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Central California

11-31 October 2002

Part 1:  Starr Ranch and Ventura

I had been asked to co-lead a field trip for the Western Field Ornithologists (WFO) Convention in Irvine, so I chose Starr Ranch, seeing as I had never been there before, and since it's generally not open to the public (not without prior arrangement, anyway), I figured this would be my only chance!  Met the crowd at the back of the hotel bright and early; we got four carloads of people together that I was supposed to lead over there (which I promptly lost--thankfully everyone had maps--but two of them actually beat me there--go figure).  Got to Starr Ranch before the crack of dawn where Pete the Manager met us and we were greeted by a singing Poorwill and a hooting Great Horned Owl!  Had to take the latter off, though: turns out he was an injured bird they were rehabilitating (it was fun to actually watch him hoot, though!).

  

 Injured Great Horned Owl in rehab

Pete led the way, and I tried pointing out the calls as I heard them.  The only familiar face was Lori Hargrove, so we chatted quite a bit, and a couple from Ventura told me exactly how to get to Island Packers for the next day's trip out to Santa Cruz!  (I needn't have worried: there were signs to Channel Islands NP from the freeway all the way there...)  We took a wonderful loop trail that went back up the road, then along a dirt trail that had a couple of good hills in it, but we all made it, and the views (although hazy) were gorgeous!  In the canyons we had the usual oak fare, plus wintering kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, and Fox Sparrows.  What really threw me was the fact that the Foxes were singing!  In fact, a lot of stuff was singing (including a Purple Finch) that I thought was odd for this time of year.  (Sidebar: several people on Birdchat mentioned that sometimes, when the length of day in the fall becomes comparable to the equivalent length of day in the spring, many birds start singing.) Someone spotted a sapsucker which turned out to be a Red-naped, and a Wilson's Warbler called very nicely.  Up on the hill we got a Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and some Lawrence's Goldfinches bounced overhead (we all laughed about the fact that that's usually how you see--or don't see--them).  Pete also showed us some gypsum patches that they use to track animals; one even had a little surveillance camera set up!  The icing, though, was back at the parking lot (natch) where two Scott's Orioles were song-battling!

     

Ranger Pete leads the crowd from the WFO Convention while participants enjoy the view

       

Some of the gang, including San Diego  Bird Atlas participant Lori Hargrove (upper right with the big hat)

                         

Gypsum patch used to track animals—look hard for the little video camera on the post!  On the way out we encountered this Mule Deer.

My stomach was screaming for that Subway sandwich I had bought the day before (I had run into a couple of friends when I arrived at the WFO Convention the day before who wanted to eat, but I wasn't hungry at the time, so I bought the sandwich and saved it), so I ate that, said goodbye to everyone, and headed north.  Ran into three Parking Lots before I hit Ventura (four, actually, including the expected 405/101 mess) and decided to make a dry run to Island Packers.  Only took 15 minutes from the motel (which happened to be the same exit), so I confirmed the boat reservation, and walked over to the beach, where there were tons of gulls, mostly Western, Heermann's, and California, with a token juvenile Royal Tern, which I thought was very interesting; I wondered if they actually bred that far north. (This bird, in addition to the thicker bill and whiter face, showed a strong secondary bar, which is indicative of Royal rather than Elegant, according to Sibley, hence my diagnosis...)  Another Calbirder confirmed later that, while they don’t breed there, they do disburse north while still juveniles, so a juvie Royal was certainly not unheard of. The Sanderlings were very entertaining, their little legs a blur, and also picked up Willet, Black-bellied Plover, and a cooperative Marbled Godwit.  Also had a white-eared female Brewer's Blackbird!

   

The gull mob at the Ventura Beach

                      

The beach is a mosaic of gull footprints, while Sanderlings run from the surf and snooze...

        

                               

L-R:  Willet, Marbled Godwit, and “White-eared” Brewer’s Blackbird (the white is caused by leucism)

Headed over to the sewer ponds after that, where the nice man took me right up to where the birders go; I never woulda found the place on my own!  You have to park and walk around the ponds, which are reclaimed wetlands, and it turns out to be a terrific loop trail around three ponds.  There's a fourth pond that you can only walk up to and check out; funniest thing there was a Black-crowned Night Heron doing an impersonation of a Western Gull in the middle of the pond (he even had his rear end stuck up the right way)!  Couldn't find the Yellow-crowned Nightie, but there was tons of other stuff, including Gadwall nyeping all over, American Wigeon, a few Redheads, several Cinnamon Teal, a couple of Shovelers, and even a Moorhen, which was a county bird!  The Ruddies were comical sitting in the scum, and Coots were ubiquitous.  In the second and third ponds were lots of Western Gulls taking baths, and some Least Sandpipers fed on the scum itself!  Shot a cooperative Great Blue Heron, while curious Yellowthroats and Whiteys came up to pishing.  A lady and her little boy standing forelornly on the outside of the fence wanted to know how to get where I was: they had lost their kite, including the wad of fishing line it was hooked to, and it somehow got hung up on a bush inside the compound; the kite itself seemed to be doing fine up in the breeze!  Unfortunately it wasn't in a spot where I could retrieve it...  Power-driven para-sailers were soaring around as well...

     

Ventura Sewer Ponds, with Coots fleeing across the scum

                                                  

L-R:  Great Blue Heron; Black-crowned Night Heron impersonating a Western Gull (and how they normally pose--2nd year bird); Ruddy Duck snug in the scum...

                

L-R:  Western Gulls (real ones...); Shoveler pair; White-crowned Sparrow; Say's Phoebe

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