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SBT County: Park & Wire Birding

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  • Debi Shearwater
    Hi, Birders, Today I went birding for most of the day in my home county, San Benito. I visited Vista Hill Park in downtown Hollister and Panoche Valley, well
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 5, 2006
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      Hi, Birders,

      Today I went birding for most of the day in my home county, San Benito.
      I visited Vista Hill Park in downtown Hollister and Panoche Valley,
      well known to many birders. The highlights were many, but the best
      birds were a BREWER'S SPARROW and SAGE THRASHER on Panoche Road. Many
      details follow.

      Although rain was in the forecast, and indeed rain showers sprinkled
      the day, I had my heart set on going out to Panoche Valley today. I was
      not at all disappointed. The valley was a spectacle of billowy white
      clouds and rolling gold hills with purple-green mountains in the
      background. It was a feast for the eyes and soul of those who love wide
      open vistas. At every turn, some new and dramatic land would unfold
      before my eyes�from the juniper dotted Griswold Hills, to White-crowned
      Sparrows popping up in sunflower colored clumps along the roadside.
      Many birders are familiar with Panoche Valley and make a winter trek
      there in search of its special birds. But, I urge you to consider an
      October visit!

      First, though, I headed to Vista Hill Park in downtown Hollister. After
      birding there yesterday, I decided that with the cloudy weather
      migrants might make a show. They sure did! Only 2 of the 22
      RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS from yesterday were there. But, the bottlebrush
      trees were dripping with warblers, not to mention the 50-70
      hummingbirds! I tallied at least 30 warblers, and there could have been
      more. In some sort of ornamental conifer near the entrance to the park,
      I found a TOWNSEND'S X HERMIT WARBLER. (A first for me, and for the
      county, I think). In the pines near the restroom (which was locked
      during the time I was there), I found a male TOWNSEND'S WARBLER. The
      remainder of the tally was: 4 YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, 12 ORANGE-CROWNED
      WARBLERS, 10 YELLOW WARBLERS, 2 WILSON'S WARBLERS. I was at the park
      from 8-9am. I also saw 4 GREAT EGRETS fly over. BEWICK'S WREN and
      NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER, and 5 roosting TURKEY VULTURES were about.

      I made my usual loop through Santa Ana Valley to Quien Sabe Road, and
      south on Highway 25 to J1, or Panoche Road. Recorded the regulars:
      LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIE, SAVANNAH SPARROW, KESTREL,
      RED-TAILED HAWK, RAVEN, WESTERN MEADOWLARK. Two GOLDEN EAGLES were on
      the ground, hunting squirrels, one was on a fencepost, and another was
      on top of an oak tree. Stopped in at the Bolado Historical Park, but
      not much was happening there. Added COMMON YELLOWTHROAT.

      From Highway 25, J1, or Panoche Valley Road winds around the hills to
      the valley floor. Often, birding is very good along this route. But, my
      goal was to get to the valley proper. I only made a couple of stops.
      So, I'll just include the highlights. Two COOPER'S HAWKS were near MM
      19. By the day's end, I decided that these birds were really on the
      move. At MM 14, I encountered a flock of 90 LARK SPARROWS. This was
      great news! Sparrow flocks have formed. Now, I was "wire birding,"
      looking at any bird that was sitting on wire fences or telephone wires.
      Added another GOLDEN EAGLE on a telephone pole near MM 19.49, bringing
      my total to five so far. At the Summit Ranch pond, a GREATER
      YELLOWLEGS was present. Between MM 21.24 and 21.34, I found at least
      six RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROWS. (Okay, this was "rock birding, " as they
      all sat up on rocks. They were calling).

      Upon entering the McCullough ranch area (note the round, white signs),
      I found a PRAIRIE FALCON on a telephone pole. At MM 23.00, I found a
      mixed flock of SAVANNAH SPARROWS (10), HOUSE FINCHES (10), LARK
      SPARROWS (40). These mixed flocks hold the best potential for a weird
      bird. Another mixed flock was at MM 24.00, and held a VESPER SPARROW.
      Beyond the old McCullough walnut orchard (which has been bulldozed
      because the trees were diseased), was the largest flock yet. Near MM 25
      is red fencing on both sides of the road. It is here that I found a
      single BREWER'S SPARROW and a single CHIPPING SPARROW, and another
      VESPER SPARROW, with about 15 Savannahs, and more that 50 Lark
      Sparrows. I worked this flock for quite awhile. Tried to get some
      pictures of the Brewer's and Chipping, but not a lot of success. One
      HORNED LARK popped up on the fence down the road.

      Next, I drove the unsigned dirt road, which is Recalde Road. This is
      the only road that is cultivated with row crops in the valley. Two
      CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS were on the telephone wires near the dip. A few
      WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS were on this road. If you take this road, it
      will bring you out to Panoche Road again.

      From Panoche Road to the Silver Creek area was some good birding. I
      found another CASSIN'S KINGBIRD near the renovated ranch. A ROCK WREN
      popped up on the fence. Many, many more Savannah Sparrows. Do I look at
      a lot of Sivvy Sparrows? You bet. Looking through flocks and flocks of
      sparrows is very tedious, but it is really not unlike looking through
      flocks of storm-petrels! Passing the corrals at Silver Creek Ranch, the
      road turns to dirt. At the dip is a stream with great habitat. SONG
      SPARROW and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER were here.

      I decided to follow Panoche Road to Jackass Pass. (If you follow this
      road to its end, you will reach I-5). The dip is always good for birds,
      and sparrow flocks. So, I was still watching the fences, as I went up
      the hill. Just past the cottonwoods on your left, about 25 yards, a
      larger bird jumped up on the fence. SAGE THRASHER! It was 1:45 pm. I
      watched it, and tried for pictures, but no luck. Most of the Sage
      Thrashers found on the Panoche CBC are found in the BLM lands of
      Panoche Hills which are in Fresno County, not San Benito County. This
      thrasher was in San Benito County. I always thought I'd find a Sage
      Thrasher on this road. At the top, Jackass Pass, you will cross the
      county line to Fresno, again. I drove to the top, enjoyed magnificent
      scenery, turned around and headed back. On the drive back, I found
      another PRAIRIE FALCON. At 2:30 pm, I encountered the same sparrow
      flock near the cottonwoods, and refound the Sage Thrasher. This time I
      got good photos of it. It was standing on a perfectly round rock on the
      same side of the road as the cottonwoods. A flock of 500 blackbirds
      were along the fences on the way back. Most were TRI-COLORED
      BLACKBIRDS. I drove back to the intersection with New Idria Road.

      Heading out the New Idria Road, more mixed sparrow flocks were near the
      white mailbox #250 with two blue swimming pools for livestock. Another
      flock of 85 Lark Sparrows was at MM 2.73. These large flocks are where
      I found a Black-throated Sparrow a few years ago. I stopped to
      photograph a number of TARANTULAS. Another Cooper's Hawk circled
      overhead, making it hard for me to find any little birds. Found my FOF
      GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS mixed in with the White-crowns. Not very many,
      yet. Their numbers will increase later. Turned around at MM 6.0.

      On Norton Road, starting at the school, another mixed sparrow flock was
      along the fences. I refound the SAGE SPARROW of a few days ago, just
      past the dirt piles on your right. Usually, this sparrow does not sit
      on the wires. Look for a bird that runs on the ground, and scoots under
      the low scrubby vegetation. It did sit on the fence, briefly. It runs
      with its tail cocked, most of the time. Kind of a mini-roadrunner. One
      more sparrow for the day! Well, Norton Road dumps you on to Little
      Panoche Road. So, I just had to go out there to see if my Chukar
      friends were having tea.

      Drove Shotgun Pass, slowly, and�nothing! No Chukars for me. Stayed on
      the road, until I turned around at Mercy Hot Springs. Another Cooper's
      Hawk zipped through the hot springs. Snapped pics of another GOLDEN
      EAGLE, sitting on a fencepost at the county line. One more time through
      Shotgun Pass, and nothing! I couldn't believe it. Where were they? At
      the end of the pass, I saw a CALIFORNIA QUAIL! Couldn't believe it.
      This is not quail country. Never seen them in the pass. So, I stopped
      to look at them, and whoaaa�10 CHUKARS went scurrying up the hillside!
      This was at MM 4.12, where there's a bunch of orange signs saying
      "rough road."

      I shot a bunch of scenery images. The lighting was just awesome.
      Started for home at 5 pm. Got a little sidetracked by spending an hour
      talking to both of the McCullough brothers, aged 79 and 72. That's
      another story.

      It was a great day. I can't encourage folks enough to head out to the
      Panoche Valley. Temperatures were very nice. There's plenty of bird
      activity. Dirt roads are very drivable, unless we get a whole lot more
      rain. All of this was roadside birding. When wire birding, it is best
      to stay in your vehicle and don't pish. Just watch for birds popping
      up. They sure were today!

      Sparrows forever,
      Debi


      Debra Love Shearwater
      Shearwater Journeys
      www.shearwaterjourneys.com
      debi@...
      PO Box 190
      Hollister, CA 95024 USA
      831/637-8527

      "Real birds eat squid."�Tony Marr

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