We are hanging out at our NM property, working on fix-up projects here and hoping for some western rarities to chase.
Our recent west coast swing was very productive. (See the earlier posts about the nine new birds added to the 800!? list.) Overall, we saw about 230 species during three weeks in the four western states we visited; Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. That number is almost half of all the species we’ve seen so far this year (473)! We could have had even more, but we by-passed some of our usual birding hotspots in the west (such as the Salton Sea area, “the thrasher spot” near Buckeye, AZ and the marshes near Yuma) because the weather was just too hot and we didn’t want to stress our dog, or ourselves.
We were disappointed in the lack of western migrants during the entire time. Except for flycatchers in the Chiricahuas and the nearby desert in early September, we did not find any true “migration spectacle” in the west as we had seen in the mid-west. Some of the other birders we met suggested that we were a little late and that late August and early September would have been a better time for western warblers and such. We did encounter a fair number of eastern migrants in the migrant traps around San Francisco, and, of course, the migrant Red-throated Pipits near San Diego were a great highlight of the trip.
In general, I still hate urban birding for exotics, but even I have to admit that our successes with Orange Bishop near L.A. and Spotted Munia and Black-throated Magpie-Jay near San Diego came with almost none of the usual headaches (sketchy neighborhoods, traffic congestion, ugly habitats, etc.). Chasing these birds, especially the non-ABA ones may be curious to some but I expect the total of non-ABA exotic birds to be a very small percentage (1.5 or 2 %) of the overall 800!? list, and it was nice to add those we did on this trip, even if they never become “countable” in the future.
Weather during the last three weeks of September was quite changeable and sometimes other than we expected for the region. The fog and cool temperatures of coastal California at Half Moon Bay were exactly what we expected, but the high rainfall in the deserts of Southeast Arizona and Southwest New Mexico was not. 109 degrees F in the desert around Yuma was also higher than we had hoped for during the “fall.”
One interesting by-product of the higher-than-usual, late-season rains in the desert was an apparent burst of late-season breeding by the local birds and bugs. I already wrote about the singing Cassin’s Sparrows and Bell’s Vireos in an earlier post. We also encountered breeding activity by Verdins on September 25th, newly-hatched Scaled Quail chicks (fuzzy ping-pong balls with legs!) on October 1st, and Canyon Towhees with bills loaded with caterpillars on the 2nd. Butterflies have had a population explosion in the desert after the heavy rains and you can’t take a step across the desert grasslands without scaring up multiple grasshoppers.
The weather here in Rodeo has settled in to the fall pattern we expected of warm (80s), dry days and crystal clear nights in the upper 40s and lower 50s. We had one night down to 41 that made us worry about those little quail chicks, but we hope they can fuel up on all those grasshoppers and stay warm at night.