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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

California, 2024 (3 Viewers)

25 January 2024

Today it was up the coast in southern San Mateo County and northern Santa Cruz County on California Highway 1, the highway that runs along most of the California coast. I stopped first at the Whale City Bakery in Davenport for a breakfast pastry. I have had many fine pastries here previously, but the bear-claw today had been left in the oven just a bit too long; it was dry and the almond slivers over-toasted. It was a good large size, but at $7, I expected better. Pescadero State Beach was where I began birding. My main target here was Wandering Tattaler. The tide was high and the surf was high and I really did not have a lot of hope that I would locate it. Despite what you might think from the name, in winter they are actually very quiet birds. They are usually solitary, so you can’t locate a mixed flock and then have a good chance of locating the bird within it. Sometimes you do get lucky, however. At my first stop I parked facing the ocean and a rock that had a few gulls roosting on it. I got out the spotting scope. There were also Whimbrels, Black Oystercatchers, Black Turnstones, Surfbirds, and lower down, away from all the other birds, a Wandering Tattler. The ebird list may be found here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S159856670.

Sometimes you do not get lucky. Next on my agenda was a Red-naped Sapsucker that has been up Stage Road, a couple miles north of the town of Pescadero. I knew the site from years past (an Eastern Phoebe wintered here for several years), but today I could not find any sapsuckers, or even any fresh-looking sapsucker workings. After about an hour I left, went back to Highway 1, and headed south. A note for anyone who should find him- or herself in Pescadero at meal time: Duarte’s Tavern there is a very fine restaurant and well worth trying. Today I had brought my own lunch and passed it by. My ebird list for Stage Road is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S159857308.

Heading back south, I saw some gulls on the beach at Gazos Creek State Beach and stopped for a quick look. Nothing unexpected will be found on this ebird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S159857430.

Swanton Berry Farm has a small pond and welcomes visitors. They sell a few baked goods and sweets in a little shop; I recommend the blackberry truffle. The pond attracts some waterbirds, nearby shrubs and fields attract some sparrows and blackbirds, and the whole area can be good for raptors. Today the pond was nearly empty with just a few Mallards and Ruddy Ducks. Most winters there are dozens of Ring-necked Ducks and often others here. There was a flock of White-crowned Sparrows, but otherwise, sparrow-wise, only a single Song Sparrow. I had seen about a dozen Red-tailed Hawks driving up the coast this morning, so I was not surprised to see four here. There were a similar number of Northern Harriers, an American Kestrel, and a White-tailed Kite. I have been to several places this month where I expected to see kites, so I was happy to finally find one. Some bare trees held a few Purple Finches, another new species. The ebird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S159857874.

Nearby is a little cove called Davenport Landing. It seems to get little coverage by local birders, though it has characteristics that would seem likely to bring in some rare birds: a tangle of willows and other trees along a small stream, right on the coast. Today it brought in windsurfers. I don’t know if the windsurfers were the cause, but there were not many birds on the ocean. The trees and shrubs did hold a few birds, including more Purple Finches and a Palm Warbler. My ebird list may be found at this address: https://ebird.org/checklist/S159858650.

I continued south to Santa Cruz, where I took care of a couple errands, had dinner, and went to a meeting of the Santa Cruz Bird Club. The dinner was a fish taco plate ($9) at Los Primos Taqueria. It was okay, but I think primo is more of a goal than a reality there. The meeting was a slide show by Norm Kikuchi on the Birds of Alaska. If you were looking for cutting-edge science or the minutia of bird identification, this was not the talk for you. Norm is a terrific photographer, however, and if you are looking for great photos of birds and fun anecdotes, then this was the place to be. I enjoyed it very much.

So there were three new species today, Wandering Tattler, White-tailed Kite, and Purple Finch, and the total is up to 200. It would seem I am half way to my goal of 400 birds for the year, and it is still January. It will get harder from here on, however. It will require some longer trips and some luck to get to 400.
 

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27 January 2024

When I saw, a few days prior, that a Chestnut-sided Warber had been found at Mitchel Park in Palo Alto, I had to go look for it. This was the neighborhood where I grew up. I went to picnics and parties in the park, played tennis and football there with my friends (neither with any great proficiency), and rode my bike through it twice every day of junior high school. It is a city park with grass fields, children’s playgrounds, picnic tables, and various ball courts. There are scattered trees, mostly nonnative, but little in the way of anything resembling a natural habitat. There is a stream that runs through one corner of it, but it is just a trickle of water in a concrete-lined channel. I am sure I saw other birds there in my youth, but the only ones I remember are the Brewer’s Blackbirds that would attack you if you went too close to the vine-covered trellis where they nested and, one evening, a Barn Owl that flew over. It is not the kind of place you expect to find a rare visitor from eastern North America.

I waited until Saturday to make the trip, seeking to avoid traffic. I made one stop before Palo Alto. Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve was directly on my route, and there had been recent reports of Red Crossbills there. In the autumn Red Crossbills were in many places in the region, but most seem to have departed. I strolled around the parking lot and adjacent area, but did not see or hear any crossbills. I did pick-up a Brown Creeper, an overdue species that I sometimes have in my garden. An ebird report is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160164836.

I arrived at Mitchel Park before 8:30 AM, but already the tennis and pickleball courts were full and coaches were setting out equipment for children’s soccer practice. The playground where the Chestnut-sided Warbler had been seen was new since I lived in the area, but easily located. There were four birders present, and they assured me that the bird was still there. In a few minutes I spotted it. It kept to the top of the tree it favored, and I could get only poor photos, but it was easily recognizable. The lime green back of this species is unique among American birds. Young birds lack the chestnut colored sides that are found in adults; oddly this individual had chestnut on the left side but not the right. I am guessing it was a young bird starting to molt into its adult plumage. There were other birds in the area that were more cooperative in allowing me to take their pictures, including Yellow-rumped Warblers and Western Bluebirds. The full list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160164996. Regrettably, Rick’s Ice Cream, a few blocks away, was not open by the time I left. I particularly recommend their Computer Chip ice cream – rich chocolate with orange candy chips.

