Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Hong Kong Twitching. Pt 1, Tai Po Kau

Like all forests, Tai Po Kau, in the New Territories of Hong Kong, has its moods and multiple personalities. One moment, the forest can be alive with partying birds, the next it can be as quiet as the dead. Catching the waves is the key to a good day in any forest, but Tai Po Kau has a few spots where birds are likely to be found.
The easy way up to the Red Route

The access point to the forest is marked with a lay-by and a small commemorative garden. The casuarina trees and shrubs here are always worth checking before heading up the hill. This morning Yellow-browed Warblers and Japanese White-eyes were the first birds seen. If at any point during this post a list of two or more species is seen, please mentally note a few white-eyes and warblers with them as they were abundant and conspicuous members of each wave.

A Common Tailorbird tutted harshly at me as I looked over a piece of forest that had been thinned out beyond the stream. The first wave was passing through and I hurried up a ramp to the right to get into a good position. The party included Great (Japanese) Tit, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Rufous-capped Babbler, Silver-eared Mesia and Chestnut Bulbul. It looked as if the forest was in one of her good moods today.

I returned to the lay-by and took the more usual left hand ramp up into the forest and was dismayed to see that beyond the thinned area, a swathe on the other side of the valley had been cut for development. The steep road passes a couple of rustic residences whose open areas usually produce a few list bulking species. Today they held Grey Wagtail, Crested Bulbuls, Spotted Doves and the white-eyes and warblers. Occasionally, I thought I heard a soft “chew it” which may have been a Pallas’s Warbler (a Yellow-browed Warbler lookey likey), but I could not see one with a pale rump to confirm. 
There were some big guns in the forest today. Guys wearing camouflage and carrying impressive cameras on tripods were stomping up the slope with a determined look on their faces. I had stumbled onto a Hong Kong twitch. They had set up a battery in the corner of a small clearing in the Outdoor Centre. The object of their attention sat patiently in the shadows, pumping its tail, before flitting down to a stick projecting from a pile of rocks and grabbing a meal worm that had been secured there to tempt it.

I was told that the Red-flanked Bluetail was a very rare bird in Hong Kong, although my field guide described it as being common and widespread. Another birder told me that she regularly sees bluetail during the winter. Females and immatures, in their comparatively dowdy plumage “considerably outnumber adult males” (Viney, Phillipps and Ying, Birds of Hong Kong and South China, May 1994) who sport a more colourful outfit. Perhaps it was the striking appearance of the male that had attracted such an audience, or possibly it was his boldness in coming down to the baited post and the potential to capture a really good photograph that held the appeal.
I said "potential!"

