16 Dec 2018

22 Nov 14 - California: The Final Morning

Having returned to the Californian mainland after seeing Island Scrub Jay, I had a final morning of Birding before having to head off to Los Angeles airport for my flight home. The options were to have another morning around the Ventura coastline, try somewhere nearby or try for Mountain Plover. I decided to have a look for Mountain Plover, but didn't know if they would have arrived in their Californian winter sites yet. In the end, I decided to head off to the Davis Road leading North from the town of Lakeview in the hope of seeing my first Mountain Plovers. This left me with a journey of around two hours to drive back to Los Angeles airport, when I finished Birding. Despite a late arrival at a random motel in San Jacinto, I was up in the cold pre-dawn temperatures to head off & find some early morning breakfast, so I could maximise the morning's Birding.
View along the Davis Road: This is a relatively quiet, but well known, dirt road referenced in an old Lane guide
View along the Davis Road: The Birding is checking the fields & rough ground alongside the dirt road as there are many signs up indicating the land is private
View along the Davis Road: The road also overlooked some farms
There was a selection of Raptors feeding around the more open fields at the Southern end of the Davis Road where the Mountain Plovers winter.
Northern Harrier: Female after a successful hunt
Northern Harrier: Female
Red-shouldered Hawk: It's a pity that this is a harsh crop as it wasn't close
American Kestrel
Black Phoebe: A common species in the Southern US states & many Latin American countries
Mountain Bluebird
Northern Mockingbird
Western Meadowlark
Along the road there was also the San Jacinto Wildlife Area which the Lane guide says is a Birders paradise & where the naturalist may be able to provide up to date information on Mountain Plovers. What it didn't say, but possibly due to me using a mid 90s edition, is it is now a shooting range with hunters trying to stay hidden, by standing in the open in full camo gear. Now I know there is at least one local Poole photographer who knows he can't be seen when he does that in Poole Harbour, so these hunters obviously thought it worked for them as well. Even several hundred metres away it was possible to hear their Duck whistles as they tried to lure Wildfowl to land in front of them, after they had been flushed from one of the many hunters around this small wetland. Unfortunately, this seemed to be the only wetland for some miles & so the Wildfowl didn't have a lot of options, other than to fly out of the area to look for a new sanctuary. Having had no joy with finding any Mountain Plovers, I did try driving into the car park to see if anybody knew about Mountain Plovers. When I managed to get a word in between the main organiser's joy at photographing another hunter with some dead Ducks, it turned out nobody knew anything about Mountain Plovers. The only good news was perhaps that was because they aren't allowed to shoot them. I maintained a check on my bad language on these activities until I was safely driving off the site with the car windows up. With all the other pressures on wildlife these days, having people doing their best to direct wildlife into small remaining areas of habitat, just so mindless idiots can kill them for fun is just crazy.
The San Jacinto Wildlife Area: Now just a sanctuary for people who like to kill wildlife for fun
I can't see anybody in this photo thanks to the magic of camo clothing
Having failed to find any Mountain Plovers in the wintering fields & been unable to get any up to date information, I abandoned the search & drove North for a few more miles along the dirt Davis Road. This road was good for a flocks of New World Sparrows. There were at least two hundred Savannah Sparrows in scattered flocks, with reasonable numbers of White-crowned Sparrows with them. I tried to find something more interesting in with the flocks, but didn't succeed.
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Song Sparrow
California Ground Squirrel: It was good to see something that wasn't a New World Sparrow
California Ground Squirrel
The final stop was a quick look at Lake Perris, a large freshwater reservoir a few miles West of the Davis Road. It proved to be a large reservoir with little vegetation around the edges. I didn't see a lot here due to the lack of decent habitat on the reservoir & limited time. All too quickly I had to head for the two hour drive to the airport.
Killdeer: This was the highlight of the quick visit
While I didn't manage to find any Mountain Plovers, the morning's Birding had been enjoyable with a reasonable selection of wintering species seen. It was a shame that I ended up having to grab some quick photos & immediately move on, rather than try & get something more presentable. However, time was not on my side on this occasion & I was keen to cover as much ground as I could in the available time.