I went on to the Palo Alto Baylands, made a quick check of the tides, then went to the adjacent Byxbee Park. I saw little there and made no list. After the visit to Byxbee the tide was setting up well at the Palo Alto Duck Pond. Since they stopped people from feeding ducks here several years ago, there are many fewer waterfowl then there were previously. The slough behind the Duck Pond can be a good place for shorebirds, however. It is connected to San Francisco Bay by some culverts under a road, which slows the tidal flow there. After a high tide has covered the mudflats on the bay shore, they are still exposed here for a period and the birds come in to feed and roost. This is the place and these are the conditions when the Curlew Sandpiper has most often been found. It had not been reported anywhere since the first of the year, but I still wanted to have a good search for it. I had a good search. There were lots of birds, but no Curlew Sandpiper. I took many photos of American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Long-billed Dowitchers, and others, and had a good time anyway. I was a bad data recorder and did not count bird numbers, but a list of the species seen is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160165209.

Then there was the question of where to go next. Lewis’s Woodpecker is a species that is always around in the region in winter, but is rare enough that it usually requires an effort to see one. The only one I knew of in the area this winter was on the east side of San Jose. It was further than I would prefer to go for a single bird, but I decided to try for it anyway. It took about a half hour to get there, but once I arrived the bird was quickly found. It is an unusual woodpecker: black with a gloss of green on the back, a gray breast, and a belly that is a unique shade of pink. This one stayed in the tops of trees and telephone poles, making it easy to see but hard to photograph. As I was watching it fly from tree to pole, I saw something much higher in the sky. It was a Golden Eagle. The location is close to the hills east of San Jose where some eagles breed and more spend the winter, and it was near the open areas of an abandoned golf course and a large park, so this was not a total surprise. I was still pleased to see it. Ebird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160165300.

Heading more-or-less back in the direction of home, I detoured to some parks in the southwest of San Jose. T.J. Martin Park is a bit of an oddity, laid out under the right-of-way for some very large power lines. The turf there seems to be mowed only occasionally; consequently the fields are very weedy. Every winter a small flock of Chipping Sparrows finds this attractive when no place else in the area appeals to them. I should have lots of chances to see them again later in the year, but I they were easy to get and close to another bird that is not as easy. Ate my lunch, saw the sparrows. That other bird was a Phainopepla. One was wintering at Guadalupe Oak Grove Park, which is connected to T.J. Martin. I heard the distinctive call of the Phainopepla as soon as I opened my car door. It turned out to be another bird determined to stay in the tops of the trees. This had become a sort of theme for the day. Phainopeplas do eat other berries and some insects, but the are specialists on mistletoe berries. I am not sure if there is a connection here with the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas, but mistletoes are parasites that grow on the branches of large trees. Similar to the Mistletoe Bird of Australia, Phainopeplas eat the mistletoe berries, then poop out the sticky seeds on tree branches. The seeds can then germinate and infect a new host. The bird and the mistletoe both benefit, the trees not so much. The bird here was a male: glossy black, slender, a tall crest, and a red eye. And there was a bonus bird here too. A White-breasted Nuthatch wandered by. It is another species I should see plenty more of, but it was still nice to get it on the year list. T.J. Martin checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160165412. Guadalupe Oak Grove checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160165462.

I stopped again at Bear Creek Redwoods on the way home, but no joy there.

So, seven new species: Golden Eagle, Lewis’s Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Phainopepla, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Chipping Sparrow, bringing the total to 207.
 

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30 January 2024

I made just a brief outing up the coast this afternoon. I was not in search of any particular species, but having puttered around the house the last two days, and with the prediction of a significant storm bringing rain for the next several days, I wanted to do at least a bit of birding. I stopped several places along Hwy. 1 and scanned the sea and shore, but did not find anything new or unusual. The only ebird list I made was for Gazos Creek State Beach. There were a good number of gulls, but all ones to be expected in this area at this time. The list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160240864.

No new photos today, so I will add an old one. Most of the people vacationing in the area in the next several days, rather than watching birds, will be watching golf at the AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. In honor of the tournament I offer this photo. It was taken from right by the tee at the 18th hole at Pebble Beach in 2019, a day or two after that year’s tournament. The light was lousy, but it is the best photo I have yet to get of our three local cormorants together. From left to right they are Brandt’s, Pelagic, Brandt’s, and Double-crested Cormorants. I think the gulls are all Western Gull.
 

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3 February 2024

I went out today to do some birding before the anticipated big storm coming over the next few days. I went first to Natural Bridges State Beach, where a Tennessee Warbler was seen yesterday. I found lots of birds in the area, but all ones that I have seen previously this year – no Tennessee Warbler. I went next to the nearby UC Santa Cruz Coastal Sciences Campus. Terrace Point there has a view over the north end of Monterey Bay and I hoped the storms of the last few days might have blown in some interesting birds. It was not so, so far as I could see. I did run into my friend Jenny there. I have been trying to get in touch with her and had sent her an email explaining I had lost her phone number. She asked about that, and I told her it had been in a notebook I lost. She asked where, and I told her, “Foster City”. She said someone had called her from there about it, but she could not think whose it might be and the person left it on the sea wall there. Oh well. An ebird report for Natural Bridges is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160590228, and for Terrace Point here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160589616.

Recent reports on the local rare birds listserver have made me realize that I have not actually seen all the local waterfowl; I had forgotten about Brant. If you are on the coast here on a day when they are migrating through you may see hundreds of them, but this goose is rare as a wintering bird in the region. There are usually a few about, but scattered; there is no place that is reliable for them every winter. One has recently been reported on the Santa Cruz County coast in the last few days. I went, I looked, I did not find. Ebird reports: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160589758, https://ebird.org/checklist/S160589881.

I finished my birding at bluff overlooking the San Lorenzo River mouth in the city of Santa Cruz. There is a gull roost on the beach there. I tried, with little success, to take some photos of gulls in flight, but did not keep count of the birds or complete a checklist.

No new birds today, the total remains at 207.
 

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I am having trouble downloading photos from my camera, so I will post this without any. I will try to post the photos from these dates at a later date.

