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California Trip Report - October/November 2001 Part 2

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  • Robert Grimmond
    Thursday 15th Our destination was Taft in the Central Valley but we made a stop at Jawbone Canyon, not far from Ridgecrest. This gave us our first real
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 6, 2001
      Thursday 15th

      Our destination was Taft in the Central Valley but we made a stop at Jawbone
      Canyon, not far from Ridgecrest. This gave us our first real opportunity of
      Le Conte's Thrasher, one of the main targets of the trip. We called in at
      the BLM Visitor Center, where a chance conversation with the Ranger on duty
      led to us being shown a hibernating Desert Tortoise, all of 104 years old!
      We then spent the rest of the morning in the Canyon. I thought I saw a
      Thrasher sitting on a distant bush but by the time I got nearer it had
      disappeared. Birds were thin on the ground. We found just 3 Say's Phoebes, a
      Loggerhead Shrike, a Canyon Wren, 5 House Finches and the usual Ravens. It's
      not helped by the disturbance from off-road vehicles. We were intrigued to
      see one man ride his motorbike almost vertically up the side of a mountain,
      then freewheel down!

      After heading west into the Central Valley from CA58, we came across a
      somewhat surreal landscape of miles of flat, open, agricultural land with a
      foggy backdrop. It turned even stranger as we approached Maricopa when oil
      wells became increasingly more numerous. We stopped off briefly along
      Petroleum Club Road but found little apart from Western Meadowlarks. We
      spent the night at the Holland Inn, Taft.

      Friday 15th

      This was going to be my only real chance to find Le Conte's Thrasher so I
      got up early, leaving Kay in bed, and arrived at Petroleum Club Road (PCR)
      by 6.30 a.m. I tried a number of spots between Kerto and Cadet Roads,
      particularly where a tarmac road crosses PCR just north of the oil gusher
      memorial (as recommended to me by Bill Bouton). I heard a Thrasher singing
      but it
      could have been a California or Le Conte's. There were plenty of Sage
      Sparrow's ('canescens' race), some singing and at least 5 Loggerhead
      Shrikes. Other birds were California Quail, White-crowned Sparrow and
      Meadowlark (many singing). I gave up at 8.15 and headed back to the hotel.
      After checking out, we went back to PCR for one last try. We got there at
      9.15 and concentrated on the area around the tarmac road mentioned earlier.
      After following the tarmac road east from PCR for a bit, I noticed movement
      by a bush and saw two Le Conte's Thrashers** standing by it then running
      across the road into the brush - not to be seen again! Still, the views had
      been good, even though brief.

      We then crossed over to the Carrizo Plain, via CA58. Along the road we saw 2
      Golden Eagles and a couple of Mountain Bluebirds. We checked out the dirt
      fields along the beginning of Soda Valley Road but found little of note
      from Long-billed Curlews. Further down the road, inside the National
      Monument we found a large flock of Mountain Bluebirds that performed well
      along the roadside. Other birds included Say's Phoebe, Horned Lark,
      White-crowned and Sage Sparrows (common), a single Lark Sparrow and lots of
      Western Meadowlarks. Mammals included a Coyote.

      After leaving the plain, we headed west on CA58. At the junction with Pozo
      Road, we stopped to have a look for Lewis's Woodpeckers, without success
      (perhaps I was being greedy!). We did see another Prairie Falcon, perched on
      top of a telegraph pole until it was dislodged by an Acorn Woodpecker! We
      made a further stop at the junction of CA58 and CA229, mainly for a drink
      to check the map. As we were about to leave, Kay asked me whether it was a
      cat she had seen climbing up the bank. I took a quick look through the
      binoculars and replied "Bobcat!" It walked casually up the hillside, giving
      us just a glance and ambled into the chaparral. Definitely one of the mammal
      highlights of the trip.

      We spent the night at the Super 8, San Luis Obispo.

      Saturday 17th

      We had intended to check out some of the coastal spots to the west of Arroyo
      Grande. In the Shell Beach area, we stopped briefly at Margo Dodd Park.
      Apart from lots of Brown Pelicans, Brandt's Cormorant and Black
      Oystercatcher, it produced our only Caspian Tern of the trip.

      Since it was cool and a bit foggy, we decided to try a bit further up the
      coast so went to Montana de Oro State Park, just south of Morro Bay. This
      proved to be a good decision since the sun was out (but not for long!) and
      the scenery was good. We did the walk along the bluffs, just southwest of
      park headquarters. The birding was pretty good. There were lots of Pacific,
      Common and Red-throated Loons moving in flocks offshore, a Black-vented
      Shearwater** close inshore, Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorants, 40+ Brants
      flying south, Black Oystercatcher, Black Turnstone, 1 Elegant Tern, Belted
      Kingfisher, Says' Phoebe, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wrentit, Common
      Yelllowthroat and Song Sparrow. A couple of Sea Otters were visible in the
      kelp bed.
      This looks to be a good spot that deserves more time than we could afford.

