#438 Stalking the Elusive Phainopepla

Monday, June 30th, 2008

This weekend there weren’t any local Audubon trips so I decided to go after a specific bird, the Phainopepla, the only Silky Flycatcher whose range extends into the United States. One had shown up practically across the street from me at San Joaquin in March, but I didn’t hear about it until June, so I was going to have go a little further afield. Most of these hang around the mountains and foothills, especially favoring mistletoe. (That proved to be a valuable hint. Previously I didn’t even know we had mistletoe in Orange County.)

Saturday Beth and I tried the Oak Canyon Nature Center, where they’ve been found before, without much success. Lots of Acorn Woodpeckers, a few Western Scrub-jays, the usual Mourning Doves and House Finches, and a couple of Oak Titmice, but no sign of Phainopepla.

Sunday I went a little further out and drove down to San Juan Capistrano and then inland about 9 miles to Casper’s Wilderness Park. I got there about 9:15, and that was already too late. the sun was absolutely brutal. Memo to self: when birding in June in southern California, leave early!

I didn’t really know the area so I just pulled over wherever looked good. The first playground turned up California Towhee, House Finch, Mourning Dove, and Oak Titmouse but not much else. I continued down the road and found a sign to the Nature Center. This was a little better (though by this time it was even hotter.) Here I got California Thrasher, Turkey Vulture, Cooper’s Hawk, Anna’s Hummingbird, California Quail, and Wrentit!

Wrentit Skulking

#434-437 at Big Bear

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

It’s funny how many species don’t make the hop over the last desert and mountain range to reach the California Coast. Previously this year I’ve added 10 species to my life list (and several more to my California list) on the far side of the Santa Ana Mountains that border the O.C. on the east. Probably eight of those are uncommon in the county at best. Last weekend I added four more on a Sea & Sage trip to the San Bernardino National Forest on the south side of Big Bear Lake.

I met up with Stan Winterman about 5:30 A.M. in Costa Mesa to carpool out to Big Bear. (Side note: unlike NYC field trips, carpooling out here is the exception, not the rule; and usually just means you drive two hours to the meeting point, then carpool five miles down a dirt road from there. It takes major effort to arrange car sharing, even for long distance trips outside the county like this one. If anyone wants to carpool with me for next month’s trip to Piute Ponds, please holler.) From there it was about a 90-minute drive to Big Bear in the light early morning traffic. My first lifer was on the mountain road up to Big Bear, but it was a mammal, a Coyote. I’ve never actually seen a wild one before, but there it was; standing by the side of the road as bold as anything. Cute too, though I might feel differently if it ate my cat.

The group met at the Aspen Glen Picnic Area. The first thing that struck em when we got out of the car was that this smelled a lot like Sunspot, New Mexico (where I haven’t been for 12 years or so). Not too surprising: it’s very similar habitat on the top of a mountain in the middle of a desert. Both even have solar observatories. However there was one notable difference: the piney smell was mixed with a strong aroma of vanilla. I wondered if some camper had for some strange reason poured a bottle of vanilla extract on the ground or into the trash or some such. However I later leanred that this is actually the smell of the Jeffrey Pine, which is prevalent here, but which I guess we didn’t have back in Sunspot.

The picnic area parking lot was just a convenient place to meet, but it has some birds nonetheless. Apparently Cassin’s Finch (a potential lifer) was seen here on this trip last year, but all we got this year was House Finch. Other common parking lot birds included American Robin, Common Raven, American Robin, Spotted Towhee, Brewer’s Blackbird, and Acorn Woodpecker, but we did find Northern Flicker, Steller’s Jay, and White-breasted Nuthatch. We also found California Ground Squirrel and what I think was a Lodgepole Chipmunk, but I don’t have pictures so I can’t be sure. They’re something like a dozen+ species of chipmunks around here, so ID’ing them is more challenging than the single species we have back east. Final species for the parking lot was this Skipper:

Blue-green butterfly

I think the genus is Hesperia, but I’m not sure. Skippers are tough to ID, even with photos.

Around 8:30 we consolidated into mostly high clearance vehicles and headed off down a dirt road (2N10 or 2N11?) that doesn’t show up on Google Maps road to Bluff Lake.

Playing with Speech Recognition

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Can we type and wordpad? Yes we can.

I’m testing out Windows speech recognition. I last used speech recognition about 10 years ago on the Macintosh with a now defunct product called Power Secretary. I even wrote an entire book using Power Secretary. That was the first edition of Java Network Programming. However I gave up on it fairly quickly because it was simply too difficult.

The first thing I noted when trying out Windows speech recognition today was that it doesn’t seem to work in Firefox. I have to dictate into Wordpad and then copy the results into Firefox to post it on the blog here.

Window speech recognition on my new 2.2 GHz dual core Dell system with a couple of gigabytes of memory is much more accurate than Power Secretary ever was even with minimal training. Even when I get something wrong, it’s much easier to correct it than correcting mistakes in Power Secretary was. (the word was does seem to confuse windows speech recognition fairly frequently I’ve had to correct it several times in this article all ready.

Sunrise over Mountain View

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

red sun in smoky sky

Shoreline Park, 2008-06-24, 6:12 A.M.

Ad of the Year

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Our low fares really are low

What sort of topsy-turvy world are we living in when Southwest is the service leader?

Mexican Cactus Fly

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Huge black fly gathering pollen
Mexican Cactus Fly, Copestylum mexicana
Tustin Market, Tustin, CA, 2008-05-31

This is the single largest fly I have ever seen. Until I looked closer, I thought it was a carpenter bee, and a large one at that.