Wednesday, 27 February 2013

South of Monterey

The 20th was the day on which we did the most driving - starting early along Mines Road south of Livermore, we later journeyed south to Monterey via San Jose. Heading for the Big Sur region (to the south of Monterey) as the sun began to drop in the late afternoon, we located a single immature and later a further group of at least ten California Condors soaring high over the coastal ridges towards the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Here are a couple of adults:

As we pulled over for some dudey landscape photography as the sun sunk towards the horizon of the Pacific out to our west, I located a handful of rather showy Golden-crowned Sparrows scrotting around by the viewpoint. A common bird across Northern California in winter, but we rarely enjoyed such prolonged views during our week. The low sunlight was very warm on the birds hence the exposure might look a bit strange.

And the post wouldn't be complete without a shot of the magnificent Californian coastline...

Lake Del Valle

During the morning of 20th we explored the Mines Road area to the south of Livermore. A couple of hours of the early morning were spent around Lake Del Valle, which proved productive for birdlife. Had my first Bald Eagle (terrible views of a distant adult flying away), but more exciting were Red-breasted Sapsucker, Steller's Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch etc. Not sure the same thing could be said for the horrendous gobbling of Wild Turkeys coming from nearby thicket. Talking of turkeys, this has to be one of the world's ugliest birds?


Tuesday, 26 February 2013

White goose spectacular

Prior to leaving, we'd all agreed that one of the primary aims of the trip would be to see the large flocks of snow geese that winter around California's central valley. And boy, they didn't disappoint! First taster was a flock of a few thousand Snow Geese seen by route 12, south of Sacramento and east of Rio Vista. There were a few hundred each of Pacific White-fronted and Ross's Geese mixed in as well as a couple of Aleutian Cacklers and a scattering of Sandhill Cranes to complete the scene:

Forcing ourselves away, we continued south towards Merced NWR, taking in a fabulous flock of sixteen Mountain Plovers along the intriguingly-named Sandy Mush Road as well as the odd American Kestrel along the way.

The weather had turned pretty foul by the time we reached Merced, but the Ross's Geese more than made up for it. Many thousands were in fields north of the reserve and, an hour or so before dusk, they all took to the air in a quite amazing spectacle - we estimated 30,000+ Ross's along with several hundred White-fronts and a handful of Snow as well as three-figure numbers of Sandhill Cranes. Add to that the thousands of waterbirds littered across the floods and it made for quite a special few hours, despite the wind and rain.

Over at the nearby San Luis these American White Pelicans also provided a nice distraction from the geese, as did a few Cat C Tule Elk.

Burrowing Owl

Ever since I was a small child I have wanted to see Burrowing Owl. This individual, seen along Robinson Road to the south of Davis was our only bird of the trip. It was quite amusing watching it crouching down in fields to avoid detection - something that worked effectively, as it was pretty difficult to pick up

We also had a flock of 50 Lark Sparrows along the road, along with Prairie Falcon, Tricoloured Blackbirds and Ferruginous Hawks.

Red-winged Blackbird

A displaying male photographed just prior to sunset at Shollenberger Park, Petaluma on February 18th. Sadly didn't have the chance to obtain the desired images of this species.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Rock Sandpiper

Turning up a week or so before our trip, a Rock Sandpiper at Bodega Head instantly became one of our primary trip targets - not only are they pretty difficult to catch up with in California, but it was a bird that both Rich and Lee 'needed'. We failed to find it on our first evening but, returning the following morning in better light, Rich located it low on the rocks off the headland in the company of Black Turnstones and Surfbirds.

Views were initially pretty poor (distant and looking down on the bird), so I made the decision to scramble down the cliff for closer views, which soon paid off. First the bird remained quite distant (click for larger versions):

...but soon showed to ten metres:


I was quick to learn that Buffleheads are 'trash' birds in California - just about every waterbody (both fresh and salt water) had them. However, they rarely showed well and I spent a bit of time stalking a handful of birds close inshore at Bodega Bay on 18th. Decent light and a high shutter speed meant that I could also freeze the birds as they launched themselves in to a dive.

Back from California

What exactly is the above? It probably isn't what you initially suspected! Plenty more interesting(?) stuff like this to come in the coming days, plus photos of normal birds too!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Bonaparte's Gull etc

Got an early train down to Eastbourne this morning with the aim of seeing the elusive Bonaparte's Gull in Princes Park. Marc Read kindly met me at the station and gave me a lift down to the park, and it didn't take long for us to pick up the bird among the local Black-heads.

Though light was initially pretty poor, there were a few sunny spells later on in which the gull showed well. That said, it was surprisingly frustrating as a photographic subject, spending most of the time floating around in the middle of the lake at relative distance and only making brief visits to the margins to pick at the several loaves of bread offered by visiting birders. It was particularly interesting to hear it calling on several occasions - a higher-pitched, harsher call than Black-headed.

Click on the below for bigger versions.

Being a newbie to SLR photography, I was pretty keen to practice on common birds too. Herring Gulls:

Black-headed Gull:

And this very smart adult Mediterranean Gull:

A very satisfying morning out that saw me back in Hammersmith for 15:00.