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:
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):
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:
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:
Evidently the locals have seen my kind before... and know a thing or two about classy signs!
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:
And I have a lot more birds to see.
To be continued!