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    ABA Birding Rally in San Diego

    We’ve just wrapped the sold-out ABA Birding Rally in San Diego.  The highlights were many. See below for field trip summaries, and check out our slideshow of the San Diego Rally. A huge thanks to Eagle Optics, Rockjumper: Worldwide Birding Adventures, and Leica Sport Optics, and to the Californians that helped out, especially Gary Nunn, Jon Dunn, Paul Lehman, and Guy McCaskie.

    Join your fellow ABA members April 22-27, 2014 for the ABA Convention in Corpus Christi.

    SAN DIEGO Rally Field Trip Reports

    Mountains & Chaparral by Bill Stewart

    Birding at Stone Wall Mine was productive for Nuttall's Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse and Pygmy Nuthatch, among others.

    Birding at Stonewall Mine was productive for Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse and Pygmy Nuthatch, among others.

    On Wednesday, October 16th, our group of 21 birders headed east for the Mountains & Chaparral field trip led by Jon Dunn and yours truly. First stop in the foothills of the Laguna Mountains was Kitchen Creek Road with all eyes peeled for our target bird – Bell’s Sparrow.  With a little effort, we got scope views of two different birds; a life bird for many. While there, we saw numerous Western Scrub Jays flying past at eye level and all were delighted to get fabulous looks at a “Thick-billed” Fox Sparrow.

    Moving further up in elevation, our next stop was in Cleveland National Forest. There oaks and pines provide perfect habitat for abundant Acorn Woodpeckers caching winter snacks in their granaries.  Also there we saw Oak Titmouse, Hermit, Wilson’s and Townsend’s Warbler, and just a few hundred yards away our bird of the day was waiting.  Upon entering a dirt road, we discovered a flock of Mountain Chickadees and Pygmy Nuthatches mobbing a pine tree. They were focused upon the upper right-hand side with their scolding. After considerable searching, ABA member Joan Attridge pinpointed a Northern Saw-whet Owl! Unfazed by our admiring attention and the constant scolding, everyone in the group had wonderful looks at this San Diego county rarity.

    After a much needed sit-down lunch at Jeremy’s on the Hill with a couple Red-breasted Sapsuckers, the group headed for – Stonewall Mine.  Made up mostly of pine, fir and oak forests with expansive meadows, the park provided a wealth of habitats where we added Nuttall’s and Red-naped Sapsucker to the woodpecker list, and enjoyed prolonged looks at Red-shouldered Hawk and White-tailed Kite. Spending a day in some of the richest habitat in the county with Jon Dunn freely sharing his wisdom, made for a perfect conclusion to an already awesome ABA event.

    Migrant Traps & Near Endemics by Nate Swick

    The various public parks and green spaces around San Diego are popular spots for California birders to pick up vagrants from the east. While it was hard for this east coast birder to get really excited about all that, the prospects of visiting famous San Diego sites like Fort Rosecrans Cemetery and Sunset Cliffs were real highlights that didn’t disappoint. At Fort Rosecrans we had commanding views of San Diego harbor and downtown and we enjoyed good looks at vagrants like Great Crested Flycatcher and Scarlet Tanager.

    Nutmeg Mannikin was a new ABA bird for many rally attendees.

    Nutmeg Mannikin was a new ABA bird for many rally attendees.

    Pelagic Cormorants and rockpipers were in evidence at Sunset Beach, and we helped ourselves to a buffet of shorebird species at Robb Field, with Snowy Plovers and big, bold, Long-billed Curlews at our lunch stop . All participants got great looks at these charismatic shorebirds and our day list soared.

    Maybe the most ironically exciting part of the day was the trip to Tecolote Park to tick the newly countable Nutmeg Mannikin. We found a small flock of these birds visiting a feeder next to a concrete channel, an appropriate spot for the ABA Area’s newest countable exotic.  Even so, the consensus seemed to be that at least it’s a nice-looking bird.

    We wrapped up at Lindo Lake, where Tricolored Blackbird was the order of the day. The bird was harder for some groups than others, but we all came away with the California specialty. For my money, it’s better than an eastern vagrant any day of the week.

    Tijuana River Valley by John Puschock

    The first stop on the Tijuana River Valley trip was — you guessed it — not in the Tijuana River Valley. But it was a great stop just the same. Nestled between a housing development, a flea market and a highway, it wasn’t much to look at, but surprisingly it provided us with great looks at California Gnatcatcher plus the relatively rare coastal subspecies of Cactus Wren. I never would have guessed that it would be so productive just by looking at it.

    Next stop was Border Field State Park. As the name suggests, it’s right on the border with Mexico. Some of the birds here included California specialties such as California Towhee, California Gnatcatcher, and Wrentit, but the biggest prize here was on the first day of the event: a Tropical Kingbird perched on a fence near the parking area.

    All groups got to experience an impressive show of raptors around the sod farm near Dairy Mart Pond. White-tailed Kites, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Golden Eagle all put in appearances. A Golden Eagle also put on a show for one group at the Bird and Butterfly Garden. Other goodies here included Common Ground-Dove and Hutton’s Vireo.

    A Golden Eagle is harassed by a Peregrine Falcon and a Common Raven in the Tijuana River Valley.

    A Golden Eagle is harassed by a Peregrine Falcon and a Common Raven in the Tijuana River Valley.

    The final stop of the day was Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach. Nestled between Tijuana Slough and the Pacific Ocean, this road gave us easy access to saltmarsh, beach and ocean habitats. On the beach side, we saw Elegant Terns, while on the saltmarsh side, the star attractions were Belding’s Savannah Sparrows (a regional endemic, often talked about as a possible split) and the southern California coastal subspecies of Clapper Rail. On the day I was there, one of the rails spent about 10 minutes bathing out in the open, giving us a great opportunity to study a species that’s usually skulking in the reeds.

