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

California, 2024 (2 Viewers)

8 March 2024

Wanting a better look at the Mountain Plovers, this morning I began back at Road 45. The sun was at my back and the birds were there, but they stayed far out in the field. There were looks, but no close views or decent photos. The short eBird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S164335456. On I went.

The next stop was Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. This is one of several similar refuges in the Central Valley of California, managed mainly for waterfowl. I did not expect to see anything there that I had not already seen, or could not see easily elsewhere, but having once seen a Falcated Duck at the refuge I had fond memories of the place. Maybe there was a Falcated Duck wintering there now - maybe a Garganey or a Smew. We will never know – except for a small area around the entrance it was closed due to flooding. I should have checked the website. I birded around the open area and did find a good variety of birds, including a Bald Eagle. At this link one can find an eBird list for the visit: https://ebird.org/checklist/S164337118.

The next site I went to was a place I had not been to previously. It was in the hills on the west side of the Sacramento Valley along Putah Creek, which forms the boundary between Yolo and Solano Counties. A Winter Wren has been there. Years ago we had lots of Winter Wrens in California, but then they decided that the western American birds differed from the eastern American birds and that both differed from the Eurasian Wren. Now we have lots of Pacific Wrens and very few Winter Wrens, which name is now reserved for the eastern-breeding birds. And we have the problem of distinguishing the few Winter Wrens that may wander our way from Pacific Wrens. There are some subtle plumage differences, but mostly it is a matter of recognizing distinctive vocalizations. The latest report I saw on this bird, from the eBird hotspot Putah Creek – fishing access #1, put it at “the eastern end of FA2 near the little island”. It seemed like fishing access #2 would be the place to go. As I drove up the road along the creek I passed Fishing Access Site #5, then #4, then #3, and then #1. There was no FA2. I went up the rest of the road, as far as it followed the creek, and still found no Fishing Access Site #2. I went back to site #1 and walked down the creek toward site #3. It was quite birdy, including a surprising number and variety of waterfowl on the small creek. There was an Anna’s Hummingbird building a nest. (There is a photo of the hummingbird nest on the ebird list. For scale, the largest branches in the photo have a diameter of about 2 inches or 5 cm.) I passed two little islands. There were various woodpeckers and warblers, but the only wrens were a couple of Bewick’s Wrens. Well, I guess that solved the problem of trying to distinguish the Winter from Pacific Wrens. My eBird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S164339094.

A long drive home. No new species today.


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13 March 2024

I started the day in southern Santa Cruz County where Sturve Slough crosses over Lee Road. Yes, that is right, the slough floods over the road and that is how it has been for many years. Some nice freshwater wetlands are there. There is access from both ends of Lee Road; I was on the south side. A fair variety of birds were present. American White Pelicans were among them, and those are always fun to see. At this point in the year they have a weird flat horn sticking up from their bills that presumable indicates something about their breeding condition – it is shed after nesting. A pair of Common Gallinules in the reeds allowed me to add that species to the year list. Leaving Sturve Slough, I noticed that there were a bunch of birds in a flooded field adjacent to Lee Road. There was nothing rare, but there were good numbers of ducks, especially Northern Shovelers. eBird lists are here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S165033209 and here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S165034548.

Down Beach Road, where it ends at the ocean, are two developments for vacationers, Pajaro Dunes and Shorebirds. Both are private, gated resorts, but both have allowed limited access for birders, and both have hosted some good birds over the years. Very regrettably, access has been lost this winter at Pajaro Dunes. It seems the resort manager had a confrontation with someone at the site who claimed to be a birder. It got unpleasant, and the result was that all birders were shut out. Since the offending “birder” was wearing a wetsuit at the time, it is highly doubtful that he was actually chasing birds. I have seen birders wear a variety of outfits, but never a wetsuit. There is still access to the beach through a small bit of State Park that separates the two resorts. In California all beaches are open for public use, though private landowners can sometimes block access through their properties. Once you are on the beach, however, you can walk, surf, bird, play frisbee, build sandcastles, or just soak up the sun in front of anyone’s property. Pajaro Dunes, on its inland side, has a tidal slough that has some of the very limited tidal mudflat in Santa Cruz County and trees that attract some rarities in the fall; it is those habitats that birders will miss.

Anyway, it was to Shorebirds that I went today. The birding here is around a pond. I found nothing rare, but there was a variety of ducks including several Cinnamon Teal. Those are one of my favorites, and I seem to be seeing fewer of them over the years. I also found another Anna’s Hummingbird nest, on a tree near the pond. Shorebirds checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S165036437.

Hummingbirds were the targets at my final destination for the day, the UCSC Arboretum. Since my visit on 15 January the Anna’s Hummingbirds there should have been joined by some Allen’s Hummingbirds and possibly by some Rufous Hummingbirds as well. There were at least male Allen’s Hummingbirds. I saw no female Allen’s, and the Rufous seemed yet to arrive. I spent most of my time trying to photograph the hummers. Also present were good variety of other birds, including a beautiful Red-breasted Sapsucker and a Violet-green Swallow. A few Violet-green Swallows winter in the area, but this is the first I have seen and may well be a newly arrived migrant. Arboretum checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S165038474.