15 Dec 2018

21 Nov 14 - The Channel Islands Scrub Jay & Fox

There was no time to lose to start looking for an Island Scrub Jay once I got off the boat at Santa Cruz Island, as I only had about three & a half hours to look around Prisoners Harbour. One of the crew on the boat had said that Birders had seen the Island Scrub Jay on the coastal trail to the right of the valley. Island Scrub Jays are restricted to Santa Cruz and the current population size is thought to be about 2300 individuals on this twenty by five miles island. After a few minutes I reached the start of the trail & was heading uphill. After about twenty or thirty minutes of looking, I found the first couple of Island Scrub Jays. The views were fine, but they weren't particularly close. Fairly quickly they headed off & away from the path. I carried on Birding, but didn't see any others. The trail was getting more open & didn't look as suitable so I turned around & headed back to the quayside area. Here I ran into another, more showy, individual feeding on an acorn stash in a tree. Apparently, they harvest & hide acorns, so presumably this stash belongs to the Island Scrub Jay, rather than to an Acorn Woodpecker which also occurs on the island.
The hillside behind Prisoners Harbour: The mainland can be seen in the distance
Fire is a real risk for the wildlife on the island as it is so dry
Looking along the coast
Island Scrub Jay: They are restricted to Santa Cruz Island
Island Scrub Jay: They were split from Western Scrub Jay by Clements & IOC, however, BWP still regards Island Scrub Jay as a subspecies of Western Scrub Jay
Island Scrub Jay: They are about one third larger than Western Scrub Jays
Island Scrub Jay: It has pulled an acorn out of a hole
Island Scrub Jay
Island Scrub Jay: The acorn was swallowed whole
Island Scrub Jay: It was a great looking Jay & my only Tick of my short stopover in California
It was time to find some shade & eat the small snack I had brought over with me. However, this was quickly disturbed by the appearance of an Island Fox which appeared to have a look around the landing area. It was clearly used to people & presumably was hoping I had brought some food for it. I hadn't & it wouldn't be a good idea to feed an endemic species with a limited range. Island Foxes are distantly descended from the mainland Grey Fox, however, they are regarded as a separate species. They are found on six of the eight islands with each island having its own distinctive subspecies. Like many island species, they have become a lot smaller than than mainland ancestor which is probably an adaptation to the limited food availability on the island. However, they also wouldn't need to be as large to compete with other predators, as Grey Foxes on the mainland need to. Their head & body length is around nineteen inches with another eleven inches for the tail. This compares with Grey Foxes which range in size between thirty & forty four inches for the head & body length and a tail ranging from eleven to seventeen inches in size. The overall population is currently around 6000 individuals. In the 1990s introduced Cats, Pigs, Sheep, Goats & Red Deer had all been removed. However, about this time Golden Eagles were becoming commoner on the islands & they became a significant predator for Island Foxes. In the late 90s, canine distemper arrived on the island & this killed over 90% of the Island Foxes on St Catalina island. Similar crashes were seen in most of the other island populations with the number on Santa Cruz being reduced to 135 in 2000, from a population of 2000 only six years earlier. Fortunately, following a program of vaccination for distemper & rabies and captive breeding programs on some islands, the populations have now recovered to their former numbers. Visitors are no longer allowed to bring their pets to this island which might have been how the distemper was originally introduced.
Island Fox: This is a really cute Fox
Island Fox: The current population on Santa Cruz is around 1750 individuals
Island Fox
Island Fox
I still had another hour before I needed to return to the quayside so I had a look around the bushes in the valley. It isn't possible to walk too far up the valley, as a fence indicated it was private property.
The valley behind Prisoners Harbour
It was private land beyond this fence
There was a selection of Birds in the bushes close to the landing area, so I was happy to not wander too far.
Hermit Thrush
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Loggerhead Shrike: This individual was hanging around close to the quayside
Song Sparrow: This is the graminea subspecies which is restricted to the Channel Islands
Song Sparrow
Spotted Towhee
Finally, it was time to wander back to the quayside where there were some Gulls to photograph.
California Gull: There were a few loafing around on the pier. The black band & red spot on the bill & the dark eye all help to identify them from the other local species
Heermann's Gull
The Island Packers boat
We had the waves behind us on the journey back & it wasn't quite as rough as it was on the way over, but it was still pretty bouncy. There were good numbers of Cassin's Auklets, a few Fulmars & Black-vented Shearwaters, Pelagic Cormorants and a large feeding party of around 150 Western Grebes. There was also a couple of Short-beaked Common Dolphins which is the most abundant Dolphin on this stretch of the Californian coastline.
Fulmar: The Pacific rodgersii subspecies of Fulmar look very different colouration from their North Atlantic cousins
Common Seal: Another familiar face was a Common Seal as we were close to Ventura Harbour
We were back in Ventura harbour in late afternoon. Some of the Black-necked Grebes were still happily feeding in the main channel.
Black-necked Grebe
Ventura Harbour is a long channel
Another view of Ventura Harbour
Once I was back on dry land, there wasn't a lot of time left to go far. I headed out of town & found a convenient beach to have a final look around. The light was fading fast & there wasn't much I could do other than watch the sun going down. Next, it was back to the harbour area for some food, before heading off for a few hours of driving to my next & final location.
Sunset over the Channel Islands: It has been a good day with the Island Scrub Jay seen & a bonus Island Fox