California, well known for its exceptional diversity of bird species, is second only to Texas in the number of different birds recorded. The Birdfinders tour is specifically designed to see as many of the classic California specialties as possible within a two-week period. The tour takes place in September when the combination of seabird concentrations, shorebird and songbird migration, and the diverse range of residents, is difficult to beat.
During September 6th–22nd, another Birdfinders tour group tackled an ambitious itinerary with some terrific results. It was the third year that I've completed this particular loop and my second year as principal leader. Peter Lansdown came in as co-leader and his support greatly enhanced the trip.
Our loop began in Los Angeles, working steadily north along the Pacific Coast incorporating trips to Santa Cruz Island, and a deep-water Pelagic birding adventure off Monterey with Shearwater Journeys. From Santa Cruz we headed inland to Yosemite National park, dropping down to Mono Lake and the Owens River Valley on eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. The tour headed steadily southwards down into the Mojave desert, and then onto the Salton Sea via Big Morrongo Canyon. The last couple of days were again spent on the coast this time around San Diego and Los Angeles. As a group we recorded about 265 species set against a backdrop of some of the best scenery anywhere in the USA. If I had to pick a single highlight from the trip it would have to be the Laysan Albatross seen on the Monterey pelagic. This bird wasn't to be expected at this season and even surprised the crew. As an event, the shear numbers and diversity of pelagic species seen on the same trip was voted 'tops' by our group.
In some respects we were blessed to have cooler-than-average temperatures throughout the entire tour. Much of the desert had become green after heavy rain in the spring and summer which put an end to the drought conditions that we experienced last year. As a result, many desert birds were rather easier to find such as Le Conte's Thrasher and Verdin, and one morning we saw over 50 Chukars which seemed to be breeding well in favorable conditions.
We also did quite well at finding our own birds with Pacific Golden Plover, Ruff, Franklin's Gull, Blackpoll Warbler and Red-eyed Vireo just to mention a few that would have been of interest to some California birders.
Many thanks to Maurice Charlesworth, John and Barbara Hallam, Jim Hamilton, Eric Holmes, Peter and Valerie James, Alan Jones, Jaap Kooistra, Ron Shewring, Grahame Walshe, and Kevin White for their participation in the tour, and to Peter Lansdown for his excellent co-leadership.