06-30-11

Yesterday and today, I spent time trying to sketch a Green Heron at the Palo Alto Flood Control Basin in Palo Alto. The bird moved slowly, but never really stopped as it made its way around the waters edge. I enjoyed recording its various postures while resting, walking, looking and stalking.










06-27-11

After a lunch-hour stop at recycling... a little sketching in the wind. Over my shoulder I heard a group of 7 women on a power-walk discussing how female sexuality is so fluid. Male's, I assume, must be something else. I returned to my sketch only to find the Western Gull had changed position. Damn.










06-24-11

First page in a brand new sketch book. Very scary! I decided to visit the Forster's Tern breeding island at Charleston Slough during lunch. I have to say, Terns really are fun to draw!








KRV2: The Friends Birding Tour of Kern River Valley and surrounding Areas
June 17 - 20, 2011


Our second tour of this amazing area was a huge success! What makes it so rich for birders is the convergence of several distinct ecozones in one area so that from one day to the next, an entirely new collection of species can be found. The areas we explored were the 00) Southern Sierra, 01) Kern River Valley, Eastern slope of the Sierra, 02) Mojave Desert, and 03) the Great Basin Desert.

Day 00 (arrival day): Southern Sierra
Cricket and I awoke at 2:00 AM, were on the road by 3:17 AM and met the group at Quaking Aspen Campground outside of Porterville. It took almost 6 hours to reach the rendez vous, so maybe next time we'll do what several others did and stay at the Best Western in town.

At the campground, we were treated to the full song of familiar winter birds such as Lincoln's and Fox Sparrows. We also had close encounters with more than one nesting Dusky Flycatcher, Calliope Hummingbird, and a very pissed-off Green-tailed Towhee who made sure we saw his frightening yellow underarms! We surrendered immediately... MacGillivray's Warblers were also seen and heard during our visit, as was White-headed Woodpecker, which seemed to be visiting the same nest hole it did last year.


Photo: Broooke Miller


Photo: Broooke Miller


Sketch: Matthew Dodder


Photo: Broooke Miller


Trail of 100 Giants
was next. We had hoped for a repeat of last year's Northern Goshawk, but alas, it wasn't meant to be. Instead we had several Hermit Warblers, Cassin's Finch, Townsend's Solitaire, and amazing views of a female Pileated Woodpecker!

We made a couple of unsuccessful searches for Black-chinned Sparrow as we neared the lodge in Kernville, but it was time to relax, have a cold drink, and set up our barbecue... in the dark!



Photo: Broooke Miller


Sketch: Matthew Dodder


Day 01: Kern River Valley and Eastern Slope Sierra

Cricket and I awoke at 4:00AM, drank coffee, readied ourselves for the first full day in the valley, and were on the road by 5:00AM. Our first stop was the waterfront at South Fork. There we picked up pretty much our only waterbirds of the trip, including Double-crested Cormorants, two Gull species and two Grebe species. As we pulled away, Mary Jane called out an Osprey! A nearby access to the willows also provided looks at the water, and produced Wood Duck, Lazuli Bunting, Blue Grosbeak and Savannah Sparrow.

After that, we moved to the KOA campground where much of the Willow Flycatcher research is done. We found no Flycatchers and certainly no Cuckoos. No matter, we figured both those species would be a challenge due to last year's fire and many hundreds of leafless trees. I've heard very few Cuckoo's have been logged by researchers this year, and they have been in areas where tree trunks remain submerged...

The Kern River Preserve was next, and our target was Summer Tanager. It was slightly harder to find than last year, but eventually revealed itself in the grove behind the office. Also flushed from the canopy was a Barn Owl. The endangered subspecies of Willow Flycatcher was easily found along the entrance road too.



Photo: Broooke Miller

It was becomming warm, and the clock urged us onward. We proceeded to the Chimney Peak Backcountry Byway where we had roadside Rock and Cactus Wren. We continued up slope, finding little of note, but reached a picturesque hairpin turn with a spectacular view of the valley below. I thought, 'What a great place for Canyon Wren, let's stop.' We stopped and sure enough a Canyon Wren called below the road even before my hand had reached the ipod. Then.... like 10,000 volts from my neck to my feet, I heard it! The amazing song of a Black-chinned Sparrow. "Did you hear that? DID YOU HEAR THAT??"

You see, for years I had dreamed of finding this bird during a group field trip. I had repeatedly tried in places along the Mines Road tour in Santa Clara County, places I had found the species when I was alone, and never much luck when the whole group was along. Sure we'd heard it once or twice in the past 12 years, but never seen. I'd played the song in class, one of my two favorite North American bird songs, and even dreamed about the bird... and now, there it was! So close, and so clear... but would we be able to see the bird, I wondered? Well, long story short, we did! And a few shots from the recording brought the bird within a few feet of our group. An absolute dream-come-true experience that made the entire trip for me, and one I dare say, I will never forget! I have the feeling that all the participants who raised their hands when asked, 'Was that a lifer?' will agree.



