Friday, February 28, 2014

Debi Shearwater Speaking at Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada

Howdy, Birders
This evening I will present a program, "40 Years of Seabirding" at the 
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories at 7 p.m.
What on earth am I doing in Yellowknife?
Well, I'm here for a week with seven friends, watching the AURORA BOREALIS!
We had a fantastic display last night and hope for more.
Of course, we are birding. Raven is the most common species, but we've also seen Black-billed Magpie, Canada Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Hoary Redpoll and House Sparrows. 
We've had several sightings of Red Fox and hope to strike out on an adventure to the south in hopes of finding the Wood Buffalo. We have also driven the Ice Road to Dettah on Great Slave Lake every day!
Did I say it has been COLD? Minus 49 C degrees with the wind chill last night. 
My eyelashes froze. 
Ravens Forever,
Debi Shearwater

Saturday, February 8, 2014



The recent "Pineapple Express" has brought some much need rain to San Benito County, California. Not nearly enough to end the ongoing 500 year drought, but better than no rain at all! Along with the rains, birds have been on the move in San Benito County. 
This morning, February 8, 2014, Steve Rottenborn discovered the first record of LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL at San Felipe Lake at the northern border of the county. Here is a full report:

Steve Rottenborn found the first San Benito County record of a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL this morning, February 8, 2014, at San Felipe Lake. He emailed me about the find and I ran out there immediately. Steve also emailed the MBB list serve, but it did not initially go up. 

I spent about an hour birding with Steve from the Highway 152 call box pullout. Additional outstanding highlights included: 44 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE (not easy to find in San Benito County this winter), 60 CACKLING GEESE, 1 male EURASIAN WIGEON, 1 male EURASIAN GREEN-WINGED TEAL1 WESTERN GULL1 GLAUCOUS GULL, and some probable high counts of: 150 HERRING GULLS, 75 THAYER'S GULLS and 250 GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS. CAUTION: one very white gull with an all black bill is present, identity unknown, easily mistaken for ?

ABOUT SAN FELIPE LAKE: The only public viewing location for this lake, locally known as "Soap Lake" is from the extremely dangerous Highway 152. Many fatalities have occurred along this particular stretch of highway. I strongly recommend attempting to pull over to the pull outs in the direction of traffic and not trying to cross traffic. For the most part, Highway 152 is the border for Santa Clara and San Benito Counties, but not everywhere! Beware of county lines, especially if you are submitting an eBird checklist. If you submit an eBird checklist, and I hope you do so, please give your best estimate of birds, or count one-by-one, if smaller numbers and note this on the checklist. 

A large flock of gulls, estimated greater than 1000, and as many as 2000,  has been frequenting this lake. There is a dump on the other side (Santa Clara County) of Highway 152. I thought that the dump was closed on weekends, and consequently, no or few, gulls would be there on weekends. However, it seems that at least some gulls are using the dump on weekend, but not nearly as many. 

Leaving the lake, I turned on Lover's Lane (first 150 yards of this road are in Santa Clara County) where I found one FERRUGINOUS HAWK sitting in the top of a tall evergreen tree at a residence! 

Been a long time since I've ticked a new San Benito County bird. Many thanks to Steve Rottenborn! 

Below is the complete eBird checklist which I entered, below, subject to changes by Steve.

San Felipe Lake / Soap Lake, San Benito, US-CA
Feb 8, 2014 10:15 AM - 11:15 AM
Protocol: Stationary
Comments:     Steve Rottenborn + Debi Shearwater checklist compilers. Steve arrived at the Highway 152 call box pullout about 9 am and notified me by email that he had found a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, FIRST RECORD FOR SAN BENITO COUNTY. There is a dump on the other side of the freeway which I believe is closed on weekends. During the week, as many as 2000 gulls have been present at the lake. Far fewer gulls were present today, but still a good selection. This location is best visited in the morning hours, rather than pm hours when one is looking straight into the sun. Conditions today: Overcast, about 58F. Recent rains from a "Pineapple Express" system that is forecast to bring more rain to the drought-stricken region Steve found a number of additional rare birds, in the checklist. He tried to photograph the Lesser Black-backed gull through his scope. A good quality spotting scope is necessary. CAUTION: EXTREME CARE NEEDS TO BE TAKEN IN PULLING OVER TO THIS CALLBOX AREA AS TRAFFIC IS HEAVY ON THIS VERY DANGEROUS ROAD WHERE MANY DEATHS HAVE OCCURRED.
37 species (+2 other taxa)

