08-21-04

Cricket and I biked from the Alviso marina around the various ponds in a counter-clockwise fashion, finding a few birds of note. A single Black Turnstone foraged on the east edge of pond A13. The bird's legs were quite brightly orange, but the patterning on the head and neck was 100% BLTU. Numerous Red-necked Phalaropes were also on the north edge of A14 as well as a large flock of Grebes that included one each of both Aechmophorus species, Western and Clark's, about 30 Pied-billed and six Eared. The latter of which still had obvious dark necks and golden ear tufts. A single Brown Pelican and a Caspian Tern flew over the levy between A10 and A11. Overall, California Gulls dominated, but a few Ring-billed and good numbers of Western Gulls were seen as well. Forster's Terns and American White Pelicans were found in all areas. An enormous group of Marbled Godwits, several hundred strong, flew from the Coyote Creek Slough to the ponds on the north side of our tour and mixed in were a few Long-billed Curlew. At one point we thought we heard the sound of Black Skimmers in the vicinity of A14, but we were not able to locate the birds by sight. Perhaps the sound was carried in on the wind from much farther away.




08-20-04

The recent discovery of a Red-footed Falcon on Martha's Vineyard by Vern Laux on August 8, has been big news for the Americas. This represents the first appearance of the species in the western hemisphere! The following link to a Massachusetts birding group provides images and details of this astounding find: http://www.massbird.org/




08-17-04

Perhaps the most exciting thing to happen in the bird world is the occasional discovery of a previously unknown species. The familiar splitting of existing species into two "new species", such as the Canada/Cackling Goose situation I described last week, is far less impressive than the situation in the Philippines recently. With all the world's people and hardly a location remaining that hasn't been mapped and measured and explored, it's truly incredible that an entire species could have gone unnoticed until now... Let's hope that efforts are made immediately to maintain the tiny population of birds before the area is develped and the species drifts back into darkness. The BBC has a good story with images of the Calayan Rail http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3569160.stm




08-15-04

Phil and Joan Leighton and I met at Waddell Beach along Hwy 1 in Santa Cruz County to scout out the coastal section of Big Basin State Park for an upcoming fall term trip. What a beautiful spot that is and the weather was perfect. Highlights of our trip were numerous Brandt's Cormorants, a Pelagic Cormorant, Surf Scoters, Heerman's Gulls, an adult and a juvenile Caspian Tern a small group of Red-necked Phalaropes and a Whimbrel on the beach. As soon as we stepped into the park, we began hearing Pygmy Nuthatch, but never did get them in our sights. Wrentit and Song Sparrow seemed to be among the more common Passerines, while Dark-eyed Junco, Barn Swallow, Purple Finch and both Lesser and American Goldfinches made an appearance as well. Throughout our walk we saw Band-tailed Pigeons both perched and in flight over the conifers. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers were detected as well as Northern Flicker. A beautiful marsh trail led us over a small stream where decidiuous trees prevailed. At least two Wilson's Warblers were seen as well as Bewick's Wren and a Hutton's Vireo. Most interesting of the day was likely the female Common Merganser on the stream leading back to the ocean.



08-14-04

Brian Christman and I made a short visit to the famous State and Spreckles intersecton and EEC in Alviso today. We saw the Al Eisner and the Mikes who were already focused one of the two Ruffs reported. Beside the California Gulls, we observed numerous Dowitchers, presumably Short-billed, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Least and Western Sandpipers, Wilson's Phalaropes, but we also noted a few Red-necked Phalaropes at this stop, and close to 100 more along the railroad tracks. It's very interesting how these birds remained segregated from each other.

Outside of SBB, we made an earlier top at Don Edwards on the Southeast end of Dumbarton. Lot's of Wilson's Phalaropes there too but no Red-necked in the main pools. Dunlin, Western and Least Sandpipers were in abundance. The most interesting bird located there was a nearly full albino Barn Swallow near the entrance road. It was completely snow white, save for a pale wash of buff on the belly. It had medium length streamers on its tail, so I assume it was not a full adult. From what I could see, it's eyes appeared pinkish. If it makes it through migration without being eaten, it will be a small miracle...



08-11-04


Some of you may have heard this already as it occured in July, but the American Ornithological Union (AOU), a major force in the bird world, has split the former Canada Goose into two distinct species. Based on a variety of considerations including range, breeding populations, body structure and genetic makeup, we will now have to contend not only with the familiar Canada Goose Branta canadensis, but also with the newly defined Cackling Goose Branta huchinsii. The larger subspecies of the former Canada Goose: B.c. interior "Interior", B.c. maxima "Giant", B.c. moffitti "Moffit's", B.c. parvipes [larger members of the lesser complex], B.c. fulva "Vancouver", and B.c. occidentalis "Dusky", will retain the name. The smaller races: B.h. hutchinsii "Richardson's, B.h. asiatica "Bering-extinct", B.h. leucopareia "Aleutian", B.h. taverneri [smaller members of the lesser complex], and B.h. minima "cackling", will adopt the new. On past field trips we may have seen some of these smaller birds, probably minima, mixed in with the wintering central valley flocks, but now we will be spending more time with them and listing them as separate species.

The American Birding Association (ABA) has not yet echoed the AOU decision. If they do, as they likely will, we will then have a new lifer to search for.

 



08-09-04

The Joseph D. Grant County Park camping trip, the first overnight event we've ever done as a group, was a great success. A small group including of Phil and Joan, Leonie, Susan and Robbie, Maryann and Hinrich, Brent and Kristin, Cynthia and Eric, Mr. Melnick, Cricket and myself descended on the upper Snell campground in late afternoon, just in time for the massive heat. While some members went for a torturous mountain bike ride, the sensible ones among us were content to sit in the shade and chat. We took a short walk before dinner but didn't turn up much to report save a few California Quail, a couple of California Thrashers and several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Dinner was wonderful and we brought vegetables to grill and three ribeye steaks that had been sitting in my mother's marinade* for 24 hours (see below). After dinner we went for our first official Owl-prowl. Equipped with my new iPod, we first listened to a few recordings of possible Owls to prepare our ears for the tour. Within a short time, we heard a strange call near the lower picnic area that sounded a bit like a Barn Owl. The sound, however, was less hissy and possessed a definite tone or voice. A short time later, after walking through the woods we located the source, an immature Great Horned Owl. The bird moved away from us in the dark, but we were able to shine the light on it and watch it for a couple of minutes before we continued on. We later saw an adult perched on a powerline and the differences were immediately apparent. On our way back to the campground, Cricket and Mr. Melnick saw a small gray Owl drop from the tree above our table and land on the ground. It paused for a moment before dashing off into the woods. The description they gave regarding its size, shape and color leads me to believe they had found a Western Screech Owl, but unfortunately no one else got to see it. We turned in for the night and several people reportd hearing the Great Horned Owl after hours. I heard a Barn Owl overhead once or twice but was too sleepy to get out and look around. When morning came, a group of us took the short trail to the Snell Barn to find the resident Barn Owls. Two birds, a male and a female, flew out of the large gap in the front wall and landed nearby, allowing us to get fairly good looks at these shy birds. From there we hike through the farmhouse garden and up to the lake where we found Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Green Heron, Canada Goose, Ruddy Duck, Golden Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Belted Kingfisher and Western Kingbird. It was definitely a great trip, but far too short. Next spring, I believe we should do a similar camping trip but make it two nights and visit Yuba Pass to search for the Black-backed Woodpecker and other montane species.

*NOTE: I have always said that next to life itself, this is the greatest gift my mother has ever given me. It is her famous steak marinade. It wouldn't be a true recipe however, if it weren't polished and refined over the years by each new cook, so I've included my adjustments in parentheses for those who wish to spice it up a bit.

