Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Vacay Birding: Keeping It on the DL

This past weekend Butler's Birds headed west to San Diego for some R&R. This trip was not a solo effort and as such the travel routes, travel times, and social entailment precluded any serious or concerted birding. Despite the allure of Jacumba and Anza Borrego, there were no detours between PHX and SD, and not just because all the driving was done at night. 
Even so, it has been touted much and more that one of birding's strengths is that is is easily doable in some capacity in any new area (or old) and this still held true on Coronado Island. As for that more serious birding trip out west...well that will be coming later this spring I think.

The west coast is famed for its birding and rightly so, but of no lesser notoriety are the aquatic mammal populations. To my mind, Sea Lions and their pinniped ilk are fascinating living links in the mammalian evolutionary chain. To other minds like those of some ancient sailors and perhaps modern day bronies, they were no doubt a troubling point of attraction that necessitated the invention of mermaids to assuage, justify, and bridge unnatural lubricious inclinations that develop after many weeks aboard a sea-vessel. There I said it. To be fair, they bask in the sun like Milanese in a coffee shop.

We spent a chunk of Saturday out on a whale and dolphin "safari," which was actually pretty cool for all the conversational pablum that sometimes accompanied the clientele.  At one point the catamaran became surrounded by a massive pod of Common Long-Beaked Dolphin, who can do a pretty good job of 'sharking it' with their dorsal fins and also, like most Dolphins, are probably more dangerous to people and animals than most sharks.


Beautiful, smart, and deadly...Dolphins are the femme fatales of the bay waters. They certainly slew me anyway. Apparently this huge pod off Dana Point is one of the largest in the U.S. and is composed of different recognizable sub-groups that have conglomerated over time. They operate with a republic-style government within this autonomous collective and also eat fish.

Even with hundreds of Dolphin, one sometimes feels a lack of mass, size, or grandeur when staring out into the vastness of the Pacific. Fortunately, there were a couple Gray Whales, presumably late migrants, making their way south along the coast. WHALES. I had never seen a whale before, and to be fair in a sense still haven't, at least not the whole thing, but if you take the pieces from these photos and glue them together you'll get like 62% of a Gray Whale.


 Even though neither crew nor captain nor chorus seemed to have an interest in pelagic birds, I was still able to snag a few species, including a lifer in the form of fly-by Black-vented Sheerwaters. It also provided a reminder that I am really bad at identifying Loons (not super a lot of practice in central AZ ya know). This bird has a stout beak and partial white collar, which would point to Common, but it also has a lot of white on the face, white speckling on the wings, and seemingly a hint of rust on the front of its throat, which could indicate Red-throated. My guess is the speckling is variable and the red is an artifact of light, but are Common Loons often miles out from shore?

Both going out and coming in, this fellow stood sentinel of the Dana Point harbor. Ever been mugged, shark-attacked, or otherwise accosted at Dana Point? Me either, and we have him to thank for this preservation.

Like the fellow above, Surf Scoters off the Tidal Park of Coronado Island provided another photo-first for Butler's Birds. I had a limited amount of time to explore this area Sunday morning and was tantalized all the more in that with it being east facing, the rising sun was back-lighting just about everything on the water. The male SUSCs were farther out from the shore/pier. A lone female was more accommodating but still...birding brings out misogynistic tendencies in all of us.


"Suddenly...Bushtits!!!" These loudly foraging birds were pretty common at the Coronado park. Their ability loudly and quickly to show up out of nowhere always impresses. They typically live around 4,000 feet in AZ so seeing them next to the ocean was a bit odd. A Belted Kingfisher also made for a pleasant and necessary sight at the so and so yacht club nearby.

The exposed rock along the muddy shore was largely devoid of peeps, no long-shot Wandering Tattler wandering or tattling through here. An accommodating Marbled Godwit did make for pretties, and reminded that two-tone beaks are often better than one, and even scavenging can be done with grace and poise. 

Alas, since I do not live in nor have visited the upper midwest or central Canada in the summer, I have never seen MAGOs sporting their coldstone marblery in full breeding force. Latin word on the street, of course, is that it is very imago dei.

There was another interesting Loon doing Loon stuff off the Tidal Park shore. He was accompanied off and on by a few Greater Scaup, one of which is included below entirely because I just now realized I have not posted any photos of that species before, and this causes me shame. Of course, one of the best ways to distinguish between Greater/Lesser Scaup is to view the birds in a blurry, out-of-focus way, such as to focus on the silhouette and not be distracted by other stuff.


The intriguing Loon was sporting much white on the neck and face, including in front of the eye. The beak is also very dainty and slightly upturned. It seems to be a good candidate for Red-throated, though I would be grumpily open to other suggestions.


I am led to believe that the bird below is a Black Phoebe based on plumage, behavior, range, and raw gut instinct. As GBRS #7 mentioned in a recent post and other have as well, this bird really drives the east-coast visitors wild. It makes for birding around urban water features in the southwest that much more exciting anyway.

More exciting, though less photogenic, were some Red-crowned Parrots that would streak overhead from time to time. No I am not proud of the documentation shot, nor am I super proud of listing established exotics. But I will do what is necessary to survive. We all have skeletons in our closets and dirty ticks on our lists or even elsewhere. When did you last do a tick check???

A little more clean to behold and clean of plumage and clean to list was a small flock of Brant feeding a little ways offshore. What was not clean was the murky oyster beds in which they were foraging for eel grass and other delectable slimes. Still, all in all, it was a pretty formal gala.

"Stubby Little Tuxedo Gooses" as Audubon once called them, the Brant are simple and striated creatures who enjoy pinacoladas, even if they won't admit it (this describes most people in part or whole) and long walks/waddles near the beach. Seeing Geese in the ocean was similarly odd to seeing Bushtits near the ocean. On the one hand, well, why shouldn't they be there? Of course they should. On the other hand it's like, Geese anywhere else hang out in freshwater ponds and lakes and are generally unscrupulous. Not these Brant; they were a very respectable bunch.
As for all those southern California endemics, exotics, and isolated Tri-colored Blackbirds, well, this weekend in San Diego was a passive warm-out. Those birds will be birded in a birdacious way sooner or later or somewhere in the middle.