Upon awakening to the alarm at 3 a.m., I wondered out loud what in the heck did I get myself into?
Going back several weeks, Dolores had received an interesting proposal from an East Coast birder. Anthony and his wife Nicole were looking to find four species to further complete his list. All could be found in The Central Coast. Rather than hiring a guide, he offered a donation of $50 per species that would go to our Audubon chapter.
I was intrigued by his offer and chose to pursue it. Le Conte’s Thrasher, Bell’s Sparrow, Mountain Quail, and Allen’s Hummingbird were his target species. Three of the four were out of my league, so I considered discussing this with our local experts.
Wes Fritz was my first contact, and he enthusiastically responded “Count me in!” Knowing first hand of Wes’ expertise in target birding, I raised the ante. I posed the question to Anthony “is there any other species you want?” He came back with California Gnatcatcher and Western Screech-Owl. In the meantime, Anthony had also checked with his company and was able to obtain a company match gift. That brought the total donation to Santa Barbara Audubon to $600. Wes and I agreed that we would show this couple the best possible time we could. Little did I know that it would take 18 hours and 470 miles to accomplish this.
We started at 5 a.m. First on the list was Western Screech-Owl. We got that on Zaca Station road and picked up Yellow-billed Magpie along the way. We then headed for Maricopa, stopping at many of the well known birding spots. Wes had a patch north of town that got us the Le Conte’s Thrasher and Bell’s Sparrow. We’re halfway there and it’s barely 10 a.m. The Gnatcatcher was in Ventura county, so Wes proposed a route over Pine Mountain. We made several stops along Pine Mountain Road, picked up many species including California Condor, Tricolored Blackbird, and Lawrence’s Goldfinch. At the Pine Mountain complex we made several more stops and found White-headed Woodpecker, Pygmy Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, Western Wood-Pewee, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Green-tailed Towhee, Cassin’s Finch, and Thick-billed Fox Sparrow. We had a quick lunch before the freeway shuffle. Spirits in the car were running high, fueled by the excitement that great birding brings. So we were ready for the culture shock of returning to civilization and it’s heavy traffic.
We made it to Thousand Oaks by 4 p.m. Wes found the California Gnatcatcher and a bonus Cactus Wren. We then headed toward home through more heavy traffic. We stopped at Winchester Canyon for the Allen’s Hummingbird. It took us until 6:30 p.m. to get to Figueroa Mountain Road where we started looking for the Mountain Quail. A pair of Golden Eagles nearby got our attention before we headed up the mountain. We birded until dark, but the Mountain Quail remained elusive. On our way home, Anthony mentioned that the Condor was his 600th, and that they were “eternally grateful for this amazing experience”. Good enough for me, as I felt the same way.
After those 18 hours and 470 miles, I walked in the door at 10 p.m. After a quick bite, I collapsed into bed with a big smile on my face. Another win-win situation was complete. My deepest thanks goes out to Wes Fritz who volunteered his time and really made this happen. Additionally, I have to thank Anthony and Nicole for creating this special situation and a substantial donation to Santa Barbara Audubon. I sincerely hope that this encounter will inspire other birders, experts, and Audubon chapters to do the same.