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Sierra Valley saves the day (and week)

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  • Debbie Viess
    Week-long rains dampened the spirits and equipment of birders last week at the Sierra Nevada Field Station, just west of Yuba Pass. And even though I was also
    Message 1 of 3 , Jun 13, 2005
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      Week-long rains dampened the spirits and equipment of birders last week
      at the Sierra Nevada Field Station, just west of Yuba Pass. And even
      though I was also up there for a mushroom class, the mushrooms were not
      terribly cooperative, either.despite the rains, it had been too cold,
      and not much was out. But somehow, the Cornell Lab folks managed to
      dodge the raindrops enough to do a little recording, and I managed to
      get out and see some birds a few times locally, as well as having a
      wonderful, magical, sunny morning in Sierra Valley on my last day there.
      According to Jim Steele, Field Station director, the resident birds were
      running (flying?) late, both in their arrivals, and in the advent of
      their singing. Dippers and Evening grosbeaks were conspicuous by their
      absences; a pair of dippers normally nests under the campus bridge, and
      last year, Evening grosbeaks littered the roadsides. For the grosbeaks,
      at least, it was a good example of the difference between non-irruptive
      and irruptive years.

      The willow thickets on campus contained the usual warbler suspects:
      MacGillivrays, Wilson's and Yellow-rumped. Dusky flycatchers were kind
      enough to vocalize for a definitive ID, Western Tanagers brightened up
      the drizzly gloom, and Rose-breasted nuthatches were their usual active
      and adorable selves. Hairy woodpeckers and Townsend's Solitares made
      their appearance, and a cooperative Calliope hummingbird fed at the
      campus feeder, for my best look ever. The Cornell folks spotted an
      active Black-backed woodpecker nest at Yuba Pass, and were kind enough
      to pass on the location to me. But the birding highpoint of my stay, at
      the eleventh hour, was the magnificent Sierra Valley marsh.

      Once within the magic of the Valley, the rain clouds held off, and the
      sun brightened my views. There were many Yellow-headed blackbirds,
      White-faced ibis, and an assortment of shorebirds: willets worked the
      flooded fields, along with a smattering of avocets and black-necked
      stilts, and the odd killdeer. Cinnamon teal sparkled in the sun as they
      paddled the open water, and Sora and Virginia rails called from the
      cattails. A bittern made like a reed at the edge of some marsh
      vegetation adjoining an open field. The fence-line was crowded with
      cliff swallows, both adults and wide-eyed, fluff-butt fledges, doted
      upon by their hard-working parents; the swallows reached their crescendo
      at the steel bridge, where they filled the sky with their restless forms
      and melodious calls. Coots paddled along with their charming chicks in
      tow. What could be more perfect? Well, here come the cranes! I saw two
      pairs, with one individual at very close range (the open water between
      us no doubt lending the bird a sense of security), the naked skin of
      his/her crown flaming red with the passions of the breeding season. I ,
      along with Bob Power's Albany Adult School birding class, also observed
      an interesting incident of mobbing.male red-winged blackbirds were
      dive-bombing one of the cranes sitting in an open field, rising and
      falling in angry swarms. Another crane was being attacked as it walked
      along the edge of some cattails, with the blackbirds incensed enough to
      actually perch upon the back of the crane while they hammered it with
      their sharp bills. How annoying for the crane, and how annoying that I
      lacked a camera! I suspect that it was just generalized breeding
      territory aggression, although I have observed captive cranes catch and
      eat small birds. Another interesting crane observation was the
      appearance of a trio of adult-plumaged cranes. Breeding cranes are way
      too aggressive to tolerate another individual in close proximity, so I
      suspect that it was a cohort of sub-adults; unfortunately, I wasn't able
      to observe their behavior for long enough to really determine what was
      going on. Because the valley is so flooded this year, there may be
      enough territory to support more than the usual number of crane groups.

      As good as the birding was, this area will surely improve in the next
      several weeks, so do try and avail yourself of this amazing hotspot. I
      know that I'm glad that I stuck out the lousy weather and leaky tent,
      betting on that one good morning. Sometimes, despite all evidence to the
      contrary, faith is rewarded.

      Debbie Viess
      Oakland, CA



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    • Debbie Viess
      In errata: as David Johnson so kindly pointed out, I meant to say red-breasted nuthatch, not rose-breasted. Sorry for any confusion. Debbie Viess Oakland, CA
      Message 2 of 3 , Jun 13, 2005
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        In errata: as David Johnson so kindly pointed out, I meant to say
        red-breasted nuthatch, not rose-breasted. Sorry for any confusion.

        Debbie Viess
        Oakland, CA





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