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 28, 2008

After saying goodbye to Nick and Eva on Thursday afternoon, I wound my way through the Stanislaus National Forest towards Yosemite National Park. A family of Mountain Quail crossed the road in front of me and White-throated Swifts hawked over the Tuolumne River. As the sun was setting I set up camp in the forest close to the park. I wolfed down a sandwich for dinner and then headed over to a private meadow complex for my owl vigil. Following a short prompting, a Great Gray Owl started hooting at the edge of the largest meadow, followed by another one screeching from the opposite side of the road.

Great Gray Owl Meadow

Neither one deigned to put in an appearance, but it was still awesome to hear them "conversing", on and off, for about 45 minutes. The following morning at twilight I tried once again to get the owls to talk, but they must have been sound asleep.

McGurk Meadow Fritillary

I hiked into McGurk Meadow, still hoping to see one of the big owls. No luck. Still, it was a beautiful spot, and I was rewarded with many other birds and butterflies: Hermit and Black-throated Gray Warblers, chickadees, nuthatches, vireos, and a Pileated Woodpecker.

hermit warbler
Female Hermit Warbler

fence lizard
Western Fence Lizard

At the end of Glacier Point Road, more birds flitted through the pines while fence lizards darted among the rocks. I was hoping for some larger swifts, but instead had to settle for a soaring Red-tailed Hawk and breathtaking views over the Yosemite Valley below.

half dome
Henry at Half Dome

red-breasted nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch

Aug 29, 2008

I left Los Banos at dawn, driving west into the fogbank over Monterey. Standing along the railing of the commercial fishing pier were Brown Pelicans and Western Gulls, all waiting for handouts--as were the California sea lions and Heermann's Gulls bobbing in the water below.

california sea lion
California Sea Lion

pigeon guillemot
Pigeon Guillemot

Among the boats tied up in the harbor, I was really happy to find both an immature Pigeon Guillemot and an adult Common Murre swimming around with the Pelagic Cormorants, an Eared Grebe, and the otters.

common murre
Common Murre

heerman's gull
Heermann's Gull

They were on a large, relatively dry rock with a number of other birds waiting for the tide to go out--Willets, gulls, cormorants, and lots more Brown Pelicans.

At Crespi Point the wind was sending the waves crashing over the rocks. Despite the high tide and inhospitable conditions, the birds were eagerly feeding on the washed-up kelp. A beautiful Surfbird in breeding plumage was the best find, while Black Turnstones were the most common shorebird. It took several stops and a lot of scanning to turn up any Black Oystercatchers, but I finally found a snoozing pair.

western gull
Western Gull

chestnut-backed chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee

On the grounds of Asilomar State Park I chased down the scolding sound of a Chestnut-backed Chickadee and snapped this photo of it--my best so far! Other birds in the Monterey Cypresses and pines included Hutton's Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Lesser Goldfinch, and Bushtit. At Jack's Peak I added my only Band-tailed Pigeon for the trip, plus several Nuttall's Woodpeckers.

Aug 30, 2008
My last day of the trip was spent driving down and around the Salton Sea on the way back to Yuma. The north end of the Sea wasn't too productive, but I did see a Common Tern at the end of Colfax Road. At the end of McDonald Road, I found the Gull-billed Terns had departed for the season, but the Black Skimmers were still there in abundance. They had been joined by numbers of California Gulls, more shorebirds, and additional waterfowl returning south for the winter season..

wood stork
Wood Storks

The star attraction for the day were these visiting Wood Storks--two at Obsidian Butte and an even dozen on a pond at Lack and Lindsey.

black tern
Laughing Gulls and Black Terns

Today was a day of BIG numbers. Obsidian Butte proved to be an excellent spot for hundreds of Caspian Terns, thousands of Black Terns, hundreds of Laughing Gulls, and dozens of those big-billed Yellow-footed Gulls. Along Obsidian Butte and elsewhere, hundreds of immature Brown Pelicans were mixed in with a few adults, and in several spots the sea was white with huge numbers of American White Pelicans. At the south end, a blanket of Ring-billed Gulls and Caspian Terns covered the newly formed pool of water cut off from the rest of the Sea by a newly exposed sand bar--the Sea is shrinking every day.

I got back home by mid-afternoon--it had been a fine 2300-mile trip to see friends, awsome scenery, and hundreds of excellent birds!

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