Mom's Second Greatest Gift
5 tablespoons ketsup
5 tablespoons soy sauce (dark)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons whiskey or red wine (tequila)
2 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin)
2 cloves garlic (you've got to be kidding mom, I use at least 8...)
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger (I usually also add another 1/2 teaspoon bottled chopped ginger)
1 dash pepper (I always go at least double, which means about 1 full teaspoon fresh ground)
(A pinch of red pepper flakes will really spice it up, but that's definitely not mom's recipe...)

Adjust to taste. It's good for two or three 1 lb. steaks. Marinade in refrigerator in a flat, covered container for at least 2 hours (24 hours is best!). Grill or broil the meat until it's warm through, but don't you dare over cook it! Good steak, like ribeye, should be pink inside, like it's freshly killed...





08-05-04

Fall term is approaching (Registration is Monday, August 16) and as many of you know, my new class will be slightly different. I’ve decided to nickname it “Birding Boot Camp” but the PAAS will simply refer to it as “Bay Area Birds and Beyond!”

So how exactly will things change this fall? The most important development is that the group will now address intermediate material. There are two classes offered, a Beginning Class and “Boot Camp”. How will people decide which one to register for? Let me explain.

ONE
To begin, I will be spending less time reviewing common birds, like a Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, American Avocet, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Bewick’s Wren, Western Scrub Jay, House Finch, etc. You should know these birds. A quick scan down our local checklist will reveal numerous other species (marked with a heavy solid line) that you should be able to identify with ease.

Is it a Grebe or a Loon? Of course you already know... The real challenge is deciding which Loon by considering the subtle differences between the 5 possible Loons found in California waters, especially in winter. Now there’s a challenge.

How do you decide which class is best for you at this stage of your Birding career? Ask yourself if you can differentiate between Dowitchers, and Peeps. Do you understand the difference between Diving Ducks and Dabbling Ducks? Are you familiar with Accipters and do you understand the issues surrounding their identification? Which Cormorant is found at Shoreline Lake? To advance your birding skills and address the subtle identification within large bird groups assumes you are equipped to answer these kinds of questions. This is the first test and a way you can make an informed choice about which class is best for you.

Recommended text: Birding in the American West, Kevin Zimmer (I will distribute excerpts)
Peterson Guide to Advanced Birding, Kenn Kauffman (I will distribute excerpts)

Other books I recommend for basics material are:
Lifes of North American Birds, Kenn Kauffman
Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, David Sibley
Sibley Birding Basics, David Sibley

TWO
A second area of change will be the increased importance of bird sounds during our field experiences. I know how difficult it can be sorting through the background noise and hearing an individual bird, let alone identifying that bird, but the skill is within each of us. We will be focusing more on bird sounds during our field experiences. The reward for trying is great because sometimes we never actually see the birds we hear all around us, yet knowing their songs means identification is still possible, as our trips have proven.

For this reason, I will ask everyone to make an effort to learn and remember bird sounds. This is a large request I know, but it’s not impossible. Many of you have purchased bird song recordings and that is perhaps the best way of preparing yourself for song identification in the field. We will discuss many songs in class and in the field, but there’s no substitute for a bit of individual study. Just a few minutes a day will pay off. I have a small surprise which will make the use of recordings in the field possible... It should be fun and instructive.

Try listening to a bird CD for a few minutes instead of the traffic report while you’re driving. The learning of common birds should be the first task, followed eventually by less common birds. Consider how helpful it may be if we already know the songs of common birds in our area. An unfamiliar song will stand out like a soar thumb. Some of you may remember the Yellow-breasted Chat at Grant Park, or the Northern Parula in Point Reyes, or the Canyon Wren at Pinnacles. Being tuned-in to bird sounds not only helps our eyes locate the bird, but it allows us to move past a familiar sound because we can identify it before spending much time. Take the Black Phoebe or California Towhee, for example, both of which are very common and familiar... Time spent searching for these hidden birds might distract us from a less common bird vocalizing a few yards away. Our mantra should be: “Listen. Learn. Remember.”

Ask yourself, “will I make an effort to learn the bird sounds around me and practice what I learn in front of the group?” If you can answer yes, you’ve passed the second test. Remember your classmates are also learning — so don't be bashful. Collaborate!

Recommended recordings: Birding By Ear, Western Edition (good lecture series)
Bird Songs of California, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (I will use in class and in the field)
Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs, Western Region
Peterson Field Guides: Western Bird Songs

THREE
Good Field Trip etiquette is VERY important and will be re-enforced throughout the term. To stray from it means risking an opportunity to see a rare bird or negatively impact your fellow birders. Birding is fun, but it is also serious. It is about finding, identifying, understanding and appreciating the birds around us, but to do this we must observe a few simple rules:

• Report for “Field Duty” at the appointed time. Arriving late can disrupt the group; besides, the best birds are often found early.

• Dress accordingly. Wear drab-colored clothing that does not rustle too much.

• Refrain from off-topic conversation and use use you "indoor voice". We often have lunch after an outing so there are plenty of opportunities to talk after our field assignments.

• If you have become separated and missed a bird, quietly join the group again and take a few moments to listen to what your classmates are trying to hear and identify.

• Make a effort to identify a bird before asking what it is. We are all wrong on occasion. That is part of learning! Learning requires everyone stretch their wings and try their skills. Do not rely on the answer being given away. You must make an effort.

• Please take turns with the limited number of telescopes. View the bird and quickly step to the side to allow the next person to take a look. If you were first in line last time, allow others to be first the next few times. Tall birders should station themselves in the back or move aside quickly to allow shorter members a clear shot. Watch where you step, of course.

• Members should report to field duty prepared, with some expectation of birds we will encounter. Hopefully, you will have done a bit of study in preparation for identifying the birds we may see. That means considering the habitat and season of our tour and an understanding of what is expected and possible or unlikely.

• You will share your growing knowledge freely with other birders and enjoy helping those less experienced, while also encouraging them to “do the work”.

• Despite all these new rules, you will have a good time. That’s a promise.

Now that you are in tune with the new class format… fall will be about each member’s effort to advance. Being the best birder you can be, in other words. Field experiences and the discussion both before and after will be a major part this new season. In-class time will consist of preparation for upcoming field time and any “situations” that await us at the drop point. Such situations include comparisons of similar species, reviewing news of recent rarities, preparing our ears for possible songs we may hear in the field, dreaming about impossible long-shots…

With birds you just never know what might show up if you do the work, so here are a few simple ways of 'doing the work'......

• Read the handouts I will distribute in class. They will be taken from the sources I listed above. They will address the identification issues we will face in the field.

• Visit the compiled listservs for California birds each week. It will take only a few moments to catch up on what people have been seeing. This is “the news” I always speak about. Our area is discussed in the South Bay Birds (SBB) messages posted each day by birders like you.
http://www.sialia.com/s/calists.pl

• Read the Rare Bird Report occasionally. You can find it at the following site. Click on the current week and scroll down to N. California. You may also call for the recorded version 415.681.7422. This will give you a larger picture of what’s happening and what is rare:
http://listserv.arizona.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A0=birdwest&D=0&H=0&O=A&T=1

Now, let’s get out there and do some birding!

 




08-03-04

Cricket and I just returned from our summer vacation in Utah. We visited Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument, as well as Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area in Nevada for the week of 07-27-04 to 08-02-04.

While we didn’t intend this to be a birding trip it should be no surprise that we ended up do just that for a good portion of the time... Cricket’s parents, Kaz and Aiko had generously given us a week at one of their time shares in Saint George, Utah which served as our base camp for almost a week. We landed in Las Vegas, NV, picked up our car and drove about two hours to reach our condo, passing first through a portions of Nevada and Arizona. During our time at the time share, where we had Lesser Nighthawks each evening, we visited Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks National Monument all of which were in Utah, followed by Red Rock Canyon which was just outside of Vegas in Nevada. It seems odd that we made no stops in Arizona, but the area we passed through was the extreme northwest corner and the drive through it lasted something like 10 minutes.

