Lone Tree Road is one of the best birding roads in San Benito County. On Thursday, August 9, I stepped out for a couple hours of birding from 8 am to 10:30 am. Highlights were many, but a single adult female ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK was the best bird of the morning. This bird represents the fourth record for San Benito County, to my knowledge. Other species included: YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIE, NASHVILLE WARBLER, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, WESTERN TANAGER, WESTERN KINGBIRD, HUTTON'S VIREO, BROWN CREEPER (very local in San Benito County), NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER, CALIFORNIA THRASHER (strutting down the road, much like a roadrunner), GRASSHOPPER and RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROWS. Oddly enough, I missed finding any rock wrens, crows or ravens. The recent hot weather— about 95 F every day for the past week, prompted me to get out in the morning. By 10:30 am, it was all over— bird activity was nil. All images, copyright, Debi Shearwater. Please ask permission to use.
Lone Tree Road is a dead end road just a little over 10 miles which heads up in the Diablo Mountain Range. Being a dead end road, it has very little traffic. Even so, the birder should take care about parking and stopping on the road. On the way up in the morning, I spotted a TURKEY VULTURE on a fence post.
About 5 miles up the road, a family of WESTERN KINGBIRDS was in the grasslands.
About 10 miles up, one encounters the first, large California Bay Laurel trees. Some trees are immense.
Elderberry shrubs up to 10 feet tall, are laden with berries, above. The grosbeaks are feeding on these berries. In fact, I kept a tally of the species of birds I saw consuming berries: BLACK-HEADED and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, WESTERN TANAGER, PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER, STELLER'S JAYS, NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER, AMERICAN ROBIN, HOUSE FINCH, HOUSE WREN, and even one GRASSHOPPER SPARROW!
BIRDING STRATEGY: First, locate the elderberry shrubs. Most of the shrubs are right along the sides of the road. (Off the road is completely private property!) It is best to use your car as a blind, as much as possible. You will notice, right away, that the birds fly out of the bushes, immediately, if you are on foot. Elderberry shrubs grow in the sunlight. So, you won't find them inside the bay laurel forest. After entering the forest about 10 miles, up, continue until you exit the forest and see shrubs on your left. The photo, above the berry photo, is taken as one of the best spots. Park your car in the shade, down the road, and get out. If you see bird-berry droppings in the road under the oaks, as above, you have found the right stop. Sit in the shade and watch the shrubs. It is best to NOT pish, make any sounds and move as little as possible. Early morning is best, of course. You might be surprised at what shows up. If you find other interesting birds, please let me know! All of the elderberry shrubs on this road are worth a look. I suspect that the bulk of the berries might be completely consumed in less than two week's time. So, get out there!
ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK is a rare bird in SAN BENITO COUNTY. However, the above male Rose-breasted Grosbeak was photographed by Wilma Vermilyer at a feeder in her yard on June 11, 2012. If you see one, please let me know!
The entire eBird list for my two and a half hours on Lone Tree Road, San Benito County, is below: