The aim of my latest report is again to help fellow birders, by providing accurate and current information on species that I saw on my trip. We all have different aims/targets and mine were wide ranging, especially visiting from another country. I have previously birded Texas and Florida and my objective this time was to concentrate on Western species. I will mention other "good birds" I see at the sites I visited, as well as Lifers. This is obviously VERY subjective. There will unfortunately be some self-indulgence in this report, but you can soon dissect/ignore what you want or don't want from it, I'm sure (see key).
The reason for taking this trip was to add as many A.B.A Lifers to my total as possible. I need a geographical boundary to build a list. I'm not interested in just amassing numbers on a world scale. I love birding the States because it's a natural extension to my UK birding, backed up by easy access to information and news on the 'net.
It would be dawn to dusk (and beyond) Birding with huge distances travelled. Since my ex-wife found me surplus to requirements, I have made the most of my enforced freedom by enjoying my Birding to the full! I also enjoy just looking and studying the birds..it's not just a numbers game.
Planning consisted of my usual tactics…Relevant site guides, supplemented by internet information and e-mail contacts (see Bibliography). I will only give details on sites that are not in the Birdfinding guides.
Oh, I was also hoping to have a great time!!
Target Birds in Bold
Target Birds Seen in Bold Capitals
Noteworthy Birds(subjective) in Capitals…i.e Good Birds I had already seen in the U.S.
Delayed yesterday at Atlanta by storms, frustrating, but I was in no hurry to take off with fork lightning evident from my window seat. Arrived in Pheonix after dark and crashed at the first of many Motel 6. No matter, I'm off now.
First stake out was Red Rock (south of Pheonix on I-10). Ruddy-Ground Dove was the target here. Admittedly arrived later than hoped for (7am), after the journey and taking the wrong turning. Met a couple of Northern U.S. Birders who had been searching since dawn. Gave it another two hours, it was warming up by then! (100+). Scored with my first "Bump into Bird" in the form of a GILA WOODPECKER.
So, started with a dip! Good for the character.
Still twitching/chasing…I moved on to Tumacacori Mission S.P (I-19 South of Pheonix). The target here was a very rare bird (Mega)! in the form of a Streak-backed Oriole. Following the info' off Azbirds I eventually found the site but again, no luck. Left the area, when I was contemplating frying an egg on my car roof!
Drove on to Madera Canyon early afternoon via Green Valley and here saw a group of GAMBEL'S QUAIL (6).
There had been a recent fire here so I wasn't sure the road would be open, however it was and I made my way up to Madera Kubo. This was the location where a Flame-coloured Tanager had been present for some time…not today! Birds here included ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (an Arizona rarity), HOODED ORIOLE and HEPATIC TANAGERS and PAINTED REDSTART.
Returned early to Madera Canyon Rd. Reached the Continental Feedlot Cafe Car Park at 5am. Acting on advice from Dave & Babe from Pensylvania, I crossed the road and railway to an area of scrub. After a roam around I was soon looking at a singing RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW.
Drove slowly up the road to milepost 9. The area on my left was obviously evidence of the recent fire, but it didn't seem to bother the BOTTERI'S SPARROWS that seemed to be everywhere at this location. The leafless landscape helped with their location.
Madera Kubo revisited…still no luck with the Tanager. Bumped into Dave & Babe again(funny how birders keep meeting each other?). Just as we said our goodbyes Dave alerted me to a pair of ARIZONA WOODPECKERS…Nice one Dave.
Midday now and time to head east to Patagonia. First stop was the famous Roadside Rest. As I left the car I bumped into a birder who informed me of the location of two nests. One was VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD and the other was ROSE-THROATED BECARD! Although I had seen a Becard in Texas, to see a pair hanging on their nest was quite something. The male's red throat was easily seen and the nest was enormous. The Hummingbird nest was right over the path near the Becards nest. Also scored here with THICK-BILLED KINGBIRD. I have been to the States a few times now and searched for PHAINOPEPLA on a number of occasions…this is the place to go!
Even though I had seen "the Hummingbird" I decided to check out the Paton's feeders, probably just because I'd never been there! ABERT'S TOWHEE was the best bird seen here plus more VIOLET-CROWNS.
