12 July update

12 July update
Yang tries for a toe-hold

Since my humdinger of a hummingbird trip last week I’ve tried to crank up my year list as quickly, if not efficiently as possible. The strategy has met with a limited success. I think that I’ve been overdue for a setback or two, and an inevitable slowdown of my good luck ‘Ying’ cycle.

The first bit of disappointment came with news of the cancellation of my 10 July pelagic trip out of Ventura a few days prior to the trip, owing to predicted too-big winds. I’d been quietly optimistic about adding a couple of species to my list. But I decided to hit California anyway, and to include a run to the Channel Islands for Island Jay on Sunday – same day and from the same port as the cancelled pelagic. My first stop however would be San Diego on Saturday, where several recent sightings of Red Knot gave me cause for optimism for a bird that shouldn’t be anywhere in the lower 48 this time of year. But after a big day’s effort visiting and revisiting the three locations where the birds had been seen as recently as the preceding day, by mid-afternoon I admitted defeat and headed up the coast to see about a wayward goose.

There are two single Ross’s Geese hanging around city parks in the Los Angeles area this year, having wimped out on the long flight north that something like a half-million of their comrades made several months ago, and I aimed to circle in on the one at Balboa Lake. And that’s what I did, though it wasn’t quite that straightforward. The goose ha been spending the summer away from its northern breeding grounds in a very popular LA recreation park mixing in with a motley assortment of domestic and wild ducks and geese. My California team assured me the bird was ‘tickable’ - and ‘ticked’ it was.

From Balboa Lake I made my way to Ventura, where I spent a king’s ransom for a room and good night’s sleep prior to my Santa Cruz trip on next morning. The Island Packers setup is impressive, and the trip went without a hitch. A big boat with lots of happy campers – most of whom disembarked prior to my stop at Prisoner’s Anchorage. In fact there were only two of us to stay on board for that stopover – the other fellow seemed to be interested in wildlife generally, and wandered off on his own. I had intended to do the same, but boat crew member Lori explained that the area I wanted to get to – the Nature Conservancy required that she come with me. Lori was very nice, and seemed to know her birds, so away we went. But before even entering the supervised-only part of the walk Lori noticed a calling scrub-jay, and so, within minutes of getting off the ferry, I had distant views of the Channel Islands’ endemic bird species: Island Scrub-jay. By then it was 1PM and hot, and I decided after a bit more birding to use the remaining portion of my hour on the island to hunker down under a shade tree and snooze, though persistent yellow-jacket wasps required near-constant shooing, so more of a rest than a snooze.

I’d hoped for a Buller’s Shearwater, or maybe, quite remotely, a Craveri’s Murrelet on the either the outgoing or return 1.5 hour ferry ride – which travels across a 1,000ft canyon with upwellings and attendant plant and animal krill known to attract lots of sea creatures including some good seabird species. But apart from a dozen or so Sooty Shearwaters and a single Cassin’s Auklet, the only birds I saw were pelicans, gulls and terns.

Upon disembarking at the Island Packers wharf at about 5PM I drove like mad to get to the Claremont park where Black Swifts had been reported several times during the preceding days. The traffic was terrible, and I arrived at 7PM, possibly a little late for the early evening timing of all the previous reports. One White-throated Swift among lots of feeding swallows, but no Black Swifts. I decided to hang around the Pasadena area another day, thinking I’d find a MacGillvray’s Warbler up in the Angeles National Forest with ease – they are reported from numerous locations in the Park, including a few recent reports.

Making my way up the famous (for movie chase scenes, think Roger Moore chasing gorgeous female spy in sports cars) and scenic drive from Los Angeles area up, and up, into the Angeles mountains, I reached my first MacGillvray’s hotspot a half an hour or so into the park. Macs like dense shrubbery in mountainous habitat, and there was plenty of that to look through. But unlike my experience in Colorado on a recon effort last year, the birds were very quiet, and very hard to find. In fact, I couldn’t find any at the first four places I looked at and listened to. I figured this would be another dip when I got the urge to give up at about 2:30PM. As so often happens, after I ‘gave up’, I saw yet another spot where maybe I should have a look, and snapped out of it. At times like that I replay John Wayne’s sour line: “Don’t much like quitters, son.” But I really was getting to breaking point when finally, I heard the ‘tick tick’ chips of my target bird. Its actually a very easy chip to mimic, which I did. It took a while but I eventually saw the bird and a not-so-great image. Our conversation of ticks eventually led to a brief emergence of the warbler from the dense scrub into an opening, where I had a sweet view, and chance for better photograph. I was sunburnt and exhausted, but really satisfied. However, I still wanted that Black Swift badly, so made my way as fast as possible through terrible traffic to get to the site by 5:30PM. I walked up and down the designated trail watching for swifts above. I climbed a strategically placed hill and waited as the sun set at 7:30ish. No swift, not even a White-throated this time.

So whilst my California trip allowed me to add three species (Ross’s Goose, Island Scrub-jay, and MacGillvray’s Warbler) to my year list, I struck out on a similar number of get-ables that would have been enough to get me within striking distance of Neil Hayward’s ABA big year record (749). As it stands I’m on 744 with two provisional species, but watch this space – I don’t intend slowing down any time soon.

Global Wildlife Conservation is launching our joint fundraising campaign as we speak, which is incredibly exciting – providing a much needed chance for Devil Ark to play a bigger and more effective role in saving the iconic Tasmanian. This is undoubtedly one of the most achievable yet ambitious conservation projects I know of, and I’ve enjoyed working on it intensely over the past eight years. Its only been over the past few years, with the increasing commitment of GWC that the aims of the project have really come to life. I’ll have more about the fundraising campaign soon.