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This is Chapter Two of the Chronicle of my 2011 Quest for Birds, my attempt to see as many species as possible in the Western US this year.
Tuesday, February 1
Fred and I drove west from Sacramento today, in search of five specific species of birds that had been reported along Putah Creek, west of Winters, California.† I knew that most of them would be difficult, and I was hoping to see two or maybe three of the five.† There was also the potential for other ones for my year list.
Fred has a Golden Retriever by the name of Tugboat, and we usually take him birding with us.† Tug is really a good traveler and stays in the car when we stop, without complaining.† In the past, we have always taken Fredís vehicle when Tug comes along.† He has a four-door pickup with a camper cover over the back, and Tug stays in the back seat while we are driving.† I have an SUV, so we tried something new, and put the seats down in the back, and Tug seemed to adjust just fine to it.† It meant I could do the driving and we could still bring Tug along.† Fred spread a blanket over the back, so the dog hair factor was minimized.† Of course, whenever we got out of the car to do some birding, Tug took up position in one of the front seats, but that didnít hurt anything.
I added my first species of the day from the freeway, as we drove past the Yolo Bypass Reserve area, AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN.† It wasnít one of the target species for the day, but it was the first time I had seen them this year.
At the first stop on our Putah Creek venture, we hadnít gone ten feet from the car when we saw not just one, but two LEWISíS WOODPECKERS (lifer). †Of our five target species, that was my highest priority, as I hadnít expected to see them this year, until I had read about this particular area.† The guy who told me about this area had said they would be easy here, and indeed they were.† We must have seen well over a dozen on the day, including some really good looks at them.† They are black with a gray collar, with a red face and a reddish belly, and when the sun shone on them, they were really pretty birds.† It was wonderful to get such prolonged, well lighted looks at a lifer bird.
We saw some other birds at that same stop, but nothing more for my list.
We moved on, continuing to see some good birds, including White-breasted Nuthatch, Oak Titmouse, Red-shouldered Hawk, Barrowís Goldeneye, Lesser Goldfinch, and one that was a lifer for Fred, Bewickís Wren.† We struck out on all the other target species along Putah Creek and at Monticello Dam, though.
Returning back toward home, we drove around the Auto Tour at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area (also known as the Vic Fazio reserve).† There were lots of birds, and I picked up AMERICAN PIPIT fairly easily.† We also got onto a couple of LESSER YELLOWLEGS, which was a surprise.† They are just like the more common Greater Yellowlegs except they are quite a bit smaller and their bill is somewhat shorter.† I donít see the Lesser ones very often, so it was a great addition to my list for the year.† We were fortunate to see the Lessers with two Greaters, so the size comparison was easy.
I also got a fleeting look at an AMERICAN BITTERN, as it scurried for cover.† I would have liked a much better look, but I decided that I saw it well enough that I was sure that was what it was, so I counted it.† That is a pretty hard bird to see, so it was very nice to pick it up.† It was the main reason we were at that particular reserve that day, too.
Later I saw a RING-NECKED PHEASANT scamper from the road into the bushes, so one more for my year list.† Iím sure I will see lots of pheasants during the year, but this was the first, so it went onto my list.
There were a lot of shorebirds there, including avocets, stilts, Dunlin, Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Black-bellied Plover, but I already had all those for the year.† We drove out onto the new spur to the gull roost at the end of the day, and there were 6 or 7 Tundra Swans there.† I think that was the first time I had seen them at that reserve, and we always go there when I am in Sacramento.† I had a much better look at American White Pelican, too, compared to the one from the freeway in the morning.
All in all, it was a successful day, adding six more to my year list, including one much-appreciated lifer.
Wednesday, February 2
Today Fred and I drove north to the Sacramento National Wildlife Reserve, in search of two white geese species.† This time Fred did the driving, and Tugboat came along as usual.†
First we did a quick drive through at the Yolo Bypass reserve again, though, in an attempt to get a better look at the bittern, and to see if anything else presented itself.† We didnít see anything new there, although we did see quite a few of the Lesser Yellowlegs that I had been surprised to see yesterday.
