Mendocino NF -- 07/08-10/11 (Part 1, 07/08)
- Greetings, CB'ers,
This weekend gave me the opportunity of birding eastern Mendocino County for the first time. With George Chaniot's excellent directions to the Mendocino National Forest (http://www.peregrineaudubon.org/spots.html#8), and numerous postings over the years, I was pretty well prepared to make a run at 200 Non-Introduced Birds for the county.
Friday, 08 July:
On the way north from the Bay Area, we made the obligatory stop at the Ukiah Water Treatment Plant. Turns out that George had been there about an hour before. While it was true that I needed a couple of duck species, and uncommon (for Mendo) shorebirds (e.g., Black-necked Stilt), it was the eastern fence that was our destination. While walking the berm between the central and north ponds, we flushed a female Wood Duck with two chicks, not a New County Bird, but a personal Mendo breeding record.
At the junction of the back (east) berm and the NE corner of the central pond, we saw our first, and least expected New County Bird -- a CHIPPING SPARROW. True, this species was on our target list, but up at 5000' in the Mendo NF (where we also saw it). What was this guy doing on the flats at this time of year?!? Anyway, we were able to watch him for 2-3 minutes as he (or she) foraged in the dry grasses along the side of the pond.
In quick succession, we got the two target species on our list for the Ukiah WTP: YELLOW WARBLER, and YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT -- numerous individuals of both. Sorting through the juvenile Tree Swallows, we spied a Northern Rough-Winged Swallow -- clearly larger than the Tree's, with more arc to the wings. Not a NCB, but the only one we would see on the weekend.
State Route 162, east from US-101, is a pretty delightful drive. A good portion of it is along two of the forks of the Eel River, named not for any eels in the river, but for the Pacific Lamprey -- a fish that looks like an eel. One of our target birds occasioned the first stop along the highway at the Dos Rios bridge. There are actually two bridges -- one on SR-162 just before Dos Rios Road, and the other on Dos Rios Road at the beginning of the small town (pop. 14) of Dos Rios. I wasn't sure which of the bridges to look for breeding White-throated Swifts, so chose the latter. Wrong! Two days later, on the way back, we more carefully read Chaniot's directions, and realized that if they were there, they would be found in the cloud of Cliff Swallows around the SR-162 bridge. But at the north end of the Dos Rios Rd bridge, we unexpectedly added WESTERN TANAGER, so it was worth it.
Continuing east on SR-162, we failed to read Chaniot's suggestion to stop at MM 20.33, where we might have seen the Swifts. On the way back, we did stop there, but more on that later.
We stopped at the NF ranger station on the north end of Covelo for a map. Sharon asked the ranger if there were any areas we should avoid -- she had read about heavily armed pot growers in the Mendo NF. The ranger opened the map, and pointed directly at the area we were heading to -- M1, Etsel Ridge, Bald Mt, etc. But then she said that the NF Service, DEA, Mendo Sheriffs, etc. had swept this area clean over the past two years, suggesting that we would probably have no trouble, and if we happened to run across black plastic piping, just turn around and walk the other way.
Regarding the NF map, it fails to show our final destination, Spruce Grove Campground. Curiously, however, the DeLorme California Map (page 46) does show it. We were to discover that the NF map had it right -- Spruce Grove doesn't rate a notation. So it's really curious to ponder why DeLorme shows it.
George advises you to set your trip odometer at zero when you reach the Eel River Campground. This is absolutely essential if you are following his great directions. Forest Road M1 climbs out of the Eel River drainage up to Etsel Ridge and beyond. From the base to the junction with M61 (designated M6 by George), the road is a dirt super highway -- speeds up to 40 mph are possible. Along this road, our progress was arrested by the song of NASHVILLE WARBLER, one of our targets which would later be seen along the road.
After the junction of M1/M61, the road deteriorates somewhat, and a couple of places require more than the minimal clearance of most passenger vehicles (we have a 4-wheel drive, so had no problem). The turn-off to Spruce Grove is well described, but unsigned. This short road to the Grove (0.7-mi) has deteriorated, and I wouldn't try it with a passenger car. The confusing thing to us was that when we reached the "campground", we were convinced that we were in the wrong place. No firerings. No flat areas that might have had a tent. No evidence that anyone had been there for a long time, which we knew wasn't the case for Spruce Grove Campground because of the annual postings on MendoBirds. So we retraced our steps back to the jct M1/M61, and tried again, carefully measuring the distance and reading the directions. Same conclusion. Oh well, even if it wasn't THE campground, it was lovely, and promised to have all of the expected birds. We set up camp. As we sat in our chairs, we immediately got TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE and MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE.
Our BIG target for this trip, and this specific location, was Flammulated Owl, which would be a lifer for both of us. Regrettably, our first night failed to provide one.
Museum of Vertebrate Zoology
University of California Berkeley
diomedea at berkeley dot edu