Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Central Valley and Home

Famous for wines, California's Central Valley also contains several wildlife refuges with lots of waterfowl, and most of the world population of Ross's Geese. There are also vernal ponds with specialized wildflowers, but we were too early for those. The flora of California consists of about 25,000 species, about the same as in the entire eastern U.S.

On Saturday, February 10, we visited the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, and the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. Sacramento was larger, and seemed to have more waterfowl, while Colusa had a very nice observation platform where the geese were flying in and seemed very tame and approachable.
Sacramento NWR, with Ring-necked Ducks

There were hundreds, if not thousands, of Northern Pintails and Northern Shovelers at both refuges.
Northern Shoveler

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintails

Of course the geese were the main event, and there were hundreds of Greater White-fronted, Snow, and Ross's Geese.
Greater White-fronted Goose

Snow Geese

Ross's Geese

Ross's Goose

Of course there were other birds too. We did not see our first White-faced Ibis of the trip until we got to the Central Valley, and most of them were in these refuges.
White-faced Ibis

In every open area in the Central Valley there were flocks of Western Meadowlarks. Dozens were around the wildlife loop drives at both Sacramento and Colusa NWR.
Western Meadowlark

These refuges were also great places for Northern Harriers, and we ended up seeing more than two dozen today.
Northern Harrier

On Sunday, February 10, we decided to forego more waterfowl refuges in favor of open country species, so headed for the Panoche Valley in the foothills on the western side of the Central Valley.
New Idria Road canyon, Panoche Valley

In addition to brushy hillsides, there were large areas of open land, where we found very distant Mountain Plovers and a Ferruginous Hawk. Closer to the road, there were flocks of sparrows. Most of them were Savannah Sparrows, but in one spot we found bunches of Lark Sparrows.
Lark Sparrow

In another spot, we found a few Vesper Sparrows, which is apparently an uncommon species in California, or at least in this part of the state.
Vesper Sparrow

From there, we continued on through oak-covered hillsides, seeing many more Yellow-billed Magpies and Western Scrub-Jays. Our next destination was Pinnacles National Park (formerly a National Monument, established in 1908, but a National Park as of February 1, 2013). It was a very scenic area, with good hiking opportunities.
Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park

One highlight here was seeing a California Condor. It was distant, and of course one of the reintroduced birds, but nice just the same. Nothing will compare to our original sighting of some of the last wild condors on a trip we did in 1985. An article I wrote about that sighting was published in Bird Watcher's Digest in 1986, and the full-length version can be read here. Other interesting birds at Pinnacles included more cooperative Golden-crowned Sparrows, and my best ever chance to photograph Nuttall's Woodpecker.
Golden-crowned Sparrow

Nuttall's Woodpecker

And we were back in salamander territory, particularly Slender Salamanders. A new field guide to California reptiles and amphibians provided excellent information on the 14 species of Batrachoseps, with some field marks as well as range maps. Between San Francisco and Los Angeles, there are a half-dozen species, all with ranges generally restricted to a single mountain range. One of the more widespread was a species we were lucky enough to find at Pinnacles, the Gabilan Mountains Slender Salamander.
Gabilan Mountains Slender-Salamander


Batrachoseps gavilanensis

On Monday, February 11, our last day of birding, we decided to head out into drier country to find some birds missing from our trip list. We drove a considerable distance along the western and southern end of Carrizo Plain National Monument, ending up at a patch of sagebrush near Maricopa. Here, we found a couple of Le Conte's Thrashers singing, and several Sage Sparrows.
Sagebrush near Maricopa

From there we headed southeast to the Antelope Valley.
Antelope Valley

In addition to vast stretches of sagebrush and tumbleweeds on this high plain, there were patches of interesting vegetation that included an odd mix of California Juniper and Joshua Tree; the latter perhaps not native here as range maps in field guides don't show it this far north and west.
California Juniper

Joshua Trees

Joshua Tree

Our target birds here, Burrowing Owl and Mountain Bluebird among others, were not cooperative. But for the tenth day in a row, we encountered the ubiquitous Black Phoebe.
Black Phoebe

Our flight home on Tuesday, February 12 was uneventful, and not only on time, but early! We were thankful to arrive in Detroit to fairly clear and snow-free streets, having missed at least one snow event, which was another objective of going on this trip!

1 comment:

Barbara labelle said...

Wonderful pictures. Thanks for sharing.