Plan A had been to go to Victoria B.C. and get two new ABA photos and maybe improve two others.  The two new photos would be of the Pink Footed Goose that had been seen there regularly for several weeks and of an Eurasian Skylark – a bird now found only near Victoria in the ABA area.  The possible improvements would be of the Redwing that somehow had magically returned to the same holly bush where I had seen it last year and gotten a very poor photo and of the Purple Sandpiper which was still at Kitty Islet where I had seen and photographed it (poorly) earlier this year. My only record of the Pink Footed Goose was from Massachusetts last Thanksgiving where photo conditions were poor and my only records of the Eurasian Skylark were from Victoria in 1973 and on San Juan Island in 1976.  I was not taking photographs in those days and the Eurasian Skylark is now extirpated on San Juan Island.  Just before heading north to execute the plan, the Pink Footed Goose disappeared and I decided not to make the expensive trip for just the one new photo.

On to Plan B which was a three day trip to the Okanogan.  Field trips with the Audubon Society and the Washington Ornithological Society were full, so I planned to go it alone the following week pending their reports.  Their reports were good – for raptors – but completely devoid of the northern finches for which the Okanogan is a favorite place for birders.  If the reported Snowy Owl, Great Gray Owl and Gyrfalcon were even probable, I may still have gone; but it is a long trip, and the chances were not great to refind even two of the three birds, so no go on that plan either. The trip to the Okanogan was not really for specific sightings anyhow.  I just wanted to get in some birding.  I had other personal matters to attend to anyhow, so I went with Plan C: revisit some local spots where some appealing birds were being seen and which I had not visited in a while.  Hopefully get some photos and just enjoy the moments.  Plan C was for “Quickies” – short trips here and there – save the wear and tear and expense of the longer trips and move some of those personal things off the plate as well.

The first sojourn was to Boe and Thomle Roads where a juvenile Golden Eagle was being reported.  There are dozens of Bald Eagles in the area but a Golden Eagle is fairly rare.  I had photos of Golden Eagles in Washington but not great ones and none showing the white wing and tail patches, so that photo was the allure.  When I got to the spot where the Golden had first been reported I was welcomed by a Short Eared Owl, but no eagles were in sight.  One can never complain about any owl, especially one posing to have its picture taken.  When the perched owl was attacked by a Northern Harrier, I just barely got a photo – not technically very good but a fun shot.  And if no Golden Eagle was found, this encounter would have made the trip worthwhile.

Short Eared Owl Buzzed by a Northern Harrier


After a lot more searching I saw the Golden Eagle fly onto a distant power pole where near a very large flock of Snow Geese and also very close to some Bald Eagles.  The resulting photo was taken from great distance but does show the wing windowpanes.

Golden Eagle with Bald Eagle in the Background


Snow Geese Flock


I later learned that a Prairie Falcon had been seen in the area – but that was not on my list for the day – but no complaints – a very nice “quickie”.

A couple of days later, knowing I was going to be in Bellevue for a personal matter, I decided to stop by Marymoor Park to see if I could find the Horned Lark that had been reported there.  Had I gone to the Okanogan, I probably would have seen thousands of Horned Larks in the fields in the Waterville Plateau, trying to find a Snow Bunting or Lapland Longspur among them.  And I had already seen some in Washington on the way back from my Red Flanked Bluetail chase.  But I had never seen one in King County.  I was the only one there when I arrived at the designated area and was confronted by a very large grassy field next to a very large closed gravel parking area.  A first scan revealed nothing on the field, but that is often the case with larks as they are most easily seen as they fly from one spot to another – identifying a location where you can then focus in and see them better.  OR – they can often be seen “graveling” on the roads between the fields.  With that in mind, before walking the entire field, I focused attention on the gravel parking area and sure enough the tiny bump I saw proved to be the Horned Lark.  The sun was perfect and the photos were pretty nice.

Horned Lark at Marymoor Park

horned-lark1  horned-lark

As a side note, ground birds apparently often use gravel – or grit – to help them digest the whole seeds they eat.  The gravel helps them grind the seeds to better get to the nutrients.  Is this using a tool?  There are other examples of similar usage of foreign objects – sticks to poke and rocks dropped on clams to break the shells.  Maybe that will be a future blog post.  Tool or not, the Horned Lark on the gravel was another good “quickie”.

The next “quickie” was even quicker.  Joe Sweeney does a weekly (daily) vigil at Richmond Beach Park and shares his observations with the community on Tweeters and Ebird.  He had reported a Townsend’s Solitaire – a species common in the right habitat area east of the Cascades but quite rare west of the mountains.  I had seen one at the Union Bay Natural Area some years ago, but a lovely, if subtle bird and definitely worth a “quick” trip especially since it would give me a chance to revisit a spot that was not that well known to me.  I was coming back to Edmonds from another personal matter this time in Seattle and stopped by Richmond Beach in the late afternoon.  I called Joe who provided some good insights on places to look and was directed to the “caretaker’s” house.  There was only one house there, not designated as having any formal relation to the park, but that had to be the place.  As I approached I heard the unmistakable call and then song of a Townsend’s Solitaire.  It seemed to be coming from some brush very near the house.  Usually I see Solitaires perched in the open, especially when they are vocal.  This guy was buried and I could not get a look.  I tried playback – very responsive but no movement and again no look even though it now seemed to be on the other side of the house and I had certainly not seen it fly.  Finally the location seemed to change again, and now there it was on the top of an evergreen providing an opportunity for a photo even if from the rear only.

Townsend’s Solitaire


I had located the sound quickly but it had taken at least 15 minutes to finally get the photo – still definitely qualifies as a “quickie” especially since it is not more than 8 miles from my home.

The next trip requires an expanded definition of “quickie”.  I was off to the Green River Natural Area to try again for the Red Shouldered Hawk that seemingly everyone that tried was finding there.  Brian Pendleton and I had failed to find it on an earlier visit. It is less than 30 miles from home so not a great distance and thus at least a “quickie” compared to the Okanogan or Victoria for example.  It had been reported as being seen and heard near “the grassy knoll”.  I am not all that familiar with this location and certainly did not know where the grassy knoll was located.  The only “grassy knoll” I knew was the infamous one in Dallas from which Lee Harvey Oswald had shot President Kennedy. (My mind cannot help but think of getting Donald Trump near some grassy knoll with a … ok never mind.)  Not knowing where that was, I entered the area from the only spot I knew – on the west side.  Exploring without any focus in the light rain, I came upon a beautiful American Kestrel posted and posing.  The photo captured the bird and the rain drops – not a Red Shouldered Hawk but it made the day worthwhile.

