SPRING 2006


Monte Bello/Russian Ridge OSP combination 04-01-06 POSTED
Gilroy Hot Springs area 04-08-06 POSTED
Mitchell Canyon (Mount Diablo) 04-22-06 POSTED
Sunol Regional Wilderness 04-29-06 POSTED
Ed Levin County Park 05-06-06 POSTED
Del Puerto Canyon/Mines Road 05-13-06 POSTED
Pleistocene Park (East side) 05-20-06 POSTED

Note: The trip reports below are organized in reverse chronological order (more recent report first).







Pleistocene Park (East side) 05-20-06

The goal was simple enough. We wanted to see the California Condors, all huge and black, soaring overhead... Ten thousand heavy years of survival held aloft by a great 10-foot wingspan. It's hard for non-birders to understand why, no matter how often we try to explain. But a species so rare, passing within view feels profound. There's a giant satisfaction, combined with an equally great sadness. Never mind. After last year's negative reception from the ranger on the west side, which was later followed by a terse letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior, the possibility of returning to the monument and experiencing the Condors with the class seemed remote and I had all but given up. But thanks to the efforts of the adult school principal Kara Rosenberg, who convinced the ranger we were indeed an educational group, and a formal application to the park service, we were not only granted access, but our entrance fee was waived! All that remained was to make the great hike up to the cliffs where we would wait.

We spent some time among the trees along the Bear Creek trail, looking and listening for whatever was there. Canyon Wren, Black-headed Grosbeak, Ash-throated Flycatcher--all were logged quickly, along with numerous Violet-green Swallows, White-throated Swift and a lone Lark Sparrow. There were other birds as well. Warbling Vireo, Orange-crowned Warbler... Yes, yes. But there was also a strange restless feeling. We kept looking toward the rocks above us where, high against the sky, the Turkey Vultures were gathering. The trail was calling.

Thankfully it was not too hot, but it was warm enough that our walk a challenge. We took the narrow and exposed trail from the visitors center to the Condor Gulch lookout. Where the habitat seemed appropriate we paused once or twice to broadcast a for Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Both species responded well, but only the Sparrow came out to investigate. In the shaded areas we rested more and listened. Canyon Wren could still be heard as well as Western Wood Pewee and Pacific-slope Flycatcher. The White-throated Swifts chattered almost constantly, echoing against the hills. Oddly, there was no Rock Wren. We pushed on. It was getting warm...

At the lookout we rested again. We occupied ourselves with just catching our breath and gazing toward the cliffs. It was so beautiful and quiet. After a short period, we heard the cry of a large Falcon. Two years earlier the sound had come from a Prairie Falcon nesting in a small cave, but today we it came from a Peregrine Falcon. Its mate was dive-bombing a Golden Eagle. After great protest the intruder was finally driven away. Still there was no Condor in sight.

I suggested we climb a bit higher to an area where we might get a better look at the valley below. Somewhat nervously I broadcast the song of Bell's Sage Sparrow, in the hopes we might find something to justify our climb. Within seconds a male replied and came to get a look at his new rival. He perched in full view for several minutes and sang boldly; long after I had stopped using the iPod we were still admiring this uncommon bird.

Then, over the ridge came a great black sail--a slow and massive bird that was clearly not a Turkey Vulture. All our binoculars were on it within seconds and everyone could see the flattened wing profile and light gray under wings. It was an immature bird, but easily recognizable as a Condor. As we followed its slow course over the cliffs, it disappeared again behind the ridge. In the vicinity there was a hiker dangerously close to the edge. What a view he must have had! Perhaps he had startled the bird into flight... A few minutes later the Condor reappeared from behind the ridge. We got a better look this time as he wound out further from the rocks, seeming to have an interest in landing, but taking its time. Another Condor came onto the scene from somewhere to the side. Before long we had three Condors in view. All beautiful and black, dwarfing the nearby Vultures. We watched as they reeled two hundred, three hundred feet above. Three out of a total world population of just 273. It was a significant percentage of the total gene pool... There's not time enough to appreciate such frailty or such a miracle.

We left the three birds to their business and descended the trail.

Gadwall (PR)
Mallard
(PR)
Wild Turkey
California Quail
Double-crested Cormorant (PR)
Great Blue Heron (PR)
Turkey Vulture
California Condor
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
American Coot (PR)
Killdeer (PR)
Mourning Dove
White-throated Swift
Anna's Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Western Wood Pewee (heard)
Pacific-slope Flycatcher (heard)
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Western Kingbird
Hutton's Vireo (heard)
Warbling Vireo
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
Yellow-billed Magpie
Common Raven
Violet-green Swallow
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
White-breasted Nuthatch
Canyon Wren
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (heard)
Western Bluebird
American Robin
Wrentit (heard)
European Starling
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Sage Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Black-headed Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Purple Finch
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch








Del Puerto Canyon/Mines Road 05-13-06

Like last year, we began this tour from the Del Puerto Canyon side, meeting at the Grasshopper Sparrow spot about .5 mile from Hwy 5 at the beginning of Del Puerto Canyon Road (MP 0.5). The weather was shining and beautiful with crystal clear skies and warm temperatures. We began our search without delay, but when we detected no Sparrows, we walked up the road toward the crest. There we flushed a male Blue Grosbeak out of the wash where the thistle grows high. He flew around us and back toward where we had started, landing deep in the cover. Further searching produced three more Grosbeaks, all apparently females that had been foraging on the ground. Beyond that activity, the area was surprisingly quiet. Still no Sparrows...

We relocated the cars and pulled off just beyond the first cattle grate or milepost 1.5 (MP 1.5). We said hello to the cross-country cyclists who seemed happy, if not slightly puzzled, to see our group. We listened intently for any birds, but again there was very little sound. A defensive Western Meadowlark repeatedly gave an unusual call, which we supposed had to do with our presence near its nest. Along the fence line leading up the hill a Western Kingbird perched, but nothing else appeared to be in the area. Then we heard the faint "chink!" of another Blue Grosbeak. After a few patient moments, we were able to spot the bird that was sitting on a small bush in the gully. We judged this to be a different bird from the first male we had already seen bringing the total to five Grosbeaks so far. As some of the group were getting their first good look at the species, Kendric was meanwhile closer to the crest where he said he had a Grasshopper Sparrow in the weeds beside the road. Sure enough, we were able to view that bird with a minimum of playback. It came to perch in full view and sang as we watched. An additional three Grasshopper Sparrows were also seen and heard on the hillside. It was time to move on.

In the "Mountain Bluebird area", at MP 2.3 miles, the Del Puerto Canyon Creek runs close to the road. As we approached this area we encountered Horned Lark on the fence posts, and another pair of Blue Grosbeaks (now up to 6 or 7 depending on how you count that first male!). Ash-throated Flycatcher and Western Kingbirds were now very familiar, and the first of many Bullock's Orioles were seen. A pair of Killdeers called loudly from below, and overhead White-throated Swifts foraged.

We pushed on toward "Graffiti Rock" (MP 3.7) but stopped 200 yards short of the rock to investigate the lush riparian area for any additional species. More White-throated Swifts were found as well as our first Bewick's Wren and a female Yellow Warbler. After an Anna's Hummingbird caused a moment of confusion, we discussed the important field marks of the much rarer Costa's. The busy song of Lark Sparrow came from the trees over the creek, and many Bushtits worked the chaparral on the slope above us.

At the "Rock" proper, things really began to pick up. Almost immediately after getting out of our cars, the high whistle of the Costa's Hummingbird was heard at close range. It's so difficult to locate these birds when they are moving because the sound is inaudible for many people, and for others the high frequency seems to come from everywhere... A moment later the male came to rest on a flowering tobacco tree a few feet from us and flashed his boysenberry-colored gorget. Metallic, purple and glorious! We admired it for several minutes as the bird moved on and off of his perch to defend his territory from anyone foolish enough to attempt a takeover.

Further up the road we stopped at "Owl Rock" (MP 3.9). White-throated Swifts dodged about and occasionally flew into the crevices in the rock. We began to hear many species, which after a bit of playback, came out to investigate. Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Rock Wren. All responded. Also present were two Say's Phoebes and another Costa's Hummingbird male. A nice surprise was a male Phainopepla that flew overhead, revealing white wing flashes that all but glowed.

We stopped somewhere along the "Lewis' Woodpecker Flats" stretch (MP 9.2-9.7) to work a portion of the creek that leads beside a cattle enclosure. There we found House Sparrow, but no hoped-for Spotted Sandpiper. We discussed the possibility of Green Heron, and as occasionally happens, a moment later one flushed from the shore! House Finch and Yellow-billed Magpies were seen in this area also, and as we drove the songs of House Wren were heard. Unfortunately for cars toward the back, a Greater Roadrunner that crossed the road and dashed into the shrubs was seen in an area that was not suitable for us to pull off and explore.

At the "Canyon Wren Pullout" (MP 10.4) we had little difficulty locating the target. He called loudly from below view and later popped out to sing from low in a sycamore. Rufous-crowned Sparrow was also heard in this area as was California Thrasher. Yet another Costa's Hummingbird was found here, being harassed by an Anna's.

The next stop was the "Pygmy Owl Pullout" (MP 13.4) which produced nothing additional, so we continued to the Frank Raines Park (MP 16.1) to have lunch. After a delightful picnic in the shade we explored the park a bit. Nuttall's Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch and American Kestrel were added to our list as well as Wild Turkey, which flew from the slope and across the playing field. In this area also were at least two Lawrence's Goldfinches which we got poor looks at. Eric located another Phainopepla near the restrooms, a female, and it perched cooperatively for a moment or two allowing us all to see well.

The "Chat Spot" (MP 17.2) was nice enough habitat, but produced nothing additional for our list. We moved on to the small pond where last year we found a large group of Tricolored Blackbirds. Today there were fewer, but the species was still well represented. Their cat-in-heat calls were easily recognized. Also on the pond were American Coot and a single male Wood Duck.

We crossed into Santa Clara County, finding Black-headed Grosbeaks flying across the road, and Hutton's Vireo calling from the trees. Having found the Wood Ducks earlier than expected, we moved toward the junction with San Antonio Road and skipped the sheltered pond where we often search for Ducks. The junction was very productive though, even as we stood in the parking lot. Violet-green Swallows foraged overhead, Anna's Hummingbird visited the feeders, and Western Bluebird explored nest holes in the valley oaks. Ken spotted a pair of Lawrence's Goldfinches near the picnic tables, but they flew across the street toward the fire station. We followed.

At the fire station, House Sparrow, House Finch and Cliff Swallows were nesting around the utility buildings. Lawrence's Goldfinches were heard continuously, but were very difficult to observe. Finally, we spotted a brilliant male in a short tree. Then we found another and another. They seemed to be everywhere, and although they were still difficult to pinpoint, eventually everyone got good solid looks at this uncommon species. Bullock's Oriole were also among the trees, chattering loudly, and in the distance a Western Wood Pewee was also heard.

We returned to the junction and retrieved our cars. A short drive south from the junction along San Antonio Valley Road brought us to the traditional stop for Lewis' Woodpecker. After several minutes of waiting in the shade of a large oak, we finally got brief looks at one of the Woodpeckers, as it rested in the upper branches of a dead tree. It flew off too quickly for us to feel completely satisfied, of course, but the bird was still identified. A bit later, a second Lewis' flew into view from across the road. It's crow-like flight was interesting to note, and very helpful because it was quite far away. Another target bird found! Walking back to our cars, a Hairy Woodpecker was heard but not seen.

Some members decided to head home at this point, but those who remained continued south further into the San Antonio Valley. At the large pond before the bend in the road we spotted 13 Wood Ducks, mostly males, and a pair of Canada Geese. We made a u-turn at the first convenient spot and returned north.

We passed the junction again as we drove north on Mines Road, excited about the next stop. On our left, just before the cattle grate, was a large construction site, with two beeping bulldozers and a dump truck. They were clearing the area of scrub. My heart sank at the realization that this project had already destroyed a large patch of Sage Sparrow habitat. I tried to concentrate on the sage chamise that remained, and hoped there was still enough uninterrupted habitat to support the species, but I was not optimistic... After a few feeble broadcasts from the iPod and anxious waiting there was no answer. To me it seemed we were playing to an empty theater; I was absolutely convinced the bird had not survived the project... Then, we heard the distant song of the Sparrow! It was so faint it was scarcely audible over the rumble of the equipment, but it was out there somewhere. The patient has a pulse! , I thought to myself. We broadcast the song again but there was no immediate answer. Instead an Oak Titmouse appeared, as well as a Bewick's Wren. We played the song a few more times and after several minutes the Sparrow finally answered. It seemed a bit closer this time. We continued the broadcast. It answered again, closer still. Eventually it flew over the tops of the bushes toward us, coming to rest in full view, and singing loudly! I'm still here... I'm still here... Obviously we were happy at having found the bird, reassured that it hadn't moved on, but the joy was not complete. The bulldozer was still working away.

The drive toward Livermore included only two more stops for us. At the pass along Mines in Santa Clara County (MP 12.35), where the terrain is dry and the slopes covered with a variety of scrubby bushes. I have found Black-chinned Sparrow here before, so we decided to give it a try. We'd had luck with the Sage Sparrow; maybe we could do it again... No luck with that particular species, but Lazuli Bunting and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher were logged, both of which were new for the day. After that we drove to the bridge (MP 8.38?). There we added the last species of the day, a flock of Cedar Waxwings, landed in a sycamore over the house before flying off again into the hills.

