Yuba Pass/Sierra Valley: for the birds
- This fine Sierra birding site was crawling with
birders as well as birds this past weekend. I
encountered birding groups from Palo Alto, Mt. Diablo
Audubon, Golden Gate Audubon and the Cornell sound
recording class. I was in the area with the Bay Area
Mycological Society, but my binocs never left my neck,
even as I dug in the dirt after my primary prey (note
to self: use lens caps when hunting mushrooms!).
Happily, it looks to be another good year for the
evening grosbeak in the Sierra. I saw two separate
flocks of several birds each, graveling on the
shoulder of Hwy. 49, between the SFSU field station
and Yuba Pass. A number of these striking birds were
also flycatching at Yuba Pass. This answers, in part,
Bob Lewis' and my question of what the heck they eat,
other than gravel. Although our direct observations of
food gathering were limited, "The Birder's Handbook"
had a trove of useful diet information. Apparently,
insects are only taken during the breeding season.
Their usual repast consists primarily of the seeds of
trees and shrubs (that fat beak is not just for show),
with juniper berries and pine nuts added when foraging
in the western mountains. They are even purportedly
fond of maple syrup!
Cassin's finches were conspicuous at the Yuba Pass
parking area, their rosy caps contrasting with the
brown backs of their heads. White-headed woodpeckers
and hairy woodpeckers were common, and some birders
saw the Williamson's sapsucker in this area, too (they
have bred here in the past). Glimpses of the
marvelous, male Western tanager brightened the
landscape, and my day.
I managed to convince a group of mushrooming friends
to accompany me into Sierra Valley on our last
morning, where the birding is both easy and
spectacular. Two pairs of sandhill cranes were
observed from the road (one of which was again being
attacked by red-winged blackbirds, like I observed
last year). The stopped and peering presence of a pair
of humans, who had been walking the dirt road in this
magic valley, alerted us to a sage thrasher perched
upon a rusted piece of farm equipment; woulda missed
A number of snipe flew up from the marsh grasses, and
dozens and dozens of white-faced ibis alternately fed
and preened in the grasses, or criss-crossed the sky
in flight; the ibis were exquisite when fully lit by
the sun, with the rich copper-red and green of their
feathering taking on an irridescent sheen.
Yellow-headed blackbirds cronked and fed among the
cattails and rushes, and some coots were attended by
their half-grown chicks. An unseen Virginia rail
teased us with kiddicks from the marsh.
Cliff swallows coursed over the tea-colored, heavily
vegetated water under the steel bridge, and a number
of medium to large fish conducted their territorial
squabbles in the rocky shallows (binocs help to bring
all of nature up close and personal).
At this point, my mushrooming friends started hearing
the call of the wild mushroom, so we made our exit. At
the edge of the valley I saw at least one and possibly
two ferruginous hawks, following along behind a piece
of moving farm machinery, which was leaving a furry
and/or chitinous tide of edibles in its wake. With a
pack of antsy mushroomers following in my wake, we
couldn't stop to observe more closely.
All in all, a great, natural-history mountain
experience. Hope you all had a fine weekend, too.