Saturday, December 31, 2011


Howdy, Birders,

In San Benito County, today, I made a short spin around Santa Ana Valley Road. The EASTERN PHOEBE continues in the same location as previously described.
Today, the phoebe was foraging right along the road, even on the ground of the road shoulder. It was making a call note. Both BLACK and SAY'S PHOEBES were also in the area.
A flock of 30+ AMERICAN PIPITS were also feeding on the shoulder of the road. Guess there was something good to eat there.
The usual raptors were in the area, including this female AMERICAN KESTREL, below. One immature BALD EAGLE was soaring overhead.
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES were out. It was a beautiful, warm sunny day.

I'll end the year with my favorite buteo, FERRUGINOUS HAWK, below.
Wishing you Happy Trails filled with lots of birds for 2012!
Hope to see you out there,
Debi Shearwater
San Benito Birding

All images copyright, Debi Shearwater.
Please ask for permission to use.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Howdy, Birders,
You know sometimes the birds are wherever you find them! Yesterday, I was driving through downtown Hollister, when I saw this SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatius) sitting on a street lamp along a side street. Hung a fast right turn around the block, parked and jumped out with my camera.
Crossed the street to get the sun behind me. Meanwhile, cars were zipping by, ump-pah or salsa music blaring in the streets. It seemed to me that the sharpie was unfazed by all of this, although it was paying attention.
However, I've been noticing how much raptors really dislike having a human being looking directly at them. Eye to eye contact is not something they seem to care for.
It wasn't until I got home and downloaded my images that I discovered that this little sweetie was not a happy camper! As one of my friends pointed out, "It looks like there's some foot stomping going on there!"
Arthur C. Bent's "Life Histories of North American Birds of Prey" describes this bird as thus: "This bold and dashing little hawk, the terror of all small birds and the audacious murderer of young chickens, is widely distributed in North America. It has been well called a bushwacker from its habit of beating stealthily about the shrubbery to the fatal surprise of many a little songster."
Well, that's a fairly fierce look in the eyeball of this little gem! The location is shown in the image, below, quite near the NAPA auto parts store at East and Fourth Streets in Hollister. It seems that birds are often quite habitual, especially raptors. So, if you find yourself in Hollister, drive by or stop at the NAPA store.
This was to be just the beginning of an outrageous day for birds of prey. Stay tuned.
Happy Trails,
Debi Shearwater
San Benito Birding

All images copyright, Debi Shearwater.
Please ask permission to use.

