Cricket and I visited Skyline Ridge this morning and bumped into Gary Deghi. The three of us were able to locate two Sage Sparrows near the rocky outcropping with the cable railing. The area is reached by taking the trail up out of the parking area and continuing past the junction with the fire road. We walked through several patches of good habitat before arriving at the area where most reports seem to focus--the rocky outcropping with the cable railing. The birds were shy, but we were able to view them several times over the course of about 40 minutes. They seemed to be moving between the area above the trail and below the trail beyond the rocky outcropping. They also occasionally foraged along the trail. We had the best looks when we took the trail leading up from the fork, and looked down.
On our way back to the cars, an unusual song caught our ears. It sounded much like a Lazuli Bunting, but when we located the source it turned out to be a spectacular male Indigo Bunting . We watched it for about 10 minutes as it moved from bush to bush, singing loudly and even while in flight. The bird was easily seen from the main parking area but moved around considerably around the patch of coyote bushes.
Later, Kelly and I visited Montebello (Gate 5) where we located male Lazuli Bunting and a small group of 3 Black-throated Gray Warblers near the pond below the road.
After spending time at Skyline Ridge, Kelly and I made a dash to Ed Levin Park, where we hoped to find Grasshopper Sparrow. Before visiting the park we made a detour up Calaveras Road toward the reservoir where we found an adult Bald Eagle and one young bird on the nest. We stayed to admire them for a few minutes and then reversed our direction back toward the park. We marched up the hill beyond the dog run, but had to pass the sycamore grove where we had seen the birds before. We continued past the lower hang glider launch and kept going almost to the upper launch before we heard the birds. At least three Grasshopper Sparrows were in the weedy area just below the upper launch, but the wind made it very hard to hear them. We finally got good looks at two birds, and a poor look at the third, and also a fourth at the launch itself near the wind sock. Rufous-crowned Sparrows were also present and singing in various places along our hike.
White-throated Swifts were flying overhead as well.
I hope everyone is enjoying this wonderful weather! Kelly and I have been working on the back deck, and finally got it spray cleaned and stained, so it looks great. We're also in the middle of our preparations for the trip to Costa Rica next month! We hope at some point to have a party for the class... We miss you all!
In between tasks we've been working on "Operation 175+", giving immediate attention to birds that will soon migrate out of our area. Yesterday, we drove to Murrietta Wells, at the beginning of Mines Road in Livermore. Our target species was Eurasian Collared-dove, (not a migrant of course, but not always easy to find). We found it. In fact, we saw at least four individuals. We were first alerted to its presence by its call, which is very different from the more numerous Mourning Dove. From there we travelled to bridge located near the junction of Del Valle Road and Mines. We found little there that would enlarge our list, but we did search for Phainopepla and Willow Flycatcher which we had seen with the class. We also visited Del Valle Park where we were lucky to encounter both Aechmophorus Grebes and a Green Heron.
After the Mines Road detour, we returned to Tesla Road and then drove east to Greenville, and north on Greenville to Patterson Pass. We looked for a specific habitat--dry grassland with thicket-choked drainages. Within a very short time we located Blue Grosbeak in one of these areas. We also found Western Tanager (oddly enough), Lark Sparrow, Horned Lark, and in one area where there were some rocky outcroppings, a Rock Wren!
We then went south on Hwy 580 to reach Hwy 132. This area has yielded good numbers of Swainson's Hawks in previous years because of the farmland. Sure enough, we located four of the birds soaring over head, very near the San Juaquin River NWR (which is closed, unfortunately). We also found one on the side of the road, which allowed us to get close and examine it's dark flight feathers. The pattern is nearly the reverse of the Red-tailed Hawk, because the Swainson's coverts are pale. The wings are also longer and more pointed so its flight style is immediately distinctive.
We reversed our course and returned to Livermore along Corral Creek Road, a beautiful road which often shares birds with the Mines Road tour. This day however, it got increasingly windy, making additional birds difficult to find. Still, it was a lovely drive and I expect sometime we will add it to our Mines Road tour. One new bird we spotted during our drive was a sleeping Great Horned Owl in a cave marked with guano.
On our way home, we stopped in Alviso where we located the Barn Owl was easily found in the nest box at the EEC, as well as Marsh Wren, Gadwall, Forster's Tern and Ring-billed Gull. We searched for Burrowing along the entrance road and saw one individual just barely visible as it poked its head out of its burrow. An immature male Bullock's Oriole was also in willows seen from our car window.
Finally, we drove along Disc Drive and parked in the Jubilee Christian Church lot. As hoped, a Cattle Egret was foraging among the horses in the field. We watched it for a few minutes before we noticed that just a few feet away there was an entire family of Burrowing Owls, including some birds that appeared to be this year's model!
It was a wonderful day, and our cumulative total is now 105. With the upcoming season of Shorebirds and Gulls, I expect things will pick up quite a bit. Some unusual Passerine migrants may appear in the area as well. Until then, We'll be working on those familiar migrants, the colorful spring birds that will soon leave their nesting grounds. Along those lines, still missing from our list is Lazuli Bunting, Chipping Sparrow and Cassin's Vireo. I'm hoping to locate these before class begins again, as well as a few others....
I'm looking forward to hearing everyone's stories. Please share them with our group...
Is anyone trying for 200?
Kelly and I made a quick stop in Alviso after a morning of birding in the east bay hills. We were pleased to find a Cattle Egret still stationed in the field behind the Jubilee Christian Church, as well as a family of Burrowing Owls visible from the parking lot.
Brian, Kelly and I made a quick tour of Hidden Villa today, where we hoped maybe to pick up on the recent flurry of Black-chinned Sparrows. Granted, none had been found at Hidden Villa, but last year's experience led us to believe we might have a chance, and thereby avoid the traffic problems at Loma Prieta... We didn't find any on our hike, but we did encounter two Vaux's Swifts among the more numerous White-throated Swifts and Violet-green Swallows. Black-headed Grosbeaks and Warbling Vireos were heard everywhere, but no hoped-for Cassin's Vireo. We also located a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers.
The wild call of the coast proved too loud to ignore, and our collective birding mind agreed on how to respond. The many recent reports of Horned Puffins, a rare species south of Alaska, would lead us to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, just north of Princeton Harbor where we would search for the source of the all the noise. We hoped also to contribute to the one-day, web-wide effort to count every individual occurring within the California coastal waters.
Once our small group was in position, we quickly located a single Horned Puffin loafing off shore, easily seen just beyond the rocks and froth. Perhaps it was the same bird I had seen a week earlier, as it's dark-smudged face seemed to indicate, but with the many reports it was hard to be sure. We noted the extent of the smudging, just incase we saw another bird later... There were many cheers from our group at this point, as this bird represented a first for many. We took our eyes off the target for a moment to celebrate. There were also multitudes of Common Murre crisscrossing the horizon in strings of 10-20 birds at a time. Occasionally we also caught the white wing flashes of otherwise solidly-dark Pigeon Gullemots as they fluttered past in ones and twos. And of course we admired the white, egg-shaped patches on the Pelagic Cormorants as they flew past. We kept coming back to the Puffin however, it's ungainly bill and goggle-eyed expression oddly beautiful. Then a second Horned Puffin was spotted far off to the left, and then a moment later a third beside it. All three birds showed the smudgy darkness on the front of the face, but all three were also visible at one time, so we were confident in the accuracy of our count. Also exciting was a group of three Rhinoceros Auklets that flew south beyond the surf. They got away before most of us got a look.
We then caravanned to Pillar Point to look down on the water. After an awkward moment or two while the guide tried to figure out where the trail actually was, we had a forth Horned Puffin, a full adult, in our scopes. It wasn't easy to get everyone on the bird, but once viewed, it was unmistakable! It's face was pure white and its bill bright red and yellow. We kept scanning the water, struggling to focus on something other than the beautiful wide ocean view. Before long, a fifth and sixth Horned Puffin were located in separate areas of the huge bay. Again, we confirmed we were indeed looking at three individuals, and that they were not the same birds seen further north. These were much more mature birds, and one a full adult! We also got another chance at Rhinoceros Auklet, as three individuals, perhaps the same ones as before, flew in and landed within view. They were far, but the combination of their size, overall slate coloration and stout, dull yellow bill made identification possible.
At Pigeon Point we failed to locate any Puffins, but a single Ancient Murrelet was briefly seen beyond the rocks. The big excitement here was the large number of Pigeon Gulllemots. They whistled loudly and frequently, showing off their brilliant red mouths and matching crimson feet. More than once, we saw pairs mating loudly and with great flashes of those beautiful red mouths and feet. Very exciting! I suddenly lost my favorite hat (a gift from Jody and Eric) in a gust of wind, and I thought maybe our luck would change. But the gift shop employee was kind enough to hop the fence to retrieve it. Kelly then bought me a tether with a clip at both ends, so that it could be fastened to my collar...
From there we made a quick tour of Gazos Creek Road. We were not successful in viewing many birds, but we could sure hear them. Band-tailed Pigeon, Wilson's Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Northern Parula, MacGillivray's Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Winter Wren, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Black-headed Grosbeak, Purple Finch... they were all there. For all those who attended, the birds we say yesterday will count toward your 175, so that's a pretty good start, considering one of them is "rare outside of Alaska".
For those who were not at the final meeting, I'm attaching both the quiz and the challenge. Have fun and stay in touch! There's no reason we have to stop talking between terms.