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CALIFORNIA 2017

Courtesy of James P. Smith

September 2017 saw Birdfinders return to the Golden State for the 14th year in a row. The tour remains as popular as ever, and with majestic scenery, perfect weather and a trip dedicated to seeing ALL of California’s key birds it’s easy to understand why.

After a wet winter, we fully expected to find California looking green and lush after many years of drought. To our surprise, the state looked as parched and as barren as it had done in recent years. The winter storms had induced several major landslides along the coast, which would ultimately cost us a visit to Big Sur, the prime area for California Condor. We tried hard for condors away from the coast but, in the end, had accept that it wasn’t our year to see them. However, we did do incredibly well to see most of California’s key bird species including Black-vented Shearwater, Mountain and California Quails, Ridgeway’s Rail, Yellow-footed and Heermann’s Gulls, Allen’s Hummingbird (sedentarius), California and Le Conte’s Thrashers, California Gnatcatcher, Oak Titmouse, Island and California Scrub-Jays, Yellow-billed Magpie, Bell’s Sparrow, California Towhee, Tricoloured Blackbird and Lawrence’s Goldfinch. We also notched-up a fine selection of classic ‘south-western’ species along with some highly-pelagic Pacific seabirds including Black-footed Albatross, Buller’s and Pink-footed Shearwaters, Greater Sage Grouse, Sooty Grouse, Black Turnstone, Elegant Tern, Marbled Murrelet, Rhinoceros and Cassin’s Auklets, (Pacific) Northern Fulmar, White-headed and Nuttall’s Woodpeckers, Red-breasted and Williamson’s Sapsuckers, Sage Thrasher, MacGillivray’s, Black-throated Grey, Townsend’s and Hermit Warblers, Slate-coloured and Sooty Fox Sparrows, and Spotted and Green-tailed Towhees were all seen well on this trip. Within such an impressive bird list it’s tough to pick out specific highlights but a few stood out from the rest including our first Flesh-footed Shearwater in over ten years on Monterey Bay, shared with some incredibly close Humpback and Blue Whales!

And then there was the discovery of a covey of aloof Mountain Quails in the San Jacinto Mountains, Lesser Nighthawks cruising overhead in the daylight in the southern Salton Sea, some of the most obliging Yellow-footed Gulls that we’ve had for years, a huge covey of 35 Chukars (ABA countable) on a remote desert highway near the Lucerne Valley, a wonderfully bright Pacific Golden-plover on the beach at Tijuana River mouth, where we also had three flyover Bobolinks, the latter being new to the tour. Indeed we carried on recording new birds right up the last day of the tour when we noticed a small, distinctly patterned heron flying over an urban area in greater Los Angeles – it was a Tricolored Heron! We later found out that the heron was subsequently relocated and heavily twitched at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve whilst we were at the airport waiting to go home - apparently it was the first in the Los Angeles area for about 30 years!

This was a wonderful tour to lead, not only due to the outstanding birds and wildlife, but also the well natured group camaraderie on tour. I’m especially grateful to Dave Tanner who stepped up to drive the second vehicle and never faltered, even in the most urban of situations – thanks Dave!

We do hope that you enjoy the gallery of images and look forward to seeing this trip run once more in 2018!

Good birding

James P. Smith

Northfield, MA, USA

Greater White-fronted Goose and Canada Goose Mountain Quail
Black-footed Albatross Northern Fulmar
Pink-footed Shearwater Flesh-footed Shearwater
Black-vented Shearwater Snowy Egret
White-tailed Kite Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk Red-tailed Hawk
Ridgway's Rail
American Avocets
Pacific Golden-plover Long-billed Curlew
Pomarine Jaeger Rhinoceros Auklet
Western Gull Yellow-footed Gull
Barn Owl Lesser Nighthawk
Vaux's Swift Williamson's Sapsucker
White-headed Woodpecker Black-backed Woodpecker
Island Scrub-jay Yellow-billed Magpie
California Gnatcatcher Townsend's Solitaire
Phainopepla Bell's Sparrow
Savannah (Belding's) Sparrow
Blue Whale
Humpback Whale
Jawbone Canyon
Joshua Trees, Butterbredt Spring
Tijuana, Mexico
Salton Sea
San Jacinto Mountains
Yosemite National Park
Birdfinders' group
California Thrasher

California Thrasher