It has been 66 days since we left Hawaii. In that time we have been all over Southeast Asia living the nomadic lifestyle. While being in a foreign country is an awesome experience, one I highly recommend, it’s also a wonderful feeling to be back in your home country with the culture you know and love, speaking a language you actually understand, and ordering food where you actually know what the ingredients are.
As our time in Asia was coming to an end, we knew that the last few days would be particularly busy with a lot of moving parts in a short amount of time. We would be leaving Cambodia, heading to Thailand, heading to South Korea, heading to Hawaii, and then flying to California!
When we left Cambodia, we flew to Thailand for a day and re-visited Kaeng Krachan National Park where we had one of our most successful days birding. I could probably dedicate an entire 500 words to the White-fronted Scops Owl, Ferruginous Partridge, Black-thighed Falconet, Black and Buff Woodpecker, Long-tailed Broadbill, and Bay Woodpecker that we saw along with the Eared Pitta that we heard, but I’ll save all of that for another day. Overall it was a very successful 10 hours in the park. We left Kaeng Krachan, drove back to Bangkok and then boarded a flight to South Korea where we had a “layover” before flying back to Hawaii. What do you do when you have a 12-hour layover in a foreign country? Rent a car and drive 3 hours south, obviously. We had a whirlwind of a “day” in South Korea where we saw birds such as Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Far-eastern Curlew, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Northern Lapwing, and Cinerous Vulture. After 4 short hours birding, we turned around and headed back to Incheon Airport where we boarded a plane headed to Honolulu. Our gracious friends, the LeRoys, picked us up and agreed to drive us around the windward of the island so we could pick up Red-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Noddy, Black Noddy, Wedge-tailed Shearwater and Sooty Tern while we were back. Although we were only in Hawaii for 24 hours, we were able to see some birds and still see friends (even though it was an ABSOLUTE NIGHTMARE getting our cell phones activated again.) Oddly enough, Hawaii felt like home and we weren’t sure we were ready to leave, but a flight was scheduled for the next day so off we went to California.
Oh, and just in case you lost track, we flew on 4 separate flights in just over 5 days time! Wiith all of the time zone changes we experienced, keeping track of the day and time was pretty challenging!
Before we ever left for Southeast Asia we coordinated to have our car shipped to California so that we could pick it up there and drive the remaining distance back to Pittsburgh, PA and in doing so, see our country along the way. We have been within the Continental United States for exactly one week now and have already driven the distance it would take to get to Pittsburgh, except we’ve only made it as far as Arizona! (Not hard to do when there’s so much to see!)
We arrived in San Diego late on March 15th. We were picked up by one of Ross’s good friends from TBS, Daniel Cartica. Cartica then lent us his car so that we could go pick up our trusted Subaru Forester. The next day we picked up our car and immediately were off exploring. Before we left the country, I had really been excited for this portion of our trip as I’ve never been to the west coast before. California absolutely didn’t disappoint. Our first day in Cali we visited Sierra National Forest where we saw White-headed Woodpecker, Mountain Quail, Cassin’s Finch, Pinyon Jay, and Bell’s Sparrow. The views of the mountains and the trees were out of this world.
The next day we explored beautiful Santa Barbara. The sunrises and sunsets coupled with the views of the coast were absolutely stunning and it’s no surprise why this is such a prized place to live. Birding highlights included the likes of Yellow-billed Magpie, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Tri-colored Blackbird, and Surfbird.
Next on the agenda was to visit Channel Islands National Park, so the following day we hopped on a ferry and headed to Santa Cruz Island, a small island 20 miles off of the California coast. On the way out we had Gray Whales mating right next to our boat! We also saw pods of dolphins, Black-vented Shearwater, Common Murre, Scripps’s Murrelet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Pigeon Guillemont, and Cassin’s Auklet.
Our main target once we arrived to the island was Island Scrub Jay, a species only found on this one particular island. Thankfully the bird was surprisingly easy to see. We also saw numerous endemic subspecies of birds such as Allen’s Hummingbird, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Brewick’s Wren, and Northern Flicker. I can’t help but to mention we also had amazing looks at Island Fox, a small fox found only on Santa Cruz Island!
The ferry had boarded from Ventura and instead of sitting in LA traffic on our way back to San Diego, we took the scenic Hwy 001 through Malibu. Our last day in California was spent visiting the Salton Sea, a major birding hotspot. We had Mountain Plover, Yellow-footed Gull, Black-chinned Sparrow, and countless other species of waterfowl. Normally people could spend days exploring the Salton Sea and the habitat there, but we picked up our targets and were immediately off to Arizona.
We have been in Arizona for exactly three days. I was beginning to think we were missing tons of birds until we sat down and realized that in only three days time we were able to catch up with Rufous-capped Warbler, Black-capped Gnatcatcher (at a nest!!!), Five-striped Sparrow, Elf and Whiskered Screech Owl, Sinaloa Wren, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet (again at a nest!!!), Greater Pewee and Violet-crowned and Magnificent Hummingbird just to name a few. With highlights like that, it’s hard to be disappointed, especially because the Sinaloa Wren has only been sighted in the ABA area a handful of times!
We have been in the United States for all of seven days and have already seen 235 species of birds! We are so excited to see what the next two weeks in the US of A have in store!