American Kestrel in the Rain


A few minutes later I saw what appeared to be a small buteo flying from the northwest south and then disappearing in a stand of trees.  As I was walking to the area, I saw another birder coming from the East in the same direction.  It was Steve Giles who had been there some time also looking for the Red Shouldered Hawk.  He too had seen the buteo.  We tried in vain to relocate it.  And we then spent the next hour walking the area together including to the spot where Brian and I had bushwhacked on our earlier visit and where we had at first thought we had heard the Red Shouldered Hawk but then found a Red Tailed Hawk.  Our search was futile.  I then followed Steve by car to the “grassy knoll” where there was no Red Shouldered Hawk nor any president or…  So not really a “quickie” but definitely a nice time despite missing the target.  Steve is a great birder and it was fun just to visit and to get some exercise away from the world.

After missing the Red Shouldered Hawk, I felt I needed a successful chase and why not keep it “Red”.  I have never heard the explanation, but for some reason every winter Redheads – the duck kind – return en mass to the pond by what is now the former Weyerhauser Headquarters in Federal Way.  It was not far from Kent, so it was an easy next stop.  The ducks did not disappoint as there were at least 32 Redheads on the pond along with a Trumpeter Swan , Mallards, Wigeon, Gadwalls, Buffleheads and Ruddy Ducks.  This indeed was a “quickie”.

Redheads at the Weyerhauser Pond


I had not been out birding with Ann Marie Wood or Frank Caruso for a while.  When I called Ann Marie, it turned out that she had some other obligations but wanted to squeeze in a little birding that morning.  So we opted to go to Magnuson Park to see if we could find the Say’s Phoebe that had been reported there.  This also gave Frank and me a chance to get better familiarized with Magnuson Park since Ann Marie birded there often.  I had invited Brian Pendleton to join us, but he had appointments later in the day so he could not.  But he had not heard about the Phoebe, and since he lived very close to the Park, he said he would look for it early in the morning before he left for them.  Being the excellent birder he is, Brian found the Phoebe and shared specific location info with us when I called upon arriving ourselves.  When we got to the open area where the bird had been found, it looked promising but no Say’s Phoebe was in sight.  After a couple of minutes, I thought I heard its call in the distance.  Then again – now closer.  The Say’s Phoebe flew into a small tree not far from us and we all got good looks.  I slogged out into the wet muck and got the pretty good photo below.

Say’s Phoebe at Magnuson Park


Ann Marie then gave us a great tour of the Park pointing out her favorite spots.  This included the cove at the north end where a good looking Canvasback was found.  While not as showy as some of its cousins, I think the Canvasback is elegant or handsome.  Always nice to see – especially with that bright red eye.



The Say’s Phoebe had definitely been another “quickie” and now there was a Canvasback bonus.  A good morning indeed.

Tine for one more “quickie”?  Well sure, why not.  Yesterday I had some time to kill in the afternoon and decided to look for a Wood Duck.  This is a species I would like to show Lynette and I had always been able to find some at the parks at the North End of Lake Washington – Log Boom Park in Lake Forest Park and Juanita Bay in Kirkland.  It turned out to be easy to find them at both places with one along the Boardwalk at Juanita Bay being particularly photogenic.

Wood Duck


A bonus was a surprise near Pier 3 at Log Boom Park.  I had walked out past the piers and then as I was returning, a small dark bird flew past me up ahead.  I immediately thought Green Heron but also thought it unlikely that I would find it as it appeared as if it had kept going.  Nope.  It landed out in the open and posed for several photos.  Really nice looking bird – although not much can compete with a Wood Duck.

Green Heron at Log Boom Park Marina



So this day was a “Quickie Two-fer” so to speak.  Other good birds as well and a couple of miles of walking all told.  It started to rain as I got back in my car – so even the weather had been cooperative.

In addition to seeing some targeted birds, there had been many other nice birds this past week – several (like Townsend’s Warbler, Red Breasted Sapsucker and Hutton’s Vireo) being incidental to other non-birding activities.  The “quickies” and the incidental bonus birds are a reminder that there are birds and bird stories all around us.  Just got to get out and go look for them.

Owls by Day – You Should Have Been There

There is a magic – a special appeal –  to seeing owls.  In irruption years, Snowy Owls might be seen in the daytime – even in quantity.  In the winter, Short Eared Owls can be seen hunting favorite fields – closer to dawn and dusk but sometimes even in the middle of the day.  While there are occasional exceptions to the rule, for most other owl species, seeing them in the daytime means finding a roosting spot or a nest and getting what are often not terrific views.  Every year in February Mike and MerryLynn Denny take on a bunch of highly appreciative birders to show them owls in their beloved Walla Walla County – in the daytime.  Not surprisingly it is a very popular trip, and this year I got to go along.  LOTS of owls and LOTS of fun.

It has been a harsher than usual winter in Walla Walla County and there was lots of snow.  No problems on the roads, but our hikes were often through crunchy snow.  An initial worry was that the snow on the ground would prevent us from seeing the telltale whitewash on the ground that is often a first clue that an owl is roosting in the tree above.  Fortunately the trees acted as shields or umbrellas so the ground below was clear and there was lots of whitewash in our first stop – Hood Park where there are ALWAYS Northern Saw Whet Owls – but…not this day.  We had been greeted by an American White Pelican with its breeding horn clearly visible and there were lots of Bald Eagles including one beautifully silhouetted against a brilliant blue sky but not very many other birds and definitely no owls.  Some birds that were not so great to find were Mallards – or at least parts of them as we found feathers and skeletons and wings all over the ground – probably the work of the eagles and Red Tailed Hawks.

White Pelican


Bald Eagle


We had trudged through a lot of snow and did not have a lot to show for it.  In addition to knowing every birding spot in the County (and every rock and tree and flower and bush etc) the Dennys are ever optimistic and were sure we would find some owls at our next stop – Charbonneau Park. At first it looked like a repeat of our first stop – lots of whitewash but where were the owls.  Oh – wait – there’s one – and what a little beauty.  A Northern Saw Whet Owl buried in the thick branches of one of the pine trees.  Unlike what is often the case, there was a clear view through the branches and this little 8 inch beauty was in good light and was very photogenic.

Northern Saw Whet Owl


The first owl sort of broke the dam and the rest of the day was filled with owls – another Saw Whet at Charbonneau and then three more at Fish Hook Park.  And three Great Horned Owls at Charbonneau and three more at Fish Hook.

Great Horned Owl


We also had a probable Barn Owl as we were leaving Charbonneau and then at least two more Barn Owls at Fish Hook.  The latter were very uncooperative – always flying out of trees just as we got to them and always out the back of the tree giving only brief views in flight.  I botched one good look and photo op with the wrong setting so can only show one very mediocre flight shot. An unusual photo op was of the disembodied head of a Red Tailed Hawk on the ground in the snow – probably the result of Great Horned Owl predation.