Greater White-fronted Goose  44
Cackling Goose  60     Probably Aleutian; This could represent a record high count for SBT County of this species. Careful estimate.
Canada Goose  15
Gadwall  60
Eurasian Wigeon  1
American Wigeon  60
Mallard  250
Cinnamon Teal  10
Northern Shoveler  15
Northern Pintail  90
Green-winged Teal (Eurasian)  1     Bold, horizontal, white stripe.
Green-winged Teal (American)  150     This could represent a record high count for SBT County of this species. Careful estimate.
Bufflehead  40
Ruddy Duck  80
Pied-billed Grebe  2
Eared Grebe  5
Great Blue Heron  1
Snowy Egret  10     This could represent a record high count for SBT County of this species. Careful estimate.
Turkey Vulture  3
Golden Eagle  1
Red-shouldered Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  3
American Coot  120
Long-billed Curlew  3
Western Gull  1     Found by Steve Rottenborn. Few records for San Benito County. Steve can describe it.
California Gull  50
Herring Gull  150
Thayer's Gull  75     This could represent a record high count for SBT County of this species. Careful estimate.
Lesser Black-backed Gull  1     A first San Benito County record, found by Steve Rottenborn. 2nd cycle. He might have some images.
Glaucous-winged Gull  250     This could represent a record high count for SBT County of this species. Careful estimate.
Glaucous Gull  1     At least one glaucous gull has been present for several weeks. Second winter with the pale-based, dark-tipped bill.
gull sp.  1     One very white gull with an all dark bill. Not a Glaucous gull. This gull has been present for several weeks. Steve was not sure about the identity of this individual.
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  2
Black Phoebe  1
Say's Phoebe  1
American Crow  6
American Pipit  1
Song Sparrow  3
Red-winged Blackbird  60

View this checklist online at

San Benito County Birding,
Debi Shearwater

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Howdy, Birders,
Please join me at the 


JANUARY 22 - 26, 2014
This evening, along with many others, I'll be attending the "Birds & Books" mixer at Patrick Ranch from 5:00 - 8:00 pm. 
I'll be autographing, "The Big Year" by Mark Obmasck
Loads of field trips, exhibitors, workshops and more are on offer.
Saturday, January 25, I will present a keynote speech at the 
And, of course, there will be loads of Snow Geese!