Finished the day at Beatty's - Miller Canyon in the Huachuca Mnts. I was hoping to see Blue-throated Hummingbird here but it wasn't to be today. Met Tom Beatty…quite a character, I listened to his stories till dusk. This is an excellent site to study Hummingbirds.
Made my way up to the high elevation site of Carr Canyon. This is arguably the best and most easily accessable place (despite the dodgy road) for high elevation species. The prime target here was Buff-breasted Flycatcher…an empid' I could hopefully be certain of identifying!
Unfortunately the weather this morning was more like England, with steady rain till 11.30, which meant I caught up on some extra sleep in the car. When it eventually stopped, I realized I was in the wrong spot and made my way to the Comfort Spring Trail. This is quite a famous trail having been "home" to some excellent rarities over the years…more later. It was here I met a birder from Texas called Stephan Lorenz. I had talked with him breifly yesterday afternoon at Beatty's. After chatting it became clear he was doing a similar trip to me, so we set off to find a BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHER, 3 hours later, we finally found one along the main "road". Much easier to find were at least 4 GREATER PEWEES and numerous YELLOW EYED JUNCOS. The big bonus bird here was OLIVE WARBLER as the information I had gathered indicated I might stuggle to find this species. Other noteworthy birds included BAND-TAILED PIGEON and GRACE'S WARBLER. Having said goodbye to Stephan little did I realize it would only be "au revoir".
Drove the late afternoon/early evening into the Chiricahau Mnts. On route saw the amazing site of Tarantulas migrating across the road I was travelling on!! Stopped and got a great photo'. On telling my tale to a lady I met she informed me "they can jump you know!" Apparently this is not the case…is it?
Stayed the night at the George Walker House in Paradise…a place I can thoroughly recommend, after I eventually found it during a spectacular thunderstorm.
First stop this morning was a trip up to Onion Saddle where I soon found a roving group of MEXICAN CHICKADEES. Also connected with another OLIVE WARBLER. Spent the next 3 hours unsuccessfully staking out a site for Short-tailed Hawk at Barfoot Park Lookout…an amazing viewpoint.
Made my way back to George Walker House and met Jackie Lewis and her husband. She informed me that they had CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRDS coming to her feeders which was great news, as I had missed them at Beatty's. Within ten minutes I was enjoying close views while enjoying a nice drink on their porch. Another bird of note was a female/immature PAINTED BUNTING…an Arizona rarity. LAZULI BUNTINGS were plentiful.
Four in the afternoon saw me heading down Stateline road in a search for Bendire's Thrasher. After an uncertain browse of 15 minutes a truck pulled up with a Birder inside. He was a local who told me to try further down the road. Still no luck. Another car then pulled up with (yes, you guessed it) two more birders inside! They told me they had just seen "the thrasher" on Gin Rd (spelling could be dodgy)…this road is east, off Stateline Rd, (I'm pretty sure it's the only road) and it links Stateline with the SR80, which is in New Mexico..so this site is no good for an Arizona tick!
Half-way down Gin Rd there is an obvious barn on the left-hand side (hosts a Barn Owl sometimes, I was informed later). The two birders told me they had taped out the Bendire's Thrasher plus a CURVE-BILLED THRASHER in this area. I had no tape (I'm not a big fan anyway), so I walked around the area for a while on both sides of the road. Another car pulled up, and the two lady birders from California told me they had seen the bird on the telegraph wires earlier in the afternoon.
I continued my search as the light started to fade with my hopes. I then saw a bird fly low across the road and perch in a bush. I had my trusty Leica APO 62 set up and zoomed in on the bird…Bingo BENDIRE'S THRASHER. Other birds seen in the area included SCOTT'S ORIOLE, CASSIN'S SPARROW, CACTUS WREN.
Time to move on. I headed north to the White Mnts of central east Arizona (site guide - see Bibliography). I arrived in Springerville about 1pm after a twisting and turning journey along the 191. Checked into the El Jo Motel (change from the Motel 6) and made my way to the first site on my list..
Greer was the destination. I tried the Butler Canyon Nature Trail - which is accessed by taking the AC1121, which is a left (east) from highway 373 just before the cattle guard as you drop down into Greer. The trail is signposted almost immediately you turn onto AC1121.
