ABA #400 – Birding Southern California in November

Even though the migrants had moved on and I knew the number of species present wouldn’t be large, my new position at work gave me a chance to bird the San Diego area for two days in November.

I reached out to San Diego blogger Greg Gillson for the best spot to see some of the western birds I haven’t seen. Resident birds like Black and Say’s Phoebe’s, California Towhee, Cassin’s Kingbird, Nuttall’s and Acorn Woodpecker. Since I was sitting at 397 species on the ABA (American Birding Association) list, seeing just a few of these birds would put me over 400.  Greg replied that Mission Trails Regional Park would be a choice in November.  And he was correct.

I decided to go to Mission Trails the first day for traffic reasons and work the coast the second day.  I didn’t even get out of the motel parking lot when I heard and then saw a Black Phoebe calling.  ABA #398.

Really bad photo in early morning light. Black Phoebe – San Diego 11/21/14

I eventually got moving towards the park after seeing a Western Gull, and numerous Anna’s Hummingbirds and Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The gull had been eating from a McDonald’s bag, but I decided not to take that photo. Western Gull – San Diego 11/21/14
Anna’s Hummingbirds were all around the motel parking lot. San Diego – 11/21/14


Odd seeing the yellow throat. The most numerous species on the day. Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler – San Diego 11/21/14

Once reaching Mission Trails I had the same problem as the motel, getting out of the parking lot. There were lots of birds flying and calling and I since I wasn’t sure if there would be more down the road, I stayed put in the parking lot.  Lesser Goldfinches were in good numbers.

I lightened the photo to show the distinctive dark cap. Lesser Goldfinch – Mission Trails 11/17/14

A Western Scrub-Jay flew in.  More Anna Hummingbirds.  Then two Nuttell’s Woodpeckers called and flew into a distant tree,  ABA #399. I watched them for some time but they never came closer.  Interesting on the barred back versus the stripped of the Downy Woodpecker.

Finally crossing over to the campground parking lot there was a Lark Sparrow that puzzled me for a minute.  Guess I had missed it when studying up on the status and distribution.

Lark Sparrow – Mission Hills, San Diego 11/17/14

Then a House Wrens flew in along with Bushtits.

Secretive House Sparrow popped out for a moment. Mission Hills, San Diego 11/17/14


I saw several flocks of Bushtits on the day. Wish we had them back east… Mission Hills, San Diego 11/17/14

Then a bird I initially thought from its flight was a Jay, flew by and out to an open field.  It perched on a distant pole but sat and gave a good, if distant view.  Cassin’s Kingbird – ABA #400. (For the record #300 was a Baird’s Sandpiper in Illinois on 8/21/10).

By the time I got done looking at the bird through my binocs, a second one flew in on another pole. Cassin’s Kingbird – Mission Hills – San Diego – 11/21/14

I will post about the rest of the trip at a later date.

So on to #500.  I am guessing the time gap between 400 and 500 will be a lot shorter than the gap between 300 and 400 and will come in Arizona.

Texas – June 2014

I am not going to go into great detail about the logistics from our family trip to Texas the third week of June, 2014. Our family vacations are a compromise between family vacation and birding trip.  The compromise is to go somewhere new for birding as long as there is a beach nearby.  So we stayed on South Padre Island four days and three days at McAllen. The only problem of the trip was the weather getting home.  Spent way to much time in Houston Airport.

I birded the following sites in this order, one per day: Sabal Palm Sanctuary, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, South Padre Island Birding, Estero Llano Grande, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Plus a cruise into McAllen one evening to see the Green Parakeets roost. I thought with great luck I might see 37 “Life” birds.  I ended up with 28.  Putting me real close to going over one of those milestones.  But more on that in a later post.

To sum it up – the birding was great, the weather great, and the food too plentiful.  On most outings I was the only one in the park.  Or maybe one of two.  Definitely the off-season. Sabal Palm Sanctuary and Estero Llano Grande were probably the best spots and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park a bit of a disappointment.  At least in the off-season.

Some comments about the trip.  Golden-fronted Woodpeckers where everywhere.  And I mean everywhere.  A close second were Harris’s Hawks on poles out to Laguna Atascosa. Seemed like every pole in a couple of mile stretch had one.  Biggest miss, Groove-billed Ani. Highlight bird of the trip was Green Jay.  Why can’t we have a green bird in the Midwest?

So without further ado, a few photos from the trip. I will post more later.

The most satisfying bird of the trip, Clapper Rail. I went to the South Padre Birding Center really for only this bird. I had listened to another one on the north side of the site for a half hour and it never emerged. So I took the long way back around just to see what I might have missed. And not far from the visitor’s center I hear the clacking again. And then it comes into view calling. I watched it for quite a while showing several people from a covered seating area. 6/22/14
As I stated, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers where everywhere.
Why can’t we have a chocolate hawk in the Midwest? Harris’s Hawk – Buena Vista Blvd 6/21/14
Also present in good numbers but nothing like the Golden-fronted. Ladder-backed Woodpecker – Sabal Palm Sanctuary 6/20/14
Maybe Golden-fronted Woodpeckers where everywhere, but Great-tailed Grackles were the most numerous bird. Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP 06/24/14
A Plain Chachalaca showing it tail feathers. Laguna Atascosa NWR 6/21/14
One of the birds I wasn’t sure I was going to see, but saw several at Sabal Palm – Hooded Oriole – 6/20/14
I only saw one each of Green Kingfisher and Ringed Kingfisher, both at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP 6/24/14.
So my wife and daughter only went birding with me once and only for a couple of hours. We stopped by the Kingfisher Overlook at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP (why aren’t there benches there??) and was looking over the small lake when my wife says “there is a big bird over there with a big bill”. Yes, I would have probably overlooked the Ringed Kingfisher if she hadn’t pointed it out. And who would have thought you would see Kingfishers at a “Kingfisher” overlook?
And I will end with this picture. This was taken to the SW from the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley Hawk Watch platform. I assume from the distance it was across the Rio Grande in Mexico. Not sure what they are advertising. If someone can hazard a guess I would appreciate it.