Cricket and I are back safely from our 8-day tour of the Texas Rio Grande Valley and coastal areas. I've posted a report of the trip with a complete list of species at: http://www.birdguy.net/reports/texas_04.html


Eric Goodill and I made a reconnaissance trip to Pinnacles National Monument in preparation for next month's class outing. We approached from the east, driving first through Hollister. Upon entering the long straight away south of Paicines we began to see Western Kingbird and Lark Sparrows straight away. It was very encouraging because the habitat was very different form what we have seen so far this term. The reservoir itself provided a few Waterfowl species on our way home, but nothing terribly noteworthy, save an Osprey, which dove for a fish on the far side of the water. A few raptors were seen here and there, Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels.

As we entered the park the surroundings changed dramatically. A lush riparian woodland dropped to our left and dry chaparral rose to the right. Eventually the namesakes of the park appeared above us and we were quite impressed. We began by hiking the Bear Gulch Trail which was flat for a while before it took a steep angle downward. I don't know exactly how far our group will need to take this trail, but the further the better. As we dropped further and further, following the creek the entire time, we passed through a narrow cavern where Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Canyon Wren were easily seen. We also entered a beautiful cotton wood grove where many woodland species were encountered. Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers were in abundance, but there were also a few Wilson's and a single Yellow Warbler. The star of this particular stretch was the Cassin's Vireo, of which there were several, one was even gathering material for a nearby nest!

Next we decided to hike up toward High Peaks via the Condor Gulch Trail. Some interesting species, quite different from what we had just seen, were detected here. First a heard-only Hermit Warbler as well as a Rufous-crowned Sparrow. A bit higher up we found an Ash-throated Flycatcher, which was located along the entrance road as well. As we climbed even higher, the view became stunning. We admired the sheer cliffs opposite the trail and noted a Red-tailed Hawk nest with two birds in a small cave. A few Turkey Vultures soared among the craggy rocks and suddenly a larger bird, much higher up appeared. The telltale white triangles on the underside of the wings instantly identified it as a California Condor! This was one of only four birds currently in flight in the park. Later we were to see another, and perhaps two more! It is difficult to say, because we saw them at different times, but we know we saw at least two individuals that day. I just hope we have as much luck when the group visits the area... Oh, yeah. There was also a flyby Peregrine Falcon and a pair of nesting Prairie Falcons. We also located more Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Sage Sparrows among the chemise at the higher elevations. This was an especially grueling portion of the day. It was hot, and quite steep at times, but the views were breathtaking.

Finally, we hiked up the Moses Spring Trail for a while. We passed through some beautiful riparian woodland again, crouched down to avoid hitting our heads as the trail led through a small cave and eventually looked over the beautiful still water of the Bear Gulch Reservoir. Along the way we had seen Canyon Wren at close range and admired numerous White-throated Swifts and Violet-green Swallows flying overhead. Another two California Condors were visible in the distance, perhaps the same individuals, perhaps not. Their numbered tags were too far away to read. It was definitely a worthwhile visit.

When Cricket and I return from Texas we will have to make a second scouting trip to the west side of the park. At that time we will make a decision as to which area to visit with the class. We may have different habitats and therefore different birds available to us on the other side. Perhaps the hiking will be easier. Stay tuned...


I received the following link to a news story from the Central Valley Birds listserv. It tells of a proposed freeway through Del Puerto Canyon, a rugged area in Stanislaus County. Those of you who have been through this beautiful area (maybe on one of my spring fieldtrips) probably share my opinion of this proposal... http://www.modbee.com/local/story/8364573p-9185841c.html

I feel a bit helpless when I read news like this. What can I do? I know Bay Area roads are clogged and people need to get to work, and spend less time in traffic, but I think perhaps the solution has more to do with fewer vehicles than it does with adding more highways... It's such a huge issue. Traffic, urban sprawl, smog...

To keep myself from getting too depressed, I force myself to remember something. Letters to elected officials CAN make a difference. Politicians want your vote. That is our power. If we tell them what WE want, perhaps they will listen and think about their decisions and reconsider such plans. A project like this, if it were to go through, would be have an irreversible impact to one of the few remaining unspoiled areas left in the county. And what actually would be the benefit? It would make it possible for there to be even more cars and even more malls in areas where there are currently none.

Is this a good thing? What does this actually mean? Is this what we really want? We'll all have to decide for ourselves. Remember, this isn't just about preserving bird valuable bird habitat (although that's a major issue for me). It's about finding better solutions to ongoing, and complicated problems. It's about communication, involvement and dialogue. The public must be involved in a decision like this and so far, the public has not been invited to state its views. Unfortunately, the easy solution is one that cannot be undone. We can't change our minds after we ruin an area such as Del Puerto Canyon. A freeway would indeed be an easy solution...

If you feel strongly that the proposal is a bad idea, I encourage you to contact me and make suggestions about how we can prevent it. I'm all ears. I'm hoping local chapters of the Audubon Society will make an effort communicate the importance of this area to those in charge of deciding its fate. This is where you make a difference.