Saturday, April 12, 2014

My current top 5 target birds for San Diego County

In a little over 6 months I have seen less than half the regular annual bird species in San Diego County. The remaining species are not necessarily rare, since I haven't yet birded the county from late spring to early fall. So I have a lot of migrants and summer breeders yet to see. Plus, I've only spent part of one day each in the mountain forests and Anza-Borrego desert.

There are 5 species currently on my list of most-desired county birds. So, while I am researching where to find these birds, I thought I'd write it down here.

Lawrence's Goldfinch - I saw quite a few Lawrence's Goldfinches when I lived in Ventura, California from 1980-1984. I have 15 sightings recorded during that period, in Ventura and Kern counties, the last on April 21, 1984, so 30 years ago. Most were in the dry inland mountains when I was searching for California Condors.

This species can be found in the county year-round, but most records are for March, and then May to August. The big numbers in March, including flocks of 250 birds, all seem to be from restricted access sites near Jamul. Most of the sightings May-August are in the mountains: Palomar, Cuyamaca, Laguna.

Blue Grosbeak - I have seen one Blue Grosbeak. A brown female at Croatan National Forest in North Carolina on August 25, 2005. I traveled there with Tim Shelmerdine and David Smith to attend pelagic trips from Manteo. They could be found in Ventura County when I lived there 30 years ago, but I never saw them.

These birds arrive in late April and can be found through August. Looking at eBird results, Blue Grosbeaks haven't arrived yet. They seem to be found in the same places as Bell's Vireo, but slightly more widespread. The thick willow bottoms at Mule Hill at nearby Lake Hodges may work out for both.

Least Bell's Vireo - My only previous sighting of this endangered riparian species was a single singing bird 33 years ago, May 11, 1981, in Ventura, California.

Records are from late March to mid-September. Many of the sightings are in restricted lands at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. I'll also have to check Whalen Lake Bird Sanctuary to see what the access is there. The web site for it indicates I need to call ahead to get in.

Black-chinned Sparrow - This is a chaparral species I have not seen before. It is one I could have seen 30 years ago when I lived in Ventura County, but I never found one in my birding travels then.

Here is another species that arrives in April and remains through August, though reports drop quickly after the June territorial singing period. As with Lawrence's Goldfinches, the Cuyamaca and Laguna mountains seem the best place, and also Kitchen Creek.

Gray Vireo - Here is a very local desert/chaparral species I have never seen, nor even visited the proper habitats to find.

This species is found from April into July, but the July records are rather spotty. It looks like Kitchen Creek is the place to go. Some have been found nearer me on Lost Springs Road out of Warner Hot Springs.

So, then, it looks like I can find Bell's Vireos and Blue Grosbeaks in some of the river bottoms fairly near my home. The Gray Vireos, Lawrence's Goldfinches, and Black-chinned Sparrows can all be found in chaparral at Kitchen Creek, an 80 mile drive on freeways. It looks like I need to plan a field trip to Kitchen Creek--soon !

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Update, April 17, 2016. Well, it's almost exactly 2 years later. How did I do with my target birds? Quite good!

Lawrence's Goldfinch - My first for the county on March 15, 2015 in Poway. I now have 7 records on 5 different days, including a flock of 70.

Blue Grosbeak - The first for the county was April 20, 2014 at Mission Trails Park, only 10 days after I wrote the post above. I now have 11 sightings on 7 different days.

Least Bell's Vireo - Again, the first was on April 20, 2014 at Mission Trails Park. I now have 11 sightings on 8 different days.

Black-chinned Sparrow - Writing this post evidently inspired me. I went out to a remote area near Warner Springs the very next day, April 13, 2014, and found this Lief Bird! I now have 15 sightings from 5 different days.

Gray Vireo - Yes, I did have to go to Kitchen Creek to find this Life Bird. Two birds were present June 14, 2015 for my only sightings ever.