So I had myself a birding bender this weekend, just like I told y’all I was gonna. I’ve had trouble getting psyched up to write the recap, though. Maybe cause I don’t think I can explain how much fun it was… or just because the writing is a lot less fun than the bender-ing. Regardless, it’s high time you heard about this, so I’m just gonna bang it out here. Part of it, anyway.

With the goal of racking up some lifers, I devised an ingenious route through Southern Southern California, aka SoSoCal, meaning everything south of L.A. Not sure if that’s an official term, but if not – BOOM! I just trademarked it. I had nine target species in mind. Here’s how it went down.


I hit the road at 5:55 am. The sky is pitch black and freeway traffic is tolerable. My target birds slumber, unawares.

6:55 am. Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center. Target: California Gnatcatcher.

This is a pretty spot, a hill blanketed with coastal sage scrub overlooking the ocean. As soon as I’m out of the car I see action in the adjacent yard – House Wren, Orange-crowned Warbler… and within five minutes, a quick glimpse of a male California Gnatcatcher. WTF, so easy! Although… not the most satisfying look. And it would feel wrong to just grab what I came for and bounce after five minutes. So I stay to check the place out a little.

Before I even get to the trail I run into this guy just chillin:
Greater Roadrunner
Walking the trail, I hear more gnatcatchers, and see a couple, but they’re moving quickly through dense shrubs, so no pics. Good enough looks though. While I’m at it I snag a few shots of more familiar birds in the gray, early-morning ocean mist.
California Towhee
Anna's Hummingbird
Good stuff. At 7:45, I’m back on the road.

8:30 am. San Dieguito Lagoon. Target: Pacific Golden-Plover.

There were reports a couple weeks ago of a Pacific Golden-Plover here, and I’m hoping it might still be around. For starters I get confused and wind up at the wrong spot, but there’s decent birding there, including a swarm of handsome Cliff Swallows and a stately Long-billed Curlew. After a couple more wrong turns and a bit more exposure to the uppity town of Del Mar than I care for, I get to the mouth of the lagoon. No sign of the plover; no sign of any shorebirds. Yeah… probably too late in the season for those guys to be hanging around. Oh well. My consolation prize is a nice pair of Redheads (though the light sucks):
One hit, one miss. Back on the road at 9:25.

9:50 am. La Jolla Cove. Target: Wandering Tattler.

Though also a winter bird like the plover, these guys have been reported more recently, and in numbers greater than one, so I like my odds better. This place is crazy for two reasons: 1. It attracts tons of people, and 2. It attracts tons of seals. From like a mile away you can hear the seals barking and moaning and basically being giant disgusting slobs. Maybe the cove is the seal version of Greek Row, who knows. Anyway I walk down the hill toward what I figure is the tattler spot, pausing to crush a few birds on the way:
Yeah it's just a House Sparrow, but look how close!
Brown Pelican, Brandt's Cormorants
Western Gull
I get down to where I can see the inner cove well, and sure enough, those suckers are down there. BOOM!
Yes, there is a bird here.
Let's try that again:
Well, this'll have to do. Wandering Tattler.
They stay out of view a lot of the time, tucked in among the rocks, but I get good enough looks. By now the day is warm and sunny, and I stroll back to my car, soaking it all in. A damn fine day, I think. Though I can barely hear my thoughts above the din of the seals and tourists. Damn seals and tourists.

Back on the road at 10:40.

11:20 am. Tijuana River National Estuarine Reserve. Target: Clapper Rail.

Chances are, I’ve walked or driven by these birds many times as they hid in the reeds. I may have even seen one as a greenhorn back in Florida and misidentified it as a King Rail, who knows. It’s not rare, and it needs to be on my life list already. Fortunately, this place is THE SPOT to see these suckers. On the San Diego Audubon Society website, the first thing they say about the place is, “A high tide should bring out Clapper Rails here, right along the street.” Um… WHAT? Sounds like you have to drive slowly just to avoid running over the mob of rails.

Of course I get there, perfectly timed to catch high tide, and… crickets. No rails, and no birds at all in the little channel where the nice lady in the visitor’s center tells me to look. After a while of seeing nothing encouraging, I drive around the corner to another spot that’s supposed to have them sometimes. It’s a stretch of sidewalk overlooking a wide swath of reedy wetlands, introduced by this sign:
I scan every little channel I can see, peering into the reeds as best I can – nothing. I’m baking in the midday sun, and I sense the onset of that sinking feeling that comes with whiffing on a bird. I try to content myself looking at the one sizable flock in the whole area, a raft of sleeping Ruddy Ducks in the distance with a couple grebes mixed in. Then I notice one of the ducks seems to be swimming purposefully instead of dozing. And its bill looks too long. Hold up. I get the binos on it just in time to watch it reach the other side of the channel, climb out, and dive into the tall reeds – a Clapper Rail. Oh hell yes.

Evidently the locals have seen my kind before... and know a thing or two about classy signs!
I abided.
Once again I linger a bit hoping for a better look, but I have my bird, so I hit the road at 1:15. I make a quick stop to pick up some badly needed sunblock and a Subway sandwich (subsequently inhaled while driving), and speed off to my next stop.

1:50 pm. Dairy Mart Road Pond. Target: Bell’s Vireo.

Greasy with sunblock, sweat and mustard, and heavy with sandwich, I lumber out onto the pretty, wooded trail next to the pond. After a few minutes watching swallows overhead and hearing a zillion Marsh Wrens singing from the reeds, I hear what sounds kinda like a Bell’s Vireo song. (I’ve been studying, natch.) Approaching the source, I get more and more sure, and then BAM – he’s right in front of me. Amazing! My photos don’t come out well, but I do get a short video. At least you can hear what he sounds like:
I never get more than fifty yards from the car here. A quick scan of the other birds, and I hit the road again around 2:35. I’m leaving the coast now, leaving civilization, heading into the belly of the unforgiving Southeastern California desert. I am a mind-blowing, heart-exploding four-for-five on my targets so far.

And I have a lot more birds to see.

To be continued!


04/03/2013 10:16pm

Well then...this is shaping up to be more epic and adventurous than those three The Mummy movies with Brendan Fisher.

"...because the writing is a lot less fun than the bender-ing."
--So at this point I'm thinking, lots of Futurama references to come?

"...Regardless, it’s high time you heard about this, so I’m just gonna bang it out here. Part of it, anyway."
--Sounds like the philosophy of my horny neighbors.

Anyway, Pacific Golden Plover are whiney bitches. Who needs them!? (me, I do...)
Nice work with that Tattler, and it's double sweet that you photographed and tattled on him to the rest of us poor, tatter-less saps.
That whole sequence of photos is really smashing, and the Bell's Vireo is tops too. They have such a great song, especially how they seem to just belt it out compulsively while bouncing around in the trees, like the annoying guy on the subway who is singing along to his headphones and just assumes we all want to hear him sing (which is actually true with the Vireo at least).

Jolly good Josh. Looking forward to part two.

04/04/2013 5:26pm

Thanks dude. You can't just throw around Mummy comparisons though. You have set the bar dangerously high. BTW what does a dude from Phoenix know about being on the subway? It's not, like, a real city, right?

04/04/2013 6:51pm

Well, it's no L.A. or New York, but we've got plenty of Subways. I prefer the Spicy Italian most of all.

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