The main reason I chose this site, was that I had just paid a visit to the library, to catch up on current info'. A post on Azbirds mentioned that a Three-toed Woodpecker and a Williamson's Sapsucker had been seen on this trail a few days earlier. Maybe 40 yards after leaving the car I was enjoying excellent views of a male WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER. This was a great start and I was almost expecting a Three-toed Woodpecker to be around the next corner! Unfortunately, this was not the case and I made 3 circuits of the trail before giving up.
It was late afternoon now, so I decided to drop down into Greer village to use the remaining light. Nice place, with lots of holiday lodges and fishermen. After driving through the village I parked up by the river. I scanned the horizon of conifers and there in the far distance was a lone CLARK'S NUTCRACKER. I made my return slowly through the village, checking trees and posts along the way.
Just as I was about to pack up I saw an obvious Woodpecker fly to a telegraph pole. I pulled up slowly in the car and fixed my 8x32 Ultravids (amazing binoculars in a light, non-bulky package) on the target. THREE-TOED WOODPECKER was in the bag. This was a big tick as this was the only area on my trip that I could see this bird and was my main reason for visiting this area. All my other targets could possibly be seen elsewhere on the trip.
Today started early (surprise, surprise) with a visit to Green's Peak. The main target here was Blue Grouse but after mooching around for an hour I admitted defeat, but not before scoring with my A.B.A. RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH. Amazingly enough, this was not a life bird for me, having seen a bird in Norfolk, England in April 1990!! Also saw MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD and WINTER WREN here.
My main target now was Red-naped Sapsucker, a bird I really needed to see in this area, as it would be a very hard bird to see in California at this time of year. Tried the South Fork Trail next with little to comment on. Moved on to Becker Lake were I managed to see another male WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER. Next was Sipe W.A…still no luck, also hoped to see Pinyon Jay but it was not to be. Having given up on my Sapsucker quest for the day, I made my way down to the Nutrioso area to look for a bird that was high on my "most wanted" list…Lewis's Woodpecker. Searched a few likely spots but no luck.. Finished the day at Nutrioso Reservoir, a roost site for Pinyon Jay but the birds slept somewhere else this night. I did get brilliant 'scope views of a female PEREGRINE.
Returned to the Butler Canyon Nature Trail. Started to walk the trail, ever hopeful. This was one of those occasions when the Birding Gods were on my side. Within 15 minutes I had a choice of looking at THREE-TOED WOODPECKER, WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER or RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER while sat on a log!! It was quite amazing , the birds appeared, and then just as quickly disappeared. Also saw another, closer CLARK'S NUTCRACKER and a BROWN CREEPER. On the way back to my car I lucked onto a magnificent, soaring GOLDEN EAGLE.
Still on a high, I drove down to Nelson Reservoir, which was a delightful spot. Searched again for Pinion Jay with no luck and increasing frustration, as the White Mountains are a good spot for this species. Enjoyed watching an OSPREY catch a fish. Birds on the reservoir included AMERICAN WIGEON, REDHEAD and a BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON.
Tried again for Lewis's Woodpecker at Nutrioso. Two hours down the line…no luck. Then, as I was driving past the Lumber Yard there it was, clinging to a telegraph pole. At last LEWIS'S WOODPECKER in my 'scope…what a brilliant bird! Eventually saw three birds in this area.
Time now to "twitch" a common "winter" bird for the area. I had information that a Sandhill Crane had been "left" at Luna Lake. After a brief scan of the far bank of the Reservoir I was looking at my A.B.A. SANDHILL CRANE.
Spent the rest of the afternoon fruitlessly searching suitable habitat for Pinyon Jay. Decided to check the 'net at Springerville Library. This turned out to be a good decision. A Birder (Shawneen Finnegan) had posted a message on Azbirds announcing that 3 Aztec Thrushes had been seen in Carr Canyon, Huachucua Mnts by the renowned Jon Dunn.
I had to return to the South East tomorrow anyway…to visit the infamous California Gulch - (the Road to Hell) for Five-striped Sparrow. I had intended a leisurely drive, but this news changed my plans and I drove the afternoon/evening back to Sierra Vista. Unfortunately, it was convention time and all the Motels were full. After a seven hour drive this was disappointing to say the least and it was gone midnight. Ended up grabing a few hours in the car.
Drove up Carr Canyon to arrive at the Comfort Spring Trail at 5.30 am. I appeared to be the first on site, so I walked down to the stream area and checked the area out. After about 45 minutes I heard voices from back up the trail. I made my way back and met a group of birders who had obviously come hoping to see the "Thrushes". The group included Shawneen Finnegan and Jon Dunn. Despite the illustrious company and a 5 hour vigil the birds did not appear.
I still considered it worth the extra effort for such an enigmatic bird. Substantial consolation came in the form of a SHORT-TAILED HAWK that sailed over the Canyon mid -morning. Jon also identified a Hermit Warbler in flight, high over the Canyon! I did not count this bird (although I needed it) because I don't think I could have identified it myself!! Other birds seen included VIRGINIA WARBLER, BAND-TAILED PIGEON and WESTERN TANAGER.
It was now time to make my way to Green Valley to meet Melody Kehl, the Bird Guide. I decided to take this option for the Five-striped Sparrow because it became obvious that it would be a lot of hassle to find my way down California Gulch, and as it turned out I wouldn't have had a prayer in my compact rental.
Anyway, Melody easily found the FIVE-STRIPED SPARROW for the assembled group, and I managed 'scope views of a singing male - a really smart bird. Other noteworthy species included VARIED BUNTING, ZONE-TAILED HAWK, GRAY HAWK and VERMILLION FLYCATCHER. We then moved onto the Oro Blanco Mine for a stab at the Buff-collared Nightjar. I thought our chances were slim for this bird considering the late date, but this was the earliest I could book a place. My optimism took a further jolt when Melody informed us that she was not prepared to use a tape on this visit, even though she had done so on previous trips? The bird was neither heard nor seen.
Decided to try one more time for Streaked-backed Oriole at Tumacacori Mission on the 19. Despite a 2 hour search…no joy. Interestingly, saw a migrant GRACE'S WARBLER.
It was time to think about leaving Arizona, but there was one site I needed to visit. Saguaro N.P. West was the location and the target was GILDED FLICKER. After a longer than expected search I managed to locate a bird amongst some amazing scenery.
Drove the evening to Yuma.
My opening play in California involved a visit to the Salton Sea. I realized I needed to be "in and out" of here pronto…I'd heard it can get rather warm! I arrived in Calpatria before sun up, and made my way west down Eddins Road (S30) to Sperry where the Ruddy Ground-Doves are most regularly seen. This was my second attempt at this rarity having missed it at Red Rock in Arizona. The temperature gauge showed 100+ as I drove through Calpatria, so I needed to connect early. The two Rotweiller pups chewing at my tripod didn't help! Then out of nowhere appeared a male RUDDY GROUND-DOVE singing on a wire right above my head. Flushed with success I moved on to the sea itself and parked up at Obsidian Butte. The target here was YELLOW-FOOTED GULL and almost immediately I was looking at 6 birds. I made a half-hearted attempt to locate "Large-billed Savannah Sparrow" but the heat beat me in the end and I "exited the area!". Another long drive was required now as I headed for the Los Angeles Area.
