Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Old Springs Open Space Preserve

Le Conte's Thrasher - one of the desert thrasher species.

After a couple of unsuccesful attempts to find LeConte's Thrasher around Borrego Springs, Rob and I spent the last morning of our trip in the area at Old Springs Open Space Preserve. Le Conte's Thrashers had been reported recently from this location, but they had also been reported from the other spots we had looked for them. We had never been to a great place for Le Conte's Thrashers so this was our first opportunity to see one.
These thrashers have a very limited range in the southwestern United States. They live in some of the most arid, hot habitats that the U.S. has to offer. They start nesting in mid to late March, so our timing was on the edge of when the thrashers stop singing and start nesting. Interestingly, this species chooses to run instead of fly in many situtions which makes it difficult to find since it blends in so well with its desert habitat.

So, we headed out into the desert just east of Borrego Springs to look for this elusive species. We hiked along a small wash into the desert which turned out very well. We had great looks at two Barn Owls, who were probably nesting in the wall of the wash. Luckily, one of the owls made a couple of close passes and Rob was able to get a photo.

Barn Owl

We then decided to split up to cover more ground, and after a few minutes a Brewer's Sparrow popped out. I called Rob over to see his lifer Brewer's, and while we were watching the sparrow, a Le Conte's Thrasher popped up into view. After brief views it moved into a bush and we were not able to see it for some time. We eventually found a nest that was being built so we didn't hang around too long in order to not disturb the bird.

The thrasher show didn't end there. As we were walking back to the road, we ran into a flock of about 10 Sage Thrashers. If you like thrashers, this is the place to go!


Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Frigatebirds of Isla Mujeres

(Note: For some unknown reason, this was not posted when originally written a couple weeks ago. We'll continue to post about our recent birding trip to California in the coming days!)

While in Cancun in February with my wife's family, we decided to spend a day on Isla Mujeres. We had heard great things about the island and wanted to see it for ourselves. We boarded the Ultramar ferry at Playa Tortugas and got on the first trip to the island at 9:00am. We arrived after a short but beautiful ferry ride and decided to walk along the beautiful beaches while exploring the town.

We rented golf carts, one of the few forms of transportation on the island, and headed towards the very southeast corner of the island. After a few stops at some scenic overlooks, we got to Punta Sur and the sculpture garden located on the point. While the sculptures are cool, the views of the ocean steal the show!

We paid the $3.00 fee per person and headed out towards the tip of the island. We enjoyed the views of the ocean as we walked along and eventually came to an unimpressive ruin. Although the ruin was not very interesting, the frigatebirds overhead were amazing! For the next 15 minutes, I photographed the frigates as the came as close as 20 feet over my head. Below is a series of shots from my time there.

Me photographing the Magnificant Frigatebirds

We noticed a stairway down the side of the cliff and decided to explore. Man, were we glad we found that! There is a path along the cliffs down by the edge of the water that allows some of the most amazing views of the ocean that I have ever seen!

The Walkway Around Punta Sur (Photo by Stephanie)

After a fantastic lunch and a few drinks at Acantilado overlooking Punta Sur, we headed back towards the main part of town. As we drove along, I noticed some large black birds off the side of the road and slammed on brakes. (Luckily, my father-in-law was warned about the possible quick stops and avoided running into the back of my golf cart.) It turned out that the birds were Groove-billed Anis. We sat and watched the group of 5 Anis for awhile and took some nice photos.

We caught the 3:30 ferry back to Cancun and spent the rest of the day relaxing at the pool. If you are ever in Cancun, be sure to take a day trip to Isla Mujeres - you will not be disappointed!


Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Coronado Islands

After a very exciting first day of birding in California, I was not sure the second day could possibly be as exciting as the first. Since there were not any birding specific pelagic trips available, we had booked a 6 hour whale watching trip that also cruised around the Coronado Islands. After a great breakfast at Red Sails Inn, we headed to the harbor to board our boat. We were some of the first people there and got great seats right at the front of the boat!

A Western Gull welcoming us aboard

There were tons of birds in the harbor as we sailed out towards the sea. Hundreds of Surf Scotors were on the water while many gulls soared overhead. Once we got to the open ocean, most of the birds except for the gulls went away until we got further out to sea. Our first seabirds were Rhinoceros and Cassin's Auklets, lifers for Eric. Next, we found one of our main targets for the day, Xantus's Murrelet!

Xantus's Murrelet

Since this was a whale watching trip, we spend lots of time cruising with a group of Pacific White-sided Dolphins! We saw a Grey Whale in the distance, but it never let us get too close so we headed for the islands.

The Coronado Islands are located about 16 miles from the harbor in San Diego and are actually in Mexican waters. There are four islands, and we were able to check all of them out from the boat. You can get really close to the islands in the boat, but you are not able to go ashore in order to protect the thousands of nesting birds. As we cruised around the islands, we saw tons of birds including both Pelagic and Brandt's Cormorants, Brown Pelican, and Wandering Tattler. There had been a recent report of a hybrid Oystercatcher which we were lucky enough to see!

Hybrid American and Black Oystercatcher

Next, we came to one of the highlights of the whole trip, a colony of Brown Boobies! There were even some adults feeding chicks.

Brown Booby

Brown Booby in flight

We then headed back towards the harbor. On the way, we spotted a couple of whales in the distance. As we got closer, we realized there were actually 5 whales, and they were doing mating displays! We stayed with them for about 45 minutes and ended up being late back to the dock because of it.

Grey Whale

Grey Whale Flukes

As we got back into the harbor, we noticed a small group of Brant swimming around. This was a lifer for Eric and only the second time I had seen them!


It was a fantastic day out in the Pacific Ocean, and I would highly recommend that anyone traveling to San Diego go out with H&M Landing on the 6 Hour Whale Watching Tour!


San Elijo Lagoon

Last Friday, Eric, my dad, and I all flew out to California for a birding trip for Eric's spring break. After getting into San Diego, we spent the afternoon at the zoo which is fantastic! The next morning, we headed out birding with our first stop being San Elijo Lagoon. As we walked down the main trail, I got a lifer within about 2 minutes, a Wrentit. Then we walked back from the observation area in the middle of the lagoon where an Anna's Hummingbird perched nearby allowing for some nice pictures to be taken.

Anna's Hummingbird

We continued in search of our target species for the morning, California Gnatcatcher. While looking for the gnatcatcher, another hummingbird caught our eye. A beautiful male Allen's Hummingbird was sitting on top of a large bush begging to be photographed!

Allen's Hummingbird

We finally heard a gnatcatcher singing up ahead and quickly headed that way. We found the bird and got pretty good looks as it feed in some bushes about 20 yards off of the trail. We continued on past the bird in search of other things. As we headed back to the car, we passed by the area with the gnatcatchers again. My dad asked what the bird was in the bush right next to us and much to our surprise, it was a California Gnatcatcher! I was able to take some awesome photos!

California Gnatcatcher

Stay tuned for more posts about our birding adventures in California!