California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia Trip Report 3/3

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Subject: California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia Trip Report 3/3
From: "Paul G Dodd" <>
Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2012 23:08:35 +1000
The next morning we picked up our guide, Martin Byhower (recommended to us
by a New Zealand birder well known to many Aussies ? Sav Saville ? one of
the birders that rediscovered the New Zealand Storm Petrel in recent years).
Martin is hyperactive ? almost to the point of being frenetic ? but he?s
definitely a good bloke and a good bird guide. His full-time employment is
as a teacher at the prestigious Chadwick School in the nearby Rancho Palos
Verdes. Martin wanted to bring his young protégé Jose to train him in bird
guiding. Jose is an interesting character ? a young (16 year old) kid of
Mexican parentage from a tough neighbourhood. Jose comes under all sorts of
pressure from his peers to wear gang colours, but as Martin said, is his own
man, and has no interest in this sort of thing. A deep thinker, and
incredibly well spoken, Jose is already a good birder, and makes exceptional
use of his sharp eyes and acute hearing.


Martin provided us with a checklist of Californian birds for us to check
off. While Ruth was checking off the species that we?d seen, Martin was
saying that he didn?t think we should go to the Salton Sea because there had
been thunderstorms ? but never mind, we?d see plenty in the local area. I
must admit that I was somewhat disappointed by this because the Salton Sea
(a vast inland sea in southern California, just north of the Mexican border)
is one of the MUST SEE birding locations in North America ? and would likely
be our only opportunity to see species such as Roadrunner, Burrowing Owl,
Wood Stork and Yellow-footed Gull. Once Ruth had finished marking off the
species we?d seen and handed the list back to Martin, he was somewhat taken
aback ? ?You?ve seen a lot ? almost all the species I was going to show you
around here?, he said. ?We?re going to the Salton Sea!?, he almost shouted!
?Jose, tell your mother you?re going to the Salton Sea!? Then he went on to
tell us how hot and humid it would be, how muddy, and how many flies and
mosquitoes we?d encounter. I told him not to worry, we were Aussies and were
used to those conditions!


Our first stop with Martin was the local Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park,
where we saw numerous common species, but in particular we caught up with
Green Heron ? a bird that had so far eluded us. We also got good close views
of Cassin?s Kingbird, and even encountered Nutmeg Mannikins (yes, it?s a
small population that grew from escapees and released birds!) The plan was
to head up to the San Gabriel Mountains ? about an hour from Los Angeles ?
and do some high-elevation birding, but first we needed to go through the
desert to get there. Our stop was at the Mormon Rocks Fire Station in the
San Bernardino State Forest. I?m not sure where the term ?forest? came from,
because this was arid country with low scrub ? and sparse trees. Certainly a
wonderful little spot that netted us eight new species including Oak
Titmouse, House Wren and Lark Sparrow and the curiously-named Phainopepla,
the most northerly representative of the mainly tropical Central American
silky flycatchers.


>From the desert we started climbing the mountains until we reached the
alpine village of Wrightwood for an afternoon?s mountain birding. We finally
saw Northern Flicker, a woodpecker we?d failed to see in northern
California. We also managed to see White-headed Woodpecker and
White-breasted Nuthatch. From the village, we headed along Blue Ridge Road
to the highest point nearby, the Blue Ridge Campground, stopping at several
points along the way. Here we saw our third towhee (a ground-dwelling,
thrush-like bird) of the trip, Green-tailed Towhee. We also found Brown
Creeper ? very similar to Australia?s treecreepers. That evening, back in
Los Angeles, after we?d dropped Martin off, Ruth and I went out owling with
Jose. He found us a Great Horned-owl at the Chadwick School, where Martin
teaches. It is amazing how such large owls can live in such close proximity
to people ? in the heart of suburbia in one of the largest cities on earth.


The next morning we picked Martin and Jose up and headed south, towards the
town of Brawley at the southern end of the Salton Sea ? stopping first at
the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve in San Bernardino. This little gem of a spot
has forest, marshland and desert ridges overlooking deep canyons. More
exciting, though, is the hummingbird feeders they have set up. Within
minutes we had added two new hummingbirds to our list, giving us a total of
five for California ? Anna?s, Allen?s, Rufous, Black-chinned and Costa?s ?
the only one we couldn?t get onto in the mountains the previous day was
Caliope Hummingbird ? all-in-all a great effort for California in summer. At
the feeders we also added Summer Tanager and a very early Indigo Bunting. As
we were sitting at the feeders a covey of Gamble?s Quail ? looking
remarkably like California Quail ? came wandering through. We added 15
species at this site, including the absolutely spectacular Vermilion
Flycatcher, Verdin, the cryptic Bell?s Vireo and a species we?d previously
dipped on, Yellow-breasted Chat. On the desert ridges, atop a small
escarpment, we saw yet another sparrow species ? Black-throated Sparrow.
North America certainly has its birding challenges ? the sheer number of
sparrows and the warblers ? at the very least!


>From Big Morongo it was time to head south to Brawley. Once we arrived we
spent a couple of hours in the heat of the day in air-conditioned comfort in
our motel room. At around 5pm we headed out to Cattle Call Park ? a
well-known birding location on the western edge of town. Martin advised us
to keep our eyes open for the local pigeons ? normally a job that takes
hours. We stopped at one intersection and realized that on the powerlines
ALL the specialty pigeons were present ? Inca Dove, White-winged Dove,
Common Ground-dove (why was it on the powerlines?!) . Also on the same lines
were Rock Dove, Mourning Dove AND Eurasian Collared Dove ? six species on
the same set of wires! At Cattle Call Park, we found our last towhee of the
trip, Abert?s Towhee ? and located the enormous Cactus Wren! Perhaps the
highlight at the park, though is the Gila Woodpeckers.