I invite you to join me!
Debi Shearwater

Tuesday, December 31, 2013



on their nesting wall

Debi Shearwater

Saturday, December 28, 2013


Howdy, Birders,
This is a report covering a typical birding route from Paicines Reservoir and Panoche Road to Panoche Valley, San Benito County, California. 
The highlight was a record count of 269 MOUNTAIN PLOVERS on 
Christmas Eve and 150 MOUNTAIN PLOVERS on Christmas Day. These counts represent the highest counts in more than a decade at Panoche Valley. 
Although I was able to snatch this image, above, of a MOUNTAIN PLOVER, for the most pard they were never close enough for photography.
Other birding highlights included: one or two PRAIRIE FALCONS, MERLIN, FERRUGINOUS HAWK (including one dark morph), RED-NAPED and RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER, LEWIS'S WOODPECKER, GREATER ROADRUNNER, PHAINOPEPLA, HORNED LARKS, VESPER SPARROW, LONG-EARED OWL (at McCullough Ranch), and as yet, unidentified, desiccated BAT. 
"Where is the water?" you ask. At this time, the reservoir is only about one fifth of capacity. According to the USDA, our area is in an "extreme drought." This year, only 5.50 inches of rain have fallen in San Francisco, where records date back the farthest, to 1849. Remarkably, that's almost 3.5 inches less than the previous dry record of 9 inches of rain in 1917. Similar dry records are on tap for our area. The far north end of the reservoir has water that attracts some waterfowl. This is an eBird HOT SPOT. You can view my eBird list for 24 December here
Even though the birds are at the far end of the reservoir and there is dike beyond the sign, above, this is private property. Please do not cross the gate. The reservoir sits on property owned by Paicines Ranch. 
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, above, is often found at the reservoir, as they nest here.
From the reservoir, I headed north on Highway 25, locally known as Airline Highway, for only .4 miles to San Benito County Road J1, otherwise known as PANOCHE ROAD. If you zero out the odometer in your car, you can use the distances that I give in this report. The mile markers are also pretty close to the same numbers. 
This is the ranch at MilePost #9.14 and mailbox 10251 where the LEWIS'S WOODPECKERS were found on 20 December. At least one Lewis's Woodpecker continues at this location. 
LEWIS'S WOODPECKER, above and below,  is an irregular resident of San Benito County. That said, they can be very difficult to find. This "stake out" Lewis's Woodpecker is easy to see from the roadside. 
Perched at the top of a tree or telephone pole, it could be mistaken for a starling if the light is poor, due to the overall dark coloration. In sunlight, the pink colored belly shows well. 
Lewis's Woodpeckers are usually silent in our area, except during breeding season. 
Nesting Lewis's Woodpeckers have been confirmed in San Benito County.
The branches in the left of this image are of a fruit tree which the Lewis's may be feeding on. The posts of the barn, above, are wood. I saw the Lewis's land on one of the support posts inside of this barn!
Lewis's Woodpeckers do not fly in an undulating flight like other woodpeckers. 
Rather, they fly more like crows, or sometimes like a large flycatcher, as this woodpecker was, sallying back and forth across the road. 
Large and long-winged, with a long tail, LEWIS'S WOODPECKER, above. 
My nest stop was the "RED ROCK" which is an eBird HOT SPOT. This spot is 11.4 miles from the intersection of Panoche Road and Highway 25. There is a pullout that can hold several cars. 
The Red Rock is a traditional spot for many of the birds of the blue oak savannah as well as a good variety of sparrows, including Rufous-crowned Sparrow, although I didn't see any either day.
GOLDEN EAGLE, above, is often seen at the Red Rock. Sometimes, White-throated Swifts are present.
Colorful oak tree in this area. The next few miles can be excellent for finding RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW. Be sure to pull out at a safe location. 
Next, I stopped near the ANTELOPE VALLEY CDF STATION, eBIRD HOT SPOT. This has historically been a good stop for Lewis's Woodpeckers in past years. YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIES are abundant in the area. I found a RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, above and below, feeding here. 
A RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER, below, was also feeding here. 
You will now pass through more open oak woodlands where a suite of birds can be found: Western Bluebirds, Oak Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Acorn Woodpecker, Nuttall's Woodpecker, California Quail, California Thrasher, Turkey, Western Scrub Jay, etc. can be found. 

