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Monday, February 18, 2008

Winged Dirt Clods

After a visit to Grass Valley yesterday, I was on my way home. Got got a call from Don. He was on his way back to the Bay area and had stopped in Solano County to track down some interesting feathered clods of dirt.

I thought that was worth the drive, so I headed for Solano county; the place where the term ‘boondocks’ probably got its start. There, near a sign that recommended ‘Enjoy California Lamb’, I found the mobile dirt clods, that is, a large flock of Mountain Plovers.

Flock of Dirt Clods

Closer Look

Mountain Plovers! You're sure that's not a dirt clod there, right?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Crane Chase Continued

Today was marathon birding day. We started off visiting the Cosumnes River Preserve where we saw the usual line-up of Cranes (i.e., the whole point of the exercise), Snipe, ducks and what-have-you. Then we headed south, making brief stops where I took some Not-Ready-for-National-Geographic photos.

Lewis Woodpeckers are a designer's palette of pink with irridecent green

Birdie chorus line: 2 Brown-headed Cowbirds and a Tricolor-winged Blackbird

That done, we headed way south to Mercy Hot Springs. There we ran into a a friendly group of birders. Like Don, they come from the Bay Area so maybe Don’ll have some new friends to bird with. While chatting we looked up and spotted a nice Golden Eagle.

Golden Eagle - note HUMONGUS wing span

Our last birding spot of the evening was a couple of hours north, at Del Puerto Canyon Road in Stanislaus County. I was looking (in vane it turns out) for Northern Pygmy Owl, but settled on playing the iPod and setting up a hootin’ match between two pairs of Western Screech Owls that flew in to challenge my iPod to a duel.

When we got back to my house Sunday night as I was parking, what was hooting across the street from my house? A Western Screech Owl! Dorothy was right. I’ll keep in mind, ‘If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire, I won’t go any further than my back yard.’

But the highlight was the Long-eared owls. I’ve made the pilgrimage to see the Long-eared owls annually for three years now. This year we found 11 birds in one Tamarack tree near inhabited cabins. This year's owls were quite sleepy and in their branches. Hum... might have to visit again next year for some better photos.

Sleepy and Grumpy

Mr. Judgemental

Pretending to be a pine cone

Later, nearby the springs we spotted a Roadrunner and a Prairie Falcon, neither of whom stuck around to have their photos taken. Bugger!

I did manage a photo of this seemingly innocent Loggerhead Shrike; a bird known for capturing smaller birds and impaling them on barbed wire. You know... with a nice Chianti.

The Hannibal Lecter of the Bird World - Bwah, ha, ha, ha, ha!

Our last birding spot of the evening was a couple of hours north, at Del Puerto Canyon Road in Stanislaus County. I was looking (in vane it turns out) for Northern Pygmy Owl, but settled listening to a hootin' match between two pairs of Western Screech Owls.

When we got back to my house Sunday night as I was parking, what was hooting across the street from my house? Of course, a Western Screech Owl. I suppose Dorothy had a point. If you ever go looking for your heart's desire, don't look any further than your own back yard.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Release the Cranes!

White-fronted Geese - yes I know - their fronts are not white

Tundra Swans - INCOMING!


Flurry of Snow Geese

Oh! And Don spotted 1, lost, lone Mute Swan that was, in fact, being mute and trying to blend in so none of the other birds would tease him for being an escapee from some zoological collection (poor thing!).

Mute Swan, hoping the other swans don't notice its orange bill (how embarrassing).

When we'd had our fill of low country fowl, we headed east to see some fowl high country (you know what I mean). We drove to Loon Lake high on a mountain in El Dorado County - loads of snow to gawk at & so sunny we didn't even need jackets.