Red Tailed Hawk Head


A More Typical View of a Northern Saw Whet Owl


Barn Owl in Flight

Barn Owl Flight.jpg

I missed some Long Eared Owls seen by others as the group split on trails in the snow but as will be obvious later, there were many others.  What I did not miss was a flock of Cedar Waxwings feasting on berries and Russian Olives and providing some very nice photo ops.

Cedar Waxwings




I was not tracking every stop that we made, but Mike and MerryLynn had scouted out numerous Long Eared Owl roosting spots in thickets along Sheffler Road and and Smith Springs Road.  With spotting help from others , especially eagle eyed Dan Reiff I was able to finally see the owls in the very thick brush and even got some photos.

Long Eared Owl



A week earlier, the Dennys had located a Harris’s Sparrow along Smith Springs Road in a thicket with other sparrows.  We only got intermittent and distant views, but there was no mistaking the bird and I got a couple of ID photos.  Mike said that historical records had numerous Harris’s Sparrow records for the county each winter.  Now they are few and far between.

Harris’s Sparrow


There were more Long Eared Owls ahead but there was another possibility and the group was excited at the prospect of seeing a Great Gray Owl.  A pair had been seen regularly, including earlier that morning, on Lewis Peak Road.  We traveled to the spot and it looked perfect – hunting meadows and great trees for perching.  Dusk was approaching and the timing was just right – but the owls had not gotten the message and pulled a very disappointing no-show.  It would have been a life bird for many on the trip.

The gang regrouped later at a nice Mexican restaurant in Walla Walla.  It had been a great day.  5 Northern Saw Whet Owls, 7 Great Horned Owls, 13 Long Eared Owls, 3 (or maybe 4) Barn Owls.  After dinner, some of the group (not me) joined Mike and MerryLynn for one more owl – a Western Screech Owl. It was not an “owl by day” but it added a species and brought the total to 29 or 30.  Quite a show – and the Dennys were super as always.

The next day on the way home, I stopped at the Dodd Road Barn Owl cliff and had one clearly visible in its cavity nest.  So make that 30 owls for sure.  Wow!!

Barn Owl in Nest Cavity


My only Great Gray photo in Washington was with the Dennys in 2015 on Biscuit Ridge – not far from Lewis Peak.  I want another Great Gray Owl and another photo.  I will have to return.

Great Gray from Biscuit Ridge in 2015

Great Gray Owl (2)

California Dreaming Part IIIB – The San Diego Zoo – The Birds

My previous post was originally intended to cover our day at the San Diego Zoo including both the mammals and the birds seen, but it got so long with just the fabulous mammals that I decided to do this separate post for the birds we saw.  Have to repeat again that the Zoo was fantastic in every way (except for the signage and map).  Great collection, great docents, great exhibits and great maintenance and even great food.  Highly recommended for everyone.

There are many bird aviaries at the Zoo and a number of other bird exhibits.  We visited many but not all barely scratching the surface and foregoing some of the more spectacular species and exhibits.  We simply ran out of time.  Someday I hope to return to see the birds missed – including some of the birds that were probably in the aviaries we did visit – but just as in birding in the field – and especially in rain forests for example, you just do not see everything that is there.  A spectacular exhibit is immediately seen by visitors near the entry.  Pretty hard not to see and enjoy a flock of  Caribbean Flamingos in a pool close by.

Caribbean Flamingos


In the same pool there were Pelicans, Great Egrets (that are probably local and not part of the collection, Beautiful White Faced Whistling Ducks and Pelicans.  I saw huge numbers of both Greater and Lesser Flamingos in Africa in 2007 and an American Flamingo on Sugarloaf Key in Florida almost 40 years ago.  I will be revisiting the Keys in April and would very much love to see and photograph one there again.  Cannot imagine a better photo than here at the Zoo, however.

Great White Pelican – another African species and one that I saw on that trip to Kenya in 2007.


White Faced Whistling Duck – also seen in Kenya in 2007.


In no particular order, I am going to include photos and nominal comments on my favorites among the dozens of birds that we saw.  Going to start with my absolute favorite bird on my world life list so far – the Secretarybird.   I was fortunate to see a few on that Kenya trip in 2007 and then some more at Kruger Park in South Africa in 2014.  On that first Africa trip it was one of three “must see” birds. The other two were African Hoopoe and Bateleur Eagle – successful for all of them.  In South Africa we saw one Secretarybird catch a snake – they are raptors.

Secretarybird – I was thrilled at how well these photos turned out.  The bird was literally a few feet away – almost too close to focus with the telephoto lens – and behind thick glass.  We had an interesting talk with one of the docents as to the derivation of the Secretarybird’s name.  The theory I had heard before is that it came from the feathers jutting out behind the bird’s head reminiscent of the quill pens that 19th Century secretaries on the streets of England tucked behind their ears, while its grey and black body was reminiscent of their tailcoats. The docent said it may more likely be that the name derives from the Arabic ‘saqr-et-tair’, or ‘hunter bird’.  Either way – a truly spectacular animal.



Another spectacular bird not in an aviary was the American Condor.  San Diego Zoo participates in a breeding program to recover this highly endangered species.  The 23 remaining birds in the wild were captured by 1987, and it was feared this largest of North American birds might become extinct.  Today there are more than 435 Condors, more than half of which are flying free in the wild.  Our program speaker at the Washington Ornithological Society meeting last night, Tate Mason of the Peregrine Fund, said that the biggest threat is the use of lead bullets which the Condors ingest from dead game as they scavenge their huge areas.  If copper could be used in place of lead, it is expected that thousands of Condors could survive throughout their former range that would include my State of Washington.  I have seen the closely related Andean Condor and would love someday to see an American Condor and how great if it were in Washington.

American Condor


There are at least five aviaries at the Zoo – maybe seven.  We only visited three and all were terrific with exotic birds flying free.  Some were birds that I had seen in the wild in Africa or Australia or South America.  Others were new to me and in most cases the views of the ones I had seen elsewhere were much better here with the limited even though large area of the aviaries.

Cock of the Rock – I had a fleeting view of one in Peru and the ones here at the Zoo were much much cooperative and photogenic.  Another spectacular South American species.


I remember my first Golden Breasted and Superb Starlings from my Africa trip – how different from the relatively plain bird that so often is a junk bird on my trips or at feeders in the U.S.  The Golden Breasted is pictured below.  Just as noisy and intrusive but so much prettier than our imported Eurasian Starling pests, the Metallic Starlings in one aviary fed voraciously as they posed on a feeding platform. I had seen similar groups in their native Australia.

