Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 1 of California

After a 12-hour flight, I expected to start seeing things in the airport instantly, but I didn't, apart from a few House Sparrows (its impossible to see a first bird in a country that isn't introduced unless you wear a blindfold) and those ever-expected Rock Doves. Between the airport and the arrival at the temporary residence, there was not a peep, save the odd American Crow. However as soon as I arrived I started hearing things, which I could not walk off and see as I hard to "guard" the car as the suitcases were being loaded into the house. Eventually after a flew fly-bys of a smallish-sized pied bird making repetitive "shreeeeek" calls I managed to get some views through a gap in a bush. I only saw a black head, a red eye and a pointed bill at first, the bill being a feature of a finch or sparrow. Eventually it turned around and I saw the white spots and rufous breast which meant none other than a Spotted Towhee, which was not a bad bird to start off. Not being able to find anything else, I retired for a few minutes, having set my attention to unpacking.

This didn't last long however as a flycatcher flew up to a branch outside the window. This juvenile was fairly hard to identify, but was eventually found to be a Black Phoebe. As it disappeared over the trees, I caught sight of a few more birds scavenging in the leaf litter by the base of a large oak tree; House Finches, much closer to their natural habitat than the one I saw up in Alberta a few years ago. The Finches dispersed and other things started popping up, so I decided to hang around. In a foraging flock here I managed to find Oak Titmouse being the most abundant bird, and checking my photos it appeared that one bird in the flock was a Bewick's Wren, which I did not expect to be gregarious. Another (same?) Black Phoebe was seen on the picnic tables, but the plumage on the head was more characteristic of an adult, or at least an older bird. What I believe to be female Brown-headed Cowbirds were seen in a patch of grass by the fenceline. Around this point a greyish pigeon flew over with a peculiar sound as it flapped its wings. If you've ever come across a pigeon (i.e. Crested Pigeon or Bronzewing in Australia) that emits a sort of whistling sound in flight when it flaps its wings, then you will know what I mean. Two of these birds flew over that day but I was not quick enough to get pictures of them. A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (no clue what the local species is) was seen in the ravine.


At this point I returned, and about twenty minutes later made another, slightly longer trek. The Black Phoebe and Titmouse flocks were still around, and nothing new had appeared, so I decided to see how far this path went. I saw a Chipmunk scatter in the bushes here, and when I tailed it I ended up finding a little Skink who did not seem to mind approach. A few minutes up the path a yellow-green bird caught my eye as it flew into a branch down in the ravine. I figured that it was either a immature warbler or a kind of Tanager, but as of yet the mystery remains. American Crows were noisily trading calls just above me here.


Breaking off from the main path and into the main housing area (it was the only way to reach the bridge I was planning to reach) I caught sight of a strangely-shaped and very large bee, which circled around and perched in a shady branch, and started cheeping, which as you probably guessed turned out to be a hummingbird. I could vaguely see a pinkish iridescence to the gorget, which among other points highlighted Anna's Hummingbird to be the culprit. This bird was strangely audible (I know hummers make the odd cheep but this one was performing well) I will definately be returning tommorow to get a sun shot of this bird if it remains. A few steps onwards and I located a little skipper, which out of some crazy statistic and scenario turned out to be a Fiery Skipper, which is the only south North American skipper I know. At this point I heard a call which reminded me of European Goldfinches, and a few dark birds flew ahead with white circles in the center of the wings. My first reaction to these birds was Lesser Goldfinch, despite having no previous experience of this bird. At the bridge an unfamiliar trill was later identified as another Towhee.

Before returning a few more Lesser Goldfinch came over, and eventually two birds landed high up in a tree and I could confirm the I.D.


Western Gull was seen at various points in the day, though it wasn't until one perched on a lampost that I could really see the distinguishing features (I did not know that the Western had a dark back; and here I was fretting that I would mix it up with the California Gull).


The last bird for the day was while we had to do some compulsory shopping was a Kingbird, presumably Cassin's based on call and head markings, though I certainly did not expect this to be an urban bird. The setting sun obscured the colouring a little so it was hard to tell. A flock of ducks with dark shoulders (Gadwall?) also flew over here.


Tommorow I will be visiting Santa Monica, and hopefully there will be some silent beaches to search for Heermann's Gull and a few Terns.

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