It was altogether a pleasant if not exciting day. I saw three new species: Common Gallinule, Allen’s Hummingbird, and Violet-green Swallow. The year total is up to 247.


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14 March 2024

Today I went sparrow hunting. Rufous-crowned and Bell’s Sparrows are both chaparral specialists, at least in northern California. Chaparral, for those who may not be up on your California plant communities, is a habitat dominated by shrubs. It occurs generally in environments where wildfires are relatively frequent. News reporters always seem shocked when wildfires occur here, but they have always been a regular part of our ecosystems. We have rainy winters that stimulate plant growth followed by long, hot, rainless summers when everything dries out. Fires happen. How frequently fires occur depends upon local geographic factors. If they occur frequently enough that trees do not have time to grow-up between fires you commonly get chaparral, a community dominated by shrubs that are adapted to recover quickly after a fire. Similar plant communities occur in other parts of the world that have similar Mediterranean-type climates. Rufous-crowned Sparrows favor chaparral with relatively low shrubs and some grass; sometimes they are found in areas that are mostly grassland with just some scattered shrubs. Bell’s Sparrows tend (in this area) to favor chaparral dominated by a particular shrub, chamise. Chamise can form quite dense and extensive stands.

My search began on Panoche Road in San Benito County. There is an eBird hotspot many miles down the road called Panoche Rd – Rufous-crowned Sparrow Spot. In actuality, the birds can be found at several places along the road, and I hoped not to have to go that far. I did not have to. I stopped at the first likely looking spot and turned up the sparrows right away. Along the way was another first of the year bird: a Northern Rough-winged Swallow. (Cumbersome name that – couldn’t they just have called the southern one the Bumpy-winged Swallow?) A Prairie Falcon was a welcome sight. A juvenile Golden Eagle flew low over the road. When I stopped a moment later I saw an adult much higher repeatedly soaring up steeply, then folding its wings and dropping steeply down, then soaring up again. I wondered if this was a matter of trying to court the younger bird, or to intimidate it, or if it was just fun. The eBird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S165066141.

I went back up Panoche Road to Airline Highway (California 25), turned south on that road and stopped very soon at Paicines Reservoir. Water levels here fluctuate widely. Today I was surprised that after a fairly wet winter it was not more full. On one occasion it had a Sabine’s Gull, which is very rare inland, stay for several days, but today there was nothing exciting. Paicines Reservoir checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S165066945.

It was on down to La Gloria Road, to try there again for Bell’s Sparrow. Approaching the turn-off I saw a big bird soaring overhead. A really big bird, with the distinctive profile of a California Condor. Condors in flight have a look, more than any other American bird, like the body is hanging down below the plane of the wings and is front-loaded. I pulled off on La Gloria, stopped immediately, and jumped out of the car. There were four California Condors. All were closer than I have ever seen condors before, and the nearest were much closer. I spent about 25 minutes watching the condors and trying to get pictures of them. My camera will not autofocus on a small object on a plain background so the picture getting was frustrating, but the birds were great. At one point a Bald Eagle flew by in the distance. Ho hum. Later a Red-tailed Hawk joined in with the condors and looked very small. All this time Yellow-billed Magpies were calling nearby. When the condors wandered away, I went to have a look at the magpies and then continued up La Gloria Road.

I found fewer birds than I did a month ago. Sadly, there were no Lawerence’s Goldfinches at all. I did, however, find Bell’s Sparrows. After several stops without luck at spots where the chamise was thick, it occurred to me that maybe I should try something different. I have seen Bell’s Sparrow in southern California in habitats where the vegetation is much more sparse, so when I saw a place with just scattered chamise I stopped there. And that is where I found the birds, looking sharp in their black, white, and gray. This trip I did not turn around at the county line, but continued on down into Monterey County. Since my last visit San Benito County had run a grader over their section of the road and it was much improved. The Monterey County side had not seen a grader in a long time. It was passable, but quite bumpy. The eBird list for the San Benito County portion of La Gloria Road is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S165068274.

The plan was to spend the night in Monterey, then take a whale-watching trip the next day. For once I made reservations at a hotel. Expedia had a deal for a room at a place called the Fremont Inn for $38 ($56 with tax). I was curious, and a bit trepidatious, to find out what a room at that price would get me in a tourist town like Monterey. The motel was very small, but it turned out that the room was as clean and bed as comfortable as any I have stayed in this year. The wifi was good, the tv was as large as any I have ever seen in any hotel, and it had a basic cable selection of channels. There was a microwave and a refrigerator, both very small. There were things that were not available, like breakfast or a pool. Oddly there was shampoo, but no hair conditioner. The main thing that was missing was space. There was no room even for a table or chair. There was a bench that I sat on with my laptop on the bed. I don’t think I would want to spend many nights like this, but it was fine for the one night I had booked.

It was still afternoon when I checked in and I decided to go to the south gull roost near Pt. Pinos to look again for a Ruddy Turnstone. The tide was quite high and a good number of birds were roosting on the rocks there, but I could not find a Ruddy Turnstone among them. I did get good looks at a Pacific Golden-Plover that has been in the area all winter, much closer views than the ones I had of the birds up in Humboldt County. Out in the surf there were a group of sea otters that seemed to be playing. They would bob up with a wave just as it was cresting, then bob down as the wave flattened out. The up/down motion reminded me of the Golden Eagle earlier in the day. The eBird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S165072097.

I ate dinner at il vechio restaurant in Pacific Grove. A Ceaser salad and local rockfish with risotto and vegetables was very good and filling at $36, including tax.

There were three new birds today: Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Bell's Sparrow, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow, bringing the total to 250.


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15 March 2024

I had some time before the whale watch, so I went down to the beach at Asilomar. Asilomar is a State Beach with a conference center, south of Point Pinos. Maybe the Ruddy Turnstone would be there, I hoped. It was not, but there were other shorebirds and good light, so I took some pictures.

The whale watching trip was with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, departing Monterey Harbor at 10:00 AM on the Sea Wolf 2. The cost was $78 for a four-hour cruise. The trip was very professionally run, with knowledgeable naturalists and some cetacean researchers on board. We went northwest, then southwest around the Monterey Peninsula, reaching about 7 miles (11.3 km) southwest of Cypress Point. A note to any of you who may be taking a trip on the ocean: there are several websites that will show you a plot of the route of your vessel; I found myshiptracking.com to be the most useful. Along the way we stopped to look at Risso’s Dolphins, California Gray Whales, and Humpback Whales. The Risso’s Dolphins had some cute babies. The Humpbacks were well known to the researchers on board, and one was known for intervening when Gray Whale calves were attacked by Orcas. We did not see that, but it was still pretty cool to learn about. All the marine mammals were fun to see, though none of them engaged in any extensive breaching or other showy behavior. I will include a photo of the dolphins, but I will spare you any of the photos that just show a part of the back of a whale.

The birding was also good. At this time of year I was not really expecting anything that I might not see many more of on a fall pelagic trip, but we did pretty well. Out at our furthest point from land we saw a few Sabine’s Gulls. That is a species one would expect to see on a fall pelagic trip, but one that might be missed. Common Murres, in everything from full winter to full breeding plumage, were by far the most numerous alcid on the trip, but there were a few others too. Rhinoceros Auklets were all in their breeding plumage, with horns on their beaks and plumes on their faces. A few Pigeon Guillemots had arrived; they will soon be common all along the coast wherever there are cliffs. There were lots of Black-footed Albatrosses – at one point there were 10 together on the water. One would expect to see hundreds, if not thousands, or maybe tens of thousands of Sooty Shearwaters in the fall; I saw one today. The trip ran a little long, so we were rushing back toward the harbor at full throttle when we almost ran over the best bird of the day: a Manx Shearwater. That might not be very exciting to our British friends, but it is a good bird here, one you would consider yourself lucky to see at any time. Fortunately the few poor photos I got included views of a clear white vent area, allowing the bird to be distinguished from the similar, and locally much more common, Black-vented Shearwater. Photos of the Manx Shearwater are on the last checklist.

eBird checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S165179678, https://ebird.org/checklist/S165173584, https://ebird.org/checklist/S165174958, https://ebird.org/checklist/S165177963.

It was six new species today: Black-footed Albatross, Sooty Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Rhinoceros Auklet, Pigeon Guillemot, and Sabine’s Gull. The total is up to 256 for the year.


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22 March 2024

I went (as we say around here) over the hill this morning, meaning I went over the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Santa Clara Valley. The first stop was at Ulistac Natural Area in the city of Santa Clara. This is an area along the Guadalupe River with a mixture of freshwater marsh, fields, and riparian woodland. It is a nice birding area in general, but my particular hope today was to find a Hammond’s Flycatcher that has been spending the winter there. It is a species that should be easy to find in the summer in the Sierra Nevada, but there is no harm in ticking it off now while birding a nice area. Out of the car and almost immediately I picked up two new spring arrivals, Wilson’s Warbler and Cliff Swallow, both species I should see many more of as the spring progresses. Another birder pointed me to the area where the Hammond’s Flycatcher has been seen. After about 40 birdy minutes with no flycatchers, I spotted a bird some distance away that looked like a possibility. Hammond’s Flycatcher is in the genus Empidonax, which is the bane of beginning birders in North America. There are about 10 species that all look very similar to one another. It took a good look to confirm that the bird I saw was the Hammond’s, but it was all there: a plain gray bird with distinct but dull wingbars, a tiny bill, long primary projection, and just a bit of a crest. A checklist may be found at this link: https://ebird.org/checklist/S165702205.