The next morning we headed north towards the Salton Sea. Our first stop was
the Wister Waterfowl Management Area ? a series of ponds, often surrounded
by reeds, somewhat reminiscent of parts of the Western Treatment Plant near
Melbourne. Here we found several Least Bitterns, paddocks full of
White-faced Ibis (very similar to Glossy Ibis ? in fact, it was quite likely
that there were one or two Glossy Ibis there, but we would have had to scope
them up and spend hours trying to separate them). In this area we had
crippling views of two rails ? Virginia Rail (which we had only heard the
previous day at Big Morongo) and Clapper Rail, which we had dipped on at the
start of our trip at Bolsa Chica. The most amazing bird in this area, and
one that we saw over and over again around the Salton Sea was the Burrowing
Owl. These are tiny owls that perch on posts, poles, stumps and rocks,
looking for insects and other small prey.

We headed next to the town of Niland where Bronzed Cowbirds had recently
been seen ? not by us though! However, we did see our first Roadrunner ?
they run EXACTLY like the cartoon version! The best view of this species
came a little later though when we saw two Roadrunners and a Burrowing Owl
in the same view! From Niland we headed south to the Salton Sea Wildlife
Refuge (also known as the Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge) on the southern edge
of the Salton Sea. First stop was a well-known road called Garst Road. On
some powerlines crossing the road we came across a set of swallows ? Tree
Swallow, Barn Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, the rare Bank Swallow
and Cliff Swallow. Somewhat worrying was that the recent rains had indeed
turned the area into a quagmire ? rendering the road completely impassable.
On foot, however, even carrying scopes and heavy camera gear, we managed to
slowly make our way along the road. Here we saw a number of ducks that we
hadn?t seen elsewhere ? Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Pintail,
Northern Shoveler and Redhead. We also saw Wood Storks ? one of the
specialties of the area. From Garst Road we headed towards the information
centre at the Wildlife Refuge, where the volunteers were busily washing the
six inches of mud from the road. At the information centre, in one of the
palm trees, is a Barn Owl, which we managed to see. From here we headed
along the coast road to the breakwater, finding Yellow-footed Gulls,
Laughing Gulls and Black Terns along the way. Heading back from the
breakwater we took a wrong turn and reached a point where the road was cut ?
I managed to drive along the bank on the side of the road, crossing back
onto the road past the waterlogged section, however the road was incredibly
muddy and for a heart-stopping moment or two I thought we were going to get
bogged. Needless to say, that when we returned the rental Jeep a few days
later I don?t think a rental had been returned in as muddy a state as this
one! Anyway, the Salton Sea was incredibly productive for us ? 109 species
with 24 lifers.


We left the Salton Sea in the afternoon and headed back to Los Angeles where
we said goodbye to Martin and Jose. The next morning we headed north towards
Monterey Bay for our pelagic with Debi Shearwater. We stopped off at Playa
Del Rey, near the Ballona Wetlands, where we had heard there were Surfbirds
on the breakwater. We walked to the end of the breakwater and with the help
of the scope managed to sea both Surfbirds and Black Turnstones on the sea
wall. Back towards the carpark we also saw a familiar species on the
telegraph wires ? Spotted Dove ? giving us a nearly a full-house of
Californian pigeons. On the way north to Monterey Bay we stopped off at the
Point Lobos Ecological Reserve ? recommended to us by Martin. However, the
Californian Parks often close to the public in the evening, so when we
arrived we found that we only had 45 minutes before the park closed (they
still charged us the $10 entrance fee though!)


That evening we had dinner at the number one restaurant in Carmel, Dametra
Café:, a brilliant Mediterranean restaurant run by the
very charismatic Faisal Nimri. We had to wait for about an hour for our
table, so we were shunted off to the wine bar next door where we managed to
sample quite a number of Californian wines! We stayed in Monterey Bay that
evening. The following morning we were up bright and early for our pelagic ?
it was great to finally meet Debi Shearwater. Debi is, of course, world
famous for her pelagics. She appears in both the book and film version of
The Big Year (in the movie as ?Annie Auklet?, played by Anjelica Huston).
Debi has a reputation for having a prickly personality, but I must say that
we didn?t encounter that at all ? she melted as soon as she found out we
were Aussies and asked us about various Aussie friends ? she says ?Hi? to
Carl Billingham, Alan MacBride and Nikolas Haas to name just a few! By pure
coincidence, on the same trip as us were some Germans ? one of whom was
later introduced to us by Debi as Nikolas Haas?s brother Christian! Debi was
ably assisted on the trip by co-leaders Jenny Green and Clay (Lt Jaeger).
The trip itself was brilliant ? 11 new species ? Black-footed Albatross and
Pink-footed Shearwater, but the real highlight was the storm petrels:
Wilson?s Storm-petrel, at least 12 Leach?s Storm-petrel, Ashy Storm-petrel
and several Black Storm-petrels! Good views of both Cassin?s and Rhinoceros
Auklet and some clear Red-necked and Red Phalaropes ? bring our total to
three for the trip (including Wilson?s).


We told Jenny Green that we were looking for Pileated Woodpecker, and she
recommended that we try Jacks Peak immediately after the pelagic. Whilst we
dipped on this species, we did get our last new species for the trip there ?
Cassin?s Vireo.


All up our tally for the trip was 248 species of which 214 were life birds
for us.



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