Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fiesta Island dog run

These last few weeks everyone else was finding rare grassland birds (like Red-throated Pipits and Longspurs) at the Fiesta Island Dog Run area on Mission Bay. I visited one day and managed a couple of pics of common open-country birds as consolation prizes. Unfortunately, even though the rare birds have been present for weeks, I haven't had an opportunity to go back and try again.

Horned Lark
Horned Lark. Mission Bay, California. October 5, 2015. Greg Gillson.
American Pipit
American Pipit

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Never seen Star Wars? Watch in this order

I guess I had forgotten that a new Star Wars movie was set to release this winter.

But it's coming!

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens trailer here.

When Star Wars first came out there was nothing else like it. In fact, it may be Star Wars success that spurred the creation of Star Trek movies, starting in 1979.

The original Star Wars came out in May 1977, as I was graduating High School. Oddly, it was titled Episode IV: A New Hope.

Here's what was happening in technology that year that may have piqued interest for a space fantasy movie:
  • The first Apple II computers went on sale
  • US Dept of defense inaugurates the NAVSTAR GPS system
  • The first commercial flight of the London to New York Concord supersonic passenger aircraft
  • First MRI scanner
  • First NASA space shuttle test flight
  • Voyager I and II launched
The time was ripe for a space adventure. (Not technically Science Fiction, as it is not set in a possible Earth future but, rather, "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away.")

If you haven't seen this franchise before, or are introducing someone to these films, then I like the suggestion to watch them in a different episode order than they came out (4-6, 1-3), and a different order than they are numbered (1-6). The suggested order is called the Machete order.

The Machete episode order: 4, 5, 2, 3, 6
Skip Episode 1 altogether as explained here.

Watching in this way preserves all the major plot surprises. It also removes Episode I with the irritating Jar-Jar Binks, the child Anakin, midichlorians, and the unbelievable and over-long pod racing scene. Nothing in Episode I is necessary for plot development of the rest of the film. If anything, skipping Episode I keeps the focus on Luke Skywalker and doesn't get sidetracked telling Darth Vader's "baby" story.

If you're having a Star Wars marathon before seeing the new film in December, you should try viewing the movie episodes this way!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Some birds at San Elijo Lagoon (East)

I continue to explore new birding areas (for me) in San Diego County. I've visited most of the more popular sites at least twice. But I also notice some eBird Hotspots adjacent to better known sites. One I explored recently was "San Elijo Lagoon--East," just east of I-5. There a diked path crosses the marshy area from Manchester Avenue (no access) to the end of Santa Inez Lane in a housing development.

San Elijo Lagoon East
A view northward toward Manchester Avenue at San Elijo Lagoon East, Solana Beach, California. October 4, 2015.
Well, I found nothing of note here, only a few hundred feet from the roar of the I-5 freeway. Someone briefly saw a rare Scissor-tailed Flycatcher near the end of this trail along Manchester Avenue a week after I visited. This trail does connect eastward to the La Orilla Trail on El Camino Real. Hiking trails, but not consistently worthwhile birding trails, as far as I can tell. But someone must have liked it to create an eBird Hotspot. Wait. Let me check...

eBird hotspot map

Well, there have been only 37 checklists submitted to La Orilla Trail Hotspot. I looked in past sightings and didn't see any real rarities either. My guess it was created by a local birder. The San Elijo Lagoon--East Hotspot, however, had 199 checklists (including my recent checklist of 17 species on October 4) and 171 species. There have been 10 birders submit eBird checklists there of 71 species since September 1st. I did see an Osprey and a White-tailed Kite not reported by 9 birders since. So it does get birded regularly. Perhaps there is more to it than I found?

Okay, I know where it is in case someone reports something rare there in the future. But it doesn't seem like a place to go to regularly, at least for me. I'm going to stick to the main lagoon off Rios Avenue and the nature center across on the north side.

The only birds I photographed here were a flock of Bushtits.

Bushtit. San Elijo Lagoon, California. October 4, 2015. Greg Gillson.

So I left this area and made a quick visit nearby to the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center. There wasn't much here, either, but I did manage a photo of this Willet.


Then I found this Say's Phoebe singing in between forays of bug chasing.

Say's Phoebe

And I found this migrant Pacific-slope Flycatcher hiding behind a stick, just like one a week earlier in this blog post.

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Anyway, I visited a spot I hadn't been to before. For whatever that's worth.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Two years birding in San Diego County

The end of September marked 2 years living in San Diego County. The Management job for the mobile home park Marlene and I work at will be 2 years at the end of November. It seems to be going well now, even if so difficult at first--but that's work, right? We miss all of our friends in Oregon, but have made many new friends locally. Never before in history has it been so easy to keep in contact with friends throughout the earth. Still, they are missed--even if there are irregular phone calls, emails, text messages, Instagram photos shared, online games of Words with Friends, or blog postings.

The last few birds I've added to my County List in San Diego include Least Bittern, Hermit Warbler, and Yellow-throated Vireo (lifer) in August, Red-masked Parakeet (non-countable on ABA list) in September, and Green-tailed Towhee and Snowy Plover in October, so far. That brings me up to 311 species for the county total, 266 this year. Last year I found 270 species for the entire year, so this year seems like it could be more. I didn't plan on being out of commission, birding-wise, in August and September with shoulder surgery, but that is life.

For comparison, Nancy Christensen has 325 species in the county this year. The record was in 2013 when Barbara Carlson recorded an amazing 387 species in a single year. Over 500 species have occurred in the county, though just over 400 is typical for any one year.

