When my daughter and her family moved to Southern California I was blessed to be able to enjoy this beautiful part of California and of course expand my birding opportunities when I visited. Some birds on the West Coast are different from ones that I live side by side with in Central Texas and on the Gulf Coast, so it was with great anticipation that I ventured out to explore different birding areas that I previously scoped out on the internet.
As one might imagine, the Southern California coastline is high dollar real estate and approximately 90% of it has been developed leading to the loss of natural wetlands that are imperative for the survival of many bird species. Fortunately there are pockets of these wetlands that have been protected to ensure that some of these areas remain for our bird friends. One in particular that I can’t wait to revisit is the Tijuana Estuary at Imperial Beach. It is part of approximately 2500 acres that is part of the Tijuana River watershed.
On my first visit there, California was experiencing what they call a “California King Tide” which basically meant that the salt marshes and estuaries were flush with water. That translates into great birding opportunities. The tides flow in, fill the shallow estuary basins, providing food and shelter for many species of plants, animals and invertebrates. The depth of these ponds and the types of soil can determine what species live there. It is a careful balancing act that many times unfortunately can be upset by man.
On this particular day, a few we were fortunate to spot were Whimbrels, Egrets, cormorants, common rails, house finch, California Towhee, American Kestrel and Western Grebes.
Walking beaches and trails in search of birds makes one hungry. And what better way to satisfy that craving than seeking some street tacos to assuage our hunger. Easily available in a town bordering Mexico.
If you are lucky enough to be visiting Southern California check out this wonderful protected natural resource if you just want to enjoy some beautiful scenery or experience the thrill of finding a new “lifer” bird species. Find more information at http://www.trnerr.org.
Many years ago, my BFF and I took our girl scout troop on one of their year-end trips and our destination was the vacation home of one of our scouts. It became our home base as we engaged in different day activities. One of those was the YO Ranch in Central Texas. It is quite a fancy place today, but back then it was a taste of the Old West combined with an African wildlife adventure. It was an opportunity for our girls to see up close and personal many exotic animals they had never seen before. It was fun!
We went dam sliding, horseback riding, floating in tubes on the Guadalupe River while eating watermelon, enjoyed outdoor theatre presentations and just thoroughly savored an escape to a paradise in Ingram Texas.
Roaming throughout the 27,000 acre YO working ranch were giraffes, deer, and mountain goats to name a few. One of the main attractions of the YO Ranch back then was their Ostrich and Emu population. The day we visited and bounced around in trucks touring the property, we were allowed out of the vehicle to walk around. I most remember the open prairie with a few scattered trees throughout. I don’t remember a whole lot about why we were walking around, but we suddenly became aware of our guide yelling at us to run toward one of the trees. We took off running and glancing around we understood why. Romping quickly toward us at a rapid pace was a huge Ostrich and he was closing fast. We reached the tree and stayed there as our guide drove the truck over to us and shooed Junior away.
Why is this Junior’s Adventure? Time passed and Junior was a fond memory of happy times spent with our scouts. One day while reading the newspaper, we discovered that Junior had moved on from the YO Ranch to be a junkyard guard bird. We knew he was aggressive since we had personally experienced it and apparently he was better suited to guarding junk than roaming around the ranch attacking paying guests. I am sure he lived a happy life doing what he liked to do best….terrifying people!
It’s winter. For those of us in Texas, this means almost perfect weather….nice temperatures, clear skies, many leafless trees and excellent bird watching. Not so for many parts of our country where falling snow and adverse weather conditions may limit outdoor time for many people. Enter Cornell University’s Live Bird Cams.
Each year I open each of these cams on my computer and delight in watching many different species up close and personal as they build nests, lay their eggs, incubate, feed, nourish and teach their offspring survival skills and then watch them fledge for the first time. Each of these bird events is highly anticipated by thousands of viewers all over the world. Ah, what a wonderful thing is this internet. Allowing each of us windows into different worlds that may literally be a world away. A giant thank you to Cornell University for supporting and facilitating these cameras and an equally large thank you to all the volunteers that moderate these sites teaching us about these birds, their habits and behaviors. I have learned so much and have also discovered that viewing birds on the camera has transferred to better identification skills for me in the field.
In Hawaii I get to enjoy a Laysan Albatross as she and her mate build a simple nest of a few sticks on the ground, tend to their young for a long seven month period before that one youngster takes to its wings for the first time. Last year I felt privileged to watch the young Albatross trundle up a hill that overlooked the ocean, open her wings and launch herself into the air for the first time. She will spend the next couple of years soaring high above the ocean. It was a magical moment filled with raw emotion….the sheer beauty of this bird instinctively thrusting herself into the Albatross life.
Drama unfolds at these cam sites. Red-tailed Hawks Ezra and Big Red have been successful for many years in raising their young on the Cornell University campus. Campus goers actually write notes in chalk to them on the sidewalk below their nest site. One of their fledglings was injured in a crazy impossible accident involving a greenhouse roof on the campus that closed on the young bird and injured his wing. The dedicated BOGs (birders on the ground) that track the fledglings movements called for help and he received the best veterinarian care in the hopes he could be returned to the wild. Unfortunately this didn’t happen so E3 is now being used for educational programs. His life is happy and he definitely will not have to worry about survival in the wild.
Dottie and Casper are two barn owls that live in Texas. I’ve watched and rooted for their offspring, one in particular. Ollie was the fourth egg to hatch and seemed to be struggling to survive since his older siblings seemed to get the lion’s share of the food Mom and Dad brought to them. But as I watched Ollie got stronger, beating the odds that he might experience the siblicide fate of so many. Today Dottie has returned to the nesting box, but so far no sighting of Casper. There has been another male owl periodically and all of us “watchers” are anxiously awaiting Casper’s arrival. Did he survive the winter? Is this new male owl (already named Dash) his replacement? Only time will tell.
And even when the birds have finished their nesting and young raising chores, the bird feeders on Sapsucker Pond and in Ontario Canada continue to provide great bird watching and many surprises throughout the year. It was on the Sapsucker Pond feeder that I saw my first Pileated Woodpecker. And in Ontario I saw my first ruffed grouse.
If you are wheelchair or home bound these cams are for you. If you work in a cubicle with no windows to the outside world, these cameras are for you. Or if you just wish to have a secretive look at birds in their natural environment and watch them work their many wonders, then these cams are for you. I know they have greatly enhanced my serenity, my knowledge of birds and my identification skills. So check them out. I promise you won’t be disappointed!
Happy bird searching!!!
All photos captured from Cornell Live Bird Cams via my computer. Thank you Cornell!