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California Trip Report - October/November 2001 Part 1

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  • Robert Grimmond
    Hi Calbirders! For those of you who responded to my RFI a couple of months ago, there follows a report on our recent trip to California. Lifers are marked with
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 6, 2001
      Hi Calbirders!

      For those of you who responded to my RFI a couple of months ago, there
      follows a report on our recent trip to California. Lifers are marked with a
      double asterisk. New ABA birds are marked with a single asterisk.

      30th October - 5th November

      My wife, Kay, and I flew into San Francisco on 30th October and spent the
      next week staying with my brother and his family at Clayton. Birding was
      largely confined to
      the backyard, Donner and Mitchell Canyons (Mount Diablo SP) and Fisherman's
      Wharf area of San Francisco on a day trip. Birds seen were largely common
      resident or
      wintering species. At San Francisco I saw my first Mew Gulls* in North
      America. I was much taken with the different races of Fox Sparrow. I had
      'Sooty' birds in Donner Canyon and Slate-coloured in my brother's backyard.
      Perhaps the most intriguing was another yard bird that looked just like the
      Canadian Rocky Mountain type in Sibley's Bird Guide.

      On Sunday 4th November, my brother offered to take us out for the day so we
      opted to visit Point Reyes. Unfortunately, it was pretty foggy on the
      western side, so we abandoned our attempt to go to the Fish Docks. At
      Drake's Beach it was clear and we had Red-throated Loon*, Brown Pelican,
      Surf Scoter and Mew, California, Western, Herring and Glaucous-winged Gulls.
      We spent the afternoon walking west on Limantour Beach until the fog started
      to come down late in the afternoon. There were plenty of birds, including
      Red-throated and Common Loons, 2 Red-necked Grebes*, 1 American White
      Pelican, Canvasback, American Wigeon, 40+ Bufflehead** (at last!), Greater
      Scaup, Surf and White-winged* Scoters and 16 Snowy Plovers*. It's quite
      clear to me now how Surf Scoters get their name!

      Tuesday 6th

      We picked up our rental car from Buchanan Field, Concord and headed for
      Monterey. On the way we stopped off at Lake Merritt, in Oakland, an
      attractive urban park which produced some interesting birds. They included
      Eared Grebe, amazingly tame Great Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons (I
      took a photo of two birds together, one perched on a trash bin, the other on
      hedge!), 6+ Common Goldeneyes*, 3+ Barrow's Goldeneyes**, Bufflehead and a
      good assortment of gulls - Ring-billed, California, Western, a tame juvenile
      Thayer's**, Herring, Glaucous-winged and a few apparent Glaucous-winged x
      Western Hybrids. We spent the next two nights at the Best Western Park Crest
      in Monterey.

      Wednesday 7th

      We had booked a trip with Monterey Bay Whale Watch. The weather for the trip
      was good and we had wonderful views of two Humpback Whales loafing around
      the boat and 'spy hopping' and brief views of a Grey Whale's spout. Birds
      were on the low side in terms of variety - plenty of Pacific and Common
      Loons, a couple of Sooty Shearwaters, several Rhinoceros Auklets and lost of
      Common Murres. As we were returning to harbour, I noticed a big brownish,
      petrel-like, bird gliding low over the water. It had white uppertail coverts
      and a distinct white chin and 'face' - a nice, late Black-footed
      Albatross**! In the afternoon we explored the Fisherman's Wharf area and
      walked to Cannery Row and back. Birds in the harbour included a Western
      Grebe and a Red-breasted Merganser. Yellow-rumped Warblers were abundant
      along the walkway to Cannery Row.

      Thursday 8th

      We left Monterey and headed south on CA1. The weather was fine and we had
      much better coastal views than on our previous visit here in 1999. Just
      south of Monterey we had a Peregrine Falcon. Further on we saw our first
      White-tailed Kite, Cooper's Hawk and Black Oystercatcher of the trip. We
      stopped at Piedras Blancas Point to see the Elephant Seals, which were quite
      something. Birds found in the area included Long-billed Curlew, Western
      Sandpiper, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Willet and 16 Elegant Terns. We spent
      the night at the Comfort Inn, Santa Maria.

      Friday 9th

      Our main birding stop of the morning was at Ocean Beach County Park, west of
      Lompoc. The mouth of the Santa Ynez River and beach were very productive.
      Highlights were Western and Eared Grebes, Pelagic Cormorant, Northern
      Harrier, 14 Snowy Plovers on the beach, 4 Royal Terns** and Savannah
      Sparrow. In the afternoon we paid an interesting visit to La Purisima
      Mission State Park.Birds there were of common varieties. We spent the night
      at the Days Inn, Buellton. We made a
      visit to Solvang (the Danish town), where we had our evening meal. It's a
      pretty place, though perhaps somewhat out of place in Southern California, I

      Saturday 10th

      Not being far from Zaca Station Road, we headed there after checking out of
      our motel, since it had been reliable for Lewis's Woodpecker (one of my
      'bogey' birds) in recent years. We spent a short time there and found no
      woodpeckers apart from Acorn - there were plenty of Western Bluebirds and
      Yellow-billed Magpies though. We made our way back towards the coast, where
      we stopped off at Refugio State Beach (where a Lewis's Woodpecker had
      recently been reported). There was nothing out of the ordinary here, apart
      from a flock of 43 Willets.

      Late morning we stopped at Santa Barbara, where we explored the area around
      Chase Palm Park and Stearns Wharf (where we had good fish and chips!). The
      pools behind the beach were good -
      among other birds they held a Horned Grebe*, Snowy Egret, Least and Western
      Sandpipers and 7 species of gull, including two Thayer's. On the beach there
      were two Willets, one of which had coloured bands on its legs (red and
      yellow on the left and blue on the right). I've learnt since that this bird
      banded at Lake Abert, Oregon, in 1997 and has subsequently been seen at
      Santa Barbara each year since. If you're in the area, look out for it! We
      finished off the day at Andree Clark Bird Refuge. It was pretty quiet there
      but there was a Black-crowned Night Heron and the first Common Yellowthroats
      of the trip. We spent the next two nights at the Vagabond Inn, Ventura.

      Sunday 11th

      This was the day for our trip to Santa Cruz Island. Unfortunately the day
      started off wet. On the crossing seabird activity was low - the only notable
      birds were two Cassin's Auklets near the island. It was dry by the time we
      reached the island but it rained several times during the morning, once
      heavily for about 30 minutes,as we were returning from a hike to Cavern
      Point with a Ranger. There was no shelter and I was thinking "What happens
      if it stays like this for the next six hours?" Luckily it got better. As we
      were sheltering just under trees just below the Ranger Station, with two
      Alaskan birders, Larry and Connie, we hear Scrub Jay-like calls and
      went out into the open as the rain eased. After a few minutes we saw a very
      bedraggled Island Scrub

      We walked past the Eucalyptus grove, where we had good views of Allen's
      Hummingbirds**, which seemed plentiful. As we were passing a pepper tree, I
      stopped to look at some birds flitting around in it and discovered a
      Northern Parula, a lifer for Larry and Connie. After lunch, we decided to
      hike to the
      beginning of the canyon for another look at Scrub Jays. On the way, we found
      several Say's Phoebes, 2 Loggerhead Shrikes, lots of Purple Finches and a
      Rufous-crowned Sparrow. We had no luck with Scrub Jays so decided to return
      to the jetty. When we got back to the area where we saw a single Scrub Jay
      in the morning, we found three birds, which gave better views! A marauding
      Sharp-shinned Hawk more or less finished off the birding day.

      Monday 12th

      We had a long drive to Ridgecrest but decided to stop on the way at the sod
      farms south of Oxnard. We went the length of Arnold Road but found only
      large flocks of Dunlins and American Pipits. We tried Casper Road but turned
      back after half a mile since the fields didn't look too promising. If only I
      had known at the time that a Mountain Plover had been seen in a field at the
      end of the road at the weekend! We saw little en route - the only bird of
      note was a White-tailed Kite near Lancaster. We spent the night at the
      Econolodge, Ridgecrest.

      Tuesday 13th

      In the morning we drove over the Panamints to Death Valley. At Stovepipe
      Wells Village and the Furnace Creek Visitor Center there were plenty of
      Common Ravens and Great-tailed Grackles. We had our lunch at the Visitor
      Center, where we were joined by a very tame Greater Roadrunner! Here we also
      saw a quite tame Coyote, walking along the road to the airport. We spent the
      afternoon at spots such as Zabriskie Point and Dante's Peak, seeing few
      birds apart from Ravens. Their numbers show how they have become a problem
      for some other wildlife (such as Desert Tortoise). We spent the night at
      Stovepipe Wells Village.

      Wednesday 14th

      In between enjoying the scenery, we paid a visit to Furnace Creek Ranch. I
      was hoping to find Ruddy Ground Doves, which had been reported there in
      October. We tried the area around the building with a white fence, behind
      the Post Office, where they had been seen. We found 10 Inca Doves but no
      other doves. As we moved along the date palms, I noticed a medium-sized dark
      bird fluttering around between the palms. A quick look through the
      binoculars confirmed my hunch - Lewis's Woodpecker**, at last! I counted at
      least 12 among the date palms; I suspect there were more around the Ranch. A
      brief commotion in the tops of the palms drew our attention - a Prairie
      Falcon** had snatched a Blackbird or Grackle and was carrying it off! We
      also saw a Northern Harrier flying out of a palm. We checked out the stables
      and found a Yellow-headed Blackbird among the Red-winged and Brewer's
      Blackbirds. Other birds included Northern Flicker, Say's Phoebe and the
      usual White-crowned Sparrows.

      After returning home I learnt that 5 Ruddy Ground Doves were seen on
      November 22nd near motel unit 700. They were probably around when we visited
      but we just didn't have the time on a brief visit to cover all the ground.
      Never mind - it's all part of the fun and pain of birding!

      We spent the night at the Econolodge, Ridgecrest, again.

      Part 2 follows

      Robert Grimmond
      Kent, UK
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