Wednesday, 25 March 2015

22nd March 2015

I was out birding last Sunday around Galway city. Before leaving Clifden I had a rather approachable Redwing in the garden. It was actually singing away. Can't recall ever hearing them singing in Ireland before. It was a very quiet song which sounded almost like a distant flock of Starlings. I've noticed lots of Redwings and to a lesser extent Fieldfares on the move over the last week or so, I assume they are now on their way back to Scandinavia. Haven't seen many out here in Connemara this winter. Good numbers of Meadow Pipits moving through also at the moment and back on the bogs already. I've had Golden Plovers on their breeding grounds about three weeks back so Spring is definitely here.

I had a look at Lough Corrib to see if there was much around there. Still a few hundred diving ducks present including a few Greater Scaup but as per usual all were seen at a vast distance so trying to pick anything amongst them was impossible. I could make out the Great White Egret in Muckrush Bay from Angliham. This bird has now been present for a few months at this stage. I later had it in Muckrush Bay. It was easy knowing that I was back in Europe as it proved to be extremely skittish and I just couldn't get near the thing. If this was the States this usually wouldn't be a problem. Plenty of Black-headed Gulls setting up for the breeding season on some of the small islets also.

Waterside was typically quiet but a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls were present which are usually the first migrants that we get on the West coast in the Spring. They are quite scarce up here during the winter unlike the south coast of Ireland. Some of these birds may well have been Icelandic birds passing through. I just had a single first-winter Iceland along with a first-winter and adult summer Ring-billed Gull at Nimmo's Pier afterwards.

Redwing

Great White Egret

First-winter Iceland Gull

Iceland, Ring-billed & Black-headed Gull

First-winter Ring-billed Gull

First-winter Ring-billed Gull

First-winter Ring-billed Gull

First-winter Ring-billed Gull

Meadow Pipit
First-winter Rook
 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

California 13th February 2015

So I was to be in my own company for the next week. This is how I usually bird for the majority of my time out birding anyway. As much as I enjoyed the tour and the participant's company I have to say it was a bit of a release not to be on other peoples timetable and trying to round up tour members into the van which was like trying to herd cats at times ;-) As I've mentioned before my aim for this week was to spend a bit more time by the coast and concentrate on some target species. I would also have a lot more time to spend on photography and found the quality of my shots increased during my solo week.

I had flown into San Francisco the previous evening and was out at the Lucy Evans Baylands Centre first thing in the morning. This is right by San Francisco Bay and the saltmarshes here are supposed to be a favourite spot for Ridgway's, Virginia and even Black Rails (rarely seen). The boardwalk across the saltmarsh beyond the Interpretive Centre was closed when I arrived as it looked like it was falling apart. So that was that plan for rails out the window! However the area around here was still excellent. I was amazed at how common Golden-crowned Sparrows were here and just about everywhere else during the week in Northern California. During the first two weeks we had only seen the species once up in the San Jacinto Mountains. There was a decent amount of duck about also. I really wanted to get acquainted with Canvasback on this trip. We had already seen numerous Canvasbacks on the trip already but I had some really nice close views of them at this site. Some of the birds seemed to digging around in the mud at the bottom of lagoons for food as a few came up with their foreheads covered in black mud. A few male Greater Scaup were also giving great views on the Duck Pond as well. Interesting wingbar pattern on one bird which flapped while I was there.

From here then I left the "Bay area" and headed west up into the hills which stand between the bay area and the Pacific coastline. I hadn't planned on stopping here but as I was making good time I dropped into Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve. Some nice large redwoods here which was a habitat that I hadn't yet visited. I had been hoping to add new species such as California Quail (surprisingly missed it on the tour), Pacific Wren, Band-tailed Pigeon and Townsend's Warbler. Although I didn't get any of these here (got all later in the week) I managed one tick in the form of Chestnut-backed Chickadee, which proved to be common during the week. There were a few ther good birds here as back-up like a showy Wrentit, Pygmy Nuthatch, lots of Steller's Jays and Hutton's Vireo.

I hit the Pacific coastline next and headed south until I got to Pescadero State Beach. This proved to be a productive spot for me. My main reason for visiting here was the presence of male Harlequin Duck. It's an area of rocky shoreline and with a minute of setting up the scope I had ticked Surfbird and Black Oystercatcher along with the bonus of seeing more Black Turnstones. Following a tip-off from another birder on site I picked up the male Harlequin beyond the breakers. Harlequin's are far from common in this area of California so it was a good one to see. Most of the stuff was just too distant for photography unfortunately.