Each time the bird dropped out of the shadows to grab the worm, the clatter of shutters releasing at 6fps was like an over-enthusiastic firing squad. I inadvertantly set off a burst of fire as 12 itchy trigger fingers reacted to my firing a test shot at the target stick. More cameras continued to arrive and mobile phones were ringing in the crowd. This is not my idea of a relaxing day, so I bowed out and tried to catch a picture of a Fork-tailed Sunbird in a very attractive, red-flowered shrub.
Unfortunately, a temporary toilet had been set up just beyond it and a steady stream (sorry) of birders had to pass between me and my shrub to reach it. Eventually, this bird obliged and I was able to continue birding the Outdoor Centre area. This is another reliable spot and gave up an Olive-backed Pipit, Grey-chinned and Scarlet Minivets, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and an Oriental Magpie Robin
There were a couple of odonata around today which was unexpected. The temperature was just reaching into the 20s. This is winter Hong Kong style and it is a very pleasant climate to be out in the forest. The Outdoor Centre has a small pond which had attracted the Common Blue Skimmer, Orthetrum glaucum (above). Below is a Common Blue Jewel, Rhynocypha perforata which was sunning itself on a dark rock beside the stream at the bottom of the steps leading up to the Red Route.
The steps are long and steep, but should not cause trouble to anyone who is young and fit. I do not include myself in either of the aforementioned categories and usually choose to take the gentler clock-wise slope and return down the stairs. Since the weather was so conducive to a bit of exertion I took the counter-clockwise option today. The day was pressing along now and although there was still quite a bit of bird activity, they were staying either high in the canopy or deep in the undergrowth and were proving difficult to find. The hours either side of midday were very quiet and I entertained myself chasing butterflies in the picnic area.
Tai Po Kau is a reforested area of about 460 hectares declared as a reserve in 1977. It is managed and maintains a good network of trails, picnic areas and an outdoor study centre. It has plenty of information boards and trail guides and maps at each major intersection.
The quiet forest, tiredness and hunger eventually drove me from the reserve, but not without a last goodbye wave. The bird party crossed the road as it sloped down from the reserve. A small, pale green, crested bird, the White-bellied Yuhina is delightfully described in my field guide. It “often hangs upside-down and behaves like a tit”. This phrase strikes a chord with me as my father often used a very similar one to describe the behaviour of a much younger yours truly. Whilst my days of hanging upside-down are now well behind me, I can still be caught acting foolishly after a few Tsing Taos.
The white-eyes and warblers featured heavily again, vying to be the species with the most sightings, but most eye-catching were the Grey-chinned Minivets. Earlier sightings had been distant and backlit, but now, both male and female were close. The female was elegant in her yellow, party best, while the male sported his dashing flame-red. Both sexes show an “inverted tick” on the wing in their respective colours. The grey cheeks and throat help to separate them from the Scarlet Minivet, which has a black hood for the male and yellow cheeks and forehead for the female.
The kiosk in the lay-by, which is so often a welcome relief with its supply of cold drinks for weary birders coming out of the forest, was closed today and looked as if it may have closed down permanently. There is no other source of refreshment so visitors should bring enough water and snacks to keep themselves going. There is a temporary toilet at the Outdoor Centre, but otherwise there are no facilities.
Buses 102 and 106 leave from just outside the World Trade Centre on Hong Kong Island (starting just after 06.00. For a really early start try the 24 hour bus N122 which runs every 15 mins from the first bus stop on Hennessey Road, opposite Sogo). They run through the tunnel to Hung Hom Station and a chap could be on an East Line (formerly known as the KCR, Kowloon Canton Railway) train heading to China in moments. Using the subway system would involve 3 changes of train to achieve the same result. Returning to the island, the buses run from the first stair off the footbridge out of Hung Hom Station.

Tai Po Market Station is on the East Line. Taxis are easily available from the station and cost $HK25 (@ $HK12 = £1) at the time of writing. Buses also run up the hill and stop close to the lay-by. Ask the driver for Tai Po Kau (pronounced How). There is usually a steady flow of taxis past the lay-by for return, unless it is raining.

The East Line connects to the rest of Hong Kong’s transport system at Hung Hom or Kowloon Tong.

Bird species; 28

Great Egret 10, Little Egret 18, Black-eared Kite 8, Spotted Dove 4, Olive-backed Pipit 1, Grey Wagtail 3, Grey-chinned Minivet 15, Scarlet Minivet 1, Red-whiskered Bulbul 20, Light-vented Bulbul 10, Chestnut Bulbul 25, Red-flanked Bluetail 1, Oriental Magpie Robin 4, Common Tailorbird 1, Yellow-browed Warbler 45, Rufous-capped Babbler 20, Silver-eared Mesia 15, White-bellied Yuhina 6, Japanese Tit 5, Yellow-cheeked Tit 8, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch 4, Fork-tailed Sunbird 7, Scarlet-backed Flower-pecker 1, Japanese White-eye 65, Long-tailed Shrike 1, Large-billed Crow 1, Nutmeg Manikin 8.