I had e-mailed Steve Alter from Orange County on more than one occasion prior to my trip and he kindly offered to bird with me if it was convenient. I rang him last night and he told me he was free to bird today with his wife, who was also a birder. I arranged to meet him at his house as he informed me he had Allen's Hummingbirds coming to his garden feeders! Within 5 minutes I had great views of a male ALLEN'S HUMMINGBIRD. After this great start we moved on to the coast to search for some shorebirds I needed. After we drew a couple of blanks, we arrived at Heisler Park, were after a short scan of the rocks I connected with all 4 of my targets…BLACK OYSTERCATCHER, BLACK TURNSTONE, SURFBIRD and WANDERING TATTLER. Easy to miss birds with excellent camouflage. Next stop was Reef Point were our quarry was the "local" California Gnatcatcher. After a breif stroll round the walkways we picked up the distinctive cat-like sounds of the target bird and I got great views of 3 CALIFORNIA GNATCATCHERS. Los Trancos Beach produced WRENTIT (this elusive species was easily seen here in family groups) and CALIFORNIA THRASHER. We moved inland now to Santiago Oaks S.P. and soon found PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER and NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER but failed to find the common Oak Titmouse. Back to the coast now were we visited the excellent Bolsa Chica reserve. It was very busy on this glorious Sunday afternoon but the birds didn't seem to mind. ELEGANT TERN was soon located amonst thousands of assorted terns. A bonus bird for me here came in the form of a drake SURF SCOTER (I didn't expect this bird so far south in August?). Also saw an interesting sub-species in the form of "Belding's Savannah Sparrow" from the boardwalk. Another out of season bird was a drake REDHEAD. Finished up at Laguna Niguel R.P. in a search for an elusive and local species…but in no time at all, thanks to Steve's local knowledge, I was looking at a small flock of TRI-COLOURED BLACKBIRDS. It was a nice change to actually bird with other people and I was very grateful for the help and company given by Steve and his wife in our jaunt around Orange County.
This was my Metropolis day. The target bird was the declining Spotted Dove. I had mixed feelings about chasing this bird, as it was possible I could spend/waste a full day on one species and a dubious one at that. My reticence was increased by the fact I had already sacrificed Island Scrub-Jay on the same principle. Anyway, my decision was made and I set of to do battle with the Los Angeles freeways! My first search area was Deforest Park, which is in North Long Beach.. I had recent information that birds were being seen here. This all sounded fine…but I couldn't find it!! So after my patience ran out I moved onto my second possible site Banning Park on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. I was more successful in finding this park but totally unsuccessful in finding the bird. As I left this site it was still bugging me that I couldn't find Deforest Park, so I decided to try one more time. After a few wrong turnings and a few more questions I finally found it! It is in north Long Beach on the east bank of the river. Two hours later I finally admitted defeat. My third location was Inglewood Cemetry. I drove round this large area for another two hours with not even a sniff of any doves. Not the best day of my holiday.
I had driven the previous evening into the San Bernadino Mountains. Steve had told me of a post on Calbirds that gave directions to a site for Lawrence's Goldfinch. This was great news and definitely worth a detour for such a difficult to locate species. Having spent the night at Big Bear Lake Motel 6 I was up before dawn and made my way down S.R. 38 eighteen miles to the South Fork Campground. I parked my car at the entrance and walked back to the bridge on the highway. As I looked down towards the stream the first bird I saw was a male LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCH. All the hassle of yesterday evaporated immediately. Apparently they bred here this year. Flushed with my success I drove back through Big Bear and then headed north. My next stop was California City as again I had information on a target bird. This was another summering, winter bird! The species in question was TUNDRA SWAN, which I soon found loafing on the park lake with the local wildfowl. I am assured that this bird only turned up in February, so its credentials seem good? Moved on east out of California City on a dodgy road(Twenty Mule Team Parkway) to the Silver Saddle Resort at the foot of Gallileo Hill. I had information that partiies of Chukar were being seen at the Campsite. Once again my planning paid dividends as I was soon looking at c50 CHUKAR. I had a decision to make now. Should I continue east on the dodgy road(as it led to the 395) or should I take the longer but safer route back through California City? I decided on the former and despite some hairy moments I made it. Drove up the 395 to the Inyokern area to meet with Terri Middlemass. After calling her to check it was ok to stop by, I eventually found her house in the High Desert about 12.30. She invited me in for a drink and we talked birds for a while. She then informed me that she could find me a Le Conte's Thrasher in her garden!! We walked outside and within 5 minutes I had crippling views of a LE CONTE'S THRASHER. This was definitely a bird I would have had problems with, especially in August (and at midday!). My other target here was the desert Hummingbird that I missed in Arizona. It wasn't long before I connected with a fine male COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRD at Terri's feeders. I spent a while longer with Terri, then thanked her again and moved back south, then west, up and over the Walker Pass (178) to the Kern River Valley Preserve. As I'm sure your aware, you can't always be in the right location at the right time, and this particular site certainly bore this theory out. My quarry was another empid' in the form of a Willow Flycatcher (South Western apparently). A kind gent in the office showed me the best area to search, he also played a tape and showed me a nest. Unfortunately seeing the bird amongst the mosquitos proved more difficult. However, after about 45 minutes I managed to locate a single bird and added WILLOW FLYCATCHER to my list. Made my way back towards the Walker Pass stopping off at the Walker Pass Campground. Here I lucked onto a group of SAGE SPARROWS that performed well for me. The rest of the late afternoon/evening was spent driving north up the 395 to Bishop.
