December 28, 2015 - In this latest installment of Birds & Brews, I went back to familiar southern California. Since I had about a...

Birds and Brews - Orange County - California

December 28, 2015 -

In this latest installment of Birds & Brews, I went back to familiar southern California. Since I had about a half of a day free, I decided to venture a little further from LAX and El Segundo than usual. My plane arrived at LAX around 1PM local and I collected my bag at the baggage carousel. I picked up my rental car, checked into my hotel, dropped off my bags, and headed south.

While I usually go north to Malibu, or stay near the airport at Playa del Rey, I decided to do soemthing different this time. I drove south past Long Beach, and ended up in Huntington Beach at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. The plan was to bird as long as I had light and then head to a brewery before going back to my hotel. Since I hadn't been to Bolsa Chica before and I had absolutely no idea where I was going due to poor planning, I stopped first at Pacific Coast Highway entrance across from Bolsa Chica State Beach. This turned out to be a great choice as there were birds everywhere as soon as I left my car.

Immediately upon leaving my car I saw a gaggle of photographers working the boardwalk to the east of the parking lot. I saw Western Grebes, American White Pelicans, Lesser Scaup, Great and Snowy Egrets, and a Reddish Egret (my first ever in its “red phase”) amongst hundreds of other birds. After getting a number of great photos, I kept walking down the boardwalk as I knew that I had a long distance to cover. After leaving the boardwalk, I saw a fenced-off area which has signs stating that it was a shorebird nesting area. On the other side of the fences, I saw more marshland and to my surprise 55 or more Brant. Unfortunately, the Brant were a fairly good distance away, not allowing me to do much better than record photos. While looking at the Brant, I noticed a bunch of shorebirds and ducks on the bank. I noticed that there were Long-billed Curlew in the group, my first lifer of the trip. Almost as soon as I had noticed the Curlews and taken a record shot or two, a male Northern Harrier flew by scaring all of the birds off of shore.

Since the Harrier scared everything away, I kept walking to the next point where I saw another Long-billed Curlew foraging in the mud near shore. I sat down on the bank and waited for it to get closer. Sure enough, it did and I was able to get great full-frame photos. After a while of watching the Curlew, I continued to see what else I could find. I saw Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, another Reddish Egret, Savannah Sparrows everywhere, and even a few Surf Scoters as I made my way to the other end of the reserve. I also saw countless shorebirds on the mudflats adjacent to the highway, but without a scope, I wasn't able to get thorough looks. In addition, there was an abnormally large number of little-old-ladies walking there in parkas staring at me for wearing a t-shirt in 65 degree weather.

I turned around at this point and headed back to see what else I could find. I stopped once in a while to take more photos as the birds didn't seem to care that humans with gigantic lenses wanted to get close to them. When I got back to the boardwalk, I just tried to improve on my photos despite the fact that it was starting to get dark. But, I still wasn't finished birding as a congregation of White-faced Ibises flew by, allowing for some low-light shots, my last of the day. In all, I saw 44 species of birds, a very respectable total for two and a half hours, though I'm sure it could be easily increased with better planning before arrival.

As the sun set over Bolsa Chica, I got back in the car and headed northeast to Placentia, home of The Bruery. The Bruery is a nationally known craft brewer specializing in barrel aged and experimental ales according to their website. What I knew The Bruery for is their Belgian styled and sour beers. After a surprisingly short drive given Los Angeles traffic, I found a dark industrialized warehouse complex. My GPS told me that I had arrived, but I was suspicious. But, I drove on to the back of the complex. Apparently my GPS was right as The Bruery was in the very back with their own “beer-tower”. When I walked in, I immediately knew that I would like the place, but also that I had to restrain myself for the 45 minute drive back to my hotel afterwards.

To start, I saw a table with a menu of all of their beers and a card to order a flight. Since I had never been to The Bruery, I felt this was a good first choice. I choose five beers of a few different varieties and sat down to drink. It wasn't until after I started drinking that I remembered that California doesn't have a law like Ohio limiting beers to 12% alcohol. It seems as if I'll need a designated driver next time. Though I really missed an opportunity at tying a beer into this column by failing to order the “4 Calling Birds” beer, I feel that I made some great choices with my samples. The MolĂ© Smoking Wood, a bourbon barrel aged porter with cacao and Mexican spices was my favorite, a delicious monster at 13% alcohol.

In addition to that, I tried a number of other fantastic beers before settling on a pint of the Autumn Maple, a Autumn seasonal brewed with 440 pounds of yams. Before I left, I was determined to spend entirely too much money there and left with a few bottles and a t-shirt to bring home.

In all, it was a great day and night, and I would have stayed longer if I didn't have to drive. 44 birds in Orange County, California and an amazing new brewery made my work trip worth it. I'll certainly go back if I have the chance.

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