Tropical Audubon Southern California Trip
June 13-21, 2009 Brian Rapoza and Bill Boeringer, Leaders
Saturday, June 13: Our trip to southern California began and ended in Los Angeles; conveniently, all participants arrived on the same flight. After picking up our rental vans, we headed south, ticking House Finch and Western Gull before reaching our itinerary's first destination, Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach, just south of Los Angeles International Airport. This is reportedly a good place to find Spotted Dove, an introduced species to California. As it turned out, Saturday afternoon was not a good time to visit. The place was packed with locals, leaving no place to park, so we moved on to the Palos Verde Peninsula in southern Los Angeles County. Our target species was California Gnatcatcher, a resident of severely threatened coastal sage scrub habitat. At our first stop, White Point Nature Reserve, singing Blue Grosbeaks greeted us at the entrance. During our hike through the reserve, we also spotted White-throated Swift, Common Raven and California Towhee. Heermann's Gulls were seen across the road at Royal Palms State Beach. Temperatures were comfortably cool along the coast. We next visited the Ocean Trails area, where in sage scrub surrounding the golf course, we found several very cooperative California Gnatcatchers. Also seen were Allen's Hummingbird, Black Phoebe, Bushtit and Lesser Goldfinch. We then headed north, through traffic-choked Los Angeles, to our first night's lodging in Ventura.
|Part of Our Group||California Gnatcatcher|
|Click on any of the photos for a larger picture|
Sunday, June 14: Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park, home to the endemic Island Scrub- Jay, was our next day's destination. After a short drive to Ventura Harbor, starting point for the Island Packers ferry to Santa Cruz, we scanned the harbor, shoreline and jetties before boarding, ticking off Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorant, Bonaparte's Gull, and Brewer's Blackbird. Several Sooty Shearwaters were sighted during our smooth (though chilly) passage to Santa Cruz, as were a group of California Sea Lions sunning themselves on a buoy. At Scorpion Anchorage, where most passengers disembarked, we spotted several Pigeon Guillemots, a pair of Black Oystercatchers and a Common Loon. We continued on to Prisoners Harbor, an area where scrub-jays are more common. We began our exploration of the island by joining a ranger-led tour of an area managed by the Nature Conservancy. Along the way we found Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker, Black Phoebe, Bewick's Wren and Bullock's Oriole, but no scrub-jays, so we decided to head out on our own. We returned to our starting point and birded along a road leading to Eagle Canyon, in an area managed by the National Park Service. After a steep climb to about 600 feet in elevation, we were delighted to find a pair of very cooperative (and vocal) scrub-jays. Though others were later seen closer to Prisoners Harbor, everyone agreed that the strenuous hike was well worth it. Other land birds seen while on the island included Allen's and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Pacific-slope and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Orange-crowned Warbler (sordida subspecies), Spotted Towhee, Rufous-crowned and Song Sparrows, and House Finch. On the return trip to Ventura, we had great looks at both Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters; a fortunate few spotted a pair of Xantu's Murrelets, albeit with less than satisfying looks. A Western Grebe was in Ventura Harbor, as were more sea lions and a Harbor Seal. Before returning to our motel, we hiked along the beach towards the mouth of the Santa Clara River. In this very birdy area, we found a pair of “Black” Brant, plus Gadwall, Ruddy Duck, Snowy Plover, Black Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Caspian, Elegant, Common and Least Terns and Great-tailed Grackle.
