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Wednesday, June 8
The Old Rambler is back at it, looking for birds. This morning I drove up to the Edmonds waterfront to look for a sea bird that had been reported to be there over the weekend.
Upon arriving at the pier, I didn’t see many birds around, although there were a lot of little fish (maybe up to 5 or 6 inches long) jumping. I did see a couple of distant birds that could have been my target species, but the ferry left the terminal at about that time, and they flew off.
There was a Pigeon Guillemot near the pier, though, closer than I had ever seen one, so I took some pictures. I think it is the first time I have been able to get a picture of this species. Here is one of them:
In the winter they are mostly white, but they fly off to South America or somewhere like that, so when I see them, they are in their summer breeding plumage, like this one.
I kept looking, and finally spotted my target bird, a MARBLED MURRELET. I knew they were supposed to be in Puget Sound in the summer, but since I hadn’t seen one since 2001, I only had it at 50% in my spreadsheet. I took some very distant pictures of the bird, but they only serve to identify it as a Marbled Murrelet, as all you can see is the shape and outline.
Then I saw one closer in, and got some pictures that are still pretty distant, but at least they are good enough to show one here. You can see that the color is kind of a marbled brown and lighter colors. The shape of the bird and the size of the bill indicate that it is a Marbled Murrelet, but the colors make it even more certain. Here it is:
There was very little else around, other than a few gulls. I stopped at the wetlands across the railroad tracks, and saw a few birds, but nothing very interesting.
So, that brings me to 346 species for the year, of which 99 are lifers. We leave for Yosemite next week, and I hope to add a few more on that trip, so stay tuned for more reports.
Friday, June 17
This morning Christina and I left on our annual family trip to Yosemite. We stopped a half hour earlier than usual, so I could look for a particular bird here in Bend, Oregon – one I had seen several years ago at this same motel, flying over the Deschutes River at dusk. I had no way of knowing if they would be here, but I had seen them here before, so we decided to stop here so I could try my luck.
We got here about four o’clock and walked along the river for a while. I had a couple of little drinkies, and then we went off to get dinner. There is a great Chinese restaurant here in Bend, called Chan’s, and we called and ordered, and then picked up our dinners, to bring back to our room, which has a kitchenette and balcony overlooking the river. We also stopped at Safeway and picked up stuff to make our own breakfasts in the morning.
After dinner, and after the sun went down over the horizon, I went back down to the river to look for my bird, which is a night bird. There were swallows flying over the water, catching insects, and there were also Cedar Waxwings around. The Cedar Waxwings were also flying out over the water and catching flying insects. I knew they ate berries, but I didn’t know that they also ate insects. Live and learn.
Finally, as it got darker, about 8:45 PM, I saw my target bird, COMMON NIGHTHAWK. There weren’t as many of them as I remember from several years ago here (which is the only other time I have seen this species), but I probably saw at least 6 or 8 different birds, and many of them a number of times. They swoop around like swallows, catching insects, but they are at least twice as big as swallows, so they are quite easy to identify. They have white patches on their wings, which is the definitive identification mark, but just the size and shape of the bird is enough. They have long, sickle-shaped wings, and they are very acrobatic in the air. I saw Lesser Nighthawk in Arizona, and they look very much the same except that the white patches on their wings are closer to the tips of the wings. The Lesser Nighthawk doesn’t live around here, though, so there is no danger of confusing the identifications, and I got good looks at the location of the white patches tonight anyway.
So, that brings me to 347 species for the year so far, of which 99 are lifers. I hope to get three or four more in Yosemite, and maybe two or three additional ones in the Sacramento area on the way home from Yosemite. I’ll write a report on any day that I see another species. The Old Rambler is on the prowl again, seeing new birds. Tomorrow we plan to drive to Reno, and I don’t expect to see anything new tomorrow.
Sunday, June 19
Today we drove from Reno to Yosemite Valley, down US 395 and over Tioga Pass, which only opened for the year yesterday.
North of Mono Lake, we took the turnoff to Virginia Lakes, to look for a bird that was reported to hang out at the feeders at the resort at Virginia Lake – Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. It was a beautiful six mile drive up the mountainside to Virginia Lake, but we didn’t see the Rosy-Finch. There were a number of Brown-headed Cowbirds at the feeder, and here is a picture of a male (the one with the brown head) and a female:
While we were watching the feeder, Christina noticed another bird in a nearby tree, and it was one I needed for my year list still, CLARK’S NUTCRACKER. Here is a rather poor picture of it:
It is a member of the Jay family. I expect to see a lot of them in Yellowstone in July, and I hope to get a better picture then. They are generally only found at elevations over about 8000 feet.
On the way over Tioga Pass, we stopped several places to look for the Rosy-Finches, but had no luck. So far, I haven’t seen anything else new here, either.
So, one more bird for my year list, bringing me to 348 for the year, of which 99 are lifers.
Wednesday, June 22
I have a report for today, but first I want to show a few pictures from the last couple of days. Here is a young Black Bear that was in the meadow across the road from El Capitan. There was a ranger on guard duty, to make sure there weren’t any bear-human interactions, but he didn’t seem to mind people taking pictures from the road.
Later that day, I saw a few birds, but nothing new for my list. Here is a Western Wood-pewee, which is a type of flycatcher:
We had 28 people at our big picnic dinner on Monday night. Here is a picture of the “Yosemite Gals”. The YG is a group of women who give each other support online during the year, to get into better shape for hiking and biking here in Yosemite. They usually have a T-shirt, and this is the one for this year:
On Tuesday, a large group hiked the 8.2 miles from the Valley to Glacier Point, which is about a 3500 foot net elevation gain. They left the Lodge at 5:30 AM and rode bikes to the trailhead at Happy Isle. The last stragglers came in about 3:00 in the afternoon to Glacier Point. Three cars drove up to pick them up, although Johanna chose to walk back down the Four Mile Trail, which is almost five miles back to the Lodge. With the long drive and the terrible traffic in the Valley, she actually got back to the Lodge sooner than we did. It was a long day for everyone, though.
My brother, Rick was one of the drivers, and I went along for the ride. We stopped in Wawona to look for the Great Gray Owl, but didn’t see it. We made several other stops along the way, too, but I didn’t see any new birds that day (Tuesday). The hikers had seen a Sooty Grouse with some young ones, and that is one I need to see still this year, but I wasn’t there, of course, and I only got to see the pictures.
Here is a picture of Half Dome, Vernal Falls, and Nevada Falls, from Washburn Point, which is just a mile from Glacier Point:
Here is a closer view of Vernal Falls:
And here is a close-up of the top of Vernal Falls. You can see a number of hikers who made it that far:
Although I didn’t see any new species that day, I did see a new subspecies for me, a Fox Sparrow of the Thick-billed group:
It looks somewhat different from the Fox Sparrows we have in the Pacific Northwest, but I verified the identity by playing its call on my phone, and it responded and sang for quite a while.
So, finally we are up to today, Wednesday. I got up at 6 this morning, so I could drive for 40 minutes to Hodgdon Meadow, to go on a bird walk with a ranger. The walk atarted at 8, and I just made it in time. It was the largest group that Ranger Karen had had in her years of bird walks in Yosemite, more than 20 people, including some kids. It was slow going, with so many people, and it had to be pitched for beginners and kids, of course, so it wasn’t exactly stimulating, but it was interesting and fun.
Karen had arranged to meet some young people who were doing bird banding. They catch the birds in large nets and then measure and weigh them. They put an aluminum band on one leg, and the number of the band gets turned into a national registry, so if and when some other banders somewhere catch that bird, they can learn something about the movements of that species. We got to watch them do the weighing, measuring, and banding, and then they held the birds for us to take pictures. It isn’t considered permissible to count birds that have been captured, but fortunately, they only had caught birds I have already seen this year, so I wasn’t faced with the problem of whether to count them or not.
Here is a Warbling Vireo:
And this is a MacGillivray’s Warbler:
This one is a male Black-headed Grosbeak:
And here is a member of the woodpecker family called a Red-breasted Sapsucker:
And another of the same bird:
It was very cool to see the birds so closely. They always appear much smaller to me when I see one up close, compared to when I see them in a distant tree.
After we spent 30 or 40 minutes with the banders, we continued our walk, and we did see a few more birds. Here are a couple of pictures of Mountain Chickadees. They had a nest in an old stump, right next to the trail, and they were coming and going often, so they must have had babies down in the stump. Some people said they could see them down there, but it was too dark for me to see anything.
Finally, as we got near the end of our walk, I got one of the birds I had been expecting to see here in Yosemite, because I have seen them here before – WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER. Here is a distant, rather blurry picture of the top of the one we saw:
And, as we were watching the White-headed Woodpecker, we saw another species I had hoped to see here, a beautiful male PILEATED WOODPECKER. Here he is, a Woody Woodpecker lookalike:
So, I ended up getting two more for my year list today, both of them woodpeckers. That brings me to a total of 350 species for the year, of which 99 are lifers. I don’t really expect to see any others while here in Yosemite, but I’ll keep my eyes open, and maybe I’ll get lucky.
We plan to leave for home on Saturday, and drive to Sacramento to have dinner with my friend, Fred. Christina will then fly home on Saturday evening, and I plan to stay on for two or three days with Fred, to look for three species that I have a good chance to see in that area. If I succeed, there will be another report.
