Date: 3/23/21 6:49 pm
From: Chuq Von Rospach via <chuqui...>
Subject: [southbaybirds] San Antonio Valley 3/23
I started out the day thinking about Grant Park and the Vermillion Flycatcher, but when I arrived I decided my knees preferred a low-walking day, and called an audible. Instead, I headed up and over the Mt. Hamilton summit and birded San Antonio Valley from Lick Observatory to the Stanislaus County line. After that, I headed out to Patterson, down I5 to Santa Nella and grabbed lunch, which I took to O'Neill Forebay and ate while watching everything fight a rather strong, sustained wind -- strong enough where I was seeing swallows foraging by flying into the wind and moving backward relative to the water/ground below them.

Having read Bill Bousman's transect reports about the valley, I had set my expectations somewhat low, because as you may remember, that whole area burned in the big burns last year. I will estimate that from the entrance to Grant County Park to the county line, about 80% of the mileage I traversed was burned in some way, from moderately scorched to major burn. It was pretty bleak. I knew that there was a big fight to save Lick Observatory, but seeing large burn areas within 1/4 mile of the facility on both sides of the summit was freaky.

For the most part, the burned areas had very few birds, and I hope you like Scrub Jays. After a while, the devastation was enough I kind of tuned out birding until I hit a couple of ponds and realized they had ducks in them -- that included Ring-Necked, American Wigeon,Bufflehead and a couple of Mallards. After that, I was more focussed on birds again instead of looking at all the burned territory.

I kind of arbitrarily broke up my ebird lists every so often, often as I shifted habitats or elevation, but it's definitely arbitrary. I tagged two species coming down the mountain, for instance -- scrub jays and a single acorn woodpecker.  I totalled 14 species from the observatory to the junction with Del Puerto Canyon Road, but one notable one was an immature golden eagle in the areas near the gun club.

When I hit the junction I decided to go out Del Puerto to Patterson and head home that way. While sitting at the junction, I saw a bird flying among the trees -- and it turned out to be a Lewis's Woodpecker. I only saw that single individual of that species and only for two quick flights, but that was enough. This is notable for me because it's the first freaking time I've seen one there, despite repeated trips going back, um, 15 years? So a nemesis bird finally falls. Yay me. That made me happy the rest of the trip...

Once I hit the county line I stopped listing unless I ran across something special, which I didn't, and made my way out to Patterson and O'Neill Forebay.

After a pit stop and a nice lunch watching the swallows go "WHEEEE!" in the brisk winds, I decided to bird the forebay before headed home. I will note the wind was brisk enough that while the coots were all "just another day at the office" most of the other birds looked mostly miserable. Winter birds are mostly gone, and there weren't a lot of ducks around not named "Ruddy", and most of them were tucked and sleeping. I did see Scaup (Lesser, I believe), a couple of Canvasbacks, and some buffleheads.

No Western or Clarke's grebes, but I did scare up one pied-billed, an eared grebe in breeding plumage and to my amusement, a horned grebe in winter plumage in among the many many Ruddy ducks. Other than the many Tree Swallows, I did find a good number of Barn swallows near the canal intake area, and some Rough-Winged here and there. My attempts to find a Violet-Green continue, but have not yeet reached nemesis stage.

The highlight bird was -- an Osprey, hanging on to a tree and surveying the lake. It turned out to be in a tree maybe 100 feet from where I ate, and which I didn't notice until I was about to leave. I later saw it hunting the lake and fighting the winds. At various times I also saw a Herring Gull madly trying to get from here to there against the wind and slowly winning, and an un-specified duck trying the same and losing.  I had 24 species total at o'Neill, and 34 for the day.

Long drive, but worth it.

For wildflower fans, a couple of quick notes: in the burned area, there's basically nothing. I saw no significant patches anywhere until I was in Stanislaus County and headed towards Patterson. Once I was out of the worst burn areas I saw some patches of yellow (but not wild mustard; it's all around Casa De Fruta, of course, but it's also everywhere), and I saw the first bits of the poppy bloom starting. There might be some nice poppy patches in a week or two, but it's not there yet. Poppies were further along on 152 on the way back, but honestly, I saw nothing that makes me consider saying "worth a trip" right now.



Chuq Von Rospach
Email: <chuqui...>
Twitter: @chuq
Silicon Valley, California

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