Panoche Pass Summit and SUMMIT RANCH and POND are about 20 miles from Highway 25 intersection. 
This is an eBIRD HOT SPOT. The pond has not had attracted any birds on my recent visits other than BLACK and SAY'S PHOEBES. 
McCullough Ranch borders Summit Ranch. Some oak trees harbor bright green mistletoe clumps which are worth checking for PHAINOPEPLA
The McCULLOUGH RANCH can best be told by this windmill and corral (on the other side of the road, not pictured). McCullough Ranch is an eBIRD HOT SPOT. The oaks begin to disappear and grasslands become more dominant. A LONG-EARED OWL was at this spot on Christmas Night. Here is one of my checklists.
Now the Panoche Valley floor begins to unfold, above. The remans of an old walnut orchard can be seen in the distance. After passing the orchard, you will be in the PANOCHE VALLEY proper. 
The PANOCHE INN is located about 27.7 miles from Highway 25. They will make you a good sandwich for about $7. Please do not ask to use the bathroom, unless you are purchasing food. 
Panoche Inn will also serve you a cold beer on those hot summer nights, should you find yourself in the valley. However, Panoche Inn does not have any overnight accommodations. I recently ran into a couple from France who thought they'd spend the night at the "inn."
MERCH HOT SPRINGS, located along Little Panoche Road, does have overnight camping and small cabins for rent. 
Continuing on Panoche Road, I headed to PANOCHE SCHOOL, an eBIRD HOT SPOT, where about 120 MOUNTAIN PLOVERS were found in an adjacent field on 20 December 2013. 
Norton Road borders one side of Panoche School. It is a marked, dirt road.
Looking down Norton Road, below. The gray stuff is a pile of gravel. The road is dirt and passable as long as the conditions are dry. 
I counted MOUNTAIN PLOVERS from Norton Road, but I found that a better counting location was to continue along PANOCHE ROAD to: N36.61065 and W-120.85877. This is not an eBird Hot Spot, but I have it logged in eBird as a "personal location." Here is one of my checklists for this spot. And, another checklist, here. MOUNTAIN PLOVER is a California Species of Special Concern, and federally proposed Threatened Species. 
The dark dots in the above image are cow patties. However, there are MOUNTAIN PLOVERS in this image, above! Can you see them? Yep, they are very hard to see. You will need a spotting scope. 
This is the actual color of the field and a single MOUNTAIN PLOVER, above, that managed to get close enough for a photograph, although this image is cropped. Mountain Plovers nest on the Western Great Plains. The are winter visitors in our area. 
MOUNTAIN PLOVER, above, in an image that has had adjustments made so that the bird stands out better. 
When the Mountain Plover turns its back, it blends in with the surrounding land completely, making them even more difficult to find and count. A few, 6-30 KILLDEER, were also mixed in with the plovers. 
PRAIRIE FALCONS seemed to have "discovered" the Mountain Plover hang outs. I don't think that there are more than 2 Prairie Falcons on the valley floor, and maybe only one. 
Unused fencing. 
Sign at the intersection of Panoche and New Idria Roads, about 31.2 miles from Highway 25. 
I continued on Panoche Road toward Silver Creek.
"Stop" at this conveniently marked telephone pole for the best viewing location of MOUNTAIN PLOVERS along this part of Panoche Road. MOUNTAIN PLOVERS counted at this location can be added to the SILVER CREEK eBIRD HOT SPOT. Here is one of my checklists. And, another, here
MOUNTAIN PLOVER field at this location. I found 6-30 Mountain Plovers here. 
Some of the MOUNTAIN PLOVERS were in the fenced area in the left portion of this image. There was also a large flock of HORNED LARKS here. 
If you reach this Silver Creek Ranch sign, go back to find plovers. 
Another PRAIRIE FALCON, above. These falcons are resident in San Benito County, breeding at Pinnacles National Park and in the Diablo Mountains. 
FERRUGINOUS HAWK, above and below, is a winter resident in San Benito County. 
This raptor nests in the Great Plains, often on the ground. Formerly, it build a nest using buffalo bones and lined the nest with buffalo dung. I call it the "BUFFALO HAWK." It is my favorite Buteo
Beyond the corrals at Silver Creek Ranch, the paved road turns to hard gravel. This road is passable as long as it does not rain. When rains occur, even a 4WD vehicle can get stuck. Beware!
PANOCHE CREEK, below, is an eBIRD HOT SPOT. Birds found here should definitely be logged on to this Hot Spot, as this represents a unique habitat amidst the surrounding grasslands. The only VESPER SPARROW I saw was along the roadside, here. My checklist is here
Despite "extreme" drought conditions, Panoche Creek continues to flow. The road has solid pavers at the creek and driving through the creek is not a problem these days. 
Another view of PANOCHE CREEK, above, with extensive wetlands. 
This is an excellent location for GREATER ROADRUNNER, as they breed nearby. 
I found this ROADRUNNER on Christmas Day, sitting on the fence, basking in the sun, at Panoche Creek. 
Crossing the creek, one can continue on Panoche Road all the way to Jackass Pass. There is a drainage along the left side of the road what contains a few old cottonwoods. 
MERLIN in a cottonwood tree at Panoche Creek.
The hills were bone dry, with nary a bird in sight save 2 RED-TAILED HAWKS and 2 LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES. NO Mountain Bluebirds or Horned Larks, or anything else alive. 
Panoche Road, above, winding down to Panoche Valley. 
Just about the only vegetation on this portion of the road was ephedra, below. Even then, only a few small clumps, mostly on the roadside where they had not been grazed by cattle. 
Returning to Panoche Valley, I noticed a small bunch of dried stuff stuck in the barbed wire. 
Even as I photographed it, above, I thought is was just some dead vegetation. 
However, on closer inspection, I found that it was a tiny bat that had obviously flown into the barbed wire. This is not the first time I've found a bat killed by barbed wire. 
Bat's face, above. 
A sign in Panoche Valley

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