My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Friday, December 23, 2011

How to Clean a Bathroom

1) Collect your equipment for Sacramento.  Binoculars, camera, water, cleaning box.

2) Check out a vehicle and load up.

3) Proceed slowly around the auto tour with many stops to look/ take pictures. Stop and talk to the visitors.

4) Check out the viewing platform views. Be sure and visit with all the visitors.

5) Spray toilet, and wipe down. Take out trash and replace bag. Check the toilet paper.

6) Finish tour, slowly and carefully so you don't miss anything.

7) Repeat for Llano Seco except this is a thirty mile drive each way and it has two platforms that need checking. And there are lots birds, including tundra swans to watch.

White-faced ibis

Savannah Sparrow

Traffic Hazards

Sandhill Cranes

The rest of the gang at Llano Seco


Bikers enjoying a beautiful day at Llano Seco

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Early Christmas in Peace Valley

I got to join the Peace Vally Christmas Bird Count on this past Tuesday. I had met  Pete Sands, the  complier, at Colusa NWR while watching the falcated duck. He promised I could do the Peace Valley Christmas Bird Count. Sutter County, on his property in the Sutter Buttes.

I joined the group at 6:00AM  for breakfast at the Gridley Grill, then joined Pete and Mary in Mary's car for the count. We birded both inside and outside of the Buttes but kept separate lists so Pete can follow the bird trends in the Buttes. Since there were three of us - often there is just one in a group because this count does not get enough volunteers - we were able to beat the record for the Buttes by two or three birds. Our total was 47 birds in the Buttes.  I think we were under 100, a pretty low number for the count circle.

My early Christmas gifts were meeting new friends, getting to spend a glorious day in beautiful scenery and getting three lifers: rock wren, oak titmouse, and Lewis's woodpecker.

We hiked a little over three miles but it felt longer since much of it was up hill - definitely more than half. :) We also birded from our car for another three hours or so. 

Don't you dare come any closer said the burrowing owl just before he flew

We hiked very close to this rock formation

A closer view of the lichens in the rock formation

We met some of Pete's shorthorn cows as we hiked up this trail

One of scores of beautiful views.

Western scrub jay

Pete catching up on the count numbers
While Mary and I  still struggle up the hill

Trees growing in rock

Turkey vulture soaking up sun

Then flying off

Just another view

Phainopepla - one of several we saw and heard

An acorn woodpecker's bank tree

Are we done yet?

It was a day of discovery, laughter and friendship.  I think these are the best presents of all.

PS.  Pete just sent me the list from his property which he keeps separate from the entire part of his count. We only got a few different birds on the rest, including crows, meadowlarks, tundra swans, sandhill cranes, greater white  - fronted geese, and ducks when it was too dark to differentiate them.

The list follows:

DeanPlace-PVCBC, Sutter, US-CA
Dec 20, 2011 8:30 AM - 3:30 PM
Protocol: Traveling
3.0 mile(s)
49 species

California Quail (Callipepla californica)  15
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  1
Great Egret (Ardea alba)  1
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  18
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)  1
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)  2
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)  1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  4
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)  2
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)  2
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)  1
Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)  1
White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis)  6
Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  1
Lewis's Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis)  1
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)  25
Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)  1
Nuttall's Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii)  12
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  12
Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)  3
Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya)  5
Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)  3
Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  22
Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus)  20
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)  15
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)  14
Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus)  5
Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)  2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)  25
Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana)  36
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)  18     Regular winter visitors here
Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)  4
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  6
Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)  3
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)  8
Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens)  6     Resident in buttes
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)  24
Rufous-crowned Sparrow (Aimophila ruficeps)  5
California Towhee (Melozone crissalis)  14
Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)  216     Abundant here this year
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)  78
Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca)  2
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)  22
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)  212
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  96
Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)  32
Brewer's Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)  355
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)  30
Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria)  62

Check out these coordinates in Google Earth to see the site of the ranch and the topography.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Our VIP Visitor

 On Thursday, December 8, 2011, Dan Tankersley visited the Colusa NWR platform and found a falcated duck (formerly Falcated Teal), a very rare visitor to the United States from Asia. ( I can only find three other California submissions and one sighting that was not submtted to the rare bird committee.) This has caused great excitement in the birding community and all the volunteers were taken off their regular jobs so we could cover Colusa  and Sacramento NWR's all day.

