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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

USA - SW - August 2023 (1 Viewer)

Saturday 26th August:

Only a short early morning drive into Los Padres National Forest and the winding road up to the Nordic Ski area at Mount Pinos. Pretty quiet on the way up and, after a couple of attempts to find the correct trail, also as I set off along the cross-country ski route to the summit. But I had beaten most of the hikers up to the car park so a little way into the fir and pine forest the bird life picked up. The noise was created by Steller's Jay, California Scrub-jay, Crows and Ravens and the amount of deadwood attracted Acorn and Hairy Woodpeckers and Northern Flicker. A small bird wave comprised Mountain Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper and Yellow-rumped and Wilson's Warblers with Pacific Wren * in the understorey. Further on, and with a gain in altitude, the trees became more stunted and areas of open heath became dominant. Here Clark's Nutcracker were the noise makers, a small flock of House Finch passed over an open glade, a Green-tailed Towhee foraged in the short vegetation and a couple of Fox Sparrow sat up on some low scrub. I walked on to the summit and a view over the adjacent valley with the ubiquitous Turkey Vultures circling. On the return along the same route the bird of the day was a surprisingly cooperative Rufous Hummingbird *.

Before reaching the car park again I spotted a sign for another ski trail to an overlook and a meadow area so followed this slightly downhill through taller forest. A slightly different suite of birds resulted. This time not White-breasted but a lot of Red-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatch * activity on the tree trunks, Dark-eyed Juncos on the ground, a couple of Purple Finch in with the Chickadees and a Western Bluebird flycatching from a dead snag. I was a bit unsure how far the trail went and as it began to descend more steeply I decided to retrace my steps before I lost too much height and was faced with a steep walk back. Back in the taller trees a movement caught my eye - an elusive but eventually obliging Townsend's Solitaire *, another much wanted species. I returned to the now very busy car park and began slowly driving back downhill, stopping at the closed McGill Campground to do a bit of the McGill trail and then explore around the camp site area. Activity had dropped and a few of the same species were seen with the addition of a Western Wood-pewee but I could not pick out the Dusky that Merlin apparently heard.

My site guide recommended the abandoned Mil Potrero camping area as a good birding site. It was by now very hot and I was a bit concerned about being in the closed off area (you can just walk around the side of a locked gate) so perhaps did not give this area as much attention as it deserved. I could not find any of the target quail (not the right time of day) and only added Feral Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-tailed Hawk and Brewer's Blackbird to the day list. So I retreated to the air conditioned comfort of the car and headed south east into the weekend traffic chaos of Los Angeles, to my pre-booked motel a few minutes walk from Dodger Stadium for part 3.


1. [...243] View from summit of Mount Pinos;
2. [...931] Jeffrey Pine forest, Los Padres National Forest.

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Sunday 27th August:

It had been getting hotter as I came south (peaking at 109 and 113 degrees respectively on the last two mid-afternoons) so I had intended to continue the pattern of early birding and driving distances in the heat of the afternoon. Another late finish yesterday evening and wanting to take advantage of the included breakfast this morning spoilt that, but I hoped that on a Sunday morning the roads would not be too bad for traffic. How wrong I was! How does anyone get anywhere in this city? So I arrived at the north car park at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve a bit later than hoped. A bit of an incongruous place - an oasis of wetland with the constant hum of a busy coastal road, punctuated by the occasional roar of a Harley or muscle car, and sounds of beach revellers and live music on one side and suburbia on the other three. But it was to prove to be great for birds.

