California Birding
22 - 31 August 2008
 by Henry Detwiler

From San Diego to the Sierras, I visited lots of habitat and saw over 200 birds on a trip to see my friends up in Fiddletown.

206 species seen   Click here for bird checklist.
Click on thumbnail pictures for full-sized photos. border  

Aug 22-23, 2008

On Friday, after an early dinner, I hightailed it from Yuma to San Diego. A quick stop at the RV Park at Sunbeam Lake revealed the summering White-fronted and Cackling Geese. Early on Saturday morning I headed out to the Bay early to greet the low tide in the fog. After three and a quarter hours the tide had rolled back in, and I was still missing my "life" Red-necked Stint. Fortunately, my vigil had produced handsome returns in the way of Royal, Elegant, and Forster's Terns, Black Skimmer, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Whimbrel, Long-billed curlew, plovers, sandpipers, and Red Knot.

elegant tern
Elegant Terns (digiscoped)

elegant & royal terns
Adult & Juvenile Royal Tern (digiscoped)

common yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat

At Dairy Mart ponds were several Cinnamon Teal, a juvenile Cooper's Hawk, an Osprey, more shorebirds, and a couple of Wilson's and Yellow Warblers.  

A run down towards the border turned up the Yellow-crowned Night Heron close to the Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center, several Little Blue Herons at the salt works, and some beautiful swallowtails at the Bird and Butterfly sanctuary.

black phoebe
Black Phoebe

Sunday, Aug 24, 2008

.flame skimmer Flame Skimmer

willow flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher

Early on Sunday I drove from Edwards AFB to the Silver Saddle Resort at Galileo Hills. Willow Flycatchers were patrolling the Soccer Field and a young Black-crowned Night Heron was sharing the pond with a Solitary Sandpiper. Next to the campgrounds, a Barn Owl and scores of dragonflies were enjoying one of the golf course ponds. Unfortunately, the once-regular Chukars were a no-show.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Driving north, I entered the Owens Valley and stopped at Dirty Socks Spring and some of the wet parts of the newly "mitigated" Owens Lake. Lots of peeps, American Avocets, dowitchers, and other shorebirds were present; unfortunately many of them were beyond even scope views. North of Bishop, a side trip to Hogback Creek made for a nice lunch stop. While stealthily creeping through the riparian cottonwoods, I scared up an elk resting in the underbrush! His antlers clattered on the branches as he made his escape, spooking me at least as much as I startled him.

Hogback Creek - Cardinal Meadowhawk



dark-eyed junco
Dark-eyed Junco

A quick drive from Big Pine up to Glacier Lodge took me up to the firs and aspens at 8000+', where I spied my first Steller's Jays, Dark-eyed Juncos, Spotted Towhees, and Mountain Chickadees for the trip.

steller's jay
Steller's Jay

american dipper
American Dipper

I was looking for Sooty Grouse, but scrambling up the mountainside among the pines turned up nothing but more juncos & towhees. Fortunately, a walk along the creek did net me my one and only American Dipper for the trip! Later, as I was setting up my campsite in the Pinyon Pines of the White Mountains, several Black-throated Gray Warblers came to investigate. I whistled and listened for owls all night, but my only visitors were a variety of bats.

Monday, Aug 25, 2008
As I pulled into the parking area for Tollhouse Springs at dawn, I was met with a strange assortment of cackles, grunts, and clucks drifting down from the mountainside. Scanning the scrub and rocks revealed several sizeable flocks of Chukars making their way to the springs. Climbing up towards the trickling water flushed them all--out of many photos, only this shot turned out OK.


Other birds taking advantage of the dripping water included Black-throated Sparrow, House Wren, and Rufous Hummingbird.

During a quick stop along the Owens River I heard my only Bell's Vireo for the trip, and turned up more Lazuli Buntings. At Klondike Lake an American Bittern flushed from the reeds while I was watching five species of swallows feasting on insects. On the far side of the lake were adult and baby Clark's Grebes, along with a multitude of brown ducks.

sage grouse
Sage Grouse

sage thrasher
Sage Thrasher

Crowley Lake proved once again to be a "must see". Sage Thrashers were abundant, sitting atop rocks and sagebrush, and after driving many miles of the dirt roads, I finally came upon a hen and baby Sage Grouse. The lake itself produced a small flock of Common Terns, hordes of California Gulls, and assorted shorebirds.

 mohave rattlesnake
Great Plains Rattlesnake

virginia lakes
Lower Virginia Lake

Driving around to the mountains south of Mono Lake turned up a flock of Pinyon Jays, but the screaming wind made looking for rare woodpeckers impossible. Mono Lake was beautiful but fairly unproductive bird-wise. A trip up to Virginia Lakes turned up Mountain Bluebirds and a Clark's Nutcracker, along with the usual suspects. Bridgeport was my last stop, and a Great Plains Rattlesnake a fine way to end the day!

Aug 26-28

On Tuesday morning I drove up and over Monitor Pass (8300'), with a spectacular view into the valley of California and Nevada to the east. All around me sparrows and bluebirds flitted over the sagebrush and meadows. Hoping to get a better view of the sparrows, I pished loudly. Like magic, a small bird flew up out of the field and landed not ten feet in front of me on the dirt road--a curious Vesper Sparrow. Farther west over the Sierras, at Caples Lake, a loud flapping of wings caught my attention--an adult Bald Eagle flew over my head with a trout in its talons. At Kirkwood Meadows the birds were extremely active, especially once riled up with some pygmy owl imitations.

wilson's warbler
Wilson's Warbler

White-crowned, Brewer's, Song, & Lincoln's Sparrows, Wilson's & MacGillivray's Warblers, and a Townsend's Solitaire were all putting on a show. Over the next two days I was in Fiddletown visiting friends Nick & Jennifer (and their girls), and added Acorn Woodpecker, Wild Turkey, and Oak Titmouse.

Click to continue trip on Page 2

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