Because we were “camped” (I say that factitiously because camp included a king-sized bed, a living room with fireplace, patio with gas barbecue, washer and drier, a full kitchen and a lavish bathroom with tub—not the typical camping experience in other words) a full hour from the park, our hikes never began as early as they probably should. It’s quite hot in Utah in July and by 10:00 temperatures were already in the high 80s. By noon they pushed 100 degrees and it was a good thing we each carried 2 liters of water!

In Zion we hiked first the Emerald Pools trails (Lower, Middle and Upper), which took roughly 3 hours and passed through beautiful combination juniper and pinyon pine slopes. The area was dry and exposed, but small steep drainages punctuated the arid landscape with lush areas where bird activity suddenly increased. At trail’s end, three shallow basins at different elevations collect rainwater from the cliffs 1000’ above and become green with algae, hence the romantic name. Dribbling water from above created dark mineral deposits on the sloping walls above and a strange rain forest magic. Species encountered included numerous Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Black-capped Chickadee and Juniper Titmouse. The Titmouse actually seemed grayer than our familiar Oak version, and we felt quite cheeky that we could see a difference. Rock and Canyon Wren were heard at various locations along our way as well.

The shuttle carried us back toward the parking area, but we opted to get off 1.5 miles before the stop and take the easy Pa’rus trail along the Virgin River. Birds were hard to find along this route at high noon, but we did manage a female Blue Grosbeak, a presumed Cordilleran Flycatcher and a Summer Tanager that Cricket tracked down near the campground.

The next day we hiked to the Canyon Overlook, which was pretty easy considering the sweltering torture we had been through the day before. It took us through some sheltered riparian woodland and ended atop an exposed roost that overlooked the canyon below. A 1000’ foot drop seemed a suitable spot to reflect and of course we did, our thoughts accompanied only by the beautiful song of Canyon Wren perched at the edge of the cliff. After our meditative break, we decided to pursue some real punishment.

We knew the Watchman trail would be hot, because it was just about noon. The ranger had said almost mockingly, “It’ll be hot up there, you know…” He warned us again before we showed him our backs. With the temperature hovering near 100 degrees, we began the hike, drinking water through the blue plastic hose of our new camel backpack every few yards. The trail led us up through arid scrub, each step a task, and deposited us on a mesa overlooking the entrance to the park. From there we could see a great distance north and south. It was quite a view!  A pair of Peregrine Falcons chased and dove at each other at top speeds overhead, and we could hear their cries echoing distantly off the cliff walls. Along the trail leading up we had earlier located Gray Vireo, but gotten only brief glimpses of this subtle species. Identification had been rather academic, relying considerably on the elimination of similar birds and the individual’s song. The heat and thirst detracted from the thrill of seeing this uncommon bird, but I would become excited hours later.

After descending from this blazingly hot trail, we dipped our feet in the river and watched in amazement as two Black-chinned Hummingbirds drank while they suspended themselves above the rushing water. Yellow Warbler also made an appearance among the many willow trees along the banks. We later collapsed beneath a great tree in front of the lodge and considered what to do next. Perhaps an early dinner…

On our last day in the Zion area we absolutely had to do something special. We began by making the drive up to the Kolob Canyons area in the extreme northwest portion of the park. We were hoping to escape the crowds of people and the shuttle traffic. There we hiked the Taylor Creek Trail and the habitat changed decidedly from arid hillside to low-lying, cottonwood riparian. As we walked along the creek, crossing it no less than a dozen times, we found ourselves sheltered from the sun by the sheer cliffs rising above us on both sides. We were, in fact, driving straight into a deep channel carved by the centuries of flowing creek. The threat of flash floods seemed remote, but still it gave us pause. Along the way we compared Black-capped and Mountain Chickadee in close succession. This seemed a rare opportunity to find the species together and I struggled to think of another area where we might do it again. We also located more Black-throated Gray Warblers than we’ve ever seen, perhaps 20, sometimes several in one tree. Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, and 2-3 Virginia’s Warblers were also located as well as a gleaming Broad-tailed Hummingbird male and numerous Plumbeous Vireo. One Vireo sang in full voice just 6’ from us, quite bold I’d say. At the end of the trail we found a vast cave with blue columbine flourishing on the shaded floor. Fed by dripping water from above, a small pool gathered and slowly drained into the creek. No one was around except a single Black Phoebe that kept us company as we ate our sandwiches in silence.

