Sunday, October 7, 2012

Laguna Tamarisks PRAIRIE WARBLER

So after a whole year I finally manage to get to this ubiquitous location. There have been previous attempts to get here but all have failed due to GPS being unable to find the area, time and other factors. But this time, under the shadows of Laguna Road's tamarisks, it seemed I actually managed to get here.

The tamarisks along this road (and along S. Wolff Road nearby) are magical. For whatever reason, the warblers, vireos and a few other migrants love them. There are trees all over the place but they are completely barren. Something about these tamarisks causes all the migrants in the nearby vicinity to gravitate towards this area. I was just about ready to call migration over cause (in my area at least) the warblers have disappeared and everywhere is now overrun by Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-crowned Sparrows. However, recent sightings seemed to suggest that this location still had some migrants trickling past.

My main motive was to nail the last two local warblers: Hermit and Macgillivray's. Neither are that uncommon, but both, as migrants, are unpredictable. While they have tendencies to the habitats they pass through there does not seem to be a place where they can be guaranteed. I saw on a recent sightings that both of these two had been seen at Laguna Tamarisks as well as a Cassin's Vireo (all 3 would be new for me) plus a Blackpoll Warbler. A couple of days ago there was also a very rare Prairie Warbler reported at the Wolff Road tamarisks nearby, but I didn't count on this bird being here anymore because not only was it a couple of days ago but warblers move fast when it gets to the denoument of migration.

Due to "circumstances" I did not set foot on Laguna Road until 11am ish which is an acceptable time but by this time most birds would have dispersed away from the incoming afternoon sun. It was pretty silent apart from a few Yellow-rumped Warblers. Not that far along a car slowed down beside me and the driver, knowing I was looking for birds (is it really that obvious?) informed me that they had refound the Prairie Warbler only a little distance from the tree it was originally discovered in and it was being watched "as we speak". It was late enough in the day as it is, I didn't want to take the risk of it moving on in what could have been a matter of minutes. So I left the Laguna Road trees to the sound of the breeze running over the fields nearby (anyone who would have been here for birds would have left well before 10am) and went over to Wolff Road. There were not as many people standing "suspiciously" along the farmer's fence and in the middle of the road as I had expected but there were a few here with binoculars out.

It took a few minutes but the Prairie Warbler did show. It was a young female so it wasn't as glamorous as it could be but it was a remarkable bird nonetheless, and a very rare occurence here in California.

They were not the world's most amazing pictures but they were pretty good for a skulky warbler. It was foraging at only 2 metres up in the tree and it was not bothered by human presence. I find it funny that despite the fact I see 20+ warblers a day in migration I have never ever managed to get such good photos of a warbler before. Perhaps the several hundred mile misdirection had slowed it down a little.

I love the warblers because they are always so different despite the fact most are nearly identical. This Prairie Warbler seemed very fond of fanning its tail while it was feeding (see last photo) which is something I have not seen in a warbler before. The tail markings are also very unique.

All the other birders had left by the time I finished up with my photos.

Back at Laguna I started picking up birdings that were not just Yellow-rumped. I had a pair of Townsend's Warblers midway down. I also saw another male later on but it might have been one of the pair. Townsend's are definitely worth a photo or two. My best picture was of the female so here she is:

At a couple of points I thought I heard a Macgillivray's across the road. It sounded like a Yellowthroat, but it was in a tree which is the not-so-eloquent-but-correct way of describing a Mac warbler. Yellowthroats are entirely dedicated to inhabit riparian habitats near water, and there was no water here, so Macgillivray's was a likely option. However I could never see the bird at all so I couldn't confirm. It started to get to 12pm and there were virtually no birds at all, not even the common Yellow-rumped Warblers so I started walking back.

I ended up meeting some other birders along the Tamarisks, one of which happened to be a professor of the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology. She seemed pretty satisifed with my knowledge (perhaps it was when I identified birds she had no clue on and I ended up being correct!) and offered internships, contact details and the like. That could be a good start to a career.

Later on I got this Ruddy Duck along the coast. It isn't usually a marine duck.

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