Saturday, February 10, 2007

San Diego Bird Festival

I joined the San Diego Bird Festival on Friday with the coastal refuges field trip. Led by Robert Patton and Kevin Karlson, we visited three spots -- Tijuana Estuary National Wildlife Refuge, South Bay Salt Works and Chula Vista Nature Center – and saw a lot of great birds.

I’d never been to these sites but had heard of them, so it was cool to see what all the fuss is about. Before we walked into the estuary, we detoured into the neighborhood for a little urban birding. One tree seemed to be the preferred buffet, and I particularly enjoyed the Black-throated Gray Warbler. Many Anna’s Hummingbirds chittered and buzzed in an apartment complex’s parking lot, where we ooh-ed and aah-ed over the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

In the trees along a park’s perimeter, I liked seeing Black-crowned Night-Heron, Dark-eyed Junco, Orange-crowned Warbler and Rufuous Hummingbird. We retraced our steps to the estuary, where a pair of Yellow-crowned Amazon parrots loudly announced their presence.

The main trail gave us views down channels like this…

where we saw Whimbrel, Cinnamon Teal and light-footed Clapper Rail. My first view of that endangered subspecies made me grin; what a fun-looking bird with that bright orange bill. Seeing it at the estuary made the later visit to Chula Vista Nature Center all the more meaningful.

I really enjoyed seeing raptors in the air – Prairie Falcon and Northern Harrier – and on the ground: Merlin. The latter sat on a log decorated with feathers, perhaps evidence of breakfast?

At the end of the trail, we enjoyed a buffet of birds: Little Blue Heron, Bufflehead, American Avocet with those cool pale-blue legs, Least Sandpiper, American Wigeon, Marbled Godwit, Willet, Long-billed Curlew, Short-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Snowy Egret and Belding’s Savannah Sparrow (another endangered subspecies). If not for the other sites on the itinerary, I think that some of the group – Kevin included – would’ve enjoyed discussing the shorebirds at length.

A jaunt took us South Bay Salt Works and into the capable hands of three U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employees who drove us onto the restricted-access property. With its evaporation ponds and other bodies of water and its location next to South San Diego Bay NWR, the salt works attracts numerous species.

Being a raptor aficionado, I particularly enjoyed American Kestrel, Osprey, Northern Harrier and White-tailed Kite. I also liked seeing Eared Grebes with their funky red eyes, Common Goldeneyes, Western Grebe, Ruddy Duck and Surf Scoter. One stop offered upclose views of Western Sandpipers – such charming little peeps – and Dunlins, giving us a chance to make a size comparison.

Another spot gave us views of Brant and Eurasian Wigeon among other species. I really enjoyed the closer looks at Long-billed Curlews with those massive bills. The last spot yielded our first Brown Pelican, a Belted Kingfisher and two perched Peregrine Falcons. Sweet!

At Chula Vista Nature Center within Sweetwater Marsh NWR, we listened to a presentation about the center’s Light-footed Clapper Rail Project, operated with Sea World, San Diego Wild Animal Park and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Details about the captive-breeding program and the endangered subspecies appear at

The center houses only birds that were injured and rehabilitated but cannot survive in the wild, so we walked the grounds and peered at Burrowing Owls, Clapper Rails, Black Oystercatchers, egrets, Glossy Ibis, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Ducks and a number of raptors. An employee brought out this Western Screech-Owl for our quick enjoyment.

As three of us lingered, a Costa’s Hummingbird flew in to feed on nectar, giving us fantastic looks at his purple gorget. Then he perched on a cable and flashed us some more. He was riveting!


Blogger Mike said...

Sounds like an awesome trip!

February 12, 2007 12:13 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

It certainly was, Mike. Of the three field trips, it stands out as my favorite.

February 12, 2007 12:34 PM  

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