Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Return To SoCal--The Quest For #400!

    This fall I have been really busy! With me having more school, going camping every other weekend, chores, and a bucket-full of other things I just haven't had much time to blog. In the midst of my fall craziness I found out that my family and I were going to Los Angeles, California to visit my Grandparents! I was shocked that we were going to make a second trip to SoCal in the last few months! Once I surpassed the shock I immediately started thinking of potential lifers, but a problem arose, I had seen almost all of the Southern California specialties! However, the was one that I hadn't seen, and that was the California Gnatcatcher. On top of this being one of the last SoCal specialties that I have not seen, the CAGN was also the only gnatcatcher in the North America that I hadn't seen (North American gnatcatchers include: Black-tailed, Blue-gray, Black-capped, and California).

After the seemingly speedy six hour drive from Buckeye, AZ to Pasadena, CA, we arrived at my grandparents house to find that it was hotter there then it was in Phoenix! Maybe we brought the heat with us? But 90+ degree heat isn't the most pleasing weather to be welcomed by! After keeping an eye out on the local RBA (rare bird alert) I saw that a Canada Warbler was spotted near Long Beach, at West San Gabrial Park along a nice nature trail. However, the park wasn't too far from another crazy-good birding hotspot called Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. So after running the plan of hitting both of these places by my parents and getting the okay, I found myself at West San Gabrial Park before the sun had even risen! I thought that the Canada Warbler was just hanging out in a few trees in a small area and that it would take me maybe a half hour to locate this bird but I was wrong! It turns out that The CANW was known to cover about a quarter mile stretch of a LONG tree line! A bit overwhelmed at the fact that this bird was gonna take longer to find then I thought, I started birding hard!!! While I was scanning the long stretch of trees a group of birders appeared and we all started scanning the trees. Finally, while I was talking with one of the local birders I noticed a warbler fly into a magnolia tree and once I lifted my binocs to the bird I was pleased to see that it was my lifer Canada Warbler! I then directed the other birders to the bird and for the first fifteen minutes of watching the warbler we had okay but fairly distant views.

Canada Warbler--Life Bird #396

After losing the bird for a few minutes I relocated it down lower in a nearby sycamore tree.

Canada Warbler

Getting to show the group of birders this awesome vagrant was awesome, and I even pointed out where the warbler was to Kimball Garret (one of California's best birders). After San Gabrial we drove over to Bolsa Chica where we birded for a few hours. As soon as we drove up to the parking lot I could see that this birding hotspot was crawling with birds! One of the first birds I saw was my lifer Parasitic Jaeger!

Parasitic Jaeger--Life Bird #397

Forster's Terns were one of the most abundant species of birds I saw at Bolsa Chica.

Forster's Terns

While we continued hiking between the many ponds I spied my third lifer of the day, one of two Reddish Egrets that have been spending the last couple years at this amazing spot.

Reddish Egret--Life Bird #398

As you can see in the photo, this bird was very far! But fortunately REEGs are distinctive at all distances. Even though we weren't at Bolsa Chica at the most bird-active time of day, this place was crawling with birds! Once we reached the area where California Gnatcatchers have been seen before I waited and waited and nothing but a flock of Bushtits came out. On our way back to the car I kept an eye out for the endangered Light-footed Ridgway's Rail, and thanks to awesome directions from fellow bird-hard-blogger, Walker Noe, I got amazing looks at these seemingly trashy birds!

Ridgway's Rail

The Ridgway's Rail is one of my favorite species of bird and to have seen both the Light-footed and Yuma subspecies is awesome! After a very productive day at Bolsa Chica we were on our way to get lunch when I spotted a Reddish Egret fairly close to the highway, so I asked my my to pull over so I could photograph it. Once I walked towards the egret I noticed that there was my fourth lifer of the day, a Red Knot!

Red Knot--Life Bird #399

Life bird #399! One more! After observing my last life bird in the 300s I went on to scanning along the shore and photographed the fallowing species.

Black-bellied Plover (top left) and Ruddy Turnstone (bottom right)

Surf Scoter

Snowy Egret

Reddish Egret

After getting a bite I found a location called the Montobello Hills where people seem to have seen California Gnatcatchers at before. However, once we drove up to where the GPS took us I noticed that the whole area was fenced off and surrounded by houses! I had to think fast, and thinking fast is what I'm good at! I decided that we could hit all of the Cul de sacs that backed up to the hills and I could listen and wait. On about the fourth and last cul de sac that we tried I could see that there was a gap between two houses and I decided that this would be a good place to listen and wait. The pressure was on! Not only was this now the only gnatcatcher of which I hadn't seen in North America but this would probably be my only chance to get life bird #400 during this trip! I started pishing and owl-whistling and I got a Bewick's Wren to start calling but no gnatcatcher. Finally after waiting for about ten minutes I was starting to walk back to the car and call it quits but then a gnatcatcher popped out of a hedge and into the scrub! I then ran back to the car which was only about 40 feet away and grabbed my binocs and camera. Sure enough the bird had a nearly all black under tail with a few white edges on some of the feathers and it had quite a bit of brown in its back!

California Gnatcatcher--Life Bird #400!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

After observing life bird #400 on the fence for a while it started giving its very unique mewing call which I'd say is hands down the most awesome call of the North American gnatcatchers! Eventually the CAGN flew back into the hedge and gave me one more look before disappearing into the rolling hills.

California Gnatcatcher

 This California trip was a huge success especially with the fact that nearly all of my birding was done in half a day! I look forward to my next trip to SoCal, but in the mean time, birding in AZ has been really good so far!


  1. Huge congrats on your 400th life bird!!! Maybe I'll get into the big numbers someday! I recieve eBird alerts everyday for Maricopa county and constantly see your spottings there! I have also noticed your recent sightings of the Sprague's Pipit. Many of those open country birds are pretty alien to me! I plan on searching for them soon... I ran into Tommy DeBardeleben at the Glendale Recharge Ponds and we did a little birding. He said that you and I would get along well. I'm thrilled to have stumbled across your blog and I can't wait to see what you find next!

    Good birding and may God bless you,
    - Joshua Smith

    1. Thanks Joshua!!! If you want to search for those birds with me my email is at Unfortunately the are where the longspurs and pipits are is not open to the public so I have to guide whoever wants to search for them. Let me know what you think!

      God Bless and BIRD HARD!!!

  2. WOW!! Congratulations!!! Great pictures too!

    1. Thanks, Ruby!!! CA is an awesome place to bird with the ocean and all!