Tag Archives: Sea & Sage Audubon

3rd Annual Orange County Spring Count

The Spring Count

California Quail on the Orange County Spring Count

Male California Quail on the Orange County Spring Count

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. It  is conducted in synchrony with hundreds of such counts on the weekend of International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD), IMBD is always the second weekend of May. Annually, birders census birds on as many of the county’s birding hotspots as possible. Coverage of the entire county is not a feasible objective. Each count area submits data 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.

Conditions

This year’s Count featured many interesting hits and misses. Owing to the drought conditions, we saw few non-urban raptors, Many experienced pairs simply aren’t even attempting to nest. Owl numbers were way down. Even though nesting boxes are available, Barn Owls are failing to nest. We had low numbers of Western Screech-Owls and Great Horned Owls, and couldn’t raise a sin

Western Toad

Western Toad

gle Barn Owl in areas where they are usually numerous. Thus the most numerous night bird in Silverado Canyon was the Common Poorwill.

In Limestone Canyon (access granted by 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.

High Counts

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

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.

Hermit Warbler

Hermit Warbler

Wilson’s and Orange-crowned were the most numerous warblers, 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.

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Spring Pelagic Trip in Orange County

California Sea Lion on the Spring Pelagic Trip

California Sea Lion on the Spring Pelagic Trip

I took the Sea & Sage Audubon spring pelagic trip out of Dana Point on 03-MAY-14. It was a glorious eight hours of birding on a glassy calm Pacific Ocean with cool temperatures and almost no breeze. The trip started with us cruising past one of Orange County’s only nesting pairs of Black Oystercatchers on the breakwater. This young California Sea Lion pup loafing on the rocks was too adorable to ignore. Once out to sea, pelicans, gulls and terns soon began congregating behind the boat. Popcorn works every time! This pelagic trip featured low numbers, but a good variety of birds.

 

 Gulls and Terns

Three Terns in flight

Three Terns in flight

We had a good variety of terns, including Caspian, Elegant, Forster’s, Common, Least and Black Terns. These terns lifted up off a floating kelp raft. The gulls were fairly mundane, including California, Western, Heermann’s, and Bonaparte’s, with one exception. A group of eight Sabine’s Gulls encountered near Catalina Island gave provided a thrill. The group included three fully hooded adults. Now that’s a snazzy bird! Any day you see a Sabine’s Gull in Orange County is a good day of birding by definition! Hence, this was a very good day.

Alcids and Shorebirds

Red-necked Phalaropes

Red-necked Phalaropes in flight

We did well for true seabirds as well, with a single Black-vented Shearwater, three languidly flying Pink-footed Shearwaters and dozens of Sooty Shearwaters, most of which were in such ragid molt it was a wonder they could get airborne. Unfortunately, we saw only two distant Black Storm-Petrels all day. We observed all three of the expected loon species (Common, Pacific and Red-throated) multiple times. Scripp’s Murrelets, a dozen or so Cassin’s Auklets, and one sub-adult Rhinoceros Auklet represented the Alcidae. Several groups of Scripp’s Murrelets included flightless young ones, though they still dive like pros! We kept running across large rafts of phalaropes, more than 90% of which were Red-necked Phalaropes like these shown here. There were isolated Red Phalaropes feeding on kelp rafts, and occasionally mixed in with the Red-necked.

Marine Mammals

Minke Whale

Breaching Minke Whale

Marine mammals, rather than birds, provided the best show of the day In addition to the California Sea Lions, we also saw Stellar’s Sea Lions, Northern Elephant Seals, Bottle-nosed Dolphins and three different Minke Whales. The first pair of Minke Whales were quite friendly, circling the boat and obligingly surfacing repeatedly for photos. But on the way back to the harbor, we encountered one that got playful with us, dashing under the boat and then fully breaching right up close. Though lots of people missed the original jump, that Minke proceeded to breach 4 more times! What a glorious way to end a trip. I used a Canon EOS Rebel T3 camera and a 100-400 mm zoom lens for these shots.

 

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Digiscoping with Zeiss

Digiscoping with Stephen Ingraham of Zeiss

Digiscoping with Stephen Ingraham of Zeiss

Great Blue Heron swallowing a small eel

Great Blue Heron swallowing a small eel

In preparation for the upcoming Zeiss digiscoping classes to be offered through Sea & Sage Audubon in October 2011, we were lucky to be visited by Zeiss’ own digiscoping expert, Stephen Ingraham. Stephen taught us how to use the adaptor and optimize the camera and scope for photography. We took Stephen to the mouth of the Santa Ana River on a gray and overcast Sunday morning in June. Stephen reviewed with us how to best align the camera and scope and then we were off.

Visiting Talbert Marsh

At Talbert Marsh at relatively low tide, we found strangely little to look at initially. A few Western Gulls lounged on the beach and some Killdeers screamed warnings to no one in particular. A somewhat ratty Double-crested Cormorant looked neither crested nor double… Then a Great Blue Heron showed up and started fishing in a mat of eel grass within 30 feet of us. Rather appropriately, the heron captured a green eel. Even in that grayish light, the Zeiss Diascope 85 spotting scope equipped with a Diascope Digital Camera Adaptor II and a Canon PowerShot S95 camera, picked up frame-filling detail as the heron subdued and swallowed its meal.

Juvenile Least Tern at Santa Ana River mouth

Juvenile Least Tern at Santa Ana River mouth

Least Terns

Our next stop was at the river mouth, near the California Least Tern and Snowy Plover breeding enclosure. Most of the adult Least Terns were way out on the beach, or out to sea fishing. However, we found this juvenile bird well on its way way to independence. Mom and Dad still fed him though. He luckily evaded the coyotes and Peregrine Falcons thus far. They would happily  make lunch of him! You can see how the camera picked up subtle details in the shading of his feathers.

Black-crowned-night-heron-lgA Black-crowned Night-Heron

Returning to the car, we found this adult Black-crowned Night-Heron fishing right next to the path. With one of the broadest distributions of all birds, Black-crowned Night-Heron is hardly rare. But what a handsome one! This one still had one pale filoplume dangling from its crown and looked quite snazzy. Stephen says that when the gods of bird photography throw a suitable subject your way, never turn it down. So we worked at filling our memory cards a bit more. Two different users tried out this digiscoping rig for the first time. And both got decent quality shots even under less-than-ideal conditions.

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