I've just had five days in California for work purposes. I was attending the San Diego Bird Festival. Opticron were sponsoring the event and I was asked to join a birding trip into the Anza-Borrego desert in Southern California. You can just imagine my loud protestaions at being made to bird in southern California. Kicking and screaming I was dragged off to Heathrow for a Virgin Atlantic fight to Los Angeles. San Diego County has the enviable reputation of being the US county with the largest number of species recorded there - over 500. Closely followed by the the county immediately to the north Orange County. Having only birded in Texas there would be a raft of new species for me that can only be encountered in western USA and some California specialities. High on my most wanted list were the gulls, Western, California and Heermann's and all were very easy and all three were found without me leaving the grounds of the hotel. Other gulls there were American Herring Gull, Bonaparte's Gull and Ring-billed Gull. The hotel was the Dana Hotel & Marina located on the norhtern arm of Mission Bay, San Diego. Here there were Brewer's Blackbirds feeding on the lawns in amongst the American Coots and Black-crowned Night Heron fed at night by the hot tub. Black Phoebe used the volley ball net as a perch keeping a look out for any passing Painted Lady butterflies, before swooping down like a flycatcher and catching them. The palm trees were alive with the chipping of Audubon's Warblers which simply went berserk when pished - Why does that not happen when in the UK?
The First day of the festival was Thursday and I needed a couple of hours to set-up the optics in the Marina Village Convention Center (sic). Whilst setting up I found it difficult to concentrate with Belted Kingfisher perched up on a nearby boat and visible from my stand. Spotted Sandpiper, Snowy Egret and Eared Grebe (a much better name for Black-necked Grebe in my view) and Forsters Tern were to be regular visitors to this area of the marina over the next few days. Coopers Hawk, Say's Phoebe & Cassin's Kingbird greeted us each morning in the car park. One of the best sightings of the whole weekend was something other than a bird and it was to be found in the car park each morning. Surely the coolest ego plate around.
I later learned that this was the license plate of a birder I would spend a bit of time with over the weekend. Steve Sosensky a birder with a lower 48 list of 691 and he says he will not bird out of the USA before reaching 700. I spent both Thursday and Friday manning the Opticron stand and talking to American birders explaining who Opticron are and occasionally doing some birding at the marina. Rough-winged Swallow, Savannah Sparrow and Anna's Hummingbird also found at the convention center. But the big birding day was to be the Opticron sponsored trip into the Anza-Borrego desert. Thirty five empy nest birders and a twelve year boy were booked onto the trip which was being led by real life cowboy Bob Miller. Bob has spent his whole life birding in the desert and an exellent guide, he was assisted by Borrego resident Paul Jorgensen. But 36 is a big birding group and as a sponsor of the trip I was roped in to be a third guide. The day was all about some of the desert specialities in this part of the state. Despit being a two-hour drive from San Diego we were still in the county of San Diego. Targets today would be Sage, Crissal & Le Conte's Thrasher along with Lawrence's Goldfinch, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Verdin and Greater Roadrunner. We found seven Sage Thrasher, 3 Le Conte's Thrasher and only heard Crissal but all taget birds were found except the Roadrunner