Photo: Broooke Miller


Sketch: Matthew Dodder

Perhaps I threw my neck out with all the excitement about that Sparrow, but for the next two days I was in excruciating pain. I blamed myself for missing the Plumbeous Vireo and Gray Flycatcher at the Chimney Peak Camground, but I leared from Bob Barnes that his group had missed them as well... so maybe it wasn't my fault.

Anyway, we had lunch at the camgrpound, found some beautiful Chipping Sparrows, and then made the long drive to Kennedy Meadows. There we met the Gerry and Kay Williams, who were so happy to see our group again. Within short order we had the highly prized Pinyon Jay on our list, and an even stronger friendship with our hosts. Thank you to them for a very pleasent afternoon on their veranda with White-headed Woodpecker, Mountain Chickadee, and Costa's Hummingbird to boot!



Photo: Broooke Miller

Extra credit to anyone who can identify what clearly visible feature on this Corvid, separates it from all other North American members of its family.... the hint is in the Latin genus Gymnorhinus.



Photo: Broooke Miller

This day just got more and more exciting! After seeing the Williams, and learing about their solar panels and how they are completely "off grid," we drove Nine Mile Canyon where, as with last year, we found Scott's Oriole with ease! As predicted, the bird was in a gully with sufficient hardwood cover and nearby Joshua Trees. All it took was a little patience.

Heading down further, we came across a few dozen California Quail crossing the road... or were they? A quick look through the binoculars, and the report was revised. Chukars! All cars came to full-stop and we watched a full 40 birds cross the road, heading up hill.

Time for some dinner! After last night's barbecue in the dark, it seemed like dinner out would be great. But I was in incredible pain so Cricket brought me food from the Italian restaurant across the street. I apologize to those who attended dinner. I wanted nothing more than to celebrate our incredible day on the east slope.

Day 02: Mojave Desert
Today was guaranteed to be less strenuous, at least in theory. All we had to do was be on the road by 5:30 AM and travel about 30 miles down and up Kelso Valley Road. Then we would come home for barbecue leftovers and go to bed at a reasonable hour...

Before heading down into the desert however, we made a quick search and retrieve of the Indigo Bunting Bob Barnes had told us about the day before. Instead of searching for it then, I took a gamble and decided if it was singing as he told, perhaps it would be singing again this morning. In fact it was, but several hundred yards beyond where we were told to look. It popped into view, all blue and ablaze, after I played it's apparent rival, the Luzili Bunting... What an incredible, amazing, life-affirming sight!! Visions like this just move me...



Photo: Broooke Miller

Early highlights along the Mojave section, when Joshuas began to be commonplace, included Black-throated Sparrow and Cactus Wren. After the initial sighting, we continued to hear both species throuhout the day, and it should be added that we detected several unique variations on the familiar Black-throated Sparrow song.

A stop at Frog Spring provided us with a textbook Ladder-backed and Nuttall's Woodpecker comparison, as both species were in the grove and responding to tape. As I'm a huge Sparrow fan, I was also very pleased at finding the inland variety of Sage Sparrow here, although it must be said "Bell's" Sage is far cooler looking.


Photo: Broooke Miller



Sketch: Matthew Dodder


Photo: Broooke Miller


Sketch: Matthew Dodder

We made a quick stop at the Kern River Preserve to use the restrooms and relax in the shaded Black-chinned Hummingbird viewing area. Highlights for me were a brilliant male Summer Tanager flycatching of all things, and landing directly over on of our cars! We then returned to the lodge and prepared for our fairwell dinner. This time while the sun was still up!

Day 03: Great Basin Desert
We left slighly later this morning... 6:00A, and headed directly to Terri Middlemiss' birders garden outside of Inyokern. We hoped most to find Verdin (which we did, while it fed its young!), and perhaps a Hooded Oriole. In addition to these, we found Costa's Hummingbird, Greater Roadrunner, Sage and Black-throated Sparrow, Amerian Goldfinch, and both male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks!



Photo: Broooke Miller



Photo: Broooke Miller


Photo: Broooke Miller



Sketch: Matthew Dodder

But today has always been about visiting our friend Louise, who through a labor of love, has created an incredible desert haven for one particularly prized bird, LeConte's Thrasher! We rolled up to her geodesic dome in the middle of almost nowhere, already close to 90º by 9:aa AM, hugged after a full year of waiting, and watched as she brought these very secretive birds out into the open. She has acclimated them to her friendly voice and a few giant meal worms, so that we could experience something very few ever have.



Photo: Broooke Miller

After saying goodbye to Louise and her magical sun-kissed desert garden, we stopped briefly at Red Rock Canyon State Park to find the area essentially birdless. A few White-throated Swifts made brief appearances, but other than that, not much. Last year we had had Cactus Wren begging for handouts, but this year none. No matter. We'd had an incredible few days, with yet again, fantasitc views of many birds not found in the Bay Area!