My first port of call today was Bodie. I had a few possible sites for Sage Grouse but as I left my Motel for some reason, I chose this one…What a good decision. As I approached the entrance gate, who was already there with scope set up?…Stephan! As I have already said, the birding world can be a small one at times…but this was an amazing coincidence. He was already looking at a SAGE GROUSE through his 'scope. We eventually saw 3 birds. After catching up on the birds we had both seen we travelled back down the Bodie road to the 395, but not before I scored (with Stephan's help) with SAGE THRASHER and GRAY FLYCATCHER. In talking about our next move (as we decided to bird together for the rest of the day) I mentioned that I had a possible site for Gray-crowned Rosy Finch. Needless to say he was interested, so we set off for Virginia Lake (This site is signposted off the 395 between Bodie and Mono Lake). After an obvious climb we reached the car park at the Virginia Lake Resort (9.700 feet). We immediately saw some feeders outside the log cabin, so we decided to sit on a bench on the porch and wait. Within a few minutes we were both looking at a GRAY-CROWNED ROSY FINCH on the feeder at a distance of 12 feet!!! Having read many posts on the'net I reckon this could be the best and easiest place to see this species in California in August. We were obviously elated with this success and decided to walk around the small but very pretty lake. Nothing of note was seen but when we returned to the feeders we were greeted with 3 CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS and a group of CASSIN'S FINCHES. Also saw PINE SISKIN at the feeders. Worthy of mention at this site was the claim from one of the staff that a male Evening Grosbeak was also attending the feeders, intermittently. This news made us extend our stay a further hour but unfortunately it was a "no show". Whilst not initially doubting this claim, I must admit I started to have some reservations when he also informed us he had seen a "Goshawk" catch a fish in the lake!!! Our next site was on 120 a few miles east of Mono Lake at a "burn area". Here we searched for Black-backed Woodpecker and Pinyon Jay, the latter of which was becoming a "bogey bird" for me. We must have spent 3+ hours in this area with no luck, when Stephan suddenly came running back up the track (he was a lot younger than me!). He informed me he had just had 2 Pinyon Jays. We searched again for 30 minutes but the birds were not seen again in this area. We returned to my car and started to drive slowly west, back down the 120 towards the 395. We then caught sight of two birds flying across the road, after a brief search we located/re-located 2 PINYON JAYS. I had probably spent 20 hours plus searching for this bird, so I reckoned I deserved it. I drove Stephan back to his car and we then realized we were heading in different directions for the next stage of our travels. We wished each other well and I headed north to Lake Tahoe. An excellent day.
I had information (yet again) on a possible site for Blue Grouse. Richard Carlson had posted information that he had birds in his back garden! Having already called him, he said it was ok for me to visit his place, even though he would not be there (thanks again Richard). His directions were excellent and I was soon pulling up outside his place. As I climbed the steps in his front garden I became aware of movement to my right. Almost unbelievably I was looking at 3 BLUE GROUSE!!! Having read how notoriously elusive this species can be…this was an excellent addition to my list. Flushed with success I moved onto Yuba Pass where earlier in the summer a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers had bred. I found the nest hole but unsuprisingly, no birds. Time to move on to the magical Yosemite.