After filling up my water bottle I set off along the Mesa Trail. The apparently deeper water of Outer Bolsa Bay held a few of the longer legged species: Great Blue Heron and Great, Snowy and a single Reddish Egret. From the overlook I headed up the Pocket Loop Trail seeing Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Kestrel, Crows, Raven and Starlings perched in the dead/dying trees, the ubiquitous Turkey Vultures overhead, a flock of House Finch passing through and a group of Bushtit * in the lower vegetation. Back at the Flood Control Gates, where Barn Swallows were hawking low over the water surface, I headed up the south side of the Wintersburg Channel which held a few Mallard and a group of 3 Ruddy Turnstone dropped in. From the overlook near the Channel Bridge I saw a hint of what was to come further on plus few waders on a pool just inland and a close look showed perhaps 50 or so Red-necked Phalarope frantically feeding. Following the Inner Bay Loop, with Forster's Terns flying over Inner Bolsa Bay, I set up the scope on the overlook to scan the Full Tidal Basin as there were thousands of birds here. On the exposed mud large numbers of Western and Least Sandpipers, one or two Sanderling, Black-bellied (Grey), Pacific Golden and Semi-palmated Plovers; in the shallow water a few groups of Short-billed Dowitcher, large numbers of Marbled Godwit and Willet and scattered Long-billed Curlew and Hudsonian Whimbrel. A couple of sandbanks were dominated by Ring-billed and Western Gulls, Double-crested Cormorants and Brown Pelicans. But the highlight was the massive flock of loafing, feeding and squawking Royal and Elegant Terns * - quite a sight. I carried on to the south car park, seeing another Reddish Egret and Great-tailed Grackles, and then retraced my route stopping and looking at the spectacle. In the short vegetation alongside the tracks through the reserve I had been seeing a number of unidentified sparrows and on the return journey nailed these down as both California Towhee and 'Beldings' Savannah Sparrow *.

Back at the car I realised how long I had been wandering slowly around this reserve and had begun to catch the strong mid-afternoon sun. So I topped up with water again, stopped for supplies, including sun-block (better late than never!), and headed south east. I was still checking the pigeons/doves on roadside wires where practical and while most were the usual Mourning Doves and Feral Pigeons there were a few Collard Doves and finally I saw a couple of pigeons that were not the variable feral colours, had no white rumps and showed an appropriately marked tail - Band-tailed Pigeon *.

Somewhere in the Coachella Valley I stopped for fuel and glanced at the temperature reading - 117F! Having been in the comfort of the AC for some time it was like stepping into an oven as I got out of the car. To make things more uncomfortable, my credit card was declined by the automated machine and at the checkout so I had to use the last of my cash to top up. Luckily the service area had an ATM so I was able to use a debit card to replace the cash. Yesterday evening I had decided to book two night's accommodation online for the last part of my trip so that I was 'forced' to be in the right place at the right time. Despite the fact I had been in the country for 10 days and had used my credit card a lot, the card provider's security team had apparently decided that this constituted potential fraudulent activity and had put a block on the card! I found a cheap motel in Desert Shores, using up more cash, and then spent a while on a panicked mobile call to the card company's fraud department to persuade them to reactivate the card. With great relief this was accomplished successfully and proved to be working when I properly filled the tank and bought some junk food in celebration.
Monday 28th August:

Up and out well before first light this morning. I had spoken to a US birder at Bolsa Chica yesterday who suggested the North Shore Marina was a good place to start at the Salton Sea. There were indeed a few each of Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet close in but everything else was very distant. Next stop was the Wister Unit which had Pied-billed Grebe, loads of Mallard and Ruddy Duck plus a number of Northern Shoveler on the water and the scrub held Black Phoebe, Western Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike and California Quail. It was already baking hot by the time I got to Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge and I set off on the Rock Hill Trail flushing a Roadrunner on the walk in. The freshwater and marsh had a few a patrolling Caspian Tern, at least 2 feeding American Back Tern, some Killdeer and the usual herons and egrets but this time with the addition of a few Cattle Egrets on the grassland and a Green Heron flying along a ditch. On the Salton Sea itself the hundreds of birds were very distant but with the scope I could make out Pelican, Stilt, Avocet, Godwit, Yellowlegs and Dowitcher species and California Gull. There were some closures / repairs being undertaken on the unpaved roads in the area and some were in poor condition for my saloon car so it was a bit of a slow and winding route leaving this site and heading generally west. But this had its advantages as, in addition to the usual urban/agricultural area common birds, I had close trackside views of a flock of White-faced Ibis in a flooded field corner, a couple of Western Meadowlark * foraging under a shrub, flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds in ditch-side scrub, a nice Prairie Falcon * perched on a utilities pole, a quartering Northern Harrier and a Burrowing Owl * on a field bank right by the track (another of my target birds). At Sonny Bono Unit 1 I checked from the observation platform but the shore of the Salton Sea, and therefore the birds, was more distant than the last site. I did the first part of the Hardenberger Trail, adding Kestrel, Raven, Northern Rough-wing Swallow and Great-tailed Grackle to the day list and from the first photographic hide a good look at a Ladder-backed Woodpecker * in a dead tree. I was flagging in the heat so instead of completing the loop returned to the car.

