Sunday Big Day birds #bigday

Dave Compton <davcompton@...>

Yesterday, Wes Fritz, Mark Holmgren, and I did a Big Day for the Pt Reyes
Bird Observatory Bird-A-Thon, and we had a few birds of interest along the

First off, we saw both the RUFF and at least one PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER in
the flooded pasture just north of the Guadalupe sewage plant. (See previous
posts for directions.) As usual, the Ruff was toward the west end of the
pasture. A CATTLE EGRET was also in the area, in the next pasture over. No
sign of Bobolink, White-faced Ibis, or American Golden-Plover, although one
or more of these species could still be around.

At Mission Santa Ines in Solvang, we saw a RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER Wes had
staked out for us. The bird was in a pepper tree on the west side of the
mission, near the southwest corner of the building. If you walk around back
to the grassy area lined with pepper trees, walk to the northwest corner of
this area and then go down the walkway between the outer wall and the
mission building. (This bird has caused some discussion among the three of
us, and it provides an interesting case, not just of sapsucker ID, but also
of the lack of thoroughness of birders wrapped up in a big day. I realize in
retrospect that I did not see every feature, but based on what I saw, I
believe this is probably a female Red-naped. Since we didn't have any other
sapsucker, we can count it toward our total regardless.)

On Figueroa Mtn Rd, we found a CLAY-COLORED SPARROW at the gate of a ranch
on the west side of the road, about midway between Highway 154 and where the
road begins to wind up the mountain. I can get more exact directions if
anyone wants them, but I didn't get the mile marker. At the same location,
we had both a GOLDEN EAGLE and an adult BALD EAGLE.

At the Bird Refuge in Santa Barbara, we found two TROPICAL KINGBIRDS. Both
birds were on the island immediately south of the parking lot. A COMMON
MOORHEN was along the north shore and toward the west end of the lagoon.

If you're interested only in rarities, read no further. The rest is about
our Big Day total, the conditions, our route, etc.

As for out total, we got 156. This is lower than I would normally hope for
on a fall Big Day, but this year, for the second year in a row, we were
hampered by scheduling conflicts and weren't able to schedule our Big Day
when we wanted to. I think ideal is probably about 1 October. Also, the
weather--sunny and windy in the morning and sunny and warm in the
afternoon--wasn't ideal for seeing lots of migrants. However, since we
looked at the weather report and planned accordingly--not going to a lot of
migrant traps--our failure to find many land migrants may have been a
self-fulfilling prophecy. We did hit a lot of habitats, so we didn't do
badly in most areas. We did about as well as could be expected with most
categories of water birds, although we did miss a couple of easy birds in
these areas, too, and struck out almost completely on pelagics.

Route: We began the day in the Figueroa Mtn area, to avoid having to go here
in the afternoon, when we expected the wind would be worse. We owled before
dawn (Barn, Western Screech-, Great Horned) and looked successfully for
Common Poorwill. We then birded the calm, more open side of Figueroa Mtn as
the sun was coming up, before heading to Pino Alto Picnic Area. We also
birded up to the overlook at the summit before starting down the road
toward 154. On the drive down, we hit known spots and stopped at places
where we saw birds.

Next, we stopped at Mission Santa Ines for the sapsucker, before we went
back to 154 and Cachuma Lake, where we stopped only at the marina, since
scouting had suggested other locations would be unproductive.

We hit the south coast after 11am, a little later than hoped, and started at
the Bird Refuge in Santa Barbara. We also birded the Mission and Laguna
Creek outfalls near Stearn's Wharf before we drove on to Goleta.

In Goleta, we birded several stops on Atascadero Creek for land birds, but
could find only one good flock in these three places. We also made an
unproductive stop at some exotice plantings between an office building and a
nursery near S. Patterson and Ekwill, but struck out here, too.

Our other stops in Goleta were Goleta Beach, the Goleta Sanitary District
plant, the Mesa x Los Carneros Rd wetlands, Devereux Slough, Coal Oil Point,
a pond on a private ranch in north Goleta, and Lake Los Carneros.

By the time we left Goleta, it was 4pm, and we decided to skip a planned
stop at Refugio State Beach as we raced north to the Santa Maria Valley.
Land birding didn't seem promising, so we decided to go somewhere we thought
was sure to supply some new birds. We hit the pasture outside Guadalupe at
just after 5pm, then birded the willows near the entrance to the Guadalupe
Dunes Preserve, before heading to the parking lot to do a sea watch at the
end of the day. After dinner in Guadalupe, we dropped in at Waller Park to
find the Ross's and Cackling Geese in the dark.

Good Big Day birds not listed above: American White Pelican (Devereux
Slough), Wood Duck (Bird Refuge), Merlin (Goleta Beach--but no Peregrine
here), Mountain Quail (the road to Pino Alto Picnic Area), Wilson's Snipe
(Guadalupe sewage pasture), Common Poorwill (Ranger Peak area), Nashville
Warbler (Pino Alto Picnic Area), Hermit Warbler (near Pino Alto Picnic
Area), Pine Siskin (the road to Pino Alto).

Most embarrassing misses: any pelagic sp. except a single jaeger, Northern
Pintail, Cooper's Hawk, Black Turnstone, Warbling Vireo, Pygmy Nuthatch,
Yellow Warbler (!), Western Tanager, Rufous-crowned Sparrow.

Given conditions, I'm not sure how we could've done too much better. We
could've squeezed in some better birding for land migrants, but that
would've meant dropping something else good along the way.

Regardless, it was a fun day. As usual, Mark and Wes were great company, and
the scenery around Figueroa on a crystal clear morning and at Guadalupe
Dunes beach at dusk was hard to beat.

Dave Compton
Santa Barbara