Sunday, October 5, 2014

Oct 4 (Day 277) - Big dent put into California!

As I have chronicled the last few days, seabirding from Point Pinos has become painfully slow. Weak west winds this afternoon ensured today would be similarly bird thin. Having become a bit restless for some real action the last few days, I decided last night to venture inland for the morning portion of today. The main motivation for doing this was to look for Yellow-billed magpie. Yes, I would probably find this bird further south, but taking care of this today would give me something to do besides looking for seabirds that are elsewhere. As I will try to show you, it would also serve as an incredible insurance policy should I find it here and miss it near Paso Robles in a few days. There were a nice cluster of magpie sightings along Carmel Valley road, but this would be an approximately 60-mile round trip haul with quite a bit of climbing as well. I decided to leave early, before it really heated up, and bang out this miles to search for the bird.

64 miles today - back on track!

The ride was fairly uneventful. I traversed a variety of habitats before ending up in a oak scrub and grass area that looked like it would be productive birding. As soon as I entered this area, I heard what sounded like California thrasher calling from the side of the road. A quick pish brought this until-now elusive bird into view for year bird #566. I am sure to see more of these the next few days, but it's nice to have dealt with this guy today. 

It was really getting hot as I slowly crept along the quiet country road. I had provisioned myself with lots of water in anticipation of this. Although I'm not yet 100% over my cold, I did feel much better today than the last 2 days. There were eBird hotspots for the magpie at 18.5 miles and 23.5 miles of Carmel Vally Road. There were no signs of magpies at 18.5 miles. I stopped to rest and watch at 23.5, and no sooner than I had pulled over than a magpie flew across the road and disappeared into a private residence. Yes! Mission accomplished! Bird #567 was on the books. I got a distant photo of the bird from behind the iron gate that guarded the driveway. Soon other birds appeared and permitted closer approach. I spent 45 minutes or so chasing these bird arounds and obtaining better photos.

Habitat at mile marker 23.5

Flying in!


After documenting these guys, I thought to myself that I should keep my eyes open for Lawrence's goldfinch once I started the return ride. Just as I said this to myself, a small bird flew over the road. It looked finch-like, and going through the motions, I lifted my binocs to see what it was. BOOM! Lawrence's goldfinch for #568! This could not have been easier. It was almost a joke. I was not able to manage a photo, unfortunately. This is a bird that I thought could be potentially problematic, so it was really nice to tick it today. I hung around a bit longer to see if I could (re)find it/another, but since the weather was heating up faster than I expected, I decided to roll out. 

The afternoon was spent at Point Pinos. It was depressingly slow for the first 2.5 hours. Only in the 1.5 hours did lots of jaegers (~30) appear along with a few a few Black-vented shearwaters. The stars of the afternoon were unquestionably the 4-5 continually breaching humpbacks around sunset. I was scanning the ocean when a whole whale leapt of the water right in the middle of my scope field! It was a really nice finish to a productive and enjoyable day.

Finding these two birds today makes the next few weeks even more interesting. Magpie could have been a headache if I missed it in Paso Robles. I would have had to go south along the coast towards Santa Maria and Santa Barbara, then make a huge detour northeast to search for Le Conte's thrasher. Now I can just roll right through Paso Robles and towards the thrasher. Basically, it looks as though I am going to run out of birds to find in the next month in the time I have allotted to find them. Here are the expected birds for which I will look. They are in pairs since, fortuitously, each one pairs in habitat or in location with another.

California condor
Purple finch

Le Conte's thrasher
Bell's sparrow

Allen's hummingbird
California gnatcatcher

Scaly-breasted munia (Nutmeg Mannakin)
Spotted dove

Snow goose
Yellow-footed gull

Condor and finch will be sought the next two days in Big Sur. Next, thrasher and sparrow will be sought near Taft/Maricopa/Carrizo plain. I should probably set up shop in Ventura/Oxnard for a few days (after the thrasher/sparrow) to stalk what rarities might turn up there. I can then blow down the LA coast to get the next four species. Hummingbird and gnatcatcher will be easy on the Palos Verde Pensinsula (if not found before). Munia and dove will be sought near Huntington Beach (again, if not found sooner). Goose and gull will be at the Salton Sea whenever I pass by there as I head back to AZ, NM, TX.

I wish the Pelagic birding was hotter right now. I would definitely stay here for a few more days if it was. However, it looks as though the light west winds, and presumably the slow sea birding, will continue. I have a cabin reserved in Big Sur for tomorrow night that in non-refundable, so I am going to head there to hopefully deal with the condor and the finch. If I found these two birds without much effort, I might even consider coming back up to Monterey for 2 more days of seawatching. It's only a 3-4 hour ride back here, and it would allow me to kill a few more days while perhaps finding an additional species or two. Decision, decision, decisions!

I want to throw out a special thanks to my host for the last 5 nights, Fred Hochstaedter. I solicited lodging on the Monterey Bird List, and Fred was one of the first to reply. He explained that his house might be a bit crazy because it baseball playoffs right now. He had no idea I am as baseball crazy as he is. We have had a great series of nights talking birds and watching baseball!

Me and Fred during inning 16(!) of the Nats-Giants game tonight.
The Giants won 2-1 in 18 innings - Fred was stoked!

1 comment:

  1. It's a good thing that you got Yellow-billed Magpie out of the way. (Lompoc is not a reliable spot for them.)