18th July - 9th August 2006
18th – Brian, Margaret, Nicola and myself set off on our family
holiday to California. On arrival at Manchester airport, where we were to fly to
Chicago and then on to San Francisco it wasn’t long before we discovered that
our first flight was cancelled. However we had arrived early at the airport and
we were transferred onto yesterday’s delayed flight that was due to depart
one and a quarter hours earlier, how lucky was that! Two flights later (7.5 and
4 hours) we arrived in San Francisco on time, collected our hire car and made
the short but very busy journey to Palo Alto, from the 101 highway we spotted
our first new bird of the holiday, 4 hovering White-tailed Kites. Arriving at our motel at dusk, we had 6 Lesser
Goldfinch, 2 California Towhee
and a small flock of House Finch in
19th – An early morning visit to shoreline at Mountain View hoping
for Burrowing Owl was unsuccessful, but we got our first views of the stunning Anna’s
Hummingbird along with many Northern
Mockingbird, Black Phoebe, Snowy
Egret, the only American Wigeon
of the trip and a flock of 6 juv Brown Pelicans flew overhead.
to our motel for some breakfast and on to Palo Alto Baylands stopping first at
the Duck Pond, where the heronry was still full of young Black-crowned Night Herons, Snowy and Great Egrets.
On the actual pond were American Coot, Ring-billed and Western Gulls.
On the actual pond were American Coot, Ring-billed and Western Gulls.
Ring-billed Gull & Western Gull
Towards the visitor centre a tidal river held the first shorebirds of the holiday including the common Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Curlew, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Short-billed Dowitcher, Willet, Least and smaller numbers of Western Sandpiper.
Snowy Egret & Western/Least Sandpiper
Once at the centre we took the boardwalk to the rear where Brian
spotted a large rail in a small creek, it was a ‘California’ Clapper Rail skulking under the overhanging
vegetation. As this was at low tide we thought ourselves to be very lucky to see
this rare bird, especially when it decided to have a wash in the narrow stream
of water giving great views before being disturbed by a feeding Snowy
Greater Yellowlegs & Black-necked Stilt
We ended the day at Charleston Slough, unfortunately the tide was still out but this meant that the large mudflats were exposed with thousands of feeding shorebirds. On the nearby pools were several American White Pelicans, Pied-billed Grebe, Cinnamon Teal and two moulting male Lesser Scaup.
American White Pelican & Willet
20th – Today we travelled to the famous Yosemite Nation Park for our
next 3 nights. On the way we decided to have a look along Mines Road, within
minutes the first Yellow-billed Magpie
was spotted flying over the car. We carried on to Del Valle Regional Park
stopping at the reservoir shore car park where we noticed a family of California
Quail feeding on the edge of some bushes, what stunning birds. We then
turned round to see that the picnic tables were occupied by five Y-b
Magpies, several Steller’s and Western
Scrub Jays. On the res was a family of Clark’s
Grebe present with a couple of Western Grebes, one Belted Kingfisher flew
past and a Nuttall’s Woodpecker was
heard feeding above.
Weastern Scrub Jay & Clark's Grebe
on the road we encountered some more Quail,
2 Western Meadowlarks, and a Greater
Roadrunner, which shot across in front disappearing into the bushes. Further
on two Lewis Woodpeckers were seen fly catching from the top of dead
trees. As we approached Yosemite a thunderstorm was building up and the current
heat wave saw the temperature reach 40oC. (very hot!!!)
21st – We started the day at Glacier Point with some wonderful
scenery, pulling up in the car park we saw up to nine very tame Blue
Grouse being admired by the tourists along with the very numerous Chipmunks
and California Ground Squirrels. The most common birds seen in these pine
forests were Dark-eyed Junco, Mountain
Chickadee, ‘Thick-billed’ Fox Sparrow, Red and White-breasted
Nuthatches. From one of the view points over looking some dead, burnt trees
we saw some Northern Flickers and a Williamson's
Sapsucker was seen flying across and shortly after a male
White-headed Woodpecker gave brilliant views as it sat feeding on a large
White-headed Woodpecker & Chipmunk
California Ground Squirrel
lunch we had a short hike to McGurk Meadow, on the path down through the woods
we saw a Towsend’s Solitaire,
and Nashville Warblers. As we
approached the wet meadow a female Pine
Grosbeak flew up from the side of the path, soon followed by a juv begging
for some food. Once in the meadow Nicola found 5 Western Terrestrial Snakes sunbathing on a small wooden bridge.
Western Terrestrial Snake & Cassin's Finch
the cooler mountains we dropped into Yosemite Valley and had a walk around the
village and out to the Yosemite waterfalls. Western Tanagers were seen feeding in the low bushes feeding on
berries with about ten Black-headed
Grosbeaks, what great looking birds when seen in flight.
