Friday, March 28, 2014

Clapper Rail: "Thin as a rail" a big fat lie?

Clapper Rail
Clapper Rail. Tijuana Slough, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Rails are one of the more difficult birds to see. They generally live in wet fields or marshes, hiding in dense, soggy vegetation. Many birders know these birds by not much more than strange cries from the dawn marsh and glimpsed shadows through the grass. Secretive, they can compress their bodies to slip between adjacent water plant stems without giving away their location as Audubon noted. Thus the expression: "thin as a rail" as many a birder has no doubt heard and is repeated in many places. Or not. It is argued rather convincingly that the term refers to a fence rail, pole, or even a garden rake, thus the parallel expression: "thin as a rake." Just what the truth is, I can't say anymore.

Needless to say, as hard as two-dimensional rails are to actually see, they are harder yet to photograph. Thus my collection of rail photos until now consisted of a couple poor shots of a Sora and a blurry Virginia Rail.

So I was delighted to find the Tijuana Slough NWR visitor's center in Imperial Beach and the North McCoy Trail. Marlene and I walked out less than 1/4 mile on this trail, over a foot bridge across a tidal channel. As we stood looking over miles of marsh grass, this Clapper Rail nonchalantly walked out of the salt marsh vegetation just below us!

Tijuana Slough
Tijuana Slough

Clapper Rail
Fat Clapper Rail

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk
Immature Cooper's Hawk. Bird & Butterfly Garden, San Ysidro, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
On my visit to the Bird & Butterfly Garden in the Tijuana River Valley this young Cooper's Hawk was right in the middle of the ring of Tamarisk trees. That's the exact spot where the Common Ground-Doves often hide out. Needless to say, there were no doves, nor very many other small birds, around due to this hunting bird of prey.

Monday, March 24, 2014

California Towhee: 100 years in obscurity

California Towhee
California Towhee. San Ysidro, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
In 1827 a scientist in England named William Swainson described to science a new species of towhee from near Mexico City collected by William Bullock. It was nearly all brown so it became known as the Brown Towhee. A slightly different-looking bird from Monterrey, California, collected by a Captain Beechy of His Majesty's Ship Blossom was described in 1839 by London scientist Nicholas Vigors and called a new species, the California Towhee. Never ones to leave well-enough alone, scientists lumped all the forms back into Brown Towhees in 1886. That arrangement lasted for over 100 years. In 1989, based upon DNA evidence, Brown Towhee was split once again into California Towhee and Canyon Towhee.

Even though it was split 25 years ago I still catch myself calling this bird Brown Towhee, from time to time.

California Towhee is a common backyard bird and abundant in chaparral habitats throughout California, Baja, and extreme SW Oregon. Canyon Towhee is paler and is found from Colorado, Arizona, and to Texas, south to central Mexico. Canyon Towhee is a species I have yet to see.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

ID: Western, Cassin's, and Tropical Kingbird

Western Kingbird
Western Kingbird. Hines, Oregon. May 24, 2009. Greg Gillson.
The identification of yellow-bellied kingbirds in the western United States is fairly straight-forward. The differences, though, can be hard to remember if you are only use to seeing one of the species regularly. Here I discuss Western, Cassin's, and Tropical kingbirds. A fourth, the Couch's Kingbird is only found in Texas and is almost identical to Tropical in plumage, but has a different call, and is not considered here.

The Western Kingbird is the summertime kingbird likely most familiar to birders in the western United States and the extreme southern parts of western Canada, wintering in Middle America. It is found in open rural agricultural areas and similar grassland habitats with scattered trees.

I found a tree with 4 migrant Western Kingbirds, here in San Diego County, on the last day of September, last year. That was immediately after moving here, and that was the first and last for me (in the county), so far. I expect them to arrive in April and stay common into August.

The main identifying marks of this large flycatcher are the pale gray head, breast, and back, the pale yellow belly, and the black tail with obvious white outer tail feathers. The common calls of Western Kingbird are a series of harsh "kit" notes often running into a chatter.

Cassin's Kingbird
Cassin's Kingbird. Dairy Mart Pond, San Ysidro, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson
Cassin's Kingbirds are found in summer in the Southwestern US, even to eastern Wyoming. They are also year-round residents in southern coastal California, and south mainly in Mexico. They like open woods and the wilder edges of residential areas with tall trees and open spaces.

