06-16-06 to 06-19-06 Yuba Pass and Sierra Valley

My group of 16 spotted a female Black-backed Woodpecker beyond the cattle guard on the road leading south from the campground. The bird appeared to be excavating a nest, but had not made much progress. We never saw the male, but the female was about 0.5 mile from the turn off to Lincoln Valley where a few stumps mark a small parking area. We walked in and followed the trail as it made a sharp left and then a sharp right turn. A red and white striped metal barricade marks the general area. (We did not cross this barricade because the right hand trail continues down hill into an area where some trees are marked for cutting. The female was just beyond this right turn, in a tree on the right side. In this area there was also a probable Northern Goshawk which was partially obscured by the trees as it flew high overhead. Here as well were several White-headed Woodpecker, Rufous and Callipe Hummingbird. Large Black Bear tracks were also seen, so be on the look out for them too!

Back near the parking lot at the campground we watched a nesting pair of Williamson's Sapsucker, three female Pine Grosbeak , two singing male Hermit Warbler, a Lincoln's Sparrow and a Nashville Warbler, and of course a good supply of Cassin's Finches, Evening Grosbeaks, Chipping Sparrows, Western Tanagers, Wilson's Warblers, Mountain Chickadees. Only two Red-breasted Sapsuckers were seen and they were on the north side of the road, across the highway.

On this north side, there is a trail that leads off to the right (east) where we observed several Mountain Quail at close range. We began to hear them from the main trail, and were actually much closer than we assumed.
Both Dusky and Hammond's Flycatchers were seen and heard here. Nesting White-headed Woodpeckers were seen on the left side of the trail, shortly before the trail leads downhill in a short broken tree. Olive-sided Flycatchers were also nesting in this area.

Lower Sardine Lake had many many singing Yellow Warbler, at least 6 MacGillivray's Warblers, a Bald Eagle and a Spotted Towhee .

At Bassetts' the hummingbird feeders are active with Anna's and Callipe Hummingbird visiting frequently. A nest filed with four Steller's Jay is visible from the parking area.

At night, we stopped at the Vista Point on Hwy 49 between Yuba Pass and Sattley, Common Nighthawk and Common Poorwill were both calling around 9:00pm.

Sierra Valley produced Vesper and Brewer's Sparrow at several locations, but the corner of hwy 89 and Calpine road seemed to be the best spot for both species. Both Mountain Quail Road and the cemetary on the road leading to the Rodeo Grounds, contained singing Green-tailed Towhee, but they were more easily seen at the latter, but the pond on the entrance road. Marble Hot Springs Road produced two singing Sage Thrasher, five pairs of Sandhill Cranes, hundreds of White-faced Ibis and Yellow-headed Blackbird. Nesting Willets were also seen, as was a single American Bittern, 4 Redheads, both SORA and Virginia Rails (heard but not seen.)

The only Black-billed Magpies were found at the cemetary entrance road where Pygmy Nuthatch and winnowing Wilson's Snipe were heard and seen.

I forgot to mention also that American Dipper were seen both at the Wild Plum campground just east of Sierra City beneath the entrance bridge leading to the campsites and closer to town near the tiny firehouse.

One member of our group also reported seeing a male Black-backed Woodpecker from the road, 6.5 miiles south east of Sierraville on Hwy 89. This area has several wide turnouts where one might be able to park, but it is not advised because the traffic moves quite quickly here. Still, it's an option if no other birds are located.


Kelly and I stopped at Almaden Lake this morning and relocated the Little Blue Heron at 9:15. The bird was foraging on on the left side of the island when viewed from the Coleman side of the Lake. On the sand bar by the creek mouth two Common Mergansers were resting, and a short bike ride down the creek also produced Hooded and Bullock's Orioles, Western Kingbird, Ash-throated and Pacific-slope Flycatchers and a Yellow Warbler .