Golden Breasted Starling


Metallic Starlings


Anyone visiting Central or South America cannot help but being impressed by the various large billed Toucans and closely related Aracaris.  The Toco Toucan and Curl Crested Aracari were both familiar to me from Brazil.  The former was an unavoidable begging pest at several outdoor meals. I wonder if Toucans really do like Fruit Loops?

Toco Toucan


Curl Crested Aracari


Another well remembered bird was the Crested Oropendola seen on a fabulous trip to Trinidad in  1978 – my first international birding experience – and where I also saw another of the striking San Diego aviary birds – a Yellow Rumped Cacique.

Crested Oropendola


Yellow Rumped Cacique


Another spiffy yellow and black bird posing for us in one of the aviaries was the Black Naped Oriole. I had seen a single one at the Kanha Tiger Preserve in India in 2011.


Some of the most spectacular birds in the aviaries were the pigeons and doves.  We particularly liked the very showy Victoria Crowned Pigeon that almost stepped on our toes.  It is found only on New Guinea a place I someday hope to visit.

Victoria Crowned Pigeon


Probably the most colorful pigeon was the Nicobar Pigeon.  It is a native of islands east of India and onto the Malay Peninsula – an area it would be great to visit someday.  The first picture is of the whole bird and the second zooms in on the incredibly colored back.

nicobar-pigeon    nicobar-pigeon-back

Another spectacular pigeon did not seem to be a pigeon at all – looking more like a pheasant.  Not surprising since it is the Pheasant Pigeon, another bird found only in New Guinea.

Pheasant Pigeon


I had not seen any of those species, but I had seen and actually remembered the Wonga Pigeon from Australia which would have seemed a lot more exotic if it were not for those others.

Wonga Pigeon


The last of my featured pigeons/doves are two that are “green”, the Green Imperial Pigeon found in South Asia and the beautiful and smaller Emerald Dove.  The last name was familiar to me but I checked my world list and found that I had been thinking of the Emerald Spotted Wood Dove which I had seen in Africa and may well have been at the Zoo as well but not seen by us.

Green Imperial Pigeon


Emerald Dove


Looking at this last picture again reminded me of the observation that most if not all of the birds in the Zoo are banded.  So if any birders out there come up with one of these exotics – sorry just an escapee and not countable.

I don’t know if there was a separate exhibit of pheasants or their relatives at the Zoo but I am sure there were many on display somewhere.  We only saw one – the Madagascar Partridge – a very plain but handsome little bird.  On a return trip I will search for more.

Madagascar Partridge


There were smaller birds as well – some familiar and some new to me.  One familiar bird was the White Breasted Wood Swallow from Australia – small flock was perched together on a wire as our North American swallows often do.

White Breasted Wood Swallow


Another familiar bird was the Black Throated Laughing-thrush.   I had forgotten where I had seen the bird but upon checking my Ebird records I found it was a species I had seen at the marvelous Mai Po Nature Preserve outside of Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1977. That brought back great memories of that wonderful place – so close to the crowded city that epitomized density and commerce but had fabulous birds reminiscent of the Everglades.  On that one incredible day I saw 81 species that included large waders, shorebirds, raptors and a large number of very diverse passerines.

Black Throated Laughing-thrush


Two other birds I had seen elsewhere were the Gouldian Finch which is endemic to Australia and the Blue Naped Mousebird – one of the 500+ species I had seen on my three week trip to Kenya.

Gouldian Finches

Blue Naped Mousebird


Two smaller birds I had not seen elsewhere were the Collared Finchbill and the Bali Myna – both striking birds – and respectively from China/Taiwan/Vietnam and of course Bali.

Collared Finchbill


Bali Myna


I will end the parade of pictures with one of the only shorebird I noted in any of the aviaries but I probably missed others and expect there were others in other aviaries or exhibits at the Zoo.  It is the Egyptian Plover which is also sometimes called the Crocodile Bird for the probably apocryphal story that they supposedly go into the open mouths of crocodiles and remove rotting meat.  There is no anecdotal or photographic evidence of this but they do inhabit banks of rivers where crocodiles abound in sub-Saharan Africa.

Egyptian Plover


I don’t know how many of the almost 10,000 species of birds in the world can be found at the San Diego Zoo.  They have birds from every continent (except Antarctica I believe) and the collection includes many rarities and definitely many beauties. The Zoo is a major participant in breeding and conservation programs and is a wonderful resource for those reasons in addition to its important role in education and exhibition.

As I said earlier, we did not visit all of the bird exhibits.  We did not see the Cassowaries, Kiwis, Hummingbirds or Birds of Paradise, nor the Steller’s Sea Eagle or Harpy Eagle.  Guess I will have to come back – and what a pleasure that will be.

California Dreaming Part III – The San Diego Zoo – The Mammals

I have heard about the San Diego Zoo for my whole life but had never been there.  In part that reflects a preference to see “the real thing” in the “real world”. I have been fortunate to have traveled to wild places with wild birds and wild animals.  I remembered visits almost 60 years ago to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. where I grew up.  While I have have forgotten the animals I saw there, I do remember the cages – the cells – steel bars, concrete and little else.  I knew that much had changed and zoos were much more humane (“animalane?”).  Now there were exhibits with open space, plants and water features etc.  I had seen this to some degree at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.  If these changes in attitude and treatment had not been made, I would not have gone to the San Diego Zoo at all.  I was also aware of the role that zoos play including especially the San Diego Zoo in research and in breeding programs to sustain endangered animals.  I wanted to see what many consider one of the best zoos in the world.

Rarely do experiences greatly exceed expectations.  Never has an experience exceeded expectation like this visit to the San Diego Zoo did.  It was marvelous.  We thought it might be a three hour visit.  Seven hours after arriving, we were still going strong and there was a great amount that we did not see.  We easily could have filled another day.  Let me get the one complaint out of the way now.  Everything else will be super positive.  The complaint is that the maps and signage are challenging at best.  We were often confused as to where we were in relation to where we wanted to go and had little sense of the best way to get anywhere.  This was not helped by many construction projects and resulting detours, but completion of those projects will undoubtedly be great additions, so really no problem there.

The Zoo Map – Colorful but Confusing in Use


That’s it – the only negative.  Now for the positives.  There seemed to be docents everywhere – helpful, knowledgeable, informative, personable, clearly enjoying there work.  They helped overcome some of the negative impact of the signage issue.  Indeed, there should have been a suggestion on the maps in bold print: “Just ask a docent.”  Entrance to the Zoo was expensive and there were many possible added costs for private tours, bus tours, tram tours, skyway tours etc.  There were also many souvenir chops with mostly quality goods priced accordingly.  And many food places to spend money as well.  BUT…the parking was great and free – a rarity in the world these days.  The food was actually quite good, very diverse and given a trapped audience even reasonably priced.  (I wonder what a hot dog went for at the recently concluded Super Bowl.)  Something that was apparent every minute was how well the entire facility was cleaned, maintained and presented.  We saw workers polishing metal work, sweeping, and cleaning everywhere – unobtrusively and with obvious results.