Cassin's Kingbirds have expanded their range in southern California in recent decades. In the early 1980's I recorded them only twice in 5 years of living in Ventura County. Now, here in San Diego County, they are common everyday birds year-round in tall trees, especially eucalyptus.

Compared with Western Kingbird, Cassin's has a darker gray head and chest, and clearly defined white throat. The blackish tail often shows a pale tip, suggesting the white tail tip on the Eastern Kingbird, but not nearly as broad, white, or obvious. The call of Cassin's Kingbird is a loud, hoarse "chi-KEER."

Tropical Kingbird
Tropical Kingbird. Dairy Mart Pond, San Ysidro, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson
Tropical Kingbirds have a wide range from South America to Mexico. They barely reach SE Arizona and southern Texas as breeders. However, in the fall a few birds of this species undertake an unusual post-breeding dispersal to the north. Individuals show up on the immediate California coast northward to British Columbia. By "immediate coast" I mean residential areas and golf courses within a mile of the beach. They generally arrive in Oregon in late October and rarely remain to December--it seems a long ways to travel for such a brief period and no obvious reason we humans can determine. But since they are so rare when they venture northward in the fall, they are fun to find! Some birds are found in winter in southern California and Baja, Mexico.

Such was the case 3 weeks ago with the bird above. I was taking photos of the Cassin's Kingbird (two photos above) when I noted something different. This new bird (above) had a browner tail--not black--and it was notched, not straight across the end. Looking more closely I noted a longer, heavier bill. The yellow breast comes all the way up to the white throat. There is no gray across the breast, though the yellow does darken to greenish-yellow. The back is also greenish, not gray as the other two kingbirds we discussed. I've never heard the calls of Tropical Kingbird on their northward journeys. Evidently, though, they have a high-pitched chittering, very different from the calls of the other two kingbirds.

Hurray! Another new bird for the county. This was County Bird #225 and County Year Bird #182.

Friday, March 21, 2014

White-collared ("Cinnamon-rumped") Seedeater

White-collared (Cinnamon-rumped) Seedeater
White-collared ("Cinnamon-rumped") Seadeater. Dairy Mart Ponds, Tijuana River Valley, San Ysidro, California.
March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Here's a photo of that White-collared Seedeater I told you about last week in my "Treasure Hunt" post.

Again, this is the West Mexico form, more richly colored than what you'll find in the North American field guides (yes, I know that Mexico is in North America, but field guides don't!).

This is a small bird about junco-sized. I didn't get too much time to observe the bird before it flew off with the typically undulating flight of a finch. But I did snap several photos, most with the bird hidden behind the willow leaves as it ate the blossoms.

Evidently it is fairly common as a cage bird in Tijuana, Mexico, only a mile or so from where I spotted this bird. Though this individual doesn't show any signs of having been in a cage recently (or maybe ever), the species hasn't been established long enough in this area of California to be countable according to the California Birds Record Committee. The general rule for such birds to be considered "established" is that birds have to be maintaining a viable population for many years (~15) without needing extra "excapees" or released birds to keep the population going.

So, an interesting exotic, but not a countable "wild" bird that will NOT go on my list.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bird song quiz

A small bird flew from tree top to tree top as it passed through this morning. It sang a very memorable, distinctive, and imitable song.

Very high pitched clear whistled song, evenly spaced: "su, su, see, sey" repeated every 7-10 seconds, very much like the voice quality of a White-crowned Sparrow. It stayed around long enough for me to try to record it on my smart phone, but it just isn't loud enough to hear.

What I have done is whistle the song and recorded my whistled imitation. Cheesy, I know.
[Late night 3/22 reloaded to Dropbox, as it disappeared for some reason]
Click here for Dropbox sound file link

I feel like I should know this bird song, but I just can't place it. Listening, again it sounds like the first 4 notes of a White-throated Sparrow song but the notes shorter in duration and faster.

Can you help?