I had visited the park on two previous occasions but more as a tourist (with non-birding females!) than a birder. So now was my chance to "do it properly". My main target here was the elusive Great Gray Owl. Information on the 'net was sketchy and not very topical…but I decided to try McGurk Meadow first. I arrived at dawn and sat it out for three hours, but no joy. As I made my way back to the car I saw a shadowy figure coming down the track towards me…yes, it was Stephan! This was getting weird, I know birders have similar routes but America is a big place! He then informed me he had flushed a Great Gray Owl at this location the previous morning. This was enough for me to retrace my steps and we searched for another 2 hours without success. Mixed warbler flocks were about and I managed to connect with HERMIT (c20), TOWNSEND (1), and BLACK-THROATED GRAY (2) Warblers. I also scored with a FOX SPARROW. Other birds looked for without success were Red Crossbill, Red-breasted Sapsucker and Pine Grosbeak. The evening session was again spent at McGurk Meadow without joy, but the mosquitos had a great time! I also had an interesting time trying to find my way back to the car…1 hour, lost in the woods (with flashlight!)
Last try at McGurk Meadow…(I really did want to see this bird) but still no good. Long drive north now, as I was booked on the dreaded pelagic (I don't have sea legs) from Fort Bragg with Shearwater Journeys tomorrow. I am sure those of you that have been sea-sick know why I have mixed blessings about this particular aspect of our pastime! Stopped off on the way at the Yolo Farmlands and connected immediately with a cracking YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIE perched on a wire, exactly were the Kemper guide suggested. I even managed an excellent digiscope shot with my Canon IXUS 700 camera (it performed brilliantly throughout)
Boarded the boat with the rest of the "crew" and off we sailed into the briney. I had taken some medication hoping it would do the trick…it didn't! I wasn't sick but I felt it all day. I saw some good birds but didn't particularly enjoy them.BULLER'S SHEARWATER SOUTH POLAR SKUA POMARINE JAEGER LONG-TAILED JAEGER PARASITIC JAEGER SABINE'S GULL COMMON TERN CASSIN'S AUKLET NORTHERN FULMAR BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER On returning to the harbour in a state of dis-array I also managed a bonus bird in the form of a PACIFIC LOON. I figured I deserved this for "gutsing" it out for c8 hours! I wrote in my notebook…never again! Drove the evening north to Arcata.
Up before first light, I soon arrived at Patrick's Point S.P. My main target here was a very special bird in my eyes…Varied Thrush. As I drove slowly into the park, I noticed a bird hoping around on the road in front of me. I raised my 'bins" and sure enough I was looking at a VARIED THRUSH. The bird was joined by a second and I watched them from the car for a good ten minutes. I have to be honest here and say the light wasn't great at this early hour in thick woodland. I tried to find one later on, but was unsuccessful…dull views better than no views! I drove to the point itself and set my 'scope up. I soon located an obvious Scoter flock, which contained c200 WHITE-WINGED SCOTER and c100 VELVET SCOTER. Unfortunately I couldn't turn any of them into a Black Scoter. WESTERN GREBE was also seen here. I needed to see some Chickadees, so I made my way to Little River Drive. David Fix had given me some excellent information on key sites for my target birds and he suggested I try here. I parked my car and almost immediately I could hear Chickadees. Within 5 minutes I obtained excellent views of both BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE and CHESNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE. I was looking forward to my next stop. I had information that a man who lived in Ferndale was feeding Gray Jays from his porch. I soon found his house (bear right at the end of main street, after about a quarter mile turn left up the Wildcat Road to Petrolia. His house is on it's own, first on the right). I parked on the road outside and waited for a while. I didn't want to peer into his house (you know the feeling), so I walked up and down the road for a while. As I passed the front of his house again a man appeared and asked me what I was looking for. I told him, and he invited me up onto his porch to wait for the Jays to appear. His name was George, and he told me all about the jays, telling me he can have 20+ at times on his porch! It was mid-afternoon now and he said it wasn't a good time to see them and suggested I came back early in the morning. Just as I had decided to leave a GRAY JAY landed out of nowhere on his porch! It was very tame and made it's way back and forth over the next ten minutes from a nearby tree. I thanked him again for his help and time. He said it was no problem and he enjoyed showing people the birds that visited his garden. Seeing the Jay meant I could now move on and I planned to return north to Arcata hoping to see Vaux's Swift returning to roost around the junction of 14th and I Street. I found the area easily enough (a brilliantly simple system of naming streets by letters and numbers) and parked my car. As I got out I could see what were obviously Swifts flying above me. Raising my 'bins I had at least 30 VAUX'S SWIFTS in view. They were not present earlier in the day. Having seen all my target birds for the area I spent the evening driving south towards San Francisco.