Now that Snowy Plover is no longer #1 on my 'missing species list' ("nemesis bird") the new contenders for "what, you haven't you seen them yet?" are Red-crowned Parrot and Common Poorwill.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Black and Least Storm-Petrels on 30 Mile Bank

Storm-petrels are tiny little seabirds. They flit across the waves staying far away from land where they may fall prey to larger gulls. They search for food--crustaceans barely larger than microscopic that float along the ocean's currents. These they pick off the ocean's surface while hovering. While many storm-petrels are solitary, some form dense flocks.

Most storm-petrels breed on isolated islands, digging their nest burrows under sod. To avoid predators they only come ashore at night. No bright colors or distinctive patterns are necessary to attract mates in such situations--most species are black or brown, some with pale bellies. Already hard to identify because they look similar, they also tend to flee away from boats, and are hard to observe.

Location of storm-petrel flock west of San Diego
Location of storm-petrel flock west of San Diego
About 30 miles west of La Jolla an autumn flock of storm-petrels gather each year. Those bird watchers who keep track of birds by county find a slight vexation with the storm-petrel flock. You see, the seabird watching trip departs from San Diego and spends all its time in San Diego County waters. However, the storm-petrel flock is often just a mile closer to San Clemente Island (Los Angeles County) than to La Jolla (San Diego County). Thus, according to the "nearest point of land" rule, these storm-petrels are frustratingly in Los Angeles County and much less frequent in San Diego County waters. Silly, I know, even to many birders. But, for instance, I've seen 311 bird species in San Diego County and only 76 avian species in Los Angeles County. These San Diego pelagic trips often venture across the imaginary line into Los Angeles County to find the storm-petrel flock.

There's the flock! About 3000 birds.
We can only approach to within about 500 feet before the birds pick up and fly away to resettle a bit farther off. So we approach as near as we dare and wait for individuals to fly closer. We see that about 20% of the flock is made of the larger Black Storm-Petrels, the rest are the much smaller Least Storm-Petrels.

Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrels
Besides being larger and blacker, Black Storm-Petrels fly with leisurely deep wing strokes (they remind me of Black Terns in flight). Photos show wings raised and lowered quite far. They also show a longer wing held forward at the wrist and an obvious pale carpal bar (wrist and upper arm) on the upper wing. The tail is forked and fairly long.

Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel. 30 miles East of San Clemente Island, Los Angeles Co., California. October 11, 2015. Greg Gillson.
The small Least Storm-Petrels are paler brown. The wings are shorter, straighter and flapped deeply but quickly and stiffly ("bat-like"). They almost appear tailless.

Least Storm-Petrel
Least Storm-Petrel. 30 miles East of San Clemente Island, Los Angeles Co., California. October 11, 2015. Greg Gillson.
We kept a lookout for other species, especially any with white rumps (Leach's Storm-Petrels and rare Wilson's Storm-Petrels) but we saw none. One grayish Ashy Storm-Petrel was spotted by a couple of people as it flew with rapid shallow wing strokes in a straight line but twisty side-to-side flight, very long tail, and whitish under wing linings. But I missed it this time among the swarm.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Evening birds at San Luis Rey River mouth

Lagoon: an area of shallow water separated from the sea by low sandy dunes.

The San Luis Rey River mouth is a lagoon. Water from the river approaches the ocean but is blocked by a sandy beach. Even so, at high tide the river mouth behind the beach fills with water, and at low tide it is much shallower with extensive mudflats. (Site guide here)


This is the closest marine environment to my home. Besides the small lagoon there are open beaches, and the nearby marina with their eateries. So, during Daylight Savings time, Marlene and I can hurry here after work and enjoy watching the beach, surfers, and setting sun, look around the lagoon for birds, and grab something to eat to try to sooth the stresses of the day. (We don't do this nearly often enough!)

American Coot
American Coot. Oceanside, California. October 1, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Eared Grebe
Eared Grebe
Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret
Common Gallinule
Juvenile Common Gallinule
Common Gallinule
Common Gallinule
Sora out in the open!
Virginia Rail
Virginia Rail crossing an open patch between the cattails.
Greater White-fronted Goose
A rather rare Greater White-fronted Goose hiding in the grass at the edge of the lagoon.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Snowy Plovers at the end of Seacoast Drive

Of all the regular San Diego birds the Snowy Plover was the remaining most common bird that I had not found. Snowy Plovers are birds of dry sandy beaches. I just haven't birded that habitat very much in the past two years--that habitat doesn't attract many birds, but sure attracts a lot of people. So I chose a recent rainy day to walk out the sand spit from the end of Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach to the north side of the mouth of the Tijuana River.

Tijuana River mouth
There is a gravel-topped berm between the beach and the river mouth marsh. I walked down the berm a little over a half mile. Then I walked back along the beach on loose sand (even the wet sand was soft). White homes in Tijuana, Mexico, can be seen on the hill in the distance in the photo above.

Snowy Plover
Snowy Plover. Imperial Beach, California. October 5, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Snowy Plover

Endangered Snowy Plovers and Least Terns nest on the open sandy beaches where they compete with sunbathers, surfers, dogs, and some vehicles. Nesting areas are roped off in summer, but that doesn't necessarily keep people out and nests from being trampled. Additionally, though camouflaged to match the dry sand, the tasty eggs and chicks are under constant siege from gulls, crows, raccoons, and other predators. If these cute, tiny shorebirds lay belly-down on the sand and don't move, they just might go unnoticed by predators.

Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover