Flashback to San Diego
I did decide to target one specific bird on this trip though soI got up early to make my way toward Santee Lakes about 30 miles away. There was a bit of a local celebrity up there that I was hoping to see, an overwintering Lewis' Woodpecker. They are stunning birds and I hadn't seen one for a few years (at least) so this definitely seemed like it would be worth the short drive. I had to be back to man the booth by mid morning though, so I got up early and started the day off with a male Anna's Hummingbird displaying in the first rays of morning light right at the hotel.
En route I bumped into some locally uncommon Grasshopper Sparrows. These seemed to be large-billed compared to the birds I see here in FL, but it could have been my imagination as well. Probably worth doing a bit of research to see which is the expected local resident subspecies and see if my impression fits the bill (so to speak).
Since I didn't have far to travel, once I got off the main highway I stopped often as the opportunity arose. This interesting adult "rufous morph" Red-tailed Hawk caught my eye, so I snapped a couple quick pics through the spotting scope from the car window. The western sub species of Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis calarus) tends to be the most variable subspecies, so you may run into dark morph, light morph, and these rufous or intermediate birds frequently. This is always a big surprise to Eastern birders coming west for the first time as they are only accustomed to seeing light breasted Red-taileds. It's no wonder David Sibley uses 39 drawings with an additional 6 silhouettes on 2 full pages in his guide to cover the variation of this species. The Red-tailed is to the hawk family what Herring is to the gulls! ;p None-the-less, you can note the brick red tail beneath the folded wings on this individual to clinch the ID.
Western Scrub-Jay digiscoped Santee Lakes, CA w/ Leica APO Televid spotting scope
As I approached the entrance to Santee Lakes, I couldn't resist stopping to admire a close Western Scrub-Jay in good light. The leaves on this tree were very similar the Live Oak trees that the Florida Scrub-Jay like close to my home. Not long ago there was just one "Scrub-Jay" in the US but the distinctive light Florida race and large darker Island Scrub-Jay (found on Santa Cruz Island off the coast of CA) were deemed separate species from the Western Scrub-Jay. Still some suggest that the interior and coastal race of the Western Scrub-Jay should have been separated as well. So I stopped to note the distinctly darker brown back, more vibrant blue tones, better defined collar, and slightly muted call of this bird as compared to those I see in the Rocky Mountains or SE Arizona.
Many times I know I get in a hurry on these trips and forget to really LOOK at the birds I'm seeing. Pressed for time, I identify a bird to species and move on with some distant destination or target in mind. I was really enjoying this day as I had picked a close location and was able to take enough time to really enjoy each bird I was seeing. I was able to study variations that go beyond simply identifying a bird to species and quitting there!
After a thorough study of the pacific race of Western Scrub-Jay, I continued into the park. I made my way past the various pools heading toward the larger Sycamore trees that the woodpecker preferred. I scanned through the many American Coots & Ring-necked Ducks on the ponds, and finally spotted a handful of Wood Ducks. Once again I felt the need to do some digiscoping, and was not worried about my "target bird" as I'd already seen it in the distance sallying out to chase an insect from the distant Sycamores. I was confident it would wait for me! I digiscoped a few pictures of this male swimming through a sunlit patch, as I listened to the calls of a distant Bushtit flock and the ever present "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler (their "Chip" note is very muted compared to the eastern "Myrtle" Yellow-rumped, the two were formerly considered different species). The whole while a pair of Western Bluebirds sat silently in the shade nearby watching the whole event.