Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Quick Falcon Fix


            Sometimes you need to be ready to guide someone at a moment’s notice, and seeing as this was “Rob and Vicky’s” first time to the Valley, I initially thought of taking them to one of the local parks for Valley specialties, but then got to thinking that the advantage of having a guide is that they can take you on these back roads that a non-local might be reticent to explore, so when I suggested Old Port Isabel Road for a crack at the Aplomado Falcon, they readily agreed!

            The bird had recently been seen at the hacking platform close to the south end of the road, so shortly after reaching the dirt portion, we first stepped out to listen and log some of the common things, primary of which were whistling Eastern Meadowlarks.  Loma Alta Lake had lots of coots and other things we couldn’t quite pick out because of the angle of the sun, and past the railroad tracks we found the platform in the distance, but it looked like something Osprey-size was sitting on it.  We passed the irrigation channel (with more coots) and maneuvered ourselves to try and get a better view of the platform.  This time we hit pay dirt as an Aplomado was sitting down behind the “bars” with his back to us, but then decided to hop up on top, giving great views!
View of the hacking platform with a blow-up of the Aplomado Falcon on the right.

            With the pressure off, we crawled along looking for other open country birds.  A White-tailed Kite put on a nice show by hovering several time right outside the car, and a Cassin’s Sparrow did perch briefly on a wire fence, but not long enough for Rob and Vickie to get a view.  A pair of Curve-billed Thrashers was more cooperative, however, along with a Bewick’s Wren singing his little heart out!  There were several Long-billed Curlews calling and flying about, and at a couple of small ponds we had Least Grebes and a good variety of ducks, including a pair of Buffleheads!  I was disappointed in that neither whistling duck showed up (the duck show in general was rather sparse), but that’s how it goes…  Within sight of the SR 100 billboards we were turned back by the same muddy mess that turned us back last time, so we scooted south, but not before witnessing a dogfight between a harrier and a White-tailed Hawk!

 Hovering White-tailed Kite

What makes Old Port Isabel Road so notorious...

            My guests had birded their way down the coast already, and Vickie mentioned that Rob had seen an oystercatcher that she missed, so we headed up to the Highway 48 Boat Ramp in hopes of bagging at least one of the pair that hangs out there.  Again, I was disappointed (and surprised) at the lack of birds there, as usually the place is inundated with stuff!  Thankfully we spotted the oystercatchers on a spit out in the bay, but a gull caught my attention that was hanging with three much larger Herring Gulls:  being from San Diego, the first thing that struck me was the long, pink, black-tipped bill and smaller size that screamed “California Gull” to me, but that would be highly unusual (although not unheard of) here!  In fact, I’m still waiting for some feedback on this interesting guy!  Just before we left a huge wave of Black Skimmers wheeled in and gave us a show!
Part of the large Black Skimmer flock
The gull on the right reminded me of a California Gull, with its smaller size (next to the Herring Gulls on the left) and long, pink, black-tipped bill.

  Two more shots; the jury is still out, apparently...

            We had to get started back by that time, but despite the wind, we had 61 species for the day (not counting the possible California Gull...)!  Bird List:
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Northern Pintail                     
  Ring-necked Duck                     
  Lesser Scaup                         
  Ruddy Duck                           
  Northern Bobwhite                    
  Least Grebe                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Double-crested Cormorant             
  American White Pelican               
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  White Ibis                           
  White-faced Ibis                     
  Turkey Vulture                       
  White-tailed Kite                    
  Northern Harrier                     
  Harris's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                     
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  American Coot                        
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  American Oystercatcher               
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  Long-billed Curlew                   
  Laughing Gull                        
  Herring Gull                         
  Caspian Tern                         
  Black Skimmer                         
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Belted Kingfisher                    
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Aplomado Falcon                      
  Peregrine Falcon                     
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Tree Swallow                         
  Bewick's Wren                         
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Cassin's Sparrow                     
  Savannah Sparrow                     
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 



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