March 25, 2009

CA Birding - Trip Report

Click here to see my entire up-to-date 2009 North American Year List


March 12 – We arrived in Sacramento yesterday evening. This morning we headed out birding with Jim and Susan Stratton. Near their house along the Sacramento River Noah found our first YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIES of the trip. Also had a Nuttal's Woodpecker in the area. We met up with Frank Clayton at the Yolo Bypass wetlands and had some wonderful waterfowl. Everything was in spectacular plumage. Cinnamon Teal was a highlight (only seen once before... briefly in Texas) as were the flocks of Greater White-fronted Geese flying overhead. Black and Say's Phoebe, Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet, White-tailed Kite and White-throated Swift, good looks at American Bittern, etc. Still looking for either Tricolored or Yellow-headed Blackbird. Then we made a quick stop at Discovery Park right in Sacramento. We lucked out with two of the highest birds on my “most wanted” list ROSS'S GOOSE (Life Bird) and CLARK'S GREBE (Life Bird). The goose had an injured wing but was easy to see and identify, sitting on the shore with a couple Canada Geese. The Clark's Grebe was a beautiful bird, seen very well and at close range with great comparison to a nearby Western Grebe. After playing on the radio in Nevada City we went to Grass Valley where we had a handful of new feeder birds like Bushtit, Oak Titmouse, Acorn Woodpecker, Stellar's Jay, Western Bluebird, Lesser Goldfinch, Anna's Hummingbird and Golden-crowned Sparrow. Saw 75 species today with a bunch of new year birds, bringing my North American 2009 Year List up to 196.
March 13 – This morning Noah and I went out with Jim Stratton for a full day of birding in California's Central Valley. We first visited the Davis Dump / Wastewater Treatment Plant for gulls. For the first hour or two the gulls were very confusing for me. A lot of the birds were paler than I'd expected them to be. We finally sorted out that most of the gulls were California, Herring and Glaucous-winged. While we were working on the gulls we had a small flock of YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS (Life Bird and 200th Year Bird) feeding in the road and as we were watching them we picked out a bunch of TRICOLORED BLACKBIRDS (Life Bird) as well. Finally we decided to leave the dump but on our way out we met John Sterling who was able to point out several different THAYER'S GULLS (Life Bird). There was an standing adult, an adult in flight (nice look at the pattern in the primaries) and a couple younger birds; some paler than others. It took me a little while but I finally got to the point where I felt pretty confident picking at least the adults out on my own. Also had a couple Eared Grebes and some fly over Sandhill Cranes. Then we headed east of Sacramento into some beautiful country along Scott Road where we had our target species, LEWIS'S WOODPECKER (Life Bird), without too much trouble. Most of our looks were pretty distant but very identifiable. After that we spent the rest of the afternoon looking for Ferruginous Hawk without luck. We did have a few SWAINSON'S HAWKS including one very handsome dark-morph and a hunting Merlin. Finally we ended the day with a calling WESTERN SCREECH-OWL (Life Bird) at Frank Clayton's dad's neighbor's house near Stockton. Even got a decent look at the bird in the fading light as it flushed out of the tree and perched silhouetted in a bush for a couple minutes. It was a long but very enjoyable day of birding. My year list is now at 207.
March 18 – Didn't have a lot of birding time for the rest of our stay in Sacramento. On March 15 I went out in the morning with David Wright to a park near the river. We had nice looks at a LINCOLN'S SPARROW and several other new trip (and year) birds. We got up early on March 16 and met Frank Clayton and Bob Issacs(?) for a walk in Mitchell Canyon in Mount Diablo State Park. We had a very brief but good look at a RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER (Life Bird) right near the parking lot and several decent looks at WRENTITS (Life Bird) along the trail. Also had a beautiful Varied Thrush and my 10th owl of the year; a calling Great Horned. However we missed many of our target species (sparrows mostly) so we might try to return there next week. Elaine joined us for a day trip up to Point Reyes on March 17. Along the way we found a very cooperative ALLEN'S HUMMINGBIRD (Life Bird) perched on a wire with it's green back clearly visible in the scope. Seeing tons California Quail near the visitor center was a lot of fun and we picked up Violet-green Swallow on our way back to Alameda. Just before sunset Noah and I drove over to Lake Merritt where we had amazing looks at the resident male TUFTED DUCK. Watching this bird was a bizarre experience. It would almost literally eat bread crumbs out of your hand! It was in with a large mixed group of scaup and was so close and active that it made photography somewhat difficult. Plus my dead batteries. Also on the lake were Eared, Western and Horned Grebes. Today we went looking for Spotted Owl in Mill Valley, Marin County. No luck with the owl though we did learn where to look and can hopefully try again tomorrow. In the afternoon we went over to Bolinas Lagoon and had, among other things; avocets, curlews, godwits and various ducks including a male EURASIAN WIGEON. My year list is currently at 233.