Monday, December 26, 2011


Howdy, Birders,
Wandering around San Benito County after a late start on a beautiful Christmas Day and late into the evening, I had some great birding. The singular highlight was eight "Christmas" MOUNTAIN PLOVERS at Panoche Valley! A YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER (rare in San Benito County) and a stunningly sublime sunset, below, capped the day, while GIANT KANGAROO RATS and a variety of owls filled the night. All images, copyright, Debi Shearwater. Please ask permission to use.
Grabbed some hot chai at Starbucks and headed to Paicines Reservoir. Highlights at this stop included: adult male and female BALD EAGLES sitting in the oak grove; 5 WHITE PELICANS which headed off to the north; a SPOTTED SANDPIPER; 11 HOODED MERGANSERS; 65 COMMON MERGANSERS and a soaring GOLDEN EAGLE. But, the best thing for me was meeting a photographer named John from Daly City. I was having troubles with my camera. It's not the camera, but rather the operator! Many thanks to John for helping me out. I gave him some ideas for where to photograph the raptors on Santa Ana Valley Road. But, for no real reason, I headed out to Panoche Valley, on J1, Panoche Valley Road. Of course, right away, I saw 3 more GOLDEN EAGLES! I stopped, briefly along the oak woodlands of this road where I found a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK and this NUTALL'S WOODPECKER, below.
A HY male YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER was a nice surprise. I had seen this individual a couple weeks ago, but had much better views this time around. Still, the bird was in constant motion, flying from tree to tree.
Quite a few sparrows along the road, mostly flocks of WHITE-CROWNS and LARK SPARROWS, along with DARK-EYED JUNCOS, below.
WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH is one of the typical species of this habitat, below.
At the pond at Summit Ranch, five HOODED MERGANSERS were sitting on one of the duck houses! BTW, the "white-fronted geese" at this location are not wild geese, but barnyard geese. Eight AMERICAN COOTS were on the pond. Panoche Valley Christmas Bird Count may get a record high count of coots this year.
Just beyond the pond, at mile marker 20.85, I saw the male PHAINOPEPLA, which I had previously reported. If you are looking for this bird, just pull well off the road, and wait. He is likely to be there all winter, guarding a large mistletoe stash.
When the road flattens out, you'll begin to enter the valley floor. Here, I found a GREATER ROADRUNNER, a PRAIRIE FALCON and another PHAINOPEPLA, above. This bird was about a quarter mile off the road. So, it is a very long distance shot. The silhouette is distinctive, though.
Very large flocks of SAVANNAH SPARROWS, below, line the fences of the valley floor. I headed for Shotgun Pass, turning left on Little Panoche Road.
Another PRAIRIE FALCON flew over the pass, while a BURROWING OWL was standing tall. I didn't stop to photograph it because I was heading for Panoche Hills.
Huge sparrow flocks flew up along the roads in the BLM lands. I saw a few SAGE SPARROWS, and the ROCK WREN, below.
Many of the southeast facing hills have large stands of Spanish Dagger, a plant that Costa's Hummingbirds favor. Amazingly, I found no Mountain Bluebirds in the BLM lands.
Returning to Little Panoche Road and heading back to the intersection of Panoche Road, I noticed a BARN OWL stuffed inside of a hole in the hillside— just a portion of the face looking out at me. Passed up two more BURROWING OWLS. Now, I decided to focus on finding more Burrowing Owls, checking old known spots.
On Panoche Road, most birders are familiar with the School. It is the only school in the valley. I took a left at the school on a dirt road. This is Norton Road, but the street sign no longer exists. It is an eBird Birding Hotspot. As the reader can see in the above image, there is a cow-paddy laden, dirt area, bordered by grasses. It was here that I had hoped to find a Burrowing Owl. Instead I saw these sweet little brown, Christmas plovers! There is a MOUNTAIN PLOVER in the image above, but it is more easily seen in the image below. The corral area where the plovers were is located exactly .5 miles from the intersection at the school.
MOUNTAIN PLOVERS are one of the most prized birds of Panoche Valley. Although I've made many trips to the valley this year, this is the first group that I've encountered. I counted them at least half a dozen times, one by one. Only eight plovers! If you report bird sighting on eBird, and I hope you do, please count plovers, one by one, rather than estimating. It is not that difficult. Also, if you have a scope, check for leg bands. I did not find any.
One of the unique things about this location is that the area that the plovers are using is very, very small. This often means that the plovers very close to the road. For photographers this presents an extremely rare opportunity! It was nearly dark when I was there, from 4:45 to 5 pm. The sun was behind me. So, afternoon light will be best, but don't wait this late in the day.
I implore birders and photographers to please, please be respectful of these birds and private property. Please do not slam your car door and keep voices down. We'd like to keep these little gems around for all to enjoy! Below, you will see a more general image of the area.
Looking toward the end of Norton Road, below, you'll see this rather frightening homestead. Signs all around state that "Trespassers Will BE SHOT." Take heed. Do NOT under any circumstances cross any fences or gates.
This corral, below, is directly across from the area where the Mountain Plovers were foraging. A flock of about 225 HORNED LARKS joined the plovers, but flew off at sunset.
I did not see any Burrowing Owls at the corral, but did see a dark morph FERRUGINOUS HAWK near the school when I left the area. Continuing on Panoche Road, I bee-lined to Silver Creek, hoping to find plovers there, too. No luck. I did see on BURROWING OWL in this area, though.
The sunset was quite spectacular this evening. I shot many images, but the one below, over Kim's house is one of my favorites. I saw three GIANT KANGAROO RATS before leaving the Silver Creek area. It was solidly dark on my fairly uneventful drive back to Hollister. However, I did manage one GREAT-HORNED OWL at Paicines Reservoir; 2 BARN OWLS on Quien Sabe Road (lower area); one BARN OWL and one GREAT-HORNED OWL on John Smith Road.
Just loved those "Christmas Plovers!"
Happy Trails,
Debi Shearwater
San Benito County Birding