Italicized species were seen en-route

Monday, 27 December 2010

Tawny Owls on Boxing Day

My brother and his wife played host to our parents and my family for the holidays this year. The kind of ideal Christmas that one might visualise, but which seldom lives up to expectations, had actually come to pass.
The brandy butter on the Christmas pudding came after a Boxing Day morning walk when I found a Tawny Owl roosting on a telegraph pole.
This is a bird that can hear a mouse’s heartbeat under 5 feet of snow from three-quarters of a mile away, so I wonder what made me think that I could creep up on it? Obviously, it knew that I was there and showed great tolerance as I approached and allowed me my best ever view of this species. Though I tried not to approach too closely in case I disturbed it, what I hadn’t registered was its mate in the holly tree between us. The second owl flushed from the cover of the holly and sparked the original bird, into responding flight. The reddish colour is the most common in British birds though they may be seen in a greyish-brown variation.
The flushed bird went deep into the wood, but the first owl settled again slightly further along the path. I am not in the habit of disturbing birds if I can help it, but the way back necessitated passing the owl again. This time it flew off the path and I was able to pass without bothering it any further.

And a happy Christmas to you whoo whoo.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Grey Hypocolius in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Riyadh (Google Earth ref; 24* 57' 002N 46* 41' 00"E) is home to approximately 5 million people and is the capital city of the Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Wildlife photography is discouraged here as the image may be an attempt to imitate the perfection of God’s creation. To allay any such fears, I sent a few of my best photos with a request for permission. The authorities quickly realised that, given the evidence, the chance of a decent graven image was very unlikely and granted me a concession to use my camera discretely.
Laughing Dove

It was strange to leave the pre-Christmas frenzy in the USA and the UK and come to a country where the birth of Jesus holds no festive significance. Jesus is recognised as a prophet in The Koran, but his assumed position at the right hand of the Father is not accepted. The important status that he is accorded by the Christian faith is not recognised here and the lack of commercial driven madness to celebrate his anniversary is quite refreshing. In a culture with no Christmas and no images of living things or female skin, the advertisers find thin pickings and have taken their business to more hedonistic cultures.
White-eared (White-cheeked) Bulbul

But wait...., is that a snatch from ‘’Jingle Bells’’ coming from a date palm outside my hotel window? The accent is unfamiliar with a stress on the second syllable, ‘’JingGERRL Bells’’, a Collared Dove is doing its best to bring a little seasonal atmosphere, but cannot get past the first two lines.

For those of you reading this on Christmas morning, it must seem unlikely that on this web-connected world there is a country that could be ignoring the feast. The impression left by the Christmas promotion is so strong that in its absence, the brain teases itself by contorting any sound into something with a seasonal significance. Even the five syllable call of the Laughing Dove could be thought to be a cooed ‘’Walking in a Winter Wonderland’’. Contrived perhaps, but how much better than the sunken-eyed, teenaged carol singers trying to make a few quid to buy a value bottle of strong cider?
White-eyed (Yellow-vented) Bulbul

The grounds of the hotel had an early Christmas present for me. My colleague, G, had primed me to keep an eye out for Grey Hypocolius. The palms and bushes around the pool held about twenty of them among White-cheeked and Yellow-rumped Bulbuls and enough House Sparrows to start a re-stocking program for the UK if it should become necessary. The Saudi sparrows seemed a little paler than the British version.

I was as excited as a child at ...., well you know. Without even stopping to take my tie off, I rushed back outside to confirm the hypocolius with a good long look through the Bushnells and in doing so, cleaned up a whole genus with one stroke of the red crayon. Perhaps someone might like to comment on a couple of things. For example; in a genus with only one species, why does it need the ‘grey’ qualifier for the common name? And what is the plural form of hypocolius?
This female is showing the white primary tips which may have caused commentators to historically ally them with the waxwings. The black mask on the male makes it apparent why the description as a “slim Grey Shrike” is apt.
The minister in charge of the department that granted me permission to take photographs, would have been pleased to see that I was adhering to his proviso that I could use the camera as long as the images were of a ‘’sufficiently low quality’’.