5 February 2024

I went down to Santa Cruz again this morning, visiting the wharf and stops along West Cliff Drive. Yesterday there was a big storm with strong winds form the south, and I had hoped it might have blown in some seabirds from Monterey Bay, maybe an Ancient Murrelet or Black-legged Kittiwake, or even something more rare. I have done this several times over the years, and I rarely see much of anything. This time it was the same. You might think I would learn. The only thing a bit odd was a small flock of Cackling Geese flying over the wharf. An ebird list for the wharf is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160906221.


6 February 2024

Half Moon Bay was the destination today. There were two particular target species: Swamp Sparrow and Northern Gannet. There seem to be fewer Swamp Sparrows than usual this winter, but people have been having success with one near HMB. The real prize there, however, is Morris. Morris gets his name from the genus name for gannets (Morus) and he is the only Northern Gannet ever known to have visited the North Pacific. (There are two records from the South Pacific, but these do not give any details to distinguish the birds seen from Southern Hemisphere species that are quite similar, so Morris may be the only Northern Gannet ever in the whole Pacific Ocean.) He showed up in 2012 (first recorded by the wonderful wildlife artist and author Sophie Webb) and has hung around the San Francisco area ever since. Speculation is that he may have crossed the Arctic Ocean from the North Atlantic during a summer when there was an ice-free passage, then headed south. Most of his time over the last 12 years has been spent around the Farallon Islands, which are about 30 miles (50 km) west of San Francisco and home to one of the world’s great seabird colonies. Apparently lonely, desperate Morris has tried displaying to various birds there during the breeding season, but, as none is at all closely related to him, he has not received any favorable response. Half Moon Bay is one of his alternate hangouts. He has been there recently; I was hoping he would be there again.

There were a few stops on the way. South of Waddell Creek Beach are some bluffs that overlook the beach and ocean. It can be a good place to see Marbled Murrelets, but today was not one of those days. An ebird report can be found here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160906324. I also stopped again a Gazos Creek Beach, to have a look at the gulls. There was a little flock there, containing mostly California Gulls, but nothing unusual. The ebird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160906927.

Next was the Half Moon Bay Water Treatment Plant, or more properly, the Sewer Authority Mid-Coastside. In a little marshy area just outside the gates a Swamp Sparrow has been reported several times this fall and winter. It took a bit of patience, but eventually it hopped out of the thick marsh growth and onto a bit of grassy shore. It poked around there for a few minutes before disappearing again. Ebird: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160906660.

Princeton Harbor is protected by a series of jetties at the north end of Half Moon Bay. Johnson Pier sticks out into the harbor, and it is on a jetty straight out from the pier that Morris likes to roost when he is in the area. Walking out on the pier I stopped to photograph some cooperative birds in the water alongside. It was while taking pictures of a Common Loon that my camera ran out of power. Electricity had been out at my house since the storm on the 4th, and I had not had a chance to recharge it. So I did not get any photos of Morris, though he was right there, right where advertised. I had a good look at him, wished him the best, and went on my way. Which was to lunch at Sam’s Chowder House. I had the “Connecticut style” lobster roll, which came only with potato chips (that’s crisps to the British), and cost over $30. It was not worth it. Even Morris might have rejected it. Dry, chewy, little flavor. Johnson Pier ebird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160906927.

Gulls often gather to bath and roost where creeks enter the ocean. I visited two more of these sites at Half Moon Bay. The first was at Denniston Creek Mouth, where there was a flock of fewer than 100. It did not take long to determine that they were all common species. The ebird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160986012. The second site was at Venice State Beach where both Frenchman’s Creek and Pilarcitos Creek enter the bay near one another. This site has hosted a good number of rare gulls over the years. I estimated the flock here today at a rather daunting 3000 gulls. The great majority of these were big gulls with white heads and pink feet. It was a confusing mix. There seemed to be about equal numbers of Western and Glaucous-winged Gulls. These two species commonly hybridize where their breeding ranges overlap in the Pacific Northwest, and there were many of these hybrids (known as “Olympic Gulls”) here too. Further north Glaucous-winged Gulls hybridize with Herring Gulls, and there were a few of these hybrids as well, along with some pure Herring Gulls. There were also Thayer’s Gulls, which used to be considered a variety of Herring Gull, then were considered their own species, and now are classified as a subspecies of Iceland Gull. A few California Gulls stood around the edges of the flock, easily picked-out by their greenish feet. It took some searching through all these to determine that there were not any small gulls present, common or rare, and that if there were any rare large gulls, they were being very discrete. Gulls, gulls, gulls: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160907100.

I finished my birding day at Skylawn Cemetery, in the hills above Half Moon Bay. I had never been there before. I turned out to be huge. It is a location that has often had crossbills present when they were absent elsewhere in the region, but on this afternoon there were few birds at all and no crossbills. Ebird: https://ebird.org/checklist/S160907293.

But then: on the drive home a small hawk chased a California Towhee out of a tree and into a blackberry bramble – my first Sharp-shinned Hawk of the year.

Three new species today, Northern Gannet, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Swamp Sparrow, and I am up to 210 for the year.
 
Here are some photos from 6 February.
 

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7 February 2024

The northwest corner of California holds several resident bird species that are found at best only sparingly elsewhere in the state. These include Ruffed Grouse, Barred Owl, Canada Jay, and Black-capped Chickadee. There are also wintering birds associated with the ocean and its shore that are more common here than elsewhere, such as Rock Sandpiper. There has also been a remarkable number of vagrants from points east of California that have settled in there this winter. Today I looked at the weather forecast for northern-most California, and considered that my power at home was still out and likely to remain so for at least two more days, and concluded that it might be an opportune time to head north for a few days. First I did something I have never done before; I called a professional guide to see if he would be available to help me try to find some birds. He would be, and that cinched it. I packed up and headed out. Starting a bit after mid-day, it was early enough to get to and through San Francisco before the worst afternoon traffic. Traffic was not moving at the speed limit all the way, but there were no serious slowdowns. I went up US 101 as far as Ukiah before finding a hotel for the night. That hotel was the SureStay Hotel by Best Western; $80 for a clean, spacious, comfortable room with good Wi-Fi and t.v. channel selection. Dinner was take-out from Kentucky Fried Chicken.
 