Orange tree

The blossoms on this orange tree are so fragrant, their sweet scent wafts across the yard a hundred feet or more. Doubly amazing as my sense of smell is almost non-existent.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Birding Site Guide: Tijuana River Valley Regional Park: Bird & Butterfly Garden

Bird and Butterfly Garden
Bird and Butterfly Garden, San Ysidro, California.
It's only maybe 4 acres, within the much larger Tijuana River Valley Regional Park. It has a little path that loops through a grove of tamarisk and other trees and flowering bushes. There are some purposely dripping water faucets to attract birds. It's not much, most of the time. But during migration it can be busy with birds! And there are two specialty birds here you may wish to see.

Getting there: Take I-5 S to San Ysidro on the border with Tijuana, Mexico. This is 13 miles south of downtown San Diego. Take the Tocayo Avenue exit. Go 1.0 miles and turn left on Hollister. Go 0.7 miles and turn right on Saturn Blvd and you are there! Parking: Free parking lot. Hours: Dawn to dusk. Map navigation: Hollister St & Saturn Blvd, San Diego, CA 92154

San Diego birding site guide

Where to bird: Walk the grounds and paved trails. Pay attention to raptors overhead and any unusual birds at the horse corrals across the parking lot to the south. This area usually can be covered in a half hour, or less. And then you can visit other nearby birding hotspots.

In the center of the ring of tamarisks is a dense bunch of bushes and a water drip. This is where the sparrow-sized Common Ground-Doves frequently hide. This is perhaps the most reliable spot for these birds in the county, west of the Anza-Borrego desert.

Another specialty for this area is Black-throated Magpie-Jays. These are exotic Mexican jays that seem to be regular here. They are not countable by ABA rules, but they are a fun bird to look at! If they are around, you shouldn't have too much trouble finding them....

Black-throated Magpie-Jay
Black-throated Magpie-Jay admiring his reflection.
Bird and Butterfly Garden, San Ysidro, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.

Bird and Butterfly Garden
Common Ground-Doves frequently hide in those bushes on the right! 
Sit on the bench there and wait.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Storm Wigeon

"Storm Wigeon." Chula Vista, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Most people have never heard of a Storm Wigeon. You won't find it in a field guide. Only a few hunters and very few birders know this striking bird. It is a natural variant American Wigeon with an all-white face rather than speckled gray.

This bird was in a flock of about 80-100 American Wigeon. It was actually slightly larger and bulkier than the other birds in the flock. Thus, even from behind I was able to quickly find the bird again just on size. I do not think that is typical, just happened to be the case with this bird.

The white on the face and extensive green eye patch really made this bird look like his head was bigger than all the other wigeon in the flock. I think, though, that this was just an optical illusion. Or was it?

More normally-colored American Wigeon (left) with "Storm Wigeon" (right).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Trash birds

Marbled Godwits and Willets in "natural" setting. Chula Vista, California March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Birds aren't always found in the most photogenic settings. In fact, sewage ponds and garbage dumps are prime real estate for finding large numbers of birds in certain areas. Often a photographer can zoom in on the bird and crop out the distracting background. But in this case, I thought the distracting background was the picture. This wasn't a sewage pond or a landfill. It was the view from Marina View Park in Chula Vista. The park itself was immaculately manicured and cared for. It seemed a little odd to me to have a children's playground at the edge of an industrial area not close to any housing, but I'm not a city planner, so what do I know?

Now, don't get me wrong, the whole beach wasn't littered like this. High tide and wind had forced all the garbage that could float up into this inlet on what eBird calls the "J Street mudflats" on the southeastern shore of San Diego Bay.

* The title of the post, "Trash Birds," for those that don't know, is a play on a birding term. This somewhat pejorative phrase often refers to abundant species (such as ubiquitous starlings, house sparrows, and domestic pigeons). But the term can refer to any common species that "gets in the way" of finding a particular sought-after bird. They have to be visually "thrown away" and ignored in order to find that rare and "better" gem. Facetiously, it can refer to even rare birds, that just aren't the targeted mega-rarity one was trying to find. For instance, a sought-after life bird (never-before-observed, or first-time-in-your-life) seen on Monday could be a "trash bird" by Thursday if the observer subsequently sees many.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

San Diego Year Bird #179: Ross's Goose

Ross's Goose. Bayside Park, Chula Vista, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Ross's Geese are abundant migrants and winter visitors in the Klamath marshes of south-central Oregon and NE California. To see one in my previous home in NW Oregon  I would have to travel south the length of the state, then over the Cascades in winter. Thus I rarely got to see this little goose, unless a rare straggler showed up out-of-place. Along the West Coast they also winter in the Central Valley of California, and the south end of the Salton Sea, which is actually only 120 miles from here. But locally, it is still rather rare. This single individual has been present on the southeast shore of San Diego Bay all winter. I finally included this locale in my birding itinerary last week.