Zoo statistics are amazing.  The Zoo alone (there is a much larger Safari Park 30 miles north of downtown San Diego) is set on 100 acres within Balboa Park – itself a treasure.  There are more than 500,000 members including 130,000 children.  ALL expenses and all capital costs are covered by donations – admissions fees and profits from sales go to research and the animals themselves.  There are more than 3500 animals representing more than 650 species and subspecies.  The botanical collection is more than 700,000 exotic plants.  EVERY animal we saw looked healthy and every compound was clean. Animals were not entirely free to roam wherever but there seemed to be plenty of room and we observed no nervous pacing.  To anthropomorphize a bit, the animals seemed “happy”.

To fully describe and catalog our day would take many pages and many hours.  I took almost a thousand photos on our visit – dozens of some animals, just a few of others and none at all of many.  I have chosen some favorites to focus the rest of this blog post.  Often you cannot tell that the animals were behind glass, bars or fences as my camera sometimes focused without the hindrance, but be assured that except for the birds in the aviaries, all were safely separated from us.  It was just at times – and happily so – that it did not feel that way.

Before focusing on the animals, I need to make a comment about one docent in particular.  We firsts approached here asking for directions and like happened with many other docents there, we were soon in a long conversation.  It turned out that this lady – perhaps two or three years younger than I am, grew up a few miles away from where I did in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C. – most specifically Silver Spring and Takoma Park.  She went to a rival high school and knew many of the places that were important in my youth – at a much simpler time in our country’s history.  Small world indeed.

We had not set a basic plan for what to see, but knew we wanted to see Koalas, Orangutans, Gorillas, Big Cats, Elephants, the aviaries and the Pandas.  Otherwise we would take things as they came to us – feasting on the next exhibit and then the next and so on.  I had great wildlife viewing experiences in Africa, South America, Australia and India and was curious how seeing some familiar animals in a Zoo context would feel.  Not the same as those real world experiences but pretty good and better than I expected.

I did not keep notes to show photos and discuss animals in the order we saw them.  The following photos are arranged in two large groups – mammals (in this post) and birds (separately in a following one) – and then by similar types.  It was a lot of fun.


Koalas – I had seen a few of these in Australia in 2003.  They are always eating as it takes a lot of eucalyptus leaves to provide needed nutrients.  There were several at the Zoo – all munching away or resting between bites.

Panda – like the Koalas, Pandas are often called bears – but Koalas are not and I see mixed info on the Panda – more appropriately “Giant Panda”.  It subsists almost solely on bamboo – eating up to 30 pounds a day.  Our Great Panda tied with the African Lion for most disappointing – viewing and activity-wise.  Asleep and sprawled on the ground – not very exciting.


Andean Bear – also called a Spectacled Bear, it is the only bear found in the Southern Hemisphere.  I had seen one briefly in Argentina more than 30 years ago.


Polar Bear – the largest of all bears and most aquatic and northernmost – we arrived just as a keeper talk was ending and the bear climbed out of its pool – water still dripping from its super thick coat.

Leopard – my favorite animal on my African trips – great closeup looks at the ones at the zoo. There are populations in Africa, India, Asia and the Middle East.


Jaguar – another animal I had been fortunate and privileged to see in the wild in the Pantanal in its native Brazil, the Zoo’s Jaguar paced in its compound inches away behind bars.  Incredibly beautiful animal.


Clouded Leopard – a denizen of the Himalayan foothills, I would love to see one in the wild.  This one was with its keeper and was a great treat. It is about half the size of its spotted cousin.


Snow Leopard – a big cat of the Himalayas, it can be as big as the African or other spotted leopard cats.  An endangered species that I doubt I will ever see – at least in the wild.


Serval – a smaller cat with long legs and long ears, it is found only in Africa (I saw a single one) where its population is stable.


African Lion – as with most of the males I saw in South Africa, this guy was sleeping and flat on the ground.  Lions and Tigers (which we did not see at the Zoo) are the biggest cats with big males reaching 400 pounds or more.


Elephants – at the top of Lynette’s list, I hope she gets a chance to see them in the wild someday.  The Zoo has both Asian (smaller) and African Elephants (bigger and bigger ears) Having to deal with such large animals, this was probably the largest compound at the Zoo.  The elephants were eating – what else.

elephant1  elephant


Rhinoceros – basically an armored tank of an animal, this is a White Rhinoceros – so named not because it is white but because of its “wide” snoot which in Dutch is “veidt” and sounds like white.  The Black Rhino is smaller and has a much narrower snoot.


Giraffe – I remember distinctly my first Giraffe in Kenya as it seemed even larger than expected and struck me as graceful and elegant.  It was an instant favorite.  The Giraffes at the San Diego Zoo are Masai Giraffes from Kenya but the ones I saw there were Reticulated Giraffes – a different species (subspecies?) with a more regular patterning.


Camel – We forget that the camel is a wild animal and not just a pack animal domesticated to serve our needs.  It has a reputation as being “nasty” and the one in my photo has that look about it.


Gerenuk – This was another favorite in Africa.  I had seen wildlife films where this super slender antelope with the long neck was standing on its rear legs and foraging on leaves on the trees – a great competitive strategy to get food.  Seeing one doing exactly that in Africa and then here at the Zoo was extra cool.

Antelopes and Such – I admit to being confused by the various Gazelles, Antelopes, Bucks, Boks and  other hooved animals that grace the plains and savannahs of Africa, Asia and India and also the San Diego Zoo.  The first photo below is of a Soemmering’s Gazelle and the second is of a Duiker – a much smaller antelope caught here eating a leaf that had fallen from a tree outside of the compound.  We watched them chase after and eat each leaf that blew in.

gazelle gazelle-with-leaf

Capybara and Tapir – I saw these South American mammals on my Brazil visit.  The former is the largest rodent in the world and the latter, although looking like a pig is actually more closely related to horses and rhinoceroses and spends much of its time in the water – where I saw several.

Dwarf Mongoose and Hyrax – two more mammals I have seen in my journeys in Africa. The Dwarf Mongoose is the smallest predator in Africa and the Rock Hyrax is actually a relative of the Elephant.

