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04 - 09 August 2001

by Jay Greenberg

On August 4-9, I combined a trip to California for my son’s wedding with birding.  August wasn’t my preferred time of year, but I didn’t pick the wedding date.  Aug.  4 was devoted to travel and activities related to the wedding.  By the time I got to bed at my hotel in Davis, I had been up for 21 h.  I was so tired and jet lagged that I couldn’t think straight and considered myself lucky to get there in one piece.  Nevertheless, I was unable to sleep soundly.  It didn’t help that the hotel was only yards from a busy railroad track.  It seemed like a train came through my room at least once an hour, sometimes with horn blaring and bells clanging.  

Somehow, I got up at 6:00 on the 5th and was ready to meet Kevin, my local birding guide, in the lobby by 7:30.  He is a Sacramento area birder whom I found through the Birding Pal web site.  He turned out to be a great find.  He is an expert birder who leads trips all over the country.  He is also a former president of the Yolo County Audubon Society and an ardent conservationist.  We set out for Cache Creek Regional Park in northwestern Yolo County in Kevin’s car, a1982 Honda Accord with 255,000 miles on it, but not a speck of rust.  Cache Creek is about an hour from Davis.  We climbed the dirt road along the creek to the top of the canyon, dodging several bus loads of whitewater rafters in the process.  Near the top, we got out to survey the chaparral habitat.  Bingo!  Almost immediately, we found sage sparrow, one of the target birds and a lifer for me.  On the way down the canyon, we made several stops to look for Nuttall’s woodpecker, another target bird and potential lifer.  However, it was very frustrating.  We got one or two fleeting glimpses and heard their calls, but I didn’t get anything resembling a life look.  However, we must have seen at least 50 acorn woodpeckers in the process.  We also enjoyed an incredible close frontal look at a northern pygmy owl that Kevin called in.  However, it was being harassed by oak titmice and didn’t stay in view for long.  Although I hadn’t previously seen northern pygmy owl, I had added it to my life list after hearing it.

On the way back to Davis, we stopped at a bridge over Cache Creek where we saw a hooded oriole.  It was only my second look at this species.  According to Kevin, it is a noteworthy sighting for Yolo County.  In the fields along Route 16, we found several western bluebirds.  This was lifer #2.  By this time, the gas gauge was on empty.  We pulled into the only filling station for many miles at an Indian casino just in time.  We got back to Davis around 2:30, later than I intended, with just enough time for me to grab a bite, shower, take a short nap, and get ready for the wedding at 6:00.  I joked to Kevin that probably not many people go birding and to a wedding on the same day.  He confided that he had sneaked off on the morning of his own wedding to a non-birder to chase a rare bird.  Strangely enough, they are no longer married.

On the 6th, I was on my own.  I wanted to make it a relatively restful day, so I went to the Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area off I-80 between Davis and Sacramento.  It was only about a ten minute drive from my hotel.  VFYWA is a man-made highly managed wetland which reminds me of Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in western New York.  Like Montezuma, it is known for waterfowl and shorebirds, especially in the mild California winter.  However, since it is in a different geographic area and different climate, the birds are different.  I had the place almost to myself.  

I didn’t know what to expect on a scorching August day, but it was well worth the visit.  One of my first sightings was a white-tailed kite.  This species is actually fairly common in northern California.  I soon also spotted a roosting barn owl.  It was surprisingly alert and active for a bird that was supposed to be asleep.  It flew off when I tried to set up my scope for a better look.  By the time I finished my tour of VFYWA, I saw a second barn owl.  This doubled my lifetime sightings of the species.  Three of the four sightings have been in California where they are much more common than in the east and also, roost outdoors.  At the same spot, I had a leisurely look through a scope at a perching immature Swainson’s hawk.  During the morning, I was to see numerous Swainson’s hawks and heard a couple of them vocalizing on the wing.  Their call was rather like a weak, hoarse, red-tailed hawk call.  Other notable sightings included numerous white-faced ibises, black-necked stilts, western meadowlarks, great and snowy egrets, black-crowned night heron, American white pelicans, and a blue grosbeak.  The latter was only my second sighting of this species.

On the seventh, I set off for my daughter’s home in Daly City just south of San Francisco with big plans for birding along the way.  The first stop was Mitchell Canyon in Mount Diablo State Park East of San Francisco Bay.  To get there, I had to drive through a thoroughly ugly industrial area along I-680 and the congested city of Walnut Creek with one eye on the heavy traffic and the other on the complicated directions for Mitchell Canyon.  However, the canyon itself is a beautiful spot closed to motor vehicles, and there were few people.  The main road goes gradually uphill in chaparral habitat to Deer Flat along a small stream.  Along the way, I quickly got a good look at Nuttall’s woodpecker, life bird #3.  I saw a second one later on.  