Hoping to do some shoreline birding from the comfort of the car I headed north up the west coast, particularly around the Salton City, Salton Sea Beach and Desert Shores areas. But I found the buildings and infrastructure to be abandoned and / or crumbling and the shoreline often fenced off from the nearest parking or road. Even then the waters edge was too distant to be able to practically do any birding. So I headed to a few spots in my site guide in the Borrego Springs / Anza-Borrego Desert State Park area on the hunt for a family I had missed out on so far - Thrashers. I did a couple of short walks from parking areas and some slow driving whilst birding but with no luck. It was by now as hot as I have ever experienced, at a peak of 121F, so I called it a day and found a motel in Indio.


1. [...357] Sunrise over the Salton Sea;
2. [...350] Anza Borrego Desert State Park scenery.

Thursday 24th August:

I left the motel while it was still dark and driving up the Bear Valley as it got light I spotted a roadside lake complete with a lingering mist layer so I spun round and stopped to have a quick look: a flock of Canada Geese, a few each of Mallard, Common Gallinule & Pied-billed Grebe and a solitary Great Blue Heron. Back on the move, in addition to the usual roadside Mourning Doves and perched Red-tailed Hawks I saw first one and then a second Magpie fly across the road and it finally dawned on me that I was within the range where they may be something different so keeping a sharp eye out I paid more attention to a third bird seen just down the road - Yellow-billed Magpie *.

Turning off the road I entered Pinnacles National Park and headed to Bear Gulch car park for a try at what was my most wanted avian species of the trip. The High Peaks Trail winds through nice valley woodland at first and pretty soon I had seen Acorn Woodpecker, Bewick's and House Wrens *, House Finch, Wilson's Warbler and Oak Titmouse *. Then I heard, ID'ed via Merlin, and eventually tracked down a Wrentit *. Higher up above the oaks and other broadleaved trees the pine / scrub mixture held California Quail, California Scrub-jay and California Towhee with the odd Crow and Raven. As the temperature rose Turkey Vultures appeared in large numbers making use of the thermals; the first one of the day had me going for a moment. This is a great trail even including a bit of via ferrata type terrain. I stopped at the top for some time to sit in the shade, eat, take in the scenery and scan the skies - but no sign of the target. A bit reluctantly I began to head downhill. A little way down Condor Gulch Trail I glimpsed something different soaring past a gap in the scrub. Rapidly repositioning to a more open vista I relocated it after what seemed an age and then, living up to the trail's name, there were not one but in the end three California Condors * circling to the north. They circled slowly closer and not too high up until two went almost overhead toward the core of the park and the third turned back and I watched it as it dropped slowly lower and settled to perch on the edge of a crag just below my level across the wide valley. Awesome birds. Elated and relieved I was much happier to continue the descent with the bonus of picking up a fairly close Nuttall's Woodpecker * on a dead snag just below the tree-line and and another loud Wrentit and a Western Tanager * in the valley woodland. Back at the car there were a few Brewer's Blackbirds.

I tried a few of the shorter trails from a couple of car parks but did not see anything new for the day. It had been a long hot morning/early afternoon in an interesting landscape with great scenery and I was well pleased with the day. So having seen my main target on the first realistic try I decided to fit in another tree twitch so did a long drive in the heat of the late afternoon down a nice driving road along an attractive valley and then back across the less enjoyable and less scenic San Joaquin Valley toward the Sierra Nevada and found a motel in Exeter.


1-3. Pinnacles National Park scenery.

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Congratulations on the Condors Pete, so pleased for you!

A bit late to the party here Pete (been on my own far more modest jaunt as you know) but a fantastic, evocative trip report as ever with some amazing tree photos!
Many thanks for taking the time to write it up, I'm eagerly looking forward to the rest!

A bit late to the party here Pete (been on my own far more modest jaunt as you know) but a fantastic, evocative trip report as ever with some amazing tree photos!
Many thanks for taking the time to write it up, I'm eagerly looking forward to the rest!