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Howdy, Birders,
San Benito County was a great place to see the TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE this morning from 0500 to sunrise. Several years ago, the county enacted an ordinance which protects the night skies from light pollution. It was easy to find a dark place to watch the eclipse. It will probably come as no surprise to those who read this blog, that I choose Santa Ana Valley Road. Below, is my image of the eclipse. All images in this blog, copyright, Debi Shearwater. Please do not use without permission. The Raptor Rodeo continues!
Morning owls on Santa Ana Valley Road included two BARN OWLS. On John Smith Road, a male and female GREAT-HORNED OWL pair were dueting. It was easy to see both of them. Arriving at Paicines Reservoir well after sunrise, I was surprised to see a caramel-colored BARN OWL actively feeding. It landed just outside of my car window while I was reading the newspaper!
This Barn Owl perched on the fence along the east side of the dike at the reservoir. Other birds present included well over 300 COMMON MERGANSERS, 13 HOODED MERGANSERS and 4 AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS.
A few days ago, I shot the long distance image of an adult BALD EAGLE, feeding on a kill at the edge of the reservoir. This eagle spent a good 40 minutes consuming its' prey.
On Quien Sabe Road, near Tres Pinos, I spotted the first GOLDEN EAGLE of the day, perched high on a lookout at the top of one of the grassy ridges. What a view it must have from up there!
This BURROWING OWL was one that I found in the morning. A late evening drive produced at least two Burrowing Owls on Quien Sabe Road between Highway 25 and the intersection of Santa Ana Valley Road.
Hanging a left on Santa Ana Valley Road, I spotted the first of at least 3 FERRUGINOUS HAWKS, below, and another BURROWING OWL. Later, on my evening drive, I saw 7 immature GOLDEN EAGLES harassing a 2nd year BALD EAGLE!
Let's not forget the AMERICAN KESTRELS! Below is a female who had just consumed a rodent.
I've never seen so many ground squirrel holes as I have this winter. Below, upper left, an immature GOLDEN EAGLE is about to land on the ground. There are at least 28 ground squirrel holes in this image. These eagles, along with the Ferruginous Hawks, stand on the ground, waiting for a squirrel to show its' head. Then, it's curtains for the squirrel, I'm afraid!
Below, a GOLDEN EAGLE soars over the grasslands, the fastest disappearing habitat in California.
It is easy to see why the GOLDEN EAGLE is my most favorite bird in the whole world. I photographed this adult, below, early today. Many Golden Eagles nest in San Benito County and can be found year-round, usually quite abundant— lately extremely abundant— and, perhaps the largest concentration in North America is at Santa Ana Valley, right now.
The image below, sure does make one wonder about those power lines. Eagles are sometimes electrocuted by these wires. Just look at the power in that lift off!
On this evening's drive, I spotted a flock of 60 LONG-BILLED CURLEWS. But, the big surprise was a PEREGRINE FALCON at 1709 hrs near mailbox #801 sitting on a telephone pole, near the 1 mile marker on Santa Ana Valley Road. This particular Peregrine Falcon, above, was photographed at the Hollister Sewer Ponds on December 3, 2011 by me.

The evening raptor rodeo was topped off by the sighting of a male and female BALD EAGLE, sitting near their newly rebuilt nest. Although it does not look as though the pair that nested at San Felipe Lake is going to nest again this year, that is not the case with this other pair, elsewhere in San Benito County. It is only a matter of time before the eggs roll out for this pair! Stay tuned for the nesting Bald Eagle updates!
Happy Trails & Enjoy the Raptor Rodeo!
Debi Shearwater
San Benito County Birding

PS. Thanks to Robert Trenton Reed