|California Sea Lions||Island Scrub-Jay|
Monday, June 15: We drove north into Santa Barbara County. Our first stop was at Nojoqui Falls County Park. In and around the park, we found California Quail, Red-shouldered Hawk, Acorn and Nuttall's Woodpeckers, Pacific-slope and Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hutton's Vireo, Western Scrub-Jay, Purple Martin, Violet-green Swallow, Oak Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Western Bluebird, Yellow Warbler, Spotted Towhee and Dark-eyed (“Oregon”) Junco. Yellow-billed Magpies were spotted along the highway on our way to our next stop, Los Alamos County Park, but were seen by only a few participants. The magpies, our second and final California endemic for the trip, were our target species at this park, but we failed to find any there. Birds we did see during our brief visit included Western Wood-Pewee, Wrentit and Black-headed Grosbeak. After lunch at an In-N-Out Burger in Santa Maria, we continued north to San Luis Obispo County. Our first afternoon stop was at Oso Flaco Lake, where we quickly found a Chestnut-backed Chickadee. Other species seen included Gadwall, Cinnamon Teal, American White Pelican, Least Tern, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Bushtit, Marsh Wren, Swainson's Thrush and Wilson's Warbler. After a fuel stop (where we found our first Anna's Hummingbird), we headed to the rocky cliffs at Shell Beach, where we had up-close looks at Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorants, Black Oystercatcher, Heermann's and Western Gulls (the latter with chicks) and Pigeon Guillemot. Also seen there were Harbor Seals, Sea Otters and, in the distance, breaching Humpback Whales! Our last stop before checking in at our motel in Arroyo Grande was at Lopez Lake County Park, where we found Wild Turkey (with chicks), Western and Clark's Grebes, Bald Eagle, California Thrasher and California Towhee. A Hooded Oriole greeted us at the motel at day's end.
|Turkey with chick||California Quail|
Tuesday, June 16: Los Padres National Forest, in the Sierra Madre range of northern Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and home to reintroduced California Condors, was next on our itinerary. Though we saw no condors during our visit, we found plenty of other birds. On Cottonwood Canyon Road, the entrance road to Bates Canyon Campground, the entire group had great looks at several Yellow-billed Magpies. Other birds found along this road included Western Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Warbling Vireo, Horned Lark, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Phainopepla, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lark Sparrow, Bullock's Oriole and Lesser Goldfinch. We continued east to Mt. Pinos and our first opportunity for high elevation species. Western Meadowlark and Brewer's Sparrow were found at low elevation stops. Our first Stellar's Jays were seen at our lunch stop in the town of Pine Mountain. At Mil Potrero Park, we saw Western Bluebirds and heard an Olive-sided Flycatcher. White-headed Woodpecker, Dusky Flycatcher, Mountain Chickadee, White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatch, Yellow-rumped (“Audubon's”) Warbler, Green-tailed Towhee and Fox Sparrow (thick-billed race) were all found during a walk through McGill Campground. At Iris Meadow, near the summit of Mt. Pinos, we added Calliope Hummingbird, Brown Creeper and Chipping Sparrow to our growing list. On our way back down the mountain, we heard, then spotted, a pair of Clark's Nutcrackers.
|Where's the Forest?|
Leaving the Sierra Madres behind, we then headed north and east to the Kern River Valley, near the southern terminus of the Sierra Nevada Range. Our route led us through scenic Kern River Canyon, where we encountered several maniacal speed demons whose tailgating and constant horn honking eventually forced both of our vans to pull over and let them pass. Once safely at our motel along the southern shore of Lake Isabella, we could once again enjoy the birds, which at the motel included Anna's Hummingbird and Say's Phoebe.
|Anna's Hummingbird||Black-chinned Hummingbird|
Wednesday, June 17: Breakfast the next morning included muffins freshly baked by the motel's gracious owner; a tasty treat before our first stop at Audubon-California's Kern River Preserve. During our exploration of this bird-rich property, we found California Quail, White-tailed Kite, Black-chinned and Anna's Hummingbirds, Nuttall's and Hairy Woodpeckers, Willow and Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Scrub-Jay, Oak Titmouse, Bewick's and House Wrens (the latter abundant), Western Bluebird, Summer Tanager, Bullock's Oriole, Tricolored Blackbird and Lesser Goldfinch. Several bird banders working their mist nets gave us in-the-hand looks at Bewick's and House Wrens. As morning temperatures began to warm, we headed next to the Greenhorn Mountains, bordering the western shore of Lake Isabella. On a forest road near Greenhorn Summit, we saw Red-breasted Sapsucker, White-headed Woodpecker, Steller's Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Townsend's Solitaire, Western Tanager, Fox Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco. Steep grades on the way down the mountain caused the brakes on both vans to smoke, and Bill's van to briefly ignite! After a leisurely lunch in Kernville, allowing Bill's brakes to cool sufficiently, we drove north to Sequoia National Monument, in Tulare County. Along the way, Black Swifts were spotted by some in a canyon over the north fork of the Kern River. At Holey Meadow Campground, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Hammond's Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, MacGillivray's and Wilson's Warblers and Green-tailed Towhee were seen, and Golden-crowned Kinglets were heard. At the Trail of 100 Giants, we strolled through a grove of enormous sequoias; here we found yet another Red-breasted Sapsucker, plus White-headed Woodpecker, Steller's Jay, Brown Creeper, Townsend's Solitaire, Hermit Warbler and Purple Finch. We returned to Lake Isabella for a quick dinner and to restock on supplies, then drove to our motel in Ridgecrest, arriving after nightfall.