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Wild Turkey
California Quail
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
American Coot
Killdeer
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Greater Roadrunner
White-throated Swift
Anna's Hummingbird
Costa's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Lewis' Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Western Wood Pewee
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
Hutton's Vireo
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
Yellow-billed Magpie
American Crow
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Sallow
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
White-breasted Nuthatch
Rock Wren
Canyon Wren
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Western Bluebird
American Robin
Wrentit
Northern Mockingbird
California Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Phainopepla
Yellow Warbler
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Black-headed Grosbeak

Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Sage Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Blue Grosbeak
Lazuli Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock's Oriole
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
Lawrence's Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow








Ed Levin County Park 05-06-06

After the reports from Cosumnes River Preserve described road blockages and trail closures due to recent flooding, it was decided by class vote that we would visit Almaden Lake in San Jose instead. Cricket and I made a dash to the park on Thursday night to gather intelligence about the area. We found some good species such as Common Merganser and Spotted Sandpiper on the lake and the adjoining Alamitos Creek, but found the trail too crowded with bikers and dogs to fully enjoy. Simultaneously the reports began to flood in from Ed Levin Park and it wasn’t long before we realized another change in plans was necessary... The decision was made by email.

Come Saturday morning, the skies were overcast at Ed Levin County Park and as Cricket and I looked toward the famous sycamore grove on the exposed hillside, we realized the mild temperature would be a blessing. Soon the class was assembled in the lot near the dog run, and were informed by another park visitor that an Owl was nesting in the trees down the road. Following his directions we quickly found a Great Horned Owl, and her downy chick, in a bulky nest among the branches of eucalyptus. Nearby, the quarrelsome Western Kingbirds called, and the occasional chatter of Bullock’s Orioles could be heard. Down the road farther there was a commotion in a second grove. As we approached we found an immature Cooper’s Hawk being harassed by the Kingbirds. Still further down the road, and closer to the lake, we detected Western Wood Pewee, and with some searching were able to view the bird as it perched (in plain sight). On the water there were a few expected species, such as American Coot, Gadwall, Mallard and Double-crested Cormorant. Many Barn and Northern Rough-winged Swallows foraged over the water, as well as an occasional Tree and Cliff, but strangely no Violet-greens were located. A large white bird cruising back and forth in search of fish proved to be a Caspian Tern.

We had secured the lower elevations of the park, and headed up the trail toward the sycamores. The group paused to review the target species’ songs and immediately after discussing the insect-like voice of the Grasshopper Sparrow we began to hear it in the distance. The song was hard to locate, but it seemed like it might be close enough to try a broadcast. So out came the iPod and we tried to coax the bird into the open. At first there was no reaction other than the song which we could already hear. Then after a few more tries, a tiny bird approached from the far patch of tall grass at the base of the hill. For several minutes the Sparrow responded directly to the recording and even perched on the fence, giving us uncommonly good looks at its subtle, yet beautiful colors. The first of four target species had been retrieved.

A few minutes later, we bumped into Bill Bousman again. We had spoken earlier in the lot and now he was returning to his car. He had good news regarding our other targets... As we spoke, we could hear the Lazuli Buntings from somewhere in the mustard flowers. By now the sun was pushing the clouds away and the air was getting warmer. We marched on, passed through the cattle gate and continued uphill. The Lazuli’s song was closer, but the mustard flowers were also getting taller, making visibility difficult. Still, small birds were occasionally seen passing over the trail and perching in view for a few seconds at a time. Eventually we all got satisfying looks at the electric blue Lazuli Bunting males that seemed to be operating from a base camp near the trees. It struck us as slightly strange how few females we were finding, but they were there as well, perhaps more difficult to see because of their subtle coloring. The second target bird was dispatched with little resistance...

Also in this area were several Rufous-crowned Sparrows. Their songs were more wren-like, with scratchy notes and trills that contrasted sharply with the sweet goldfinchy notes of the Buntings. This third target bird was located without incident and we were able to admire it at length as it sang from the wooden posts below the trail.
The last target, however, was going to be more difficult. We tried without success to bring the Blue Grosbeak into view by broadcasting the song. There was no response. Lesser Goldfinches, Lazuli Buntings and Rufous-crowns were numerous though. We opted to continue uphill to the paragliding area and give the grove some time to rest. We found a pair of Golden Eagles soaring over the ridge and several Red-tailed Hawks among the many Turkey Vultures. A Northern Mockingbird was heard imitating Ash-throated Flycatcher, Steller’s Jay and Western Tanager... truly amazing!