We then made our way to Alviso where we biked the levy trail west from the EEC, moving clockwise around salt pond A-16. By noon we relocated a Black Tern in full alternate plumage as it foraged among the many California Gulls and Forster's Terns. We also spotted a second Black Tern on the far side of the pond, but lost it quickly. Perhaps it went to another pond, but the first one remained. The bird's routine was to move forward into the wind, moving up and down picking food items up off of the surface, and then when it had reached the north west corner, it flew quickly back to the south east corner and began again. We watched it for about an hour as it repeated made this tour. Then we decided to move to the north side of the pond to get a better look. There we spotted the second Little Blue Heron of the day as it methodically searched for fish from a shallow area in the north west corner of the pond. We got exceptional looks at this bird, as we did the Black Tern.


It's funny how things work out sometimes. Last Sunday I drove to the coast while Kelly was working on report cards. As I mentioned in my new section, I visited Ano Nuevo and as I walked out toward the Elephant Seal observation area, I remembered the Brown Booby from Princeton Harbor that I'd seen there a few years earlier, as well as the Masked Booby from Ano Nuevo island. I thought to myself how it would have been good if I'd brought my scope today... Just in case.

Later, I made a few stops along Gazos Creek Road to look and listen for anything unusual. Grasshopper Sparrows and a MacGillivray's Warbler were very nice. But the first Grosbeak I saw was a female that struck me as unusual. I only got a brief look, but it was long enough to notice that the bill appeared to be pinkish... Curious. Maybe it's a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, I thought. I even went so far as to play a short sample of the song to see if I could coax it back into view. No luck though. So I moved on.

Last night, I read reports posted on PenBird that a Brown Booby was spotted on the island visible from the Elephant Seal observation area and a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak had been located on Gazos Creek Road.

Have a great weekend, and remember, if you think you see something good, you just might be right!


Kelly was busy with report cards today, so I drove to the coast by myself and found the weather absolutely beautiful, pure shorts weather, in fact! I took Pagemill up to Skyline and continued past Russian Ridge, where I paused to see Lazuli Bunting before driving down through Pescadero Creek. As I drove I kept the windows open and tried to see how many songs I could identify along the way. Winter Wren was the first and most numerous, Hutton's Vireo and Black-headed Grosbeak were next, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Bewick's Wren were also heard, followed by a few Purple Finch and   Wilson's Warbler.

I drove south on Hwy 1 toward Año Nuevo where my targets were Black Swift and Bank Swallow, both of which are often seen in spring or summer in the park. As I approached the pond on the trail leading out to the Elephant Seals I spotted several Swallows foraging over the water. Most of the birds were Barn Swallows, with a few Cliff Swallows mixed in, but one bird was indeed a Bank Swallow. I continued out to the observation area where the Seals were lounging and no fewer than 10 Bank Swallows were working the area. Only one Violet-green Swallow was seen the entire time. Many of these birds were young, and lacked the full color of the adults.

After this I traveled north on Hwy 1 to Gazos Creek Road. Swainson's Thrushes were singing constantly, and their glorious songs echoed through the woods. An occasional Hairy Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Winter Wren could be heard as well. Band-tailed Pigeons and Black-headed Grosbeak were numerous, as were Wrentit, Wilson's Warblers and Warbling Vireos.

At the junction with Cloverdale Road, I stopped by the bridge, walked 50 yards and relocated one of the recently reported MacGillivray's Warblers. Farther up on Cloverdale, where the road passes through suitable grassland, I located two Grasshopper Sparrows, their songs were similar to the many nearby Savannah Sparrows, but luckily I was able to get a good look.

Finally, I stopped in Half Moon Bay to buy some cold smoked Salmon at Creekside Smokehouse and walk a bit around Princeton Harbor. American Goldfinches sang from the pine trees, and over the water a Caspian Tern foraged and finally dove, a behavior I'd never seen in this larger species of Tern. By the rock jetty there were no Shorebirds, but several sitting Western Gulls right beside a Brant. A juvenile Common Loon and a female Red-breasted Merganser.


At the corner of High Street and Hawthorn Street in Palo Alto there were strange sounds indeed, coming from the top of a tree this morning. My best guess was that they were from young Nuttall's Woodpecker nestlings. The sound was "almost" like an adult, but higher and more insistent. As well, there is a family of Chestnut-backed Chickadees in the area. The young are clambering about in the lower branches and learning the calls of the adults, but are clearly in need of more practice. I caught a glimpse of a young bird, which was similar to an adult, but had a few grayish downy feathers mixed in with the familiar adult pattern.