Written evening of December 12 2011.
I'm sure that this title gets you all excited! Well it was a surprise for me too.
Our itinerary home from Arizona was via Los Angeles. We had a very tight (30 minute connection) in LA. Heavy rain in Tucson (yes, rain in the desert!) delayed our departure by maybe 10 minutes. Yet again, bad weather in LA delayed our arrival as we circled around before they let us fly in. We ended up getting to our gate in LA right as the doors closed for our plane to Washington Dulles. In fact we saw the plane that we were supposed to be on, a Boeing 777 United getting push back right after we walked into the terminal. Obviously, we missed the flight to Dulles. The only other flight to Dulles today was a late flight, arriving in Dulles at 11:59 pm and from Dulles we still had one more short express flight to Shenandoah Valley, and the last Dulles-Shenandoah flight leaves Dulles in the 9:00 hour. Obviously we didn't want to get to Dulles at midnight and still find a hotel, so we decided to stay in LA. This was GREAT news for me -- I knew that possible birds including Herrman's Gulls, Clark's Grebes, Long-billed Curlews, and Brandt's Cormorants were waiting at parks within a reasonable drive from the airport!
Our first stop was a park, just 9 minutes away from the airport known for great birding. I arrived, and I immediately spotted about 8 gulls (give or take a few) perched on a human-made structure. I lifted my binoculars and I just couldn't believe it -- they were Herrman's Gulls, every single one of them! This park was great for other birds as well and some of the waterfowl/shorebirds included: American Coots (by the dozens), Pied-billed Grebe, Mallard, Bufflehead, Marbled Godwit, and plover of unknown species (will be trying to get identification from expert "shorebirders" from my photos and will update blog with result) among others. We also saw a selepherous hummingbird adult male, I believe it was a Rufous. I have both North American selepherous hummingbirds so even if I made a mis-ID it doesn't effect my year list. Other than the Heerman's Gulls my highlight here was a total of 4 grebes that were either Western and/or Clark's and I will also be getting an ID on them (got photos) and will update this post with the result.
After the "Heerman Gull park" we headed to a park that has had consistent eBird report of Brandt's Cormorants, along the Pacific Coast. I saw lots of cormorants far out but I could not get a positive ID on Brandt's. I realized that the reports were probably made by excellent "sea birders" (which I'm surely not!) that have 60 X Swarovski Spotting Scopes. I wish I was one of them, but am far from it. And my lower quality scope is in a duffel bag at LAX:)
So I'm at 428 (and possibly 429 or 430 with the plover and more likely grebe).
Tomorrow I'm flying from LA back home to Virginia but sometime soon will be Maryland bound chasing.
Update evening of November 13 2011: while on the plane back home to Virginia today comparing my photos to Bird ID books, I looked up the 4 grebes that I didn't know if they were Clark's or Western. 3 of the 4 were Western (which I already have) but the forth was a Clark's! My photos showed the brighter bill and no black around the eye. Clark's is a lifer for me and number 429 for my Junior Big Year! I also looked up the plover, and it was a Black-bellied, which I already have of course.