Birds do not see the world as we see it, or even as we may think they ought to see it. In my mind an American Dipper belongs on a mountain stream that leaps and gurgles through a pristine wilderness. The most reliable place to find them locally is not much like that. It is a stream, Los Gatos Creek, that flows through a concrete channel adjacent to a major highway. The noise there, and there is a lot of it, comes from rushing traffic far more than from rushing water. It is a place I would avoid if it were not for the dippers, but there is an artificial waterfall behind which they can nest and that seems to be enough for them. It is the most reliable place to find them locally, but it is not entirely reliable. Today I found none. A stream with a resident dipper usually has an abundance of little white spots on the rocks and shore where the birds have left their graffiti, but the paucity of such marks along Los Gatos Creek suggested the dippers had not been there for some time. Perhaps they came to their senses and found a quieter home. There were some Northern Rough-winged Swallows flying and perching along the creek, but few other birds. An eBird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S165704364.

Three new species today: Hammond’s Flycatcher, Cliff Swallow, and Wilson’s Warbler, which gives me 259 for the year.


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26 March 2024

Down, I went, again, to the west side of Santa Cruz. This time I began at Antonelli Pond, which is a freshwater pond just inland from Natural Bridges State Beach, owned and managed by the Santa Cruz County Land Trust. Over the years the willows around it have attracted a number of rarities, including Dusky Warblers on two occasions. Since I was last here they have hardscaped the main trail around the pond, about which I am indifferent. At the upper end, if you want to circumnavigate the pond, you have to cross a high railroad trestle. They have also replaced the old rotten boards on it with nice solid new ones, about which I am quite happy. I was there for an hour, midday, and it was cold and windy. I found no rarities or new birds. Numbers of our wintering species seemed to be down. It is nice though, that the ones that remain are coming into their breeding plumages. Most of the winter I leave most of the Yellow-rumped Warblers that I see identified just to the species level, but now it becomes easier to distinguish the Audubon’s form from the Myrtle form. People often assume that because Audubon’s Warblers breed in the west and Myrtle Warblers in the east, Audubon’s must be much more common in the winter in California. That is true, mostly, but Myrtle can be surprisingly common, and in some habitats can actually outnumber Audubon’s. Myrtle Warblers do in fact breed quite far west, in the far north, and perhaps that is where our birds come from. Females of our local Red-winged Blackbirds are darker than those of most populations, and males have much less yellow bordering the red on the wings. As you can see in the attached photo they can have a bit of dull yellow at this time of year, but often they seem to have none. The elongated upper mandible in the photographed bird is not a regular feature. The eBird checklist is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S166364072.

I went next to Natural Bridges State Beach. There is only one natural bridge there now, on a little island just offshore. When I was young there were two bridges and the current island was part of a little peninsula that jutted out into the ocean. The inner bridge collapsed in 1980, making the end of the peninsula an island and leaving just the one bridge. The island now has a small colony of Brandt’s Cormorants that breed on its top in season and is a roost for cormorants, pelicans, and gulls during the rest of the year. The small beach also serves for tired gulls, when it is not too crowded with people, which is much of the time. There is also some good rocky shoreline with tidepools and rocky shore birds. Today I ignored all that and birded part of the park way from the beach. Here there is a eucalyptus grove where monarch butterflies roost in the winter and there is often good birding, especially in the fall. It was mostly quiet today, but there was one little birdy spot where I found one new species, a Western Flycatcher. There was no telling if it was the Pacific-slope form or the look-alike Cordilleran form as it did not call, but of those recently re-lumped varieties, it was surely much more likely the former. eBird: https://ebird.org/checklist/S166367618.

Just one new species today, Western Flycatcher, moving the total up to 260.


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28 March 2024

A Black-and-White Warbler has been reported at Neary Lagoon in Santa Cruz again. I went to look for it and any new migrants. I ran into some birders who had seen the warbler minutes before, but I could not find it or any new migrants. The turnover from winter to summer birds is clearly happening as the numbers of the former have decreased and the later have increased. The Wood Ducks were almost all gone. They do breed here, so maybe the females were all hiding in their nests. eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S166550570.

Afterward I went back to the UCSC Arboretum. Again I found nothing new. Some days are just like this. eBird: https://ebird.org/checklist/S166551104.

In the evening I went to a meeting of the Santa Cruz Bird Club. The speaker was the well known ornithologist and tour guide Alvaro Jaramillo. Charming guy and apparently he stepped in at the last minute for another speaker who could not make it, but it was basically an hour-long plug for his Southern Ocean tours. The pictures were small and one could see no details of the birds photographed. Disappointing overall.

No new species, the total is still 260.


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1 April 2024

I went back to Panoche Valley today, more in search of flowers than of birds. Last spring we had a “superbloom”, which is the term given to the explosion of flowers that can occur in the drier parts of California after a particularly rainy winter. I wanted to compare this year’s flowers to last year’s. There was a lower variety of flowers this year, but it still looked quite nice. The two photos labeled “New Idria Road”, one from last year and one from this, give an idea of the differences.

