Friday, 21 July 2017

Birding San Diego, California, USA - May 2017 - Part 2

Following on from Part 1, as I tried to squeeze in as many birding opportunities as possible during a week-long work trip to Sand Diego, California in early May 2107.

Peregrine, La Jolla, San Diego, California, USA - Friday 5th May 2017

After a three days of work meetings, training, and the odd drink or three in the evening, I had Friday 5th May free. I managed almost a full day's birding, getting to Balboa Park, La Jolla, San Diego River and Mission Bay.

Before leaving the UK, I'd tried to find a local guide for this free day, or at least a guided walk by a local bird group, but without luck. I was hoping a guide would help me get to the best habitats (I didn't have a car), or at least some advice on where best to go, and to help me hone in on some of these tricky bird calls. Luckily, late Thursday, I notice the local San Diego Audubon Society were adverising a short walk around a small part of Balboa Park the following morning. A rang, but was told it was fully booked. Fortunately, after explaining my situation, Caron, the organiser, was very understanding, and suggested I could tag along. Thanks!

The following morning a taxi dropped me at Marston Canyon, at the north-eastern tip of Balboa Park, at 08:00, and I joined up with a small group of local birders. I've always found the people here are very friendly, courteous and eager to help, this these guys were no different.

Western Bluebird, Marston Canyon, Balboa Park, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

The event kicked off with a Western Bluebird sat on a wire above our heads. The weather was overcast, and so my photos aren't great, especially one taken against the sky, but hopefully you'll get the gist. Soon, a Cooper's Hawk flew low overhead and landed on a telegraph pole, and began eating the prey it had.

Cooper's Hawk, Marston Canyon, Balboa Park, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

Hummingbirds were darting around the shrubs in the park, including this lovely Allen's Hummingbird (shame the twig is in the way!), and several Anna's Hummingbirds.

Allen's Hummingbird, Marston Canyon, Balboa Park, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

Anna's Hummingbird, Marston Canyon, Balboa Park, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

This next series of photos show the amazing iridescence produced by the seemingly plain black feathers on Anna's Hummingbird.

Anna's Hummingbird, Marston Canyon, Balboa Park, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

I got some better views of Red-shouldered Hawk. I love the bold barring on wings and tail of these birds.

Red-shouldered Hawk, Marston Canyon, Balboa Park, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

Western Tanager was a target bird for me, and I wasn't disappointed. There were at least three birds, though only one showed well in the flowering Silk Oak (Grevillea robusta).

Western Tanager, Marston Canyon, Balboa Park, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

Along with Black Phoebe, Song Sparrow, American Crow and Western Gull, California Towhees were probably the most visible birds in most places I visited.

California Towhee, Marston Canyon, Balboa Park, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

We came across an empty Bushtit nest hanging at head-height is a bare tree. In keeping with that species' similarity with European Long-tailed Tits, their nest was of a similar construction. Long-tailed Tits tend to be deeper cover than this, but the the concept of a nest made from spider webs and feathers to create a stretchy bag that expands as the chick grow is the same.

Bushtit nest, Marston Canyon, Balboa Park, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

The highlights of this area were undoubtedly the warblers. Several hours perusing the Warbler Guide recently had not prepared me for the abundance of colour and calls of these fabulous birds. In this small area we saw Orange-crowned Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, and Townsend's Warbler. The Townsend's Warbler in particular was a real standout bird for me - a real beauty.

Black-throated Warbler, Marston Canyon, Balboa Park, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

Townsend's Warbler, Marston Canyon, Balboa Park, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

One last expected bird that had eluded us, but which showed right at the end, was a Hooded Oriole. Nice to get a good view (if not a good photo) of a male.

Hooded Oriole, Marston Canyon, Balboa Park, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

In addition, we also saw Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Lesser Goldfinch, Black Phoebe, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Cedar Waxwing, House Wren, Bewick's Wren, House Finch, House Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Mourning Dove, Mallard, Western Gull, Merlin, and Black-headed Grosbeak. Not forgetting several birds from naturalised Parrot sp that flew over.

I asked the group if they could recommend somewhere for me to visit next, somewhere good for birds, but also something decent to eat and maybe buy some cheesy souvenirs for my kids. The unanimous answer was: La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya). Rustom, a local birder also on the walk, very generously offered to give me a lift there (unfortunately not in this fab 1970 Chevy C20 pickup that was parked nearby). Thanks Rustom.

1970 Chevy C20 Pickup, San Diego, USA - Friday 5th May 2017

La Jolla is a seaside resort about 12 miles north of downtown San Diego - very picturesque, and lots of nice place to eat and drink. Although as it was overcast and a little cool when I was there (kind of like Blackpool in August!), I don't think I got the full resort experience.

La Jolla Cove, San Diego, California, USA - Friday 5th May 2017

Rustom dropped me by La Jolla Cove, and as soon as I settepd stepping out of the car I could smell Brandt's Cormorant guano! The birds nest along the low cliffs at the back of the beach, just below the road (you can see them at the bottom-right of the photo above). This allows for great views from the Coast Blvd.

Brandt's Cormorant, La Jolla Cove, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

All the while, passing over head, were formations of Brown Pelicans flying low over the town, beach and sea.

Brown Pelican, La Jolla Cove, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

There's a flat area where the Double-crested Cormorants and Brown Pelicans gathered to preen, and or dry or after fishing expeditions.


Double-crested Cormorants and Brown Pelicans, La Jolla Cove, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

Double-crested Cormorant, La Jolla Cove, San Diego, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

On the small headland at La Jolla Cave, a male Peregrine was at in a bare tree, looking out to sea. The tree was no more that 25 metres from the busy coastal path, yet the bird seemed unconcerned.

Peregrine, La Jolla, San Diego, California, USA - Friday 5th May 2017

Further along the path were House Finches and Black Phoebes, but few other passerines.

Black Phoebe, La Jolla, San Diego, California, USA - Friday 5th May 2017

There were hummingbirds all along the path, and I took great delight in watching an Anna's Hummingbird fledgling being fed by an adult.

Anna's Hummingbird, La Jolla, San Diego, California, USA - Friday 5th May 2017

Back further west, around Point Mencinger, is a great place to see California Ground Squirrels up close. Lots of them on on the soft ground beside the beach, and occasionally in the bins. Not unlike the other opportunistic feeder, the Western Gull.

California Ground Squirrel, La Jolla, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

Western Gull, La Jolla, San Diego, California, USA - Friday 5th May 2017

Hauled out on on the beach were dozens of Harbor Seals (I guess i should use the American spelling!). Plenty of California Sea Lions on the rocks too.

 Harbor Seals, La Jolla, San Diego, California, USA - Friday 5th May 2017

 California Sea Lion, La Jolla, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

I didn't have a detailed plan for the rest of the day. I wanted to check out some shore birds, and Mission Bay seemed the best area nearby, but I wasn't sure where to start. So I called in at the San Diego Audubon Society offices to asked for advice, and was told the Sand Diego river would probably be best. Great advice!


I was dropped off along Old Sea World Drive, as suggested, just at the end of the silted section of river (see map above), and headed west towards the ocean. In front of me, in a creek, was a Yellow-crowned Night-heron. Not a common bird here, as it's slightly out of it's usual range.

Yellow-crowned Night-heron, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

I saw a further four heron and egret species along the river: Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Great Egret, and Snowy Egret.

Great Blue Heron, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

Little Blue Heron, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

Great Egret, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

Snowy Egret, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

The shore birds were restricted to the silted area a the shallow water to the east of West Mission Bay Drive. It was nice to see Willet again (a long overdue species in the UK). There was a Hudsonian Whimbrel (recently lumped back with Eurasian Whimbrel), and approx ten Marbled Godwits. The godwits were beautiful, with lovely speckling on the mantle, cinnamon under-wings, and rich rusty upper-wings.

Willet, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017
 
 Hudsonian Whimbrel, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017
 Marbled Godwit, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

I'm seen a few Caspian and Elegant Terns washing in the freshwater area upriver, but as I got closer to the ocean, I noticed more terns feeding. Forster's Terns were diving into the shallow water where the wader were feeding.

 Forster's Tern and Marbled Godwit, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

 Forster's Tern, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

 Caspian Tern, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA - Friday 5th May 2017

I caught sight of a Black Skimmer coming down the river, low over the water. I'd heard these may be present in the Mission Bay area, but I doubted I'd find them here. Well, I felt very lucky to see this one - what a stunner! It flew right past me, dragging its oversized lower mandible in the water. A top ten birding highlight for me.

 Black Skimmer, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

Further along, beyond Sunset Cliffs Blvd Bridge, was a large group (c70) of Black Skimmers loafing on the sand bar, with similar numbers of Caspian Terns and Elegant Terns, and the odd Forster's Tern. An impressive sight. I didn't see any Royal Terns.

Black Skimmer, with Caspian and Elegant Terns, San Diego River, San Diego,
California, USA - Friday 5th May 2017

An added treat was an Osprey cruising up and down the river, looking for prey. From the number of large fish leaping out of the water, I expected it wouldn't be long before it caught something. It did, and quickly took the fish down river, flying under the bridge with the heavy prey held facing forwards.

Osprey, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA - Friday 5th May 2017

A little later I noticed a bird perched on a lamppost on the next bridge. Taking a closer look, I realised it was the Osprey. It seemed oblivious to the traffic passing close below.


Osprey, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA - Friday 5th May 2017

There were a few Ruddy Ducks on the water, and this smart Western Grebe.

Western Grebe, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

As I approached the estuary opening out into the sea, I realised the place was crawling with feral cats! Dozens of them among the rocks. Eventually I reached the end of the track, where clandestine fishermen had mounted the fence to get to the end of the jetty. The tide washes over part of the jetty twice a day, and it looked ready to do so now, so it seemed sensible to head back.

Back along the road, and even among the yachts in Mission Bay Marina, were more of the ubiquitous House Finches. Also, in the Marina, I came across a handsome Spotted Sandpiper. A lovely bird to end the trip.

House Finch, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA - Friday 5th May 2017


Spotted Sandpiper, San Diego River, San Diego, California, USA
Friday 5th May 2017

Well, a good day's birding. And a very memorable and worthwhile trip, for work and pleasure. What a lovely place with really likeable people. Can't wait to come back...

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