We returned to the grove, motivated to get the last of our target birds. We walked slowly toward the trees, broadcasting the song, but still there was no answer. After several minutes of frustrating nothingness, we passed through the trees and began walking down hill. A strange magnetic force from the sycamores made if difficult to leave, and we looked back often as we walked away.

Two dark birds made their way toward the top branches of the tallest tree. Stop! Flying! Those look good!! Not everyone was able to get either in their glasses, but a few managed. The distant specks were clear enough to know that one was deep blue and the other one cinnamon! The reddish bars on the wings of the blue male were blurred, but visible as it dropped down to the left of the grove. We know the male had moved down to the cover of the weeds, but where was the female? We had lost the female. Full reverse!! We played the song again and again, until we heard the male respond from down slope. A moment later we had the bird very near our group. He approached cautiously and investigated the song we were broadcasting from the cover of mustard flowers. Then he was gone again. The female was still no where to be seen... We broadcast the song again, and in a moment we heard the towhee-like call note of the male. He appeared again and perched in the mustard between the two halves of our group. A second later he flew over the trail and toward the big tree, but he took a sudden turn toward a different perch and for an instant stood for in full view. It was almost as if he was running interference, keeping us on him and away from the female. Then he was gone again. The fourth and last bird was in the bag!

The return walk to the cars was relaxed. The pressure was off and for lunch we moved to the lower lot where we planned to search the pines for Owls. We found a single Great Horned, but no hoped-for Long-eared or Barn. A pair of American Kestrels nested in a sycamore above the tables, and an unexpected Sharp-shinned Hawk flew through as we prepared to leave. Yellow-billed Magpies searched the picnic areas for any scraps left behind.

We then made a quick stop at State and Spreckles in Alviso on our way home. Those who joined us were treated to great looks at Dunlin in full alternate plumage, as well as a host of other Shorebirds. There was also a Burrowing Owl perched on the fence along Disc Drive, but not everyone took that route. It’s truly a great day when you can see both Red-necked Phalarope and Blue Grosbeak, and get back in time to take a nap before dinner. Thanks to everyone for a wonderful trip!

Gadwall
Mallard
Wild Turkey (heard)
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
American Coot
Killdeer
Caspian Tern
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Barn Owl (feather only)
Great Horned Owl
Anna's Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Western Wood Pewee
Black Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
Warbling Vireo (heard)
Western Scrub Jay
Yellow-billed Magpie
American Crow
Common Raven
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Western Bluebird
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Western Tanager (seen by one)
California Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Blue Grosbeak
Lazuli Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock's Oriole
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch







Sunol Regional Wilderness 04-29-06

Gone from the tangled underbrush are the shadowy hoards of Golden-crowns. The upper branches no longer twitch with the hyperactivities of the napoleanic Kinglet, and Yellow-rump numbers have dropped to a lingering few... In other words, the winter flocks have, for the most part, left us on their northward journey and in their place the spring birds are finally here, absorbed in their breeding duties.

The day began, as forecast, with low cloud cover that seemed in no great hurry to retreat. By late morning however, the fog had burned and the sun warmed the area. We began to remove a few layers of cool weather clothes and by noon we were eating lunch at the picnic tables by the visitors center--under a bright blue sky.
Immediately after setting out on the trail, Bullock’s Orioles were spotted in the trees, chattering busily and glowing like bright orange beacons. Orange-crowned Warblers sang their familiar swelling trill from almost every direction. Cassin’s Vireo was also heard and finally seen across the bridge. There seemed to be at least 3 individuals singing at each other, but when all this posturing is done, they may resolve to spread out a bit--one may move down stream or perhaps farther north as the checklist indicates. At this stage of the season though, birds seem to be in higher-than-usual density, like a handful of seed being cast on the ground. It’s a nervous time, with all species trying to find a place for themselves and their young.

House Wrens sang tirelessly along the banks of the creek and were occasionally visible as they perched above the tangle, presumably so they could be better heard by their neighbors. Ash-throated Flycatchers too were present and several times seen among the sycamore branches. An unexpected sight was an Osprey that passed overhead briefly. In the sky we also noticed many Violet-green Swallows, but it wasn’t until later when we reached the upper meadow that we began to see Tree Swallows near the Bluebird nest boxes. Once in a while a larger, darker Swallow, with more languid wing stokes appeared. These last birds were the Northern Rough-wings and their presence made for interesting comparisons.

We made a short, steep detour along a trail I had not visited before. It provided a spectacular view of the valley floor and as we climbed we spotted Hutton’s Vireo, which we managed to coax out of hiding with the iPod. As well we found a pair of Mallard flying up the canyon. “Sometimes you can find Common Merganser here as well,” I said like a guide sometimes does when the group isn’t seeing very many birds. The next birds we saw, just five seconds later, were a male and female Common Merganser flying powerfully up the canyon! Kendric asked if I could do that again, maybe with something really rare... I considered carefully what to ask for next.