Mandrill and Mangabey – this is a face that you gotta love or hate.  The Mandrill is the largest of the Old World Monkeys and is also probably the most colorful.  I have not seen one in the wild – happy to see one at the Zoo.  Less colorful but still striking is the Mangabey a close and rare relative of the Mandrill – also found only in Africa and very rare.



Gorillas and Siamang – Someday I hope to see a Gorilla in the wild – probably in Uganda.  The family group at the San Diego Zoo was fun to watch – well mostly the youngster was – as mom and dad were pretty lethargic.  In the same compound was another ape, well actually a “lesser ape” – the Siamang, the largest of the gibbons and a native of Asia.  I mistook it for a Bonobo which I had hoped to see and somehow was missed.


Orangutans – definitely a must see and someday maybe I will see one in their native lands – the islands of either Borneo or Sumatra.  The male ape is unmistakable with its huge head and cheek pads.  The youngster is more “human-like” in appearance and seems to be all arms and legs and red hair.



The last mammal to be included is the Maned Wolf.  We were able to watch a demonstration with this beautiful canid and two keepers.  It looks like a fox but is not and it is not a wolf either.  Native to and endangered in South America, it is the largest canid there.  Among the fascinating facts about this animal is that when it walks it uniquely moves both legs on the same side together – and not the opposing front and rear leg together as other canids do.  When excited the hair on their backs – their manes – stand straight up.

We saw many other animals and I have many more photos but this has run on long enough and I still have another long post to do on the wonderful birds of the San Diego Zoo, so I will end it here.  I feel compelled to repeat what I said at the beginning.  The San Diego Zoo is marvelous.  This post merely catalogs the animals seen and some photos, but the importance of the Zoo is in its role in education and conservation.  Literature at the Zoo and online makes that very clear.  It was a most enjoyable privilege to visit.

California Dreaming – Part II – La Jolla Cove and Tecolote Canyon Natural Area

Before any birding trip, I do as much homework as I can relying largely on Ebird and my own library to plan where to go and to compile target lists of what I hope to see.  I focus on new life birds and birds that I have not photographed before.  The trip to Anza Borrego described in my previous blog post was not likely to produce any of the former but had been pretty successful for the latter – adding six new “life photos”.  The following day we visited the super fabulous San Diego Zoo.  Most of the birds there were in aviaries and I will write about that in a supplemental post that will be about the Zoo – its birds and its mammals.  My homework had identified a couple of spots relatively close to where we were staying that might produce a lifer or two and would also provide some photo ops.

The first such place was the La Jolla Cove.  After a brief rest from the full day at the Zoo, we headed to La Jolla to visit the Cove, to watch a sunset and hopefully to find a Black Vented Shearwater.  They are often seen from the Cove and the adjoining beach viewpoints and I was hopeful to add this southern shearwater to my life list.  We arrived in decent light and we were not alone – hundreds of tourists and locals enjoying the beautiful scenery, the great weather and some pretty cool birds.  Unfortunately those birds did not include my targeted shearwater.  I did not have a scope and there were no other birders present who did.  Maybe that would have made a difference with an ocean scan past the limit of my binoculars.  Hundreds of gulls – Western and Heerman’s – lots of cormorants and pelicans – but no tubenoses of any kind. As I often write, however, there were wonderful consolation prizes – fantastic up close views of nesting Brandt’s Cormorants in their spectacular breeding colors and beautiful roosting Heerman’s Gulls.

Brandt’s Cormorant


Brandt’s Cormorant at Nest


Heerman’s Gull


They were so commonplace that I forgot to take a photo, but the Western Gulls really were beautiful.  Unlike in our northern waters in Washington, here the Western Gull is dominant and does not hybridize with the far less common Glaucous Winged Gull.  Their mantles are very dark and their heads very white and they are everywhere.

Just south of the Cove were many pullouts looking west over the Pacific and one was perfect for the beautiful sunset.

Sunset over the Pacific at La Jolla


The next day was to be our last and we went separate ways for part of it as I headed off to Tecolote Canyon Natural Area.  I had found this spot in my Ebird research and recent birdlists there had included a number of photo targets and a seemingly good chance to add the Scaly Breasted Munia to my life listed.  Also known as the Nutmeg Mannikin, a bird of Asia, it is an “exotic” – one of many in Southern California – that had been introduced to the area in the 1980’s and has seen its population expand to the point where the American Birding Association (ABA) added it to its recognized North America list.  Although I had already seen and photographed most of the targets that were also potentially to be found at Tecolote, there was another non-lifer but new photo op that I really wanted to find there – Nuttall’s Woodpecker.

Very friendly employees at the Visitor Center confirmed that Munias were often seen and gave some suggestions on where to look for the Woodpecker and some other good birds.  I had expected to spend maybe an hour there and to not have to wander too far from the entrance.  Such was not the case, however.  There were birds but pretty scattered and not so cooperative – especially the two I most wanted.  The place was overrun with Yellow Rumped Warblers and I got tired of seeing something fly into a tree or bush and have it be yet another of these butterbutts.  I ended up spending more than 2 hours walking almost 4 miles.  But once again the weather was spectacular and rewards were available.  The first was a great look at California Towhees feeding on the ground.  I saw more than 10 during my visit.

California Towhee


Also pretty close to the entrance I found a singing California Thrasher – one of five seen that morning.  A very pretty and cooperative fellow and just like the ones seen at Anza Borrego, it did not move off its territorial post.

California Thrasher


There were also numerous California Scrubjays, House Finches, Northern Mockingbirds and hummingbirds.  I worked hard to find, confirm and photograph an Allen’s Hummingbird.  Most of the hummers were Anna’s (more than a dozen) but I got very good looks at one that at first was visiting a feeder across the channel and then flew to a branch near me.  I was pretty sure from the start that it was an Allen’s – and felt really good about the ID (even without a picture of the tail feathers) when I listened to its frequently repeated chip notes.

Allen’s Hummingbird


I got excited when I saw a Kingbird first perched and then flycatching.  I had forgotten that Cassin’s Kingbirds are pretty common at this location in the winter but was still pleased to get the photo.  I was not able to get a photo of two White Throated Swifts that I saw zooming overhead when I first spotted the Kingbird in a higher tree.  I later found three more Kingbirds throughout the area.

Cassin’s Kingbird


I had now passed the Sycamore tree that was described as a likely spot for my woodpecker.  No woodpeckers at all were seen or heard and I admit to having felt pretty disappointed thinking one would be guaranteed at this location. I played my Nuttall’s recording and got a response and movement in a shrub – not a likely spot for a Woodpecker – and the trill was vaguely familiar.  It was a Wrentit – my second really good look on this trip and another good photo.  A second one trilled from across the path as well.



