Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Birding Festival - part 5 - Sunday's field trip

Sunday's field trip was to the east side of Pinnacles National Monument, located within the Gabilan mountain range, in San Benito county. This side of the park is where the visitor center and campgrounds are located. We drove down to Watsonville where we checked in with those in charge. Once we were all accounted for we were told which roads/highway we would take to get to Pinnacles. But first we wanted to stop and get ourselves a lunch for later. We stopped at a Safeway in Hollister and bought some ready-made sandwiches and some fresh fruit. Red and Dave also wanted to fill up their mugs with Starbucks coffee, which was located at a kiosk within Safeway. The rest of the birding group planned on stopping somewhere in Panoche Valley to pick up another person or two who were registered for this field trip. Meanwhile, we continued on to Pinnacles. When we arrived at the visitor center/campground nobody was there yet. So while waiting we walked around the area to see what there was to see. One of the first things I saw was a yellow-billed magpie (lifer!). Don't forget to click on the pictures to get a larger image.
Isn't this bird beautiful? He really didn't mind posing for me, especially after he realized I kept trying to get a closer shot of him every few seconds. He was perched on the fence surrounding the campground's swimming pool.
As for flora around the area there really wasn't that much. This is sacred datura, aka western jimson weed. It closes up in the daytime/sunlight and actually blooms at night. Click on the link to read more about this plant.

Here's a view of some higher peaks seen from the visitor center/campground.
Did we see any California Condors? Well, sort of. Way off in the distance in this pine tree are 3 condors. Click on the photo so you can see a larger image. And about halfway down you can see three dark spots near the main trunk. This was the best I could get with my camera. Some folks had scopes and I did get a better view. One woman had a 45x and I could make it out that there were 3 large birds in the tree. Another woman had a 60x and it was so much better. I could actually see the ID tags on each of the birds. That was really cool to see the birds. I just wish I could have seen them flying. But maybe next year, or another time when Red and I can go visit the area on our own.
Most of the group chose to hike up a trail I think was called Bear Gulch trail. A couple miles up the road would be a picnic area where we could stop for lunch. There were a number of bird species spotted along the way, but I was never able to get any pictures. Once we got to our destination we were greeted by a few stellar's jays and California ground squirrels. My pictures of the squirrels came out too dark, but I did get a few good shots of this stellar's jay. This was my best shot. Now this bird is NOT a lifer for me because I used to see them all the time when my husband and I used to live in Colorado and go camping on weekends in the Rocky Mountains. We used to see plenty of Clark's Nutcrackers, too, as well as hundreds of chipmunks.
While walking back down the trail toward the visitor center we encountered a couple of deer. I wasn't standing in the right place at the right time, so this was the best I could get. As the photo shows, this doe was grazing. Once she saw several of us she moved on.
Once we got back to the parking lot we were tired and wanted to call it a day and head back home. The scenery on the way home was so pretty. The picture below is a glimpse of part of the Gabilan range, possibly north of the Pinnacles. In the foreground you can see vineyards growing on the rolling hills.
Here is another view of part of the Gabilan range looking southwest, possibly looking in the direction of where the Pinnacles could be. And in the foreground there's a freight train heading south. Again, you can see the "golden hills" of California behind the train.
As you can see in this view, a beautiful blue clear sky, with the dark green off to the right which is another vineyard at the base of more "golden hills." And way out in the far distance is the southernmost part of the Hamilton range. The Hamilton range is the set of mountains to the east of San Jose (aka Silicon Valley).

Overall, we really enjoyed this birding festival. There is such a variety of geographic possibilities which gives one a wide variety of bird species to be found. I recommend this birding festival to anyone who plans on visiting central coast California in late September. And almost guaranteed great sunshiny weather.


Ruth said...

What a beautiful area. I enjoyed your pictures of birds I will never see in this area. I am going to visit family in Mexico in November in the northern desert and should start looking up birds I may see. (if anyone will take me birding...)

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

Beautiful!I especially liked the picture with the train in the forground.All in all it feels like I have just taken a short trip into your area,and that may be the only way I will ever see this part of the world.Thanks.

Linda in Erie said...

The area is beautiful and your photos are great! The Magpie reminds me of a penguin (go Pittsburgh Penguins!)I used to hate the "golden hills" of dead grass when I lived out there but now I miss it. When I see those oaks on the golden hills in your photos it makes me homesick and now I find beauty in it. Sigh, the grass is always greener... I never birded or paid attention to birds when I lived out there. I'm going to be in the Sierra foothills of CA for Christmas visiting my dad and hope to see some wintering birds that I don't see here.

Lynne said...

The handsome magpie reminds me of the Windex commercials!

It's been a dream of mine to see California Condors. Maybe some day...

RuthieJ said...

Do they have this festival every year Mary? Is there a festival website? It would be fun for me to attend and maybe I could talk my brother into going along with me. Of course the chance to see California Condors would be pretty awesome too!

Red said...

I remember that commercial Lynne! I have a different sensory memory of the magpie, but I'll save that for my blog post.

Here's the windex video!

LOL Mom... you've tempted Ruthie J into coming next year! WTG :)

jan m said...

I enjoy seeing photos of the birds in your area, as many of them are unlike anything I see here in NY. Glad you enjoyed the festival!

Kathiesbirds said...

That yellow bill is hard to miss. You're one up on me with that bird, though I have seen plenty of black-billed magpies! And condors! Oh my goodness! I have yet to see one of them also!

Mary C said...

Oh Ruth - I do hope you will get the chance to go birding while you are in Mexico. And if you do, I hope you will get the chance to see phainopeplas and pyrrhuloxias; cactus wrens and ravens; and hawks and owls you would not see there in Ontario. Oh, and of course, a roadrunner, too. Be sure to tell us about it on your blog if you should go birding. I also hope to hear of your trip to Mexico regardless of whether you birded or not.

Ruth - (Photo Blog) - thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm so glad you enjoyed my post and the accompanying photos. I feel the same way when I visit your blog (and others' blogs), knowing it may be a very long time if and when I ever get to your neck of the woods to see for myself.

Hi Linda - so you are going to be out in the Sierra foothills around the Christmas holidays? I do hope you will get the chance to do some birding while you are out here. Are you going to be north - like around Sacramento? or central, like Fresno? or south/southern CA? I also know what you mean about the "golden hills." We can pretty much take what we have around us for granted. It's like when we were having all those fires back in July and we couldn't see the hills around us - then we missed not seeing them. I've also done that with other places where we've lived - taking what beauty is around us for granted and then missing it when we no longer live there.

Hi Lynne - oh wouldn't it be nice if all of my blogging friends could visit California and be guaranteed to see a condor up close and personal. Maybe some day that will happen. Or we can dream, can't we? Or we can visit each other virtually and see the photos one would get in their part of the world. ;o)

Hey Ruthie - yes, this is an annual festival. This was only the 4th year and it seems to be growing and getting more popular by leaps and bounds. And yes, there is a website:
Right now, if you go to the website it will show what was available for this year. It will probably be next June or July before they update the website for the 2009 festival. If you are thinking about going next year I can forward the email I'll receive to you. Or you can continue to check the website starting in late June/early July. And if you do plan on going be sure to let me know so we can get together!

Hey Red - you could try convincing Ruthie, too! ;o) LOL

Thanks for stopping by Jan and commenting. I'm glad I can share some photos with my blogging friends who may not get the chance otherwise to see this part of the country.

Kathie - I think I heard there are a few condors that were released in Grand Canyon. So if you should ever get the chance to visit the park you can check on it and hopefully you would see a condor. Or you could come out this way some day, and I would recommend visiting the Ornithology Lab in Big Sur, and very likely you may see some condors flying overhead. As for the YB Magpie - I feel so fortunate to be within driving distance of this bird. I didn't realize before this festival that they are very unique to a small part of the central valley here in Calif. And I'm thrilled that I could share a decent photo of this special magpie on my blog for all of you to see.

Shellmo said...

Very neat to see the magpie - he definitely didn't seem shy in your photo! Congrats on your lifer!

Mary C said...

Shelley - thanks for stopping by and commenting. While taking photos of the magpie I enjoyed watching a second magpie come on the scene along with a crow, but they both flew off before I could get a shot of them. It's fun watching these birds -- they are so curious.

zhakee said...

Thanks for sharing your pics of Pinnacles. I was there only once, a little over a year ago, and saw no condors, even though we went for a many mile hike up along the ridge. It sounds like you had a great outing, and brought back nice pics.

Larry said...

congratulations on the lifer!-It is a handsome looking bird.-I would be thrilled to see a California Condor even ffrom a great distance.-Maybe it is meant to stay a mysterious bird.

Mary C said...

Zhakee, you're welcome. Did you visit the west side of Pinnacles or the east side? The Condors were "visible" only from the east side of the park.

Thanks, Larry. It was a thrill to see them from a distance, but it would have been even more thrilling to see them in flight. Maybe next year. As for being mysterious I don't think that will be the case in about 10-15 years. Hopefully there will be several more condors flying around in the wild. Right now we need to focus on our hunters to stop using lead bullets. That is what is killing the condors most recently. Being carrion eaters they are feeding on animals that have been shot with lead bullets and then they die of lead poisoning. It has been outlawed in most places here in California.


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