Saturday, June 5, 2010

Trip to Ragged Point and Back

I had planned to cycle north on Highway 1, on May 29 to look for Black Swifts reported from Black Swift Falls near the Ragged Point Inn. I also wanted to spend the night there with my wife for our anniversary; tick off 2 birds with one cycling trip, so to speak. Since I saw a Black Swift on the prior Monday near my house, I cycled up for my anniversary and whatever species I might see on the way there or back, along the coast. After walking the dog and doing some other husbandly chores, I didn't get on the road till about 9:30 - just in time for the onshore wind from the northwest! I potentially had 50 miles of headwinds ahead! I also had a sore left leg from an injury I got the day before - playing doubles squash.

Fortunately, the wind was only bad in a couple of spots and my leg felt alright once I warmed up. I didn't stop much along the way unless I saw or heard something worth stopping for. I did hear some Cassin's Kingbirds near Harmony, in some eucalyptus trees at a farm next to the highway. There were several, with a couple making their burry two note call from trees and power lines. A Bullock's Oriole also chattered nearby. A little farther up the coast three Greater Yellowlegs (late in the season) called as they flew up from a small wetland bordered by pasture and the road. The white rumps on these medium sized shorebirds showed as they circled and landed behind some green cover, between pools of water. I had a planned stop at Santa Rosa Creek, a willow lined watercourse that flows through the small artsy tourist town of Cambria and out to the coast. Many common breeders such as Black-headed Grosbeak and Wilson's Warbler sang from the thick cover, but I heard nothing unusual. I stopped for lunch at a liquor store that has tables overlooking a pond and Pico Creek, at the north end of San Simeon (where tourists stay to go to Hearst Castle).

I arrived at the Ragged Point Inn at about 3 PM (Celeste arrive about an hour later). The only steep hill between there and Los Osos was right before the Inn. The wide bike lane along Highway 1 ended about 5 miles south of the Inn. Our room was elegantly comfortable and the Inn's large grassy area, surrounded by flowers and cypress trees, had a great view of the ocean below. White-throated Swifts and Cliff Swallows flew overhead and finches and an Olive-sided Flycatcher sang from the trees. I sat in the warm sun in our room's patio and watched and listened to the birds as they darted around overhead. I was glad I had already seen the Black Swift for my BIGBY as there were no large all-dark swifts in the area that I could see. (I could find none at the end of the day or early the next morning either). I did stand next to the cypress trees at the edge of the grounds and watched the sun sink into the ocean that stretched out below. First the sun flattened into a bright yellow pancake and then it shrank from the left and right side to a dot in the center before going out totally.

The weather at the Inn was sunny and warm on Saturday and Sunday. We did a little walking around the the Inn and up a nearby dirt road that went up the hill on the inland side of the highway. We ate our meals at the Inn's restaurant. We found a table outside next to the lily pond that had a great view of the grounds and the bright blue sky as we ate our breakfast.

After breakfast, I packed up my bike and we loaded the car Celeste was driving. We had planned to meet at the trail out to Ragged Point, but neither of us could find the trailhead from the road, so we decided to meet at the elephant seal spot just south of Piedras Blancas instead. I stopped at a wetland a little south of the old Piedras Blancas Motel and saw a lone out-of-place looking White-faced Ibis that I had missed on the way up. I also passed a herd of Tule Elk further south- just north of Arroyo de la Cruz! (What are they doing there?)

My wife and I walked around the elephant seal lookout and took pictures. I was not sure what was more amusing - the seals with their loud burping sounds and mock fighting, or the tourists with strange calls and varied plumages. We agreed to stop for lunch at Soto's Market in Cambria. I found a mixed flock of black birds near the intersection of Highways 1 and 46 that contained a dozen or so Tricolored Blackbirds among the Brewer's and Red wingeds. At Soto's, my wife ate a large sandwich and I had a portabllo mushroom stuffed with crab.  We ate across the stret on a bench in front of the bank and we were serenaded by an old guy playing a guitar and singing Beatle's and other tunes from the sixties.
I rode the 28 miles home from Cambria without any stops. I had enjoyed the bike ride (and the romantic anniversary stay!), but had no new BIGBY species to show for 100 miles of riding (the ibis was a new county BIGBY bird though).

