Birding Southern California ~ Part 3

September 11            Another blue sky greeted us this morning in Mojave as we made our way to Jawbone Canyon this morning. This area is usually where I try to find my group Le Conte’s Thrasher, but luckily we had good looks at one yesterday in Joshua Tree Park. The best sighting in Jawbone Canyon were up to 20 Bell’s Sparrows of the ‘Canescens‘ race. These lovely little sparrows, not long ago split from ‘Sage Sparrow’ are quite common in Jawbone Canyon. Otherwise, birding was pretty quiet in the desert, with just a few Rock Wrens about and calling Chukar up on a hillside above. A couple of Greater Roadrunners were nice to see again today though.

At the Silver Saddle Resort at Galileo Hill we walked around the lovely manicured golf course, studded with ponds, and found some cool migrants. New for our trip list included Lincoln’s and White-crowned sparrows, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Cliff Swallow here. The other usual migrants such as Savannah Sparrows, Wilson’s, Orange-crowned and Yellow warblers, Warbling Vireos and especially Willow Flycatchers, were everywhere. We had a single Pacific-slope Flycatcher also, and both Black and Say’s phoebes were in evidence.

A quick stop at Central Park in California City provided a few more ‘day birds’ like Belted Kingfisher, Ruddy Duck, Mallard and Tree Swallows, the latter of which were a trip first. We had a little time to chill out this afternoon, and for some this meant a dip in the pool.

September 12           Leaving Mojave, this morning, we made our way south to the San Gabriel Mountains where some fantastic birds awaited our arrival. First stop was at a visitor’s center where a little drip always attracts some great birds. Highlight for me here though, was watching 4 White-headed Woodpeckers come into the drip to drink!

White-headed Woodpecker is not hard to find in the San Gabriel Mountains of California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth
White-headed Woodpecker is not hard to find in the San Gabriel Mountains of California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth

There was a good number of other species in the vicinity of the drip as well, with Western Scrub-Jay, Oak Titmouse, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy and White-breasted nuthatches, Band-tailed Pigeon, Acorn Woodpecker and Dark-eyed Junco present.

Band-tailed Pigeon in San Gabriel Mtns, California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.
Band-tailed Pigeon in San Gabriel Mtns, California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

There were a number of Western Gray Squirrels around as well, including this one I photographed that appears to have an eye problem and is most likely blind on that side.

Western Gray Squirrel in San Gabriel Mtns, California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth
Western Gray Squirrel in San Gabriel Mtns, California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth

At the cloudburst summit, which is just over 7000 feet, we got our only Clark’s Nutcrackers of the trip. Also here we had our only Cassin’s Finches. High overhead, Sue spotted a pair of Golden Eagles amongst a mob of ravens. One eagle was not impressed by the appearance of the second and dive-bombed the intruding adult until it flew off. At one point the eagles made contact, with a puff of feathers in to the air.

At the Buckhorn Flat Campground we had lunch and explored the woodlands of large cedar and pine trees. Big surprise here was the sighting of a Northern Pygmy-Owl high in a pine tree. Mountain Chickadees and Pygmy Nuthatches were constantly mobbing the owl, which didn’t seem to care much. Also new for our list here was a nice male Red-breasted Nuthatch that came right in to investigate us. Green-tailed Towhee was another new find here at Buckhorn, with one individual seen very well.

We had a coffee at a restaurant where Steller’s Jays and Dark-eyed Juncos paraded right around the outdoor patio tables at which we were sat. One final stop at Charlton Flat didn’t produce anything too new and exciting, since it was the heat of the day. There were Acorn and Hairy woodpecker, Brown Creeper and Western Wood-Pewees here though. We drove to Camarillo where we will spend the next three nights.

September 13                We made an early start from our hotel in Camarillo, arriving at the Ventura Harbor right on time, if not a bit early. Our sailing, with Island Packers, out to Santa Cruz Island had been delayed a bit so we went down to the beach to have a look. Birding was good here, with a Wandering Tattler being a welcome addition to the birds we had all seen. Out over the ocean were droves of Black-vented Shearwaters and Elegant Terns, many of which were being harassed by Parasitic Jaegers! Great numbers of Sanderlings rested on the rocks, along with Heermann’s Gulls, our only Pelagic Cormorant for the trip and the usual Brandt’s Cormorants and Brown Pelicans.

Once on our boat, we steamed across Santa Barbara Channel for about 1.5 hours until we reached the island. It was a fairly rough crossing so we didn’t see too many birds on the way over. There were the usual Black-vented Shearwaters, along with a single Pink-footed Shearwater, and good numbers of Parasitic Jaegers. Red-necked Phalarope was added to the trip list. Once on Santa Cruz Island at Prisoner’s Harbor we began our search for the endemic Island Scrub-Jay. It didn’t take us long to find one, and in fact by the end of the day we had seen about a dozen of these birds. Apparently there are about 1200 in the world, all of which live on Santa Cruz Island.

The endemic Island Scrub-Jay on Santa Cruz I., California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.
The endemic Island Scrub-Jay on Santa Cruz I., California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Otherwise birding was quiet on the island, with just a few Orange-crowned and Wilson’s warblers about. We did have a brief view of our first Hutton’s Vireo here however. Black Phoebe was seen several times in the vicinity of the toilets, where perhaps they nested earlier in the season. Phoebes have a love for nesting under the eaves of buildings. There were numerous Acorn Woodpeckers on the island, working mostly on the large eucalyptus trees common along the shore and in ravines. The insular ‘Channel Island’ subspecies of Song Sparrow seen well picking through bits of bark along the shore at Prisoner’s Harbor.

Channel Island Subspecies. Santa Cruz Island, California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.
Song Sparrow. Channel Island Subspecies. Santa Cruz Island, California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Best mammal sighting on the island was the endemic Island Fox, though unfortunately no photo was taken by myself. The ride back to Ventura was much calmer in the late afternoon as we were traveling with the surf. Hundreds of Black-vented Shearwaters put on a great show, as did both Parasitic and Pomarine jaegers. As we pulled into the harbor there were a few shorebirds on the rocky jetty including Whimbrel, Willet, Black Turnstone and Black Oystercatcher, one of which was a hybrid Black X American oystercatcher, not an uncommon sight in coastal southern California.

Chris Charlesworth

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