California in May
2-8 May 2004
by Henry Detwiler
Dennis & June Schwartz and I spent an excellent week of birding in
southern California, starting in the southwest deserts and going as far north
as Morro Bay.
198 species -- complete list at end of page
thumbnail pictures for full-sized shots.
SUNDAY, 2 May 04
|We actually started out on the Arizona side of the
Colorado River, where Dennis got to SEE (and not just hear) a
Yellow-breasted Chat. We also got a few desert-loving birds,
and then headed back to the car rental office to add me to the
Dennis & June
Black-necked Stilt on nest
|From there it was off to the Salton Sea, to see a fine
array of breeding and migrant waders, shorebirds, and a solitary
Heerman's Gull. The Black-necked Stilts were all along the
levee roads, and we had to take care where we walked.
Killdeer on nest
(eggs underneath her)
|In Palm Desert we started up the "Palms to
Pines" highway, finding our first mountain birds before
long. New additions included California Quail, Pinyon Jay,
and Tricolored Blackbird. After a fine dinner in Idyllwild
we did some owling and heard a cooperative Western Screech-Owl.
MONDAY, 3 May
Dennis and I got an early start while June slept
in. We tried to drive to the top of Black Mt., but the road
was still blocked by a gate 1/2 the way up. So we parked there
and hiked around the mountain pines, finding Mountain Quail, Western
Tanager, and Olive-sided Flycatcher.
Back in Idyllwild, we picked up June and enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast.
Several hours of driving north and east took us to Santa Anita
Canyon in the San Gabriel Mts. Half a mile of walking down the
canyon led us to Cassin's Vireos, Pacific-slope Flycatchers, and
Wrentits. Unfortunately, we dipped on the Dipper and the Black
Swift. The tough part was returning uphill! As we left
the suburbs, Dennis spotted some parrots, which turned out to be
TUESDAY, 4 May 04
we drove farther west and back up into the San Gabriels, in search
of the California Condor. We scored on Oak Titmouse, Sage
Sparrow, California Thrasher, and a mini-fallout of western
warblers, including many fine Hermit Warblers. But the Condors
|During the late afternoon, we enjoyed birding the
coastal lagoons and seashore of Ventura Beach. A west wind
had driven in many of these "By-the-wind Sailor" (Vellela
vellela) jellyfish. And in addition to the common gulls
and waders, we spotted a couple of nice surprises: a beautiful
breeding-plumage Pacific Loon and a winter-plumaged Long-tailed
By-the-wind Sailor Jellyfish
WEDNESDAY, 5 May
Sea Lion at entrance to
After a hearty breakfast, we boarded the Island Packers boat and
steamed out to Santa Cruz Island. There were large flocks of
Red-necked Phalaropes, a few Sooty Shearwaters, and in the deeper
waters, a few Risso's Dolphins (actually small whales!).
Soon after landing at Prisoner's Harbor, we heard and then saw
our prize--the Island Scrub Jay. Hiking up the main dirt
road we saw a striking male Allen's Hummingbird, Spotted Towhees,
several warblers, and a Rufous-crowned Sparrow.
Santa Cruz Island we saw many Pigeon Guillemots and two Xantu's
Murrelets--a new bird for both of us.
Island Scrub Jay
Along the creek leading to Prisoner's Harbor we
found one of the many wild pigs that run loose on the island and
more California Quail.
California Quail on Santa
THURSDAY, 6 May
Our target this morning was one of California's
endemic birds, the Yellow-billed Magpie. Along the
wonderfully scenic Alisal Road we found Purple Martins and Western
Bluebirds, and then, at the golf course, a flock of the striking
Montano de Oro State Park
Great Blue Heron
An hour farther up the road took us to Montana de Oro State Park,
where spectacular cliffs and rocks along the Pacific Ocean played
host to Pigeon Guillemots, Black Oystercatchers, cormorants, and
gulls. The tide was still out, so we strolled over the
exposed rocks, looking at the colorful and various anemones,
starfish, and sea urchins. Along the cliff trail we got
within arm's length of this almost-tame heron.
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