There were some birds to be seen, including two new species for my year, Western Kingbird and Bullock’s Oriole. I stopped and searched only in one small area that is the best currently accessible location where Chukar might be found. I did not find any. The eBird checklist is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S167050281. Overall bird numbers were down, except perhaps for Savannah Sparrows. That was to be expected; more birds winter in this area than spend the summer, and it is getting time for the wintering species to head to their breeding grounds.

Two new species, Western Kingbird and Bullock’s Oriole, bringing the total to 262.


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2 April 2024

Today I went chasing two rarities along the San Francisco Bay. One of these was a Piping Plover that has been seen at Ravenswood in the southern part of the Bay. This is one of only a handful of Piping Plovers that have ever been recorded in California. Reports were that it spends high tide periods on a bayside impoundment near the Dumbarton Bridge. The day started out poorly. A road closure meant a long detour. Arriving near the site, I headed off on the wrong trail. When I did get to the Piping Plover spot there were several birders already on the plover. That was good for me, because it was quite distant and there were about 1000 of the similar Semipalmated Plovers in the same area. Once found, one could see the paler back, paler breast band, larger wing-stripe, and white rump that made the Piper distinct. It was not only a new bird for the year list, but the first I have seen in California and one of only a few I have ever seen anywhere. There were a good variety of other shorebirds in the area as well. It was nice to see them coming into their breeding colors, especially the bright Dunlin. Ravenswood checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S167051802.

The second rarity was a Cassin’s Sparrow, which has been seen for about a week at a shore-side park in Albany, just north of Oakland. It would also be both a new state bird and a new year bird for me: it is normally a bird of dry grasslands in the southwest with only scattered records in California. The delays getting to the Piping Plover may have hurt me here. It was 11:20 AM by the time I arrived. The bird had been seen and active earlier in the morning, but I could not find it now. Pat, who I had last seen 18 January pursuing the Louisiana Waterthrush, arrived about a half hour later. She was excellent company, but we still could not find the Cassin’s Sparrow. A little later two more birders came by, but the four of us still could not find it. The adjacent mudflats had large numbers of Least Sandpipers and smaller numbers of other shorebirds. I heard a faint “too too too”, enough to convince me that the plump birds with the rather short legs and long bills were Short-billed Dowitchers. Parking there was limited to two hours; I gave up on the sparrow after about two and a half hours. At least I did not get a parking ticket. Albany Bulb eBird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S167071425.

Two new species today, Piping Plover and Short-billed Dowitcher, and I am up to 264 for 2024.


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6 April 2024

Once again I went to the UCSC Arboretum this morning. The number of hummingbirds seemed to be up, and finally I found a Rufous among the Allen’s and Anna’s Hummingbirds. Female Rufous and Allen’s are essentially impossible to distinguish, unless one gets a good photo of the spread tail. At this time of year, when both species may be present, I record them as Selasphorus sp. unless one is actively nesting, which would make it an Allen’s. Males generally differ in back color, Allen’s with green backs and Rufous with rust-colored ones. A small percentage of Rufous also have green backs, however, so one can never really be 100% sure about an Allen’s during the period when Rufous are moving through. Allen’s are always much more common than any green-backed Rufous that may stop by, so I mostly ignore the possibility that a green-backed bird might be a Rufous. The Rufous today gave me pause. It had a largely green back, but with some rufous feathers mixed in. I had to check some references before concluding that an Allen’s never looks like that and a Rufous occasionally does, even in early spring.

Most of the Arboretum is fenced, but there are some areas outside the fence where they have plantings that the deer will not devour. Today I went out the back gate and found, in an area of willows and cottonwoods, a Warbling Vireo. This was a newly arrived migrant. They are almost never seen here in winter, but are a common breeding bird. There were a few Golden-crowned Sparrows remaining, but the absence of White-crowned Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Townsend’s Warblers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers from my eBird checklist indicates that the species common here in winter are fast departing. You may find that checklist here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S167602401.

Being now a bit more than a quarter of the way through the year, it is perhaps time to review my progress toward seeing 400 birds in California this year. I think it is going to be a near thing. It is certainly possible to see that many; I have learned that one birder saw more than 500 last year and another more than 400 in San Diego County alone. But I have proceeded with the self-imposed restriction that I would try not to create a huge carbon footprint driving up and down the state multiple times chasing every rarity, and that has limited my search. Recently I have come to realize that I have probably been too restrictive in my driving. I made the very basic error of thinking that days spent at home would not impact my CO2 emissions, but of course they do. Looking at my propane bills (like many people in more-or-less rural America, much of my energy use comes from burning propane) I have realized that heating the house all day actually must put a lot of carbon dioxide in the air. Is it as much as driving the car for much of the day? It is beyond my ability to calculate that, but the numbers must be much closer than I had apprehended. If I had thought of this earlier, I would certainly have taken at least one or two more day trips, and would be a few birds further ahead on the quest.

Two new birds added to the year list today: Rufous Hummingbird and Warbling Vireo, so that the total has reached 266.


