As I do from time to time, I am alerting my news readers of the anti-environmental tendencies of the Bush administration. Bush has, for the past four years repeatedly placed industry, particularly oil and gas corporatations, ahead of the environment. Undeniably threatened and critically endangered species have found themselves de-listed, or removed from the ranks of the protected. This is intolerable! Evidence of his hatred for the earth and its animal inhabitants continues to grow: Spotted Owl, Marbled Murrelet, Timber Wolf, Grizzly Bear to name a few items. Here are two bird-related news items that you can add to the long list of proofs that George Bush is an enemy of the environment. In this case the links take you to articles about recent legislation that will have a negative impact on the population of Greater Sage Grouse in western United States. The really revealing part of the stories can be seen in this short sentence:
"The decision is expected to benefit natural gas and oil producers but anger environmentalists."
My question is still why isn't more effort being put into the search for non-fossil fuel technology so that drilling for oil and gas can be reduced...? What about the incentives to automobile companies that produce zero-emmision vehicles, and why are tax benefits being rolled back for hybrid vehicle owners?? Duh! If Bush encouraged us to become less dependent on foreign and domestic oil then perhaps we could continue the good environmental policies championed by President Bill Clinton. Mr. Bush, your policies regarding the environment are seriously short-sighted and I fear that if you continue to legislate as you have there will be little of our native wildlife for future generations to enjoy. I simply cannot wait for the end of your second term and we can begin to rebuild what you have destroyed.
I went to Venice Beach in Half Moon Bay today with my friend Brian in the hopes of finding the recently reported Slaty-backed Gull. Well, no joy there... We did however see the largest flock of Larids I can ever remember with some birders estimating the number to be as high as 10,000 birds! Almost immediately, we spotted a first winter Glaucous Gull and there were, we later learned, another two or three in the flock. That bird counted, we observed a total of nine species of Gull: Mew, California, Ring-billed (yes, indeed...), Herring, Thayers, Glaucous-winged, Western and Heerman's! Also located was a female Merlin which buzzed through and caused the Gulls to scatter briefly before they realized she posed little threat. The trip to Princeton Harbor produced little new and most disappointing was our failure to locate the two Long-tailed Ducks that have been present for some time.
Cricket and I make a reconn trip to Bodega Bay today and had wonderful weather for our half-day excursion. We made the mistake of driving through Olema, the same way we do when we go to Point Reyes, and so drive time was close to three hours. We realized our mistake right away and made the return journey through Sebastopol and Santa Rosa instead, cutting about 30 minutes off the flight time. For those looking to shorten the trip, I recommend this route.
Our first stop was Doran Beach Campground where we paid the $4 fee and ate our baguettes with proscuiotto. The tide was out at this time and hundreds, maybe thousands, of Shorebirds were foraging on the distant mud flats. We noticed Willet, Marbled Godwit, Least Sandpiper, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers. Anseriiformes included Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Greater Scaup and numerous Brant. The Brant was especially fun to see again, and at the moment I can't remember the last time found. After driving past the trailer area, we stopped at the end of the beach and surveyed the harbor mouth, finding Eared, Horned, Clark's and Western Grebes as well as several Common Loons and high numbers of Surf Scoters. Gulls in the area were evenly divided between Western, Herring, Ring-billed and Mew, with smaller numbers of Heerman's on the rock jetty. Brown Pelicans were packed tight on the break water and I made a quick scan for any vagrant Sulids. No luck there...
After admiring the ocean view for a few moments we left the campground and made a quick stop at the nearby Bird Walk on Hwy 1. We ran into a couple of birders who were scoping the Shorebirds, but nothing unusual was present. This area seems like a good spot for a late-day tour, when the tide will be low for our class visit. Then it was to the Tides restaurant where we decided our group will rendez vous. In past years, views from the parking area have produced many Diving Duck species and of course Loons and Grebes.
We continued along the road, counter-clock wise around the bay and stopped at Spud Point Marina to find great numbers of Brant, a few Red-breasted Mergansers and a single flying Common Merganser. Again, a couple of birders were already present, but had nothing unusual to report.
Along the road out to the point, we identified a few additional spots that would be good for swimming birds and a nice side road that had a stand of trees and underbrush for Passerines. We toured them on the way out, but we may decide to do this earlier in the day next week.
Eventually, the road made a hairpin turn uphill to the Bodega Head where the parking lot was packed with tourists. The view from the top was stunning, but no new species were seen. Still, it's worth visiting with the group because of the possibility of Red-necked Grebe, Red-throated and Pacific Loon or various Alcids. Who knows, a Jaeger wouldn't be out of the question either...
