On Friday, May 6th I decided to attempt to find a loon. This is not an easy prospect in land-locked San Benito County. Naturally, this means visiting the major bodies of deep water. I began the morning at Paicines Reservoir. If you asked me to choose one place to start the day in San Benito County, I would almost always choose Paicines Reservoir. The mirror reflection of of the cattle lined up along the distant edge of the reservoir was beautiful and peaceful. No loons in sight. However, I did get to enjoy my morning latte with the BALD EAGLE! She flew in from the northeast on a straight shot for the small oak on the levee, landing as though it was her old friend. The eagle was a nice consolation prize. Driving through the town of Tres Pinos on Highway 25, I stopped to watch a flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS, feeding on berries of a pepper tree.
At Paicines Reservoir, above, the water level is very high.
Below, a newly hatched Killdeer at the sewer ponds.
En route to San Justo Reservoir, I stopped at the Hollister Sewer Ponds. This facility is open to birders on weekdays. Be sure to sign in and out at the office. At the office front door, I found a garter snake who was quite confused about which direction to go. One of the staff carried the snake to a better location. Best birds here were: SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (7), SEMI-PALMATED PLOVER (4), SPOTTED SANDPIPER (1). At the Hollister Industrial Ponds, nearby, best birds were: GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (1 female, nesting), RING-NECKED DUCK (4), NORTHERN SHOVELER (2), SPOTTED SANDPIPER (2). At San Justo Reservoir, I found another SPOTTED SANDPIPER, courting WESTERN GREBES, one EARED GREBE, and 2 LAZULI BUNTINGS. The reservoir is closed to the public, including birders. Again, I dipped on loons. Maybe this would not be a day for loons, after all, I thought. So, I headed for one of my long time favorite spring birding roads — Lone Tree Road, pictured below.
Seventeen years ago when I first moved to San Benito County, Lone Tree Road was steady spring birding road. It rarely disappoints me. Today was no exception.
I headed nearly to the top of this dead end road, passing by YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIES and WESTERN BLUEBIRDS. Stopping to shoot a few pictures of wildflowers, I heard quite a few birds near the 10 mile marker where I finally stopped to bird. In this area I encountered a wonderful flock of migrants, including: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (2), NASHVILLE WARBLER (4), BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (1 male), TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (2 males), MYRTLE WARBLER, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (1), WARBLING VIREO (2), HUTTON'S VIREO (1), BULLOCK'S ORIOLE (3), SWAINSON'S THRUSH (2), WESTERN TANAGER (2), GRAY FLYCATCHER (1), ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER (2), WESTERN WOOD PEEWEE (1), BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK (2), and the usual resident bird species. These birds were high in the oak trees.
There is a significant California/Bay Laurel Tree stand as shown above.
Apparently, I just happened to stop right near the nest of a CALIFORNIA THRASHER, as both adults jumped out! One tried to lead me away, down the road.
Sticky Monkey Flower
At the very end of the road, I encountered three lovely LAZULI BUNTINGS, two of which were singing males. Belting it out, really. Heading back down the road, I espied an adult GOLDEN EAGLE, perched on a high rocky craig. CHIPPING, LARK and RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROWS, AMERICAN and LESSER GOLDFINCHES and ROCK WREN were along the roadside. Next, I headed out to Santa Ana Valley Road.It is mowing time for hay and other grains. However, my heart stopped at the sight of a tractor cutting the field where I suspected nesting NORTHERN HARRIERS. I stopped and spoke with the driver of the tractor, in my very broken Spanish, asking him if he would mow around any nesting birds on the ground. I can only hope. As I drove away, I saw both a male and female harrier in the air, over that field. Best bird finds on this road were CASSIN'S KINGBIRD and an intermediate morph SWAINSON'S HAWK.
Nearby is Comstock Road, another one of the foothill roads off Fairview Road, outside of Hollister. This can also be a great spring birding road. But, on this day, I only added a few new species, including a calling PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER. I did not find any migrant flocks. Two WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS at the end of the road were late.
Finally, I wandered south on Highway 25 to Bitterwater Dry Lake. The "dry" lake is actually quite full of water, even creating a second smaller lake. Here, I found a SOLITARY SANDPIPER, SPOTTED SANDPIPER, AMERICAN AVOCET along with three CANADA GEESE and MALLARDS. The Solitary Sandpiper is a rare migrant in San Benito County, but it is seemingly a great year for them with many turning up.
I continued south on Highway 25 to La Laguna Vieja Rancho, pictured below. Due to the excellent rains that we had this past winter, there is quite a wetland at this location. However, no unusual birds, or loons!
On Coalinga Road, it was getting dark. A single VAUX'S SWIFT was flying with some swallows, while a GREAT-HORNED OWL called from it's nesting area in a cliff. It was a fabulous day of spring birding, even though I was skunked in my search for loons. Tomorrow is another day.
All images, copyright, Debi Shearwater