In the time between guiding Chuck and guiding our new guests Lisa and Pierre from Massachusetts, the first US record of Bat Falcon showed up at Santa Ana NWR during the Christmas Bird Count on the 18th! (Well, to be accurate, a visiting birder initially found it on the 8th but didn’t know what it was, and subsequent searches turned up zero…) So I gave Lisa and Pierre the option of sticking with the original plan, which was to bird Estero Llano Grande State Park, or going to Santa Ana, which would have many of the same birds plus a shot at the falcon (I had already procured cracking views and video of the bird the previous Saturday, so there was no selfish ambition in offering the change of plans J)! Being a photographer, Pierre’s preference was Estero (plus they would have time on their own to go to Santa Ana), so over we went!
I was very thankful that, for once, we weren’t socked in with fog! Once parked I suggested we circle the parking lot as Chuck and I had Lisa and Pierre’s one and only target bird, the Red-crowned Parrot, calling and flying over us the last time I was there! Sadly, while we did hear them, they remained distant and out of sight, as did the Buff-bellied Hummingbird that rattled near the car, but a skulky bird gave both of them a good enough look to pin it down as a Long-billed Thrasher!
Once on the deck I was a little alarmed as the restrooms were locked, and had forgotten that today was the Christmas federal holiday and that the facilities would probably be closed! L At any rate, we got on the boardwalk and had lovely early-morning lit Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, plus Shovelers glowing green-headed in the sun! We checked Avocet Pond for the Fulvous Whistling Ducks, but couldn’t pick any out. Heading on, a very cooperative Ladder-backed Woodpecker posed on a bare tree near the shelter at the intersection with the Wader’s Trail, and at the “T” an Eastern Phoebe posed briefly on the trail sign. At Curlew Pond we had great, sunlit looks at more whistlers, Gadwall, and Least and Pied-billed Grebes, while a sharp crack betrayed the presence of the local flyover Ringed Kingfisher (Pierre got a shot of him impersonating a torpedo J).
Pierre then asked about the chance of seeing Avocets, so we backtracked to the main Wader’s Trail and headed up onto the levee. For once it wasn’t a wind tunnel up there, and one of the first jewels we ran into was not an Avocet, but the White-tailed Kite pair! We did indeed get several Avocets, along with Black-necked Stilts, Long-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpipers, and lounging White Pelicans that made for artistic photos against the light! An odd-looking raptor sitting in a tree turned out to be a Harrier, once she lifted off and gave us some pertinent field marks!
Shuffling back down to the Wader’s Trail, we checked out Dowitcher Pond, where we had more Gadwall (the hybrid never gave us a showing), along with Common Gallinules, a Coot that hardly got a second look J, and a couple of sad-sounding Soras. The reeds were really grown up, so we ended up spooking a flock of Ring-necked Ducks before seeing them, with some very white-faced females that had me guessing for a minute until we could analyze our photos! Over at Alligator Lake the night heron show didn’t disappoint (Pierre and Lisa get Black-crowned where they are, but Yellow-crowned is a real treat). Presently another visiting birder walked up and asked if we had seen the Pauraque, and offered to show us where it was! Given the fact that the last ones I had were way back in the stuff, I was very thankful to have a little help with this one, which was behaving more “normally” for Estero birds (i.e., sitting close to the trail and ignoring the happy tourists J)! He in turn (the man, not the Pauraque) asked us if we had seen Green Kingfisher, which we hadn’t, so we all slowly made our way to the big overlook, where the same guy spotted a female flying against the opposite bank! Took a while for us all to find her, but everyone eventually had great looks! We also had a nice male Anhinga as well as both cormorants.
Heading back to the deck, I was very relieved to see that the office (and the restroom J) was indeed open!! So I got us checked in and then headed to the Tropical Zone for some more photo ops at the blind. But first we checked on “Pam in the Palm” (one of the staked out Screech Owls); Pam wasn’t home (at least that we could see), so we headed straight to the blind, picking up a flighty gnatcatcher on the way. Down the road we spotted a trio of rangers: John, Becky, and Raul, the latter wearing a Santa hat! (I told him he needed to dye his beard white for it to be convincing… J) After chatting a little, John said he’d be coming back in a minute to refill the feeders (he said he was getting dirty looks from the Kiskadees and Clay-colored Thrushes J), but even so, there was still a lot of activity at the blind! Despite the lack of peanut butter, the Kiskadees and thrushes were still coming in and posing beautifully on the logs (at one point we had three thrushes at once; pretty impressive when you realize this used to be considered a vagrant in the Valley)! The Orange-crowned Warblers were definitely wondering where their PB was, but the titmice, Green Jays, and White-tipped Doves were happy with the seed on the platform feeder.
Rangers John, Becky, and Raul (as Santa)
After John and Doug the Volunteer returned with the vittles, the place became even more lively: an Altamira Oriole claimed the orange, and finally a Golden-fronted Woodpecker came in to investigate the PB! A Curve-billed Thrasher made a brief appearance at the seed feeder, but the Olive Sparrow only sang for us. One of the banded Green Jays came in, identified as “Nigel” by John (we made cracks about him being named after the evil cockatoo in the Rio movies J)! Sadly no Buff-bellied Hummer came in, although a female Archilochus did. In the meantime my phone was dinging off the hook with all the chatter on a special Bat Falcon Chase What’s App group, so Pierre and Lisa were piqued enough to want to get on it themselves so they could chase it that afternoon!
Ranger John refills the PB feeders
I was really surprised that we didn’t even hear any Chachalacas that morning (John said the Cooper’s Hawk had them scared to death L), so we headed over to the Picnic Table Feeders to see if they would come in there. Besides another Orange-crowned Warbler in the drip and on the log, the place was deserted, so after a fruitless search for Burney the Pauraque (didn’t need him, but I wanted to see if I could find the thing on my own L) and the returning Great Horned Owls, we went home by way of US 281 to avoid the freeway and see if we could pick up any raptors (nope). Pierre and Lisa did decide to hit Santa Ana after lunch, and I would love to report that they got the falcon, but it wasn’t to be – but they were looking forward to their Whooping Crane trip aboard The Skimmer! J
We ended up with 59 species for the morning (60 if you count the Rock Pigeons on the way home… J). Bird list:
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron