Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Kern River Valley!

As the last round of butterfly surveys came to an end, I got lucky with a few species of birds I had yet to photograph. Clark's Nutcrackers are always around, but are usually in the tops of trees very far away. At Virginia Lakes, California, I had a few birds that were very cooperative.

Clark's Nutcracker
Another bird I picked up at the end of the survey round was Mountain Bluebird. I don't see a lot of them out here, but this one was pretty tied to a meadow where we were camping.

Mountain Bluebird
Then it was off to the Kern! Kevin Welsh and I had 3 days off, so we drove to the Kern River Valley where we stationed in Weldon, CA. I worked here about 6 years ago so I know the area pretty well. What we had planned to be an all out birding extravaganza quickly turned into a "bird for a few hours in the morning and then hang out by the river" trip. The valley is so hot that by 8am the birds quickly become quiet and the heat rises. It is intense.

We camped at a place that was a little shady, especially with the Black Widow spiders that were crawling around our tents, but we survived. On our first day of birding, we started at the Kern River Preserve.

As soon as we stepped out of the car, the valley birds greeted us. Nuttall's Woodpeckers were seemingly everywhere. I believe this is a young bird with the red near the front of the crown. Ladder-backed is ruled out by the solid black upper back (and range).

Nuttall's Woodpecker
The hummingbird feeders were teeming with activity. Both Anna's and Black-chinned were fighting over perches.

Anna's Hummingbird
The Western Bluebirds that nest at the preserve had already fledged their young. They were all over the property, some still showing their offspring how to forage.

Western Bluebird
A walk down the trail yielded an Oak Titmouse. We saw these in a few different locations during our trip. Juniper Titmouse doesn't make it to the valley.

Oak Titmouse
At the Canebrake Ecological Preserve, we hoped to pick up Tricolored Blackbird. I had seen them here three years ago, and they were very easy. However, no couldn't pick one up this time. This was my go-to spot, so I was getting worried! We did pick up a California Towhee though.

California Towhee
By this time, all activity died down. It was HOT! So, off to the mountains we went. One of my favorite spots to visit when in the valley is north of Kernville. The Trail of 100 Giants, as it is named, is a great area to see giant Sequoia Trees. There are some real monsters in there! While this is reason enough to visit the trail, the birds are top-notch as well.

I have never visited the trail without seeing White-headed Woodpeckers. This time was no different, and we even found two nests right along the path.

White-headed Woodpecker
Another of my targets was Red-breasted Sapsucker. The ones in the Great Basin are mostly hybrids, so getting one at the trail would be ideal. We had a few fly by, but it took a while for one to pose.

Red-breasted Sapsucker (southern form)
On my last visit three years ago, I saw singing Hermit Warblers along the path. This time we heard a few, and one even came down from the canopy! My best looks ever at this species.

Hermit Warbler
We also had a Hammond's Flycatcher pair calling, but not singing and I was unable to get any pictures or sound recordings.

We had dinner at the Kern River Brewery in Kernville with my former boss and a few friends before calling it a night.

In the morning, on our last full day, going on a tip from my former boss, we looked for Tricolored Blackbirds. We finally found a flock of blackbirds that all appeared to be Red-winged at first. We strolled around, keeping a close eye on the foraging blackbirds. Finally, we got on a Tricolored in flight. Then another. Finally, one landed and started calling a strange, raspy call.

Tricolored Blackbird
We also tried again for Lawrence's Goldfinches, but struck out. It was time to go take a swim and a nap by the river. When we came to, it was lunch time. We ate some pizza in Kernville, then went back to the river. We pretty much spent the rest of the day either at the brewery or the river. Even picked up a new year bird, American Dipper, flying up the rapids.

On Monday (6/17), we only had a half day to hang around. Instead of birding, we slept in and then went tubing down the Kern River. It was a relaxing float with a few rapids thrown in. It reminded me of how much I love being on the water. We made the 5 hour drive back to Hawthorne, Nevada to get ready for surveys the next day.

The surveys went well, on a private military mountain that is very well maintained. I even added two more photo birds; Say's Phoebe and Chukar. Chukar usually stay high on the rocky cliffs, but this time they had young.

A mother Chukar
Say's Phoebe

I have a few more days off coming up at the end of the month and Kevin and I are planning a trip to the California coast. I might end up with a lifer if I'm not careful...

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