A lunchtime walk along the Sanfrancisquito Creek produced some Hooded Merganser, a pair, in fact. I stumbled upon the two just as it began to rain and was beginning to think nothing would show up... These was actually the first Hoodeds I had ever seen in the downtown area, so it just goes to show. Never stop expecting the unexpected!


Sunday morning, Cricket and I made the long Panoche Valley tour in preparation for next week's class field trip. Our birding really began in the little town of Paicines, where we were fortunate to find the adult Bald Eagle, perched in a lone tree on the ridge above the reservoir. We continued along Panoche Road toward the valley floor, passing first though the rocky canyon area where we located Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Rock Wren and American Dipper. The latter two species were by voice only. The road wound through some beautiful oak woodland and rolling grassy hills where the numerous patches of mistletoe suggested the presence of Phainopepla. Sure enough, before long we saw a male flying across our path and into the nearby trees. Once in the flat dry area at the Panoche Inn (population 6) we began to see large flocks of Sparrows, most interesting was the Lark Sparrow, but also present were Song and Savannah. We did not locate Vesper Sparrow. As well we failed to detect Mountain Plover, but perhaps we didn't spent enough time scanning the short grass fields. Heading up through Shotgun pass and toward Mercy Hot Springs, we met several birders on the way and exchanged notes. No one had had any luck with either the Plover or Chuckar but that won't keep us from trying again next week. At Mercy I spoke with one of the owners who confirmed the presence of Long-eared Owl, but time was short so we didn't investigate further. The BLM road was perhaps the most fun and productive stop of the day. About 1 mile in, where the sage brush begins to show up, we encountered several Sage Sparrows, a small group of Horned Larks and a large flock of Mountain Bluebird. If we had continued up the road, perhaps we would have found Sage Thrasher as well. Leaving the valley and heading toward I-5 we found a huge group of Horned Larks close to the road and were able to get good views in scope. Next week we will have the benefit of having more time to do a thorough working of the area and more sharp eyes to help locate the species we missed today. I can't wait.


My Palo Alto Adult School Birding class had some unexpected owling fun last night. Just before class the school principal, Kara Rosenberg, informed me that tree trimmers had cleared the lower branches of the large palms just outside the office door. In their zeal the workers had exposed a pair of Barn Owls that were still clearly visible. Kara took me outside with a flash light and showed me the exact spot. Later, after the entire class had arrived we all marched out to the spot and found the male and female Owls were still perched in the lower branches. Beneath the trees there were also numerous pellets.

The area is easy to find. Just outside the side entrance of the Adult School at Palo Alto High School, there is a soccer field and a fenced in area where there is some kind of construction. The three large palms are close together near this fenced in area. Of course, with the reduced cover, the Owls may be motivated to look for a new roost. Perhaps the school might do well to investigate an owl box.


The White-throated Sparrow I reported a while back was still present today along San Francisquito Creek near the intersection of Bryant Street, Poe Street and Palo Alto Avenue. The bird was pretty vocal and easy to find. No other sparrows were seen in this area, but three Hermit Thrush were skulking around in the underbrush.

Also, this past Saturday, a brief scouting trip to SWPCP produced two Barn Swallows and at least 3 White-throated Swifts flying over the hills obove the salt ponds. Numerous Bonaparte's Gulls were present along the channel leading out but few Ducks were seen. Common Moorhens were very easy to find, with no less than 10 seen in an hour.


After a wonderful holiday divided between two sets of parents, Cricket and I headed off to Death Valley, one of my favorite places in California! Due to the heavy rains of the days prior, there was much standing water in normally dry places and snow dusted every peak higher than 5000'. Two years ago we had explored mostly locations that were familiar to me such as Badwater, Golden Canyon, the famous Sand Dunes and Ubahebe Crater, but added the Race Track for something new. This time we went to several new spots, Natural Bridge, Titus Canyon and Twenty Mule Canyon. Titus Canyon was especially wonderful for hiking, but we failed to find Desert Bighorn Sheep as we had hoped. The Wild Rose area, ice cold and covered in snow, gave us a taste of the mountains overlooking the valley and seemed very far away from our memories of the valley's blistering heat. Additionally we crossed into Nevada and toured Ash Meadow National Wildlife Refuge where aqua-colored natural springs create deep pools in the arid desert. We stopped at Devil's Hole National Monument where the only representatives of the Devi's Hole Pupfish live, making it one of the rarest fish in the world, a mere 500 individuals! A barbed wire enclosure nestled against a sheer cliff protect the fish from intruders and reminded us of Area 51. The most unreal experience of the entire trip however would have to Badwater. Miles of five-sided salt tiles stretched from the road toward the distant hills. We walked almost 2 miles out until we reached an area that was smooth and covered in about 1/8" water. The cracks between the tiles were not raised as in the drier sections, but smooth, like fractured china. Because the sky and mountains were reflected in the shallow water and the area was absolutely silent, it felt like another world. A strange lifeless world that looked like it should be cold but was not. A world that floated between the earth and sky... We looked silently at the spectacle and felt like the only people left on earth. Hard to describe... Anyway, birding was better this time than last, although several attempts to locate Ruddy Ground Dove at Furnace Creek were not met with success. Here's the list:

Pied-billed Grebe (Ash Meadow, NV)
Eared Grebe (Ash Meadow, NV)
Double-crested Cormorant (Ash Meadow, NV)
Great Blue Heron (Ash Meadow, NV)
Great Egret (Ash Meadow, NV)
Snowy Egret (Ash Meadow, NV)
Turkey Vulture (Ash Meadow, NV)
Snow Goose
Canada Goose
Ruddy Duck (Ash Meadow, NV)
Bufflehead (Ash Meadow, NV)
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Prairie Falcon (Death Valley Junction)
Gambel's Quail (Death Valley Junction)
American Coot
Mourning Dove
Northern Flicker
Lewis's Woodpecker
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
Common Raven
Pinyon Jay
Verdin (Death Valley Junction)
Bewick's Wren
Rock Wren (Ballarat ghost town)
Northern Mockingbird
American Robin
Hermit Thrush
Western Bluebird (Ballarat ghost town)
Townsend's Solitaire (Wildrose)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
American Pipit
Phainopepla (Death Valley Junction)
Loggerhead Shrike
Cedar Waxwing (Ballarat ghost town)
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
House Sparrow
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
House Finch
Spotted Towhee (Ash Meadow, NV)
Sage Sparrow (inland form, Ballarat ghost town)
Dark-eyed Junco ("Oregon", "Slate-colored" and "Gray-headed", Wildrose)
White-crowned Sparrow

Along Hwy 99 on our way to and from the Valley we also saw Sandhill Crane, Greater White-fronted Goose, Short-eared Owl, Golden Eagle, Cattle Egret, White-faced Ibis, Red-shouldered Hawk and Yellow-billed Magpie.