May 9th-11th was the weekend of the 3rd annual Orange County Spring Count. This event attempts to cover the entire county within a 3-day period, and is conducted in synchrony with hundreds of such counts on the weekend of International Migratory Bird Day, which is always the second weekend of May. Annually, birders go out and try to census birds on as many of the county’s birding hotspots as possible, since true coverage of the entire county is not a feasible objective. All the data are submitted to eBird, so they are available to birders and researchers across the country almost instantaneously. The Orange County Spring Count is managed by Sea & Sage Audubon each year.
This year’s Orange County Spring Count featured many interesting hits and misses. Owing to the drought conditions, numbers of non-urban raptors were severely depressed, and many experienced pairs simply aren’t even attempting to nest. This impacted us on the owling portion of things, where even in areas that have been provided with Barn Owl nesting boxes, no owls are even attempting to nest. We had low numbers of Western Screech-Owls and Great Horned Owls, but couldn’t raise even a single Barn Owl on territory that holds generous numbers of them. Thus the most numerous night bird in Silverado Canyon was actually the Common Poorwill. In Limestone Canyon (which we had access to thanks to the Irvine Ranch Conservancy and Orange County Parks), the most common night bird was the Western Screech-Owl. We did have at least five of the large California subspecies of the Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas halophilus) crossing the road in front of us. This is the middle of their breeding season, but with water levels so low everywhere, one wonders how much success they will have. In any case, there were plenty out and about.
But it wasn’t all about what was missing either. There were still plenty of vireos, flycatchers and warblers about in both the foothill canyons and coastal green spaces. This Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis) is a common resident breeding species in much of Orange County, with some areas like Serrano Creek Park hosting multiple pairs within a short distance. It seems to be a big year for Canyon Wrens (Catherpes mexicanus) down on the coastal plain. We had three singing birds on a 7-mile hike through Laurel Canyon of the Laguna Coast Wilderness, and another one near Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Modjeska Canyon.
The most numerous warblers seemed to be Wilson’s and Orange-crowned, in that order, but there were good numbers of Hermit Warbler (Setophaga occidentalis) still moving through, including some in unlikely locations. This handsome male was one of a group of 3 driven into scrubby vegetation by powerful winds on the Harding Canyon truck trail on Sunday. All photos were taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T3 camera using a Canon 100-400 mm zoom lens.