Of course there were Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawk and a Golden Eagle. All were within view simultaneously. There was also a smaller bird, a Prairie Falcon that showed up. This bird was trickier to identify as it was pretty far off, but the underwing pattern cinched it. The Raptor show was generally good on this day, and along the river we also were treated to a White-tailed Kite as it dive bombed the much larger Eagle.

Despite all these birds, it was interesting to notice how some expected species did not appear. Belted Kingfisher, Western Wood Pewee and Olive-sided Flycatcher have all appeared here on previous spring trips to the park, but were not logged today. Most surprising though was the no-show Black-headed Grosbeak. We headed back toward the lot a bit early, and having a bit of time to spare, we strolled along the road through the large picnic area. There we located a brilliant male Western Tanager in the tall oaks, our first Black Phoebes and a nesting pair of Red-shouldered Hawks. The Golden Eagle reappeared and around it foraged a few White-throated Swifts. Most interesting however was a trilled song from somewhere across the meadow. We compared the songs of Dark-eyed Junco and Chipping Sparrow with the help of the iPod until we understood the different sound qualities. This bird’s song was frustratingly somewhere in the middle. Our opinion however was that the song suggested Chipping Sparrow, but we were restless to find out for sure. Finally, we tracked it down to the top branches of and oak and it was indeed a Chipping Sparrow! This may well be the first time we’ve encountered the species on a class outing, so it was a nice way to wrap up the day.

Other birds included on the list are Wild Turkey which was seen along Geary Road by some members, and Yellow-billed Magpie which were gathered in the tree nursery along Calaveras Road.

Mallard
Common Merganser
Wild Turkey (Geary Road)
California Quail
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
White-tailed Kite
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Prairie Falcon
White-throated Swift
Anna's Hummingbird
Selasphorus species
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pacific-slope Flycatcher (heard)
Black Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Cassin's Vireo
Hutton's Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
Yellow-billed Magpie (Calaveras Road)
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Western Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwings
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler (heard)
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Western Tanager
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock's Oriole
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch








Mitchell Canyon (Mount Diablo) 04-22-06

It's the oddest thing sometimes. I plan a trip expecting one set of birds and when our group arrives, we find an entirely different set of birds awaiting us. It's no surprise, I suppose, that we would see a few spring Warblers on this trip, but I had prepared the group the week before for several Flycatchers that never appeared... Oh, well. Another error on my part was not realizing that Earth Day activities at the visitors center would make parking a problem. With some effort (and a few nervous moments) I was able to get permission for our group to park at the lower lot. The ranger's initial suggestion was for everyone to park back in Clayton, some two miles away, and walk back! Whew...

Anyway, this trip was scheduled two weeks earlier than last year and while the weather was a bit cool, it was generally clear and wonderful. Patches of clear sky, illuminated the tree tops and helped activate the insects, which in turn, provoked feeding activity among the insectivores. We admired the many forms of Yellow-rumped Warbler in the oaks by the lot, which ranged from the blazing male "Audubon's" to the white-throated "Myrtle's". Non-breeding and female specimens from both populations made for at least four distinct color patterns of this one taxa we had to contend with. Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Hutton's Vireo however, provided only a little confusion since we could examine them within the same tree and see the differences with relative ease.

As we strolled up the trail, making slow progress, we stopped to test ourselves on song recognition. Dark-eyed Junco, House Wren, Purple Finch, and Warbling Vireo. A grayish Empidonax proved a bit of a challenge, but its overall color, large head and short bill, combined with the long wingtips pushed us toward Hammond's Flycatcher. Nearby a much greener/yellowish bird with an entirely different "giz" was clearly a Pacific-slope. We also scanned the creekside tangle below the trail where Orange-crowned Warbler was foraging. Wilson's also popped out for a moment. We heard Yellow Warbler somewhat farther in, but it never showed. Then a very wary bird with a gray hood and yellow belly popped out of the underbrush--a MacGillivray's Warbler! The bird was so elusive that it took a full 15 minutes before most people had gotten a look, and even then, it was only seen for a few seconds at a time. It was a much better show than last year when only a few members got a glimpse of the bird.

