Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Day at the Beach

A Forster's Tern enjoying a little snack.

Spring migration gave me a serious case of bird greed. I was desperate to catch every warbler and flycatcher I could before the summer lull set in. Thus, I've been spending nearly every waking weekend hour for the past six weeks or so out in the field with my bins and high hopes...

Until the weekend before last, when I didn't get to bird at all: instead, I was stuck indoors at a conference my department was sponsoring. Yes, it was a prestigious international conference, and the talks were all original and interesting...but there really ought to be a law against scheduling these things during spring migration.

Then a few days later, the report from Orange County Rare Bird Alerts officially declared the summer doldrums in session. And I had spent the last precious moments of migration season eating cold bagels and sitting through PowerPoint presentations.

So on Saturday, we decided to check out the Least Terns at the reserve at Huntington State Beach instead of looking for (now-non-existent) migrants. They were there in large numbers, and had already started nesting and incubating their eggs.

We also birded the Talbert Marsh and Banning Ranch areas just up the Santa Ana River. In the palm trees in the industrial complex just inland from Talbert Marsh, we found a colony of nesting Great Blue Herons: there were about half a dozen nesting pairs setting up house in the treetops.

Beautiful as they are, these master hunters can definitely cause some trouble for the nearby nesting Least Terns.

In the marsh itself, we saw several pairs of Elegant Terns mating (a process that seems to go on forever—the male Elegant Tern is the Ron Jeremy of birds). On the other side of the river, in the Banning Ranch area, we got a brief glimpse of a Clapper Rail. In the river was a late-lingering male Bufflehead: we found out the next day that it had been captured and taken to the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center. I suspect that this was because he had ended up on the beach, and not just because he was too dim to migrate. Poor little dude!

We ended up spending the entire day at the beach: we got there about 9, and left about 6. And even then, we only left because it was starting to get seriously cold.

Spring might be over, but summer is off to a good start.

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