Having stopped on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge for the obligatory photo, I headed over the bridge and made my way down Highway 1. I tried a few spots along the coast and just inland for Purple Finch without any luck. By early afternoon I'd had enough of searching for this bird (this was a can't miss species!) and decided to try Ano Nuevo S.R for Marbled Murrelet. I had a contact for this bird (lost his name…apologies), so I gave him a call. He told me that they had been reported recently on the reserve, so I paid the fee and began walking out along the headland. No luck on the way out but I got fantastic views of the Elephant Seals. Started the return walk, checking various vantage points with the 'scope. After about six attempts I finally found 2 MARBLED MURRELETS about half-a-mile out on the south side. This was a special moment as I did not feel confident I would see this species. It was late afternoon by now, I checked a couple more spots for the "can't miss" Purple Finch and then headed North-east. I still needed Common Merganser for my ABA list and as I drove north up the freeway from Santa Cruz(17) I saw a large reservoir (Lexington) on my right, so I thought I'd have a quick look as the light faded. Good decision, as there were at least 50 COMMON MERGANSERS on the water.
Spent the morning walking Mitchell Canyon on the north side of Mount Diablo. I was looking for 2 "can't miss" species in the forms of Purple Finch and Oak Titmouse. I didn't miss the latter but couldn't find the former…you can't win them all. Drove the afternoon back to Yosemite for another go at guess what?! I decided to try Chevron Meadow this time. I won't bore you…suffice to say I was not successful.
After spending the night in a tent…a novel idea! I made my way back to Chevron Meadow for one last try for GGO. I would like to report a happy ending and that I finally had crippling views of this magnificent bird…but I can't! Unfortunately, this means I will have to return…what a shame!! The rest of the day and evening was spent driving the signicant distance back to Sierra Vista, Arizona…800+ miles!!!
Out today with Stuart Healy, the bird guide. I had read his journal for some time and he had helped me with site information, so I figured I owed him a day out. In the morning we visited Patagonia S.P. in search of Black-capped Gnatcatcher. After about an hour Stuart picked up the call of a bird and I was soon enjoying great views of a male BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHER. We also chased a calling Western-screech Owl (rare at this location) for an hour but gave up when the heat got too much. Other good birds here included great views of a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, GRAY FLYCATCHER, NORTHERN-BEARDLESS TYRANNULET and a VARIED BUNTING. Spent the afternoon searching for another rarity in the form of a Crescent-chested Warbler at Beatty's in Miller Canyon. No luck there, so I returned to Sierra Vista to meet Stuart again for an evening "Owling" session. I had tried on various occasions to find Owls without success at this late season, so I figured I might be able to notch one or two with the help of a local expert. We made our way up to Carr Canyon and took the Comfort Springs trail. We made our way down into the canyon and up the other side. Stuart picked up the call of a Northern-Pygmy Owl(mountain) replying to his call. He soon located the bird high in the top of a conifer. I was able to 'scope the bird and got cracking views of a NORTHERN-PYGMY OWL. We then decended to a much lower altitude to search for Screech-Owls but we struck out. I thought I would get at least one of the 2 species with Stuart's help. It just proves there are no guarentees. Summary So there it is, I hope there are not to many errors (I'm sure someone will tell me!). I also hope you find something of use that will help you find your target birds. I only included a selection of the birds I saw. If you require further information, please feel free to e-mail me at Derwent.Ings@Spl.at Personally, I am very pleased with what I saw. The big miss was the Great Gray Owl but I guess it wasn't to be this time. It just means I'll have to go back to Yosemite again…there are worse Birding locations! Hope you find something of use. Great birds, great scenery, great time.
Alan Whitehead. York, England
Useful Info' Arizona
George Walker House, Paradise.
White Mountains Guide
Steve Alter, Orange County. scalter1 AT pacbell.net Phone: 714-669-9482
Terri Middlemass, Inyokern. catbird4 AT earthlink.net Phone: 760-377-5192
Richard Carlson, rccarl AT pacbell.net Tucson 520-760-4935 Tahoe 530-581-0624 David Fix, dfxjcp AT humboldt1.com