Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kern Refuge and Home - Days 9 & 10

May 5 was going to be a long day of birding and cycling - over 100 miles of riding. It was a chance for 3-6 new BIGBY birds at the Kern National Wildlife Refuge, a place I had birded years ago when I lived and taught in the closest town to the north, Corcoran.

I left the Cinderella Motel in Wasco at 6 AM, but by the time I stopped for a fresh made turkey and Swiss cheese deli sandwich at a nearby market, it was closer to 6:30 when I left Wasco for the refuge. I travelled the flat 26 miles to the refuge at a decent clip and arrived at 8:15. Just before getting to the entrance, I got the juices flowing when I spotted several flocks of White-faced Ibis (BIGBY #267) flying over the road from the refuge. (I had fun copying their nasal call as I pedalled by them at the refuge, where they were common breeders.) After the entrance, I immediately took the gravel road (the 7 mile self-guided auto tour route) around the refuge. My 28 mm. tires were narrow for this road, but they held up despite the rocks.

This over 10,000 acre refuge was a combination of open shallow ponds, thick tule marsh, occasional cottonwoods and willows, and dry areas that were either dried up ponds from the winter or permanently dry uplands. It was fairly quiet for land birds except for the Tricolored, Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds (BIGBY # 268), which were numerous and a few Marsh Wrens and Western Kingbirds. Shorebirds in the open ponds included American Avocet, Long-billed Dowitchers, Least Sandpipers and Black-necked Stilts (BIGBY # 269). A couple of stilts were on nests (photo below) that consisted of a pile of vegetation out in the open, surrounded by water. Ducks included Gadwall, Mallard, Ruddy Duck and Redhead (BIGBY # 270), which were fairly common. I really searched the cattail edges for bittern and moorhen. I surprised an adult Common Moorhen (BIGBY # 270) which was feeding out in the open as I came out from behind some tules. It ran back for cover across some floating vegetation, but I had a decent look. I found no bitterns before I had to leave at 10:00 AM. The refuge office was still locked, but I had a long ride ahead.

From the refuge I did a lot of cycling and very little birding till McKittrick. The back roads I took were quiet farm roads and I made good time till just before McKittrick. I stopped at about 1 PM in the middle of nowhere to eat the lunch I had packed, with the only shade being a large tamarisk (it took several miles to find any shade). Unfortunately, people had used the turnout and the tree to dump trash (including a dead coyote) and to break glass. Under the tree it was much cooler and a pair of Western Kingbirds were nesting above me. It felt good to take of my shoes and socks, and relax during my lunch break!

About thirty minutes of cycling after my lunch stop, the road began to climb as I was starting up the base of the Temblor Range, an arid range that separates Kern from San Luis Obispo County. After a few miles of climbing, I arrived at the small drab town of McKittrick. I was hot, tired and thirsty. I used my last water (and electrolyte drink) as I neared the town on Highway 58. I cooled down with a couple of frozen push-ups and bought two large bottles of water to refill my water bottle and mix some electrolyte drink. I decided to bring an extra bottle in my pannier as well. (I ended up drinking over a gallon of fluid that day on the road!)
The road climbed over 2,000 feet to the summit of the Temblors. I found, however, that as I climbed my surroundings began to get more vegetated and the desert gave way to dry pasture land. The fields started to be greener and wildflowers dotted the roadside. A little higher and the breeze came up. The transformation in weather and plant life from below McKittrick to the the summit of the Temblors was amazing. The views back to the valley were a little depressing, however, as the haze/smog limited the visibility to a very short distance across the valley.

After clearing the summit, I thought I would just descend to the Carrizo Plain and then take the flat Soda Lake Road to the California Valley Lodge (left). I had forgotten the roller coaster like road that is located between the descent west from the summit and the flat Carrizo Plain. I was tired from the day's ride and did not have any patience for the up and down of this portion of Highway 58. Eventually, I cleared the last of the surprisingly many little uphill climbs and dropped to the plain before turning onto the Soda Lake Road and the last couple of flat miles to the motel. Owner, Kenneth greeted me and said my mailed food was in the same room I used before. The beetle invasion (below) was still going on as they piled up next to walls and doors of the motel. I felt tired from the long ride but not exhausted. I unloaded, washed a jersey and shorts, birded a little, ate my microwaved food for dinner and repacked for the next day's return home before writing in my journal and calling it a day. This motel room had no TV or other entertainment so there was really nothing more to do anyway.

On Thursday, May 6, I got up when I woke up and prepared for my last leg of the journey. Other than a possible Black-chinned Sparrow, any new BIGBY birds were unlikely for the day. The ride through that end of the plain did go past a farm pond that had a lonely looking female Bufflehead, a flock of Tricolored Blackbirds and some Yellow-headed Blackbirds (new for my county year green list). I also watched an adult Golden Eagle being harassed by a Western Kingbird that repeatedly dove on it while the eagle sat on the utility pole and then chased the eagle as it flew off.

The climb out of the plain was a very short one and then I began the up and down road between there and Santa Margarita. I had to remind myself that every uphill had a downhill after it rather than the opposite (the glass half full rather than half empty approach). I remembered much of the ride from here on. I stopped at San Juan Creek and other spots along the road that looked birdy, but found nothing unusual. I heard one Phainopepla, which was less than my ride back in February. I stopped in areas of scrub brush hillsides that looked appropriate for Black-chinned Sparrow, but could find none, even with the aid of a playback of a recording of their song. I was in no hurry to end the trip so I took my time. Hillsides of flowers brightened the day's ride.

I arrived at Santa Margarita after a pleasant 50 mile ride, with a fair amount of hill climbs, but nothing too tiring. I stopped at the restaurant named "the Porch" and knew that I was back in a coastal county as I ate my grilled portabella mushroom sandwich (not big in Kern County) and air popped chips.

After leaving Santa Margarita, I rode for a short distance on the very busy and noisy Highway 101 before getting off on Old Stagecoach Road which was dirt, but much more pleasant with the sound of cars replaced by the sound of a stream and the hot sun by the shade of the many trees lining the road. I found a large gopher snake and a king snake on the road. Another short stretch on Highway 101 and then through San Luis Obispo to Los Osos Valley Road, which had its usual spring afternoon onshore headwind. This was the third leg of my trip that finished with a strong headwind, but it seemed only a minor annoyance compared the wind at Lake Isabella. It didn't dampen my enthusiasm for returning to my home and my own bed for a good night's sleep, as well as a couple of days to rest after my ten day trip. The trip was definitely worth it - for the thirty new species of birds, for the mostly very pleasant cycling, for the challenges of some days and the beauty of others, and to have a whole different (and more intimate) feel for travelling across our extremely varied state.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading your bike/birding trip account. I live in Talkeetna, Alaska, and do most of my birding by bike. I envy your diversity of habitats and species, not to mention your weather! Still, we share at least the same commingled joys of cycling and birding.