Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tahoe to Bridgeport

Well friends, I got my revenge.  In 2011, I did another bike tour in which I came up from Bridgeport and rode up Monitor Pass in a day that was hellish, brutal, but absolutely beautiful.  I had such a difficult time with that climb that I had a hard time appreciating how beautiful Alpine County really is.  Fortunately, just a few days ago, I camped near Markleeville (near the base of Monitor), and made it up without too much trouble.  It was beautiful up there too.  I got my sweet revenge on the other side of the pass, where I let myself have a bit of fun going down. 43mph of fun!  Kind of stupid, but I had to do it.  Don't worry Mom I make it a habit of going much slower down mountains usually.  This was a special situation.

  The past couple of days, I've hung out around the Bridgeport area, mostly just recovering from some hard riding. Once I made it down Monitor, I had a pretty strong headwind.  It got me down for about an hour, but I eventually snapped out of it.  Ah, the journey!
  Birding has been really nice here lately.  I camped out in the Pinyon Pine/Juniper last night.  This morning I started the day with a PRAIRIE FALCON flying right by camp at about 6:30 this morning.  Actually, I really started the day with a PLUMBEOUS VIREO singing outside of my tent (Thanks Peter!).  I took some time this morning to look and listen to the difference between them and Cassin's Vireos.  Plumbeous song seems to be a bit more slurred.  At least that was just my impression this morning.
  At last I found a JUNIPER TITMOUSE.  I tried to find one in 2011, but missed them.  This morning I finally found a small group of them.  I had been searching for them up the hill above my campsite until I realized that I was getting into more Pinyon and less Juniper.  I decided to go lower, and found more Junipers, and that's where those buggers were.
  One more cool find this morning was a BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER nest.  Very nice morning.
  Well, I'm off to Lundy Canyon this afternoon, then Mono Lake for a couple of days after that.

More when I can...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sierra Valley to Lake Tahoe

Well readers, it was hard to say goodbye to the Field Campus, but at least the birding has continued to be good.
   I stopped in Carmen Valley which is situated just off of Sierra Valley.  The birding was a bit slow there, but I did find a beautiful MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD.  The first of many as it turns out.  I saw a bunch more as I rode up Smithneck Road the next day.
  I decided to camp in one of my favorite locations in the area that night.  There is a nice stand of aspen trees near the top of Antelope Valley Rd. where I camped a few times last year.  The birds are often active where a small seep flows into the trees.  I've also found bear tracks each and everytime I've gone there and this time was no different.
  Camping there was very nice once again.  I was anxiously waiting for dusk to come because I love watching COMMON NIGHTHAWKS in flight.  Finally, they came out, along with some COMMON POORWILL.  I slept well that night.
  Then next morning I took the back roads to Truckee.  This meant riding dirt roads towards Stampede Reservoir.  So along Smithneck Road leading out of Loyalton, I was able to find a few LEWIS'S WOODPECKERS (yes, of Lewis and Clark).  I also got looks at a couple of BLACK-BILLLED MAGPIES.
  Higher up Smithneck Road, there are some nice  meadows where the Nighthawks like to come out and fly around.  I watched for a while and tried to get photos.  They're a pretty difficult bird to capture with a small point and shoot camera.  They dart around quick and sometimes almost moth-like.  Several CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS (yes, of Lewis and Clark) were around the Stampede area as well.
   While riding way out in the middle of nowhere, a man on horseback passed the other way.  He looked like a real cowboy with his hat, boots and waxed mustache.  He had two other pack horses with him and what looked to be some oldtime camping gear.  He said, "Howdy" as we passed.  Turns out, I just read about him in the paper today in Tahoe City.  He's riding the original Pony Express Trail.  Wish I would have known at the time.  He would have be fun to chat with (hey Scot, think cowboy version of Catfish Keith).
  So I've made it to Lake Tahoe.  I rode into town on a bike trail along the Truckee River.  It was gorgeous and I was having a blast.  When I reached the Lake there was a farmers market going on on a beach on the lake.  Talk about idyllic.  I was so happy to be in Tahoe and able to buy fresh tomatos and basil.  I'm loving this trip.
   Tonight I'll be on the lake again at D.L. Bliss State Park, then on to Markleeville at the base of Monitor Pass.  I can't wait to get over to the east side of the Sierra. 
   I haven't done much birding in the past couple of days.  Mostly just getting around and spending some time in civilization.  I did see a FORESTER'S TERN on a buoy this morning. 