March 21 – We looked again for Spotted Owl in Mill Valley on March 19 and again, no luck. Also missed Yellow-billed Loon which had been reported in Marin County for almost a week. Did have both Pelagic and Brandt's Cormorants sitting side-by-side on a rock for some good comparison and we got to see a couple Gray Whales near the lighthouse on Point Reyes. On March 20 Noah and I drove along the coast in Sonoma County. We got out somewhere near Salt Point and found a small mixed group of Black Turnstones and SURFBIRDS (Life Bird) feeding on the rocks. Nice looks although pics didn't really turn out. This morning we decided to try one more time for the Mill Valley Spotted Owl. We visited with the local dog walkers and we must have missed the bird by under two hours. However, we met another birder (named Lang ???) who told us about another nearby spot he'd had them before. So we drove over and finally, on our fifth try we had a beautiful single SPOTTED OWL (Life Bird) sitting high in a Bay Tree at the beginning of the trail. What a great bird! We really enjoyed watching him (or her?) and were able to get some decent pics. My eleventh owl of the year and I'm still missing Eastern Screech! Hope to try for Barn and possibly Burrowing Owl before the end of the trip. Year list is now at 242.
March 23 – Nearing the end of our California trip. This morning we met up with Frank Clayton at Point Lobos just south of Monterey. Saw Townsend's Warbler, great looks at Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorants, two BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS and Pygmy Nuthatches. The whale watch we had planned on going on got canceled due to weather so instead we drove over to Pinnacles National Monument to do some hiking. On the way (near Soledad) I saw an unidentified oriole fly over the car. We pulled over to try and find the bird but instead I had very decent looks at a single, beautiful LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCH (Life Bird) perched in a shrub by the side of the road! We arrived at Pinnacles in the early afternoon so I missed some stuff like California Thrasher and Rufous-crowned Sparrow that might have been singing earlier. While hiking with Frank on the west side of the park we heard a distant Band-tailed Pigeon and briefly saw a PRAIRIE FALCON but otherwise it was fairly quiet. Noah and I then drove over to the east entrance and hiked in along the Moses Spring Trail (through all the caves). Near the reservoir at the top of the trail we heard the amazing song of a CANYON WREN (Life Bird) reverberating off the stone walls all around us. It was very difficult to tell where the song was coming from. Once we made it to the top we backtracked along the ridge and eventually had really nice looks at the wren, singing across the “canyon” from us. The bird would perch out in the open for a few moments to sing but then it would climb into a crevice in the rock and hide. What a great bird! On our way back to the car we heard several more Canyon Wrens and near the parking lot we heard and saw another probable Prairie Falcon. Finally, while driving back to Monterey Noah and I both glimpsed an all white owl flying near the road. It could only really be a Barn Owl but we couldn't find the bird for a better look so I decided not to count it. My 2009 year list is at 249.
March 25 – Yesterday was the last day of our California tour. In the morning Noah and I went on a generic whale watch out into Monterey Bay. It was a great way to get out on the water and we had a lot of nice birds. First we had several immature HEERMANN'S GULLS along the break wall right in the harbor. Also close to the harbor were PIGEON GUILLEMOTS and many COMMON MURRES. Soon we began getting distant looks at SOOTY SHEARWATERS but the first real highlight was a pair of light phase NORTHERN FULMARS very close to the boat. Fulmars were fairly numerous throughout the trip and we had some decent looks at both color phases. While we were waiting for the whales Noah spotted our first BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS as it flew by the boat. Over the course of the trip we saw at least 10 different Black-footed Albatrosses including a group of three sitting on the water together. Amazing birds; it was a total pleasure to watch them. Towards the end of the trip we did locate a group of three or four Gray Whales (which were also wonderful to see). As we followed them I had good looks at BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE flying by the boat and brief looks at RHINOCEROUS AUKLET before it disappeared into the waves. On our way back to the harbor we had several groups of PACIFIC LOONS and our first Brown Pelican of the trip. We left Monterey sometime in the early afternoon and took the scenic route up towards San Jose. A brief stop in Moss Landing added a handful of shorebirds to our trip list including many Western Sandpipers. Our final bird of the trip was a single very cooperative BURROWING OWL perched outside it's hole along Swanton Road, north of Santa Cruz. A pair of Burrowing Owls had been frequently reported from this location and I had good directions, otherwise I probably wouldn't have found it. My twelfth species of owl for the year and bird number 169 for the trip (I think that's my highest trip total yet)! I had a total of thirteen new life birds and my year list is currently at 259.