Then we headed north.† It is a drive of over an hour to get to the Sacramento NWR, but I particularly wanted to see a goose that spends most of the year way up in the far north of Canada and Alaska, and winters in the central valley of California.† If I didnít see one on this trip, I wouldnít see one at all this year, unless I came back to California in the winter, at the end of the year.
We drove around the six mile auto tour route at the reserve, but saw no white geese until almost the end of the route.† Then we hit on many hundreds of them, but still had to sort out a Rossís Goose from all the Snow Geese. †The two species look very much alike, but the Rossís Goose is smaller by about 25% and the bill is slightly different, if you get a good enough look at it.† Snow Goose is much more common than Rossís Goose, and they are quite similar in appearance.
We stopped to look at one of the first groups of white geese we came to, and sure enough, we were lucky, and several of them were indeed ROSSíS GEESE.† There was at least one SNOW GOOSE with them, too, so the size comparison helped us to be sure of our identification.† Later we looked at hundreds of others and only saw two others that we thought were Rossís Goose.† We were appreciative of our luck in getting such good looks right away of the first little group of Rossís Geese that we did see.† I had been fearing that our drive was a waste of time, as we approached the end of the auto tour, but the white geese were all congregated at that point.† There had been thousands of Greater White-fronted Geese everywhere else on the reserve, and I had only seen a handful of them anywhere else on this trip.
Earlier we had seen a couple of Bald Eagles and had a good look at a perched Cooperís Hawk, along with the regular Northern Harriers that are seen in that kind of environment.† Of course, there were lots of ducks and some shorebirds as well.† The Marsh Wrens were singing, the first place I have been this year where I have seen that.† Spring must be right around the corner.† The Red-winged Blackbirds were singing, too; again, the first time I have seen that this year.† In still another harbinger of spring, I saw my first TREE SWALLOWS of the year, in two locations on the route.† Early February is getting very close to spring in the California birding world, I guess.† The normally brown hills are green, too.
So, I had gotten my target species (Rossís Goose) and added three more to my year list.† My total now stands at 164 on the year, of which 14 are new for my US list and 13 are lifers.† This California trip has added about 69 species to my year list, which is great.† Based on my spreadsheet for the trip, I had expected to see only about 60 new species on the trip, so either I have been lucky or my estimate was too conservative.† I still have one more day of birding, too, although it is going to be tough to add any more, at this point.
Thursday, February 3
Today Fred and I visited some new places along the American River, east of Sacramento.† There are two lakes, formed by dams on the river Ė Lake Natoma and Folsom Lake.† Yesterday I had bought a book published by the Sacramento Audubon Society about birding in the Sacramento area, and we decided to check out some of the places it listed on those two lakes.
First we went to Nimbus Flat, just above the dam that forms Lake Natoma.† The main thing we were looking for was Western Grebes on the lake.† There is another species, called Clarkís Grebe that is very similar to the Western Grebe, but something like 90% to 95% of them are Western Grebes.† We didnít see either species at Nimbus Flat, and soon moved on.
We tried another place across the river, but it was closed due to construction of the roads in the area, and then moved on to the Willow Creek access to the lake.† We struck out there, too, but at least the machine where you could pay for day use was working there (as opposed to the one at Nimbus Flat, that didnít work).† It was nine bucks for day use, which seems outrageously expensive to me, but the fee applied to all the various places we were planning to visit today.† At least we did see some good birds at Willow Creek, including White-breasted Nuthatch and Oak Titmouse.
Next we moved on to Negro Bar.† We did see some birds there, but didnít get anything for my list, and nothing interesting out on Lake Natoma.
So, we moved on to Folsom Lake, and our first stop was Beals Point.† The lake was quite low at this time of year, and it was a couple of hundred yards to the water from the edges of the parking lot.† We did see one small group of interesting looking birds, though, and walked down to the waterís edge to get closer views.† They turned out to be Eared Grebes, which I didnít need, but they were lifers for Fred.† On the way back to the car, we saw a number of WESTERN BLUEBIRDS, which was one for my year list.
By then it
was getting to be lunch time, so I got a gut bomb at a Mickey Dís.†
Fred usually only eats one meal a day, so he just looked through our book while I stuffed myself.
