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Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Big & Birdie Weekend

The coastline at Mary Dodd Park, San Luis Obispo, CA

So,  only just got back from Washington, and what was next up? Well, of course, another birdie event, featuring two, count them, two lifers! Whooo hooo! Ok, now that I'm done shrieking, let me back up a bit.

Last week, my birder Buddy Don made the tactical error of letting me know he was heading down to Southern California to visit with friends and for some birding. When I found out he was going to be near Carpenteria, I had to throw caution to the winds, begging him to let me tag along. Ah, he never could resist giving in to the nagging whining and boo-hooing of a pathetic birder. Um... for the record, I'm the pathetically begging birder - really, I have no shame.

Our first stop on Friday was the shore line a little county park at Pismo Beach. The beach was hopping, with flocks of Brant, Red-breasted Mergansers, cormorants and Sea Otters splashed and hammered their abalone lunch as we watched. Don even spotted a solitary dolphin swimming by. I'd guess by the dorsal fin it was either a Common or a Bottlenose Dolphin.

On the left, a pair of Sea Otters and a Western Gull
Floatilla of Pelagic geese - Brants

We were off to a good start. Our next stop was only a few miles away,

a cute little park in Arroyo Grande. There was a little one room school house, and other historic bits of yore. There was also, surprise, surprise, a hanging bridge! I only had my first ever hanging bridge experience on Kauai, and I never expected to run across one in my home state.

Don, strolling past the schoolhouse, towards the hanging bridge
Inside the little schoolhouse where well behaved students studied
"I will not spit on the stove" - hum...maybe not so well behaved after all
Enough historical stuff! We were here to see Cassin's Kingbirds. We spotted several at our arrival, but the birds dispursed soon afterward so I didn't get any photos. Rats! However, after crossing the Hanging bridge which swung over a little creek where roosters crowed and lots of native birds hung out, I spotted a weird looking Kingbird that didn't seem quite right. JACKPOT! The Kingbird's thick bill and deeply notched tail ID'd it as a vagrant Tropical Kingbird. Not a lifer for me, but a joy to photograph to my heart's content.

Note the thick bill on this Tropical Kingbird

There were loads of other interesting birds to find at the park. We ended up visiting the park again on our way home. Then we spotted Lincoln's Sparrows, more Allen's Hummingbirds and Don viewed more Cassin's Kingbirds.

              A v. serious Allen's Hummingbird

Our next stop took place in Carpenteria, where a month ago, a highly unusual - and lost - raptor showed up to surprise and delight birders from all over the west coast.  We arrived on the unusually named "Santa Claus Lane" where a month ago, Don saw our target bird. Back then the bird was perched on a fifty-five MPH sign. This time the bird was abscent and my heart sank! No weirdo bird for moi? So we drove to the other side of HWY 101 and yippy skippy!

Big-eyed and beautiful Gray Hawk
Frankly, I could scarcely believe we had found the hawk. It sat on a power line. We parked across from it, viewed the sleepy bird to our heart's content. This grey hawk, being a juvenile, was not grey but was streaked and somewhat reminiscent of a mini-Osprey. I have thrice searched for this species in Arizona and South Texas to no avail. Imagine how bizarre to then find this Mexican species in one's own home state. LIFER 607!

On Saturday we visited Bell Gardens in Los Angeles. I was v. sleepy, having had a ball the previous night. Don arranged for us to be the guests of a high school friend and her spouse, who live in Santa Barbara. More that delightful couple in a bit. Anyway, I was sleepy and a bit cranky when I found myself tromping around a city park where Don kept telling me we could leave if any undesirable types gave us any trouble. The locals all turned out to be frollicking children, old men having a chat and people walking their dogs. I was standing under an enourmous tree when Don shouted, 'there it is!'. I looked up, and there, calling quite loudly for such a dinky bird, was my  Lifer 608 - a Dusky-capped Flycatcher.

Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Showing off that auburn crest
 Now! Back to our hosts in Santa Barbara. Our hosts, Harriet and Allen, are friends of Don. They were gracious enough to not only let him stay with them, but to let him show up on their doorstep with a friend (moi!). Harriet had planned a dinner party for Friday night and had not hesitated to invite us to it. I was awed by her generosity.  Her dinner guests, which included 2 physicists and three birders, were funny, lively and endlessly fascinating. The conversations were scintillating quality and honestly, though I was sleepy by 9PM, I couldn't bare to leave the table to go the heck to bed so when I hit the sack at 1AM, where I slept like a happy baby.       

Don, Harriet and Allen at breakfast at a Cajun Restaurant on Sunday morning. Perfect end to a perfect Santa Barbara weekend.

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