I was feeling a little conspicuous by the swimming pool in my uniform with binoculars and camera trimmings, so I changed before setting out to explore the grounds. I was eager to seek G’s other suggestion. After having the hypocolius gift wrapped, the Black Bush Robin proved to be a little more elusive. There is a golf course attached to the hotel which would have been the perfect place to look, but Friday is the weekend and the course was very busy, so I was refused permission to walk there. Instead, I checked out the dry area that doubles as the golf practice ground. The trees were alive with House Sparrows. G had advised me to look out for warblers and the sparrows were becoming a little tiresome as they flitted through the acacias catching my eye.

A terrace overlooks the green practice area and a small clump of bushes. A palm tree was dropping tiny fruits which were attracting the birds.
On the lawns, a few White Wagtails were chasing insects and a Eurasian Hoopoe was probing with its long bill into the soft turf. In the shadows of the bushes, a dark shape skulked. Even in silhouette, it was clear that it was a Black Bush Robin. It has a long tail which it cocks to make a very characteristic profile. I was unable to see the markings on the underside until the bird turned away and flicked its tail high, revealing the striking white pattern beneath.
The minister contacted me personally to say how much he approved of this picture.

Eventually the professional, Anwar, allowed me to walk out onto the course, but don't tell anyone, 'coz the management have a policy not to let non-golfers on the course. To add to the list were a brace of Chiff Chaff, which I tried in vain to turn into a Dusky warbler without success. A couple of Red-vented Bulbuls were beyond their normal range and were probably escapees. They preferred the evergreen trees to the sparsely leaved winter acacias. The water hazards held a few domestic duck and a Little Egret. A Grey Heron that I had seen flying over had probably come from here. There were more House Sparrows and a snag just beyond the wall held 3 Little Green Bee-eaters.

I must assume that I am on the ‘nice’ list this year as naughty birders don’t get two lifers for Christmas do they? Unless of course, they have just read David’s post on 10000 Birds and have a hatrick of Troglodytes troglodytes wrens. My software has not yet updated, but I am looking forward to a glut of desktop lifers when it does.
Don’t feel sorry for me by the way (I know that you probably don’t, but just in case). If you pictured me holed up in an alcohol-free zone with no cards, presents, friends or family, fear not. I am scheduled to arrive home on Christmas morning, hopefully early enough to see my son wake and spend the whole day with my family dreading the knock that heralds the tipsy discordant youths.

I hope that today, wherever you are, whoever you are with and whatever your beliefs might be, that you can find peace and joy. The late Dave Allen, an old Irish comedian used to put it more succinctly,    ’‘Goodnight and may your God go with you’’.

Bird species; 15

Grey Heron 1, Little Egret 1, Eurasian Collared Dove 15, Laughing Dove 50, Rose-ringed Parakeet 50, Little Green Bee-eater 3, Eurasian Hoopoe 4, White Wagtail 3, White-eyed (yellow-vented) Bulbul 20, Red-vented (probably escapees) 2, White-eared Bulbul 40, Grey Hypocolius 40, Black Scrub (Bush) Robin 3, Common Chiff Chaff 2, House Sparrow 200

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Last minute gift idea

Just in case you still need last minute Christmas presents, make your way to Pike Place farmer's market in Seattle, for the great gift of fish. 

Also available for the festive gathering;
Seafood carols.

