Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ivory Gull--No; Taiga Bean Goose--Yesssssss

Yesterday morning Wes and I were out by 6:30 to make the "rounds" of Santa Maria and Pismo Beach in search of the ivory gull and possible other rarities that might be around. It was sunny, but very windy which made the birding not as enjoyable as it had been on Monday. We saw lots of good birds (49 total new ones for the week), but by mid-afternoon we had not found the ivory gull. We did find that one of the dead seal carcasses that it had been feeding on had been scooped up by the beach cleaning crew, thereby further reducing the chances of the bird coming back to eat.

I called a friend in Montecito about having dinner about 5 before making the drive down to LA to catch a plane home this morning. As we were driving back to Wes' house we got a call alerting us to the discovery of a taiga bean goose at the Salton Sea--a 6 hour drive from where we were. As on Monday, there were no second thoughts about going after this bird which has been seen in the lower 48 states only 3 other times. Even in Alaska it is quite rare since it does not breed in North America. I called my friend and canceled the dinner date.

We hit the road at 6:30 PM and made it to Palm Springs by 11 where we checked into a motel. We were back on the road before 5 AM and arrived at Unit 1 of the Sonny Bono NWR at 6:20 to find 25 cars and trucks already there. Between 40 and 50 birders were lined up with their scopes and cameras on tripods looking at and photographing the bean goose. It was about 3-400 yards out in a field eating with 3 white-fronted geese and 100's of snow and ross' geese.

The top photo taken by Todd McGrath shows the taiga bean goose--the 1 that is not white--at the edge of lots of snow and ross' geese. Generally it was hanging near the 3 white-fronteds. The bean goose looks alot like the white-fronted goose. It is almost the same size with very similar coloration on its back and wings, but its bill is dark with no white at the base, it has a unmarked breast and belly, and the streaking on the sides and back of its neck seem a bit heavier than the white-fronted.

As on Monday in Long Beach when we saw the black-tailed gull (3rd and 4th photos above also taken by Todd McGrath--click on the photo to enlarge), a who's who of top CA birders were there thrilled to see such a rare bird. The large flock of geese flew up a couple of times so the bean goose was also observed in flight (2nd photo from top taken by Chris Taylor), always flying next to the 3 white-fronteds. After about an hour of watching and chatting, since the geese were not moving any closer we headed off to bird other sites at the south end of the Salton Sea.

We saw 20 more new birds for the week with the best being an albino least sandpiper which was the first I have ever seen. We also saw the large-billed form of the savannah sparrow. About 2 we went back over to check on the bean goose when we got a call that it was much closer to the viewing area. Unfortunately we arrived about 10 minutes too late as it had moved far out into the field again, so after checking it out thru our scopes for a bit we pointed our car back towards LA where I had left my car on the way down yesterday.

The bean goose raises the YTD up to 690 and is another life bird for me. The whirlwind nature of the past few days has been both exciting and tiring, and I am still absorbing the good fortune of seeing 2 such rare birds back to back. There was a rumor mid-day that the ivory gull had been relocated, but by the end of the afternoon there was no confirmation so I am planning to fly home tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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