A diminutive fowl, it is barely larger than a domestic Mallard. In fact, one might be tempted to misidentify a white park duck as this species. The bill and feet are pink, not orange, and the stubby bill is thicker like a goose and not flat like a duck. Important, too, are the black wingtips of this and Snow Goose.

The Snow Goose is larger and has a bigger, longer bill. But a lone goose or family group, with no other waterfowl to compare with, can confuse.

The breeding range is the central Canadian Arctic and Hudson Bay. The main population from Arctic Canada winters in California; the population breeding around Hudson Bay winters in New Mexico, Texas, and adjacent Mexico.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bald Eagle: Is this K-83?

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle. Lake Wohlford, near Escondido, California. February 16, 2014. Greg Gillson.
I found this bird in a large live oak at Lake Wohlford last month. It wasn't very wary, as I almost walked right up to it before I noticed. So I took a couple photos and then turned back on the lake shore trail, leaving the bird to survey all the fishermen below.

The orange patagial tag on the wing numbered "83" could mean one of two things. It may have been a "problem bird" removed from an airstrip to a more remote area. Or, it could be a captive bred bird released as part of a re-introduction program.

In fact, if this is K-83, then it is a female hatched in 2008 at a nest at Two Harbors on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles. (See the Montrose Bald Eagle report from 2010.)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow
Lark Sparrow. Escondido, California. February 16, 2014. Greg Gillson.
I can't figure out this bird. Sometimes it is a bird of sage scrub like the Sage Thrasher, found in the Great Basin desert of southeastern Oregon. Sometimes it is a bird of grasslands like the White-crowned Sparrows this bird was with in a graveyard in southern California.

But wherever I find it, it gives the appearance of a large handsome sparrow with a long buzzy song.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Today's English lesson: Dissing the gruntled worker

A recent legal blog post (here) on wind generators being given a permit to "take" (read, "strike dead") Bald Eagles had the headline that the eagles were "nonplussed." I had to look it up.

The prefix "non" usually means "not," but nonplussed without the "non" is nonsense. I'm confused. Actually, the Latin (non plus) does mean "no more to add." But there is no English word that describes a person's mental state as "plussed," as in perfectly clear. Got it?

That reminds me of several other confusing words I've noted over the years.

What's the difference between flammable and inflammable? Well, it turns out that inflammable comes from the Latin "to light on fire." In the 1920's the National Fire Protection Association thought that people were confusing inflammable (easy to catch fire) with nonflammable (not able to catch fire). Inconceivable! (not conceivable) That's bad. What to do? Invent a new word! They coined "flammable" and encouraged its use over inflammable. Both mean exactly the same thing, easy to catch fire.

When is the last time you heard of a gruntled worker wreaking havoc at their place of employment? It could happen, because gruntled is a word. No disrespect, but I do not think it means what you think it means.

Disgruntled means dissatisfied. The "dis" that prefixes "satisfied" means NOT satisfied, right? But the "dis" in front of gruntled does NOT mean mean NOT. Gruntled is an old form of "grumble." It does not mean "happy." The "dis" in front means "more." So, while a gruntled employee is a grumbler, a disgruntled employee is a real problem.

Want more examples of words that have negative connotations without corresponding positive meanings? See Grammar Girl's "Don't worry, be gruntled."

Friday, March 7, 2014

Treasure Hunt: March 2, 2014

Surf Scoter
Surf Scoters. San Diego Bay, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Well, it's the first week of March. It's coming to the end of winter. Where should I go birding? That's the question I asked myself last week.

From the beginning of the year I had chosen weekly birding spots where I could see lots of birds, perhaps exploring new areas I hadn't been to before. It is my goal to see 300 species in San Diego County in 2014. That's a lot, but not so many that I had to go chasing every rare bird I heard about. And I am only birding one half day per weekend, not two full days. But by the end of February there wasn't really one location or habitat left to visit where I could expect a bunch of birds I hadn't seen yet this winter.

