California Dreamin' !

Ilya and I went birding in San Diego. We signed up for our first ever Photo workshop. We didn't know what to expect but were pleasantly surprised.  We did it with Tim Boyer, more info HERE for those interested.

We birded on our own the other days and had a nice relaxing vacation. We ended up seeing 161 species in 9 days. Some of the highlights were: Reddish Egret, Painted Redstart, Black-throated sparrow, California Towhee, Pomaerine Jaegers, Black-throated Green warbler, Laughing Gull, Thick-billed Kingbird (ABA Code 4), Cassin's Kingbird, Lesser Goldfinch, White-collared Seedeater (non-countable), Red-Shouldered Hawk, Black Phoebe, Snowy Plover,Yellow-crowned night heron, Rufous-crowned sparrow, Allen's Hummingbird, Black-vented shearwater, Island Scrub-Jay, Brown Booby (Aba Code 3), Black Skimmer, Little Blue Heron,Nuttal's Woodpecker, Hermit Warbler, Green-tailed Towhee, Verdin, Wrentit, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, California Gnatcatcher, California Thrasher, Scaly-breasted Munia (Nutmeg Mannikin), Common Gallinule, Red masked parakeets (non countable), Ridgway's Rail, Nelson's Sparrow, Vermillion Flycatcher, 50+ Lawrence's Goldfinches and Hepatic Tanager.

We started off going to the Channel Islands in pursuit of the Island Scrub-Jay. This bird is only found on one island in all of the world and it is called Santa Cruz Island. We departed Ventura, California on the Island Packers catamaran and were hopeful for a great adventure. On the way out we saw Wandering Tattlers, Ruddy Turnstones, Clark's Grebes, Eared Grebes and Western Grebes. As we got further out we saw Black-vented shearwaters galore, some pink-footed shearwaters, Northern Fulmars, Pomaerine Jaegers, Gray Whales and a pod of adorable Bottlenose dolphins that played in the wake of our boat. When we got to the port and disembarked we went with our guide on Nature Conservancy Land (a guide is required here) on the Canyon Trail. We were told this was the best place to find the Scrub-Jays. In the end of that pleasant hike we found 15 Island Scrub-Jays. These Jays are much larger and darker than the Western-Scrub Jays around here. They are very vocal and were stealing from the many Acorn Woodpeckers we saw during the hike. We also were lucky enough to see the subspecies of Allen's Hummingbird which is endemic to the Channel Islands and we saw the Channel Islands subspecies of Rufous-crowned sparrow which was also a treat.

Here is my photo of the Island Scrub-Jay:

Island Scrub-Jay on Santa Cruz Island - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After we had done the hike we were a little disappointed because we had also come to this Island for a major reason to the see the endangered Channel Islands Fox. The subspecies on Santa Cruz Island is the smallest of all the foxes on the Channel Islands. This fox is the smallest fox in North America and since foxes are among my favourite animals I really wanted to see it. After our guided hike we had time to hike around on our own before the boat left at 3pm so we were searching around and then this guy who was on our hike waved at me furiously and we quickly ran over to him and right in front of him was this tiny fox. It was seriously the size of a cat or small toy dog. They weigh 2.2-6lbs. Boy was it cute and we were very lucky to see it! He was busy foraging for insects. I thanked the guy profusely and we just sat down across from the fox and watched him.

It was really a magical experience! This fox became endangered when feral pigs were brought to the island, in turn Golden Eagles came to the island to eat the piglets and began eating the foxes. The pigs have now been eradicated from the island and Golden Eagles are being trapped and relocated to Northern California. Bald Eagles are being brought in to take over the Golden Eagles territory and the fox population is slowly rebounding!

Here is my photo of this elusive and incredible animal:

Endemic and endangered Island Fox - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The island fox eats fruits, insects, birds, eggs, crabs, lizards, and small mammals, including deer mice.

One day we went to La Jolla to go see the Three Brown Boobies that were reported there. We saw 2 female adults and one Juvie, they were sitting beneath the cliffs. The area was littered with Breeding plumaged Brown Pelicans, Brandt's Cormorants and Double-crested Cormorants.