As I changed my gaze to the second Wrentit, a quick movement off the ground and into the brush and then down into the ravine caught my eye.  The brown back, small size and heavy finch bill signaled a possible Munia.  I desperately tried for a clear view and hoped it would come into the open.  The foliage and angle were bad for a photo so I kept watching with my binoculars only.  A partial view through the brush finally revealed the tell tale scaly breast of the Scaly Breasted Munia but no amount of pishing, playback or praying over the next 15 minutes got the bird into the open.  I had a lifer but no photo – so I had mixed feelings at best.

Scaly Breasted Munia (stock photo)


Another feeling was that now I HAD to find a Nuttall’s Woodpecker.  I continued on for another half mile+ and had NO drumming, rattles or visuals.  After maybe a dozen attempts at playback I finally heard a rattle response in a thicket up ahead.  I looked and looked but could not find the woodpecker – that is until I noticed it at the top of a hole ridden snag and saw the bird with only the very top of its head visible.  Its entire body and most of its head was directly behind the snag – completely immobile and hard to see.  I grabbed a shot and then waited – and to my surprise a second bird flew in and this got the first to move and now I had my photo opportunity – in good light and out in the open.

Nuttall’s Woodpecker (moments before only the top 1/2 inch of head was visible)


Nuttall’s Woodpecker – Second Arrival


Somewhat assuaging the disappointment over the photo-less Munia, the Nuttall’s Woodpecker photo meant I could head back – hoping for another Munia and maybe a Gnatcatcher or something else fun.  Yellow Rumped Warblers continued their distracting flights and then one led me to a small group of Goldfinches, some American and some Lesser that I tried unsuccessfully to make into Lawrence’s Goldfinches.

Lesser Goldfinch


I turned my concentration to a search for gnatcatchers.  I heard some promising squeaks and saw some movement in some brush ahead.  There were four birds, a Bewick’s Wren and three Gnatcatchers – unfortunately once again all the Gnatcatchers were Blue Gray. My quest for either a Black Tailed or California would have to wait for another day.

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher


There were more warblers, House Finches and a Black Phoebe on the way in but no more Munias.  I had seen 28 species and was especially happy with the Nuttall’s Woodpecker.  Had I not seen and photographed some of the other species elsewhere, it would have been an exceptional day for specialties.

I had just enough time for a mad dash to the Tijuana Slough hoping for a picture of a Ridgway’s Rail.  It was very light on birds, a Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egrets, a Say’s Phoebe and Whimbrels and Willets being the best seen.  I heard at least one rail but I could not coax it out into the open – another photo missed. I include a few photos to memorialize this part of my  trip.



Say’s Phoebe


Snowy Egret


Little Blue Heron


All told this California visit resulted in 70 species seen.  I added one life bird and 8 life photos.  I had many other great photos and lots of fun at beautiful places.  Lynette enjoyed her birding and may be willing to try some more.  Ebird says that California has been the state where I first saw 157 life birds.  Of those I only saw 33 on this trip, so if this trip had been back in the early days subtracting them from the 70 observed means I would have added another 37 life birds here.  40 Years of birding elsewhere means that those birds were first seen elsewhere – probably many elsewheres for quite a few. It would have been really nice to have seen a Black Vented Shearwater but I doubt any photo would have been available and there are a number of other pelagic species I “need”.  Maybe that will be my next California visit – join the legendary Debi Shearwater for one of her excursions.  I look forward to that.

California Dreaming – Part I – Anza Borrego

Long ago and faraway in a distant land called California, I began birding.  Most of the earliest experiences were at Baylands Park in Palo Alto or at Coyote Hills Regional Park in San Jose.  I did not keep lists when I started, so no records per se.  I arrived in California in August 1970, found an apartment over a garage in Menlo Park and got ready for Law School at Stanford.  I did not own any binoculars and had only a vague awareness of bird species, but I have a distinct recollection of seeing an Acorn Woodpecker in a neighboring back yard.  I of course remembered birds from growing up in Maryland including a Killdeer nest in the sand at the playground of my elementary school with the parent using the broken wing trip to lure us kids away from that nest.  I also remember that the “Blue Jay” in California was very different from THE Bluejay  I grew up with and it was either that bird or the Acorn Woodpecker that was my first California species.

Acorn Woodpecker and California Scrubjay – my first California Species

Acorn WP1 california-scrubjay

It did not take long for the appeal of birds to grab my interest and I found myself often (too often) paying them a lot of attention and noting differences – becoming a birder.  I spent one semester in the spring of 1972 in Maryland and then had a summer clerkship in Seattle that summer.  It was in those places that I started to keep track of new “life birds” but I did not keep detailed lists so records remained spotty.  By the time I returned for my final year at Stanford, my life list was just under 100 species.  In the next nine months I added 150 species to the list – all in the San Francisco Bay area.   So on May 22, 1973 my life list stood at 248 species and I said goodbye to California.  When I next visited, it was June 1977 and I had done a lot of birding in Washington State, Arizona and Texas and some in Wisconsin.  My life list had swelled to 450 species.  I spent a day at Anza Borrego State Park before another trip to Arizona.  Five new species were added at Anza Borrego and  then 32 more in Arizona.  I was definitely paying attention, but lists were still limited except for new life birds.

It is now February 2017 – almost 40 years since that last trip to Anza Borrego – how could so many years have passed by!?  Had I really not returned to bird where it had all started?  There was a day and a half near Newport Beach in August 2012 and that was it.  In those early years, photography was not part of my birding life.  It very much is now and I wanted photos of some of those birds I had observed in California many years ago but had not seen or photographed elsewhere in the past.  It was time to return to California.  I planned a trip to San Diego and in part wanted to continue baby steps in exposing a friend to birding and thought one day in a four day visit with lots of other fun activities would not be too bird-heavy.  Where to go?  Anza Borrego seemed perfect – a good day trip with some potentially interesting birds (for her and needed photos for me) and some equally appealing scenery – certainly different from Seattle.

Our first day focused on a very interesting tour of the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier.  Highly recommended for all San Diego visitors.  The scale of the ship is incredible and the aircraft and communications equipment fascinating.  The history of the Midway and its pivotal role in the Pacific Theater of WWII should be known as appreciated by all Americans.  It continued service in the Pacific and the Middle East.  Very impressive.  Afterwards, there was time for a trip down Point Loma to the Cabrillo National Monument with our first look at the Pacific.  Near a parking area I had my first “target” bird of the trip – a Wrentit.  I had only seen this bird a couple of times and of course had no photo.  It is a skulker so I was not sure that any photo would be forthcoming.  I was thrilled to get a pretty good one.



