HAIL, THUNDER & LIGHTNING, OH MY!
I spent a long day at Panoche Valley on Wednesday, October 10, 2012. Highlights were many, including some surprising weather. All images below by Debi Shearwater. Dawn, heading east on Panoche Road, below. Good sized flocks of YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIES were along Panoche Road in the foothills, along with one LEWIS'S WOODPECKER which was near milepost marker 19.0. A single GREAT BLUE HERON was the only bird of note at Summit Ranch Pond.
NORTHERN FLICKERS seemed to be migrating, as I found 7 on the valley floor, and the one pictured below, on Santa Ana Valley Road. Several more, today on San Juan Canyon Road. On the valley floor, I found one ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD, one ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (gray-head type), one LINCOLN'S SPARROW and a few VESPER SPARROWS.
Again, on Panoche Road, near the Douglas Ranch, I found THREE CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS. At Silver Creek Ranch in the dip of the creek, was one YELLOW WARBLER and one COMMON YELLOWTHROAT.
I drove up to the county line at Jackass Pass, but it was very dull. So, I decided to head out New Idria Road where there is really some shortgrass prairie! (Panoche Road habitat is completely overgrazed).
Well, I hit the jackpot on New Idria Road, spending most of my time in the prairie, beyond the Griswold Hills. I did see a ROADRUNNER in the hills, though. At least two PRAIRIE FALCONS and an adult GOLDEN EAGLE, 10 AMERICAN KESTRELS, 7 LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES, 137 HORNED LARKS and a dozen YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIES were tallied. Please BEWARE: all of the bluebirds that I saw on Idria Road were WESTERN BLUEBIRDS, although Mountain Bluebirds should arrive in November. One COYOTE was hunting in the grasslands. I have seen San Joaquin Kit Fox, a Federally Endangered Species, along this road during spring.
The roadsides were alive with sparrow flocks, as there is vegetation for them to hide in, unlike Panoche Road which is almost devoid of any sparrow habitat. No less than 7 VESPER SPARROWS popped up on the fences, as below. Near the 16 milepost, hundreds of sparrows were along the roadside, including 100+ LARK SPARROWS, many SAVANNAH SPARROWS, WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS, one each, BREWER'S and CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS. This fall some five records of CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS have been reported in San Benito County, doubling all records for the county. I suspect that both Clay-colored and Brewer's occur regularly in San Benito County each fall. Patient birders might be rewarded with sightings of one or the other, or both of these sparrows. About 16 miles out New Idria Road is Ashurst Ranch. That is the general area to watch for the big sparrow flocks. Best approach is remaining inside of your car, using it as a blind. If you find either sparrow, please let me know.
I drove all the way to New Idria "town" which I do not recommend. It is an EPA SuperFund clean up sight. Some unsavory characters may be around. The town is burnt down, in any case.
As dark clouds began forming across the valley, I headed home to Hollister.
Suddenly, hail was pouring out of the sky. Lightning and Thunder, too!
Check back often, as I will be heading out to Panoche Valley at least once a week throughout the late fall and winter seasons. One TARANTULA was on the road, looking for its mate. It certainly is one of my most favorite birding places. If you eBird, be sure to check out the Hot Spots on eBird, and log your lists using those spots, limiting your travel distance to 5 miles for any one report. See you out there!
San Benito County Birding