06-18-10 thru 06-21-10

Ever since our mid-April scouting trip, Cricket and I have been eager to return to the Kern River Valley during summer. May through June warms up considerably in the area, much hotter than April, the breeders are all in position and many target species like Summer Tanager and Yellow-billed Cuckoo are within reach.

To prepare, we read and re-read postings on the Kern County Birding list, looking for reports of target species, and carefully studied Bob Barnes' chapter in the "ABA/Lane Birdfinding Guide: A Birder's Guide to Southern Calfornia". With his help, we were able to piece together an itinerary that took four days and brought us in contact with most of our targets. He escorted us through the area on our earlier trip and was ever available for questions and up-to-the-minute intelligence of recently reported birds this time as well.We owe much of the success of this tour to him! Thank you Bob!

A basic map of our itinerary has been created by Eric on Google Maps. The post-Inyokern section was not part of the official tour.

Day 00:
We left home on Friday at 4:00 AM and and headed down, list of targets in hand. About five hours into our drive, we reached our first stop, Quaking Aspen outside of Porterville. There, in the southern Sierra, we searched for some familiar west-slope species, much like the ones you would see in Yuba Pass. Among them were several singng MacGillivray's Warblers, Western Tanager, Cassin's Finch, Calliope Hummingbird, White-headed Woodpecker, Fox and Lincoln's Sparrows, and Green-tailed Towhee. Two species of Empidonax were available for comparison: Dusky and Hammond's Flycatchers, each with different structure and calls. We felt confident we were identifying them correctly... Repeatedly we heard what sounded like Olive-sided Flycatcher, but we were forced to leave the bird off the list because it seemed the Fox Sparrows had managed to fool us as they had in Yuba Pass.




Photo: Petersen


Photo: Petersen


Photo: Petersen


A bit further, we stopped at the Trail of 100 Giants. We added a few more species on this picturesque trail:Hermit and Nashville Warblers, Townsend's Solitaire, Red-breasted Sapsucker.... A huge surprise was a brief encounter with a flyover immature Northern Goshawk! The huge, nearly mythic Accipiter soaring high above the sequoias, made one large circle and then disappeared in the distance.




Photo: Julie Bryson


Photo: Petersen


Photo: Petersen


Photo: Petersen

About mid afternoon, after several failed attempts to locate Black-chinned Sparrow, we rolled into Kernville. We checked into the Sequoia Lodge there and had a well-deserved cocktail hour in the shade. After everyone had arrived we had a delicious dinner at the italian restaurant, but finished up too late to go Owling. Time to sleep...


Photo: Petersen

Day 01:
As we did each day during the tour, we woke up at 4:00A and departed the lodge by 5:00A. The valley gets very hot by late morning and bird activity slows nearly to a hault, at which time we headed to higher ground and continued birding in cooler terrain.

The Kern River Valley (Lake Isabella) was beautiful, but buggy in places. We began by exploring the South Fork area and the KOA Campground especially the grassy meadows, and finally the Kern River Preserve itself. There we found the majority of our Waterfowl and Waterbirds but also Blue Grosbeak and Great-tailed Grackle. There were more than a few Lawrence's Goldfinches, Lark Sparrows, and one teaser Black-throated Sparrow who appeared briefly and heralded things to come. Major excitement ensued when the march through knee-high soggy weeds and mosquitos produced several looks at Yellow-billed Cuckoo. We heard it call several times. Very un-bird like and exotic sounding "tick-tick-tick-tick. COWP! COWP! COWP! COWP!" The lake had risen a lot since our scouting trip, and the place was loud with the songs of Yellow Warbler and Lark Sparrow.




Photo: Petersen




Photo: Petersen





Later that same day we headed up Chimney Peak Back Country Byway and Kennedy Meadows, and into a completely new biozone. Now we were seeing east-slope Sierra birds like our targets Gray Flycatcher and Plumbeous Vireos. Lots of washboard dirt roads, but stunning scenery. We continued on this theme and visited an area high in the pinyon pine zone that we were not able to see during our scouting trip. so I was nervous about finding it. It was about 20 miles further up the hill beyond chimney peak campground, and took us through a massive forest fire burn (weird other-worldly landscape), and then a network of poorly marked backroads. Finally we arrived at a log cabin with windchimes and about a dozen Pinyon Jays visiting the feeders. The photographers were thrilled at seeing three species of Jay in one back yard, and I nearly passed out from the feeling of relief. I'd been worried about this leg of the trip for months, but it worked out great, and the folks that own the house were delightful.