Thursday, June 18: Our first stop the next day was outside the town of Inyokern, at the home of Ed and Terri Middlemiss. Their property attracts a wide variety of desert birds, including elusive Le Conte's Thrashers, which they entice to their feeders using mealworms! Terri informed us that her resident thrasher had stopped singing after apparently failing to find a mate; in spite of her attempts to call the bird in, it never made an appearance. Other birds seen during our visit included California Quail, Black-chinned and Costa's Hummingbirds, Verdin, Phainopepla, Black-throated Sparrow and Hooded Oriole. Next, we drove north to Chimney Peak National Backcountry Byway, in Inyo County. Shortly after we began our drive down this unpaved mountain road, we spotted a family of Mountain Quail by the side of the road! At Chimney Peak Campground, we flushed a large covey of Mountain Quail, but all scurried from sight before we could obtain satisfactory views. Also seen during our hike through the campground were Plumbeous Vireo, Steller's and Western Scrub-Jay, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Spotted Towhee and Sage Sparrow. Lots of reptiles were seen in this area, including a Southern Desert Horned Lizard; bushwhacking Bill also had a too-close encounter with a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake! We returned to the Lake Isabella area for lunch; some participants spotted a family of Ring-necked Pheasants before reaching the restaurant. Before our long drive through San Bernadino County to Indio, our destination for the next two nights, we made two more stops along the road between Lake Isabella and Ridgecrest. In a small canyon across from Bert's Park, we found both Rock Wren and Scott's Oriole. At Walker's Pass Campground, we quickly located a flock of at least fifty noisy Pinyon Jays! We arrived at Indio just before sunset, discovering White-winged Dove, Costa's Hummingbird, Verdin and nesting Cactus Wrens right at the motel.
|Group and Trees||Northern Pacific Rattlesnake|
Friday, June 19: A circumnavigation of the Salton Sea was on our next day's itinerary. With some trepidation, based on reports of a foul stench around the sea, we headed south along the eastern shore of the sea, stopping along the highway to scope flocks of birds congregating along the shoreline. Seen here were Eared and Western Grebes, American White Pelican and both California and Ring-billed Gulls, plus large numbers of flies, many of which hitchhiked with us throughout the day. To our relief, though, there was no olfactory assault from the sea. Black-tailed Gnatcatchers were found in a brushy area near Wister State Waterfowl Area. Before arriving at the headquarters of Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, the first of many Burrowing Owls were spotted on dikes surrounding adjacent agricultural fields. Flocks of Long-billed Curlews, along with a few Marbled Godwits, fed in the fields while Gull-billed Terns hunted over canals paralleling the road. Around the headquarters building we found Gambel's Quail, Common Ground-Dove, Verdin and Abert's Towhee. On the Rock Hill Trail, which began at the headquarters, we saw Greater Roadrunner, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Cliff Swallow and Great-tailed Grackle. The trail led us to the seashore as well as an adjacent impoundment teeming with Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets, Caspian and Common Terns and Black Skimmers. In the sea itself, we found Western and Clark's Grebes, as well as our first Yellow-footed Gull. At nearby Obsidian Butte, participants examined and photographed a Yellow-footed Gull at close range. At the Red Hill boat launch, a Lesser Nighthawk flew by, then perched right on the beach. On our way down to our lunch stop in Brawley, at the sea's southeastern end, we stopped at a marshy area that held large numbers of White-faced Ibis. After lunch we visited Cattle Call Park in Brawley, nearly 200 feet below sea level, where we added Gila Woodpecker to our trip list. From there we headed south to Sunbeam Lake Park, in El Centro, near the border with Mexico. Here we found the Greater White-fronted Goose and Cackling Goose that had been reported from this location. We also spotted an Inca Dove and a Monk Parakeet while at the park. We then backtracked to the southern tip of the sea, stopping first at Unit 1 of the National Wildlife Refuge. From an observation platform, we scoped distant waterfowl along the seashore, hoping for the Ross's Goose that had been reported there earlier. Unfortunately, most of the open water had dried up, and birds were scarce. We hiked a short trail along a cattail marsh and heard “Yuma” Clapper Rails calling along the way. At our day's last stop in the refuge, on nearby Poe Road, we saw two more Lesser Nighthawks as well as a Northern Harrier.
