On a routine weekend in late November, we went to look at a Harris’s Hawk reported recently at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine, California. Even though this bird is likely to not be accepted by the Orange County Bird Records Committee due to questionable origins, you just can’t miss a bird that cool in a location like this. We arrived at about 8:45 on a sunny Saturday morning. There had to be at least 200 Cedar Waxwings calling from the parking lot as we got set up and headed out. We walked to the end of the boardwalk, and there was the hawk, sitting regally in a bare branched tree. After taking numerous photos of him, we headed back towards the main pond area. Our walk was interrupted by a nice male Sharp-shinned Hawk who posed obligingly in a sycamore some 200 feet away. Next up was what seemed like at least 7-8 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, all fussing away like tiny, angry felines. As we got back to Pond D, one of the birders with us asked “Isn’t that the Vermilion Flycatcher?” He was right! It was, and a nice bright male at that.
While that bird was being photographed, one of us noticed what appeared to be a Brewer’s Blackbird, walking along the shore of Pond D in the stubble of sedge stalks. Closer examination revealed that this bird had a tremendous amount of cinnamon plumage on the crown, nape and saddle, a bright pale supercilium extending well behind the pale yellowish eye, and pale gray between the wings and on the rump. This was an apparent female Rusty Blackbird, a first for San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary and only about the third for Orange County. Further observation revealed the handsome rufous edging to the flight feathers contrasting with the shiny black wings. The bird showed a paler brownish gray chest with faint, short vertical streaking across the chest and belly, all consistent with a female Rusty Blackbird. Rusty Blackbird is a species of special concern in the United States at large, where its population has been in precipitous decline in recent years.
All images were taken with a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope with 25-60x zoom eyepiece and a Nikon CoolPix P6000 camera attached using a Kowa TSN-DA-10 digiscoping adapter. The optics were mounted on a Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod with a MVH500AH pro fluid digiscoping head. The two Rusty Blackbird photos are of the same bird – one in direct sun at 160 feet, the other in shade at about 40 feet. The difference in these two photos illustrates how much lighting can alter the appearance of a subject.