A few minutes later, I heard a vireo song and eventually got a good look at the bird.  With its white spectacles and wing bars, it was clearly related to our eastern blue-headed vireo, but which species was it?  At first, I thought it was a plumbeous because of the dull gray and white coloring with no sign of yellow.  However, Mitchell Canyon is out of range for plumbeous, but a known location for Cassin’s vireo.  Also, the bird I saw did not have the noticeably thickened and hooked bill of a plumbeous.  After much deliberation and consultation with other birders, I decided that it was a Cassin’s vireo.  This suited me just fine because it was life bird #4.  I had seen plumbeous previously in Arizona.  I have now seen all three species of the former solitary vireo complex.

A bit later, I was quite surprised to see a large coyote come out on the road only about 50 feet ahead of me.  For a moment, we looked at each other with mutual respect and tolerance, then it turned and slowly walked away.  I also saw it rummaging in the brush along the road and, later, lying in the road behind me.  For a while, the birding was not very productive.  However, I then glimpsed a flock of small birds flying overhead.  Bright wing bars were visible, and they had yellow on their bodies.  They were making an enchanting two note bell-like call with the first note higher.  Although I never got a good look at a perched bird, I was sure that they were Lawrence’s goldfinches, life bird #5.

Although I hadn’t reached the end of the trail, I decided to turn back at about 11:30.  It was getting late and very warm.  By the time I got back to the parking lot/picnic area at the beginning of the trail, it was 12:30 and quite hot.  By this time, I had walked about six miles, half of it up hill, and had consumed nearly all of the 1.5 quarts of water I carried with me.  I took a rest and shared my lunch with the California ground squirrels.  They were so bold that they went right between my feet for crumbs.  Because of the heat and lateness, I changed my plans.  I decided to skip Mines Road, a well known birding route in the Coastal Range, and head for my daughter’s place right away.  As I left Mitchell Canyon, I passed a thermometer which said 101̊.  An hour later, I was at the coast where it was 55̊ and foggy.  What a difference!

Early on the morning of the eighth, my daughter, Rachel, and I left for a day of birding in the Santa Cruz area with Todd Newbury whom I had birded with five years previously after meeting him through the Internet.  One notable sighting was a scissor-tailed flycatcher on the grounds of Long Marine Laboratory where Todd works.  It was not a life bird for me or Todd, but it is at least as rare in northern California as in western New York.  It was definitely a lifer for Rachel, who has only been birding for a couple of years.  We made a stop at Pinto Lake in Watsonville in the hopes of seeing a Ross’s goose which has been resident there for years.  This was a potential lifer, but it did not cooperate.  

Next, we returned to the fog-shrouded coast at Moss Landing where it was looking a lot like fall, both weather-wise and bird-wise.  There were numerous shorebirds including marbled godwits, sanderlings, and a willet.  In the water, we saw both common murres and common loons; also, a red-throated loon.  Later, we would see migrating sooty shearwaters from Cliff Beach.  Also at Moss Landing, we saw a loon near shore which seemed rather agitated and was preening itself vigorously.  To our wonderment, it actually climbed awkwardly onto the beach where it continued to preen itself.  On the basis of its thin bill and brownish plumage, we concluded that it was a juvenile Pacific loon, although it lacked the dark chin strap found on many winter Pacific loons.  This was life bird #6.  It was also the first loon of any kind I have seen out of the water and the closest I have been to any kind of loon.

At 6:00 the following morning, I departed by car for Sacramento on the first leg of the long trip home.  My tally for the trip was 86 species.