Talk to you when I'm on the East Side...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sierra Nevada at Last

  I can't tell you how great it's been to be in the Sierra!  As soon as I hit the Yuba River, just beyond Nevada City, I was overjoyed.  Goodbye valley, foothills, and heat, I was ready for the mountains.
  Unfortunately, the heatwave lasted a few more days and my first couple days of climbing the Sierra were still in the mid 90s.  My attitude however, was much better as I climbed up out of the grasslands and into the Black Oak and Conifers.  As I rode up, CASSIN'S VIREOS and HERMIT WARBLERS were numerous.  Yellow-rumped Warblers also became prevalent.  By the time I got to Union Flat Campground on Highway 49, I was seeing and hearing almost the full compliment of mountain breeding warblers.  Two of these were MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLERS and NASHVILLE WARBLRS singing about the campground.  A pair of AMERICAN DIPPERS were feeding a fledgling on the rocks in the Yuba River.  Always a fun find.
  Camping in Union Flat left only a short, uphill ride to San Francisco State's Sierra Nevada Field Campus.  I worked in the kitchen at the field campus last summer and was excited to be heading back there to assist Jim Steele with the Birding By Ear course.  The field campus is located right on the Yuba River at about 5400 feet.  It's an incredible place were folks come to learn about natural history out in the field.  Check out the website:


  The classes are fantastic, the food is great, and the community is inspiring.  This place draws some great naturalists and life long learners.  It's the type of place where you can run into people excited to collect fungi, stop and look at strange bugs, or sketch a flower they've never seen before.  Last year, I came home to the field campus one evening and found fifteen people surrounding a bright light and a sheet that was hung up behind it.  They were taking turns shouting out latin names of moths and other nocturnal insects coming to the light.  I thought, "Ah... I've found my people."  It was good to be back this year.

  With several days before the Birding By Ear course began, I set out to tune my ear to mountain bird voices.  The Lakes Basin near Sierra Buttes is an incredible place for birds, butterflies, and wildflowers (A dry winter/spring meant that the wildflowers and insects were pretty far along in their life cycles compared to last year).  I was surrounded by new song that I just don't hear down in the Bay Area.   FOX SPARROWS and GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES sang from the chaparral with the Buttes as a backdrop. CASSIN'S FINCHES and EVENING GROSBEAKS are common at the Field Campus' feeders.  This year, like last, there is a MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE nest in the wall of the dining hall.
   Yuba Pass, just five miles above the Field Campus, is known as a great birding hotspot.  I love spending time up there.  This year, there have been a good number of LAZULI BUNTINGS.  One can also turn up singing CHIPPING SPARROWS and LINCOLN SPARROWS.  This year, someone discovered a WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER nest at the pass.  As of yesterday 6/16, it is still very active.  A single PINE GROSBEAK was a really fun bird to hear singing at the pass on June 6.  This was another bird I wasn't sure I was going to turn up for the year.
  There were several birds up here that I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to find.  Fortunately, word of mouth and bird listserves help considerably.  Bob Power found a WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER at Packer Lake in early June.  I went up and looked around for an hour and was just leaving as the bird flew in to the east end of the lake.  A BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER was a bit out of place singing from a Lodgepole Pine just below Packer Lake.
  Another bird that can be challenging to see is the BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER.  Last summer I had a handful of sightings over the course of three months.  Fortunately, after a few searches in the Bassett's Fire Burn area across the street from the Field Campus, I found one.
  The mix of mature Red Fir forests and more open chaparral habitat make this area a great place to work on separating HAMMOND'S and DUSKY FLYCATCHERS.  I find these species easiest to discern by ear though habitat and a number of visual cues help too.

   The Birding By Ear course went very well.  I believe we heard right around 90 species.  We saw but did not hear more than 30 species in addition to that.
  Birding By Ear, the course, meant a break from "birding by bike".  When we drove to Salmon Creek Campground for the class and saw a NORTHERN GOSHAWK fly by, I got nervous that I wouldn't see another one to count towards the big year.  Fortunately, yesterday 6/16, I saw one heading south at Yuba Pass.
  Another bird I just recently found was a SPOTTED OWL.  That bird was near Yuba Pass off of Haskell Creek Road.  I saw it fly across the sky as the sun was setting and the COMMON POORWILL were just starting to sing.  Riding back down Highway 49 at 10:30 pm was cold, but absolutely worth it.  Afterall, what can be more satisfying than a full day of bird finding and cycling?

  Well, I leave the Field Campus tomorrow.  I really feel that I only "missed (or "dipped on", as birders say) the Sooty Grouse.  I'll be going through some other mountainous areas, so I still have a small chance at seeing one.  It's pretty easy to let that one go considering I've seen so much up here.
  I'll miss the campus.  Many thanks to J.R. Blair and the Sierra Nevada Field Campus Staff for having me, Jim Steele for allowing me to help with the Birding By Ear class, and to all the eBirders out their who help contribute to the conservation database and make their sightings available to bird finders like me.

I'm off to Truckee, Lake Tahoe, Markleeville, and then the east side of the Sierra.

