This September, six intrepid birders enjoyed the first Birdfinders' California tour since the record-breaking trip of 2001. A varied itinerary ensured that many highly-sought-after Western US bird species were found and often seen extremely well. These included Pacific Loon, Clark's Grebe, Pink-footed Shearwater, Buller's Shearwater, Brandt's Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, White-tailed Kite, Prairie Falcon, Greater Sage Grouse, Gambel's Quail, Blue Grouse, Wandering Tattler, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Heerman's Gull, California Gull, Elegant Tern, Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled Murrelet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Band-tailed Pigeon, Inca Dove, Burrowing Owl, Vaux's Swift, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Williamson's Sapsucker, White-headed Woodpecker, Gila Woodpecker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Violet-green Swallow, Cactus Wren, American Dipper, Sage Thrasher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Wrentit, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Western Scrub-Jay, Pinyon Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Black-billed Magpie, Townsend's Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, McGillivray's Warbler, Western Tanager, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Abert's Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Black-headed Grosbeak and Cassin's Finch amongst many others.
Memorable moments included Chris and Angela enjoying Humpback Whales from the dunes off Morro Bay, Ann's discovery of the only Glaucous-winged Gull of the trip, Paul's superb Wandering Tattler at Monterey, Tony's Greater Roadrunner in the Mojave Desert and Alan's determination to find a Spotted Dove deep in the suburbs of Los Angeles on the very last morning of the tour! We were thrilled to find our own Sabine's Gull in the heart of the south-western desert on the Salton Sea shore at Bombay Hook, and successfully followed up a report of Ruddy Ground-Dove near Calipatrea with five individuals frequenting a small pig farm. On the same day we enjoyed the breathtaking spectacle of over 10,000 Cattle Egrets coming into roost at the Finney Lakes. But in terms of 'birdfinding' pride of place must go to the ultimate desert phantom – Le Conte's Thrasher. We found a new site on the outskirts of California City in the Mojave that held no less than five birds and all of us were treated to exceptional views..
The Golden State looked parched, burnt and barren this year after more than three years of drought but still gave us all the California specialties and much more besides including Black-footed Albatross, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Black-vented Shearwater, California Quail, Mountain Quail, Pacific Golden Plover, South Polar Skua, Yellow-footed Gull, Allen's Hummingbird, Nuttall's Woodpecker, California Thrasher, California Gnatcatcher, Island Scrub-Jay, Oak Titmouse, Yellow-billed Magpie, 'Thick-billed' Fox Sparrow, 'Large-billed' Savannah Sparrow, 'Belding's' Savannah Sparrow, California Towhee and Tricoloured Blackbird.
We rounded off a superb trip with a visit to the Los Angeles National Forest to view California Condors, an experience which proved to be way beyond any expectations. Although not officially countable, there are now 37 reintroduced condors in the wild in this particular national forest and at least 115 birds in the Grand Canyon, Arizona where successful breeding took place this year. Hopefully, it's only a question of time before self-sustaining populations of condors can be found in the US once again.
Our trip closed with about 270 species recorded as a group, and a loop of 2290 miles driven. Many thanks to Alan and Chris Amery, Paul and Ann Cutforth, and Tony and Angela Porter for making the tour so enjoyable.