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9 April 2024

I went back to the south coast of San Mateo County today. I started at Pescadero State Beach. A Lesser Black-backed Gull was seen here a few days ago, and that would be a good species to get. I was not particularly optimistic, however, as it had not been seen since, although some birders had looked. I joined the group not to have seen it. All along the coast there have been reports of by-the-wind sailors (Velella) stranding on the beaches and I did see lots of them. It was a lovely day to be out at the beach, there was a nice variety of birds, and I was happy enough even without any rare gulls. An ebird checklist is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S168037301.

The tide was low, and heading back south I stopped at a few different sites and scanned the rocks for whatever might be there. There were surprisingly few birds. Other than Black Oystercatchers standing sentinel at regular intervals, there were almost none. There were harbor seals hauled out on some of the rocks, including a mother with a pup so young its umbilical cord was still attached.

The next extended stop was at Gazos Creek Road. An early MacGillivray’s Warbler had been reported here. This is a species that breeds in a very specific habitat locally: slopes with coastal chaparral above creeks just inland from the ocean. Again I had a fine time and saw lots of birds, but not the one for which I was particularly searching. I did hear my first Black-headed Grosbeak of the year. I used to hear them all spring and summer long at my home. Since the CZU Fire in 2020 they have been less common there. The fire did not reach my neighborhood, but it came close, we all had to evacuate, and when we returned it was clear that there had been a lot of smoke. I suspect toxic fumes had a significant impact on many bird populations around the fire zone, and of course there were huge effects where the fire actually burned. eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S168091173.

My final stop was at Año Nuevo State Park. This park comprises a point that juts out into the ocean and a small island just off the point. Most people know it for the elephant seals that populate the outer point and island much of the year. Birders know it also for the colony of Bank Swallows that nest in a cliff above one of the beaches, one of the few such colonies in California. Down on the beach I found two Bank Swallows investigating the cliff face. These were early arrivals, more should be there soon. Cliff and Northern Rough-winged Swallows also nest at the site, but I did not see those today. I walked on out to the point to see the elephant seals and, I hoped, any migrating Brant or Ruddy Turnstones that may have fetched up there. I did not find either of those birds, but there were lots of elephant seals, females and juveniles of varying ages. At this time of year they are resting on the beaches as they molt. Earlier in the year mating does occur here and one can see males engaging in great battles as they try to dominate a section of beach and obtain access to the females that are there. Walking back one could see inland hillsides burned by the CZU Fire – about 15 km west of where the fire was contained less than 1 km from my house. Here may be found the eBird checklist for the visit: https://ebird.org/checklist/S168039011.

Two new species again today: Bank Swallow and Black-headed Grosbeak. The total is now 268.


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11 April 2024

Needing to go down to Santa Cruz to do some errands this morning, I stopped for some quick birding at the campground at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The campground is not in the redwoods, or in the riparian-like habitat of the picnic grounds, but in an open oak forest. The attraction here is Black-throated Gray Warbler. This is a widespread breeder in the region, but they are particularly easy to find at the campground. Although the birds had arrived and were singing vigorously, they were hard to see up in the treetops. It was nice to hear too, the lovely song of a Hermit Thrush. Hermit Thrushes are common in this area in winter, but less so as breeders. It is always a treat in the spring to find one singing. My eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S168192102.

The Black-throated Gray Warblers bring my total for the year to 269.

12 April 2024

Reports of a Solitary Sandpiper at the Ogier Ponds in the Santa Clara Valley led me to visit there today. Although I have heard of good birds at the location many times, this was my first visit. It is a large area, and following the directions I had, I walked south along the Coyote Creek Trail from Coyote Creek Golf Drive. The trail passes through some pasture land, now filled with tall grass, and some creek side vegetation, mostly reeds. After about 3/4 of a mile (a bit more than a kilometer) the trail crosses Coyote Creek via a bridge and one reaches the northernmost pond. This is where the Solitary Sandpiper had been reported. Neither I nor any of three other birders present were able to find it there today. Later I learned it was at one of the more southerly ponds. I was happy enough to finally become acquainted with the site, there were many birds, and I will likely return. My eBird checklist is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S168338964.

Hoping to grab at least one new bird still today, I stopped on the way home at a site on the top of the ridge-line of the Santa Cruz Mountains where newly arrived Cassin’s Vireos were a possibility. A storm was forecast for the next day and up there it was already cold, breezy, and misty. Out of the car I was hopeful though; there was a flock of small birds in the trees above the parking lot. The big-leaf maples were flowering and many birds were investigating their catkins, Yellow-rumped and Townsend’s Warblers among them. These two species are common in the lowlands in winter, most of those birds being winter visitors from further north or higher mountains. Some of each do breed at the higher elevations of the Santa Cruz Mountains too. Sadly, the flock moved on within a few minutes and the only bird I saw likely to be a new arrival to the area was an Orange-crowned Warbler. Checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S168823108.

