California Spring Break
Not the kind of spring break involving bikinis, beaches and beer (well, there was some of the latter two...). My husband has been doing some contract work for California State in Fresno and occasionally goes out there for a week to work. This was his fourth trip since last July, and my second time tagging along. Last July when I went I raked up quite a few of the California specialties, but I was still missing some species and was eager to get out there again. So we both took off last week during our spring break, Tom to work and me to bird.
We flew into Burbank last Saturday, a 3 and half hour drive from Fresno but also about $500 per ticket cheaper to fly into from Tulsa. Tom didn't need to get to Fresno until the following evening, so that night when we arrived we headed the opposite direction, across LA into Orange County. We stayed in a hotel in Santa Ana, a good position to launch my attempt for California Gnatcatcher at Newport Bay and Crystal Cove State Park the next morning. The forecast for the whole week looked ominous, rain almost everyday and nearly 100% chance of heavy rain on Sunday... oh boy.
Sunday March 20
The dawn was gray and windy, but not yet raining as I worked my way up the road/multi-use trail along Upper Newport Bay. The tide level was in my favor and enjoyed the shorebird bonanza, scores of fantastic Marbled Godwits, Willets, and American Avocets, and one each of Whimbrel and Long-billed Curlew. Least and Western Sandpipers foraged in a frenzy along the mudflats, while Short-billed Dowitchers worked in classic sewing-machine action. A single Black-bellied Plover flew overhead, flashing black "armpits" and giving its melancholy whistle.
Ducks were plentiful as well, with a teal trifecta: Green-winged, Blue-winged, and Cinnamon Teal. A group of Greater Scaup and a single Lesser Scaup not far from shore allowed for a rare close study of both species. There were Ruddy Ducks, mostly in non-breeding plumage, and American Wigeon. Among the ducks were good numbers of American Coot.
I heard a couple of Clapper Rails, of the endangered Light-footed subspecies, but I didn't get a chance to see one. Marsh Wrens, Common Yellowthroats, and a few Sparrow Savannahs (Belding's) sang from the reeds and grasses. The scrub along the bluff line produced plenty of Song Sparrows, California Towhees, some Wrentits and one California Thrasher, but alas no California Gnatcatchers.
Next stop was Crystal Cove State Park. I thought I'd have a better shot at the gnatcatcher here, but the wind was howling! A surprising number of birds were out and about despite the wind- Song Sparrows, Bushtits, Wrentits, and House Wrens- but no sign of any gnatcatchers. A peek at the ocean revealed raft of Western/Clark's Grebes (too far, no scope, and wind buffeting me around).
I made a few more desperate searches for the gnatcather- Fairview Park, and again at Upper Newport Bay. No luck, and soon it was time to head up to Fresno, and in the pouring rain it was a long and stressful drive. But I comforted myself with thoughts of the birds I had seen at Newport Bay and the birds I hoped to find in the coming week.