Finally, on our way down from the point, we stopped at Hole in the Head, a man-made pool that was intended as a nuclear power plant in the 1950s until the project was scrapped because of the closeness to San Andreas Fault. Now it supports a dense reed brake and some willows that provide shelter for Passerines, in this case it was loads of Yellow-rumped Warblers, of both varieties, and a Black-crowned Night Heron.
We drove home via Sebastopol and Santa Rosa as I mentioned above. Along Hwy 12 we saw a large group of Canada Geese resting on a hilly field. We paused by the side of the road for a moment or two and Cricket spotted an "Aleutian" form of Cackling Goose among them.
Cricket and I drove to Lodi early on Friday to spend New Year's Eve with her parents and family. We saw a Merlin along I-5 as we drove, but little else because the rain was so heavy. When we arrived they were preparing food for the traditional Japanese New Year's open house that would begin the next morning and the kitchen was buzzing with activity. We tried to be helpful but Kaz and Aiko seemed to have everything under control and didn't really request much from us. They seemed happy to have us just enjoy relaxing. It's quite impressive, actually, they're so calm, even when they're entertaining large numbers of people! They didn't know how many people would show up in the morning, so in classic Hayashi form, they made loads of food, all wonderful looking and hard to pass up. Maybe some would be left for us when we returend on Saturday night.
Anyway, we knew we would not be present for the morning festivities so we said good night and went to bed before 9:00 pm. We awoke again at 4:00 am and quickly threw some road food and drinks together for our ride up to the Sacramento National Wildlife Areas. We had already planned to investigate three areas in preparation for our upcoming winter class field trip.
It was still dark when we turned off of I-5 and rolled into Colusa NWR. It was icy cold and pitch black, but already the sounds of Ducks and Geese could be heard in the distance. Unfortunately, the sound of gunfire was also there, popping through the dark... After a little mistake, we found the entrance just fine and as we drove further in we found a chain across the auto loop and a sign saying it was closed due to unsafe conditions. Apparently, the recent rain had made the levy impassible, at least for birdwatchers. There were plenty of hunters in the area, so evidently, you can enter the area if you wish to kill the Waterfowl, but if your intent is simply to observe, forget it... Perhaps this means Colusa is a bad location for a class outing. If the road is closed without warning, we might be locked out. Still, the short marsh walk was beautiful and we observed our first large flocks of Snow Geese, Ross' Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, a large flock of a hundred-or-so White-faced Ibis and among others, both Ring-necked Duck and Wood Duck. Cricket observed that the transition between dawn and full morning sun was nearly instantaneous. One moment it was completely black and the next moment the ponds were reflecting the rising sun and the trees were edged in honey-colored light. I guess in such a wide open flat area that happens... It was a wonderful beginning to the day.
Indulge me in "a little" anti-hunting rhetoric for a moment... I know hunters have made these large wildlife areas possible, but I find myself less and less accepting of the hunter mentality. Where does the desire to kill birds come from? Certain unanswered questions trouble me about this activity: Can the ones with guns correctly identify a rare Eurasian Wigeon from among the hoards of American Wigeons, or see the difference between an endangered Trumpeter Swan and a common Tundra Swan? Since the hunters I have met make no distinction between the two species of Scaup, I question their understanding of the birds they hunt. Do they even recognize the great variety within a species, such as the Canada Goose complex and its many races? Also, are they using steel shot to shoot the birds? Do they even care that the birds they kill have flown hundreds or even thousands of miles to winter in an area that they believe is safe?
Ok, so maybe some hunters eat what they kill, but is that really a justification for hunting? Honestly, I don't believe any sport than includes guns is a good idea, especially when young people are involved, and there are a lot of central valley teenage boys out there with there dads. (Isn't that interesting? You don't see too many women or girls out there with rifles shooting at animals do you? It's not necessary to have a psychology degree to see what the fascination is here.) I take this quite seriously because Kelly's little nephew is probably going to grow up a hunter, like his father. I wonder if we can surreptitiously get him interested on birdwatching as an alternative activity. We'll find out in a few years if we were successful, I suppose.
Enough said. The Colusa preserve was closed to anyone without a gun, so we left and continued north to the
There we strolled the Wetland Discovery Trail with a brilliant cobalt sky and the occasional rich green poking through the last season's brown. We decided that this area alone would be good for a class outing. We encountered an adult Peregrine Falcon, a few Red-shouldered Hawk, and many Red-tailed Hawks. American Pipits, "crowned" Sparrows and American Coots were everywhere we looked, but no American Bittern were encountered as we had hoped. We did scare up a Great Horned Owl from the leafless willows on the periphery and there were many beautiful photo opportunities.