    Pelagics by Jeff Bouton

    During the San Diego rally there were two consecutive boat trips on the same boat to the same patch of water. Both had very similar bird species lists but not identical.

    The highlight reels were truly impressive and both trips noted loads of Black-vented, Pink-footed & Sooty Shearwaters streaming by en masse, Northern Fulmars, Cassin’s Auklets, Red-necked Phalaropes were scattered throughout and Pomarine Jaegers made an impressive showing. Common Dolphin displayed their speed and agility, but more than anything else, it was the spectacle of the Storm-Petrel ballet that mesmerized us. Thousands of Black & Least Storm-Petrels bounded across the water, pulsing into tight flocks and then stringing out once again. These flocks were indeed a spectacle, with up to 12,000 birds estimated.

    The first ABA pelagic birders (10/15) contended with dense, morning sea fog, which mostly hid a ghostly apparition of a Skua and likely other birds. These birders were treated to a Mola Mola (Ocean Sunfish), multiple Sabine’s Gulls, and the best views of Craveri’s Murrelets that one could ever hope for!

    Craveri's Murrelets were seen on the pelagic.

    Craveri’s Murrelets were seen on the pelagic.

    The day two birders found just one Sabine’s Gull, and obtained just manageable views of Craveri’s Murrelet. On the way home though we had the great fortune of intersecting a tiny bird bobbing on the surface. If we’d deviated by more than a couple hundred feet one way or the other, it is a certainty we would have sped by this tiny bird undetected. It was an unexpected Guadalupe Murrelet and luckily for us the boat heading was right for it. Just goes to show, that you never know what you might see!

    Common Dolphins were conspicuous offshore. (Photo by Dwayne Litteer)

    Common Dolphins were conspicuous offshore. (Photo by Dwayne Litteer)

    Salton Sea Extension by George Armistead

    About half of us on the Rally continued on to visit the Salton Sea, spending one night in Brawley. Guy McCaskie joined us for this leg of the trip and it was a real treat to be able to bird this unique area with the region’s most storied birder.

    The view from Obsidian Butte contained huge numbers of birds! Not far away we saw Yellow-legged Gull and Blue-footed Booby.

    The view from Obsidian Butte held huge numbers of birds! Nearby we saw Yellow-footed Gull and Blue-footed Booby.

    On Day 1 after a quick stop at Fig Lagoon, we lunched at Cattle Call Park, picking up our first Verdins and Gila Woodpeckers, and a nearby feeder hosted Costa’s Hummingbirds. We made our way to Obsidian Butte, where it was plenty warm and also chockfull of birds. Vast numbers of Double-crested Cormorants, Shovelers, Eared Grebes, shorebirds, and gulls were present. It took some work and a little head-scratching until we found our first non-controversial Yellow-footed Gull, but when we did find it, it was practically right at our feet and a gorgeous adult. We were fortunate too with Blue-footed Booby, sort of… Jon Dunn spotted one waaaaaaaay out over the sea flying in the distance, but luckily it headed right for us. We watched its approach for an eternity until it flew in just a couple hundred feet in front of us. Our group was silent with desperate hope that the bird would land, and then it descended to touch down on some rocks, everyone was poised to let out a sigh of relief. But unconscionably, the bird took up a perch on the far side of the rock, out of sight! We howled for a while, but eventually the bird cooperated nicely, and then another Blue-foot flew in too. Nearby we picked up “Large-billed” Savannah Sparrows and three gorgeous Burrowing Owls. The following day we had smashing views of American Bittern, and at Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge found a Barn Owl, Gambel’s Quail, Roadrunner, and a nice gaggle of geese with Snow, Ross’s and a Cackling Goose to boot. All in all it was a pretty good haul.

    Thanks so much to all who attended. The birds were great, but the company was even better! Check out ABA Events for more opportunities to connect with ABA Members. Homer Hansen’s IFO Program: Winter Sparrows of the Southwest is coming up soon.

    San Diego Rally Staff: (front row, left to right): Jeff Gordon, George Armistead, Jeff Bouton (Leica Sport Optics), Nate Swick, Tyler Bell, and Jane Kostenko; (back row) Paul Lehman, Forrest Rowland (Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures), Jon Dunn, Ben Thesing, John Puschock, Ben Lizdas (Eagle Optics), Liz Gordon, Bill Stewart and Gary Nunn.

    San Diego Rally Staff: (front row, left to right): Jeff Gordon, George Armistead, Jeff Bouton (Leica Sport Optics), Nate Swick, Tyler Bell, and Jane Kostenko; (back row) Paul Lehman, Forrest Rowland (Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures), Jon Dunn, Ben Thesing, John Puschock, Ben Lizdas (Eagle Optics), Liz Gordon, Bill Stewart and Gary Nunn.

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    George Armistead

    George Armistead

    George Armistead is a lifelong birder and since April 2012 is the events coordinator for the ABA. George spent the prior decade organizing and leading birding tours for Field Guides Inc. He has guided trips on all seven continents, and enjoys vast open country habitats and seabirds most of all. Based in Philadelphia, he is an associate at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and spends much of his free time birding the coast between Cape May, NJ and Cape Hatteras, NC.
    Birders know well that the healthiest, most dynamic choruses contain many different voices. The birding community encompasses a wide variety of interests, talents, and convictions. All are welcome.
    If you like birding, we want to hear from you.
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