22nd – Another look at Glacier Point produced two excellent White-throated
Swifts feeding low over the viewpoint. We then travelled around to Touloume
meadows stopping at Olmsted Point where
we just saw a Clark’s Nutcracker fly over, oh yes and the Yellow-bellied
Marmots. Very few birds were seen at the Meadow but the large flooded area was
covered in dragonflies and especially great were the Twelve-spotted Skimmers.
Yellow-bellied Marmot & Twelve-spotted Skimmer
stopping for tea at White Wolf a pair of Pine
Grosbeak flew over the access road just as a thunderstorm was starting.
However I managed to locate the obliging pair
feeding and calling on the floor in the now very dark wood. We finished the day
looking for Great Grey Owl but no luck.
23rd – Our stay at Yosemite was over and we travelled to Mono Lake.
We arrived at the visitor centre shortly after lunch, where there was a
beautiful view over the lake and surrounding sage habitat. Birds present were Brewer’s
Sparrow and a pair of Say’s Pheobe
feeding a nest full of large chicks. From here we went round to the County Park
in search of phalaropes, as we walked down the boardwalk we could soon see
thousands of Wilson’s and hundreds
of Red-necked Phalaropes, what a
magnificent sight. Its amazing that all these birds come to this saline lake to
feed up on the million’s of brine flies along with the largest breeding colony
of California Gulls in California
(90%) before making their non stop journey to South America. Also present were
five Virginia Rails.
Say's Pheobe & California Gull
Red-necked & Wilson's Phalaropes
at the motel, whilst admiring the view off the balcony a male
Red-breasted Sapsucker flew in to the trees below us. On an evening drive
along the dirt track west from the County Park we encountered numerous Sage
Thrasher and Loggerhead Shrikes.
At the end of the track was a view point over the lake where we were able to see
thousands of distant Eared Grebes
(Black-necked) feeding on the abundant shrimps and a ringtail Northern
Harrier flew by. It was now dusk as we drove back when three Common
Nighthawks flew alongside, within minutes we had eight males flying around
giving fantastic views as they displayed to each other. Once they dispersed we
moved on to find one perched on a roadside bush, what a wonderful end to a great
Back at the motel were five White-lined Sphinx moths busy feeding on the
Back at the motel were five White-lined Sphinx moths busy feeding on the flowers.
Common Nighthawk & White-lined Sphinx
24th – We started the day at Bodie State Historic Park that opens
at 8am; within minutes of starting to walk around this ghost town I spotted our
target, a family of Greater Sage Grouse.
The female and six chicks were happily feeding around the buildings and allowed
close views, also present were a few pairs of Mountain Bluebirds busy feeding young in nests. A brief stop on the
access road produced six elusive Green-tailed
Greater Sage Grouse
Back at Mono Lake we visited the tufa formations at South Tufa, two pairs of Osprey had actually nested on some of the tufa and Violet-green Swallows flew overhead. On the west side of the lake an access point enabled us to walk to the lakes shore and see the swarms of brine flies covering the water surface, around the car park were three singing Lazuli Buntings, truly amazing looking birds.
Violet-Green Swallow & Lazuli Bunting
Another evening visit to the sage plain west of the Country Park produced a very obliging Common Nighthawk just before a thunderstorm started.
July 25th – Time to move on again, we were heading south to Kernville for the next five nights and we encountered the highest temperature of the holiday as the heat wave continued. 45oC !!!!!! That’s with not entering Death Valley and yes we needed the cars air conditioning. Today’s birding was in the White Mountains, but first we were treated to a male Blue Grosbeak just out of Big Pine.
Once up in the Pinyon forests we were hoping for some jays, unfortunately it was not to be. However we saw Juniper Titmouse, Plumbeous Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Black-throated Gray Warbler.
Black-throated Gray Warbler & Plumbeous Vireo
arrival at our apartment in Kernville we saw a flock of California Quail fly from the neighbouring yard, over the next few
days we would see lots of quail around the villages, with up to 200 daily.
26th – Starting at Fay Ranch Road in search of one of my main
target birds, we soon located some Ash-throated
Flycatcher and Western Bluebirds.
After searching for a while Brian spotted a ‘red current’ perched in a
distant tree, wow a male Vermilion
Flycatcher and then it was joined by a female and juv. The birds sadly
were on private land but after a while the beautiful male moved closer feeding
Vermilion Flycatcher & Western Bluebird
Leaving, very happy, we headed for the Kern River Valley Preserve. Here the visitor center feeders were alive with approximately 70 Hummingbirds, mainly Anna’s, fewer Black-chinned and only a couple Rufous. Once we finally dragged ourselves away from the hummingbirds we saw Wood Duck, Oak Titmouse, Willow and Brown-crested Flycatcher.
Willow Flycatcher & Brown-crested Flycatcher
Lots More On Page Two
All Images taken by Margaret, Nicola and Mark Breaks, Copyright - © Breaks Bird Photography