After we completed the mile-and-a-half walk around the marsh, we got back into the car, turned the heat up and proceeded on the auto loop around the preserve. A few hunters made it necessary to pull over on occasion, but otherwise the place was deserted. In many areas there were good opportunities to view the large ponds from the car, but the windows between the vegetation were small, making it less attractive to our group caravans. The platform, located about half way around the loop was wonderful. There we observed the marsh from above and saw great numbers of Waterfowl in the distance. A lone Bald Eagle, an immature, perched on a snag and occasionally flew out over the flotilla in search of a meal. This was the second Eagle we observed, the first was an adult along I-5 near the entrance to the preserve. Later, we would see four more of these magnificent birds as they crisscrossed the huge mixed flocks of Geese. We guessed that the cloud of birds they scared up included tens of thousands of birds, and perhaps we were underestimating! The frightened Geese reeled in the sky as the Eagles passed through the flock, scattering it like so much snow in a cold wind. We decided then that this might be a good place to visit with the class, but we should caution members of the group that observation on the loop is a bit difficult. Highlights are clearly widely spaced at this destination.
Finally, we drove along Road 60, just north of the preserve, through Butte City and north a few miles on Road Z. There, as we expected, we encountered close to a thousand Tundra Swans in the shallow ponds and in the sky near the huge cylo. Across the street was another hunting club... We parked on the shoulder and made a half-hearted scan for any wayward Trumpeter Swans among the group while we ate our sandwiches, but we saw none. Another Bald Eagle was sitting on the levy between the ponds and eventually flew out over the Swans. It was strange how the large white birds remained where they swam and all the smaller Ducks and Geese took flight. I guess the Swans didn't feel threatened by the Eagle, at least not while there were so many smaller, easier targets in the vicinity.
Then it was off to Gray Lodge Wildlife Area. Along the Gridly-Colusa Hwy we saw a field that contained about a dozen Cattle Egret feeding along side the larger Great Egrets. We missed our turn into the north entrance of the park and continued south on Hwy 99 to Live Oak where we caught Pennington Road. There we encountered an enormous mixed flock of Blackbirds, mostly Red-winged Blackbirds, but also Brewer's Blackbirds and European Starlings. We stopped for a moment to admire the spectacle, hoping to catch a few Yellowheads among the flock, but none were seen. There had to have been a hundred thousand birds in the group and when took flight we knew it! A black cloud crossed the sky and cast a shadow on the road that lasted for half a minute. It swirled and bubbled as it passed, swarming like nothing we'd seen before. I suppose maybe a large school of fish might move something like this, but anyway... It was utterly astounding! Nearby, the only Sandhill Cranes we observed the entire day were foraging in a field.
we arrived at Gray Lodge and Cricket and I had the same reaction, "Now this is a place!" The palette of colors before us was a beautiful, subtle mix of dampened earth and ashy trees. There was gray-brown, gray-tan, gray-gold-and-green... It was absolutely gorgeous and there was a slight fog that hung in the woods like a northern ghost. There was lots of hunting again, but a 2.5 mile marsh walk that passes through several habitats and affords good sheltered views of Waterfowl ponds, dense reed brakes, narrow water ways, riparian woodland and blackberry straits. It seemed like a perfect location for the group. The sky was forbidding, dark gray-blue-gray and waiting to release a heavy cold rain upon us. And so, it did. We trudged through the marsh, dripping and miserable, but the Valkyrian beauty of this place made it worthwhile if not a bit frightening.
The auto loop proved to be just as wonderful, if not better, than the preceding one. The tour included more straightaways, which would be good for a string of cars, and provided good visibility of the ponds. Great numbers of Waterfowl were present, including all the expected species as well as a Canada Goose, a Cackling Goose and four Eurasian Wigeons. We both felt this would make a great location for a group trip, especially if we saved a bit of time to pursue the Swans along Road Z. The possibility of making a Sunday morning stop at Sacramento is being considered as well, even if it is just a short stroll on the Wetlands Discovery Trail.
I'm interested in hearing how the class feels about a Gray Lodge 3/4-day trip, with a possible overnight in Willows and a Sunday morning stroll through the Sacramento NWR Wetlands Discovery Trail. It's a bit much to do in a single day, but a group dinner after Gray Lodge would be fun and we'd all get a good night sleep before returning home the following morning.
A full species list for our three-area tour is included below.
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Greater White-fronted Goose
Great Horned Owl
Western Scrub Jay