Birding Southern California ~ Part 4

September 14         Leaving the hotel at 8 AM, we enjoyed a bit of a sleep-in this morning! We made our way to Santa Barbara Harbor and boarded the Condor Express for some whale watching in the Santa Barbara Channel. Spending until about 2 PM cruising around the inner sections of the channel we were able to find some Humpback Whales, as well as hundreds of Common Dolphins and some good birds.

Humpback Whales were seen in Santa Barbara Channel. California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.
Humpback Whales were seen in Santa Barbara Channel. California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

There were at least two Humpbacks present and both whales were in feeding mode, meaning they were spending a lot of time under water. At one point, while most of were inside eating lunch, unfortunately, a pair of Humpbacks breached right next to the boat in unison! Wow. Several ‘tail throws’ were also exciting to see. When you see the tail flukes come up out of the water, a Humpback is going for a longer feeding dive.

Humpback Whale goes for a feeding dive. Santa Barbara Channel, California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.
Humpback Whale goes for a feeding dive. Santa Barbara Channel, California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

In addition to the whales, we also saw hundreds upon hundreds of Common Dolphins in the channel today. These cetaceans are very curious and seem to come from far and wide to investigate the boat.

Common Dolphins are abundant in Santa Barbara Channel, California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.
Common Dolphins are abundant in Santa Barbara Channel, California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

While there was not an abundance of bird life during our whale watching cruise, we did see some cool birds nonetheless. Most common was Black-vented Shearwater. They were everywhere and we were just lucky to pick out one lonely Pink-footed Shearwater today.

Black-vented Shearwater is not a graceful 'lander'. Santa Barbara Channel, California, Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.
Black-vented Shearwater is not a graceful ‘lander’. Santa Barbara Channel, California, Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

There were a few Black Storm-Petrels about, flying about in a very ‘Black Tern-like’ manner. A group of half a dozen or so Arctic Terns paid us a visit, a species we don’t tally every year on this tour. A single light morph Northern Fulmar was a surprise sighting, and the bird followed alongside our boat for 15 minutes!

Light morph Northern Fulmar. Santa Barbara Channel, California, Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.
Light morph Northern Fulmar. Santa Barbara Channel, California, Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

As we got closer to shore near Santa Barbara, we entered the ‘Elegant Tern’ zone where there were again several Parasitic Jaegers in hot pursuit.

Adult light morph Parasitic Jaeger near Santa Barbara, California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.
Adult light morph Parasitic Jaeger near Santa Barbara, California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Having a bit of time left after our whale watching cruise, we checked out another of my local favorite places, Devereux Slough in Goleta. Thanks to the drought, the slough is drying up pretty fast. There were Least and Western sandpipers, Black-necked Stilts, and Semipalmated Plovers present here, along with waders like Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret and Black-crowned Night-Heron. In the eucalyptus trees we got our first Downy Woodpecker of the tour, finally. Other birds seen in the area included Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, California Thrasher, California Towhee, and Western Scrub-Jay. I drove the group back to Camarillo after that, while most of them had a snooze in the van. A good day on the ocean is a great way to tire a person out!

September 15               Our final day in California! We began with a drive north from Camarillo to Alisal Canyon where rolling golden hills are covered in patches of oak woodland. This is where another of California’s endemic birds can be found, the Yellow-billed Magpie. It didn’t take us too long to locate one of these comical corvids in a oak tree beside the road.

We saw a couple of Yellow-billed Magpies at Alisal Canyon. California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.
We saw a couple of Yellow-billed Magpies at Alisal Canyon. California. Sept 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

This area was full of other species as well, and we added Townsend’s Warbler to our trip list along with our best view of a Black-throated Gray Warbler. There were Wrentits, Orange-crowned Warblers, several Hutton’s Vireos, Nuttall’s Woodpeckers, and Oak Titmouse, to name a few species present. I let out Great Horned Owl ‘hoot’ and immediately a Cooper’s Hawk came screaming in to check us out. The other exciting sighting in Alisal Canyon was a Bobcat! The normally shy feline was out in an open field, looking right at us as several tour participants snapped shots. Too bad my camera was at the back of the van.

On the way back to Los Angeles, we stopped in at El Refugio State Beach, where in a large eucalyptus tree we finally nailed down our only Hooded Oriole of the trip. Also new here, a pair of Cassin’s Kingbirds put on a nice show for us. We had lunch in Goleta, then carried on towards the big city. We had some time to kill so we took a spin through Hollywood and Beverly Hills to do some sightseeing. Before I had to drop the group off at the airport we had coffee and went over our bird list. We had seen 191 species on the tour, not a bad total.

Chris Charlesworth

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