Our first stop after lunch was Folsom Point.† The parking area is on a hilltop overlooking much of the lake, and we did see some birds there.† There were a couple of hundred Eared Grebes in one big group, and we got better looks at them than we had had before.† There were also a couple of dozen Western Grebes scattered around, but none of the ones close enough to see were Clarkís Grebes.† There was one Common Loon, though, which was another lifer for Fred.† Western Grebe was a lifer for him, too.
The next place we tried was also closed for some construction, so we moved on to the Brownís Ravine lake access.† There is a marina there, but all the boats were sitting in the parking lot on trailers, because the lake was so low.† One boat launch point was open, so we went out there.
As we drove up along the edge of the parking lot, intending to look out over the lake, Fred noticed a ROCK WREN right next to the car, showing itself to us beautifully.† We got really close, extended views of it.† It was a lifer for Fred and a bird I had only seen once or twice before.† Excellent!
But, then it got even better.† There was a SPOTTED SANDPIPER down at the waterís edge, and we got great scope views of it.† Another lifer for Fred and another good bird for my year list.
We couldnít get good looks at any more birds out on the lake, but as we drove out, there was a little group of birds in the grass along the road, so we stopped to look at them† It turned out to be a mixed flock of White-crowned Sparrows (very common) and RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROWS (lifer).† Rufous-crowned Sparrow had been listed at several of the sites we had visited today, but I hadnít really expected to add a lifer today.† They look a lot like first year White-crowned Sparrows, and I had probably seen them before and not realized it, so it was great to see them together and see the subtle differences.
We moved on and tried a couple of other sites, but saw nothing new at one of them, and the other was closed for the season.
Back at Fredís house we sat out in the back yard and watched for Cedar Waxwings, a species that Fred has seen several times in the last couple of weeks, and one that I had been looking for all week.† We never saw any, but we did see a TOWNSENDíS WARBLER come through, another lifer for Fred and a surprise bird for my list.
So, when all was done for the day, I had added 5 more species to my year list, including one lifer.† It was an outstanding day.† Fred picked up six lifers, too, which was also outstanding for him.
My totals now are 169 species for the year, of which 14 are new for my US list and 13 are lifers.† I have added 75 species for my year list on this trip, which is outstanding.†† Of those 75, 9 are new for my US list and 8 have been added to my life list.† It was a great trip in terms of seeing old friends, and a great birding trip as well.† Tomorrow I will hit the road for home, God willing and the creeks donít rise.
My estimate for the trip was 59 species, of which 2 would be lifers, so getting 75 (8 lifers) shows that I have been pretty conservative in my estimates, or else I have been consistently lucky.
Wednesday, February 9
Finally another birding day, after almost a week at home.† I got a weather window, so I bipped on over to the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula today and Iím staying overnight in Sequim (pronounced Squim, for those not of the Northwest persuasion).
To get here, I needed to take a ferry, and there was one at 10:30 that I thought I could easily catch.† As it turned out, I was up at 7:40, so I decided to try for the 9:40 ferry.† I got out of the house right at 9 oíclock.† It is about a half hour drive to Edmonds, so I thought I would be okay for the 9:40 ferry.† But, as I drove up the road from Lake Forest Park toward Edmonds, I noticed after a while that things were not familiar.† Somehow I had taken a wrong fork, and I was lost.† The car in front of me had been going less than the speed limit, and since I was trying to make the ferry, I was probably following too close and paying too much attention to him and not to which fork he took.
I thought I might be able to recover, although I hadnít been on this particular road since the mid 70ís, when I sold real estate up in Lynnwood.† As it turned out, I should have immediately turned around and gone back when I realized I was lost, but I plunged onward and ended up in Lynnwood at 196th Street.† I knew where I was then, so I headed west toward Edmonds.† 196th St is notoriously slow, with many lights, but at least I knew it would get me to Edmonds.† The time ticked down, and I kept telling myself to relax and not worry about it, the 10:30 ferry would do just fine, but in my secret heart of hearts, I continued to hope to make the 9:40, although that seemed silly.
As it turned out, I did just barely make it.† I was one of the last three cars onto the ferry, and it was exactly 9:40 as I drove on.† Phew!† What a way to start the day, though!
The weather was good, and I did see some birds on the ferry trip, but nothing new for my year list.† As a reminder, when I mention a bird that I am seeing for the first time this year, I type its name in ALL CAPS.† Ones typed in upper and lower case are interesting ones that I have seen before this year.