More from somewhere down the road...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Through the Central Valley

Riding through Del Puerto Canyon was amazing.  Not only were all the birds great, but I got to ride downhill for miles.  When I reached the Central Valley, things got a bit more challenging.  Not only did I drop out of the mountains and into a heat wave, but there was also a headwind.  The first day through the valley, the temperature was around 98 F with a 15-20mph headwind.  The next day 98F and 10-15mph.  Finally, it cooled off the third day at 95F.  Yikes.  By the time I got to Grass Valley in the foothills, I was happy I was going to be gaining elevation and travelling east instead of north into the wind.
  The birding was minimal in through the Valley.  I did see two SWAINSON'S HAWKS somewhere along the San Joaquin River south of Manteca.  The only other bird I added to the list were some HORNED LARK through some of the agricultural fields in Lathrop.
  As I mentioned already, I've been in the mountains for more than a week.  There have been lots of great birds.  Details to come...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The First Leg--Over the Bay and beyond

Howdy readers.  Sorry for the delay.  Biking and birding all day in the middle of nowwhere doesn't leave me with a lot of time, energy, or means for updating a blog.  I'll try to catch up a little bit now...

   I've made it to the mountains!  I'm writing from Sierra Nevada Field Campus near Yuba Pass on Highway 49 where I worked last summer.  I've been here for several days, but it's taken me a while to catch up on all of my eBirding (which allows me to keep track of my year list).
  So now that I'm caught up, I figured I'd better catch up on what my trip has been like so far.
  I left Pescadero on May 29.  It was a fairly short ride over to my friend Heidi's house who lives in Palo Alto.  I chose to ride up Alpine Road in order to go through Heritage Grove.  I like going through the old growth on my way out of town.  It's a nice farewell to the Redwoods.  
  After a fantastic stay with Heidi, I rode to Sunol to visit my friend Tanya.  Another amazing time with a great friend.  Both friends ended up feeding me really well to ensure the first leg would be well fueled.  Thanks Heidi and Tanya!!!
  After leaving Sunol, the birding really began.  I rode out to Mines Rd. that runs south of Livermore. That area of the coast range is spectacular, but also contains some very interesting species of birds.  PHAINOPEPLA were abundant on all of the elderberries.  I've only seen this species in the desert, so it was amazing to see them this far north.  I should have known that I would see YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIES in that area, but I'd never been to Mines Rd. before.  It was a great surprise to see this California endemic.  My first carbon-free GOLDEN EAGLE soared overhead a few miles up the climb along Mines. 
  I spent a good amount of time with all the RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROWS.  I'd never heard this species before, so I wanted to make sure to learn the song.  Turns out, there seems to be a good amount of habitat on both Mines and Del Puerto Canyon for them.  My first WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH was also out Mines Road.
   It sure was a beautiful ride through the mountains.  I'll try to post some pictures soon.  I paid for it though, as I heard from one local that the road peaks out at near 3000 feet in elevation before dropping down to Del Puerto Canyon.  I rested at the top of the Mines before it drops down to The Junction (restaurant) at the corner with Del Puerto.  While laying in the shade at the summit, I heard both CASSIN'S VIREO and LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCHES.
   I headed down Del Puerto Canyon after dinner at the diner and camped at Frank Raines OHV park.  Fortunately, there were no OHVs while I was there.  What I did find along the way were both ROCK and CANYON WRENS.
  The bird life was really nice there at the campground.  Being a semi-arid location, the plant life was quite different than the coast, which makes for interesting bird life as well.  All around the campground were LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCHES and WESTERN KINGBIRDS.  I had been led to believe that it was possible to miss Lawrence's Goldfinches on this trip, but they sure were numerous in and around the campground.
  Waking in the morning, I continued the decent down Del Puerto Canyon.  It sure was nice to not have to pedal so much getting through that part of the mountains.  Downhill for many miles sure does make for some enjoyable bicycle birding.  There were a few interesting birds riding down along the creek in Del Puerto.  I got a nice early start in the morning and found several GREEN HERONS and ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHERS in various locations.  Probably the most surprising bird was a TOWNSEND'S WARBLER just a mile or so down from the campground.  It seemed a bit late as I would have thought the birds should have been much farther north by June 1.  There it was however, singing away in Del Puerto Canyon.
  Much farther down the road, where the grade evens out a bit I got a nice view of a GREATER ROADRUNNER.  I certainly hoped for this species, but as the morning got later, and I got closer and closer to the Central Valley below, I wasn't sure I would find one.  It was certainly a relief to add this fun bird to the years list, but even more fun just to get a chance to watch it for a while.  
  Graffiti Rock is a well-known landmark on Del Puerto Canyon for birders and apparently, local high schoolers.  I was told to make sure I check the Tree Tobacco plants for hummingbirds.  I missed Costa's Hummingbird, but did find a BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD. 
  So Costa's was a miss, as was Yellow-Breasted Chat and Blue Grosbeak.  I'm not giving up on these three for the year.  I think I may have a chance for them somewhere on the east side of the Sierra.  I'll have to do my research once I get closer. 
  For now, I need to head out for a walk.  I'm not going to find a Northern Goshawk just sitting on this couch...