CA/AZ: Day 2 (Feb 16) - San Diego area

I arrived at La Jolla Cove at dawn for some seawatching, basically for Black-vented Shearwater and a second chance at Surfbird. It didn't take long to produce a flyby BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATER which was followed by a few more in nice light as the sun rose over the waterfront properties. Other than a COMMON MURRE things were pretty quiet offshore so I decided to walk along the cliffs for Surfbird. Unfortunately the only rockpipers present were about a half-dozen BLACK TURNSTONES (missed Surfbird for the trip). Still I enjoyed awesome views of BRANDT'S CORMORANTS and BROWN PELICANS along the cliffs and a couple flyby PELAGIC CORMORANTS offshore.

Brandt's Cormorant

Brown Pelican

Heermann's Gull (love these guys)

Black Turnstone

California Sea Lions (thanks Ben)

La Jolla

My next stop was the Sorrento Valley Road pumping station area, where California Gnatcatchers had been recently reported. This began what would become a day-long search for this federally threatened species. No gnatcather here, but the place was very birdy. Highlights included my first CALIFORNIA TOWHEES and WRENTITS. The adjacent marsh held many species of waterfowl including MOORHEN, CINNAMON TEAL, and a few dozen WHITE-FACED IBIS.

Anna's Hummingbird

I then headed further inland for a few hours at Mission Trails Regional Park with several target species in mind, including the gnatcatcher. Here I walked the trails though chaparral and oak woodland through midday and into mid-afternoon. Despite temps in the upper 70s, songbirds remained somewhat active and provided me with a few life birds along the way. ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRDS were thick here, with an estimate of 20+ individuals during my visit. A handful of NUTTALL'S WOODPECKERS were scattered about, more CALI TOWHEES and WRENTITs were kicking around, and WESTERN SCRUB-JAYS were common. I had a few CALIFORNIA THRASHERS, many AUDUBON'S WARBLERS, a few ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, and a pair of CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS. A single FOX SPARROW was skulking in the shadows and eluded subspecific ID.

Mission Trails Regional Park

California Towhee

Western Fence Lizard (thanks Ben and Brian)

After about 4 hours here and no gnatcatchers to show for my effort, I scrambled through the SoCal birdfinding guide to find another spot to check. I decided on Otay Lakes in eastern Chula Vista, a good 40 minutes away. I arrived about 45 minutes before sunset and drove along the western shore of the lake to suitable habitat. So I rolled down my window to take a listen, and right outside was a calling CALIFORNIA GNATCATCHER, which proceeded to show quite well for a couple minutes!

California Gnatcatcher - note the very limited white in the undertail

first cycle California Gull at Otay Lakes

Without much else likely in the area I decide to shoot west back to Tijuana Slough to watch the sunset. On arrival, a very dark MERLIN (suckleyi?) perched on a telephone pole for a few moments and CLAPPER RAILS were calling from the marsh.

sunset at Tijuana Slough

- NB


  1. Nice pix Nick, did you use some new equipment for this trip? Looks like at least two California Sea Lions and some Harbor seals?

  2. The pinnipeds are mostly or entirely California Sea Lions. Among other things, seals generally can't support their upper body on their forelimbs like the two males on the right.

    The lizard is a Western Fence Lizard. The rough appearance of the scales are indicative of one of the spiny lizards, and the yellow on the underside of the thighs (hard to see, but visible) differentiate it from Sagebrush Lizard.

    Shame that you didn't get a great look at the Fox Sparrow. The Large-billed (stephensi) is probably the most likely subspecies down there, and probably my favorite subspecies.

  3. Wow thanks Ben, great info, much appreciated.

    Hey Larry...same equipment...little Coolpix point-and-shoot with the old Swarovski scope and bins.

  4. The lizard appears to be a Sceloporus occidentalis longipes (Great Basin Fence Lizard), dark phase. This is a subspecies of the Western Fence Lizard (there are six subspecies).

  5. No problem. I'm soooooo jealous of your trip ~ after reading your blog I've got the itch to head west again!


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