On the ferry, I did see Pigeon Guillemots in interesting plumage, in between their winter colors and their summer ones.† I also saw a couple of Red-necked Grebes, which I donít see very often.
Once across Puget Sound, I drove straight to Port Angeles, to Ediz Hook, to look for several birds on my target list.† My number one priority was Snow Bunting, but I missed on that one, despite good information about where a couple of them have been seen and about an hour of my time spent looking for them.
I did pick up BRANT right away, though, a small goose I had missed in California.† I had read about an uncommon gull that would be a lifer for me, but it was reported to be a ďfirst winterĒ one.† Gulls take three or four years to attain their adult plumage, and each year their plumage changes, so it takes a real expert to keep track of all the ďlooksĒ that the gulls give you.† Normally, I ignore all the juvenile ones, which are usually pretty motley looking, and only try to identify the adults, but I had read about this particular one, so I had looked it up.† To my surprise, I had no trouble at all seeing and identifying the first winter GLAUCOUS GULL (lifer) that everyone had reported.† Not only was it a lifer bird, I only had it at a 10% chance of seeing one this year, in my spreadsheet, so seeing it was great.
Later I saw some Sanderlings, some Dunlin, and a number of Black Turnstones.† They were all good birds, but I had already seen all of those species this year.† Out at sea I did get good looks at a pair of HARLEQUIN DUCKS, though, both while on the water and then while flying away.† That was one of my target birds, and even though I fully expected to see them, it was still satisfying.
I finally gave up on the Snow Buntings, and I headed back toward Sequim.† I had exchanged emails with a guy in Sequim by the name of Bruce, and he had told me he could show me some birds I wanted to see.† I was supposed to call him about 3:30.† Because I had caught the earlier ferry, though, I had a little time, so I stopped at the Dungeness River Audubon Center at Railroad Bridge Park.† I talked to the guy in the visitor center there, and then went out looking for my target species there.
I scanned the river from the bridge, where he had suggested (the same place that Bruce had told me to look), but didnít see it, so I walked on farther and didnít see anything at all.† On my way back, I stopped again on the bridge and spent another ten minutes scanning the river downstream.† Just as I was about to give up, I saw my target bird, a lovely little AMERICAN DIPPER, making his way up the river, looking for the underwater snails that it lives on.† The bird is pretty nondescript in appearance, but its behavior is really charming.† It made its way up the river, ducking its head under to look for food, and stopping from time to time and doing its characteristic tail bobbing.† I took a good look and went back to the car for my camera.† I took a few dozen pictures as it made its way up the river toward me.† Here are a couple of them for your viewing pleasure:
I was thrilled with seeing the dipper, even though I will most likely see them again in either Yosemite or Glacier National Parks.† They are one of my favorite birds.
It was after three oíclock by then, so I called Bruce and he gave me directions to his house.† I picked him up and he took me to the farm pond where a couple of REDHEADS have been hanging out for a couple of weeks.† They are an uncommon duck, and I was glad to add them to my year list.† On the way back to his house, we stopped at a house on a back road that had a very elaborate system of bird feeders, and after a short wait, a RED-BRESTED NUTHATCH flew in for some seed.† It (or another one) came back once more while we were there, and I got a good look at it.† It would be more satisfying to see the bird on a tree trunk in the woods somewhere, and maybe I will, but in the meantime, it is on my list for the year now.† Bruce had a previous engagement so he couldnít show me anything else, but he gave me some good advice about where to look for other birds I wanted to see.† Picking up two more for my year list in fifteen minutes was outstanding, of course.
While driving around the area, I saw doves sitting on wires several times, and when I checked them out, they were all Eurasian Collared-Doves (as opposed to the very similar looking Mourning Doves that are native to this area).† I have mentioned before that I saw them in Oregon, in the Sacramento area, and in the Monterey area this year.† They are an introduced bird to this country, and they have been spreading west and north over the last several years.† A year ago they had not reached anyplace west of Arizona, but now they are obviously well spread out over the whole country.† I havenít seen one in the Seattle area yet, but it is only a matter of time, Iím sure.† I saw my first one ever in January, on my way to California.