I continued south stopping off at Lake Lucerne which is just off the Cabrillo Highway. There wasn't a huge amount of birds on the lake although there were about 50 Mew Gulls washing in the freshwater, the biggest gathering of Mews that I had seen yet. They proceeded to fly overhead as they made their way back out to the coast which gave a good opportunity for photos. It was good to get an idea of the variation in the wing patterns of several individuals. Surprisingly of the 50 or so birds present there was only one second-winter and no first-winters at all.

The final stop of the day was Pigeon Point Lighthouse. This is know as a seawatching spot with the right conditions and I was hoping for possibly a few auklets and/or murrelets offshore. The conditions while I was there weren't obviously up to much as it was very quiet. Some nice views of Bottle-nosed Dolphins passing close by the point though. I spent the night in Santa Cruz.

Female Bufflehead with Ruddy Ducks.

Female Bufflehead

Male Canvasback


Male Canvasback

Male Canvasback

Male Canvasback

Male Greater Scaup

Male Greater Scaup

Male Greater Scaup
 
Male Greater Scaup

Male Greater Scaup, interesting wingbar pattern...

Male Green-winged Teal
American Avocet

Surfbird, living up to its name!
Adult California Gull

Adult Mew Gull

Adult Mew Gull

Adult Mew Gull

Adult Mew Gull

Adult Mew Gull

Adult Mew Gull

Adult Mew Gull

Second-winter Mew Gull

Male Anna's Hummingbird

Male Brewer's Blackbird

Common Yellowthroat

Wrentit

Wrentit

Wrentit


Wrentit

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Golden-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Bottle-nosed Dolphin

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Arizona 12th February 2015

So today was our last day of the Birdfinders Arizona and California 2015 tour. We headed north of Phoenix into Tonto National Forest for the last bit of birding of the tour. . While it was a bit of a climb to head up into the mountains I was flabbergasted at the amount of fuel my van went through. We had fully filled up in Phoenix but by the time we got to our destination which was only 54 miles away, I had gone through half of my tank!  Anyway this was a fantastic area to finish up the trip. We added some quality species to the trip list. On arrival it was very quiet with little activity on show. However we managed to come across a relatively small area that was a real hotspot for passerines. The list of birds here included Northern Flicker, Bridled Titmouse, Verdin, Bushtit, Cactus & Bewick's Wren, Golden-crowned & Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Western Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Spotted Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, etc.

We had some distant Western Scrub Jays here and it was only afterwards that I realised that the interior race of Western Scrub Jay has been split by the International Ornithologists Committee/Union as Woodhouse's Scrub Jay. They have not yet been split by the ABA however.
A single Townsend's Solitare was picked up next. This was a definite highlight for myself as it was a species I was hoping to try for in California after the tour finished. It wasn't one I had expected to see on our tour itinerary. They are a bit of an odd looking species somewhere in between a thrush and flycatcher. They're usually only found at high elevations and are rather partial to juniper berries. The next species was another personal highlight and another typically mountain bird in these parts at least - Evening Grosbeak. I picked up a small flock of about six birds. We were extremely lucky to get close prolonged close views however for much of the time they were strongly backlight which made photography difficult. These birds had been reported from this same area and had only really been seen flying over the site. Their Hawfinch-like bills would make any ringer/bander cringe.
A Rufous-backed Thrush had been reported here recently also which had been hanging around with wintering American Robins. James had brief flight views of it but it never showed again. While I was looking for this down a steep gully I came across a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatch. This is another relatively widespread North American that I had up to now missed so it was great to get such good views of this overdue species. The male showed so well at times that I couldn't focus on it with 400mm lens.
My last new species  - Juniper Titmouse, was about as bland as they come! We had seen a few Oak Titmouse in California already. These two species were once lumped into a single species - Plain Titmouse. James and others had a Cassin's Finch which was thankfully one of the few potential ticks that I missed on the tour.
So that was that. We headed back to the airport where the rest of the group were to catch their flight back to Heathrow, London. James was going hang on in Arizona for another week as his family were heading out to join him. I was heading up to San Francisco for a week by myself to see a few more species.

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak

Townsend's Solitare

Townsend's Solitare
Juniper Titmouse

"Oregan" Dark-eyed Junco

"Grey-headed" Dark-eyed Junco

Male Red-breasted Nuthatch

Male Red-breasted Nuthatch

Male Western Bluebird

Female Western Bluebird
Tonto National Forest