Thursday, June 3, 2010

More Local Birding

On May 16, I rode back to Montana de Oro Stae Park and cycled on the dirt and gravel road along Islay Creek, and hiked Coon Creek (about 4 and 5 miles from my house). While Islay Creek was full of bird song by birds like Lazuli Bunting and Rufous-crowned Sparrow, I could neither hear nor see any new BIGBY species. At Coon Creek I hiked and played recordings, but could scare nothing new out of the thick riparian habitat. (I did find another female Black-and-white Warbler - third for the year!) I also saw the pictured rabbit, morning glory flowers and coastal Live Oak along the Coon Creek trail (below).

On May 17, I did an after-work pedal over to the ponds at Turri Road and South Bay Blvd., where high tide floods some tidal flats at the north side of Los Osos. I found a Wilson's Phalarope (BIGBY # 272) (below) here with some Greater Yellowlegs. These shorebirds would not let me get too close, so I had to blow up a rather far away shot of them. This is a regular spot for phalaropes, but Wilson's is not often seen coastally in this county.

On May 19, Nike and I found a Rose-breasted Grosbeak (BIGBY # 273) (below) a couple of blocks away from our house, sitting in a sycamore on a vacant lot with a berry patch. It was a lucky find as it was not singing or calling. (Later, it did sing for a couple of local birders who went to look for it and was still singing off and on in the neighborhood four days later.)

On May 22, I packed my scope, tripod and camera, and cycled 4 miles out to the bluffs just north of Spooner's Cove at Montana de Oro State Park, to scope for pelagics. It was breezy and the visibility was incredible as I scoped from 7 AM till 9 AM. A moderate number of birds were moving - hundreds of Pacific Loons and a variety of other species. The best bird was a Xantus's Murrelet (BIGBY # 274), which shot by going to the north and I had long looks at it. Also new for the year were 2 Red-necked Phalaropes (BIGBY # 275) and three Elegant Terns (BIGBY # 276).

After walking Nike (the Rose-breasted was still in the neighborhood), I cycled around the Los Osos area on the morning of Sunday, May 23, checking several different locations for whatever might be passing through. Los Osos Oaks State Reserve (best early on a Sunday morning before the major traffic noise on Los Osos Valley Road) had a lot of bird activity in the front, where the water is flowing. While looking through the oaks for flycatchers and warblers I saw a female Varied Thrush (BIGBY # 277) just before it took off from the oak branch it was perched on and disappeared back into the preserve. The front of the preserve was birdy near the only flowing water there - the small stream that flows most of the year near the entrance. Western Tanagers sang their melodious song and Wilson's Warblers and Pacific-sloped Flycatchers answered with their not so melodic songs. Hutton's Vireos, Hairy Woodpeckers and an adult Cooper's Hawk (with a Western Scrub Jay in its talons) added to the bird activity near the front.

I left the Oaks and cycled through a partially wooded residential area on Willow Drive and Nipomo Avenue and then over to the riparian habitat along Turri Road. This stretch follows the course of an arm of Los Osos Creek and has had breeders such as Grasshopper Sparrow (across the road from the creek, in the pasture), migrants, and a few vagrants (e.g. Kentucky Warbler) in the past. This time I had to settle for Lazuli Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeak and other common breeders. Next, I accessed the extensive wooded habitat of Chorro Creek Willows from two locations along South Bay Boulevard - before and after the Chorro Creek bridge. I heard the haunting metallic song of the Swainson's Thrush and the "witchedy, witchedy' song of the yellowthroat, along with other breeders. I visited many spots on the way home along the edge of the bay and played a Black Rail recording at several locations, but this once regular but uncommon bird did not respond (it has apparently almost disappeared from the edges of Morro Bay). All of these locations were within a five mile radius of my home and made for a morning of birding and only about 12 miles of riding.

On the morning of May 24, Nike and I were doing our usual pre-work morning walk and bird with the usual suspects, when I received a call from Morro Bay birder Kaaren Perry. She had just seen a Black Swift against the overcast sky, about 2 blocks from where I stood. I looked up and about 30 seconds later it came over my head (BIGBY # 278) and I had time for only two quick photos (above) before it disappeared to the west. I knew I had been fortunate lately with my frequent new BIGBY species and that spring migration was slowing. I would have to really work for any new year birds from now until fall migration (which, for shorebirds, starts as early as late June with the return of some adults).