Thanks again Chris, glad you're enjoying it, a couple more days to go.
Tuesday 29th August:

The reason for an overnight in Indo was that I had planned on visiting Big Morongo Canyon today but checking the website yesterday evening for a trail map and other information I discovered that the trails and preserve were closed due to flood damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Hillary. So instead I left the motel whilst it was still dark (and already 92F!) and headed for the south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park and parked at Cottonwood Spring.

It was still early when I set off along the Lost Palms Oasis Trail and there were only a few birds around: Western Kingbird, Black-throated Sparrow and Loggerhead Shrike on top of scrub and a Black Phoebe by the spring. The temperatures were rising so quickly I decided to cut the walk short and retraced my steps, seeing my one and only snake of the trip - a large rattler stretched across the path that began to indicate its discomfort before I got close enough for a picture. Back at the springs I saw another Ladder-backed Woodpecker in the palms. On the approach I missed what could have been a bird of the trip contender when I flushed a very large owl from the palms but it was gone and through the dense stand far too quickly for me to get a firm identification. I drove the interesting road through the park stopping to do various short trails and visit viewpoints along the way, such Cholla Cactus Garden, White Tank, Cap Rock, Keys View, Hidden Valley and Quail Springs. Some fascinating landscapes but the bird interest was limited to White-throated Swift, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Raven and Rough-wing Swallow. My first day this trip without a lifer!

Most birders doing trips to California would probably like to include a pelagic and I was no different. However, they are very popular and as the trip was arranged at fairly short notice I think they may have been fully booked but in any case when I checked the websites of a couple of operators even the two set dates I had to work round made it impossible to fit one into my schedule. So I thought a compromise option might be to do a trip out to the Channel Islands and hope for something on route. A couple of days ago I booked with Island Packers for tomorrow's sailing so did the long drive this afternoon to a pre-booked motel in Ventura to make sure I was there on time in the morning.


1. [...932] Rock formation, White Tank, Joshua Tree National Park;
2. [...132] Hidden Valley, JTNP;
3. [...036] & 4. [...610] View from Keys View, JTNP.

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Wednesday 30th August:

Just a short hop to the harbour this morning and once parked I went to Island Packers to check-in for the 09:00 sailing. With plenty of time I had a look around the marina: Western Gulls on the moorings, Mourning Doves on overhead wires, House Sparrows around the buildings and Starlings and Grackles on the lawns. With plenty of time to spare I crossed the road to the beach which was already quite busy with surfers but there were still plenty of birds around. On the waters edge Black-bellied Plover, Long-billed Curlew and Willet with a Forster's Tern overhead. On the breakwater were perched Double-crested Cormorants, Heermann's Gulls, Black Oystercatchers * and Black Turnstones with a Western Grebe just offshore. It was now time to join the queue for boarding. An unidentified Hummingbird paid a brief visit to the shrub beds and a flock of Feral Pigeons flew over - the last of which was flying uncharacteristically fast and direct between the yachts, followed a few seconds later by a Peregrine Falcon which shot between the masts and caught the Pigeon, before dropping out of sight with its prey. Once on board, the motor out through the marina added Snowy and Great Egret and Brown Pelican. Just out of the harbour the captain slowed for views of a group of California Sea Lion loafing on a navigation buoy.

Once away from shore a little I found myself a sheltered spot towards the bow on the upper deck and settled in to scan for pelagic species. The first was a Sooty Shearwater spotted by a US birder and confirmed by the Captain. After a stop to admire a small pod of Common Dolphin, who rode the bow wave for a while before setting off hunting, we continued on, getting singles of Black Storm-petrel * and Pink-footed Shearwater * in the deeper centre of the Santa Barbara Channel. Only 3 single birds but what quality!

