Wednesday, 18 April 2012


This is the third part of a series on our recent trip to San Diego - you can find part 1 here, and part 2 here.

This looks promising...
A successful birding trip is usually preceded by careful preparations and review.  When visiting a completely new area this is particularly important, so for our California trip there were three pieces to those preparations.  Firstly, following the appropriate listserv (email bird alerts) to get a flavour for species and locations.  Secondly, based on this information, generating and studying a list of common and target species.  The final piece was researching nearby hotspots - in the case of the non-birding holiday, nearby being the critical word.  "A Birder's Guide to Southern California" by Brad Schram was a fantastic resource and, along with online research, I discovered that our rented vacation property was less than a mile from the San Elijo Lagoon - complete with trails, several different habitat types, and an interpretive centre.

View San Elijo Lagoon in a larger map
Looking west across the marsh from the bend in the river just below the blue place mark above.
The two CalgaryBirder Jr's and I heading up the trail 180° from the above photo.
I made two visits to the lagoon - one with the family for a short walk and later an early morning solo excursion for a couple of hours.  This totalled 39 species including on the adjacent Cardiff State Beach.  The total species count for the lagoon is around 300, with 65 recorded as breeding, which gives you some idea of how I was just scratching the surface.  Here are a few highlights, mostly digiscoped - a scope is very useful although not vital as the waterfowl and waders seemed generally less skittish than in Alberta wetlands.  For more information on San Elijo and the species found there you can look at the lagoon conservancy website or at this birder's overview of the various trails.
Great Egret, Ardea alba, with American Wigeon in the background 
Digiscoping hummingbirds is often difficult (without a feeder) but this male Anna's Hummingbird, Calypte anna, was very cooperative
A Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca, with a small flock of dowitchers - almost certainly Long-billed Dowitchers, Limnodromus scolopaceus 
Certainly the highlight of the lagoon, possibly of the entire trip, this normally secretive Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola, was just wandering about in plain view, at least by Rail/Sora standards.
Passerines tend to be tricker to photograph, but I managed to get a half-decent shot of another lifer - the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Polioptila cerulean.
A taste of home - American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana, and Least Sandpipers, Calidris minutia
A quiet, reflective moment for this Snowy Egret, Egretta thula

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