Richard and Barbara from Boston were on a return trip to the Valley (last time they had come with Massachusetts Audubon and stayed on a couple days), and this time they brought their friends Jeff and Sandy with them! They had also rented a new Ford Explorer that could seat five and had all sorts of fancy gadgets (including a gear shift that was more like a dial), so like last time, we departed from the original itinerary and headed to Santa Ana first, as they (and particularly Jeff, as he was a raptor man) were very interested in trying for the Hook-billed Kites!
Once there we took the Tower Trail in order to get some other birds under our belts; an Altamira Oriole sat near the top of a tree, and I pointed out various vocalizations as we went along (mostly wintering stuff like Orange-crowned Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers). Where the trail hugs Willow Lake, Barbara (I think it was) spotted a hawk sitting right above us that had me puzzled for a minute: my first impression was a juvie Harris’ because of the russet wings, but I had never seen a juvie Harris’ so contrastingly light and dark in the face and underparts (he almost looked like a cross between a Harris’ and a Swainson’s)! But once he flew there was no question, as the tail gave him away! Our one and only White-tipped Dove gave us a quick look on the trail as well, and Barbara found an Olive Sparrow skulking in the mud, which Jeff had missed the day before, so he thankfully got to see this one! At the lake a Belted Kingfisher flew overhead, but otherwise there weren’t any waterbirds about.
Richard and crew heading to the trails
Funky-looking young Harris' Hawk
Jeff on the Tower Trail
We dragged ourselves up the tower where another gentleman was already keeping watch (with an adult Harris’ “way over there”), and it wasn’t long before we spotted some Turkey Vultures flying low over the trees, and with then was a smaller raptor with a long, black-and-white-banded tail, and I thought for sure we had our Hookbill! It was quite distant, but seemed to be circling closer, but I made the mistake of trying to get documentation photos instead of studying the bird more closely as it made its way over, as that little voice was saying, “Are you sure??” (To be honest, the wings didn’t look quite right…) Thankfully Richard got some identifiable shots, and the bird turned out to be a Gray Hawk! L (Well, the guys, especially Jeff, were thrilled, but I was more than slightly embarrassed at the mis-ID…) So we resumed our watch, and actually had some nice sightings: a juvie White-tailed Hawk flew low overhead, and the funky juvie Harris’ Hawk blasted in, showing his very obvious Harris-like upperparts, regardless of what his underparts were saying! After awhile another gentleman who was apparently leading a group spotted a suspicious bird and got his own scope on it, which by his description sure sounded good! As usual, I couldn’t spot the thing, so the guy very graciously got my own scope on it to confirm it, and it was indeed a snazzy female Hook-billed Kite, with a lovely chestnut collar and underparts contrasting with the slaty upperparts!
The Gray Hawk that had me fooled at first... (© 2020 Richard Smith)
...and then the real deal (Hook-billed Kite) - distant, but sure! (© 2020 Richard Smith)
Other folks wanted to come up, so since the maximum occupancy is only ten, we headed on down and retraced our route, picking up a very cooperative female Green Kingfisher back at the lake! We then took the Chachalaca Trail over to the Willow Lake Trail, checking the lake quickly and adding Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal and Least Grebe to the list. Our goal was to try and find Sue Ewan’s Screech Owl in the dry mesquite forest, but we dipped on him. There was some talk about heading out to Pintail Lakes, but some of us were beat already, so we headed back to the parking lot, enjoying some Green Jays and an Altamira Oriole at the feeders, and some Inca Doves in the big lot!
Female Green Kingfisher
In search of the elusive McCall's Screech Owl
Hey, you can't find 'em all!
We all thought Quinta Mazatlan would be a nice, easy place to bird after all that walking, but once again, I forgot that Quinta is closed on Mondays! L So since Richard insisted that Jeff and Sandy (the latter who confessed to being a “Pink Hat Birder”, in reference to Bostonians who are only casually interested in the Red Sox J) do the “Pipit Thing”, we headed to Anzalduas, with a quick stop at Granjeño for the Burrowing Owls. The wind was pretty bad, so I wasn’t holding out much hope, but after a bit Jeff finally spotted one down hear the bottom, just poking his head out, and everyone got great looks (while we fended off the friendly Bit Pulls… J) A Turkey Vulture flew overhead, and Jeff watched as the owl watched that vulture, and poof – he was down in the rocks, never to be seen again! We also had a nice show put on by a White-tailed Kite, which was thrilling!
