Saturday, October 17, 2015

Southern California Birding (Part 1)

     The summer of 2015 has been an awesome season for me birding-wise. As a matter of fact I've been traveling back and forth from Flagstaff to Phoenix all summer, and I even went to California once. When I found out that I was going to visit my parents family in Santa Barbara, CA, I was pumped! Before this trip I had only been to the beach as a birder once, and on that trip I racked up a lot of lifers. Whenever my family has a road-trip like this they usually allow me to have half a day and sometimes even a whole day to bird. That might not sound like all that much but I always make the most of those precious hours of birding on new ground. So, once I found out which day I was going birding I figured that my mom and I could go on a boat out to Santa Cruz Island while my brother and dad went fishing on another boat. But anyways, long story short my day of birding was spent looking for shorebirds, pelagic birds, and the sought after Island Scrub-Jay, which is endemic to Santa Cruz Island. When we arrived at my Aunt and Uncle's house I was greeted by a family of California Towhees, how fitting.

California Towhee

California Towhee--juvenile

The next day came around fast and I couldn't believe that I was going pelagic-birding! My Mom, her cousin, and I all arrived at Ventura Harbor at about 7:30 A.M. and we had a few minutes before our boat was ready to leave, so I literally ran to the shore to see what I could find and was greeted by this beautiful view.

I quickly started scanning along the shore and spotted my lifer Black Turnstone!

After taking the picture above, I put my binocs back on the bird and noticed that this time I wasn't looking at the BLTU but a Ruddy Turnstone (which you can see a little to the right of the BLTU in the above photo)! Two lifers within ten seconds! After watching the turnstones from afar for a while I approached them and had great looks.

Black Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy (left) Black (right)

After observing the turnstones I set my binocs on some terns that were flying in and noticed they were my third lifer of the morning, my overdue Elegant Terns!

Elegant Tern

I then took my attention off the terns and started scanning through the many Willets and Whimbrels and found my fourth lifer in only seven minutes, three Wandering Tattlers!

Wandering Tattler

I was shocked at how many lifers I had gotten in such a short time, and the lifering didn't stop! While I was walking back to where the boat was, a couple of Black Oystercatchers (lifer!) and an American X Black Oystercatcher hybrid flew by!

Black Oystercatcher (left) American X Black Oystercatcher (right)

 I met back up with my mom and her cousin as the boat was just about ready to depart, and before long we were pitching and tossing (if you've been on a boat or seen the "Big Year" movie you know what I mean).

Before we got out into the ocean I found another lifer, Pelagic Cormorant, which was mixed in with these Brandt's. Can you find it (hint: it's smaller and skinnier than the surrounding Brandt's)?

Taking a birding-boat and a regular boat are **TOTALLY DIFFERENT**!!! Birding-boats will slow down so you can get GOOD, STEADY views of the birds while regular boats only slow down for whales, dolphins, and other MAMMALS. Even though it was very hard to get good views of the birds we were riding by I made the most of it and had a good time! Before  we get into the ocean, let me show you a third of the Elegant Terns I saw that day.

Elegant Terns and other awesome birds!

Finally, the time was coming for the pelagic birds! I kept my eyes peeled on the seemingly never-ending ocean waiting for my first pelagic bird to fly by. Before I get to the pelagic birds I have to apologize because you are about to see some terrible photography! The further and further we rode into the ocean the more and more I was on the lookout, and then bam, my first pelagic bird, Pink-footed Shearwater!!!!!!

Pink-footed Shearwater

After the Pink-footed Shearwater flew by I spied another lifer, a Black-vented Shearwater!

Black-vented Shearwater

My next lifer after the BVSH was a flyby Sooty Shearwater!

Sooty Shearwater

While I continued scanning the waters I spied a crazy South Polar Skua (lifer!) chasing a tern way out in the distance!

South Polar Skua chasing a tern

Then a Common Murre flew by!

Common Murre

Soon enough we were approaching the island. The fog was starting to lift, and what seemed like a small rock in the distance turned into a huge island! Before we reached the island though an awesome Pomarine Jaeger flew over the boat!

Pomarine Jaeger

We then reached the island and dropped off over half of the people at the first stop. On our way to the second spot I got my lifer Cassin's Auklet and Pigeon Guillemot but they were just too far or too fast to photograph. After lifering it hard on my way to the island I was finally there! The only target I had for the island itself was the Island Scrub-Jay so I didn't really have to bird too hard here until I found one. We decided to do a five mile hike to a spot where the boat would pick us up, so I did a little searching for the jay before the hike. After searching for a little over five minutes I located one of the jays, which happened to be our first of over a dozen we saw that day!

Island Scrub-Jay

After watching the ISJA we began the hike. During the hike I didn't have much time to go off and bird but I heard quite a few birds. After the hike, while we were waiting for the boat to arrive, I had some awesome birds to watch while we were waiting.

Black Oystercatcher

Pigeon Guillemot

Once the boat picked us up we made our way to pick up the other half of the group before heading back to the mainland. After picking the people up three Cassin's Auklets flew by our boat, as well as a close fly-by from an Elegant Tern.

Cassin's Auklet

Elegant Tern

My first "pelagic trip" was a huge success! I racked up 14 lifers on my second day of the trip and I still had a few more "non-birding" days (for you who know me, know that I am never not birding!). Stay tuned to see how the rest of my trip goes!


  1. Congrats on lifering hard! That's what happens when you bird hard!

    1. Thanks, Walker! Birding hard is definitely rewarding! More to come soon...