Leonie Batkin, Cricket, and I pursued the Ruff (and Reeve) at New Chicago Marsh after work this evening. Conditions at 6:00pm were windy so locating the bird among the numerous other shorebirds was not as easy as we had hoped. We contented ourselves for the first half an hour with the hundreds of Wilson's Phalaropes that were easily found in the first pond to our right as we walked along the railroad tracks. Many of them still sported evidence of breeding plumage. The next pond beyond that, as we looked toward the EEC, contained mostly Red-necked Phalaropes and again, many retained obvious reddish coloration. Brightly colored Short-billed Dowitchers were in abundance almost everywhere we looked, as were Black-necked Stilts and many Stilt immatures. A few Greater Yellowlegs were observed as well as two Lesser Yellowlegs among them. A single Semipalmated Plover and the majority of American Avocets were in the shallows to our left, back by the State and Spreckles intersection, as we walked further out. Perhaps a hundred Least Sandpipers and a couple dozen Western Sandpipers were seen foraging close to the tracks at various stops and we had good looks at them.
After about 45 minutes of searching we had just about given up, and I announced in a frustrated tone of voice "It's about time for this bird to appear..." Well, what do you know, it did! We located it among a large mixed group containing mostly Dowitchers and Stilts that were sleeping on a long patch of mud between the first and second ponds about a hundred yards away. As reported, the Ruff has obvious dark blotching along the sides of its breast and belly, stands taller than the nearby Dowitchers and has a shortish bill, wide at the base and drooped toward the end. We noticed its rather vivid orange-yellow legs, pale throat and face and scaley grayish-tan appearance to its back. Its head appears quite small for its body and it seems rather thick-necked. We observed also that in profile its body seemed deep or heavy-bellied, but this effect was lost when we saw it head on. At one point the entire group of birds, several hundred of mixed species, took flight and we thought we would never relocate the Ruff again, but within a few minutes we were fortunate to view it again and this time somewhat closer. We were not able to locate the Reeve reported in the same area, but still felt lucky to find the one male.
I almost forgot to mention that on an early morning walk in our neighborhood this morning, we heard and saw the male Hooded Oriole in the tall palm trees around the corner from our appartment. Continuing down the quiet streets we also saw an adult Cooper's Hawk, two Bewick's Wrens a Brown-headed Cowbird and fledgling American Crows. Northern Mockingbirds seem to have found their stations at nearly every corner lot and Lesser Goldfinches were heard several times but never seen.
Yesterday, while I was sitting on the banks of the now dry Sanfrancisquito Creek reading Kevin Zimmer's Birding in the American West, a book that I think I should make required reading for fall term, several birds called or sang overhead. Among them was a nest of two young Cooper's Hawks, flopping clumsily about in the upper branches while their mother called to them reassuringly from up stream. I watched as they took short jumps from branch to branch, using their ungainly wings for a dubious balance. Elsewhere there were Anna's Hummingbird, Cassin's Vireo, Brown Creeper, and Lesser Goldfinch. There were also Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Oak Titmouse, and a Red-shouldered Hawk.
Continuing with the heard-only identifications, this morning across the street from our appartment in Mountain View I distinctly heard several "spit!" calls of a Black-headed Grosbeak while a few days earlier, the double chatter of Hooded Orioles were heard high in the palm trees around the just a couple of blocks away.
This past long weekend was Cricket's and my first trip to the Yuba Pass area. We stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast in Sierra City called the Holly House, which was just a 10 minute drive from the Yuba Pass campground. There we did the majority of our birding, obsessed with finding the only bird that would be a lifer for both of us... the Black-backed Woodpecker. Well, we never found it. Ten days earlier, the well documented nestlings had fledged, making it much harder to locate these nomadic birds. Apparently, the two adults and young typically disperse in different directions, to be seen again by only the very fortunate. Two such gentlemen had managed to get brief glimpses of a bird in the vicinity of the now abandoned nest but said the bird had remained only briefly. They described the experience as "just luck" which made me feel only slightly better. There's nothing worse than hearing "oh, it was just here an hour ago..." Oh, well, we'll just have to go again next year, and hopefully earlier in the season when the birds are still feeding the young in the nest and success is more likely.
