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Back Bay Newport & San Joaquin Marsh: 4 November 2017

November 10, 2017

Male Northern Shoveler directs Long-billed Dowitchers to move along
(Ray Juncosa 11-4-17)

The high tides of winter are usually the best time to find rails at Back Bay Newport. Finding a weekend day which coincides with such a tide in the morning is another matter. We met at the beginning of Back Bay Drive, eager to find Sora, Virginia Rail and Ridgeway’s Rail aplenty, not to mention rafts of ducks and swarms of shorebirds.

American Wigeon pair (R. Juncosa 11-4-17)

Alas! It was not to be. Not many ducks, and American Wigeons were most of them. A pair of Hooded Merganser at the first stop was nice. After lengthy searching by all, Ken found a lone Sora hiding in the pickleweed at bay’s edge. We also heard a Virginia Rail hiding in a dense bed of reeds.

Long-billed Curlew and Willets (R. Juncosa 11-4-17)

Most of the shorebirds were in their usual resting spot near a large parking lot midway up the east side of the bay. Virtually all the Whimbrels, Long-billed Curlews, Marbled Godwits and Willets were here, many with heads tucked, snoozing away. The Black-belled Plovers and Least Sandpipers were in two large flocks farther up the bay, whirling and swirling in aerial maneuvers.

American Avocet female has a more recurved bill than male (R. Juncosa 11-4-17)

The nearby California Gnatcatcher spot has become completely overgrown with thick brush. Three of us struggled through it for about twenty minutes and were glad to escape intact, despite seeing no gnatcatchers. The nearby freshwater pond is also completely overgrown, but with reeds. Any ducks there  – Ring-necked Duck, for example – are not viewable.

Male Common Yellowthroat loves the reeds (R. Juncosa 11-4-17)

Marsh Wrens and Common Yellowthroats were noisy and ubiquitous, as they often are in their favored habitat of reeds. The various sparrows – Savannah, Song, Lincoln’s, White-crowned, and California Towhee – worked the shrubby hillsides and roadside brush. American Kestrels, Belted Kingfishers and the occasional Brown Pelican and Double-crested Cormorant sat on many of the posts scattered about the bay. As the day warmed, Turkey Vultures began soaring overhead. So too did the noisy airplanes taking off from nearby John Wayne Airport, which I had forgotten about.

Song Sparrow (R. Juncosa 11-4-17)

The following Monday, a group of birders used a different route, starting from near the Bay Interpretive Center at Irvine Ave. and University Drive (see map). At the downhill end of University Dr. nearest the bay, you come to a bike/walking path which follows the northern (or northwestern) bay edge to Jamboree Rd. Soon after crossing a small tidal creek, the path curves left around a small hillside which always has California Gnatcatchers among the prickly-pear cactus and bushes. Between the path and the bay is an extensive reed bed; a rising high tide will force many rails to move close to the path. They saw twelve Ridgway’s Rails. No Soras or Virginia Rails, though.

Western Grebe has greenish-yellow bill, black of crown surrounds eye
(R. Juncosa 11-4-17)

After lunch at nearby San Joaquin Marsh, headquarters of Sea & Sage Audubon, we went to Pond C to look for the Red-throated Pipit which had been hanging out there with American Pipits since earlier in the week. Of the 65 species in the Motacillidae family of Pipits & Wagtails, only three breed in North America. The widespread American Pipit breeds from western Alaska to eastern Newfoundland and winters across southern U.S. and Mexico. Sprague’s Pipit breeds in the northern Great Plains and winters primarily in Texas and Mexico, rarely making it to SoCal. The Red-throated Pipit breeds from Northern Norway and eastward across arctic Asia to the northwest corner of Alaska, and winters in sub-Saharan Africa, India, southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Very occasionally, an Alaskan-breeding Red-throated Pipit heads not southwest for the winter, but southeast, and winds up in Southern California. When they do, it’s a Big Deal for birders.

American Pipit – non-rare migrant from the Arctic
Note unstriped back and dark legs (R. Juncosa 11-4-17)

Our target Red-throated Pipit was hanging out with a small flock of several dozen American Pipits, and a half-dozen birders had already gathered to scrutinize the flock and properly pick out this particular pipit. These two pipit species are very similar in appearance. In my humble opinion, all pipit species are very similar in appearance. I’ve seen just over half of the world’s  pipit species, and can attest that they are annoyingly similar in appearance and habits. We watched diligently (some of us did, anyway, while others wandered off) for almost an hour as the flock came and went, came and went, prowling the same patch of ground, until finally one sharp-eyed birder with an excellent telescope cried out, “I’ve got it!” Following his directions, we all got all our scopes – absolutely necessary for this small bird some 50-75 yards away – onto the bird. Pale-pink legs and white streaks on the back were the primary field marks to look for, and we all saw them for ourselves. The bird was also slightly smaller – 6” versus 6 ½” – which helped a bit.

Red-throated Pipit in Poland – note striped back, light pink legs, contrasty buff on face (WikiCommons, Pdsoki 2009)

This was a life bird for most people present, and more than made up for the lack of rails and ducks. We didn’t walk around San Joaquin Marsh very much, so the list below is not representative of what you might see. It can be quite birdy, and often hosts vagrant and uncommon birds.

Green-winged Teal male – can you see the green in the wing? (R. Juncosa 11-4-17)

For those who want to visit Back Bay Newport, I suggest the high tide days in December through February; check tide tables on-line (December, for example). Get there ½ – 2 hours before high tide, so you can (one hopes) watch the birds being forced out of their hiding places in the reeds. There will also be more ducks present farther into winter, with Canvasback, Redhead and even Eurasian Wigeon possible, plus more grebes and possibly loons.  [Chuck Almdale]

 

 

 

Willets look much fancier when flying (R. Juncosa 11-4-17)

 

No./Species
Code
 Back Bay Newport (BBN) & 1-10 1
 San Joaquin Marsh (SJM) 11-25 2
 Trip List 11-4-17 26-50 3
51-100 4
100+ 5
English Name BBN SJM
Canada Goose 2
Cinnamon Teal 1
Northern Shoveler 1
American Wigeon 5 2
Mallard 3 2
Northern Pintail 2
Green-winged Teal 3 1
Greater Scaup 3
Bufflehead 1 1
Hooded Merganser 1
Ruddy Duck 1
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Eared Grebe 1
Western Grebe 3 1
Clark’s Grebe 1
Rock Pigeon 2
Mourning Dove 1 1
Anna’s Hummingbird 1
Sora 1
American Coot 5 2
Black-necked Stilt 1
American Avocet 1
Black-bellied Plover 4
Whimbrel 3
Long-billed Curlew 2
Marbled Godwit 4
Least Sandpiper 5
Long-billed Dowitcher 2
Spotted Sandpiper 1 1
Willet 4 1
Ring-billed Gull 1
Western Gull 3 1
Forster’s Tern 1
Double-crested Cormorant 1 1
American White Pelican 2
Brown Pelican 1 2
Great Blue Heron 2 1
Great Egret 2 1
Snowy Egret 2 1
Turkey Vulture 2 1
Osprey 1
Northern Harrier 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
American Kestrel 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Black Phoebe 2 1
Say’s Phoebe 1 1
American Crow 3 1
Marsh Wren 2 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1 1
Northern Mockingbird 1
Red-throated Pipit 1
American Pipit 2
House Finch 2 1
California Towhee 1 1
Savannah Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
White-crowned Sparrow 2
Common Yellowthroat 3 1
Total Species – 62 52 34
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