18th July - 9th August 2006

(Page Two)

July 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 the grounds.


Lesser Goldfinch

July 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.


Anna's Hummingbird

Back 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.

American Coot


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

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 Egret.



Greater Yellowlegs        &        Black-necked Stilt

American Avocet

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

July 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.


Yellow-billed Magpie


Weastern Scrub Jay        &        Clark's Grebe

Back 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!!!)


July 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 pine cone.


White-headed Woodpecker        &        Chipmunk

California Ground Squirrel

After lunch we had a short hike to McGurk Meadow, on the path down through the woods we saw a Towsend’s Solitaire, Cassin's Finch, Hermit 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

Leaving 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.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Western Tanager

July 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.


White-throated Swift


Yellow-bellied Marmot        &        Twelve-spotted Skimmer

After 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.  


Pine Grosbeak


July 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

Back 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 day. Back at the motel were five White-lined Sphinx moths busy feeding on the flowers.


Red-breasted Sapsucker


Common Nighthawk        &        White-lined Sphinx

July 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 Towhees.

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.


Common Nighthawk

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.

Blue Grosbeak

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

Juniper Titmouse

On 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.


California Quail 

 July 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 from treetops.


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.


Black-chinned Hummingbird



Willow Flycatcher        &        Brown-crested Flycatcher

Lots More On Page Two

All Images taken by Margaret, Nicola and Mark Breaks, Copyright - © Breaks Bird Photography