8 February 2024

After an average hotel breakfast at the SureStay, I drove north to Eureka in Humboldt County. I bought a takeout sandwich at a sandwich shop (it was nothing special) and started looking for birds. I stopped first at Tuluwat Island, in Arcata Bay. A Red-necked Grebe off the south end of the island was nice to see, but there was nothing else that caused me to pause. I then made my way to Bay School Road, where a Bar-tailed Godwit had been reported associating with a large flock of Marbled Godwits. The habitat here is wet pastureland. There is a great deal of this sort of habitat in the area. I found the Marbled Godwits, along with lots of Long-billed Curlews, Whimbrels, and a few other shorebirds, but no godwit of the Bar-tailed sort. There were a variety of songbirds too, including lots of European Starlings and American Robins. A Black-capped Chickadee would be my only new species for the day. This is near the southern end of its distribution in western North America, and it was one of the species I came here to find, so it was a start. An ebird checklist is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S161181304.

I tuned back southward for a bit and went down the peninsula that divides Arcata Bay from the Pacific Ocean. I stopped at a couple spots along the way, finding two more Red-necked Grebes at different spots. At the end of the peninsula is a jetty that borders the passage that connects Arcata and Humboldt Bays to the ocean. The jetty has often been the winter home of Rock Sandpipers, a species rare further south. At the bay end of the jetty I found a flock of Black Turnstones, Surfbirds, and Least Sandpipers on the rocks. I wanted to walk out on the jetty to look for more birds, including, I hoped, the Rock Sandpiper, but the rocks were wickedly slick with algae. I carefully shuffled along for perhaps 50 meters, but decided it was too treacherous to continue and shuffled slowly back. I never did find the Rock Sandpiper. Ebird at: https://ebird.org/checklist/S161181383.

I had heard that Sue-meg State Park, north of Arcata, might be a good place to find Canada Jay, so I went there next. It is a beautiful park, but on what had become a rather cold afternoon, I saw few birds at all and no jays.

I checked into the Ramada Inn in Arcata - $105/night (you can probably find a better price online) for a large, clean, comfortable room with a good WIFI connection. The tv setup is weird. Turning it on you would appear to have a large selection of streaming services available, but the only one that actually connects is Directv. This would itself appear to have lots and lots of channels, but most of these are purely infomercials. There is a modest selection of channels you might actually want to watch. Dinner was at the Fiesta Grill and Cantina next to the hotel; I had a decent chicken mole and a beer for about $20.

One new species today, the Black-capped Chickadee, brings the total to 211.
 

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9 February 2024

After a slightly below average hotel breakfast at the Ramada, I spent this morning with a guide, Ken Burton. Ken is a terrific birder – he spotted a Palm Warbler before we even got out of the hotel parking lot – and was an excellent guide. I highly recommend him if you are looking for a guide in the area. I had asked him to come up with an itinerary that was likely to maximize the number of vagrants we could find in a morning, and I was not disappointed with the results.

Our first stop was at a bend in Mad River Road next to a dairy. Before we had stopped the car a Tropical Kingbird flew over the road. Almost as soon as we did stop Ken was on a Gray Flycatcher. This is one of the Empidonax flycatchers that looks very similar to other Empidonax flycatchers, but has the convenient habit of frequently dipping its tail, which none of the others do. First new bird for the day. A few minutes later and Ken located a Clay-colored Sparrow. This species breeds mainly in the Canadian prairie, but a few show-up in California in the autumn and some stay the winter here. I expect to see it again in the fall in Santa Cruz, but it is nice to get it on the list. Second new bird for the day. A moment later, next to the Clay-colored Sparrow, a Field Sparrow appeared. Field Sparrows are closely related to Clay-colored Sparrows, but breed in the eastern and central US and are much rarer in California. I am very happy to have it as the third new bird for the day; it is doubtful I will have a chance at another this year. Ken was happy to see a Lark Sparrow here, but they are more common further south and I had already seen a bunch. There was another Palm Warbler and more Black-capped Chickadees. A Merlin zipped by. Around the bend I found a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, another good bird for this area, but one that I had already seen. We spent a considerable period here hoping for a Dusky-capped Flycatcher that has been here. Dusky-caps breed in Arizona, New Mexico, and regions further south, and are rare visitors to California in fall and winter. Eventually we heard its distinctive call from back in the trees. That made it new bird #4, and another one I am not likely to see again this year. This area borders two ebird hotspots, so there are two ebird lists. These lists are shared by Ken and I. He recorded only the rarer species, I added the others. The photos are all his, much better than any of mine. List 1: https://ebird.org/checklist/S161061981, and list 2: https://ebird.org/checklist/S161062441.

We moved on to the intersection of Jackson Ranch Road and Polaris Road. The fields here have been home to five Pacific Golden-Plovers. We scanned the fields to the north for some time without finding the birds. Eventually I decided to have a look at the fields to the south. I completely overlooked the plovers among some American Robins, but fortunately Ken decided to have a glance in that direction too and he picked them out right away. New bird #5 is on list 3: https://ebird.org/checklist/S161062523.

Next it was back (for me) to the fields where the Bar-tailed Godwit has been seen. We saw the same birds as yesterday, still no Bar-tailed Godwit, and no new ebird list. Our next stop was at a dairy (there are a lot of them in this area) at the south end of Moxon Lane. The target here was a Blackburnian Warbler. We missed again. I may well have another chance at this middling common eastern vagrant in the fall. List 4: https://ebird.org/checklist/S161063304.

We spent most of an hour at yet another dairy, this one on what Google Maps calls both Jackson Ranch Road and Old Samoa Road, and birders call the west end of the “V St. Loop”. A Dickcissel has been here this winter. The classification of this species was long debated; current evidence puts it in with the cardinals and their kin. It breeds mainly on the North American prairies and winters in tropical grasslands in Central and South America. It is an irregular visitor to California, and the local bird is the only one known currently to be in the state. Usually it associates with a flock of House Sparrows, we were told. We surveyed all the sparrow flocks we could find, with and without House Sparrows, and all the areas without any sparrows we could get a view of, all without luck. There were many birds around, including a variety of the smaller sandpipers and a Peregrine Falcon that gave them a chase. Heading back to the car, Ken heard an odd cardinalish-like call. The bird popped up and into a blackberry tangle. A moment later it came out on the top of the brambles and gave us a chance to have a good look at it while it had a good look at us. It had probably been near the car the whole time. This made the sixth new species for the day. List 5: https://ebird.org/checklist/S161062705.

A Yellow-bellied Flycatcher has been spending the winter in a little riparian area behind a propane facility bordering an industrial area of Arcata. This is a species that breeds widely in eastern North America, but rarely winters anywhere in North America. The Arcata bird is the only one currently known on the continent north of Mexico and one of about 15 that have ever been seen in California. My hat is off to whomever figured out that it is a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher rather than the much more common and extremely similar Western Flycatcher. For once I saw the bird before Ken. It looks very like other Empidonax flycatchers, but Ken’s photos show the wing details that prove it to be the Yellow-bellied. My seventh new species for the day and the best of all. List 6: https://ebird.org/checklist/S161062953.

We had time for one more try before my time with Ken was up. An American Tree Sparrow had been reported back at the spot where we began the day. This would be another excellent find, but it was not to be for us. I returned Ken to his car and tried to decide where to bird in the afternoon. Three vagrant warblers have been fairly near each other in the city of Eureka, and I decided to look for them. No luck with any. The area was distinctly non-birdy, as you can see with list 7: https://ebird.org/checklist/S161063468.

Having forgone lunch I was quite hungry by dinner time and decided to stuff myself at the Oriental Buffet, which was near to my hotel. It was actually much better than I expected. I am sure real foodies would have found fault with many of the dishes, but I thought they were all fine. The food was fresh, well prepared, and there were lots of vegetarian, chicken, and seafood choices.

Seven new species today: Pacific Golden-Plover, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Gray Flycatcher, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Clay-colored Sparrow, Field Sparrow, and Dickcissel. The total is up to 218.
 

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10 February 2024

I had contracted with Ken for one morning and one evening/night of his help. Tonight we would go out owling, but during the day I was on my own. I had asked Ken about where to look for Canada Jays and he had also suggested Sue-meg State Park, specifically the Agate Campground early in the morning, when the jays might be checking out the campsites. An ebird report from the previous day was also encouraging. I went back there. Immediately upon opening the car door an abundance of Red Crossbills could be heard. For those who may not be familiar with them, crossbills specialize on conifer seeds. Different populations of Red Crossbills in North America specialize on different kinds of conifers, and have somewhat different bills adapted to extracting the seeds out of the different kinds of cones. The different populations also give somewhat different calls; there are 10 recognized call types in North America. I tried to get some recordings of the crossbills at Sue-meg; it will take further analysis to try determine which call type these birds were. Whichever type they may prove to be, the species was a new addition to my year list. There were many other birds around the parking lot, including another new one, Pacific Wren. The wren is a common species where I live, and it is overdue for the list. Very quickly I saw a Steller’s Jay, not the jay I was hoping for. Walking around the campground (which was mostly empty) I kept seeing more birds and eventually Ken’s advice turned out to be exactly right: there were three Canada Jays, checking out one of the campsites. One flew down to the picnic table as a woman was sitting on the bench, reminding me that my father used to call them camp robbers. I had another of the northern California specialties in the bag. An eBird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S161434544.

I went next to an ocean overlook near Wedding Rock in the park. Conditions were great for viewing, with bright sunlight from behind me. The eBird checklist from the previous day had reported about the same number of Surf and White-winged Scoters. As I have always seen many, many more Surf than White-winged, this was something I wanted to observe. I counted about 150 Surf and 100 White-winged, which is about 98 more White-winged Scoters than I can remember ever seeing before in one place. Neither or these was a new species for me, but there were also Black-legged Kittiwakes, which was a new year bird. There were various other gulls, some Red-throated Loons, and Western Grebes as well. There were some Common Murres down on the water. I started counting them. I did not realize how many there were when I started. By the time I finished, I had counted about 350. This was tedious, but if I had not been looking through them so closely I probably would have missed two much rarer birds: Marbled and Ancient Murrelets. Both were new year birds, and while there is a reasonably good chance I will see Marbled again this year, the Ancient was a particularly good find. Overlook eBird: https://ebird.org/checklist/S161435742.

Since I expected to miss dinner while out owling, I gorged again at Oriental Buffet. At $14 the lunch serving had the same food options as the dinner buffet for $5 less. It was also less busy, however, the food sat in the trays for longer, and was not as fresh.

Afterward I tried to chase down some Ruffed Grouse that had recently been reported on Maple Springs Road, inland from Arcata. The directions given did not seem to match-up with what I was seeing on the road, however. I encountered a birder who had seen the birds that morning and was going back to try to photograph them. He set me straight about the directions: the mileage marks in the directions referred not to the actual mile-posts put up by the county road department, but to some numbers painted on roadside trees. Okay. I thought it would be unfriendly to pump him for information and then go scare off the birds he wanted to photograph, so I retreated back to my hotel for some rest before the nighttime adventure. There would be another opportunity the next day.

I met Ken at 5:00 pm. It was still light, but our first target species, Short-eared Owl, often begins foraging as the daylight wanes. At the Short-eared Owl site there were some other birders already present, lured by the report of a shrike of unknown species in the area. The shrike was not refound, but they had already seen a Short-eared Owl and quickly pointed us to it. I ticked it off, and off we went into the hills. My most desired birds for the night were Spotted and Barred Owls. Spotted is an endangered species that has been of conservation concern for several decades. In the last decade or so one of the factors affecting Spotted Owl numbers has been the invasion of the closely related Barred Owls into their range. Barred Owls have been expanding their range from the east, probably helped by human induced land use changes. Where the Barred Owls have increased, Spotted Owls have declined. We heard one. Which of the two, we could not tell. In the far distance we could hear two notes of a call, but whether it was the first two notes of a Barred Owl call or the similar-sounding middle two notes of a Spotted Owl call, we were unable to distinguish. We would also hear a Western Screech-Owl and a Saw-whet Owl, which were new birds for the year, but, as both occur at or near by home in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I was less excited about them. I tallied a fifth owl for the night back at my hotel when a Great Horned Owl called from quite close by.