We continued through the oak woodland toward the canyon proper where we spotted an Olive-sided Flycatcher perched high up on the ridge. Nearby was a small flock of Band-tailed Pigeons and overhead soared several Turkey Vultures and a Golden Eagle. A few Swifts, likely White-throated, foraged high above us but were not well seen. Our trail was relatively level for most of its length, and a lush riparian of alder and willow followed the entire time. Above us and across the creek was dense chaparral and on the right there was a mixed woodland with many valley oak, digger pine and eucalyptus. In these trees we encountered more Empidonax, some of which we were comfortable identifying and others not. Warbling Vireo and Orange-crowned Warblers were vocal, as were two Black-headed Grosbeak, which several people commented sounded like " drunken Robins". The question-and-answer song of the Cassin's Vireo soon became familiar and was heard many times as we walked.

Higher up we began also to hear "the Robin with a sore throat" song of the Western Tanager, and after a while we found both male and female birds. Then we turned around to return to the lot for our lunch. It was getting cloudy and cooler, and the possibility of drizzle seemed a bit too near. As we retreated, we stopped occasionally to broadcast for Rufous-crowned Sparrow or Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Neither of these were seen in the likely areas, but a tiny group of trees appeared to have some movement. The first bird we spotted was a Wilson's Warbler. Then a Hermit, followed by Yellow-rumped, Yellow, Townsend's, Orange-crowned, and Nashville! Seven species of Warbler in a single tree was our final count, and for a moment, the density of birds reminded me of spring in Mount Auburn Cemetary (Cambridge, MASS). We had seen Hermit Warbler last year in Michell Canyon, but Nashville was a class first and a lifer for several members of the group. A moment later, a flock of about 30 American White Pelicans passed overhead. Just plain weird.

As we neared the lot we finally got a good look at Blue-gray Gnatcatcher as a pair wheezed above the trail very near a singing Warbling Vireo. The latter's scolding call caused a moment of confusion. While members of the group stopped in at the visitors center a male Wild Turkey strutted downhill toward us. Cricket then spotted a male Black-throated Gray Warbler in the oaks by the bridge. We later heard the bird singing above the buildings but could not refind it.

We ate lunch at the lower lot and then, after everyone but the two of us had gone, a male and female Bullock's Oriole began to chatter in the trees above our table... They must have been there while we'd been eating but only now began to make any sound.

American White Pelican
Mallard
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Accipiter species
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
Wild Turkey
California Quail
Band-tailed Pigeon
Mourning Dove
White-throated Swift
Anna's Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker (heard)
Hairy Woodpecker (heard)
Northern Flicker
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Hammond's Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher (heard)
Violet-green Swallow
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Western Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Wrentit
European Starling
Cassin's Vireo
Hutton's Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Hermit Warbler
MacGillivray's Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Fox Sparrow (heard)
Golden-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark (heard)
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock's Oriole
Purple Finch
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch








Gilroy Hot Springs area 04-08-06

Having been to this area only twice before, and never as a group leader, I was somewhat reticent about putting it on the class itinerary. As it turned out, it was a wonderful destination with several first of season (FOS) species for the group, and it now seems clear we should visit again next spring. Weather reports were predictably bleak, with frequent scattered showers followed by more showers and more rain. And yet somehow, almost magically, it never rained at all. Instead the sky was clear and temperatures were warm, so that it actually did feel like spring. We took full advantage of the conditions.

Our rendez vous was the Hunting Holllow parking lot nestled against the hills along the beautiful Coyote Creek, flowing quite a bit higher than usual due to the recent rains. Few of us have seen this creek so high on its course, so that in itself was worth the visit. We managed to navigate through the parade of gasping cyclists that climbed the hill all tightly dressed in brightly-colored outfits, and felt relieved after a few miles that all that spandex traffic was behind us. Arriving at the rendez vous however, we found a different kind of crowd--a large group of trail runners gathering for a race, and a ranger posted to make sure everyone paid their fee. After that initial encounter though, we never saw them again, as their course led them across the knee-high creek and up into the hills. Crazy people! We paid our fees, and then walked along the road toward Gilroy Hot Springs proper.

Numerous Swallows, mostly Tree were foraging over the area, with an occasional Violet-green and one or two Northern Rough-wings. Down the road we began to hear House Wren, which from that point on was heard almost contantly. We located the singing male, as well as Song Sparrow and then continued on. Wood Duck! A male flew high overhead and then doubled back toward the creek. We saw it land on the creek out of view but continued to watch the area. Soon a female was spotted perched in a tree, and another male. Then another male, and it seemed we were really on to something now. It's difficult to tell for sure, but by the time we were finished we may well have seen 6 different Wood Ducks in the area. Further up stream there was also a pair of Common Mergansers, but not everyone reached the view point in time to see them before they slipped around the bend. As well, we began to hear Orange-crowned Warbler, Warbling Vireo, and then a Black-heaeded Grosbeak. We worked only a little before we had the Grosbeak in our sites, but the Orange-crowned Warbler and Warbling Vireo remained unseen.

