The count happened this year on 12/20. HF, KG and I met around 7:30, and headed out around 8:00. Before we left, I checked the feeders, but there were only a couple of House Finches. It was overcast, and chilly.
We got to MB’s house around 8:15. A Red-breasted Nuthatch’s beeping greeted us. We missed Pine Siskin this year, but got a Fox Sparrow and a Hairy Woodpecker, with a total of 21 species.
Around 9:10, we arrived at Don Castro RRA. (In the past we’ve next gone to Lone Tree Cemetery, but my scouting turned up no Western Bluebirds anywhere.) We checked the spillway, then birded the swimming area and parking lot. I had found a way to get down to the pond below the spillway, but there was no point this time.
When I scouted the swimming area, a Red-breasted Sapsucker was chased off a dead tree by a Nuttall’s Woodpecker.
Pine Siskins called in the parking lot, and female Purple Finches foraged underneath some vegetation. A Downy Woodpecker took a liking to a pine just inside the swim area. A Greater Scaup was a little surprise, and so was a Green Heron.
We rejoined, then proceeded over the lawn, checking the corner of the lawn where there are some wooden steps. Last year, a Red-breasted Sapsucker was foraging on the corner tree on the other side of the fence. This year, there were piles of gray and black small body feathers on the steps. Perhaps a coot?
The Shoreline Trail was next. From a high point, we found a Green Heron on the south side of the lake. Reaching the willows next to the creek, we took the inner path, as the one closest to the creek was rather overgrown. We heard Hairy Woodpeckers and Brown Creeper.
On my scouting trip, I watched the woodpecker on a stump. Nearby, I was able to watch the creeper go about its business. I also had heard an excited conversation between Hermit Thrushes.
Since we had gotten the Fox Sparrow at MB’s, and on my scouting trip didn’t see much in the way of new birds (not to mention the time), we skipped continuing on the Ridgetop Trail to the bridge and beyond, at the east end. We turned up the Ridgetop Trail, looping back. On the lawn east of the swim lagoon entrance, there was more activity since now there was sun. Two Oak Titmice came down to the ground near a barbecue. HF spotted a Golden Eagle to the north!
We had walked a little over a mile, plus the loop around the swim lagoon.
We headed off to Five Canyons Shady Canyon Trail around 11:45, arriving at 12:10. We did not detect much activity, and missed Varied Thrush. There was occasional movement, but it was too dark to tell what they were. We didn’t go as far as the pond, which now has a bridge. On my scouting trip, I went all the way around the pond. There weren’t any birds on the pond, but there were a lot of different mushrooms along the trail. Along with Don Castro, I heard Hutton’s Vireos here, but missed them today.
We walked a little over a mile here as well, and left around 1:15 for lunch at Buffalo Bill’s.
It’s always a dilemma, how to catch the peak activity in multiple places. This year I opted to concentrate on the places where we would get the most variety, then hit the spots where we might get special birds or birds we hadn’t gotten yet.
After lunch and a Starbuck’s stop, we headed back to Five Canyons to try for Rufous-crowned Sparrow above Century Oaks Circle. No luck there, but we usually get some raptors. This time, we had two American Kestrels and a White-tailed Kite. We left around 4:00, having spent around an hour.
Since I wanted to get back to Don Castro in time to watch the blackbirds come to roost, we skipped the other couple of cul-de-sacs in Five Canyons and took a quick drive through Lone Tree Cemetery. Still there were no bluebirds, and we didn’t spot the Red-breasted Sapsucker I’d seen in the morning while scouting.
Around 4:30, we took a new trail for us, off Ursa. There is a good view point of the cattails on the south side of the lake.
While scouting the day before I had arrived at the cattails around 4:20. Sunset was close to 5:00. A pair of Green-winged Teal floated near the cattails. Also that evening, a medium-large sized gray bird with a light band on its wings landed in the eucalyptus across the lake, but once in the tree, I couldn’t find it. I still don’t know what that was.
On count day, we did see two Great Blue Herons flying together. The blackbird flocks were gathering, flying back and forth over the lake, and when some unknown trigger occurred, a batch would dive into the cattails across the lake and right in front of us. The flock would continue to fly back and forth, build up again, and more would dive in. This happened several times, and the more birds in the cattails, the more settling noise and complaints. It was difficult to estimate the numbers while also trying to watch them to catch the light on their epaulets to see how many were Tricolored and how many were Red-winged.
The last flock, perhaps two, were European Starlings. I could see no color, and they were making a “churr” noise. Once they dove in and everybody was settled, they all began to sing.
This was an experience, and I wished that I had a camcorder. We finished around 5:15.
After summarizing our counts, I headed to the post-count dinner. While we were inside, it had showered. After last year’s rain, we were happy that it had held off for us until now.
More photos here, including lots of mushrooms and fungi.
The bird list for this count is here.
Next year, we should include Sulphur Creek Nature Center at least for the owl box. We seem to have a difficult time finding our target birds at the Shady Canyon Trail, at least at the time of day we usually end up there.