It was nine new species for the day (I am not counting the Barred/Spotted Owl, unless maybe I end up the year with 399 species): Western Screech-Owl, Saw-whet Owl, Short-eared Owl, Black-legged Kittiwake, Marbled Murrelet, Ancient Murrelet, Canada Jay, Pacific Wren, and Red Crossbill. The year total is 227.
 

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11 February 2024

I went back to look for the Ruffed Grouse this morning. I found what was clearly the right area, but did not find the birds despite hours of searching. I bought some supplies and went back to the hotel to watch the Superbowl. It did not come out as I had hoped.



12 February 2024

I could have spent another productive day or two in Humboldt County, but I needed to get back home to attend to some things. No troubles on the drive home. The power was back on.

It was a good trip. The weather was very fine the whole time, which is not what one would necessarily expect in that part of California at this time of year. (We like to talk about “sunny California”, but the truth is it can be gray and wet much of the time in parts of the state.) The birding was excellent, especially when facilitated by Ken Burton. The 17 new year birds included several I am unlikely to find again this year. A few birds were missed, but that is how birding goes.
 

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15 February 2024

It was down Highway 25 south of Hollister, in San Benito County, today. The first destination was La Gloria Road. This is about 23 miles (37 km) south of Hollister and 4.5 miles (7.2 km) north of the turn off to Pinnacles National Park. I think the only sign marking it now is one that points up it and says “Gonzales”, which is a town in the Salinas Valley – it is the only road for about 50 miles that traverses the hills between the two valleys. It is a gravel road with potholes, ruts, and washboard, but passable for any car. I drove the San Benito County portion of the road, a little less than 8 miles (13 km). There is generally dense chaparral on the north side of the road and a creek and oak woodland on the south side. There is some grassland in the upper part and a few small ponds. I was looking particularly for three species, Yellow-billed Magpie, Bell’s Sparrow, and Lawrence’s Goldfinch.

Noisy magpies were calling at my first stop, just 100 meters or so along the road. This species is confined to the valleys and coastal hills of California. Other than bill color, it is very similar to its cousin the widespread Black-billed Magpie. Bell’s Sparrows inhabit the chaparral here, but they were being very quiet today and I did not see or hear any. Perhaps my luck will be better with them later in the year when they start courting. I found a few Lawrence’s Goldfinches at a little pond about 1.6 miles (2.6 km) up the road, then a flock of about 35 at 5.3 miles (8.5 km). There was no problem with these birds being too quiet: their quick, scratchy, twittering songs filled the air. Lawrence’s Goldfinches inhabit a fair portion of California, mostly in the hills and particularly where fiddlehead flowers (Amsinckia) occur. They are irregular in occurrence, however, and can be hard to find. The flock of 35 here is one of the larger groups I have ever seen. These birds are little cuties. Their combination of gold, black, and gray is really attractive. I have seen them included in old books of cage birds, and it is easy to see why people might like to keep them. Happily, like almost all American birds, it is illegal to take them from the wild. I did not get any good photos of them, but I will include one anyway just because they look so sweet. La Gloria Road eBird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S161789487.

Pinnacles National Park was the next destination. If your idea of a national park is Yosemite or Yellowstone, Pinnacles might be a bit of a let-down. It is delightful in its own, more restrained way, however, with some nice rock formations and wildlife. There is access to the park from the east and from the west, but no drivable route from one side to the other. I was on the east side today, which is more developed with a visitor center and a campground. I had two target birds here: California Condor and Canyon Wren. I stopped first at the Visitor Center and scanned the sky over the ridge to the south. Condors can sometimes be seen there. I did not see any and went on to Moses Spring Parking Area, and walked up the Moses Spring Trail. I only went about 200 meters, stopping at a little opening that overlooks a rocky cliff. It did not take too long to hear a Canyon Wren. They have one of the most distinctive songs of any American bird, a series of clear ringing notes that descend in pitch and end with a single discordant “nayh”. I did not hear that today, but heard a series of harsh scolding notes, descending in pitch just like the song. Perhaps if I waited longer I might have heard the song or had a look at the bird, but I gave up after a half hour and went back to the Visitor Center to watch for condors. Moses Spring eBird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S161791037.

It took about an hour, but eventually two California Condors soared over. While waiting there were a Bald Eagle, a Red-tailed Hawk, and many Turkey Vultures in the air, and a variety of birds in the trees, to keep me interested. The condors, when they came, were quite distinctive among the other soaring species. They look to be all wing, with about eight fingers at the ends of those huge wings, and they have a very steady flight. They were too high to get any good photos. The condors here, as everywhere they occur, originate from a captive breeding program. The species was very nearly extinct in the 1980s when all the remaining wild birds were taken into captivity. At that point there were only 22 birds surviving. They breed very slowly, but since the 1990s some have been released back into the wild at several sites, including Pinnacles. The ones I saw today are two of fewer than 300 total in the wild. Some of them are breeding in the wild now, but barely enough to replace mortality in the best years. I am afraid it will take much more work over a long time before they are back to a self-sustaining population. Visitor Center eBird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S161791988.

Four new birds today: California Condor, Yellow-billed Magpie, Canyon Wren, and Lawrence’s Goldfinch, and the total is up to 231.
 

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16 February 2024

Most of my “Vacational Trip Reports” do involve at least day trips, but this one just pertains to a quick observation at home. While out in the garden I heard a Pileated Woodpecker. These were unknown in the Santa Cruz Mountains before the 1970s, but they have been slowly increasing in numbers since then. I get them occasionally. I saw one here shortly after I moved in and hoped they would be regulars, but that has not proved to be the case. It is always a treat when they do come by. This was the first one for the year, so it brings my total to 232.