No new birds today, the total is still 269.
14 April 2024

I made my way back to Jetty Road in Moss Landing today. The tide was very low and many of the birds were on far-off mudflats. Shorebird diversity still was high, but the number of ducks was down. There were some new arrivals. Roosting on the sand bar was a small flock of Elegant Terns. These are the most common tern along the coast here in summer, but historically there have been few in the spring. Increasingly in recent years, however, some have been appearing in central and northern California at this time of year.

Finally Brant. At the base of the north jetty there were two Brant roosting on the sand. Having made multiple trips in various places looking for them, it was good at last to encounter some. One had much more white on the flanks than the other, perhaps an adult and a juvenile. The full list of species is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S168824526.

A Solitary Sandpiper had been reported earlier in the week at Moonglow Dairy. This is a working dairy, with all the noise, smells, and mud pertaining thereto. Birders are allowed on part of the property Fridays-Sundays. It sits on the southern shore of Elkhorn Slough, about 2 km inland from Moss Landing, and attracts many birds, including some rare ones. I have seen two lifers there: Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Nelson’s Sparrow. Today, alas, the mud defeated me. After heavy rains yesterday the road out to the parking area was largely composed of very wet mud with what looked like (how may I phrase this?) a high organic matter content. I did not want to get stuck in it. Perhaps next weekend things will have dried out some. Probably the bird will be gone by then. An eBird list for the abbreviated visit: https://ebird.org/checklist/S168825672.

I went instead to Kirby Park, further up the slough. Nothing terribly exciting there, but there were a pair of Canada Geese with some young goslings and they were cute. eBrid: https://ebird.org/checklist/S168826496.

Two new species today, Brant and Elegant Tern, and I am at 271 for the year.


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I just wanted to post a short thank you for taking the time to detail your 2024 California birding effort. I am thoroughly enjoying your impressive march toward 400! I won't clog up your posts with a bunch of complimentary interruptions, but rest assured I (and certainly a good number of others) look forward to and enjoy each post. Well done!
16 April 2024

To the top of the hill, I went today. The area I visited is only about 5.5 miles (9 km) away and 2300 ft (700 m) higher than my home (it is visible from my front deck), but that is enough to create an environment there that differs from here and means that some birds breed there that do not breed here. The old parking lot at Castle Rock State Park was my first stop. The day was fine; clear, with very little breeze, and warm (for the early morning), and I was hoping for more birds than I found. Indeed, there was nothing I might not have seen off my deck. The eBird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S169130700.

I went on the short distance to the Sunnyvale Mountain Trailhead. Here the birds were more active and there were several species singing that I do not hear doing so at home: Townsend’s, Hermit, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and the two I was hoping for: Cassin’s Vireo and Western Tanager. Regrettably, my photography skills and equipment rarely manage to capture little birds high in trees in any recognizable image, and I made no photos I would want to share. That may be a continuing problem. The complete list of what I saw and heard is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S169130918.

Two new birds, Cassin’s Vireo and Western Tanager, and now the total is 273.
18 April 2024

The lower Pajaro River Valley in southern Santa Cruz County is an area of primarily agricultural land with some seasonal wetlands, riparian habitat along the river, and resorts at the beach. I visited the area on 13 March; a report of a Pectoral Sandpiper and the expectation that some summer residents should have arrived prompted me to go again today. I had a bit of a late start, but at the CARE Park, a small park adjacent to the river with some riparian forest, the Yellow Warblers were in and singing vigorously. They had to compete with a maintenance crew using power tools, but they held their own. Other migrants that I have started seeing in the last few weeks and found again here included Bullock’s Oriole, Warbling Vireo, and Wilson’s Warbler. Tree Swallows were checking out tree cavities. The full list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S169315762.

The Pectoral Sandpiper had been seen at some flooded fields by San Andreas Road. I stopped and searched and saw several kinds of shorebirds, but I could not pick out a Pectoral among them. What was there is recorded here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S169317126.

On I went to the Pajaro Dunes - Shorebirds resort. I thought that the Pectoral Sandpiper might have moved to the pond there. The pond had a diminished number of ducks, the air had an enhanced number of swallows, but there were no shorebirds at all. Checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S169319887.

Yellow Warbler was the only new species today, and it is number 274 on my year list.


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21 April 2024

I intended to start at Zmudowski State Beach this morning, but the entry road was flooded and I did not bring my wading boots.

I went on to Moonglow Dairy. A week of sunshine and the mud there had dried up and there was no access problem. There were many shorebirds on one of the ponds and more along Elkhorn Slough just to the north, but the Solitary Sandpiper that had been there was now absent. A line of large flowering shrubs had some hummingbirds and passerines. There is a eucalyptus grove that hosts a colony of Double-crested Cormorants, Great Blue Herons, and Great Egrets, all of which were attending nests. My eBird list might have been longer, but the road through the eucs passes close to these nests and I became worried that I was disturbing the birds and quickly gave it up. The eBird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S169995512. This can be an excellent place to bird, but anyone thinking of birding Moonglow should first visit Don Roberson’s webpage Moonglow Dairy birding & access rules and read about rules to follow at this private property, and be aware that presently the dairy is only open for birding Fridays-Sundays.

I went back to the flooded fields on San Andreas Road where the Pectoral Sandpiper had been reported. Viewing conditions were better than they had been a few days ago, but there were fewer birds, no Pectoral, and I did not stay long. eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S169995888.

Finally I went back to the CARE Park. (I had to look it up; CARE is an anacronym for Community Access, Recreation, and Education.) I decided not to try to count birds or keep a list, but to make more of an effort to get some good photographs of birds. I did not get any. I did hear a Swainson’s Thrush, which would be my only new species for the day.

One new bird, Swainson’s Thrush, making the total for the year 275.


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24 April 24

I went looking for MacGillivray’s Warblers today, and hoped to perhaps pick-up one or two other new species as well. Empire Grade is a road that runs more-or-less along the ridge separating the San Lorenzo River Valley from the ocean. My first stop was near the northern end of the road where there are some meadows breaking the otherwise mostly forested (now mostly burned) habitat. Not a place for MacG’s Warbler, but a good place for Lazuli Buntings. And there were some there, at least two bright singing males and a more subtly colored female. My eBird checklist may be found here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S170398205.

Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve was established to protect some rare plants that occur on the sandy soil found there. The habitat is an open chaparral with scattered large pines. It is also not a place for my target warbler, but it is one of the few places locally where Purple Martins are fairly regular. Today, however, they were not to be found in a half-hour of searching. Indeed it was quiet there altogether. The short eBird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S170398874.

Bonny Doon Road goes down to the sea, and near its lower end is a place where MacGillivray’s Warblers do breed, at least in some years. My eBird list here is even shorter. I did not see the bird, but traffic moves fast on the road and there is no shoulder and I elected for a prudent retreat fairly quickly. The checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S170399443.

At California Highway 1 I headed north, stopping at Davenport for some fish tacos at the Mexican restaurant there. I will not be doing that again. They were greasy, with little actual fish, actually little filling at all, and rather funky tasting.

North of Davenport I turned onto Swanton Road, which parallels the coastal highway a bit inland. Where the road crosses Molino Creek there is another site where MacGillivray’s Warblers have been known to breed. It was another site where I could not find any. A stop further along the road did produce a new year bird: an Olive-sided Flycatcher was giving its attention attracting “whit whee wheer” call, the first note very soft but the last two ringing. Near the northern end of the road it passes through a bit of grassland where I have found Grasshopper Sparrows previously, but I did not do so today.

Back down on Hwy. 1, I headed a bit further north, stopping at Waddell Creek Beach. Up a trail from there, into the Rancho del Oso section of Big Basin State Park, is the most reliable place in Santa Cruz County for MacGillivray’s Warblers. I went up the trail. I went down the trail. I did not find them. It was moderately birdy. I heard another Olive-sided Flycatcher. I watched Anna’s Hummingbirds feeding on the tiny flowers of nettles and wondered if they had to mind their tongues to avoid stings. The eBird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S170403836.

Olive-sided Flycatcher and Lazuli Bunting were new birds today, and they brought the year total to 277.
2 May 2024

Family affairs had me heading to Hollister today, and I made a few stops coming and going to look for birds. Old Chittenden Road was the first. This is a short road that parallels the Pajaro River in southeastern Santa Cruz County. A small section is next to riparian habitat by the river, the rest passes through small farms. Santa Cruz birders like it because some generally more inland species spill into the county here. One of these is Blue Grosbeak, and that was the bird I was hoping to find there today. The road was quite birdy, but there were no Blue Grosbeaks for me. There was an Ash-throated Flycatcher; now that they have arrived I should be seeing many more, but this was the first. List: https://ebird.org/checklist/S171748272.

Family business finished, I went to a better Blue Grosbeak spot, along Cienega Road in San Benito County. I used to think of Blue Grosbeaks as birds of wet shrubby habitats. Around here, however, they are really grassland birds, though they do seem to like at least a few willows or other leafy shrubs scattered widely about. Driving along the road I saw a chunky dark bird on a telephone wire. Brown-headed Cowbirds have a very similar silhouette and might also be in the area, so I stopped to have a closer look. It was indeed a lovely male Blue Grosbeak. A little further along that process repeated and I had another Blue Grosbeak. Nearby some Lazuli Bunting males were having a little dispute in the form of song competitions and chasing each other around. The eBird checklist is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S171749431.

College Lake, near Watsonville, is a seasonal wetland that fills with water in the winter, attracting many waterfowl, and dries out in the summer. Another Solitary Sandpiper had been seen here. There was still lots of water present, but most of the waterfowl had moved on. Several species of shorebirds worked over some exposed mud, but no Solitary Sandpiper was among them. I am 0/4 on them so far this spring. Cliff Swallows were coming down to the mud to collect material for their nests. A church bell tower near the lake had hundreds of these nests under construction. I wonder if the hearing of the chicks will be affected by the loud bells chiming just the other side of the walls of their homes. A list of the birds seen is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S171751785.

Two more species today, Ash-throated Flycatcher and Blue Grosbeak, bringing the total to 279.


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