Spotted Owl
Lawrence's Goldfinch
Eurasian WigeonYellow-headed & Tricolored BlackbirdsTufted Duck


Noah and I flew out of San Jose early this morning, on our way to St Louis. What a great trip it's been! I'd like to thank ALL of our hosts who put us up and fed us over the past couple weeks: Jim and Susan, David and Sue, Elaine and Tony, Mavis and Dick, Howard and Merit, Marta and Patrick, Susan and Loren! Also thanks to Jim and Frank for their help with bird-finding and extra special huge thanks to Susan Stratton and Susan Petrick for making this trip happen. A couple days ago we visited Pinnacles National Monument. The caves were so cool! Here are some pics...

More pics from the California Coast

March 17, 2009

California Continued

Noah and I are still out here in California. We've been having a great trip so far! Here are some pics...Me and Elaine at Point ReyesMe on the way up Mount DiabloNoah with our all-too-groovy loaner mini-vanWatching the fog roll in over San FranciscoIn the next few days we'll be playing in Berkley, Santa Rosa, Monterey and Hayward. Birding has been pretty good; check out my 2009 year list here. Oh, BTW Happy St Patrick's Day! I heard a great bluegrass band at a pub in Alameda this evening. They're called 49 Special. Check out their website. Okay, gotta run.

March 13, 2009

Spring in Sacramento

Noah and I made it out to California without too much trouble. Today was a lot of fun. Went birding in the morning at the Yollo Bypass wetlands with our friends Jim and Susan Stratton and Frank Clayton. Had a lot of wonderful waterfowl. Then we played a quick radio slot in Nevada City and a house concert this evening in Grass Valley. Tomorrow we're doing a big birding day... looking for hawks, plovers, woodpeckers, all sorts of stuff. Click here to see my current year list.

Andrew and FrankAt the radio station KVMROn the air

March 10, 2009

Gyr... no, Saw-whet... finally!

Yesterday I raced back to Ontario to look for the white-phase Gyrfalcon that's been reported pretty much daily from the Wolfe Island ferry for the past week. Spent most of the day there but missed the bird by about an hour in the afternoon. Frustrating but still worth the effort. While I was up there I made a return trip to the Owl Woods on Amherst Island where I finally found this adorable Northern Saw-whet Owl
My 8th species of owl this year! And I'm still missing Great Horned and Eastern Screech. Noah and I leave for California in the morning. I'll try and post again in a couple days.

March 04, 2009

Robots in Washington

Noah and I spent last weekend hanging out with friends in
Washington DC
Giant Robot Dance at Glen Echo ParkMoon Lander thingy at The Air & Space MuseumWe had good time playing Settlers of Catan and Rock Band (apparently I've got a pretty good Gwen Stefani... "Running, running, as fast as we can..."). Birding has been kind of slow lately. Hoping to look for some stuff (Saw-whet Owl, Hoary Redpoll, Barrow's Goldeneye) in the Rochester area tomorrow. Noah and I head off to California next week! I've been usuing to keep track of my lists this year. That's all for now.