18 February 2024

Today I went down to the west side of Santa Cruz. My first stop was on Meder Street. This is on a hillside, below the University of California at Santa Cruz main campus but above the main part of the city. It has mostly big houses on big lots. Along the street are a number of what are locally called pepper trees – I do not know another name for them, but they are not the source of the spice. It is an introduced species that must have a sweet sap, because they attract sapsuckers. This winter one of these is a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. This species breeds across the northern forests from the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada to Alaska. It winters mainly in the eastern U.S. and south to Central America, but occurs in low numbers in California. They can be difficult to distinguish from Red-naped Sapsuckers, which breed in the Rocky Mountains and also winter in low numbers in California, but the Meder Street bird is one of the easy ones. It is a juvenile, and juvenile Yellow-bellieds keep at least some of their juvenile plumage late into winter, long after juvenile Red-napeds have molted into their first adult plumage. Shortly after I arrived the bird kindly flew into one of the pepper trees where it had been reported and posed for a couple pictures. A few minutes later another sapsucker, this one a Red-breasted Sapsucker, appeared in a small fruit tree across the street. It did not stay long, but a few minutes after that another sapsucker was just down the street in a willow. A possible Red-naped x Red-breasted hybrid has been reported in the area, and I think this was that bird. Red-breasted Sapsuckers breed in the mountains of the Pacific states and British Columbia; their breeding range meets that of the Red-naped Sapsuckers in the Northwest, where they hybridize fairly commonly. The third bird was similar to the second, but had a bit more black in the face and a black band crossing the red of the breast.

I went down to Younger Lagoon. This is a research area on the UCSC Coastal Science Campus, which is in fact down on the coast. Younger Lagoon is closed to the public, unless you sign a promise not to disturb anything and get the gate code. I have done that. Today the only thing a bit odd was a Red-necked Grebe, which I usually see on the ocean, not on a small brackish lagoon. Next I took a stroll through Bethany Curve, a small park that stretches from the ocean inland for a few blocks. It often turns up rare birds in the fall, but today there were lots of people and dogs, out on a Sunday morning after a rainy Saturday, and few birds. The final stop for the day was at Neary Lagoon. I found only the expected birds here, except for a Red-throated Loon. This is a common species out on the ocean, but this one was on the grass behind some condos that border the lagoon. It looked like it might be trapped behind a fence, but later I saw it swimming in the lagoon and it looked to be alright. The expected birds here do include Wood Ducks, and everyone loves seeing them.

eBird checklists: Meder St. https://ebird.org/checklist/S162171496, Younger Lagoon https://ebird.org/checklist/S162171981, Bethany Curve https://ebird.org/checklist/S162172346, Neary Lagoon https://ebird.org/checklist/S162172756.

One new species today, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and the total is now 233.
 

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21 February 2024

Today I took another trip to the southern end of San Francisco Bay. I started at one of only two places I have ever encountered a Black Rail, hoping to encounter one again. The previous occasion I got there well before sunrise and I heard the rail calling in the pre-dawn gloom. (No one ever actually sees a Black Rail, and it is hard enough just to hear them.) I intended to arrive under similar conditions today, but spring must be coming. The sun was rising earlier than I expected, just as I arrived. I did not hear any Black Rails. I did hear Soras and Ridgway’s Rails, and even got a fairly good look at the later. The Ridgway’s was a new species for the year, so that was nice enough.

Next I went up the east side of the bay to Coyote Hills Regional Park in Alameda County. There has been an adult Glaucous Gull here. We get a few first-year Glaucous Gulls in the area each winter, and I manage to see one most years. Adults of the species are very rare in California, however, and I have never seen an adult here. I saw a lot of birds at Coyote Hills, (eBird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S162517692), but could not find a Glaucous Gull of any age. Some White-throated Swifts (not to be confused with the Silver-throated Taylor-Swift) flying over the hills did give me another new bird for the day.

A quick trip across the Dumbarton Bridge took me to Palo Alto again, where a Harris’s Sparrow had been discovered near the Baylands. Harris’s Sparrows breed in central arctic Canada, and it is a species that winter’s rarely in California. It is not one I expect to see most years. It took about an hour to get a couple brief looks at it. The bird seems to be quite faithful to a particular spot; the problem was that a feral cat had decided to go hunting right there, and it kept all of the sparrows away most of the time. The eBird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S162517789.

Just a bit further south, and I was at Shoreline Park in Mountain View. There is there a designated Kite Flying Area, and adjacent to it is a fenced-off Sensitive Species Area. The sensitive species is Burrowing Owl. When I was a kid we had them breeding in a field about a block away from our house, but the species has been declining for decades and many places are now trying to manage habitats to help rebuild their populations. One here was out of its burrow catching some sun, so I was able to add it to the year list. Even more cooperative was a Cooper’s Hawk, which allowed an unusually close approach. Another surprise here was a White-throated Sparrow. With the Harris’s Sparrow and the White- and Golden-crowned Sparrows I had seen at every stop, this meant I had all four North American Zonotrichia species for the day, which I do not recall ever having done before. eBird: https://ebird.org/checklist/S162517890.

At a little shopping center in Palo Alto, a Summer Tanager has been seen several times lately feeding in a particular tree. I might not have gone after a species I should have little trouble finding later in the year, but that particular shopping center is the home of Rick’s Ice Cream. I decided I could stop, have a dish of ice cream, and maybe I would see the bird. I did not see the bird, but the ice cream was worth it.

The last stop was at Cuesta Park in Mountain View. The target here was a Williamson’s Sapsucker. This is a species that breeds in the Sierra Nevada and should not be too much trouble to find there in the summer, but with one staked-out here, now, I made a visit. It took a little longer than I had hoped, but I did see the bird as advertised. Cuesta Park eBird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S162518010.

A good day. I had a new bird (Ridgway’s Rail, White-throated Swift, Burrowing Owl, Williamson’s Sapsucker, and Harris’s Sparrow) or ice cream at every stop, and the total is now 238.
 

