California Part 3 — Cabrillo National Monument and a Milestone

On the last day that we were in California, my dad and I were able to spend the entire first part of the day birding (we would have spent more but our flight out was in the early afternoon). So, we decided to spend it by birding Cabrillo National Monument and the Mission Bay area. These spots were a little bit farther away from our hotel then the other spots we had been birding so wanted a day when we had ample time to go and bird them. In addition, I was one bird away from my 400th ABA Area life bird so I was quite excited to see what we could find.

We decided to start off the morning birding at Cabrillo but as we pulled in we realized that it opened at nine and so wouldn’t be open for a couple of hours. So, we decided to go and bird Mission Bay. It was a decision we wouldn’t regret.

It wasn’t long before we pulled into the road/trail that runs along side a channel in Mission Bay. We quickly saw large numbers of ducks foraging in the channel itself so we got out to scope. As we got out of the car we noticed just how many ducks there were. There were hundreds of individuals of many different species (dominated by pintail, green-winged teal, American wigeon, and ruddy duck, but also including blue-winged teal, shoveller, scaup, and gadwall). In addition to the ducks there were also American avocet, marbled godwit, snowy and great egrets, and a single black-necked stilt.

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Northern Pintail with American Avocets

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A Group of Northern Pintail

However, I had a specific target in mind. There had been a handful of reports from the area of Eurasian wigeon and I was determined to find one. Scanning further, I came across a cinnamon teal, only the second I had ever seen and the first male.

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A Very Bad Photo of a Cinnamon Teal

Then I saw a bird that made me do a double take. It looked like a wigeon but as I was scanning quickly I hadn’t seen very well. Then I got on the bird again and my suspicions were confirmed. It was an adult male Eurasian wigeon! My 400th ABA life bird (and an awesome-looking bird at that)!

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Eurasian Wigeon

I watched the wigeon swim determinedly upstream for a while before I lost it in the sea of marsh plants and waterfowl. Continuing down the road we encountered many more waterfowl including a few bufflehead, an eared grebe, and a couple of western grebes.

We then moved on to another spot in Mission Bay. When we pulled in, we could see many shorebirds feeding in the exposed ground out in the channel. Scanning through the flock, we could see many black-bellied and semipalmated plovers as well as a few marbled godwit, ruddy turnstones, and long-billed curlew. Continuing down the road towards a pier jutting out towards the Pacific, we came across a large group of marbled godwit foraging very close to the road in a patch of mowed grass. This was by far the best look at godwits I had ever gotten and it was quite cool to see.

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Marbled Godwit

We then pulled over and parked before walking down the the jetty. The highlights along the jetty were a handful of common loons (which I unsuccessfully tried to make into Pacific) as well as a Heermann’s gull pirating a royal tern. We then returned to Cabrillo which would now be open.

Arriving back at Cabrillo National Monument, we got out to walk a series of trails running along a hillside in the monument.

The first birds I noticed were some fox sparrows foraging in the leaf litter.

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“Sooty” Fox Sparrow

In addition to the fox sparrows there were a few golden-crowned sparrows which was another life bird and a bird that I was very happy to see.

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Golden-crowned Sparrow

There were also a few spotted towhees foraging in the leaf litter which was another life bird (this one quite long in coming).

After getting good looks at the various sparrows, I continued to wander down the trails, the main highlight of which was getting the first look at a California thrasher that lasted for more than two seconds. I even managed to get a few photos.

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California Thrasher

We were running out of time to bird Cabrillo so before we left we decided to drive down to the shore where we could see a few seabird sitting on the rocks.

Arriving there we saw that there were a handful of black oystercatchers and black turnstones mixed into the more expected seabirds. Two new life birds!

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Black Turnstone

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Black Oystercatcher

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Western Scrub-Jay near the Seashore

After that, we had to return to La Jolla, however, before going to the airport, we stopped one last time at Torrey Pines where we got to watch a gray whale breaching near shore, a perfect end to a great trip.

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