      In the afternoon we called in at Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, in the
      south-eastern corner of Morro Bay. Luckily the fog lifted a short time after
      we got there. The most noteworthy birds here were 7 American White Pelicans,
      1 Short-billed Dowitcher, 100+ Marbled Godwits and 6+ Forster's Terns.

      We spent the night at the Best Western, King City.

      Sunday 18th

      Before setting off on our travels, we hadn't been sure how best to use this
      day so we decided to visit the western part of Pinnacles National Monument.
      It was a good decision because we left the fog behind on the climb up,
      leaving a nice, sunny day. On CA146, the approach road, we had good views of
      an adult Golden Eagle. When we got there, White-throated Swifts were
      twittering over the Pinnacles. Other birds seen included Red-breasted
      Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Bushtit, Oak Titmouse (1 tame bird came near
      picnic tables), Wrentit, California Thrasher (two tame birds running between
      the picnic tables and then foraging on the open hillside under the trees!)
      and Spotted and California Towhees. The scenery was great.

      We spent the night at the Days Inn, Los Banos (good steaks at a steakhouse
      about a quarter mile west of the motel).

      Monday 19th

      The last big birding day of the trip. We started off at Merced National
      Wildlife Refuge, that we had previously visited in September 1999. We had a
      good list of species (41), with the last lifer of the trip, Ross's Goose**.
      Highlights were White-faced Ibis (16), Snow Goose*,
      Greater White-fronted Goose* (500+), White-tailed Kite, Northern Harrier
      (8+), Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, Sandhill Crane (63+, small fry
      when you consider the official count on the previous Thursday was 13, 784!),
      Black-necked Stilt, Long-billed Curlew, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser
      Yellowlegs (a few), Western and Least Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher,
      Tree Swallow (100+), Savannah and Song Sparrows.

      When we headed west towards San Luis Refuge, we saw a number of mixed
      Blackbird flocks along Henry Miller Road. Here we saw our only Tricolored
      Blackbirds of the trip. San Luis was disappointing (as we had found it in
      September 1999) but we did see a few more Sandhill Cranes and there were
      even more Harriers here than at Merced. A new wildfowl species for the trip
      was Cinnamon Teal. Afterwards, we saw 6 Cattle Egrets along CA140 at its
      junction with Edminster Road.

      We returned to Clayton for the night.

      Tuesday 20th

      We took our car back to Concord airport and took the BART into San Francisco
      for the day. We went to the western part of Golden Gate Park. The problem
      here is that we spent a fair bit of time looking for somewhere to have lunch
      so we didn't make the best of our time. We briefly visited most of the lakes
      in the western part. New birds for the trip were Ring-necked Duck, Brown
      Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing (one of which was taken by an
      accipiter) and Townsend's Warbler. There was a good selection of gulls on
      the main lakes.

      Thursday 22nd

      Another hike up Donner canyon produced a few new birds for the trip - Hairy
      Woodpecker, Hutton's Vireo and Lincoln's Sparrow. Other good birds included
      Golden Eagle, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Hermit Thrush,
      Wrentit (3 obliging birds together) and California Thrasher. In the late
      afternoon we went out with the family to have Thanksgiving Dinner with
      friends of theirs. It gave us a our first taste of pumpkin pie!

      Friday 23rd

      A full family excursion to the San Mateo cast led us San Gregorio State
      Park, south of Half Moon Bay. The usual coastal birds were here - Brown
      Pelican, Surf Scoter, Heermann's, Mew, Western, Herring, California and
      Glaucous-winged Gulls.

      Saturday 24th

      I made a brief visit to Donner Canyon in the afternoon, between rain
      showers. The only bird out of the ordinary was a Northern Harrier, the first
      I had seen at this site.

      Sunday 25th

      Farewell to California and our flight home.

      In all we recorded 171 species. This was pretty satisfactory since we
      had mainly concentrated on target birding. We made no attempt for higher
      altitude species, for example. I added 12 lifers, 9 new species for the ABA
      and 27 to my California list (now 237). The only disappointments were
      missing out on Mountain Plover, Ruddy Ground Dove and Varied Thrush. In
      hindsight I would perhaps have chosen a less tight schedule. It meant we
      spent a fair bit of time travelling, so birding opportunities were sometimes

      I'll produce a detailed trip report for publication on the Internet in due

      I'd like to thank again all the California birders who provided me with
      useful information. I'd also like to compliment Brad Schram on his ABA
      guide - the maps and directions really are good (not always the case in some

      We can't wait to return!



      Robert Grimmond
      Kent, UK
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