On to Anzalduas, where the hawks were definitely gone from the fields, and I thought the Say’s Phoebe might be, too, but Richard spotted him on the rope going across the spillway! We parked in the usual spot, I played the flight call for Jeff and Sandy, and we headed out, enjoying great flocks of Western Meadowlarks (and hearing an Eastern in the distance)! We were almost to the other side (and were actually looking at the mob of vultures and caracaras sitting on the field) when I heard the Pike! and Richard spotted him go up, then drop! We all were able to spot the thing and get the scope on him, and eventually we were able to creep up and get cracking views and photos of at least four birds! That was a treat, especially since Richard’s best shots from last time were of a wingless “missile bird” in flight, and a very fuzzy head peeking out of the grass!
Sprague's Pipit (my version)
Richard finally got his perfect shot! (© 2020 Richard Smith)
Barbara in the Pipit Field
Wandering over to the river we enjoyed the coots and scaup, along with a few Gadwall, a pair of American Wigeon, and the female Ruddy Duck, but we couldn’t relocate the Eared Grebe. So we headed back to the car, shooting a couple of cooperative Savannah Sparrows on the way. We crawled around, spotting one of the Vermilion Flycatchers, and parked in the corner (where several other cars were already parked) and ran into Rick Nirschl, one of our local birders/leppers/oders who always seems to find the rare stuff! J Today he was looking for odes and pointed out a Dusky Dancer to us that was sitting on a stick close to the bank. Meanwhile we enjoyed the resident Osprey eating lunch, plus a Pied-billed Grebe, Least Grebe, and Common Gallinule next to the island. I heard the Black Phoebe peep, so he ended up leading us on a merry chase back and forth along the waterfront!
Black Phoebe (© 2020 Richard Smith)
We continued crawling and eventually parked in the little lot where the dam is to look for the Rock Wren, and before long Rick and some other birders showed up as well, but the wren was not cooperative this time. What was more exciting for my charges was the Snipe that kept flushing, and that Barbara was finally able to get a look at! A Spotted Sandpiper flew in and landed on the floating barrier, and Rough-winged Swallows were swooping around, fooling all of us at one point: what one of the guys thought was the wren up on the barbed wire turned out to be a swallow, and what I thought was the tittering Tropical Kingbird on a wire over in Mexico also turned out to be a swallow when it took off! A Little Blue Heron was a nice addition as well.
The hunt for the Rock Wren...
We wrapped up there fairly quickly, adding a pair of White-tailed Kites harassing a Red-tailed Hawk on the way out, then decided to check out Wallace Road. Again, the wind and time of day kept things down, but a flock of Lesser Goldfinches got away, while a Harrier rocked over the field and a beautiful adult White-tailed Hawk came our way and gave great looks! The wetlands are always the most productive, and right away we had another juvenile hawk that turned out to be a Red-shouldered. We enjoyed lots of Least Sandpipers, both flavors of cormorant and grebe, a flyover Sandhill Crane (with a game leg L), and even a mewing Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! At one patch of mesquite a couple of titmice answered my pishing and put on a show, and a Roadrunner sat in an open area but didn’t stay put long enough for Richard’s camera (Richard thought he was being very rude… J)
Young Red-shouldered Hawk
We had a little time left before we had to head back, so we continued on to Laguna Seca Road, where right away we had three gorgeous Pyrrhuloxias! A little further on near a ranch a little pishing brought up what I thought was a female Summer Tanager at first, but upon a closer look it turned out to be a female Painted Bunting! (They’d be expected there in the summer, but not now!) The Fuertes’ Redtail gave a brief look, and on some power poles we had a standard Redtail flanked by two Caracaras!
Pyrrhuloxia (© 2020 Richard Smith)
Female Painted Bunting, which should be gone in the winter!
By that time we had to start heading back, so we headed down the “other” Laguna Seca Road that connects with US 281, and almost ran down a hen Turkey in the process! That brought us up to 90 species for the day! Bird list:
Blue-winged TealNorthern Shoveler
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Northern Rough-winged Swallow