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22 February 2024

I made visit today at Pleasure Point, in the Capitola area of Santa Cruz County. It was close to where I was doing some shopping, so I made a brief stop without any particular birds as targets. The most interesting birds turned out to be some Double-crested Cormorants, which are quite common, but these were roosting in a roadside tree and uncommonly oblivious to the people and dogs just a few meters below. This is a popular surfing spot with waves breaking consistently along what must be more than a mile of shoreline. There were at least 75 surfers out on this February day, some in close where the waves were small and some further out where the waves were larger. eBird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S162944302.

No new bird species today, the total remains 238.



24 February 2024

This is a bit of a slow period for my quest. I have seen almost all the species that can be readily found in the area. To find new species I would need to repeat trips I have already made, hoping to pick up species previously missed, or travel further to try for a few birds that may well be hard to find. A few migrants are starting to arrive from points further south (Allen’s Hummingbird, Northern Rough-winged Swallow), but these I should find with no particular effort.

The single Brant that seems to be in the Santa Cruz area this winter was reported yesterday at Younger Lagoon. It was not there this morning. This list will tell you what was: https://ebird.org/checklist/S162944751.

Afterwards I went to Pinto Lake in Watsonville. Though the lake is not very large, there are two parks associated with it: Pinto Lake City Park, run by the city of Watsonville, and Pinto Lake County Park, run by the county of Santa Cruz. I started at the city park. This is usually full of noisy Great-tailed Grackles, but today there were none. There were a couple of Scaly-breasted Munias. This species is has only become established in the area recently, from escaped cage-birds and perhaps birds dispersing from Southern California where there has been a feral population for some time. This is the most reliable place for them locally, and I was happy to add them to my list. The county park has more marshy habitat and I was expecting to find Common Gallinules and hoping to find an American Bittern there, but I found neither. I might have if I had put in more of an effort, but the park was crowded and I was tired. An eBird list for the city park: https://ebird.org/checklist/S162945352, and the county park: https://ebird.org/checklist/S162945729.

One new species, Scaly-breasted Munia, and I am up to 239.
 

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7 March 2024

Despite generally gloomy weather for most of the last several days, spring is advancing in Northern California. The Dark-eyed Juncos have been unleashing their full songs and attacking their reflections in car mirrors, the tom turkeys have been gobble-gobbling and strutting their stuff, the Ruby-crowned Kinglets have been rehearsing their arias and flashing their jewelry, and the early daffodils and flowering trees are already beginning to fade. With a couple of nice days forecast, I decided to make a quick dash to the Sacramento area in pursuit of a few birds. Even though there was only one species that I could be fairly sure of seeing, I had been feeling a bit cabin-feverish and really wanted to get out somewhere.

The bird that tipped the balance and convinced me to make the trip was an Emperor Goose. It was seen by many birders on March 1-3 at a place called Jersey Island. The goose is a rare visitor to California; I have only ever seen one in the state. I left home early enough to avoid the worst of the traffic, passing through San Jose and the hills east of the San Francisco Bay without problem. There was enough traffic that I could not stop when I passed a bird on top of a power pole that I am about 75% certain was a Rough-legged Hawk. Since that was one of the species I hoped to see on this trip, it was annoying to fail to confirm the identification. One comes down out of the hills before reaching Jersey Island. Jersey Island is in what Californians call the Delta. This is not the Delta of cottonfields and blues singers, it is a flat area of interlacing waterways, wetlands, windmills (modern ones generating electricity), and agriculture where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers flow together before entering the northeastern extension of San Francisco Bay. There were four birders out looking for the goose this morning, but none of us found it. There were thousands of other geese there – Greater White-fronted, Snow, and a few Ross’s Geese, but no Emperor. The search was complicated by there being, among the Snow Geese, several of the “blue” morph with white heads and dark bodies that looked a good deal like Emperor Geese. It took careful inspection to distinguish them for what they were. I did pick up a new year bird, a Caspian Tern that was surely a new arrival from the south. eBird link: https://ebird.org/checklist/S164272528.

Continuing myself in a more-or-less northerly direction, I stopped next at Flannery Road in Solano County. This is a place where Mountain Plovers have been seen this winter, though at this point it had been nearly a month since the last report of them there. In years past it has also been a good area for Rough-legged Hawk. I drove up and down the road, stopped and got out several times, and saw few birds overall and no Mountain Plovers or Rough-legged Hawks. An eBird checklist is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S164272797.

Ovenbirds are one of the less common of the eastern warblers that sometimes make it to California. It may be that they are not really so rare, but they are hard to find. They stay on the ground under the cover of leafy shrubs, and in winter are usually quiet and solitary. One has been spending this winter in a garden in a public park in Sacramento, and people seem to be having pretty good luck seeing it, so I went to have a try. The garden was rather busy with dog walkers, child walkers, and flower admirers. There were still a fair number of birds and a couple other birders. It took about an hour and a half, but I did finally get a brief look at the Ovenbird. It was a good enough look to be sure of the identification, but not good enough to get any photos. I decided the hour was late enough I should be looking for a hotel and did not try for a better view. eBird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S164272993.

The hotel I found was the Valley Oaks Inn in Woodland. The cost was $80 for the night, but I neglected the first rule of staying at a hotel without reservations and forgot to ask for discount. Almost always you can get $5-10 off if you just ask. The place was fine. It had no breakfast, workout room, or pool, but I did not miss any of those. Lack of a pool might count as a mark against it in the summer, when it can be quite hot here. The furniture was not new, but the room was clean, the bed was comfortable, and there was a good wifi connection. The tv was small and had a basic cable selection of channels.

The sun was still up, so I decided to try the other Mountain Plover location in the area, on Yolo County Road 45. It took me longer to get there than I had anticipated, and the sun was going behind the hills as I arrived. I did quickly find some Mountain Plovers though. They were to my west, so the light was not only dim, but what there was, was coming from directly behind the birds. It did not make good conditions for photography. But they were there and I could identify them, so they go on the list. And there was a bonus, a Ring-necked Pheasant called in the distance for another bird to mark down.

Four new species today: Ring-necked Pheasant, Mountain Plover, Caspian Tern, and Ovenbird, and the total stands at 243.
 

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