Eventually, we returned to the parking area, and arranged a few car pools to the dead end of GHSR. Once we were all situated in the car pools, we made our way slowly to the bridge, windows open, listening for birds. There we parked, being careful not to block the gate because to do so provoked a $65 ticket, and viewed the creek from the bridge. We also strolled into Henry Coe State Park, where a few additional species were encountered. As we made our way up into the woods, more Orange-crowned Warblers were heard, as were Warbling Vireos and Brown Creeper. We also added Wrentit and Cassin's Vireo, which sang his typical question-answer phrases. Having to include this many "heard only" species is understandably a bit frustrating, especially when they're colorful and we really want to get good looks, but no matter. Their voices mean spring is finally here, and there will be plenty of time to get looks at them.

So lunch was had back at Hunting Hollow before we moved on to continue the loop recommended in SCVAS: Birding at the Bottom of the Bay. We turned left on Cañada Road, accompanied by the string of cyclists we had left behind earlier in the day, passing through otherwise spandex-free country side, and made a short detour down Jameson Road. The ranger back at the Hollow had suggested this course as a way to pick up a few Raptors. The road was strongly beautiful, with emerald green grass on both sides of the road, and rolling hills with scarcely a homestead in view. No other traffic and only two cyclists, both of which turned out to be birders. Long barbed wire fences provided perches for Western Bluebird, scads of Yellow-billed Magpie and our FOS Western Kingbirds. As predicted, we also located Golden Eagle, and Northern Harrier.

In retrospect, it seems on future outings that maybe a picnic lunch by the roadside on Jameson would be nice if we can get there before too late, as well as scheduling a trip to avoid a 100k bicycle race... In any event, the day was a triumph despite a modest species count. We explored a new area together, logged a few FOSs, and any day with a Golden Eagle is immediately a success. Also, we all know how hard it has been for our group to actually see Wood Duck... mostly because of my loud exclamations!

Wood Duck
Mallard
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck (Roop Road)
Wild Turkey
Pied-billed Grebe (Roop Road)
American Coot (Roop Road)
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier (Jameson Road)
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Killdeer (heard only)
Band-tailed Pigeon
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker (heard only)
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Western Kingbird
Cassin's Vireo (heard only)
Hutton's Vireo
Warbling Vireo (heard only)
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
Yellow-billed Magpie
American Crow
Common Raven
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
Brown Creeper
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Western Bluebird
Wrentit (heard only)
Northern Mockingbird (Cañada Road)
European Starling
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Song Sparrow
Black-headed Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird (Jameson Road)
Western Meadowlark (Jameson Road)
Purple Finch
House Finch (Roop Road)
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch








Monte Bello/Russian Ridge OSP 04-01-06

Today the sun's progress skyward seemed slower than usual, as if weighted down by the led-gray ceiling of clouds that stretched out endlessly before us. My hope was that this mixed woodland habitat would provide a few hints of spring in the form of colorful migrant Passerines. Perhaps the cool conditions and recent poor weather have delayed the arrival of such birds in these higher elevations though, because today the area was eerily still. Band-tailed Pigeons, and a pair distant White-tailed Kites appeared early though, along with an occasional Common Raven, but generally sightings were infrequent. We had widely spaced, but exceptional looks at California Thrasher and Purple Finch, both moved to voice by the gradually lengthening days that has triggered the urge to find a mate. Their songs were among the few we heard through the misty gray. Winter birds, such as the two crowned Sparrows, as well as the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, remain in the area, but perhaps in smaller numbers than a month ago. We can expect Townsend's Warbler numbers to increase in the next couple of weeks, but today we had just one. Our tour took us past the old orchard and the sag pond, finding Song Sparrow and Bewick's Wren easily, and then down into the woods to a small pond where we found slowly moving California newts around the shallow edges. At Russian Ridge, the situation was similarly quiet with a few additional species such as Western Bluebird and a Sharp-shinned Hawk appearing by the lake. We also saw Coyote hunting along the ridge. After a lunch break, a few members joined Cricket and me at the Yerba Buena Nursery where activity was somewhat greater. Townsend's Warbler and Hutton's Vireo were both well seen but no hoped for Selasphorus was located.

California Quail
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
American Coot
Band-tailed Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Hutton's Vireo
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
Bewick's Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Western Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
California Thrasher
European Starling
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Song Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Western Meadowlark
Purple Finch
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch