Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Long March

Spring flowers at Fairview Park

We dedicated our first official spring outing to my favorite walk—one that combines my fondness for both endurance sports and birds: a six-mile, moderately hilly, and very birdy stroll from Fairview Park in Costa Mesa, down through neighboring Talbert Nature Reserve, south down the Santa Ana River to Huntington State Beach, then back up the river trail and inland to Canyon Park in Costa Mesa's westside--then back up the river, through Talbert to Fairview, where my car was parked.

It was a gorgeous day for a hike—wildflowers were blooming like crazy, and the birds were vocal and active for the almost the whole time we were out. In Talbert, a very noisy and aggressive House Wren darted about in the trees only a few feet away from us, and at one point, dive-bombed Glenn and momentarily landed on his foot!

A little ankle-biter ready to attack.

As of late, we've encountered a variety of random small creatures with an interest in stepping on Glenn's feet: our almost-2-year-old nephew, our brother-in-law's cat, and now this...

In the reserve, we also saw and heard White-Crowned and Song Sparrows, American and Lesser Goldfinches, tons of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Common Yellowthroats. We also got short glimpses of what may have been a Yellow Warbler--it looked to me to be too bright and too long and skinny to be an Orange-crowned, and it didn't have an eye ring or any other kind of markings on its face.

We also got both California and Blue-grey Gnatcatchers: the male California Gnatcatchers were in their black-capped breeding plumage, and vocalizing quite loudly.

Down on the river and in the marshy areas of Banning Ranch, Buffleheads, Lesser Scaups, and other winter ducks were still chilling out, not quite ready to leave for points north. Last year, we had spotted a Clapper Rail in the area, and lusting for another good photo opportunity, wondered if any were still in the area. Not really expecting anything to happen, Glenn busted out his iPod and played a Clapper Rail call--and only a few seconds into it, we heard a loud, ACK-ACK-ACK-ACK-ACK from the bushes only a few feet away from us!

They were there!

We skulked about by the bushes along the bike trail, listening and watching for their movements. Glenn got a look at one of them peeking out of a bush, but was unable to get any photos. We played the call a few more times, and got a lot of agonizingly close ACK-ACK-ACK-ACK-ACK calls from the still-invisible birds, then decided it would be best to stop pestering them.

Towards the beach, we spotted more Lesser Scaups and Buffleheads, as well as a number of Red-breasted Mergansers. We walked back up the river, stopping at Canyon Park, which was filled with flowers—I'd never seen it this pretty. We watched Yellow-rumped Warblers and Bushtits flit about as we ate a thoroughly unremarkable picnic lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and carrot sticks.

On the way back, we spotted another male California Gnatcatcher flitting about in the bushes in Talbert Nature Reserve.

We had clearly hit the birding sweet spot: all the cool winter birds were still around, the neat spring migrants were starting the show up, and all the regulars were in their more-active-than -normal breeding season mode.

Thank goodness this all corresponds with spring break and a temporary break from my teaching—I'll definitely be out for more!

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