So, I decided to put together a list of locations that had birds reported the past week that would be new for me for the year. Many of these included long-remaining rarities, found last fall or early winter and now well-ensconced in their winter locations. By mapping them out and planning a route I could spend some time searching for them all, one at a time.

That reminds me of the game "Treasure Hunt" I used to play as a kid. Perhaps you did too. You start with a clue that leads to your first location. At that location you would find a hidden note with a clue to the next location, and so on, over and over, until you reach the final prize. Often it was more fun finding each new note and clue than it was reaching the end destination.

Most of the rare birds, the ones I hadn't seen yet, were south of downtown San Diego. The city is 30 miles south of my home in San Marcos, and most of my birding has been from my home south to the northern edge of downtown. So I made a list of birds in the south end of San Diego Bay (Imperial Beach area) and just south of that near San Ysidro in the Tijuana River Valley bordering Tijuana, Mexico.

I ended with 7 locations, 8 primary target birds, and a total list of 29 potential bird species that would be new to me from recent reports by others. That's pretty good for a treasure hunt! Of course, I didn't expect to see them all. For one thing, most of these were in areas I had never visited before. I didn't have very good directions to some of the birds other than a park or general area. But I could reasonably expect that I might see some new year birds that weren't on my list, too.

It was still showery, finishing up our 4th consecutive day of rain in still-drought-ravaged California. Marlene was not looking forward to spending the day alone at home without a vehicle, so I encouraged her to come along. She'd walk and explore some of the new places with me when sunny, read her book in the car when she didn't feel like getting out in the rain.

Here's how it went.

1) Scripps Library pond, Mira Mesa
Target bird: Cackling Goose

The first bird of the day was half way to San Diego--a good way to start. Aleutian Cackling Goose is not that rare. I saw a small flock in December. But only this lone bird at a small pond had been reported since. It was only a mile off the freeway. We pulled in right at 8:00 am and scanned the pond full of American Coots and Ring-necked Ducks and didn't see it at first. It was raining pretty hard, so we remained in our car. Oh, there it is all alone on the far side of the pond. Next.

2) J Street mudflats, Chula Vista
Target bird: Ross's Goose. Also Surf Scoter and Red-throated Loon.

Google maps showed this was a rather large area on the east shore of San Diego Bay with a marina and three small parks on the edge of a small creek entering the bay. I didn't really know where to expect the Ross's Goose. Not everyone who looked for the goose found it. One person who did find it recently said it was "north of" J Street mudflats.

We arrived at 8:40 am. I started off north along the western outside of the marina and walked back toward the mudflats near the "mainland." There were quite a few water birds here. Out in San Diego Bay I soon spotted one of my target birds for the day--Surf Scoters. It was high tide and the mudflats were mostly covered with water... and Lesser Scaup. But no goose. I spent some time photographing a white faced American Wigeon, which I'll share at a future time (along with photos of other birds during the day).

Marlene hadn't had breakfast yet, so before we headed out into the Tijuana River Valley wetlands we needed to find some food. I turned back up the eastern inside of the marina where there was a "food" sign, but it turned out to be a marina bar. However I noted some lawn in a trailer park north of the marina, and we turned in. There it was grazing on the lawn! It was pouring now, but I managed several point blank photos for the Ross's Goose. Three target birds found! Then on to Jack In The Box for a quick breakfast.

American Kestrel
American Kestrel. Dairy Mart Rd. San Ysidro, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
3) Dairy Mart Rd/Ponds, San Ysidro
Target bird: Northern Waterthrush. Also Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow, American Goldfinch, Downy Woodpecker, Least Bittern, White-throated Swift, Virginia Rail, Green-tailed Towhee, Sora, White-collared Seedeater, Greater Roadrunner.

It was 11:00 am when we pulled into the Dairy Mart Ponds. There are three cattail edged ponds here in the Tijuana River bottom lands. The famous (in birding circles) sod fields are across the street. The crowded-looking buildings of Tijuana are on the hill a mile to the south separated by tall border fences. Border patrol agents parked in their green-striped white trucks kept an eye on me (really, though, they are used to birders here). I walked the loop trail from the parking area along the south shore of the North Pond and then walked south and then east around the back side of the South Pond, then north along the road to the unofficial "Middle Pond." At a large willow at this middle pond has been a wintering Northern Waterthrush. These unusual warblers walk the edge of the pond in dense vegetation. If I sat there on a log quietly near the water's edge, it may have come out. But I was impatient.