After that, it was getting late, but I went on over to the coast, at Three Crabs Road, and took a look out over the bay with my scope.† I saw Black-bellied Plovers and various ducks, including Pintails and American Wigeons, as well as Surf Scoters, a sea duck.† I was just about ready to give up when I saw a group of about a dozen LONG-TAILED DUCKS.† They were two or three hundred yards away, but the identification was easy, as the males have a very long tail, as their name indicates.† The duck used to be called Oldsquaw, but that was deemed to be politically incorrect and it was changed to Long-tailed Duck recently.† I had only seen them once before, in 2002, so this was a great sighting for me.
By that time it was approaching five oíclock and the light was fading, so I headed back to Sequim to my motel.† This is a family owned motel in the middle of town, and I had found it with an internet search.† The reviews were quite good, and it was dirt cheap, $39.99 plus tax.† The room is larger than any Motel 6 room, it is clean, I have a king size bed, and there is a little microwave and a small refrigerator with a freezer compartment.† Of course, there is free wi-fi, too.† An excellent find, the Sundowner Motel, if you are ever in Sequim and need budget accommodation.
So, I got 7 species for my year list today, including one lifer.† I dipped on the Snow Buntings, but I might go back tomorrow and try again.† It is about a half hour drive back to Ediz Hook in Port Angeles, the opposite direction from home.† Iíll look at my target list and the local birding site information tonight and formulate a plan for tomorrow.† I have gotten most of the easy ones now, so there isnít much left.† I guess the best bird today was the Glaucous Gull, since it was a lifer and I didnít expect to see one this year, but the Red-breasted Nuthatch and the Long-tailed Duck were quite satisfying, too.† And, of course, the lovely little American Dipper would be the highlight of almost any day of birding, and it made it even better that I could get pictures of the little darling.
That brings me to 176 species for the year so far, of which 16 are new for my US list and 15 are lifers.† What a life!
Thursday, February 10
Today was something of a come-down as far as birding was concerned, but that was not a surprise.† I was up and out of my cheapo motel by 8:50, and my first destination was Railroad Bridge Park, where I had seen the American Dipper yesterday.† My main target was Evening Grosbeak, but I didnít see or hear any of them.† I did hear California Quail, but I didnít see one.† It was a glorious sunny morning, though, and the Olympic Mountains were incredible, to the south.† The temperature was in the mid-30ís, so it required bundling up.† I had an excellent half hour walk in the sun, with the snow-capped Olympic Mountain Range as a backdrop.
On the way to the park, I had gotten a good close look at a crow, and had heard it call a number of times.† I decided to add NORTHWESTERN CROW to my list, based on location and call.† The Northwestern Crow looks pretty much like the American Crow, but it only lives in a small area in Washington and parts of Western Canada.† Its call is a little different, but Iím not good with calls.† Some people think that should be classified as a subspecies of American Crow, but at this point, it is considered by the ďofficialsĒ who make these decisions to be a separate species.† In one way, it is an addition to my US list, as I have only ever counted it before when I saw it up in Canada, in an area where American Crow does not live.† I am going to count the Canadian sighting as a US one, though, since Canada and the USA are usually considered part of one ďareaĒ by the birding Powers That Be.† (Along those same lines, Hawaii is not considered part of that area, and I do count my Hawaiian species on my US list, so I am not being completely consistent here.)† Later I got good looks at other crows in the area, and I feel confident in saying that at least one of the crows I saw today was a Northwestern Crow, although I wouldnít be able to be certain of any of them in particular, because of the similarities of the species.
After my lovely walk at Railroad Bridge Park, I made my way to the Dungeness National Wildlife Area.† At a couple of ocean overlooks, I saw a lot of the usual sea ducks, including good views of Long-tailed Duck and a Pacific Loon.† I didnít bother walking to the Dungeness Spit, as I already have seen all the birds I was likely to see on that walk.† I had mainly gone there just to see the place and to see what birds I could see.† I had also gotten a great close look at a male Northern Harrier, swooping over the fields, as I came in, and that was cool.