Juvenile Brown Booby in La Jolla - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Here is one photo of a Brandt's Cormorant in Breeding plumage who was posing nicely

Brandt's Cormorant in Breeding in La Jolla - Photo: Melissa Hafting

It is not easy to get close to these birds in Vancouver! Their eyes and feather detail are quite striking. This photo was taken right above three sitting Brown Boobies above the La Jolla Caves and Cliffs in San Diego, CA.

Brown Pelican at La Jolla in breeding plumage - Photo: Melissa Hafting

One of the great thrills was seeing Brown Pelicans in Breeding plumage. It was funny how they did their neck rolls they really are a beautiful and interesting bird to look at. I had to put my camera down and just sit there and look at them.

At home I take these beautiful cormorants for granted too often. However, when you take the time to look at them you see their subtle beauty! Their interesting yellow faces and brilliant blue turquoise eyes and their beautiful feather detail!
Double-crested Cormorant at La Jolla - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The diversity of Shorebirds in San Diego is out of this world. One day we went to look for Little Blue Herons near Ocean Park. We ended up finding one Little Blue Heron and a gang of shorebirds, Long-billed Curlews, Semipalmated Plovers, Dunlin, Whimbrel, Marbled Godwits, Black-necked Stilts, Red Knots, Ruddy and Black Turnstones, Least Sandpipers, Western Sandpipers, Long and Short-billed Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs and Surfbirds. Not to mention Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Great Blue Herons, Osprey and Black Skimmers.

Here are a few shots of the Shorebirds at Ocean Park:

Long and Short-billed Dowitchers, Surfbirds, Marbled Godwits and Dunlin - Photo : Melissa Hafting

Bathing Marbled Godwit at Ocean Park - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We were walking around La Jolla one day and heard Sea Lions calling out. We went down on the beach and were greated by a group of female Sea Lions nursing and sleeping. It was amazing to lie down on the beach with these beautiful creatures and to witness this special moment in nature. It was a real priviledge to be a part of it.

California Sea Lion pup nursing at La Jolla - Photo: Melissa Hafting
California Sea Lion Sleeping - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The most common bird we saw down in San Diego was by far Black Phoebes and boy do I miss them now. Their little calls are burned in my brain and I miss watching them flycatch everywhere. I found them quite hard to photograph though as they didn't sit still too long.

Black Phoebe in San Diego - Photo: Melissa Hafting

One of our main objectives of this trip was to photograph Snowy Plovers. We worked hard to find them as we basically had to walk all the way to Mexico to find these cute little ping pong balls with legs!

Snowy Plovers (puffballs) - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We found them on the Tijuana border and we found 50 of them and boy were they cute. It was a moment where you just lay down on the beach and they ran all around you as you stayed still.  Definitely a moment I won't ever forget. This one was foraging in the sand and seaweed when he decided to look at me and ask me what the heck I was looking at.  I can't get over how cute they are.  The protection for them down there is quite impressive, fish and wildlife drive around and monitor the birds and areas are all roped off where they nest as they are threatened birds.  We had border control flying over us constantly by helicopter and Fish and Wildlife on the ground, so those birds are in good hands.

The day we went looking for Royal Terns and Black Skimmers it was foggy but we found them at Crown Point. We found 15 Royal Terns and 50 Black Skimmers.

The Black Skimmers could not care less about our presence however the Royal Terns were a little skittish but as we stayed quiet and lay down the Terns slowly relaxed and began to bathe right in front of us. There was so much beauty there at Crown Point dozens of Redheads and Willets, Pelicans and of course the Black Skimmers.

Here are a few shots of these birds:

Black Skimmer at Crown Point - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Royal Tern at Crown Point - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Male Skimmers have a longer lower mandible.We watched a few of the Skimmers skim and hunt along the water it was a treat to see as most of these birds do this at night. We watched some of the skimmers sleep on the beach. What fun it is to see them lying prostrate on the ground as if they are dead. Such strange and interesting birds, tiny legs and big heads you can't help but love them!.I really enjoyed listening to the Skimmers interact as well, their calls are quite cute.

