Southern Florida and the Everglades is home to five different species of owls. We decided to take a trip to Sothern Florida and search for the owls in the Everglades and upper Keys. North America has twenty species of owls. The Eastern Screech-Owl is the only owl species that is resident only east of the Rockies. It would be the primary owl of our searches. Barred Owl, rare in the west, would be our second target. With a new upcoming release of our sister Owling.com website, Optics4Birding sent me off to the east coast to document the owls in the Everglades. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it! Continue reading
We recently visited Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve to look for the reported juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. This is one of those location, location, location things. In Florida, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron excites nobody. But in California, where for decades the nearest breeding population of these night-herons was down in Baja somewhere, it’s a pretty uncommon bird. In recent years, a small Yellow-crowned Night-Heron population has become established in an apartment complex in Imperial Beach, CA, in the shadow of Tijuana. Even so, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron away from there is newsworthy in southern California.
At the time, this immature bird constituted the second confirmed record for Orange County. The first one showed up in 1977 at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. We see Yellow-crowned Night-Herons regularly now. This suggests the presence of a more local breeding population. But back then, a lot of local birders chased this bird.
The Heron was Elusive
We went on a Saturday morning, with someone who had seen the bird only the day before. Thus, we were confident of success. Naturally, we couldn’t find the stupid bird! We circled the entire pond under the bluff there. We checked out every immature Black-crowned Night-Heron on the property, without any success. Finally, it turned out that the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was actually roosting among a large group of Black-crowned Night-Herons in the trees right where we started. The night-heron cooperated, but only grudgingly. It gave us long looks at fairly minimal distance. But it perched in a dense tangle of branches that always obscured it . Eventually we got a few photos.
A Gift Burrowing Owl
Next, we searched the ground squirrel burrows around the mesa looking for returning Burrowing Owls. Eventually we found one bird. The didn’t get great views because the bird never completely emerged from its burrow. But at least we found it. Later in the day, someone else found a second bird. Burrowing Owls are often hard to locate. If you don’t know how or where to look for them, overlooking them is easy.
Burrowing Owls are tough to come by in Orange County. Widespread development pretty much gobbled up virtually all grassland habitat in the county. A small breeding population of this species subsists in an area closed to the public. Also, scattered wintering birds pop up as winter migrants, like the Bolsa Chica birds. Hopefully, these two will stick around for the upcoming Coastal Christmas Bird Count!
The pictures were taken by digiscoping with a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope and a Nikon CoolPix P6000 (Night-Heron) or a Kowa TSN-883 with a Nikon CoolPix P300 (Burrowing Owl). The optics were mounted on a Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod with a MVH500AH pro fluid digiscoping head.
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,we found either a Northern Harrier or a White-tailed Kite. Red-tails seemingly outnumbered even American 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. We saw quite a few along with both Bald and Golden Eagles. At least two Rough-legged Hawks wintered there that year. Even a Harlan’s Hawk (not a common morph in California) regularly hung out there. 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. Evidently, it did not want to see us!
San Jacinto Wildlife Area Regulars
After two or three hours of watching, we packed it in to go look for other birds. 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 in an area of dry grasslands and sage chaparral, we found hundreds of sparrows. These included many White-crowned Sparrow, 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.
Dozens of Sage Thrashers
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! Everywhere! For a while, we had half a dozen sitting on fence posts like meadowlarks. Others ran around like robins in the grass behind them. We watched more than a dozen right in front of us. Meanwhile others sang from perches in the sage behind us. It was really spectacular!
We took these photos 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