Winkle Winkle Little Star
We Fish you a Merry Christmas
Hosanna in Ex-shellfish
In the Bleak Mid-winter

Monday, 20 December 2010

Discovery Park, Seattle

The clouds looked fit to burst. Like an excited child wriggling on the edge of its seat, it was clear that soon it would be wet. Chancing my day to the meteorological equivalent of a weak bladder may have been risky, but what else would I do on an early Friday morning in Seattle?
I caught the bus out to Discovery Park to the north-west of the city and was dropped at the north car park, just beyond the military base at 08.30. Plenty of Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a single Song Sparrow were feeding in and around the vegetation here.
The sparrow had rings which may be of interest to someone.
A pair of Bald Eagles flew over calling plaintively. On the grass, a flock of American Robins were feeding, but closer inspection revealed a couple of slightly smaller Varied Thrushes.
2 years ago I met up with Charlie from 10000 Birds in Vancouver where we went looking for Varied Thrush.
I wanted to submit a picture of Charlie with a chickadee to his website, but didn’t have a blog from which to link, so I committed Redgannet. If you are looking for someone to blame, then he’s your man.
In homage, this one is for Charlie.
Red shafted Flickers were also feeding in the very wet grass and close by. I remember coming here once before and it was so wet then that I wondered if it would ever dry out. Sure enough, 4 years later, it is still sodden. But moss does well here.
On the cliff edge beyond the Indian centre is a platform that commands a wonderful view of Shilshole Bay close in and Puget Sound beyond. Foolishly hoping to see Orcas, I had a good scan around, but had to make do with a Harbour Seal to open my mammals list for the day. The birds were better represented with Red-breasted Mergansers being the most abundant, closely followed by Common Goldeneye. Western and Horned Grebes were common too with a few Surf Scoters and Double-crested Cormorants further out.
A Winter Wren called from a dense bush and I managed to pish him out for a quick look. So this is the new Pacific (Western Winter) Wren, Troglodytes pacificus is it? This is a newly named species after a three-way split this year from Winter (Eastern Winter) Wren, Troglodytes hiemalis and Eurasian Wren which retains the original Troglodytes troglodytes. I have not had it writ in red as my software hasn't been updated yet, so I can't enter it on the list.
The eagles called again as they flew out over the bay. They gained height then slammed into one another, locked talons and spiralled down towards the water, breaking out of the hold at the last moment before flying off around the headland. I am assuming this to be a pair-bonding routine by the resident pair, though a territorial bird may engage a rival in this way too. The pair was perched atop a tree as I made my way towards the steps leading down to the shore. As a note, if you go down, you will have to climb back up again, one way or another. A Bewick's Wren responded to some more pishing in the damp woods by the last flight of steps.
The clouds were hanging on and even seemed to be thinning a little as I came out onto a tiny beach at the bottom of the steps. North Beach Trail runs along the water’s edge towards the charming lighthouse at the western most point of the park.
Gulls were over-flying, including this first winter Short-billed Gull, the American form of the Mew Gull.. Horned Grebe were plentiful and quite close to the rocky reinforced shoreline. Low bushes give a bit of cover and allowed me to hide from a Common Goldeneye until she got close enough for a photo. A small fresh water pond held some Mallard, American Wigeon, Gadwall and Northern Shoveler.
The beach is littered with huge timbers that would be a hazard to shipping if they hadn’t been washed up. As I sat on one for a while to take in the view, I was thrilled to notice three River Otters swim by. One had a flatfish and was swimming ahead of the other two. The lead otter kept checking behind to ensure that the others were following. 
 I am not too familiar with otter family dynamics, but I am guessing that it was a female with two youngsters. The younger ones had a moment of mischief when they chased a flock of scaup and put them to flight. Greater Scaup are the more expected bird here usually, but the white in the secondaries, not extending into the primaries, makes me think Lesser Scaup.
Two other birds on the flat calm waters of the bay were Pigeon Guillemot and Rhinoceros Auklet.
The clouds had thinned out now and the threat of rain had passed. It was reasonably mild and a Song Sparrow was limbering up for Spring.
Having come down the steps to the shore, I was condemned to climbing back up. The South Beach Trail ascends the bluff to the meadow. A platform halfway up gave a beautiful view of the lighthouse. The sun even peeked out for a moment. The meadow area was quiet today, but apparently it comes into its own during the summer and Barn Owls are said to patrol the rough grass here. A bird party was feeding in the conifers near the Emerson St entrance (Bus 24 stops here). Black-capped and Chestnut-backed Chickadees were joined by Gold-crowned Kinglets which seemed to have replaced the rubies in this habitat.
By now, I was back on the Loop Trail which, as the name suggests, runs in a loop on the high ground of the park, avoiding the steps (but also the otters). Eventually this led me to the Visitor Center at the east gate. Maps are available from dispensers at each car park and the centre. A couple of useful links with maps and bird list are given below;