I, of course, was the first to volunteer and got to go to the platform that afternoon. The bird had first been seen at the closest little islet but soon after it was discovered, two groups ignored the "no walkers" sign and walked into the auto tour which starts just past the viewing platform.  Of course, this caused all the birds in the pond to fly away, including the falcated duck.  It had not returned by the time I had to leave at 3:30P. At 4:00P, it again came to the nearest pond and the Refuge Manager got pictures of it. The refuge manager called for volunteer help to keep people from getting out of their cars on the auto tour or to and to greet them at the platform.

People watching for the falcated duck the first afternoon after it was discovered

My boss allowed me to go to the refuge early on Friday and I got there at 7:00AM and found sixteen people already trying to find the duck in the predawn light. And about 7:30, the duck was gracious enough to come to the front of the back pond and take an hour and half nap in front of a tule clump so we could all (barely) see it. 

The small platform was almost full by 8:00AM on Friday

I really enjoyed getting to share this bird and others with people arriving at the platform.  A few of the first birders didn't have their own scopes, and even those that did, took a quick look as they arrived so they could see the bird and its location. I left at noon but got reports that he had been seen several times.

Saturday was a madhouse because the bird didn't show itself at all and no one wanted to leave.  Soon we were trying to squeeze in over thirty-five scopes and even more people and had to extend the viewing area to along the road and allow cars to park in the maintenance area. But Sunday morning, our visitor relented and gave lots of pretty short but adequate views of itself so people came and went normally.  The luckiest group had driven over two hours to get there and got good views of it in the first twenty minutes of viewing.  So the volunteers' work got a lot easier and we didn't overload the platform. 

The duck is still here over a week later and bringing in lots of visitors. We had 81 visitors yesterday, Saturday, and 105 today. And it is staying in the front pond and, for the last two days, has been continuously visible.  Today it even stayed active during its normal nap time of about 10:30 to 2:30 and delighted lucky visitors with a display - seemingly a "I'm the cock of the walk" that it does to male American widgeon which it likes to hang with. It first thrusts up its head and flashes its white neck and raises its crest a little and then ducks his head, lifts his tail and shakes it. I got to see the display several times today. 

Duck, on right with an American widgeon - he also has been courting a female widgeon -pic by Mike Peters

Falcated duck with greater white-fronted geese - Photo by Mike Peters

I'm even starting to get some distant pictures of him

I've enjoyed talking to the visitors, some who have come back multiple times. Because we are spending so much time in the same small area, we are also seeing other fairly rare sightings. Yesterday we had a flock of about 50 tundra swans fly over and immediately after that, several tree swallows flew through. Today we had two sightings of barn owls, a half-dozen ruby-crowned kinglets feeding on water plants in the creek, a white-tailed kite, an immature sharp-shinned hawk and a Virginia rail that flew about a foot above the water and a couple of feet in front of the viewing platform.

And we get to watch behaviors that we don't normally watch long enough to see.

Pintail love?

And today I met the Sutter Buttes Christmas Count Compiler. He;s going to let me join the count this Tuesday and I'll be in his group on his ranch in the Buttes. This will be the first count when I may be too interested in the scenery to find the birds. I'll definitely have my camera and an extra battery with me.

While doing traffic control, I got interested in some of the license plates. Word is that we have had some visitors fly in from New York, but I just got a few of the many places the bird lovers are coming from.   Many of them have driven 8 hours or more to get to us. Some reported driving all night.We are also getting locals from minutes to an hour away.

We expect the bird to spend the winter here. Hopefully we'll have lots more days like this weekend. He sure has been a great Christmas present for Colusa NWR and made a fun job even more fun.

P.S. One day later I found a link to a video taken of the bird.  Apparently I was doing my job of helping the public find the bird since that Texas drawl is definitely mine.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Exploring West of the Refuge

Fellow volunteers who are avid birders told me of a wonderful trip they took on Hwy 20 west past some lakes and all the way to the coast.  I decided to do the trip but only got in part of it.  I think they must not have stopped every five minutes for pictures. One of the sights that really impressed them was a flock of common mergansers so big that they thought they were seeing a shoal - shallow water running over rocks.

The first thing I saw was the foothills to the coastal mountains as I started driving through them. Of course I was entranced and took lots of views of them.

