Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Birding secrecy

There's a secret place not far from here that is an absolute migrant trap. I've mentioned it in this blog before, but I'd rather not reveal its name again. Everyone knows that I bird at the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary (The Magic Hedge) a lot. It's near there but it's not a place that many birders frequent. Only in the height of spring migration, and even then it's secluded.

Last Saturday, we recorded 50 species at Montrose Point and the Jarvis Bird Sanctuary, a woodlot at about 3600 North along the lakefront. There's a swampy pond at Jarvis, and that's where we saw an american bittern. It even did the thing where it points its bill in the air so that it blends in with cattails. At the secret place, we added nearly 10 species to the day's list ranging from spotted sandpipers to northern waterthrushes to yellow-rumped warblers and an early yellow warbler. I plan to go back again this weekend.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Endless bummer

The weather has rather sucked here for more than a month. It's really been dismal, especially here just a quarter-mile from the lake. A quick check of the weather records shows that we've had but one 60, last Saturday, since St. Patrick's Day. I can tell you the few perennials in our front yard are way behind years past and that there was a chance of snow a couple nights ago. Don't believe what you see in the news: those readings are for O'Hare Airport. Here it's 20 degrees colder when inland it's balmy. This weekend, though, southern winds will overwhelm the lake breeze and we will see 80s. Crazy, but about time.

In other news, I watched an american crow drink out of a discarded cola can today.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Aggressive blackbirds

It's really been a late spring. Not much is flowering at all. Hardly anything is leafed out. It's been dismal for weeks. Today, though is a warm, sunny day.

The Magic Hedge Sanctuary was abuzz with activity, mostly in the form of red-winged blackbirds and common grackles. They were exhibiting a lot of breeding behavior, and, while they didn't attack me, they were comfortable flying a bit too close. There was a lot of strutting around and dancing for the ladies; aggressive puffing up in tops of trees; and general machismo. I don't know why male red-wings think displaying their bright red epaulets to me is intimidating. It's not. You're a 9-inch long bird, and landing on the grass next to me isn't that scary. Even a Turdus migratorius (american robin) made a run at me. It was a tough crowd down at the park today.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pacific overlook

The view from Highway 1 north of Jenner, Calif. More photos here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Endor journey

Regular readers will know that two years ago we visited Tikal in Guatemala. Tikal also is known as the location for the scenes from Planet Yavin in "Star Wars." It was where the secret rebel base was located toward the end of the film. This time, we were in the redwood forest, also known as the location for the scenes from the forest moon of Endor in "Return of the Jedi." It was where the Ewoks ambushed the Empire and the rebels blew up the second Death Star's shield generator. I love it when this blog gets nerdy!

Our trip was broken up into three sections: San Francisco; wine country and the coast just north of the Bay; and the far north near Eureka and Redwoods National Park. San Francisco was great--we had a chance to ride the cable cars a lot and saw most of the sights. We visited two tiny, hillside parks in the Russian Hill neighborhood that were incredible--Macondray Lane and Ina Coolbrith Park. Both were super-steep and had awesome gardens and views of the Bay. We saw lots of hummingbirds and other songbirds.

We stopped off at Muir Woods on the way north to Guerneville, a small town in the Russian River Valley region. We took the coast highway, Route 1, from San Francisco all the way there--we ultimately took 1 all the way from SF to Leggett, where it meets the Redwood Highway north of Mendocino. Muir Woods offered our first glimpse at coast redwoods, and the 2-mile hike we took was relatively uneventful. Highway 1 wound above the Pacific almost the whole way to Jenner and the turn-off to Guerneville. The highway was windy all the way to Leggett really. It took at least a couple hours to cover the 50 or so miles to Jenner, but the views were incredible--high, rugged cliffs above the ocean, prairies and chaparral, deep river valleys and gulches and lots of turkey vultures. TVs were everywhere; they really were the bird of the trip.

Like other rivers in the area, the Russian originates in the wine country. Here vineyards criss-cross high hills. The emerald-green river then descends through redwoods for about 10 miles until it reaches the sea.

The next day we drove back to Highway 1 and snaked north toward the tiny town of Elk. Most of the localities in the area were lumbering towns with a few boutiques and galleries. Some looked like the community John Rambo terrorized in "First Blood." There were more towns like this to come.

We drove into the Anderson Valley at Elk and visited our first winery near Philo. We later camped amid the giant trees at Navarro Redwoods State Park. Next day we continued our winding way north to Mendocino, the most developed, er, expensive of the towns along the way. The views of the ocean were great and we were greeted by a belted kingfisher that had set up a burrow on one of the off-shore islands. We also saw our first pelagic cormorants and pigeon guillemots here.

From Mendocino, the rode ascended much higher coastal mountains until we got to kitschy Leggett. We made the requisite $5 drive through a redwood and proceeded north on the Redwood Highway toward Eureka. It was getting dark by the time we found a campsite at Big Lagoon County Park.

It rained all night that night, and the forecast called for more, but we pushed ahead with plans to visit Redwoods National Park that day. By this time, the terrain (and weather) was very Pacific Northwest and I kept thinking we were in Oregon for some reason. After a long ride on a dirt road, I strapped on my sandals and plodded through a downpour to Fern Canyon. I was hoping to see a water ouzel (aka american dipper) and never did, but the skinny canyon was nice, though. I did record a pair of varied thrushes along the way. The brightly colored thrushes are birds that I had always seen in the bird book but never in person so it was quite a thrill (the photo via the link doesn't do the thrush justice).

A pair of rangers had suggested we head to the mouth of the Klamath River to see seals and possibly whales. There had been reports of 300-plus harbor seals there. We arrived at an overlook, and it had finally stopped raining. We scanned the waters but didn't see much but thousands of cormorants. There was another overlook, even closer to the ocean but about a half-mile down and we headed that way. From there, we still couldn't see any seals or whales. Finally, a small black thing bobbing near a rock turned out to be a harbor seal playing in the surf. Then Kristin, checking every bunch of bubbles in the vicinity, saw the back of a gray whale. And soon we saw another. A couple times we got views of their tails and snouts and many views of their blowholes exhaling. We later saw many more seals bobbing where the river met the sea.

We got back to the campground and discovered our tent and sleeping bags absolutely soaked. Somehow, the sun was making a weak appearance to the west so we began airing out all of our stuff and switched campsites to higher ground. We made it through the night quite dry.

The last full day we drove back to Guerneville and stayed in the same inn we had four days before. We also hit one more winery. We made it back to San Francisco in plenty of time for our flight, returning our Dodge Caliber and passing the Cow Palace along the way.

In all, 15 new bird species, many miles of winding roads and an introduction to many interesting places. Photos to come...please excuse the somewhat rambling post as there's no other way to summarize so much!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Redwood adventure

We're back from a great trip to San Francisco and the North Coast of California. Highlights included: two nights in SF on Nob Hill, two nights in the Russian River Valley and three nights camping--one in Navarro Redwoods State Park and two in a Humboldt County park campground at Big Lagoon. There were lots of new bird sightings as well as whale and seal sightings. We made it as far north as the mouth of the Klamath River, about 20 miles south of Oregon. More details and photos to come.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Bird state

A report came across a few weeks back that really didn't get much local attention--and Columbia Journalism Review backs up that statement. State of the Birds was largely ignored by the media, or at least the Yahoo News-reading masses. And we live in an area with a number of affected species like cerulean warblers, piping plovers and Henslow's sparrows. It's interesting to think back to my youth about the birds that don't seem quite as common (of course distorted by memory and nostalgia). Those that I always think of are tufted titmouse, purple finch and willow flycatcher.