Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tree-Top Migrants



Migration on the coast just wasn't happening, and Cerro Alto had been getting good reports. So, I took the morning off of work on April 16 and pedalled the 15 miles from my house near the coast to this Los Padres National Forest campground. The ride up is not overly steep, but an offshore wind in my face (deja vu) made me work. I did hear the buzzy call of Lazuli Buntings along the way (Bigby # 225), in an overgrown pasture area with scattered brush.
Cerro Alto Campground is about about 7 miles from the coast and a little over 1,000 feet in elevation. What a difference this short distance made for migrants! The very first bird I heard after locking up my bike off the road, was a MacGillivray's Warbler (Bigby # 226). I arrived at about 9:00 AM after the 1 1/4 hour ride and the "Mac" was singing continuously from up in a large oak - his male hormones had him boldly singing where this species normally doesn't go - except when trying to attract a mate. House Wrens, robins, Spotted Towhees, and creepers sang along with him. The entrance road is surrounded by large oaks (photo) and nearby is the willow riparian habitat along the East Fork of Morro Creek. The few open sunny areas had wildflowers like the pictured Hummingbird Sage - a favorite of the local hummers.

Shortly after placing my pannier into my day pack and covering my screaming yellow bike jacket with a green shirt, I was ready to hike the road up to the campground and then up the trail to look for more recent arrivals. As I approached the road I saw two other experienced local birders - Tom and Maggie. I welcomed their company with the extra eyes, and we made our way along the creek. Black-headed Grosbeaks sang from the creekside sycamores and willows, and American Robins gave their similar song from the oaks across the road. An unfamiliar warbler song came from deep into the willows and after much searching and pishing a bright male Nashville Warbler showed itself. For the rest of the paved road we saw and heard many birds including several very vocal Cassin's Vireos (local breeders and BIGBY # 227), and Western Wood Pewee (BIGBY # 228) and Ash-throated Flycatcher (BIGBY # 229) at the tops of sycamores. Just before starting up the trail another song similar to a robin, but a little more burry than what we had heard so far that day, was a Western Tanager (BIGBY # 230). It too was way up in a sycamore, showing of his red head and bright yellow underparts. At this poinbt we also ran into Alan and Kaaren, two other local birders who told us what they had up the trail. More good birds were ahead!
After getting onto the trail which goes up from the end of the campground, we started hearing the thin song of a Townsend's Warbler, which eventually led us to a large flock of warblers and flycatchers, which included a sharp looking male Hermit Warbler with his bright yellow face, black bib and white underparts (BIGBY # 231). A couple of Black-throated Gray Warblers (BIGBY # 232) were in the same flock, as were Pac-slope Flycatchers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and more Townsend's. We left the flock as we went further up the trail, and the habitat changed, so we turned around and went back down to the entrance, happy with all the nice migrants we had seen. I left with no satisfactory photos of any of these birds since they had all been way up in the tall trees, but I did post one poor picture of the Mac.

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