A 10000 Birds post about Caspian Terns at the park is here;

Other posts from Seattle can be found on the USA specific page as below;
Yellow-rumped Warbler
The bus no 33 to Discovery Park leaves from 3rd St and Union, it stops at the North Parking Lot (Google Earth ref;  47°39'52.54"N 122°24'39.46"W) close to the Daybreak Indian Cultural Centre. No 24 also leaves from the same stop, but turns off just before the park entrance. At weekends, they run once an hour. During the week the service is more frequent, but less regular. You can pick up a timetable on the bus or look up route 33 at

Bird species; 35

Horned Grebe 25, Western Grebe 8, Double-crested Cormorant 10, American Wigeon 10, Gadwall 2, Mallard 10, Northern Shoveler 8, Lesser Scaup 10, Surf Scoter 15, Bufflehead 6, Common Goldeneye 35, Red-breasted Merganser 50, Bald Eagle 2, Short-billed Gull 15, Glaucous-winged Gull 8, Pigeon Guillemot 1, Rhinoceros Auklet 4, Anna’s Hummingbird 2, Northern Flicker 10, Pileated Woodpecker 3, Bewick’s Wren 2, Pacific Wren 1, American Robin 25, Varied Thrush 2, Golden-crowned Kinglet 6, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 15, Bushtit 25, Black-capped Chickadee 6, Chestnut-backed Chickadee 4, American Crow 150, Common Starling 15, Yellow-rumped Warbler 6, Spotted Towhee 6, Song Sparrow 4, Golden-crowned Sparrow 6.

Mammal species; 2

Harbour Seal 6, River Otter 3.

Discovery Park, Seattle

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Art of Flight

I have been working for an international airline for nearly 26 years now. In that time I have witnessed rolling out ceremonies for new aircraft and have been spoon-fed the propaganda that goes with each technological leap forward. Phrases such as “pinnacle of aeronautical design”, “unparalleled efficiency”, or “unsurpassed flying experience” are thoughtlessly repeated by manufacturers and airlines at the launch of each new model.

Recent claims to have “mastered the art of flight” are simply ridiculous.

 Have these people never seen a Turkey Vulture? The front end may not be pretty, but if you want to see flight efficiency, look no further than these artists of the air.

My companion for the day was Jerry, a former competitive glider pilot, who told me stories about sharing thermals with soaring birds and of the Turkey Vultures’ singular ability to gain vertical lift in horizontal turbulence (he lost me a bit there).

We were watching birds over Upper Newport Bay, south of Los Angeles. A few of the vultures glided (glid? glode?) low over our heads and we stopped to watch for a while. At first, they were low enough for us to see each tiny adjustment of tail and tertial as they used their innate skill to ride the currents of warm air rising from the maintenance yard. They gained height quickly and easily before sailing out across the estuary, leaving me with the feeling that powered flight is still a long way short of the organic original. For the vultures though, it was effortless.
I am resigned to working towards retirement in heavy metal. Not for me the freedom of wind and warm air to power my flight. But I can watch and marvel. To be able to dance on the wind so gracefully must be the most exhilarating of feelings. I don’t suppose them ol’ black buzzards chill in “Hang 8” t-shirts during their down time. I have never heard them whoop and holler, revelling as they ride the crest of a breeze either, but I jolly well would if I could master the art of flight like they have.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Long Beach, California.