After that, I decided to spend an extra hour of driving, round trip, and go to Ediz Hook again, to look for the Snow Buntings.† I spent the driving time and another hour or so there, but dipped again on the buntings.† I did see three feral cats while there, skulking around in the rocks, and maybe that explains the absence of the Snow Buntings.† Iíll be interested to see if the Snow Buntings are mentioned again on the local birding mailing list.† I saw most of the same birds I had seen yesterday, as well as a couple of Black Oystercatchers.
It was about 1 PM by then, so I decided to head for home.† I got a gut bomb at Mickey Dís and headed back toward Seattle.
Along the way, I stopped at John Wayne Marina, just east of Sequim.† It was built by his relatives and named after him.† I didnít see anything special there, although I did get some more close looks at crows there.
I made one more stop, at Port Gamble, and looked out over the water with my scope.† I saw some White-winged Scoters, which was a lifer back in January in California, along with more of the usual suspects.† I caught the 3:10 ferry out of Kingston and was home by about 4:15.† The ferry ride was really spectacular, with great views of the snow-capped Cascade range and Mount Baker, the equally snow-capped Olympic range, and Mount Rainier to the south, which must have been 80 to 100 miles away.† It was really a fantastic day to be out and about in the Puget Sound area.
So, that ends the story of my Sequim/Port Angeles winter birding adventure.† I added 8 species to my year list and am now at 177 species for the year, of which 16 are new for my US list (not counting the Northwestern Crow) and 15 are lifers.† I donít imagine I will add any more until my planned San Diego trip in early March.
Sunday, February 27
It has been a couple of weeks since I did any birding, but this morning I had a little birding adventure.† Yesterday there had been a post on Tweeters, the local birding mailing list, by a guy up in Brier who reported that Evening Grosbeaks had been coming to his feeders every day this winter.† I have only seen them a couple of times in my life, and I only had them at 40% for the year in my spreadsheet.
Whatís more, he also mentioned that he has had Band-tailed Pigeons all winter, another bird I have only seen a couple of times in my life.† To top it off, for the last couple of days he had a White-throated Sparrow feeding in his front yard.† That would be a lifer for me, and one I had at only 1% in my spreadsheet.†† It mostly winters in the Eastern US and summers up in northern Canada and Alaska, but my old field guide did show that they sometimes winter along the California coast, too.† Today I looked it up in my new field guide, which is written by the same authors as my old one, and it now shows them all along the west coast in the winter, up to the Canadian border.
So, I was quite excited by the prospects, and I sent the guy an email, asking if I could maybe come up to look for those three species.† I included my phone number, and he phoned about noon today and said that all three species had been around this morning, and I could come on up.
So, I jumped in the car and went on a twitch.† It was only about a 15 or 20 minute drive north of here, and I found his house easily.† †Right away he showed me the EVENING GROSBEAKS, coming to a feeder just outside of a window.† I had numerous, long, close looks at them.† Score!
We went outside to look for the pigeons, but didnít see them.† Back at the front window, we watched the ground feeding birds Ė Dark-eyed Juncos, Golden-crowned Sparrows, a Fox Sparrow, a Spotted Towhee, a Song Sparrow, and finally the target Ė WHITE-THROATED SPARROW (lifer).† I had repeated long, close looks at it, which was wonderful.† It was a tan morph one, looking just like in the field guide, yellow lores and all.
We continued to look out the windows at his back yard, which he and his wife had transformed into a fantastic environment for birds.† There is a little stream, flowing right down toward the house, lots of feeders, and lots of bushes and trees.† No grass or anything, just a wonderful wild environment.† He and his wife and I discussed birds and places we had birded, while watching more great birds through the window.† A beautiful Chestnut-backed Chickadee took a bath in the little stream, and I got a really close binocular look at a Bewickís Wren at a feeder right next to the house.† Townsends Warblers came and went from the feeders, along with Stellerís Jays.† There was a female Varied Thrush on the ground.† There were probably other species, too, but those are the ones I remember.
Eventually, I gave up on the Band-tailed Pigeons.† I only have them at 50% for the year, but I will try to see them everywhere else I go this year.
So, my two new species today puts me up to 179 species for the year, of which 16 are new for my US list and 15 are lifers.† On Friday I head out to San Diego for a week, where I have three local birders lined up who have said they can show me around. †I hope to add another 15 to 20 species to my year list on that trip.† Maybe I can get to 200 if Iím really lucky.† Stay tuned for reports.