I spotted 5 species of swallows, including the new for the year Barn and Cliff Swallows. American Goldfinch was a new year bird. And a Green Heron was new for me this year at the South Pond. After giving up on the waterthrush I backtracked a bit, as I thought I heard a Pine Siskin when I was in the willow tangle. It was likely the much more common Lesser Goldfinch, with a similar buzzy call, but I searched around anyway and--What in the world could THAT be? (token Princess Bride quotation). I thought the mention of White-collared Seedeater in a list of birds for the area was a checklist notation error or something someone put in to see if anyone was paying attention. But evidently they are a rather common cage bird in Tijuana and escapees have established themselves here. These aren't the pale form in your bird book that barely reach the US in Texas. They are the more colorful West Mexican form. I got several photos of this bird. At the time I didn't know for sure it was an exotic--therefore uncountable by American Birding Association birding rules (but personally countable in eBird). So I was pretty happy.

I also took several photos of Cassin's Kingbirds, a common yellow and gray flycatcher with black tail in San Diego. Another one looked different somehow. It had a green back and yellow chest all the way to the throat. Bigger bill. Yes--Tropical Kingbird! And posing quite nicely for additional photos. This is more unusual, regular in late fall post-breeding dispersal out of Mexico (rarely all the way to Canada along the immediate coastline) but usually not remaining through winter.

At the car I delayed getting in and scanned the area one last time in case that reported Green-tailed Towhee popped out of the brush, but no. Instead, overhead flew a half dozen White-throated Swifts. That made a total of 10 new year birds, counting the exotic seedeater.

4) Tijuana River Valley Regional Park (Bird & Butterfly Garden), San Ysidro
Target bird: Black-throated Magpie-Jay. Also Pacific-slope Flycatcher, (American Goldfinch), (Downy Woodpecker), Red-naped Sapsucker, Black-and-White Warbler.

Nearby at the Bird and Butterfly Garden it was pretty quiet at 12:35 pm. Oh, except for the 6 Black-throated Magpie-Jays! Another exotic, uncountable on my ABA list, but a terrific looking large blue bird with white belly and an impossibly long tail and black crest. When we first arrived three birds were pulling bread out of the garbage cans and squawking away. The dominant male was fighting his reflection in the window of the small building there. There are often Common Ground-Doves here, but not today. No doubt the hunting Cooper's Hawk on the property had something to do with the dearth of small birds. Eleven new birds, including 2 exotics.

Visitor's Center, Tijuana Slough NWR.
Visitor's Center, Tijuana Slough NWR. Imperial Beach, California. March 2, 2014.
5) Tijuana Slough NWR visitor's center/Imperial Beach Sports Park
Target birds: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and Hepatic Tanager. Also Rufous Hummingbird, (Green-tailed Towhee), (Barn Swallow), (American Goldfinch), (Black-and-White Warbler).

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Imperial Beach Sports Park, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
The sports park borders the Tijuana Slough NWR and is a block from the visitor's center in Imperial Beach. We arrived at 1:30 pm. A group of birders on a field trip for the San Diego Bird Festival were here and had just found one of the rare resident Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. After they left I stayed and walked to the Coral Tree where a wintering Hepatic Tanager was most recently reported. I didn't find the tanager or the Black-and-White Warbler, but did find two Black-crowned Night-Herons.

Black-crowned Night-Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron. Imperial Beach Sports Park, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
From here we went to the visitor's center at 2:00 pm and Marlene went inside with me. Then we walked just the start of the North McCoy Trail on recommendation of one of the park rangers. We were rewarded with prolonged close-up views of a Clapper Rail! This wasn't a new year bird, but it was the first time I've definitely seen one! I heard one earlier in the year at San Elijo Lagoon, but didn't see it. I recorded in my notebooks that I saw one at Imperial Reservoir on the California/Arizona line way back in the 1970's, but didn't record any plumage or voice details. I no longer remember the bird--I remember seeing the bird, but not the bird itself, if that makes any sense. At any rate, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was the 12th new year bird, including 2 exotics.