From this quiet paradise we returned to the relative frenzy of the southern entrance. Taking the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava we hiked to Narrows, a trail completely submerged by cool flowing river water, a strange chalky green. The surreal beauty of this place is hard to describe. True, there were other people walking beside us, up the gentle grade and into the canyon, but no one was making very much noise. It was strangely free of the chatter and goofiness you might expect from a crowd of people sloshing up a shallow stream. It was almost as if everyone was searching, drawn calmly toward something. I suspect people were struck by the profundity of the place, gazing up through the narrow passage at the sheer cliff walls rising a thousand feet above, the warm red and orange glow, the cool blue echoes and the Jules Verne-ian unknown of the place… I should just stop right there, it’s just too hard to describe without sounding corny. But for those who recognize the clues, it should be no surprise that we saw  an American Dipper bouncing up and down a rock almost as soon as we arrived.

The next day we got an early start. We drove two hours to Bryce Canyon only to find that the crowds had still beaten us there. As beautiful as the Queens Garden, Navajo Loop and Wall Street trails were, with their bizarre orange hoodoo formations rising from the valley floor like chimneys, it was hard to feel like we were by ourselves. We wished we had arrived even earlier in the day, or perhaps earlier in the season to get the proper experience of the place. It was wonderful nevertheless. We located a few new birds while there such as Clark’s Nutcracker croaking in the pines, Violet-green Swallows and White-throated Swifts whizzing above the gorge as they foraged for insects, and a lone Pygmy Nuthatch tooting incessantly along the trail. After winding up the zigzagging switchbacks we rested on a bench overlooking the entire area. A Rock Wren watched as we ate our sandwiches on the edge of the drop.

On our way back to camp we made a few stops. One such location a small fishing pond called Duck Lake. There we found most of the waterfowl encountered during the whole trip. American Coot, Mallard, Gadwall, Cinnamon Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup. In the vast meadows nearby we spotted Mountain Bluebird, Western Meadowlark, Chipping Sparrow and Canada Goose. The scenery reminded us both of Tuolumne Meadows, but perhaps not quite as high.

Following Eric and Jody’s recommendation, we saved time to tour Cedar Breaks National Monument. The view from the observation point was spectacular. The canyon below resembled both Bryce Canyon and Zion, falling somewhere in between I suppose in the architecture of the formations. Here more than any other location, we were struck with the severity of recent drought. For nearly a decade the lack of rain has strained the trees immunity and made them vulnerable to a plague of wood-boring beetles. A friendly ranger showed us some of the larvae preserved in a small bottle; tiny immensely destructive creatures. These insects have invaded the weakened trees and killed a full half of the forest. We’ve never seen so many dry gray trees in an area, it was an utter wasteland in places, appearing as if the entire landscape had been poisoned. The forest will eventually recover from this natural disaster and the episode will fade into the forest’s history like so many forest fires or mudslides. But it will take time.

