, raptors and more local specialities in the form of California Gnatcatcher and the beldingi subspecies of Savannah Sparrow.

Black-necked Stilt with dragonfly

Later, we spent some time at the nearby San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, an area of freshwater ponds that boasts 11 miles of nature trails. Here we had good close views of a variety of common ducks and shorebirds and saw our first Vermilion Flycatcher, always a crowd-pleaser. From there we headed to Dana Point where sadly we arrived a day too late to see the Masked Booby that had been hanging out there throughout the previous week. Those in our group who hadn’t previously seen one were just as impressed by a Pacific Loon.

Pacific Loon

Christmas Day was spent birding around San Diego, including the South Bay area, Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge and along Monument Road that leads to Border Field State Park. The South Bay area in particular was full of birds and again we were fortunate to have a high tide to push the hundreds of shorebirds into close view. Tijuana Slough provided the Little Blue Heron that we had hoped for, not a very common species in California, but along Monument Road, in fading light, we were frustrated in our attempts to see the many Wrentits that could be heard singing from the brushy hillside. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was here within sight of the border ‘fence’ that we had our first encounter with the US Border Patrol.

US Navy ship in the South Bay with rafts of ducks, mainly Redheads and Lesser Scaup.

Willet - the western race inornata.

Little Blue Heron

Before leaving the coast we spent a most enjoyable morning at La Jolla, an attractive little town just north of San Diego where we were able to get up close to Harbour Seals, Brown Pelicans, Brandt’s Cormorants, Heermann’s, Western and Ring-billed Gulls and Royal Terns. More distant were Western Grebes on the sea and Black-vented Shearwaters flying over it. Shorebirds included Black Turnstones, Hudsonian Whimbrel and Willets. We might have hoped for more but on a beautiful, warm and sunny morning in such a scenic area, no one was complaining!

Brown Pelican

Royal Tern

Harbour Seal - looking a bit puzzled!

Next, the Salton Sea…

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