Monday, March 21, 2016

California Dreaming: Bolsa Chica Wetlands

     My family took a little holiday to California to attend a wedding.  Living in the next state over, we decided to drive and visit Joshua Tree National Park and spend a few extra days in Los Angeles around the wedding. It was our first time at Joshua Tree and it was a beautiful place. We stayed the night at Twentynine Palms in a hotel, but we plan on going back to camp soon.

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park - California
    I wasn't really concentrating on birds, but I did see some Western Scrub Jays and loads of lizards on the rocks.

     Once in LA I got the chance to meet my friend Brent Hall, a brilliant photographer who moved to LA from Albuquerque. Check out his website, he does amazing work. We went to Huntington Beach CA and visited the Bolsa Chica Wetlands.  This is a salt water marsh located on the other side of a road from a busy beach. It's a beautiful place and much larger than I thought it would be.  My target birds for this area were Reddish Egrets and the endangered Ridgeway's Rail, along with whatever else we could see.  
     We left the car-park and walked across a long, wooden, boardwalk further into the wetlands.  One of the first birds that we saw was a Pied-Billed Grebe diving for food.

Pied-Billed Grebe
Pied-Billed Grebe - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
Brent was nice enough to loan me a couple of his lenses on this walk.  The first was a Canon 100mm f/2.8 with a teleconverter, which is how I shot the Gebe photo above.  But then he offered to let me try his new Canon 100-400mm version 2. It's the lens that I've been wanting, talk about a treat.
A bit further along were some shorebirds, Marbled Godwits and lifers for me.

Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
Along with the Godwits were a few Surf Scoters, both males and females.

Surf Scoter
Surf Scoter - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
They weren't the only fancy ducks about, a Red-Breasted Merganser was foraging along one of the waterways in the area.

Common Merganser
Red-Breasted Merganser - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
Ruddy Ducks seemed to be everywhere, I've seen nice size groupings of them here in Arizona and quite a few were around in California.  But the ones in Arizona didn't seem to have such nice blue bills yet.

Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Duck - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
The air was busy too.  There were quite a few gulls flying around, but this Forster's Tern fly by nice and low for us.

Forster's Tern
Forster's Tern - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
A Northern Osprey also flew by, it was the only raptor that we saw on our walk, but always nice to see.

Northern Osprey
Northern Osprey - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
All of those birds were nice, but it wasn't the one that I was hoping for.  That was a Reddish Egret.  We had seen one towards the beginning of our trip, but it was fairly far away and we didn't get any good photos.  But as luck would have it, we came upon another one.  

Reddish Egret
Reddish Egret - Bolsa Chica Wetlands

What a beautiful bird, much nicer than it's cousins the Great Blue and Grey Herons in my opinion. Brent and I watched it hunt around the marsh for a bit, and then fight a bit with a short squall that came through, bringing a bit of wind and higher waves.

Reddish Egret
Reddish Egret - Bolsa Chica Wetlands 
It was time for us to head back, I had a rehearsal dinner to attend.  As we made our way back we got some good looks at a Willet prowling around.

Willet - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
And I took the time to watch this clever Snowy Egret hunting fish.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
It staked out a stream between two ponds in the marsh and was snapping up some small fish as they passed through.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret and Prey - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
If Bolsa Chica Wetlands are known for one bird, it would be the endangered Ridgeway's Rail. Brent and I met a pair of Fish and Wildlife officers who were out doing a census on them, but they said that they hadn't seen any yet that day.  We resigned ourselves to dipping on them as we went to cross the boardwalk to the carpark. But a couple of out-of-town birders, who we had met earlier, told us to be quiet because there was a Rail just below them!  Brent and I crept up so as not to disturb it's calling.
Ridgeway's Rail
Male Ridgeway's Rail - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
As it would happen, the bird couldn't care less who was watching it. It was just looking for it's mate. These birds were recently split from Clapper Rails due to some differences and no habitat over-lap.  From what I understand, they prefer salt and brackish water and Clapper Rails do not.
I was able to record a bit of the calling on my phone.

Just as we were about to move on, the simple calling turned into a cacophony, a female had arrived and some mating was taking place just below us. 

Ridgeway's Rails
Ridgeway's Rails - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
Afterwards they quickly went their separate ways with the female moving on to forage in the marsh.

Ridgeway's Rail
Female Ridgeway's Rail - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
What an amazing chance to get such great looks at some normally hard-to-see birds, and endangered ones at that.  It's sobering to think that these birds may not be around for my grandkids to see.

Ridgeway's Rail
Ridgeway's Rail - Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Hopefully I'll update this blog more often, especially after I get a new lens. The Hummingbird photos that I am missing from my own garden is depressing. I'll have another short post from California to follow this one.  

Thank you for making it this far,



  1. Excellent stuff
    You'll sell your soul to get that lens sooner then later

  2. OK then , Another Crackin' Collection
    with a Great camera kit