California (September 1997)

I was in San Diego for business during Sept. 3-7 and got in some birding. I ticked off two of the four targets (Rufous Hummingbird, Hermit Warbler, Le Conte’s Thrasher, Elegant Tern) mentioned in an RFI that was posted last month. Many thanks to each of the respondents! Due to a change in plans (I added a pelagic trip to my itinerary) and some luck, I did much better than expected on this trip. Part of the story involves the rescue of an injured gull.

I arrived in LA late in the morning on 9/3 and drove to Huntington Central Park. Since it was hot, there was not much activity, but it was interesting to see several Nutmeg Manikins. I moved on to Bolsa Chica Reserve and saw *Elegant Tern, *Red-necked Phalarope, and Belding’s Sparrow (I was surprised at how different it is from the other races of Savannah Sparrow). I met Dharm Pelegrini and Jim Pike, who told me where to see Baird’s Sandpiper and informed me of a pelagic trip going out from San Diego on 9/7. I finished the day at San Joaquin Marsh, where I saw *Baird’s Sandpiper and got a great view of a Peregrine Falcon that flew over.

I spent the morning of 9/4 in the Laguna Mountains. I was surprised by the abundance of Western Bluebirds (which I had great difficulty locating on previous trips to the West) and Pygmy Nuthatches in this area. The powerline cut east of the Meadow Information Station provided several nice birds, including Olive-sided Flycatcher, *Cassin’s Vireo, and *Hermit Warbler. On the way down Kitchen Creek Road, I saw a *Mountain Quail near the gate above Cibbet’s Flat Campground, where I was surprised to find a Painted Redstart. After completing some business in the afternoon, I drove down to Imperial Beach to look for the Belcher’s Gull (which hadn’t been seen for several days). After scanning the flocks and turning up nothing more interesting than a Reddish Egret, I turned around to see an injured Western Gull standing right behind me. It seemed to be asking for help. It came up to me again later. I wanted to help, but I was not sure how to capture it without injuring it further. That evening, I tried to find a rehabilitator but had no success. I had a hard time getting to sleep thinking about that poor helpless bird slowly starving to death.

I had business on 9/5 but got up very early to go feed the gull. It was not in the same location, but I thought I saw it across the Tijuana River in an off-limits area. After completing my business, I went back late in the afternoon and still could not find it. I was about to give up when two idiots (who in this case were useful) waded across the river and flushed the gulls--all but one of them. I crossed the river, but the gull seemed to be more wary than it was the previous day. It walked away from me until I threw some food in its direction. It then came charging toward me and devoured the food.

I had business early on 9/6 but was able to contact a rehabilitator (Meryl Faulkner) during a break. She told me how to safely (for me and the bird!) capture the gull. In the afternoon, I once again made the tedious trip to the Tijuana River and was relieved to find the gull on the north side of the river. I fed it to get close and then sprang after it with a towel. It disgorged the food and made a valiant effort to get away. I made several attempts to throw the towel over it and finally got it to stop. When I picked it up, it tried to bite me with its formidable beak. I carried it back to the car wrapped in the towel. Since I was not able to obtain a box, I placed the gull on the floor on the passenger’s side. I talked gently to it while driving, and it was very well behaved. It learned about F = ma when the car accelerated but managed to avoid tipping over. I was worried that the bird could not be saved. Meryl found that the wing had been broken but had healed (it’s a tribute to the toughness of this species that the bird survived long enough for this to happen) and that it should be able to fly after its primaries grow back (they were partially sheared off). Meryl gave me a tour of her facilities. She is doing a wonderful job with an amazing range of birds (gulls, terns, herons, swifts, mockingbirds, meadowlarks, kingbirds, phalaropes, phoebes, jays, doves, orioles, and even starlings).

On 9/7, I went on a pelagic trip led by Pete Ginsburg, Guy McCaskie, and Stan Walens. I was lucky to get a spot when someone cancelled their reservation. I was very excited because it was my first pelagic trip. We saw *Pink-footed and Black-vented Shearwater, *Leach’s, *Ashy, *Black, and *Least Storm-Petrel, *Pomarine, *Parasitic, and *Long-tailed Jaeger, *Cassin’s and *Rhinoceros Auklet, Elegant, Common, Forster’s, and *Arctic Tern, and *Sabine’s Gull. We got great looks at several of these birds. The Rhinoceros Auklet was sitting on the water within about 100 feet. The Cassin’s Auklets were flying but were close enough to see details. A Leach’s Storm-Petrel flew very close and gave a great look at the white patch. We were fortunate to see Black and Least Storm-Petrels flying together for size comparison. It was easy to see details on the relatively large Pink-footed Shearwater. We got great looks at several Pomarine Jaegers, including one that still had its tail. We saw one highly unexpected bird about 20 miles or so out — a Mourning Dove! On the way in, we saw several *Surfbirds on the jetties.