That disappointment aside, the trip was a huge success! Almost all target birds were located, including many montane species, several of which were lifers for Cricket. When we arrived in the campground around noon, we were greeted by an extremely cooperative Western Tanager who posed for photographs right by the restrooms and just a few feet from our car! Not a bad start we thought. Over the course of the weekend we had over a dozen sightings of Tanager and they never once became tiresome... So beautiful. We then took the south trail out of the parking lot and located White-headed Woodpecker, Hammond's Flycatcher, Mountain Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Red Crossbill and a heard-only Clark's Nutcracker in the thick woods. The glorious song of Hermit Thrush was heard all around us, echoing mysteriously throught the conifers. "Lone-ly..." it seemed to sing, with the first syllable being drawn out and mournful. The nearby drumming announced the presence of a Sapsucker species and a moment later we found out which one. We saw the brilliant red colors of a Red-breasted Sapsucker in a nearby tree as it foraged unafraid. It wasn't the bird we were searching for, but it was still new for the day. Piciiformes abounded on this trip actually, with Williamson's Saspsucker feeding its young in a tree just 10 yards from the restroom, and Hairy Woodpecker flying overhead and landing in perfect view. White-headed Woodpeckers were probably the most numerous Woodpeckers we encountered with a nest in the front lawn of our lodging! Other climbing birds during the weekend included the White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, the latter of which could be heard constantly in the area, and Brown Creeper. The song Fox Sparrows became familiar after a few hours as they seemed to be at almost every stop we made. Its song reminded us of the Olive-sided Flycatcher, which was also common in th area, in that it began with "Quick! Free beer!" but it ended with something that sounded a bit like "...Come on an get 'em before they're all gone, you know!" Anyway, moving along... Chipping Sparrows were extremely easy to locate at the campground parking lot as well as their dry trill was everywhere and allowed easy comparison to the similar song of Dark-eyed Junco.
A walk along the trail that leads north out of the parking lot produced the first of several good looks at Williamson's Sapsucker. Evening Grosbeak was first seen here as well, but were located again along the road in the afternoon. As we walked down hill and through a beautiful old growth forest, the thunder began to clap. Brief sprinkles caused a noticeable slowdown of activity, after which birds resumed their song and continued to forage actively. In a small patch of willow-like plants we located several Warbler species, including Nashville, MacGillivrays, Orange-crowned and Black-throated Gray Warbler. Overhead a "Solitary" Vireo sang. Dang! We should have gotten a look at that bird as there's no telling for sure whether it was Cassin's or Plumbeous...
We continued exploring the general area in preparation for our first full day and visited the Sardine Campground, Sand Pond (a very beautiful boardwalk nature trail through a flooded stand of dead trees) and Salmon Creek Campground. All seemed too crowded with vacationers to bird effectively, so instead we simply scouted and made plans for the following day. We were also just too tired after the long drive to secure the area the way we would have liked. So after an exhausting day, we retired our binoculars a bit early and had dinner at Buckhorn's. I highly recommend the mushroom and bleu cheese burger, but Cricket was less satisfied with the chicken picatta.
The following morning we got an early start in the campground again, after a nice hot breakfast, and located several Pine Grosbeak near the entrance and a Selasphorus species of Hummingbird, presumably Rufous Hummingbird, buzzing through the forest. A thorough exploration of the area produced no additional species however. Then we drove west to the Bassett's Station to check the feeders for Hummingbirds. We were rewarded with excellent looks at Anna's and Calliope Hummingbirds. After picking up some soft drinks, we opted to go directly to Lower Sardine Lake and hike up toward the Upper Sardine Lake instead of revisiting the Salmon Creek or Sardine campgrounds as we had originally planned. The views here are stunning and the 30 minute walk to the upper lake is highly recommended. New birds for this area included an Osprey circling above the lake, Dusky Flycatcher on the slope above us, Yellow Warbler and Spotted Towhee in the undergrowth. We half expected to see Green-tailed Towhee here, but were not so fortunate. Again, the view was stunning and the hike quite easy. We then made quick and unproductive stops along the road leading to Packer Lake in areas that had burned or dying trees, as well as Salmon Creek Campground to scour the willows.