The next day was our trip to Anza Borrego.  This park is huge and birds can be scattered.  It is a more than two hour drive from San Diego proper.  We left during what should have been rush hour but we were going against traffic and thankfully had little traffic.  Also thankfully it was not the previous week.  Our weather was spectacular – low to mid 70’s and sunny.  Contrast that to the previous week (when we had originally planned the trip) when it was in the 50’s and VERY rainy.  Getting to Anza Borrego means going over mountains and the previous week there had been LOTS of snow, closing some roads or  requiring chains.  We saw some remnants at a few spots but had no problems.

Our first serious stops were in the vicinity of Lake Cuyamaca and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.  The road was clear but there was quite a bit of snow on the ground and there were lots of birds.  The most abundant interestingly were those first two California birds of memory – Acorn Woodpecker and California Scrubjays.  They seemed to be in every tree.  One was what is known as a “granary tree”, a place where the Acorn Woodpeckers drill holes and then fill them with acorns.

Acorn Woodpecker


California Scrubjay


Granary Tree with Acorn


Here is a bit of info from “All About Birds” about these woodpeckers and their granaries: “The woodpeckers harvest acorns directly from oak trees and are famous for their habit of storing nuts—primarily acorns, but also almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and pinyon pine nuts—in individually drilled holes in one or more storage trees. These are known as granaries and can have upwards of 50,000 nuts stored in them. The birds drill the holes primarily in the winter, in the thick bark of dead limbs where the drilling does no harm to a living tree. Each year they reuse old holes and add some new ones. The acorns are wedged so tightly in their holes that they’re very difficult for other animals to remove. After they’ve been stored for a while, the fit becomes looser as the acorn dries out—group members periodically check their stored acorns and move the loose ones to smaller holes.”  One Park Ranger we met said the acorns were stored as “bait” for grubs who fed on the rotting acorns and then became food for the woodpeckers.

We also found one of my photo target birds, an Oak Titmouse, a very plain little bird but with a nice call and a very distinctive tuft.

Oak Titmouse


Not far from Lake Cuyamaca we found an incredibly cooperative and photogenic Red Shouldered Hawk.  It made unhappy noises but remained perched on a wire above us as we approached quite close.

Red Shouldered Hawk


Continuing on Highway 78 I plugged in GPS coordinates looking for a spot listed on an Ebird report that was good for Phainopeplas.  This was another target bird and one that I was not certain I would find. At the exact spot identified in the report I pulled the car off the road and within a minute I spied a dark form on a shrub maybe 60 yards away.  It was a male Phainopepla.  I got a quick photo and then seeing no “No Trespassing” sign, decided to crawl under the barbed wire fence and cross the field to see if I could get closer.  It worked perfectly as the bird was very responsive to my recorded call and I got far better photos than I ever expected.


phainopepla phainopepla1

Not too much further along another target bird appeared, a very noisy California Thrasher.  It sang continuously perched high on a shrub and caring not at all that we were approaching. There was a second Thrasher close by – also singing incessantly – must be staking our their breeding territories already.

California Thrasher


At many spots along our journey we had seen hummingbirds.  I was mostly interested in finding and photographing Allen’s or Costa’s Hummingbirds.  Until this point I was pretty sure that all of the hummers we had seen were Anna’s Hummingbirds, the predominant species in Western Washington.  We stopped at one campground where we had at least 6 and possibly as many as 9 hummers buzzing around in an area near a feeder.  Unfortunately they all seemed to be Anna’s.  Pretty near the Thrasher spot, there was one hummingbird that I am pretty sure was a Costa’s but I could never get the right position for a photo to show the purple mask.  Here are two out of a large number of Anna’s photos – a female in flight and a male with a clearly visible long tongue.

Anna’s Hummingbirds



About lunch time we made it to the town of Borrego Springs and then to the Anza Borrego Visitor Center.  A special target here was the lovely little Verdin.  As I was walking in from the parking area I heard its distinctive three note call and then had one fly past me disappearing near a shrub in front of the visitor center.  At first I could not find the bird and was perplexed as I was sure it had landed.  Then I noticed a nest in a low bush and seconds later the Verdin lifted its head for a great view.  This bush was only a few feet from the path and was no more than 3 feet off the ground.  I was fascinated watching it try to weave an unwieldy twig into the nest.  It flew off and returned many times before finally moving further away and out of sight.

Verdin on Nest


The Verdin may have been my favorite bird of the trip but there were other birds at the Center as well, including more Phainopeplas, Northern Mockingbirds, a definite (but not photo friendly) Costa’s Hummingbird, a gorgeous White Winged Dove and a very inquisitive Rock Wren.

Northern Mockingbird


White Winged Dove


Rock Wren 


It was still a bit early in the year to see some of the other targets at the Visitor Center like a LeConte’s Thrasher – guess I will have to come back again.  But one bird I very much hoped to see was a Black Tailed Gnatcatcher.  It would be a life bird.  Someone we had met told me that he was camping at Agua Caliente and had two “easily found” Roadrunners in the campground.  Gnatcatchers ere also reported there so we decided there was time for the detour to see if we could get lucky.

The campground proved to be quite birdy but also Roadrunner-less.  There were a few small rabbits – our only mammals of the day. We also had repeats of many of thee birds we had seen earlier in the day: California Thrasher, Verdin, Oak Titmouse, Phainopepla, White Winged Dove, Costa’s Hummingbird (again no photo) and Northern Mockingbird.  One new bird was a juvenile Sage Thrasher.  I had not seen one before and was surprised by its quite speckled breast.

Juvenile Sage Thrasher




Phainopepla Female


I heard an unfamiliar call that I thought just might be a Gnatcatcher so I played my Black Tailed Gnatcatcher recording.  Immediately two small birds flew into a nearby bush.  At first they remained hidden but then I clearly saw that they were Gnatcatchers and they had black tails.  I was very excited and waited for them to come into the open for a photo.  Shortly they did that and I got a few ok shots in somewhat failing light. Given the immediate response to the call and the black tails, I thought I had my bird.  Then I looked closely at the photos and my I Bird Pro and saw that they were only Blue Gray Gnatcatchers – a bird I had recently photographed in Neah Bay, Washington and which also has a black tail.  Sigh…

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher


Time to retrace our steps for the long ride back.  The roads seemed even curvier on the return but no traffic and we made good time.  It had been a good visit.  Lots of nice birds including several targets.  Some misses but that is usually the case.  The weather had been great the whole time and Lynette had enjoyed the trip and even some of the birds.  It was neither low key nor hard core so a good introduction.  We made it back in time for a nice Mexican dinner at Miguel’s.  The next day will be the San Diego Zoo and then dinner in La Jolla (with a brief birding stop at the Cove).  Sure do like San Diego.