We went out to San Jacinto Wildlife Area looking for the Gyrfalcon… again. We went prepared with hot drinks, hats and gloves to keep from freezing. In that, we were mostly successful, but in finding the jeer-falcon, not so much. The greater San Jacinto Wildlife Area has had a fabulous winter for raptors. In addition to the ‘mythical’ Gyrfalcon, the four basic falcons, American Kestrel, Merlin, Prairie and Peregrine were all present. Everywhere we looked, there was either a Northern Harrier or a White-tailed Kite, and Red-tails were seemingly more numerous than crows. Along Gilman Springs Road was an overwintering dark-phase Swainson’s Hawk that was rather shy. The fields around Alessandro and Davis Roads harbored many Ferruginous Hawks, including several dark-phase birds. Ospreys were fairly common, and both Bald and Golden Eagles were recorded. At least two Rough-legged Hawks were found this winter, and a Harlan’s Hawk was seen regularly. Both Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks were also present, and if you hung around until evening, it wasn’t hard to find 3-4 Short-eared Owls flying over the marshes along Bridge Street. Other birders alerted us this Burrowing Owl hunkered down right next to the levy road. It was not particularly pleased to see us!
After 2 or 3 hours of waiting, we packed it in to go look for birds that could actually be seen. Down by San Jacinto Creek, we found a small flock of Mountain Bluebirds – not a rare bird here, but certainly a pretty one. Further up Davis Road into an area of dryer grasslands and sage chaparral, there were hundreds of sparrows, including many White-crowned, with a few bright Savannah Sparrows and the occasional Vesper Sparrow mixed in. Canyon and Rock Wrens were both singing from the tops of boulders along Davis Road and a distant Greater Roadrunner was moaning out his love song from further away.
The real star of the show up there was the Sage Thrashers. When we first heard reports of upwards of 30 thrashers in that location, it didn’t sound real, but there they were! For a while, we had half a dozen sitting on fence posts like meadowlarks while others were running around like robins in the grass behind them. You could hear the occasional one singing from a perch in the sage behind while you looked at more than a dozen right in front of you. It was really spectacular!
All pictures were taken with a Nikon CoolPix P300 digital camera attached to a Kowa TSN-883 spotting scope, using a Vortex PS-100 adapter attached to a Kowa TSN DA-10