Now, correct me if I am wrong (after my previous posts, I know with some confidence that you will), but does the sun not rise in the east and set in the west? Isn’t this one of the constants in the bedrock of assumed wisdom?

So why then, when I am standing on the coast of California, did I see the sun coming up out of the Pacific Ocean?
I had assumed that by being on the west coast of North America, I would be looking out across the water in a westerly direction, with the sun rising behind me in the east. This would have provided me with perfect conditions to sea-watch from Long Beach’s harbour wall, but instead I found myself looking straight into the sun and being blinded to any potential birds on the calm waters in front of me.
Of course the old rising sun adage only holds true for 2 days each year, at the equinoxes. For the other 360+ days, the sun’s rising point strays a little to the south during the northern winter and back to the north for the summer. Its furthest wanderings (to the tropic lines at 23.5° either side of the equator) are marked by the solstices in June and December, but the degree will vary slightly depending on the observer’s latitude. If you ever wondered what druids do at Stonehenge, they are celebrating Wiltshire’s most northerly sunrise point on June 21st (research suggesting that the site was originally built to observe the winter solstice (summer sunrise being diametrically opposite winter sunset means that the stones can be used for either purpose) is conveniently ignored by those who don’t want to get frost-bitten in a frock on a cold morning in late December).

And another thing; I had forgotten that the coastline at Long Beach was not strictly north to south. In fact, it is east to west and the marine path veers round to point almost north-east. So the water is to the south and I had arrived during the season when the sun was rising south of east and therefore appearing to come up out of the Pacific Ocean. Well, I am glad that’s settled.

I solved my dilemma by walking as far out along the harbour wall as I could, then began birdwatching on the return journey. On the rocks of the harbour wall a Black Turnstone stood quietly while Willets were taking advantage of the mussels revealed as the tide flowed out. Across the mouth of the LA River, Pelicans were plunge-feeding in front of the Queen Mary. Forster’s terns were feeding too, a little closer.
A noisy group of Western Gulls chased an Osprey which had a fish grasped tightly and arranged aerodynamically, facing the line of flight.

A Whimbrel, flushed by one of the many feral cats that live in the rocks, alighted just in front of me. These pictures are taken with my Nikon P100 today after the DSLR failed again yesterday.

It took rather a fetching picture of a Great Blue Heron without much input from me. The background should have been dirty water, but I rather like the way that the camera decided to up the contrast and go for black.

I followed the path around noting Western Grebes, Surf Scoters and BufflEheads on the river mouth. In the harbour amongst the boats were some Heerman’s Gulls, American Coots, and a Belted Kingfisher which sat watchfully at the prow of a boat.

Bird species; 32

Eared Grebe 4, Western Grebe 20, Brown Pelican 25, Double-crested Cormorant 50, Great Blue Heron 3, Snowy Egret 2, Black-crowned Night Heron 3, Mallard 1, Surf Scoter 25, Bufflehead 15, Osprey 2, Peregrine Falcon 1, American Coot 7, Black Oystercatcher 5, Marbled Godwit 12, Whimbrel 1, Spotted Sandpiper 4, Willet 40, Black Turnstone 1, Heerman’s Gull 8, Ring-billed Gull 4, California Gull 2, Western Gull 30, Caspian Tern 1, Forster’s Tern 15, Anna’s Hummingbird 2, Belted Kingfisher 1, American Crow 10, Common Starling 6, House Sparrow 4, Yellow-rumped Warbler 5, White-crowned Sparrow 6.

Long Beach, Los Angeles, LAX, California, USA

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Upper Newport Bay

A tide was rising in Newport Back Bay. It would continue to do so until after midday when the heavenly effects would pass and the waters would flow back to the ocean.
Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve commands a view up and down the estuary from a raised position on the west side. At this time of day, the sun’s position and the reserve’s distance did not favour viewing of the incoming tide, however we stopped long enough to note someWestern Meadowlarks, Common Ravens and a hovering White-winged Kite.
Jerry, my generous companion for the day used to be a competitive glider pilot and we took a while to enjoy the Turkey Vultures which, most of all the soaring birds, make flight look effortless.

