Sunday, April 18, 2010

Birds Keep Me Guessing

I often don't know where or when bird species will turn up. I do have a general idea from past years of birding in this area, but what exactly I will see in a particular place on a particular day is still often a mystery. I might bicycle and bird all day in the best of habitats and have few birds. Or I might walk my dog on the same route I take almost every morning in my neighborhood and a new species or two will pop up along with all sorts of other nice birds! While some times it can be a little frustrating (like an all day pedal with few birds), it is also part of the appeal of birding in that there is always the element of surprise and wonder with birds (as there is with nature in general).
After birding all day in one of the best locations for numbers of species in the central coast yesterday, Nike and I took our daily 30 minute walk this morning, April 18. Immediately upon getting to the edge of the bay near our house, I saw species I had not seen the day before in the estuary from the Elfin Forest; Blue-winged Teal swam the low tide channels and a gorgeous male Red-breasted Merganser was nearby. As I approached Pecho Willows (a stand at the end of my street that can be birdy) Lazuli Buntings streamed by (their buzzy call note was heard from all over), one flock was at least ten birds. Wilson's Warblers and Warbling Vireos sang from the sunny edge of the willows along Pecho, along with two Nashville Warblers (photo) and an unexpected male Black-chinned Hummingbird (BIGBY # 233). This was only the second Black-chinned I had seen in the neighborhood in the 20 years I had lived there! Numerous other species were active in the trees - the same trees that had been very quiet two days before. My 30 minute dog walk became almost an hour walk.
I didn't want to take too long because I had planned to ride to the county environmental school, Rancho El Chorro (a few miles inland and between Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo). I wanted to look for Blue Grosbeaks seen by Maggie and then onto some private ponds nearby for possible Yellow-headed Blackbirds. At the same time, I did not want to leave a place full of birds for somewhere else that might be slow.

Once I felt I had seen almost all of the birds in my neighborhood, I changed and left on my bike for Highway 1 and Rancho. I heard Blue Grosbeak (BIGBY # 234) as I pedalled along Highway 1, well before I ever got to Rancho (near willows in a low spot just north of the shooting range, near a lone large palm). Two males were singing and one female was nearby. Two Cassins Kingbirds also called in the area.
I then rushed over to the ponds fearing that the blackbirds had mostly dispersed into the nearby fields from their roost in reeds at the ponds. Unfortunately, many of the blackbirds were gone, but 30 or 40 Tricolored Blackbirds and a few Red-winged Blackbirds remained. The other unfortunate thing was the presence of about 12 pair of Great-tailed Grackles, a sometimes nest predator, gathering nesting material. I went on to the second pond and found a lone shorebird, the only shorebird in the area except for Killdeer. Expecting maybe a yellowlegs, I looked through my binoculars and saw the Solitary Sandpiper (BIGBY # 235) pictured here - a very rare spring migrant in coastal California! It nervously moved along the edge of the pond and I didn't want to bother it too much because at least one year lister for the county needed it.
Next I went to Rancho El Chorro to try and photograph a Blue Grosbeak, but windy conditions made it difficult. I did get the one shot shown here. I then left for home and the L.A. Lakers first playoff game.

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