Full species list:
(Day of sighting is beside each species, location is listed above)

Wood Duck 1
Mallard 01
Northern Shoveler 1
Gadwall 1
California Quail 0123
Chukar 1
Western Grebe 1
Clark's Grebe 1
Double-crested Cormorant 1
American White Pelican 1
Great Blue Heron 013
White-vaced Ibis 0
Turkey Vulture 0123
Osprey 1
Cooper's Hawk 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 0
Swainson's Hawk 0
Red-tailed Hawk 0123
American Kestrel 012
Killdeer 1
Ring-billed Gull 1
California Gull 1
Rock Pigeon 012
Eurasian Collared Dove 0123
White-winged Dove 1* (retro-ID by Cricket and Kaz, confident)
Mourning Dove 0123
Greater Roadrunner 023
Barn Owl 1
White-throated Swift 012
Black-chinned Hummingbird 12
Anna's Hummingbirde 012
Costa's Hummingbird 013
Acorn Woodpecker 0
Red-breasted Sapsucker 0
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 2
Nuttall's Woodpecker 2
Downy Woodpecker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 1
White-headed Woodpecker 01
Northern Flicker 0123
Pileated Woodpecker 0
Olive-sided Flycatcher 0
Western Wood Pewe 012
Willow Flycatcher 12
Hammond's Flycatcher 0
Dusky Flycatcher
Black Phoebe 12
Ash-throated Flycatcher 012
Brown-crested Flycatcher 2
Western Kingbird 0123
Loggerhead Shrike 123
Cassin's Vireo 0
Warbling Vireo 01
Steller's Jay 0
Western Scrub Jay 012
Pinyon Jay 1
Clark's Nutcracker 0
American Crow 01
Common Raven 0123
Horned Lark 12
Tree Swallow 1
Violet-green Swallow 1
Cliff Swallow 01
Mountain Chickadee 0
Oak Titmouse 012
Verdin 3
Bushtit 12
Red-breasted Nuthatch 0
White-breasted Nuthatch 02
Brown Creeper 0
Cactus Wren 12
Rock Wren 12
Canyon Wren 12
Bewick's Wren 123
House Wren 012
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0
Wrentit 01
Western Bluebird 12
Townsend's Solitaire 0
Hermit Thrush 0
American Robin 012
Northern Mockingbird 0123
California Thrasher 2
LeConte's Thrasher 3
Nashville Warbler 0
Yellow Warbler 012
Yellow-rumped Warbler 0
Townsend's Warbler 0
Hermit Warbler 0
MacGillivray's Warbler 0
Common Yellowthroat 12
Green-tailed Towhee
Spotted Towhee 0123
California Towhee 012
Chipping Sparrow 1
Lark Sparrow 123
Black-throated Sparrow 23
Sage Sparrow 23
Savannah Sparrow 12
Fox Sparrow 0
Song Sparrow 012
Lincoln's Sparrow 0
Dark-eyed Junco 0
Summer Tanager 12
Western Tanager 01
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3
Black-headed Grosbeak 0123
Blue Grosbeak 1
Lazuli Bunting 01
Indigo Bunting 2
Red-winged Blackbird 12
Tricolored Blackbird 12
Western Meadowlark 12
Brewer's Blackbird 123
Great-tailed Grackle 12
Brown-headed Cowbird 0123
Hooded Oriole 3
Bullock's Oriole 0123
Scott's Oriole 12
Purple Finch 0
Cassin's Finch 0
House Finch 0123
Lesser Goldfinch 0123
Lawrence's Goldfinch 12
American Goldfinch 3
House Sparrow 0123







06-16-11

Today I visited the Heronry at Palo Alto Baylands. Snowy Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons were on their nests above the ranger station. They made the most peculiar, drowning-man sounds you've ever heard. I chose one particular Black-crown above the road to draw and he/she obliged by remaining essentially in one place. Eventually it flew, and I wanted so much to draw it in flight, but ran out of space on the page.








06-15-11

Forster's Tern drawn yesterday during lunch at Byxbee Park in Palo Alto. What an amazing, fun-to-draw bird! While many mid-sized Stern species have a similar body structure, subtle differences make them a nice challenge to ID at a distance. No problem here—the brilliant white upper parts made it obvious these were Forster's. But I can't wait for fall when the Commons and Arctics start rolling through. Then I'll start waxing poetic about dark carpal bars, minimal head projection and translucent primaries.








06-05-11

Yesterday's class trip to Año Nuevo was a challenge. Horizontal rain for most of the morning soaked us all to the bone. One of our two targets, the Bank Swallow colony was worth the effort though. Unfortunately, Black Swift will have to wait until next time. Hopefully it won't be raining cats and dogs like this time.