Back Bay Drive is a one way road, running from south to north with a 15mph speed limit. There is nothing much there except for the estuarine marsh, so most of the other road users had similar intent to us.
Proximity and sun position in the morning and early afternoon make for much better viewing than at the reserve. Since the road’s main purpose seems to be recreational marsh watching, there are plenty of pull offs along the route. From our first stop, at a raised position at the north end, we noted a few Redhead and Bufflehead amongst the more numerous Green-winged Teal and American Wigeon. On a distant sandbank, hundreds of waders were roosting in anticipation of high tide. American Avocets stood out as a pied patch, some bulky warm brown birds were probably Marbled Godwit, but distance denied us getting to know the other birds by name.
The northern end of Back Bay Road runs into East Bluff Road, which allowed us this little bit of back-to-fronty, but then we had to abide by the rules of the road and circle round to the southern end and start from there.

Once into the one-way section we noted Northern Pintail, Common Yellowthroat and a good number of Great and Snowy Egrets gathered in what must have been a productive spot.
At Big Canyon there is a car park and a short boardwalk. Sadly someone put up the birds that habitually roost close in and we watched hundreds of Willet and Marbled Godwit take to the air and disappear up the estuary. From across the road, a freshwater marsh and pond drain into the brackish water of the bay. Coots were gathered here to get a salt-free drink.
This was the most productive area along Back Bay Road and would warrant a little more time on a subsequent visit. A few of the waders had returned to a small beach and counted a Long-billed Curlew amongst their number.
While I was trying to get a picture of some American Wigeon, Jerry noticed a tightly packed flock of Snowy Egrets. The photographs here were enhanced when a latecomer arrived and tried to make a position for itself in the group.
I am beginning to think that it might be me. I have had to send off my Canon 50D for repairs twice already and it failed on me again today as we reached the top end of Back Bay Road. Currently, it refuses to take any pictures and it has been sent for repair for the third time in 14 months. This is in addition to my lens having been to the menders twice as well as my previous DSLR! Hopefully all will be better soon or the blog might go a bit quiet.

The Google Earth ref for the south end of Back Bay road is; 33* 36’ 55”N 117*  53’ 20”W . Arrival shortly before high tide would be most productive I would guess. Check tide times and heights at  Today’s tide was only 1.5m. A higher tide might force a few rails (potentially Sora, Virginia, Black and Light-footed Clapper) up and into view.

A last quick look over the fence at Shipley Nature Center accounted for the Townsend’s Warbler and Peregrine Falcon noted in the list below. Here, I had to say goodbye to Jerry who had been a great birdy buddy for the day and I would like to thank him very much for his company and his generosity.

Bird species; 34

Double-crested Cormorant 20, American Great Egret 4, Snowy Egret 15, American Wigeon 120, Green-winged Teal 80, Mallard 30, Northern Pintail 8, Blue-winged Teal 10, Cinnamon Teal 15, Northern Shoveler 150, Redhead 12, Bufflehead 12, Ruddy Duck 12, Turkey Vulture 12, White-tailed Kite 1, Red-tailed Hawk 3, American Kestrel 2, Peregrine Falcon 1, American Coot 40, American Avocet, 150, Marbled Godwit 40, Long-billed Curlew 5, Willet 40, Western Gull 1, Caspian Tern 1, Black Phoebe 4, Common Raven 2, Yellow-rumped Warbler 6, Townsend’s Warbler 1, Common Yellowthroat 2, Lesser Goldfinch 6, American Goldfinch 1, White-crowned Sparrow 4, Western Meadowlark 15.

Upper Newport Bay, Los Angeles, LAX, Orange County, California, USA