Sunday, February 20, 2011

Walking Big Day

The very rainy weather of December gave way to a much drier January. January 22 seemed like a good day to do my first walking big day since the days were too short for a serious cycling big day. After walking Nike along the edge of the bay first thing in the morning (52 species, including the California fanning its tail at the bottom of this post), I figured I would put my scope and tripod in a carrier on my back and walk east and north around the edge of the bay. Hopefully, I would get to the Elfin Forest Overlook at the correct tide for shorebirds, and then go on as time allowed. The Snowy Egret below was feeding along the edge of the bay. They have been quite active lately, and showing the breeding plumes for their upcoming courtship.

After checking Pecho Willows at the end of my street for a second time,  I stopped at several spots along the edge of the bay. The tide was coming in, with a scheduled high tide of 4.47 at 11:53 AM. (closer to 12:30 by the time the high tide got to the bay below the Elfin Forest).  There was still a muddy edge along the bay for shorebirds and herons.  I walked through the first of two local Audubon preserves,  Sweet Springs, where I added some common ducks, shorebirds and a few passerines.  I played my recordings of the two common rails (Virginia and Sora) as well as the possibly extirpated Black Rail. Virginia Rail answered with the "dirty old man laugh."

I took advantage of being on foot and cut across the new addition to Sweet Springs and on the paved road along the bay toward Baywood.  Just before the Baywood Pier,  I stopped to check the gulls where fresh water seeps into the bay.  In with the usual Ring-billed, Western and California Gulls, there was a surprise adult Glaucous-winged Gull (they are less common back in the bay then on the beach and adults are much less common than immatures in this part of California).  Since the tide was well up by now, I decided to head straight for the Elfin Forest.  I tried to pick a route that went by as many stands of pine trees as possible, but the heavy December rains had likely helped to push out unusual land birds including the many Red-breasted Nuthatches that had been here in the fall.

Unfortunately, by the time I got to the Elfin Forest overlook of the bay the tide was too high for shorebirds. I did spot Royal Terns out in the bay, which were intermediate in size between the Caspian and Forster's Terns that were present (closer in size to the Caspians, but with a thinner and less reddish bill and a different crest, as well as missing the large black under the primaries on the Caspians).  I heard a Marsh Wren's scratchy call along the edge of the estuary.  I tried for every imaginable rail here with my recordings, but only Virginia answered. I quickly walked over to the more easterly (inland) overlook, but was still to late for the shorebird masses.  I, therefore, hiked through the pygmy coastal oaks to the east end of the preserve and down to South Bay Boulevard. 

I birded the eastern end of the bay to see the shorebirds that should have been pushed up near the road by the high tide, but very little was present.  I saw the reason for this, as a Peregrine Falcon grinned down at me from his pole-top perch. He gave a characteristic second grin and then flew out to the bay.  I kept walking north along the edge of the bay to get away from the falcon no-fly zone.  After a couple of hundred yards of walking, I approached large flocks of ducks in the ponds and waterways formed by the high tide, and shorebirds on the few dry patches of pickleweed. Two male rusty headed Eurasian Wigeons stood out in the crowds of American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers (new), Green-winged Teal (new for the year) and other ducks (2 Gadwall were new for my year). The flocks of shorebirds  consisted mainly of godwits and willets.

                       I saw the resident flock of Canada Geese out in the bay and one white guy - by size I thought it was likely a Snow Goose. Then all hell broke loose - all the birds flushed, even the geese. I could not imagine that the Peregrine would flush the geese.  I looked up in time to see a third year bald eagle (pictured here) fly by. This was a green year bird for me, as was the goose (which I could positively ID by the black grin patch as it flew by).

After I worked the flocks in the bay with my scope, I walked back south along the bay and then east up Turri Road to check the wetlands, overgrown pasture, and willow riparian habitat which extends east from the bay.  I figured that a quick check might yield Western Bluebird, Western Meadowlark, Horned Lark, Sora, Virginia Rail, White-tailed Kite and Prairie Falcon. The bluebirds (new BIGBY bird) were numerous on the barb wire fence lines, Virginia Rails were many in the proper tule-lined wetlands (along with a couple of year-bird Soras) and the meadowlarks were surprisingly few (new for my BIGBY).  The lark, kite and falcon were absent.  I did enjoy watching a Cooper's Hawk chasing its smaller cousin,  a Sharp-shinned Hawk, for quite a distance before it lost interest (or stamina).  A single Tree Swallow (new for my year) called as it flew overhead, finally landing on a wire ands showing off its deep green back and clean white underparts.

I hurried back to the Elfin Forest preserve to see if I could find new shorebirds for my green year and the tide was at a perfect level. I could not, however, find the wintering Pectoral Sandpiper or the resident Red Knots in amongst the hundreds of shorebirds.  Before too long I had to head home, as I still had about 2 1/2 miles to walk home before it got too dark to bird.  I walked back along the edge of the bay and added Common and Red-throated Loons to my year list.  This California Towhee was spreading out its tail feathers near my house.  I and got back home at around 4:30 with 109 species including 15 new ones for my walking green year from this 10 mile walk.