The day got off to a good start with Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flying over the Inca Dove Cottage (where I picked up my charges), and a Clay-colored Thrush calling in a nearby tree! We then headed up to La Sal del Rey in hopes of bagging some back country birds, but we were a bit dismayed at the weatherman’s total mis-forecast when what was supposed to be another warm day turned into drizzle with highs in the 60s! L I decided to start on Rio Beef Road so we’d be traveling Ken Baker Road with the sun to our backs (ha), trying to shoot “improvement shots” of the multiple Pyrrhuloxias that sat enticingly in the trees next to the road! I was thrilled to hear Sandhill Cranes along Ken Baker, and Tovi actually saw them grazing in a cattle field! Gaby’s first lifer of the day, a White-tailed Hawk, flew in front of us and then obligingly landed on a pole; not the best light or perch, but it worked! (I also heard some distant Snow Geese while Gaby was getting his hawk…) A covey of Bobwhite exploded from a hidden area next to the road and disappeared in the brush, leaving us with a mob of snorting Lark Sparrows and huddling Mourning Doves.
Sandhill Cranes coming in for a landing
Landing gear down...
When we came to the trailhead, we hiked in to the lake in hopes of Snowy Plover, but got several little groups of Least Sandpipers instead. But on the way in, we heard a little tsp, and a little coaxing brought the coveted Olive Sparrow right out into the open! (Tovi observed that I, too, suffered from “Shutter Stress Syndrome”, meaning that while the bird was sitting in the open I wasn’t hearing any shutters going off from Gaby’s end, and I was nearly jumping out of my skin screaming in my head, “Shoot it!! Shoot it before it leaves!!” J) Cassin’s Sparrow was sadly a no-show along the route, however. A nice addition was a big ol’ Turkey in the middle of the road along Brushline, and as we passed there were at least two others in the brush!
Trail to La Sal del Rey
Gaby on the beach
Gaby on the overlook
From there we headed down to Estero Llano Grande to hopefully bag Least Grebe, Pauraque, and Buff-bellied Hummingbird (plus a hope-against-hope Beardless Tyrannulet)! We first made a short foray into the Tropical Zone to see if the “McCall’s” Screech Owl was on his totem pole (he wasn’t), then headed up to the VC to check in. We spent a good 15 minutes on the deck, and I was sweating the fact that the normally reliable Least Grebe apparently wasn’t there! L Tovi dutifully kept an eye on the hummingbird feeder while Gaby and I scanned every single waterfowl (no sign of the “Mexican” Duck, either, but the Cinnamon Teal showed up in spades this time)! An Archilochus hummer was the only thing to come in to the feeder; it was rather long-billed (a characteristic of Black-chinned that Gaby noticed right away), but the outer primary looked rather pointed (which would point – no pun intended – to Ruby-throated), so in a situation like that it’s usually better just to call it an Archilochus. We spent another 15 minutes at the feeders near the butterfly garden, and while looking at a female Cardinal through my bins, there was the Buffbelly sitting way back in the trees! Poor Gaby was desperately trying to get on it (another reason to get one of those laser pointers), and by the time he did the bird decided to leave… L
Archilochus hummer; ID open to discussion!
Tovi and Gaby
From there we went on the boardwalk to look at the waterfowl from another angle, and while looking into Avocet Pond, what should Gaby find but the Least Grebe! It was pretty distant (and pretty uncooperative as it kept diving), but so long as he could get a shot, it counted! So we headed on to Alligator Lake, taking a cursory look at Dowitcher Pond, where a dark ibis feeding close to shore turned out to be a Glossy (at least to my eyes – subsequent discussion of the photographs and additional field views by others are leading the experts to lean towards a hybrid, as they were picking up some lavender tones in the face that I just couldn’t discern)! Continuing on, what should finally show up in Grebe Marsh but the Least Grebe, and obviously much closer than in Avocet Pond! Gaby was a happy camper! J We dutifully enjoyed the night herons (a Black-crowned was sitting on a stick in the middle of the pond just asking to have his picture taken J) then headed towards the Pauraque spot. I was really starting to sweat at that point, because he wasn’t in any of his usual spots! So I told my charges to keep looking while I poked along to the overlook to check that area (startling a pair of ground-feeding Curve-billed Thrashers in the process), when before long Gaby called me back – he had found it! And I easily saw how I missed it: he was angled behind that camo-patterned tree so that he was totally blocked to someone walking toward the overlook, but perfectly visible looking back the other direction! But I was so relieved that Gaby could add the “most photographed Pauraque in the world” to his collection! J The owl box there was empty as well, and I didn’t hear any wheeK from a tyrannulet, so we headed back to the VC.
Out on the boardwalk
Dark ibis in question: the pinkish color under the bill is a point for White-faced...
...but the blue-gray face and dark eye are points for Glossy.
Immature White-faced and Glossy are virtually identical, but the White-faced should be showing its red eye by now.
Some local experts are therefore leaning towards a hybrid on this particular bird...
Least Grebe in front of a preening Shoveler
More Least Grebes looking cute...
Black-crowned Night Heron
Yellow-crowned Night Herons
The famous Pauraque (note the white outer tail feathers)
We spent another 15 minutes at the feeders with no excitement except for a female Redwing that hit the window; I held her for the rest of the watch and then took her into the office where they had a box they could keep her in until she recovered. Gaby was agreeable to try some of the feeders in the Tropical Zone, so we gave the one near the drip another 15 minutes (and while the rest of the feeders were lively, only another Archilochus came in to the hummer feeder), then ran into Park Host May Snider who sent us to the feeder by the Turk’s Cap plant along the Kingbird Trail, where we found Mary Gustafson and her charges waiting as well! Their main target appeared to be the female Rufous Hummingbird, but before long the Buffbelly rattled and came in, perching on a thin branch (which was preferable to the feeder, according to Gaby), so he finally got his Buffy! When Mary asked us where we were headed next we said, “Lunch”! J and headed to Subway to eat and run on the way to Santa Ana!
Orange-crowned Warbler getting bugs off the wooden feeder!
Waiting for the hummers...
At another feeder the female Rufous Hummingbird shows nicely!
The main target here was the tyrannulet; we actually checked in under the wire as they were closing, and ran into Sue and John Ewan who had conducted the bird walk that morning with no tyrannulet, but we’d give it a shot! The highlight on the Chachalaca Trail was a family group of Harris’ Hawks right there, who didn’t seem at all bothered by our presence! (If only they had been Hook-billed Kites… J) Willow Lake didn’t have anything unusual until I heard a zhreeeee! and looked up to see four Pine Siskins land in the tree! We ran into them again later on the trail, and at the Big Blind, Gaby was ecstatic with the pod of Least Grebes (they were my backups in case the Estero bird went AWOL)! A breeding-plumaged Pied-billed Grebe swam by in back of them for good measure! Tovi found a close Ladder-backed Woodpecker when I suddenly thought I heard the tyrannulet, which took us all the way back to the trailhead with no additional vocalizations. We did see a nice Long-billed Thrasher sitting with a Mockingbird, though!
Gaby shoots some cooperative Harris' Hawks (look carefully and you can find all three)!
More Least Grebes
These are in non-breeding plumage with the whitish throat...
...while this one is coming into breeding plumage!
Pine Siskins (a rare winter visitor in the Valley) fly in!
Called it a day after that, with an impressive 84 species for the day! Bird list:
Black-bellied Whistling-DuckSnow Goose
Northern Rough-winged Swallow