Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rancho Sierra Vista, 7th August

Today I was to visit the closest place on my "list of places to go". Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa, which was part of Mugu State Park was only 21 minutes drive from my residence, still technically in the suburbs, and by far the closest. According to Ventura Audubon, this place is good for Lazuli Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Grasshopper Sparrow, White-tailed Kite, Costa's Hummingbird and Greater Roadrunners, but as you may know, there is a lot in determining these sightings not restricted to season, time of day and luck etc.

This location was very dry-looking to say the least. At the car park the regular Bushtit and Oak Titmouse were present, as well as a peculiar-sounding twittering overhead which alerted me to the presence of Cliff Swallows, a rather common bird which I had yet to see.

In the first minute along the trail I saw a bird with a slow, fluttering flight, which as soon as it sat I could recognize as a Western Kingbird, which is the Cassin's close cousin. While it was too far off to confirm the colour differences, the call alone is enough to tell them apart. Along here were several California Poppies, a plant which I was used to seeing in English gardens, but never before in the wild.

Nothing else remarkable was seen or heard until we reached the visitor centre, where a pale little satyrid butterfly showed itself to be the Californian race of the "Common" Ringlet. Moving on, we started to leave cover of the forest and scattered shrubs and entered the proper hills of grass and nothing more. As expected, there was no birdlife in this area at all, but I did find a far-off white butterfly which happened to be a Chequered White, which is a long-standing want in terms of Lepidoptera. I also decided this area would make a good panorama. Below is the rushed copy (my laptop battery was running out, plus I lost patience on the time Photoshop took to save it!) but it should give you an idea on what the place was like. If it wasn't for my telephoto lens (I happened to have the short-range one  available for the panorama) I would do this more often.

At the trail that led up into the mountains, a pair of Common Ravens made a quick flight overhead. I am aware that Wrentit was heard far-off around this point, but as I did not know what it was at the time I cannot recall the exact time. Lesser Goldfinch was the only bird present up the mountain trail. Once again, it seemed better for butterflies than birds, including a Northern White Skipper which by the slightest circumstance I managed to miss.

Here is another (rushed panaroma) view from a bench near the top of the hill.

 Upperside shot of the California Common Ringlet. These butterflies and
its relatives never open their wings when perched, so a flight shot like this is your only chance of seeing it. Not much to see anyway.

Presumably an Acmon Blue but the upperside looks a little strange. A male either way.

Same applies for this female, except it seems perfectly normal. No idea if Lupine Blue is found here, which would be a troublesome species to seperate even on good photos.
Because of a certain 5-year old brother complaining his legs hurt, we had to reverse our route back to the center. If it wasn't for a missed White Skipper I wouldn't have particularly cared.

Back at the visitor centre, while everyone else caroused the shop, I had a look around the little garden. A nondescript group of birds did not offer many good opportunities, but a shady shot of a birds' back in a dense bush showed that its rump was blue, meaning nothing more than Lazuli Bunting. I never would have guessed. If I knew this at the time I would have spent more time trying to locate a male, which the blue-rumped bird would obviously have been.

Apart from the above, a Western Tiger Swallowtail, Monarch, California Towhee and Anna's Hummingbird made appearances, as did further Bushtits and Oak Titmice. Before leaving a female Lazuli Bunting perched itself on a signpost, but despite the amount of pictures I took not one of them showed the side of its head.

In the forested bit on the way back to the car park a Lorquin's Admiral perched in the sun with its wings spread for a change.
 A Red-tailed Hawk (without a red tail) was also seen upon leaving the cover of the trees.

At this time I began wondering about the expected birds for this site. At the time I didn't know the Lazuli Buntings were Lazuli Buntings due to the vague glimpses I had, and other than that I had not seen any of the "common" birds here, however I'm assuming the time of year has something to do with this.

Only a minute from the car park and I caught sight of a large-sized bird on a fence ahead. Seeing the crest and long tail, it was nothing other than a Greater Roadrunner. It was a particularly vocal bird as well, relating to its habit of sitting on high perches while singing. It came down when a couple walked right past us and went too close, oblivious to us and the bird itself. However, after they chased it a while they seemed to work out it was unusual and they took out their own cameras, a little too late.
I walked up the hillside and managed to get a few further shots as it came into the open, just above the path thanks to manual focus, but that was it for this bird.

I got some very nice flight shots of Cliff Swallows in the car park which nicely advertised the square shaped tail which is diagnostic of this particular bird, at least in this area of the world.
I later saw one coming down to a nest about one and a half metres above the ground near the toilet door, which, if it wasn't for this bird, I would have ignored. The space between visits was about five or so minutes, and unfortunately there was not the time to wait for it to return many times.

At the same time, a Turkey Vulture made an unexpected appearance low down and fairly close to us. This top shot shows the "Headless" appearance of these birds well. It is caused by the fact they soar with their head down.

A flock of Mourning Doves on the outskirts of the park were the last birds seen on this outing.

Total List: 18 species
SpeciesScientific NameCountComment
MallardAnas platyrhynchos Around water in a little ditch just before car park.
Turkey VultureCathartes aura1Near car park.
Red-tailed HawkButeo jamaicensis  
Mourning DoveZenaida macroura  
Greater RoadrunnerGeococcyx californianus1Near car park.
Anna's HummingbirdCalypte anna1 
Nuttall's WoodpeckerPicoides nuttallii  
Western KingbirdTyrannus verticalis1In hillside scrub about two minutes walk from car park.
American CrowCorvus brachyrhynchos  
Common RavenCorvus corax  
Cliff SwallowPetrochelidon pyrrhonota8Most near car park.
Oak TitmouseBaeolophus inornatus  
BushtitPsaltriparus minimus  
WrentitChamaea fasciata  
California TowheeMelozone crissalis  
Lazuli BuntingPasserina amoena Near the Visitor Centre. Mostly females, but the back of a male seen in the cover of a tree.
House FinchCarpodacus mexicanus  
Lesser GoldfinchSpinus psaltria  

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