Photo: Petersen

We continued the huge loop that dropped us onto Hwy 395 by coming down Nine-Mile Canyon. The road is steep and windy, and I recalled Bob Barnes' story about how his brakes went out one time... I drove in low gear the whole way. We stopped to find a beautiful male Scott's Oriole in exactly the place we thought it might occur—a wide draw with deciduous trees below and Joshuas above.




Photo: Petersen

After that, it was home for a great barbecue back at the Sequoia Lodge. I made two marinated flank steaks. There were absolutely NO leftover for me. There was also corn on the cob, grilled zucchini, salmon, ahi, and mahi-mahi, sausages, etc. Lots of beer and wine of course. Kay brought vodka tonic which was popular. And Melissa brough the VERY popular s'mores! We decided we would probably have food tomorrow for sure...

A small group of us went down to Fay Ranch Road in search of Lesser Nighthawks, but the wind and cool temparatures probably explains our failure. We did however, come across at least two Striped Skunks in the dark and a very noisy Great Blue Heron rookery.

Day 02:
Kelso Valley Road is yet another habitat, very typical Joshua tree mojave desert landscape. We stopped first at at a nice joshua patch along the northern section of the road, finding our first desert species, and then Frog Creek, a famed desert oasis that usually produces good birds. Scott's Oriole, Cactus Wren, Ladder-backed Woodpecker were seen in various places. You could almost use tape to mark the division between where Nuttall's ended and Ladder-backed took over. Joshua trees were abundant. Eventually we found the much-anticipated Brown-crested Flycatcher in a big-tree grove along the road, which we analyzed thoroughly to make sure everyone was comfortable with the subtle differences between this and the nearby Ash-throated Flycatchers. We came across a large flock of Chukars along the road and chased them up the hill, but they really know how to disappear when they want. Mountain Quail were detected by voice in several spots, but never seen by the group.


Photo: Julie Bryson






Photo: Sonny Mencher


Photo: Julie Bryson

At night we searched for Common Poorwill, and found one or two, on the long windy Sawmill Road on the west edge of lake isabella.



Day 03:
Our last day we visited yet another completely different biozone, the Great Basin Desert around Inyokern. There we visited two private residences to pick off nesting Verdin, more Costa's Hummingbirds, more Black-throated Sparrows, a surprise Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and the high-stakes LeConte's Thrasher. This last bird was a nail-biter for me too. I wasn't sure i could remember how to find the location. Our host loved meeting the group, and fed the Thrashers and Loggerhead Shrikes from her hand! She also had a night-blooming cactus (one night every few years...) and it had opened the night before our visit. It was still open when we arrived at about 9:00A. She also had a Desert Tortoise she was feeding too. Ultra-cool birds and plants, but by now reaching 90º and it was only 10:00A




Photo: Sonny Mencher






Photo: Petersen


Photo: Petersen


Photo: Petersen



Photo: Petersen




Photo: Julie Bryson

On our way home we stopped at Red Rock Canyon campground for lunch. Cactus Wrens were landing on the ground by our table, waiting for handouts!



Highlights of trip, most of which are mentioned in the account above:


DAY 0 QUAKING ASPEN (southern Sierra Nevada zone)
Northern Goshawk (very brief flyover)
Calliope Hummingbird
Dusky Flycatcher (nesting)
Hammond's Flycatcher
Green-tailed Towhee
Fox Sparrow "Large-billed"
Lincoln's Sparrow (nesting)
White-headed Woodpecker (nesting)
Townsend's Solitaire
Hermit Warbler
Nashville Warbler
MacGillivray's Warbler

DAY 1 SOUTH FORK KERN RIVER VALLEY (Kern River Valley zone)
Blue Grosbeak
Lawrence's Goldfinch
Black-throated Sparrow
Willow Flycatcher "extimus"
Summer Tanager
Yellow-billed Cuckoo

CHIMNEY PEAK BACK COUNTRY BYWAY, KENNEDY MEADOWS, NINE-MILE CANYON (East-slope Sierra)
Sage Sparrow "nevadadensis"
Canyon Wren
Gray Flycatcher
Plumbeous Vireo
Pinyon Jay
Scott's Oriole
Phainopepla

DAY 2 KELSO VALLEY ROAD (Mojave zone)
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Scott's Oriole (more)
Cactus Wren
Greater Roadrunner (shed feathers only)
Sage Sparrow (more)
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Chukar
Costa's Hummingbird
Say's Phoebe (nesting)
Common Poorwill

