Saturday, February 11, 2006

San Diego Bird Festival 2

Today’s field trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park included different habitats and a cool variety of species. I saw some great new birds and enjoyed revisiting some childhood haunts.

After leaving Marina Village Conference Center at 5:45 a.m., the bus traveled east. Along Highway 78, we—led by Bob Miller—stopped at Ramona Pond and watched two American White Pelicans feeding in unison as well as American Coots, Northern Shovelers and American Crows. At Santa Ysabel, the bus turned onto 79 north, and we saw a large flock of Wild Turkeys and Brewer’s Blackbirds.

Dropping toward the desert floor from Culp Valley, we spied Cactus Wrens, Phainopeplas and a gorgeous Red-tailed Hawk perched, with its back to us, on an ocotillo. Bob pointed out the light V on the hawk’s back, and I soaked up the bird before it flew to the left. Very cool to see a hawk soaring below you, like we did from the vantage point shown to the left.

Driving through Borrego Springs, we saw Greater Roadrunner, Anna’s Hummingbird and American Kestrel. The roadrunner spread its head feathers and soaked up on the sunshine, while the Anna’s perched on the telephone wire above the roadrunner and the kestrel scanned the brush from atop a telephone pole.

Along DiGiorgio Road, we also saw quail, at least a handful of them—one perched atop a bush while others scurried on the ground. Because of the perched male’s odd coloring, Bob identified it as a hybrid California-Gambel’s Quail.

The bus stopped at the Borrego Valley hawkwatch for a good spell, allowing us time to enjoy some birds and some information from Paul Jorgensen about the 3-year-old watch. It focuses on Swainson’s Hawks. We didn’t have any up-close views of that raptor, but we enjoyed a calling Greater Roadrunner, Western Meadowlarks, an Anna’s and the sight of Turkey Vultures leaving their roost to form kettles in the thermals.

A few miles down the road, we turned off Peg Leg Road into a large ATV campsite and disembarked to search for Sage Thrashers. We did find that species—Bob tallied it at 12 or so birds—and we saw Loggerhead Shrikes, a Northern Harrier as it coursed over the desert floor, Le Conte’s Thrasher and Sage Sparrows. I also enjoyed seeing black-tailed jackrabbits and a ground squirrel.

At the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center, a White-winged Dove perched in a palo verde tree near our group. White-crowned Sparrows hopped about the ground, and a Costa’s Hummingbird perched on an ocotillo. (Isn't that ocotillo bloom purrrty?) He turned his head a couple times at the “correct” angle, and the sun lit up his purple gorget. Zowie!

A good-looking Blue-gray Gnatcatcher appeared on the other side of the visitor center, as did a Verdin with its bright yellow head and an orange-colored House Finch. Walking toward the bus, some of us were stopped suddenly by the sight of a Ladder-backed Woodpecker working a palo verde tree. What a gorgeous creature.

At Tamarisk Grove Campground, we sought Long-eared Owls and saw dozens of them roosting high in the trees. I could see six in one view.

Steve Brown graciously offered his spotting scope for me to take the picture below. I got a kick out of the birds’ different reactions to us; some birds remained plump, round, sleepy on their branches while others became tall and thin with their “ears” at attention. Am I the only one who thinks that the three (OK, two and a half) owls below slightly resemble pine cones?


I also got a kick out of the singing Bewick’s Wren. What a neat song coming out of that little bird.

On the way back to San Diego, we passed through Julian (known mostly for its apple pies but also for The Birdwatcher) and stopped at Dudley’s Bakery in Santa Ysabel. I really like to purchase local products while traveling, jumped at the chance to purchase the apple butter and pomegranate and raspberry jams, and can’t wait to try the apple amaretto spread.

The bus stopped again at Ramona Pond, where we saw many Killdeer and American Pipits. I briefly saw a small flock of Red-winged Blackbirds flying to the right.

Then we hightailed it back to the conference center and returned at 3:45 p.m. I visited the vendor fair, where various optics companies set up their wares. Because the room features large picture windows as well as outdoor access to the marina, festival participants can try out the optics, which is a great opportunity. Next time you visit a festival, try out the scopes and bins, preferably outdoors.

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