The boat called at Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island to let off most of the passengers and then stopped just off Potato Harbour where a couple of rehabilitated California Sea Lions were released back into the wild by a rock packed with Pelagic Cormorants - a nice experience. After a detour to meet another of the company's boats and a quick return to Scorpion to give some forgotten cooking gas supplies to a group of campers, we carried on to Prisoner's Harbour. After a quick induction I set off with the other birder and his colleague and within a few hundred yards and a few minutes found a small group Island Scrub-jay * right by the track! With the main target down I set off along the trail to Pelican Bay. With a bit less time onshore than scheduled due to the outward leg, I walked fairly quickly and rested in the shade at Tinker's Harbour. Knowing how long it took I could pace myself for birding a bit better on the return and although it was a bit quiet I did manage to see a number of small groups of Island Scrub-jay, Acorn Woodpecker, Red-tailed Hawk, Crow, Bewick's Wren, House Finch, Orange-crowned Warbler * and Spotted Towhee. Back at the Central Valley I had a bit of time to do the first part of the Navy Road, adding Northern Flicker, Barn Swallows and more Scrub-jays.

A change in schedule meant the return boat was a little earlier than planned and after a pick up at Scorpion we were soon heading back toward deeper water. There was a bit more activity on this leg with firstly more Pink-footed Shearwaters, a couple of Red-necked Phalaropes and then for a short period a steady trickle of Black-vented Shearwaters *. There were also a number of pods of feeding Common Dolphins and one Storm-petrel sized bird that eluded identification by myself, the other birder (who was experienced at pelagics) and the crew members who saw it. Once near the coast and in the marina the same species as before were seen along with an orange-billed tern species.

After disembarking, back to the car and another tussle with the rush hour traffic to a pre-booked motel near the rental car facility at LAX.


1. [...446] Santa Cruz Island;
2. [...443] Pelican Bay, Santa Cruz.

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Thursday 31st August:

Late evening packing yesterday then a very early start for a short drive to painlessly drop off the car and take a shuttle to the terminal to check-in for an 09:00 flight to Calgary. Then a long transfer wait for an evening flight back to UK, both with WestJet. Arrived in Gatwick Friday 1st September and after collecting my bag checked what the cost of a taxi home would be ... after I picked myself up off the floor I went to the station and caught a train into London - complete chaos and packed as there was some industrial action that I hadn't heard, or had forgotten, about. Once on the train it was fairly smooth in to Victoria and then a series of underground trains to be back home mid-afternoon.

A great trip with a total of 167 species seen of which 89 were lifers. I have to say I found some identifications more difficult and frustrating than my other recent trips: Dowitchers are a challenge, old world sparrows a problem and flycatchers nearly impossible; as for hummers, I'm not sure they really exist but are some sort of wraiths that appear on the periphery of your vision only to disappear when you turn your head or move your eyes! So there were a number that got away, as always, but conversely I saw a lot of my most desired target species well.

On top of this some nice mammals, astounding views, stunning landscapes and incredible trees. Not to forget three great shows. I did put 2,911 miles on the car!

Thanks for reading.
Some impressive numbers there Pete, congratulations on a very successful trip!

A most enjoyable and highly detailed report as ever, many thanks for taking the time to write it up!

Where to next?

All the best,

Some impressive numbers there Pete, congratulations on a very successful trip!

A most enjoyable and highly detailed report as ever, many thanks for taking the time to write it up!

Where to next?

All the best,


Thanks again, Chris. I sort of enjoy the process of putting a report together due to the memories it brings back - that is until a whole day's section dissappears before posting because I pressed the wrong button...!

As to where next - 2023 has been a big travel year for me so I need to get some work in to get the cash flow going in the right direction. Also the world tour ended in Seoul last weekend. So no plans at present.
As a local from the Las Vegas Valley who has been to most of the places in your report, this was a fascinating read. It's great to see folks from all around the world enjoying gems like the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve and Corn Creek. You were also very lucky on your timing, as many of the trails and roads in the Mount Charleston area were destroyed by flooding from the remnants of the hurricane; much is still inaccessible:
Rebuilding the mountain: Mt. Charleston repairs will take years
Thanks for the comments and link Zoroark (I remember seeing that fire station!!). A great area to live in.
Yes, I was conscious of just keeping ahead of the bad weather and was lucky that it didn't really change my plans much.
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You're welcome.
I had noted a couple of hot spots on ebird in the suburbs that looked to have potential so set off to Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve.
What a great little site; I hope it is safe from the bulldozers!

Also, I forgot to mention a bit about that. There had been talks about building more homes there since at least 2016, but the construction only started around 2021. While I'm sure the area around it will be a bit more active, there's little worry of the Bird Preserve itself being demolished. :)

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