Addendum to today’s report:
We had three more people arrive today, so we had 29 people for our picnic dinner tonight. We had a white wine tasting, to start us off right. I unerringly picked the New Zealand Marlborough Savignon Blanc as my favorite, even though all the labels were covered. I do like those wines.
After dinner, I stopped at the bridge to the village and took some pictures of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, in the fading light. The picture of Half Dome from that bridge is a classic, and it is tough to get the exposure to show the river and the dome at hat time of day, and I wanted to test my new camera. Here are my results:
And, here is Yosemite Falls in the fading light:
So, that is it for today. Again.
Monday, June 27
Here’s another report, so you know what that means by now – at least one more year list bird today.
Yesterday, Fred and I drove north about 30 miles to the Spenceville Wildlife Area, in search of Lawrence’s Goldfinches. We stopped a number of places, and we saw a lot of Lesser Goldfinches and quite a few American Goldfinches, but no Lawrence’s. It was a nice morning out, although it was just a bit too hot for me. It was almost 90 by lunch time.
My cold or viral infection or whatever it is slowly has been improving, and today it has moved to the nose running stage. Yesterday and the day before, I came close to losing my voice, but today it is better. This is the seventh day of symptoms, so I am hoping it is nearing the end. I still get tired easily, though, and sleep longer than usual.
For today, I had heard from a local birder by the name of Chris. He works at the Sacramento Bufferlands, which is a very large chunk of land surrounding the sewage treatment plant for this area. It has ponds, fields and trees, and is an excellent environment for birds. It isn’t open to the public, but he offered to take me in and show me a couple of good birds. I asked and he said I could bring Fred along as well, so we met him at a locked gate at the back of the property at 9:30 this morning, and he took us in his van to look for birds.
It wasn’t long before we saw a BLUE GROSBEAK fly up from the bushes. We got out and looked for it, and saw it again. We ended up getting excellent scope views of it. It was too distant for pictures, unfortunately, as it is a beautiful blue bird, as the name implies. They are pretty uncommon in the area, and I won’t see them anywhere else I plan to go this year, so it was a great one to get. It was one of the 4 or 5 birds I had asked about on the Central Valley birding mailing list, and it was really generous of Chris to take the time to show us one.
After seeing the grosbeak, Chris moved on to show us the bonus bird of the trip. I only had this bird at 1% in my year list spreadsheet, and I didn’t even know they could be found in this area. We drove to a place in the middle of some water treatment pools, and there in the middle of the dirt road, there was a nest with a LEAST TERN sitting on it. The bird flew up and over us, then went back to the nest. I say “nest”, but it is really only a scrape in the dirt, right out in the open. Later we saw its mate, swooping over a pond, looking for fish. This is thought to be the only nesting pair of Least Terns in the whole Central Valley of California. Normally they are a coastal bird, and a few of them nest in the San Diego area. They winter somewhere in Central or South America. So, you can see what I mean by a “bonus bird”. Since I don’t plan to be in the San Diego area when they are there this year, I didn’t think I had any chance of seeing one.
So, fresh from that success, Fred and I stopped at a known nesting site, under a freeway bridge, for my next target bird. We weren’t even out of the car before we saw a male PURPLE MARTIN, a swallow-like bird. There were not only a number of Purple Martins coming and going to the nest holes under the freeway, there were also a large number of White-throated Swifts doing the same thing. The holes are “weep holes”, for water to run out of when it rains, but I guess the water doesn’t bother the birds.
After that it was coming up on lunch time, and we decided to head out east of town on a quest for the last species I had on my wish list. We stopped at a Costco, where I filled up the car with gas and my stomach with a hot dog and a piece of pizza, and then drove out toward the foothills.
I had been told about this site by people on the birding mailing list, too, and on Saturday, as Christina and I had driven from Yosemite to Sacramento, we had stopped to check it out. It is on Michigan Bar Road, just north of the Cosumnes River. There is an old one-lane bridge across the river, and we stopped on the other side and looked. After about ten minutes, Fred spotted our target bird, a lovely male LAWRENCE’S GOLDFINCH. If I hadn’t left my camera in the car, I could have gotten a picture, but by the time I got the camera, the bird had flown off, and we never had that good a look at one again. As we had seen yesterday, there were Lesser Goldfinches around, but we didn’t see any other Lawrence’s we could identify.
So, it was a four bird day, a clean sweep of the three species I had wanted to see here, with a bonus bird as well. That brings me to 354 species for the year, of which 99 are lifers.
Now I need to make the long drive home (about 13 hours spread out over two days). I haven’t decided whether to leave tomorrow or on Wednesday. It is supposed to rain all up and down the west coast tomorrow, and I don’t really like driving in the rain. On the other hand, I would like to get home as soon as I can. And on the third hand, in another day I hope to feel better and maybe my nose will be running less. We will see. It might depend on how I feel in the morning.