Before returning to Holly House, we made a brief stop along the Yuba River to look for American Dipper. Within a minute we saw two adults and a young bird begging for food. After the disappointment of not finding our tarket Woodpecker, finding something EXACTLY where we expected it was really satisfying...
Last day began a bit earlier. We were out the door and on the road by 7:00. Again, we tried the campground, hoping with diminishing optimism, that we might find the bird before we left. Well, we didn't and I started to sulk. Cricket tried to cheer me up and said nicely, "Don't worry. We have our entire lives to find this bird." Wise words, I suppose, but I still felt defeated. So off we went to the Sierra Valley to pick up some guaranteed east slope birds. We found the Sandhill Cranes, White-faced Ibis, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds fairly easily as well as chattering Marsh Wrens and numerous American Coot. The habitat along Marble Hot Springs road was, as should be aparent by the species list, a flooded plain. In the distance drier habitat could be seen, but by the famous metal bridge, things were wet. We continued along this same road just far enough to get into the sage scrub where we located a family of Sage Thrasher, Horned Lark, Western Meadowlark and Brewer's Sparrow. After locating these we decided to head toward home. Along Hwy A23 we came across a group of Black-billed Magpie which we had hoped to find somewhere in the valley. Ahhhhhh...
Things seemed to be picking up as far as our success was concerned, so we took a chance and made the drive from Sattley back up Hwy 49 to reach the Yuba Pass campground ONE MORE TIME for the damn Woodpecker. A quick look down the species list below will show that this desperate last effort was also unsuccessful. I should have just admitted defeat that morning, but I'm a sucker for that kind of punishment. I couldn't leave knowing that we hadn't tried our best. At least we had another opportunity to see that beautiful Western Tanager in the parking lot, poised near the restrooms as if he'd been waiting for us to return.
Pied-billed Grebe (SV)
American White Pelican (SV)
Great Blue Heron (SV)
Black-crowned Night Heron (SV)
White-faced Ibis (SV)
Ruddy Duck (SV)
Swainson's Hawk (along I-5)
American Kestrel (along I-5)
Peregrine Falcon (880/580 interchange)
Mountain Quail (heard only)
American Coot (SV)
Sandhill Crane (SV)
Vaux's Swift (along Hwy 80)
Western Wood Pewee
Western Kingbird (along I-5)
Horned Lark (SV)
Cliff Swallow (SV)
Barn Swallow (SV)
Clark's Nutcracker (heard only)
Black-billed Mapgie (SV)
American Crow (along I-5)
Bewick's Wren (heard only)
House Wren (heard only)
Marsh Wren (SV)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (heard only)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (heard only)
Sage Thrasher (SV)
"Solitary" Vireo (heard only)
Black-throated Gray Warbler (heard only)
Lazuli Bunting (heard only)
Brewer's Sparrow (SV)
Red-winged Blackbird (SV)
Western Meadowlark (SV)
Yellow-headed Blackbird (SV)
This afternoon, Cricket and I looked for the Little Blue Heron in the Sunnyvale WPCP despite evidence that the bird may have moved on. As expected, we did not find it, but enjoyed a nice bike ride around the entire area. We were rewarded with good looks at several groups of American White Pelican, a pair of Green Heron, Common Moorhen, a few Northern Shoveler, a single female Bufflehead, good numbers of Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck males doing their bizarre courtship display, California and Ring-billed Gulls, Caspian and Forster's Terns, and several small groups of Least Sandpipers.
The most interesting bird encountered was a White-cheeked Pintail, which was located halfway along the western edge of the western most pond. There is a large crane (the construction kind) at the north end of the levy trail and the area west of this is closed. It was associating with a mixed group of about 100 birds that included Ruddy Ducks, Mallards and Gadwall. Clearly this is an escaped bird, since it's normal home is in the Bahamas and even reports of vagrants in southern Florida are met with much scepticism, but it was interesting to see nevertheless and had us scratching our heads for several minutes.