We went to Santee Lakes to look for a reported White-winged Dove. We never did see the dove but we did find Ring-necked ducks, Ruddy Ducks, Coots, Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawks,  Phainopeplas, Black-crowned Night Herons, Snowy and Great Egrets , 15 Nutmeg Mannikins (Scaly Breasted Munias), Nuttall's Woodpeckers, Western Bluebirds, Phoebes and White-throated Swifts! A very birdy park consisting of  7 different lakes. 

Black-crowned Night-Heron in San Diego - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Here is a photo of a Gadwall I got here, I do love their subtle beauty:

Male Gadwell in San Diego - Photo: Melissa Hafting

One of the most common gulls we saw during our trip were Heermann's Gulls next to Western and California Gulls.

Here is a photo of one adult in Breeding plumage posing for me at Vacation Island:

Handsome Heermann's Gull in breeding - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We were looking for Red-crowned Parrots at Lindo Lake, we never did see them there but we did see 3 beautiful Common Gallinules. This species was split from the Common Moorhen in 2011. A lady was feeding a Great Egret and this Gallinule later came out of the water and came to feed like a chicken.

Common Gallinule at Lindo Lake in San Diego - Photo: Melissa Hafting

They truly are gorgeous birds. At this lake we saw Eared Grebes, American White Pelicans, Greater White-fronted Geese and more, a really lovely spot indeed.

At Scripps Beach (Pier) in La Jolla there were many great shorebirds. Here we found Wandering Tattlers, Whimbrel, Willets, Spotted Sandpipers and more. Most people were here to photograph the famous pier so we had the birds all to ourselves.

Willet near Scripps Pier - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Here is a photo of an accommodating Whimbrel I found:

Whimbrel at Scripps Beach - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Scripps' Beach - Photo: Melissa Hafting

This area above here is a lovely spot with rocks and tidal pools where the birds come in to feed.

In Coronado we learned a lot about flight photography (which is my weak point). Here we practiced on Heermann's, Ring-billed and Western Gulls. I found the Ring-billed Gulls, that I too often take for granted in Vancouver to have been the most beautiful. They looked like angels in the sky above me.

Ring-billed Gull looking heavenly in Coronado - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Coronado Beach one of the prettiest beaches in San Diego - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We went to the Tijuana River Estuary at High Tide to find Ridgway's Rails. They are an endangered species and were split from the Clapper Rail in the East. Here we found 2 Nelson's Sparrows, 1 Green-tailed Towhee and a Little Blue Heron. Nearby we also saw 5 Yellow-crowned Night Herons that were roosting. It was a great place to bird that I highly recommend on any visit to San Diego!

Lifer Ridgway's Rail in San Diego - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We ended up seeing 4 of these birds and 2 of them even came out of the water and walked up onto the shore in front of us! This was a lifer for both of us. We were surprised how differently they acted compared to the shy Virginia Rails and Soras we have at home. This was one of two Ridgway's Rails who came out of the water and into the Lemonberry Shrub which contained 2 Nelson's Sparrows! It was a really cool moment to witness being so close to this large rail!

This little Say's Phoebe was posing so beautifully on the cactus that I just had to photograph him. It's amazing how birds can perch on such precarious perches.

Say's Phoebe in San Diego - Photo: Melissa Hafting

It was a wonderful trip with so many great birds and memories. We went to a live taping of Jimmy Kimmel's show in Los Angeles and got to see Elton John and get free tickets to his concert which also was fun.This was the first trip Ilya and I ever did together outside of BC, which would be the start of several other great trips to come. It was also the first trip with my new camera the Canon 7D Mark II. I felt I really improved in my photography skills during this trip and looked forward to getting the new 100-400 lens in a few months. Thanks for looking and reading. You can find more photos from my trip at my Flickr HERE


Elton John performing in LA at a Jimmy Kimmel concert after we went to the live TV show taping - Photo: Melissa Hafting


Popular Posts

Dowitcher Identification

Hawk Identification Tips from every angle (Sharpie vs Cooper and Red-tailed Subspecies)


*Updated - The most famous Red-tailed Hawk is eating fish on the ground just like a Bald Eagle!

*UPDATED* The First Ever Black Birders Week May 31-June 5th