6) End of 7th Street, Imperial Beach
Target bird: Reddish Egret.

The afternoon was disappearing fast. A quick stop here at 3:30 pm found some interesting mudflats with some shorebirds, but no Reddish Egret. After 15 minutes I moved on.

7) Grand Caribe Shoreline Park/Silver Strand SB--Crown Cove, Coronado
Target bird: Black Scoter. Also (Surf Scoter), (Red-throated Loon), Horned Lark, Common Loon, Brown Booby, Semipalmated Plover.

We drove past the "guard shack" with a wave to the two attendants who were deeply engaged in coversation and into the Shoreline Park at 4:15 pm and immediately saw Surf Scoters near shore in San Diego Bay. And there! Two Black Scoters for a new year bird. I scanned for loons out on the bay, but didn't see much else other than Surf Scoters, Brant, and some Brown Pelicans. I did take the opportunity to photograph a long, long, Long-billed Curlew at very close range. As I was getting back into the car I spotted a few Horned Larks in the adjacent vacant lot, adding the final year bird of the day.

Across the street is Silver Strand State Beach and the Pacific Ocean. The sun was setting and it appeared to be a fee area. We couldn't really see birds looking into the setting sun over the ocean. So after a brief backtrack along Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach at 5:00 pm to visit a place we inadvertently missed earlier we headed for home.

Marlene and I had a great day and I saw a total of 14 new species for the year (including 2 exotic species). The 12 countable birds bring me up to 190 species for the year in San Diego County.

Rail Trail sign
Rail Trail on edge of Tijuana Slough NWR, Imperial Beach, California. March 2, 2014.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

San Diego Year Bird #171: Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher
Vermilion Flycatcher. Escondido, California. February 16, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Unlike most drab flycatchers that are exceedingly difficult to tell apart, this little bird is an amazing hurt-your-eyes fiery red-orange color--yes, vermilion. The scientific name is Pyrocephalus rubinus, which means 'red fire-head.'

In fact, the bright red plumage, especially the crown, is quite fluffy, intensifying the appearance of flames. I am afraid the camera cannot catch the proper hue--the red is so intense that it is overexposed on the camera and not brilliant enough red--but you get the idea from these photos.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Monday, March 3, 2014

San Diego County Bird #221: Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl. Ramona Grasslands Preserve, California. February 9, 2014. Greg Gillson.
On the way home from Lindo Lake February 9th I drove past the Ramona Grasslands Preserve again for several "target" birds. Scanning the boulders along Highland Road I spotted this Burrowing Owl, a regular species here. A pair of Bald Eagles were near their nest along Rangeland Road. Also seen from the car was  a Ferruginous Hawk, several Mountain Bluebirds, and some Tricolored Blackbirds. Most of the birds were too far away for good photographs, though.

This small diurnal owl was my San Diego Year Bird #169.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Double-crested Cormorant showing white nuptial crest

Double-crested Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant. Lindo Lake, California. February 9, 2014. Greg Gillson.
This widespread cormorant is found across North America, into Mexico. Most species of cormorants are restricted to coastal waters. Not so the Double-crested Cormorant.

West Coast birds, from the Aleutians in Alaska to Sinaloa, Mexico have white head plumes early in the breeding season. Birds in the Great Basin and Rocky Mountains to the East Coast have black nuptial crests.

Many other species of cormorants lose the bright colored throat skin in winter, but Double-crested Cormorants keep their bright yellow-orange throat pouches throughout the year.

Like the closely related pelicans, cormorants are totipalmate--there is webbing between the front toes as ducks, loons, auklets, and gulls, but differ from these by also having webbing from the inner toe to the hind toe!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler
Northern Shoveler. Lindo Lake, California. February 9, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Northern Shovelers have similar colors to the widespread and familiar Mallard--the drakes with green heads, and rust and white on the body. One difference is that the Mallard has a chestnut breast and pale gray sides, opposite of the Northern Shoveler's white chest and chestnut sides.

Another major difference is the yellow bill of the drake Mallard compared to the black bill of the drake Northern Shoveler. Hunters observing the wide, flat bill call this duck a "spoonbill," but since it eats crustaceans and soft plant material from muddy pond bottoms, they evidently taste like mud, and they aren't sought after for table fare like Mallards.