The Last Day in Southern California

Today was the fourth wet and gray morning here in Orange County. Of course everyone tells us how unusual the weather has been but that doesn’t make the sun shine. We were off early to the Newport Pier where we joined dozens of fisherman in the early morning mist. The pier was a polyglot of languages as the fisherpeople were from all over. They seemed to be casting a run of about six small hooks, about two feet apart, and then bringing in six smallish fish. we presumed they were bait fish to be sold or used for bait for larger fish; but we never found out for sure.

The surfers were active around the pier even though the waves were small. Any day surfing has to be taken advantage of I guess – like birding. There was a shark attack yesterday in which a boogey-boarder was killed. The shark attack was 250 miles north of us and was actually north of Point Concepcion, where the warm/cold water difference is usually located. The shark was on the cold north side of the state and not in the southerly and warmer waters. (Boogey-boarders are like body-surfers of the olden days. Where we rode the waves on our own bellies like porpoises, a boogey-boarder has a small board that he lies on and then rides that through the surf.)

There were lots of gulls (Western and Heermann’s mostly) and terns (Elegant, Royal, and Forster’s) out from the end of the pier. There were also a few Surf Scoters heading south and some Parasitic Jaegers chasing about. The Brown Pelicans and gulls lined up on the beach near the area where the “dory fisherman” cut and sold their morning catch. It seems there has been a surfside fish market on the beach here for the past 130 years. Fresh fish cut as you wait.

We headed down the peninsula to the West End Jetty where we watched the boogey-boarders and looked for rock-loving shorebirds. We didn’t add any species but enjoyed the older part of town with (still very crowded) lovely beach homes that often dated aback 70+ years.

We then went to a place that was established by high school biology teachers to show their students the out of doors. The Environmental Nature Center now has a building, a gift shop, and volunteers to make it a very nice Newport Beach stop. They have planted small sections with plants representative of many of California’s varied habitats. We added several species here despite it being cool and gloomy, mid-day, and the area being rather small. We found Black-headed Grosbeak, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Western Tanager, and Hermit Thrush at this stop.

After this stop we traveled the Upper Newport Peninsula (aka the Back Bay).  This is an 3.5 mile long protected flowage set aside for protection of habitat for the light-footed Clapper Rail.  Everyone we spoke with told us that the rails were easy to see – all over the place.  We found this not to be true but had several places along the route where they were calling.  We did finally get a look at one. The water also had lots of coot and Ruddy Duck as well as Marsh Wrens, Pied-billed Grebes (see below) and many herons and egrets. It was a nice place. The road is a slow-paced one way track that is used by bikers, walkers, joggers, and birders. It is edged on the uphill side by vertical cliffs that are covered in scrub and held White-crowned Sparrows, House Finches, California Towhees and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Tonight Fran flies overnight back to Boston and then Cape Cod. I head off to the west to Australia – where the blog-beat will continue.

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