I saw some animals moving around way back from the road.  With my binoculars, I could see they were a herd of tule elk.  When I got home and showed my pictures to a staff biologist, he said this elk (and others I saw) have hair loss syndrome which may cause them to get hypothermic and die this winter.

I stopped at the Cache Creek Natural area and took pictures of this spotted towhee and lots of gold-crowned sparrows. I also saw a California towhee but couldn't get its picture.

I finally got to lower Clear Lake and decided to go around the west side of it to get better pictures. But I was on the lower east side at first and came to a dead end.  I decided to go up the steep hill and come back to the main road by a different route.  Just as I got to the top of the hill and was going into a hairpin turn on a one lane highway, I saw quail, a deer and lesser goldfinches. Thankfully, there was no traffic as I struggled to get pictures off all the animals.

These are California quail.  I was amazed at the size of the pine cone.  I may be the cone of a Coulter pine. I didn't dare get out of my car to get this one but collected another one a few hundred yards down the road.

My next stop was at Clear Lake State Park.  I couldn't stay and visit since there is a $7.00 per day fee and I needed to start home.  I did get some quick looks at common mergansers and found the biggest congregation of pie-billed grebes I've ever seen.  I was confused by a flock of strange ducks until I realized they were grebes. Here is all I could get in my camera field of one group of perhaps 40.

After I left that park, I found a county park way on the northwest end of the lake on Soda Bay Road. It had many trees with the huge  infestations of mistletoe.

A little cove held a large flock of western Canada geese.

A comical acorn woodpecker was closely inspecting a dead branch where I had seen mallard ducks hanging out as I came in.  

I saw this view just as I was leaving the lake after driving back south and east on Hwy. 20  I think it was a slough.

Just as the sun went behind the mountains, I got another glimpse of the tule elk.

I had a great day exploring and still have lots more places along Hwy. 20. The place where my friends saw so many mergansers is on the next lake west. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Blind Experience

Last Wednesday a new friend, Shelia, who works at the refuge, invited me to share her reserved photography blind. The refuge complex has 4 photography blinds on three different refuges. The blind we went to was blind 3 on the Colusa NWR.  The rules are that you have to get to the blind one hour before sunrise.  You can remain there as long as you like but once you come out, you may not go back. This is to minimize disturbance to the birds.

This blind can only be reached by wading through thigh-high water so we had to wear waders - rubber boots that are built into neoprene overalls. The day was expected to start in the mid-thirties so we also had to dress warmly. Shelia told me to be ready with camera, tripod, water, snacks and plenty of warm clothes at 5:00A.M.  We drove about a half hour to Colusa NWR and stopped at the restrooms to change into our waders.  We were screeched at by a couple of barn owls as we got out of the car. 

Then we drove down to the place to park the car, gathered up our gear and walked by flashlight down the path and found the turn to the blind along with a sled/boat in which to put our gear. We pulled the sled behind us as we walked about thirty yards through the water to the tiny blind sitting in a clump of tule (bulrush).

It was still several minutes to first light as we took out some of the little short boards to make places to point our cameras. The blind has two layers of boards that can be removed and then two or three layers of strips of screening and shade cloth. We can shoot from two levels.  The lowest is at just above the bird's heads.

We had to move quietly and be careful as we stuck our cameras out through all the layers of screening in order to not alarm the birds. In a few minutes, we had our gear stored, cameras ready and were sitting and eating our cereal bars and listening to the geese come back to the refuge from their nightly foraging. Then, as it got lighter, we started to see the dark forms of coots and then mallards. By 7:30, the birds were getting active and feeding and grooming. I think I must have taken about 1000 pictures. 

Shelia took pictures of me for my blog but declined to star in it. 

On a little break while waiting for more birds

Coots appeared first
What big yellow feet you have

Mallards and coots were the most numerous in our photography area
I'm SOO handsome
We had two male and one female cinnamon teal. They breed here and are the most common teal.
This pie-billed grebe swam through the blind area and was gone in about three shots
Morning stretch
A female ringed-neck duck swam through our field a couple of times
Gadwell pair
Greater white-fronted geese
Gotta polish my image

Mallard and cinnamon teal pair
Car bound
Finished with the blind  but the birding never stops