Common_Name              Number_Seen  Place Name
Red-throated Loon        1            Moss Landing
Pacific Loon             1            Moss Landing
Common Loon              1            Moss Landing
Pied-billed Grebe        2            Pinto Lake
Sooty Shearwater         12           Cliff Beach
American White Pelican   2            Pinto Lake
American White Pelican   2            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Brown Pelican            12           Natural Bridges State Park
Brown Pelican            6            Light House
Double-crested Cormorant 6            Pinto Lake
Double-crested Cormorant 12           Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Brandt's Cormorant       1            Long Marine Laboratory
Great Blue Heron         1            Moss Landing
Great Blue Heron         3            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Great Egret              6            Natural Bridges State Park
Great Egret              100          Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Snowy Egret              6            Moss Landing
Snowy Egret              12           Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Black-crowned Night-Heron1            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
White-faced Ibis         100          Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Turkey Vulture           1            Mitchell Canyon
Turkey Vulture           6            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Canada Goose             6            Pinto Lake
Mallard                  12           Pinto Lake
White-tailed Kite        1            Moss Landing
White-tailed Kite        1            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Northern Harrier         2            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Northern Harrier         1            State Road 113
Red-shouldered Hawk      3            Coastal Highway (SR1) between
                                      Santa Cruz and Daly City
Red-shouldered Hawk      1            Rumsey
Swainson's Hawk          12           Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Swainson's Hawk          6            State Road 113
Red-tailed Hawk          6            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Red-tailed Hawk          1            State Road 113
American Kestrel         2            Natural Bridges State Park
Ring-necked Pheasant     6            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
California Quail         1            Santa Cruz Arboretum
California Quail         75           Rayhouse Road (CR40)
American Coot            1            Pinto Lake
American Coot            1            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Killdeer                 2            Pinto Lake
Black-necked Stilt       20           Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Greater Yellowlegs       20           Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Willet                   1            Moss Landing
Long-billed Curlew       1            State Road 113
Marbled Godwit           20           Moss Landing
Sanderling               25           Moss Landing
Heermann's Gull          1            Moss Landing
California Gull          12           Natural Bridges State Park
Caspian Tern             20           Moss Landing
Caspian Tern             6            Pinto Lake
Caspian Tern             1            Light House
Elegant Tern             12           Moss Landing
Common Murre             3            Moss Landing
Rock Dove                6            Natural Bridges State Park
Mourning Dove            12           Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Barn Owl                 2            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Northern Pygmy-Owl       1            Rayhouse Road (CR40)
Anna's Hummingbird       6            Arboretum
Anna's Hummingbird       6            Mitchell Canyon
Allen's Hummingbird      6            Arboretum
Belted Kingfisher        1            Rumsey
Acorn Woodpecker         2            Mitchell Canyon
Acorn Woodpecker         100          Rayhouse Road (CR40)
Nuttall's Woodpecker     2            Mitchell Canyon
Downy Woodpecker         1            Rayhouse Road (CR40)
Western Kingbird         1            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Western Kingbird         1            Rayhouse Road (CR40)
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher1            Long Marine Laboratory
Cassin's Vireo           1            Mitchell Canyon
Hutton's Vireo           1            Mitchell Canyon
Steller's Jay            6            Mitchell Canyon
Western Scrub-Jay        12           Mitchell Canyon
Western Scrub-Jay        12           Rayhouse Road (CR40)
Yellow-billed Magpie     1            State Road 113
American Crow            1            State Road 113
Common Raven             2            Coastal Highway (SR1) between
                                      Santa Cruz and Daly City
Tree Swallow             100          Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Barn Swallow             12           Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Chesnut-backed Chickadee 1            Natural Bridges State Park
Oak Titmouse             12           Mitchell Canyon
Oak Titmouse             25           Rayhouse Road (CR40)
Bushtit                  12           Mitchell Canyon
Bushtit                  6            Rayhouse Road (CR40)
White-breasted Nuthatch  1            Rayhouse Road (CR40)
White-breasted Nuthatch  1            Mitchell Canyon
Brown Creeper            1            Lake Merced
Bewick's Wren            1            Natural Bridges State Park
Bewick's Wren            1            Mitchell Canyon
Bewick's Wren            1            Rayhouse Road (CR40)
Western Bluebird         6            State Road 16
American Robin           1            Lake Merced
Wrentit                  1            Natural Bridges State Park
Wrentit                  1            Rayhouse Road (CR40)
California Thrasher      1            Rayhouse Road (CR40)
Orange-crowned Warbler   1            Natural Bridges State Park
Yellow-rumped Warbler    1            Natural Bridges State Park
Wilson's Warbler         2            Natural Bridges State Park
Western Tanager          4            Rayhouse Road (CR40)
Spotted Towhee           2            Santa Cruz Arboretum
Spotted Towhee           1            Mitchell Canyon
Spotted Towhee           1            Rayhouse Road (CR40)
Sage Sparrow             2            Rayhouse Road (CR40)
Song Sparrow             1            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Dark-eyed Junco          12           Mitchell Canyon
Black-headed Grosbeak    1            Rayhouse Road (CR40)
Black-headed Grosbeak    1            Mitchell Canyon
Blue Grosbeak            1            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Red-winged Blackbird     1            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Western Meadowlark       12           Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Brewer's Blackbird       12           State Road 113
Hooded Oriole            1            Bridge over Cache Creek on Road 41
House Finch              12           Santa Cruz Arboretum
American Goldfinch       1            Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Lawrence's Goldfinch     6            Mitchell Canyon


Jay Greenberg <>
Rochester, NY