DAY 3 INYOKERN (Great Basin zone)
Verdin
Costa's Hummingbird (more)
Hooded Oriole
Bullock's Oriole
Sage Sparrow (more)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (vagrant)
Le Conte's Thrasher (nesting)

The Complete species list (with numbers corresponding to the days on which we encountered them:

Wood Duck 1
Mallard 012
Gadwall 0
Mountain Quail 2H
California Quail 012
Chukar 2
Clark's Grebe 1
Great Blue Heron 12
Great Egret 12
White-faced Ibis 1
Turkey Vulture 0123
Osprey 1
Northern Goshawk 0
Red-shouldered Hawk 12
Red-tailed Hawk 0123
American Kestrel 12
American Coot 1
Killdeer 012
Rock Pigeon 13
Band-tailed Pigeon 0
Eurasian Collared Dove 0123
Mourning Dove 0123
Yellow-billed Cuckoo 1
Common Poorwill 2
White-throated Swift 12
Black-chinned Hummingbird 012
Anna's Hummingbird 0123
Costa's Hummingbird 123
Calliope Hummingbird 0
Rufous Hummingbird 012
Acorn Woodpecker 01
Red-breasted Sapsucker 0
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 2
Nuttall's Woodpecker 01
Downy Woodpecker 12
Hairy Woodpecker 01
White-headed Woodpecker 0
Northern Flicker 01
Western Wood Pewee 012
Willow Flycatcher 12
Hammond's Flycatcher 0
Dusky Flycatcher 0
Gray Flycatcher 1
Pacific-slope Flycatcher 0
Black Phoebe 012
Say's Phoebe 2
Ash-throated Flycatcher 012
Brown-crested Flycatcher 2
Western Kingbird 0123
Loggerhead Shrike 123
Plumbeous Vireo 1
Warbling Vireo 01
Steller's Jay 01
Western Scrub Jay 012
Pinyon Jay 1
American Crow 0
Common Raven 012
Tree Swallow 012
Violet-green Swallow 2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 0
Barn Swallow 01
Cliff Swallow 01
Mountain Chickadee 01
Verdin 3
Bushtit 0123
Red-breasted Nuthatch 0
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Brown Creeper 01
Cactus Wren 2
Rock WRen 12
Canyon Wren 1
Bewick's Wren 012
House Wren 012
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0
Western Bluebird 012
Townsend's Solitaire 0
American Robin 01
Wrentit 3
Northern Mockingbird 012
California Thrasher 2
LeConte's Thrasher 3
European Starling 0123
Phainopepla 01
Orange-crowned Warbler 0
Nashville Warbler 0
Yellow Warbler 012
Yellow-rumped Warbler 0
Hermit Warbler 0
MacGillivray's Warbler 0
Common Yellowthroat 1
Wilson's Warbler 01
Green-tailed Towhee 0
Spotted Towhee 012
California Towhee 012
Chipping Sparrow 01
Lark Sparrow 01
Black-throated Sparrow 123
Sage Sparrow "nevadadensis" 123
Savannah Sparrow 1
Fox Sparrow 0
Song Sparrow 012
Lincoln's Sparrow 0
Dark-eyed Junco 0
Summer Tanager 12
Western Tanager 01
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3
Black-headed Grosbeak 012
Blue Grosbeak 1
Red-winged Blackbird "aciculatus" 012
Tricolored Blackbird 12
Western Meadowlark 01
Brewer's Blackbird 012
Great-tailed Grackle 1
Brown-headed Cowbird 012
Hooded Oriole 3
Bullock's Oriole 0123
Scott's Oriole 1
Purple Finch 0
Cassin's Finch 01
House Finch 012
Pine Siskin 1
Lesser Goldfinch 012
Lawrence's Goldfinch 1
American Goldfinch 0
House Sparrow 0123




06-08-10

The Red-eyed Vireo was singing for brief periods (2-4 minutes at a time) every 10-15 minutes on Stanford Campus today between 11:15 and noon. Specifically, it was on the north edge of the parking lot between Palm Drive and Lomita Drive. The bird moved occasionally, but mainly stayed hidden in the top of a thick oak tree. Several of us were able to see the bird as it sang from deep within cover.





06-05-10

Yesterday along Gazos Creek Road in San Mateo County, we found Olive-sided and Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Winter Wren, Wilson's, Orange-crowned and MacGillivray's Warblers, Black-headed Grosbeak and dozens of Swainson's Thrushes. The Bell's Vireo at Bayfront Park seems to have moved on. No sight of the Franklin's Gul. Oh, well...