Sunday, May 1, 2011


Howdy, Birders,

Beginning at 1:15 am on 27 April, Don Doolittle and I made a "dry run" of my route and planning for a San Benito County Big Day. We traveled some 305 miles throughout the northern and middle areas of the county, the clock being the limiting factor in our quest to find as many birds as possible within 24 hours. In the end, we tallied about 120 species. This was not enough to beat the record holders, Steve Rovell and R.J. Adams who tallied 149 in 2006. Still, we were encouraged. It was a tough day, with precious few spring migrants showing. We could only hope that more would arrive before our planned Big Day on Friday, April 29th.

Some of the highlights included: a flyover WHIMBREL; lingering GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE; nesting GREAT-TAILED GRACKLES at three locations; a family of BARN OWLS in a barn owl box, a nesting GREAT-HORNED OWL nesting in a barn, a flyby WESTERN SCREECH OWL, calling LONG-EARED and NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWLS; a nesting BALD EAGLE that tried to take out a WHITE PELICAN and a BLUE GROSBEAK on territory.
Osprey, copyright Don Doolittle

At the end of the day, we headed out to Panoche Valley. We were surprised to see several YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIES harassing this perched OSPREY on Panoche Valley Road, about a quarter mile from the intersection with Highway 25. Two days earlier, I had seen the same Osprey hovering over Paicines Reservoir. And, the next day, Jennifer Green and I saw it, again, over Paicines Reservoir.

On Panoche Valley floor, the light was fading fast, marking the end of our hopes of birds. However, we were able to find LESSER NIGHTHAWK, many BARN OWLS and a few BURROWING OWLS, and finally, a possible nesting SHORT-EARED OWL.

We enjoyed the antics of the GIANT KANGAROO RATS along the sides of the road, on our return drive to Hollister. The Giant K Rat was listed as a Federally Endangered Species in 1987.
Giant Kangaroo Rat, copyright Don Doolittle

Giant Kangaroo Rats live in sandy, arid grasslands. Their long tail, which makes up 130% of their body length, is used for balance. They eat seeds and grains. Their average life span is about 10 years.
Giant Kangaroo Rat, copyright Don Doolittle

Giant Kangaroo Rats communicate with each other by scent and foot thumping, a behavior in which the rats hit their hind feet against the ground repeatedly. Long, elaborate "footrolls" can average 100 drums at 18 drums per second. Foot drumming helps identify neighbors, establish territory, and communicate mating status. They are critically endangered, restricted to a small area in western central California that is only about 2% of its former range. Panoche Valley is a critical habitat for this species.

On our return to Hollister, we saw a few more BARN and GREAT-HORNED OWLS before crashing out for some much needed sleep. The real Big Day was set to begin in just 24 hours!

Happy Trails,
Debi Shearwater

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