Friday, October 7, 2011


Howdy, Birders,

Panoche Valley is well known to birders during the winter months. However, birding can be interesting at any time of the year. Panoche Valley is recognized as a Globally significant Important Bird Area (IBA) by National Audubon. Fall can be a great time to spot unusual birds in the valley, as well as enjoy some great scenery. On September 30 and October 5, I birded Panoche Valley. Each time, I ran into a local valley person and spent a hour, pulled up along the roadside, talking to these folks. This is the "PV Way," chatting about the "nature of the valley." A lot is at stake. I plan to visit the valley at least once a week throughout the fall season, into winter. So, stay tuned, if you are interested in this area. For more details on location of the valley, click here.
One enters the valley through the oak dotted and towering gray pine foothills. I couldn't help but notice the newborn calves. The local rancher told me that this is late in the season for calving. He counts his calves, every single day. Meanwhile, I counted YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIES! San Benito County seems to have been spared the harsh impacts of the West Nile Virus that has killed off local yellow-billed magpies in many other counties, including some that have been entirely wiped out. I counted some 85 magpies on Highway 25 where it runs through the McCullough Ranch! These images, above and below, are of HY magpies.
It is the time of year for TARANTULAS to be on the road. I generally try to get them to cross the road to avoid being smashed by oncoming vehicles. LARK SPARROWS are forming flocks in the foothills and on the valley floor.
Below, is Shotgun Pass on October 5th. The great grasslands are laid out beneath the cover of threatening thunderstorms. It did rain on this day!
A great many of the grassland birds are shades of brown. One does not need to describe this as "dull," but rather, one can learn to appreciate the many shades of brown that allow these birds to live an inconspicuous well adapted life amongst the grasses. Below, is a HORNED LARK, a breeder in the valley. GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS and SHORT-EARED OWLS were also confirmed breeding this year in the valley.
The beautiful valley floor on Little Panoche Road is lit up with sunlight amidst the rain showers. This will be one place to search for Mountain Plovers and Burrowing Owls once winter arrives.
The biting northwest wind on October 5th, made me feel as though winter had arrived. The CASSIN'S KINGBIRD, below, says that fall is still here. This was one of three individuals I observed on September 30th. Two kingbirds were near the school.
This ROCK WREN was on the road to New Idria in the Griswold Hills. Another bird exhibiting shades of brown.
It was gratifying to see good numbers of LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES all across the valley. About 12 years ago, I found a shrike in the road, with pin-feathers meaning that it was still a hatchling— in mid-October!
An adult GOLDEN EAGLE and three RAVENS flying away, as they were feeding on the ground. Shortly after this, I saw a Raven carrying a WESTERN MEADOWLARK in its' feet! And, I wonder why meadowlarks never sit on the fences long enough for a photograph!
SAVANNAH SPARROWS, below, will soon line the fence rows, although only a handful are present at the moment.
The first of fall VESPER SPARROW, below, was found on September 30th. Search for them on the valley floor amongst the many Savannah Sparrows. Vesper Sparrows are not nearly as numerous. A LINCOLN'S SPARROW was also present on September 30th.
PRAIRIE FALCONS, icons of the grasslands, can be found anywhere along the valley floor. This one, below, was on Panoche Road, near Silver Creek Ranch. I also found an adult, male LARK BUNTING in basic plumage in this area, along with a ROADRUNNER. It has been a number of years since Lark Buntings were seen in PV. Perhaps, this will be a "good" year for them. On Panoche Road, near the ranch homes, large flocks of blackbirds can be found. On October 5th, I saw 110 TRICOLORED BLACKBIRDS amongst these flocks.
New to the area— an oil rigging that is actively being worked. This is on the road that goes to New Idria. A small encampment, complete with workers living in trailers, has sprung up as well. The oil well is very close to the location where I photographed a SAN JOAQUIN KIT FOX. Who knows what the future will hold for Panoche Valley? It is under threat from solar development at this time. If you love this place, now is the time to visit. Hope to see you out there!
All images by Debi Shearwater, copyright. Please do not use without permission.

Happy Trails,
Debi Shearwater

San Benito County Birding

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