|Gull-billed Tern||Burrowing Owl|
|Don't forget that you can click
on any of the photos
for a larger picture
Saturday, June 20: Our last full day in southern California began at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, near the western end of Joshua Tree National Park. We birded adjacent Covington Park first; the trees in this small park were filled with Vermilion Flycatchers! Also seen were Cooper's Hawk, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Cassin's Kingbird, Western Scrub-Jay, Bewick's Wren, California Thrasher, and Lesser Goldfinch. At the preserve, we hiked both the Desert Willow and Marsh Trails, where we found Willow Flycatcher, Bell's Vireo, Bushtit, Yellow-breasted Chat and Summer Tanager. In the preserve's parking area, a Botta's Pocket Gopher was observed at close range, scurrying in and out of its many burrows. From there we headed into the San Jacinto Mountains; as we drove the winding road leading to the mountain resort village of Idyllwild, some participants spotted a Golden Eagle, perched on a distant rock. Acorn Woodpecker, Steller's Jay, Mountain Chickadee and Western Bluebird were around the Lake Fulmar picnic area. After lunch in Idyllwild, we made a quick stop at the Idyllwild Nature Center; a flock of Band-tailed Pigeons was conveniently perched in pines surrounding the parking area. For a last attempt at high elevation species, we drove the impossibly narrow and winding dirt road up Black Mountain, adding White-headed Woodpecker, Violet-green Swallow, Pigmy and White-breasted Nuthatch, “Audubon's” Warbler, Western Tanager and Dark-eyed Junco to our day list. At nearly 9000 feet, Black Mountain was quite a contrast to our below sea level birding just 24 hours before! Returning to Los Angeles County after dropping off participant Nancy Freedman at her brother's house in Redlands, we made one last stop before checking in at our motel. At Anita Canyon, in the San Gabriel Mountains, we hoped to hike the trail to Sturtevant Falls to find both Black Swift and American Dipper, but a combination of difficulty finding the right trail, fading daylight and an earlier-than-expected closing time for the gate at the canyon entrance forced us to abort the hike. Swifts were flying over the parking area, but all were White-throated. We also had several Red-crowned parrots fly over; many more were seen once we reached our motel, along with numerous Black Phoebes.
|Brian and Joshua Tree||Botta's Pocket Gopher|
Sunday, June 20: Before heading to Los Angeles International Airport the next morning, we made another attempt to visit Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach. Parking was readily available on this visit. Though we failed to find any Spotted Doves, we did see our last Western and Heermann's Gulls, Allen's Hummingbird and Western Scrub-Jay, plus a pair of Mitred Parakeets, before boarding our plane for the return flight to Miami.
During nine days of birding, total of 193 species of birds were tallied (see trip list). Every participant, and both leaders, ticked life birds on the trip, most with 50 or more, and several approaching the century mark! The combination of good weather, great birds and the camaraderie of the group made for a memorable trip; many have already started making arrangements for the next TAS Road Trip!
TAS Field Trip Coordinator
Photos by Bill Boeringer