California Day 7 – Some Last Shots and Summing Up

It had been a long and wonderful week.  Admittedly I was pretty tired and running out of targeted species coincided without running out of energy – well almost – for both.  I had gotten a mediocre photo of a California Gnatcatcher and really wanted a better one.  There was enough gas in the tank – both the car’s and mine for one more try.  I made it to the San Elijo Lagoon in yet another day of warm, bright sunshine.  The habitat looked great for gnatcatchers – probably both Blue Gray and California.  I just wanted that one photo.

During my past attempts to find and photograph the California Gnatcatcher I had become quite familiar with its “zeer” calls.  I had heard it more than once and had used it to locate the birds I had photographed at Lake Hodges.  As I walked down the trail towards the lagoon I played the “zeer” calls on my phone and very quickly saw a small bird fly into some dense brush just ahead.  It began calling back – no mistaking the calls.  This was a California Gnatcatcher, but I had been here before – the Gnatcatchers can be “there” but almost invisible.  This time I was lucky.

Continuing to call, the California Gnatcatcher popped out into the open in perfect light.  I got my photos.  The first shows the Gnatcatcher singing and the second shows the very distinct eye ring and black eye brow.  The third photo shows the black tail with thin outer tail feathers that are white.

California Gnatcatcher Calling

California Gnatcatcher 3

California Gnatcatcher Close Up

California Gnatcatcher close

California Gnatcatcher – Black Tail with White Outer Feathers

California Gnatcatcher Tail

Mission accomplished but I really liked this area and continued birding.  It was a birdy place and the light really was great.  There would be more good photos to come.  As I walked the trail I repeated heard the “zee chuppity-chup” call/buzz of an Allen’s Hummingbird.  I saw one displaying and then landing on an open branch – a male brilliant in the light.

Allen’s Hummingbird

Allen's Hummingbird 6

Allen's Hummingbird 4

As is often the case in this area, there were also Anna’s Hummingbirds and one was also very photogenic.

Anna’s Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird 2

Fortunately at this time of year Rufous Hummingbirds are gone, so no confusion with the Allen’s although the call would have avoided that issue as well.  The most abundant birds were the sparrows Savannah (14), White Crowned (30), and Song (6) and also California Towhee (10).

California Towhee

California Towhee

When we are out birding we are open to experiences as they come our way – sometimes it is the bird we are looking for; sometimes it is a great person; sometimes it is another bird – unexpected perhaps.  As I neared the Lagoon a Northern Harrier swooped by and landed on a fence post just ahead.  I often see shorebirds standing on just one leg, but this was the first time I had seen a raptor do so unless it was holding prey in the other.  It held its left leg out almost as if it were injured.  Interesting photo.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

I retraced steps and headed to the other end of the lagoon.  Along the way I met another birder – a local who birds the area often.  When he learned I was from out of the area, he wanted to be sure that I saw everything that was there and went through the list of what he had seen earlier.  I had seen all of them except for the California Thrasher.  He told me where he had seen it and not too far from there, I found it there as well.

California Thrasher

California Thrasher 3

As I left I heard a Ridgway’s Rail calling – no visual and no photos this time.  I was done.

Whenever I visit San Diego I always try to swing by the La Jolla Cove.  A gorgeous spot often with birds close by on the rocky outcroppings.  I had enjoyed visiting there with Lynette in February.  That seemed like ages ago and I was reminded of how all that had changed – sometimes things just don’t go like we would want.  With birds as opposed to people, however, it is easier sometimes to have a Plan B – another try to find what we want.  As I said in that first post, getting away from personal matters was one of the motivations to take this trip.  On the many long drives, there had certainly been many opportunities to re-examine the past and to look to the future.

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove

The trip had been therapeutic – helping ease some of the pain and disappointment – and more importantly reminding me of some of the things that are important to me being true to myself – being in nature, looking for and watching birds – the special targeted ones and the others as well – relating to people with shared interests and shared perspectives – recognizing both the potential to change and adapt but also the very real limits to how much that could be done.  It had been a wonderful week.  I was ready to go home…

Summing it All Up

7 days – 6 hotel rooms – 1500 miles – Mexican, Asian, Greek, Italian and American food – more coffee than tea.  Forests, mountains, deserts, islands, oceans, lakes.

152 species – 8 ABA Life Birds – 11 ABA Life Photos (and two more that were for sure when previous ones had some ambiguity) – 13 ABA Year birds

Life Birds:   Red Footed Booby, Bell’s Sparrow, California Condor, Garganey, Black Vented Shearwater, Island Scrub-Jay, Red Crowned Parrot and Rufous Backed Robin

Life Photos:  All of the Life Birds except the Bell’s Sparrow plus Yellow Billed Magpie, California Gnatcatcher, Scaly Breasted Munia, Ridgway’s Rail plus definite photos of Costa’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds

Those additions brought my Life List to 702 ABA, my Life Photo List to 639 and my ABA Year List to 527

I had been in 10 Counties

The lowest temperature was in the high thirties and the highest temperature was 85.  No rain, very little wind and sun, sun, sun.

I had met truly wonderful people and seen truly spectacular places.

On the last two days I was there, the Santa Ana winds had arrived – with wind velocities in excess of 75 mph.  They had brought devastating and death causing fires to areas I had visited two days earlier.  The only effect on me was that the flight home got very bumpy as we moved up the coast by Orange and Los Angeles counties.

I had some notable misses: the Groove Billed Ani and Nazca Booby departed before I arrived (although the Nazca Booby returned at least for a day five days after I departed).  There was no Yellow Footed Gull and I failed to find a LeConte’s Thrasher or Lawrence’s Goldfinch.  I failed to get a photo of a Bell’s Sparrow.  There are always misses and I will try again sometime.

If there had been nothing more than the magical moment with three California Condors flying overhead, it still would have been a fantastic and successful trip.  But oh yeah – there had been much more…

Condor Tag4a


One thought on “California Day 7 – Some Last Shots and Summing Up

  1. What a fantastic post to sum up your trip. You got fabulous photos of the gnatcatcher and California thrasher ! I too love la jolla. It was a special spot that my ex who lives there introduced me too many years ago. What a beautiful spot. Birding is truly therapeutic and glad it helped you this time through some difficult times. You definitely had a trip to remember may you have many more to come.


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