Periodically we stopped to listen for chickadees and such. At one spot Don shouted he'd found a White-headed Woodpecker. I hadn't seen one since Big Bear Lake, circa 1986. I had just seen Don waltzing across the thick snow, but I had a weird feeling I was in for Mother Nature's arse-whooping were I to try crossing the same snow. I trod along the white fluff and sure enough - WHOMP! My right leg plunged into the snow, up to my knee! Had to have Don help me dig myself out. Bugger. Oh well, important thing is I got my White-headed Woodpecker photos.

White-headed Woodpecker

Ok, not the singularly most impressive woodpecker you've ever seen - plus it's a female so it lacked a red patch on the back of its noggin. T'wern't much more up there besides all sorts of people playing in the snow but we did squeeze in some chickadees, nuthatches and one Townsend's Solataire (think 'robin in grey pajamas').

Tree Worshipper

It was getting dark by the time we left. Amazing how fast a day shoots by when you're having fun.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Upcoming Great Crane Chase -2008

[Management regrets Ms. Miller has been negligent in updating this blog. Yes, she did have the flu for a week ½, and yes, we know, she has a hoarse voice, but does her voice in any way involve movement of her fingers? Does a flood of flu antibodies in her body somehow disconnect her brain? We think not. Ms. Miller will be entering posts till she catches up with herself, or catches cold - which ever comes first.]

Tomorrow Don joins me for a 2 day birding winter birding spree. This is an annual gig - we call the Great Crane Chase. This all started around ten years ago because Don wanted to visit the Central Valley to see his first ever Sandhill Crane. I told him that would no challenge at all; just leave the crane finding to me.

So Don showed up with his his daughter Rose, who was just a pre-teen then; a cranky one that didn't appreaciate being stuffed in a car to spend an entire stupid day looking at stupid birds. Anyway, Rose and my dog Chiquilla curled up in the back of the stupid car, with looks of extreme disapproval on both their faces. Off we went, up one side of the central valley and down the next, searcing for stupid cranes in the stupid Graylodge Wildlife Refuge, but we had no stupid luck. OK, I got excited over a stupid skunk, marching stupidly drunkenly along the side of the road, but that didn't count (hum... I seem to be channeling Rose here).

Finally, I spotted our target – I pulled the car over and proudly pointed the birds in a field and, as I’m apt to do, I started lecturing on the magnificence and beauty that is the Sandhill Crane. At some point in my pontification, I noticed Don, Rose, and Chiquilla were all staring at me. I took a second look at the Sandhill Cranes… my ‘magnificent cranes’ were plywood cutouts, painted over to deceive nincompoops like yours truly. *sigh*

Not one of the plywood cranes, but you get the general idea

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Free Day at the Indian Museum

Saturday was Free Museum Day; Sacramento's 'educate your kids fer free' day. I was at the State Indian Museum helping with crowd control. Although it rained on and off there were still plenty of tourists and locals eager for a free look at the museum's beautiful baskets, dance regalia and such. The museum is looking especially beautiful just now having had a little cosmetic surgery - a spanking new gift shop area and the removal of the 8 year 'temporary' Gold Rush exhibit made the whole Feng Shui of the entryway airy and welcoming.

My job was keeping count of visitors so we wouldn't exceed the Fire Marshall's limit of 66 people in our eensie little building across from Sutter's Fort. The day was so cold and wet that once people got in, they were reluctant to leave, so some people waited as long as a half hour to get in. However many people I could let in the front door was directly dependant on how many people just left through the back door (I recieved the number via a little walkie talkie).

At one point there was a sweet little Russian Family of seven waiting in the foyer. I mustered up what few words of Russian I speak to address them as follows: "Seven people, please?", or rather, "Vo-seam Che-lo-vekki, pa-shal-sta" . I sounded a head waiter. The Russian family was so tickled to hear me speak some Russian, of course they were all smiles. So was I - until they relased a happy bombardment of Russian at me. EEEEK! "Yah nee ga-va-ree-u Pa-roo-ski!", i.e., 'I don't speak Russian!' I must learn to say, 'My vocabulary sucks!'