December 31, 2021
My birding and photography highlights for 2021
This narrative account accompanies a selection of forty photos compiled in a Flickr album. I suggest opening this nice Flickr album viewer in a separate window and advancing the photos along with the narrative.
Once again, a year with no travel beyond Southern California meant seeking—and once again finding easily—birding satisfaction close to home. Last year I gained two ‘life birds’ for my list, and this year only one, a surprise Bronzed Cowbird (1) that showed up in a small north county park. But a good fall migration and some pelagic wanderers helped me add eight birds to my San Diego county list. Warblers were the star this fall, when a Red-faced Warbler (2) shone brightest. The ordinary range of this bird extends only into parts of Arizona and New Mexico, so its appearance in San Diego was worthy of a classic drop-everything-and-go chase. Black-throated Blue Warbler was another new one for my county list, but it was skulky and did not give me a good photo. Other more common warblers were cooperative (3-5).
My local neighborhood park, that I only began exploring during COVID, once again proved worthy. In September, I found this Blackpoll Warbler (6) that stayed only briefly, but it brought many other birders to the park, leading to more discoveries. Max Leibowitz and I found this Black-throated Green Warbler (7), and later someone else found a Bay-breasted Warbler (8), all good quality rare birds for the county and all within a stone's throw. Sensing that migration was bringing rarities to the vicinity, I tried an even tinier little park nearby and found this Blackburnian Warbler (9). I haven’t been able to chase all the great warblers found this fall—not even close—but I’m glad I made the trip to see this Canada Warbler (10) in Rancho Bernardo to add to my county list.
Out at sea two very special pelagic species made an appearance, Cook’s Petrel (11) and Townsend’s Storm-Petrel (12), both of which I had seen before but not in San Diego county waters. Having focused so much in 2020 on birding from the yard means that now it is now harder to add new species to the yard list. In 2021 I added just five, by far the best being three Purple Martins (13) that perched for a while on an electrical wire. I spotted them from a block away and we raced over to get a photo. This species is not often seen near the coast. Although the yard was much quieter than 2020, and I’m not sure why, some of the usual characters have been around, like these Bushtits (14) playing in the bath, a Bewick’s Wren (15) that made a nest in the box but did not use it, and a Gray Hairstreak butterfly (16). This photo of a juvenile House Finch (17) suffering from a pigment deficiency called leucism ended up being my most liked post to the Birding California Facebook group, by far.
Some of my best photos of the year, of the more commonly occurring and resident birds, are from local wild areas where I can spend some time getting to know them, like this singing Spotted Towhee (18), and many nicely posing birds at Mission Trails Regional Park: Greater Roadrunner (19), Western Meadowloark (20), Rufous-crowned Sparrow (21), Western Bluebird (22), a female Red-winged Blackbird (23), and an uncharacteristically bold Lincoln’s Sparrow (24) that moved towards the camera rather than running and hiding from anything moving which is their usual m.o.
Further afield in Southern California, we made trips to Sylvan Meadows in Riverside County (25, yes, that’s snow in the mountains), the Laguna mountains in San Diego where Black-chinned Sparrows are a specialty (26), Ramona, where Vesper Sparrows (27) and a Loggerhead Shrike (28) posed nicely, and Imperial Beach which is a nesting area for Snowy Plovers (29).
Oher photographic highlights from around the county were a perfectly posing Allen’s Hummingbird (30), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (31), Painted Redstart (32) which is rare outside of parts of Arizona and New Mexico, a male Pin-tailed Whydah (33) introduced from Africa and on its way to becoming established, a Nuttall’s Woodpecker (34) getting meal after diligent drilling, a singing House Wren (35), and a perched Northern Harrier (36). At the San Diego Safari Park we enjoyed some close-up photo opportunities on the cart safari (37), but a wild bird stole the show when this rare Wood Stork perched on the lagoon island and allowed some very close portraits (38).
To wrap it up, a young White-faced Ibis being led around Santee Lakes in December (39) was a cute surprise—I guess such a big bird takes a while to develop, or perhaps that was from a second brood later in the year. And here’s a Coyote (40) confidently plying the Ramona Grasslands.