Monday, May 19, 2008

Walking San Joaquin

The San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine is one of my favorite birding spots. It has a very well maintained restroom facility, it doesn't allow dogs, and most of all, it is a birdy place.

We visited San Joaquin early Saturday morning. The parking lot, which occasionally delivers a bird surprise, was unusually quiet. We started our trek at the butterfly garden and enjoying the white flowers of the bower was an Allen's Hummingbird.

Mention San Joaquin to any birder and immediately the Tree Swallow would come to mind. These acrobatic flyers were everywhere. The staff at the Sea and Sage Audubon have placed dozens of nest boxes all throughout the sanctuary specifically for these birds. And in Spring all these boxes were occupied as they were today.

As we rounded Pond 1, an Anna's Hummingbird were staring at us. Other than Song Sparrows and Marsh Wrens that were always heard but seldom seen, there were not much at Ponds 1 and 2. Pond D, however, was a different story. Killdeers patrolled the banks.

Cinnamon Teals and Ruddy Ducks were dozing while Avocets patiently sifted the water with their upturned bills searching for some tiny morsels.

Then I saw them. Phalaropes. In their breeding plumage! In winter these birds are just drab grays with black lines over their eyes, but in spring, they put on chestnut and orange and brown. And what is even surprising (and lucky for us) there were two species of Phalaropes in the same pond - both doing seemingly tireless dipping of their bills into the waters trying to catch an unwary insect. The Wilson's, with it's white crown and cheek and deep rust colored nape competed with the Red-necked, with it's tell-tale red neck and white throat in sheer beauty.

Reluctantly, we moved on to search for other species. Soon an American Goldfinch peeped among the leaves. By the stream, Wilson's and Yellow Warblers took turns in enjoying a quick bath. Warbling Vireos would drop by to check out the action below.

Soon the sun was almost directly above us and the sweltering heat was becoming unbearable. We headed back to the parking lot when I noticed a White-faced Ibis feeding in Pond C. The light from the midday sun shining on it's plumage produced spectacular glowing colors that were a feast for the eyes!

That awesome beauty was a perfect ending to our birding day.

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