This dark situation however, has not been without some bright points. The abundance of wood-boring beetles and the larvae they lay, have provided ample food for the population of Nuthatches and Woodpeckers, resulting in uncommonly high numbers of each. Most notably, the Northern Three-toed Woodpecker, a bird that is never abundant, is relatively easy to find in the monument. Cricket and I set out on the recommended trail which passed through a sloped woodland of mostly dead trees and a small alpine pond. Despite the constant hum of biting mosquitoes we stood motionless, watching as a female foraged on a dry just 30’ away. We feared the bird would be too subtle to confidently distinguish from the Hairy Woodpeckers in the area, but we can now safely say that there was little to be confused about. The bird is much darker overall and has only the faintest hint of a supercilium. It’s back is noticeably blotchy, not a clean white. The really cool thing about this bird is that we found learned it could be located here only a few hours earlier. I had purchased the "Southwest Utah Birding Trails" map at the Bryce Canyon visitors center just for future reference and happened upon the information. Yeah! The description of Cedar Breaks, a place we had already planned on visiting, clearly said the bird was pretty dependable there. Local information really is power! Without it we would have missed a lifer! Anyway, elsewhere on the trail, dozens of Rufous Hummingbirds fed on the nectar of mountain wildflowers. Among the familiar trilling of the Rufous’ wings, we also hear the slightly higher cricket-like trill of another Selasphorus, the Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Our first and only Red-breasted Nuthatches were also seen along this trail. We made a brief stop at the campground near the entrance to search for Gray Jay and Pine Grosbeak, but were unsuccessful. We did fine a small flock of Pine Siskin however.

The last wilderness area we visited was Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area just outside of Las Vegas. Low-lying sagebrush and several species of cactus adorned the easy hills of the basin. Above towered great stony hills with pinyon pines growing where ever they could find purchase. We looked in the Willow Spring picnic area first and while the heat kept most birds in hiding, a single Crissal Thrasher appeared fleetingly before ducking back for cover. Black-headed Grosbeak, Says Phoebe, and Rock Wren were the only other birds encountered here, I believe. We also explored the Pine Creek Canyon trail where conifers descended from the cliffs to the valley floor. Numerous additional birds were logged here including Black-throated Sparrow, a female Phainopepla, Gambell’s Quail, Loggerhead Shrike and Cactus Wren. The Gnatcatchers we heard and saw turned out to be the familiar Blue-gray variety and not the hoped-for Black-tailed. Another Virginia’s Warbler showed as well, but despite our efforts we could not turn it into a Lucy’s… Just as we reached the car the dark clouds overhead rumbled and it began to rain. It was time to move on.

There were only two unpleasant parts of this otherwise glorious vacation. The first was the $100 bribe we received for sitting through a one hour presentation by the timeshare sales person. Despite all her efforts to get us to sign on, we held our wallets and refused to give in. It was more difficult that it might seem to say no, since we were alone with the rep, whose name was Patti, and she was very good at her job. She presented things in such a way that it was difficult to argue that it wasn’t a good value. When she failed to convince us to invest, she brought in “the heavy”, a big man named Doug. He proceeded to make us both feel guilty and stupid for not accepting their offer. “If you understood even half of what you’ve been told, you’d sign right now while the offer is open…” Well, that’s the kind of insult that makes me furious. I dug my feet in and we took the $100 gift on our way out, feeling violated for the rest of the evening.

The other unpleasant part of the trip was the entire time we spent in Las Vegas. Let’s just say, I never want to go back there again. The place conflicts with everything I value--trees, soil, quiet dark nights, peace and honesty. Enough said. At least we got to eat prime rib and lobster for $14. Oh, yeah. We also had an American Kestrel flying over the strip as we drove out of town.

Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Mute Swan
Canada Goose
Mallard
Cinnamon Teal
Gadwall
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Gambell’s Quail
American Coot
Killdeer
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Eurasian Collared Dove
Lesser Nighthawk
White-throated Swift
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Hairy Woodpecker
Three-toed Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Western Wood Pewee
Cordilleran Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
Gray Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Steller’s Jay
Western Scrub Jay
Clark’s Nutcracker
Common Raven
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Mountain Chickadee
Juniper Titmouse
Bushtit
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
Rock Wren
Cactus Wren
Canyon Wren
Bewick’s Wren
House Wren
American Dipper
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Mountain Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Crissal Thrasher
European Starling
Phainopepla
Orange-crowned Warbler
Virginia’s Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Summer Tanager
Western Tanager
Spotted Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco “Gray-headed”
Blue Grosbeak (female)
Western Meadowlark
Great-tailed Grackle
House Finch
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow