Day 48 – Keeping our peckers up


Grab shot of our only new pecker today, the aptly named Willamson’s Sapsucker

We set off early from our ‘touch of luxury’ condo on the Eagle Crest Golf Course – we’ve got a whole floor of bedrooms and bathrooms we’re not using, for the delightful town of Sisters, in pursuit of woodpeckers. But a hard day in the field produced just four species, only one of which was new. Still, there’s always tomorrow! We did an early afternoon stint at Calliope Crossing – seeing both male and female Calliope Hummingbird which, after our woodpecker debacle, was something of a relief. An unexpected bonus came with the discovery of the wildlife delights of Black Butte Ranch – a privately run golf course and exclusive housing development. The nature trail was excellent, giving close-up views of some decent birds.

Other new birds for the trip, USA and World lists included, Calliope Hummingbird 


and Fox Sparrow – another grab shot I’m afraid


Afternoon at Black Butte Ranch provided superb scenery and close-up views of water birds. The nature reserve, adjacent to the golf course – both in the shadow of more snow-capped mountains


We’ve seen Wilson’s Phalarope in several States, but never this close before


I missed Sora in California, nice to see it so well in Oregon


Tomorrow, keeping our peckers up, we’re back on the trail of those elusive woodpeckers.

Day 47 – Cranes to Cascades


I rarely mention accommodation, except in passing, in this blog but I make an exception regarding our motel for the past two days – Aspen Inn, Fort Klamath. Run by a delightful couple, Heidi & Shannon, who immediately make you feel right at home. The rooms are large, comfortable and well equipped. The grounds are well-kept and colourful with several bird feeders. Heidi is keen on birds and eager to share her local knowledge. If you are birding in the Crater Lake / Upper Klamath Basin area, you couldn’t do better than book in here. Thanks Heidi for the specific information regarding Sandhill Crane this morning – it was spot on and saved us a lot of hassle!

Bird of the Day – Sandhill Crane. Seen just down the road from the Aspen Inn and not seen again during an extensive tour of their breeding grounds at Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. A bird we thought we’d missed out on


The rest of the day was spent visiting several of the lakes in the East Cascades. We added a dozen or so Oregon ticks, including another GABRAT trip tick – Barrow’s Goldeneye. The scenery was superb, once you’re clear of the monotonous pine forests along Hwy 97 that is.

Davis Lake, with the snow-capped Cascade Mountains behind



Day 46 – Memorable Memorial Day


Today is Memorial Day in the USA, a public holiday in remembrance of those who have died in military service. This is Fort Klamath Historical Cemetary, decorated for the occasion

Today was a day of two halves. We were out early to get to the rim of Crater Lake NP before the crowds descended on this Memorial Day holiday. We practically had the place to ourselves for the first couple of hours. Apart from taking in the truly spectacular vista, we were on the lookout for some particular birds – high alpine species, only found above the tree-line. It took us several stops before we found the first of them, Gray-crowned Rosy-finch. Reminiscent of our own Crimson-winged Finch, with similar approachability, once they were pinned down. The second was easier to locate, being a classic ‘car-park’ bird – scavenging scraps from the tourists, Gray Jay.

The truly spectacular Crater Lake, formed in the bowl of a massive volcano. Six miles across at it’s widest point, the lake is nearly 2,000 feet deep and is estimated to hold 4.9 trillion gallons of water


Top target of todays birds – Gray-crowned Rosy-finch. A ‘World tick’ and every other sort of tick as well!


The other ‘alpine species’, new for the trip et al was Gray Jay


As the days go on it becomes harder and harder to add new birds, so we were pleased to finally add this ‘trip tick’, which should have fallen long ago – Golden-crowned Kinglet


In contrast to the alpine birding of this morning, our afternoon was spent walking part of the causeway which bisects the excellent Wood River Wetland reserve, with extensive marsh to the north and Agency Lake – part of the Upper Klamath Basin, to the south. A delightful walk with waterfowl and ‘bush-birds’ everywhere. Although we didn’t add any more trip ticks, we did see plenty of State ticks. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all came right at the end when we were watching a migrating flock of Franklin’s Gulls, hawking insects over the reserve. Jane spotted a ‘hawk’ flying amongst them. Turned out to be Common Nighthawk (2) – a most unexpected addition to our Oregon list. All in all, a truly memorable Memorial Day.

View from the causeway, Wood River Wetland reserve – looking across Agency Lake to snow-capped Mt. Shasta in the far distance


Perhaps the biggest birding surprise of the day, a Common Nighthawk, hawking insects amongst a large flock of migrating Franklin’s Gull


Day 45 – Klamath Falls to Fort Klamath


View over Klamath Lake, with Mt Shasta in the background

After the madness of yesterday we took it easy today. A slow drive from Klamath Falls to Fort Klamath, only forty odd miles if you take the direct route, which we didn’t. Instead we visited a number of mainly woodland reserves along the western edge of Upper Klamath Lake. We started a new State list for Oregon yesterday, so we’ve been slowly adding to it during our various excursions. Bird of the Day, an addition to the GABRAT list, America List and my World List – the lovely White-headed Woodpecker. One of a trio of nice ‘peckers’ today, the other two being Red-breasted Sapsucker – a ‘grip-back for Jane, and Hairy Woodpecker. We’re just getting our eye in for what we hope will be a bit of a Woodpecker-fest, when we get further north, in a few days time. Meanwhile we’re really enjoying the scenery of this State. High, pine-clad, snow-topped mountains, lush green ‘alpine’ meadows, fast flowing crystal-clear rivers and mirror-like reed-fringed lakes which stretch to the horizon – and birds – lots of them!

First of three good ‘peckers’ today – World ‘tick’ – White-headed Woodpecker


A most welcome ‘grip-back for Jane – Red-breasted Sapsucker. Missed at Whitney Portal


Finally, Hairy Woodpecker (western interior race) in our ‘local’ wood this evening


Day 44 – Klamath kaleidoscope


First new bird of the day was this dazzling Mountain Bluebird

After six weeks of continuous birding – dawn ’till dusk, I confess to occasionally feeling a little jaded. If the weather’s not good or you have to work particularly hard for the birds, the days can seem long. But then you get a day like today and all that changes! When we arrived in Weed yesterday it was pouring with rain, the light was fading and there was low cloud restricting our view. As we drove out of Weed this morning, heading for Klamath Falls, the scenery was transformed – the rugged landscape dominated by the imperious, snow-capped Mt Shasta, a potentially active volcano, and at just over 14,000 feet, the fifth highest mountain in the USA. We visited several reserves in the Lower Klamath Basin during the day, adding nearly twenty new birds for California and seven trip ticks. The day just got better and better! As we drove to our motel in Klamath Falls this evening we crossed the State line into Oregon – a new State and a new list!

Lower Klamath Basin is a regular winter location for Bald Eagle. Although they’d mostly dispersed, we did see around half a dozen, including this low-flying immature 


Having missed out in other States, we were keen to ‘score’ with Sage Thrasher, before we get too far north. Looking not unlike our own Song Thrush


This is one of those birds that if you think you’ve seen it – you haven’t. When you do, it’s immediately obvious – Tricolored Blackbird. At long last, after scrutinising every Red-winged Blackbird since we got to California


Last of the days highlights was Bufflehead, on the amazing Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge reserve. We saw fourteen species of duck today, that’s the same number as breed at the internationally recognised wildfowl hotspot of Lake Myvatn, Iceland 


Day 43 – Another transition day


Grab-shot of Yellow-billed Magpie, seen near Colusa – presumably at the very northern edge of it’s restricted range. A real bonus

We dropped Bob & Sue at their airport hotel in San Fransisco mid-morning and then headed for Weed, our over-night stop, three hundred miles north and close to the Oregon border. We broke the journey at a couple of excellent National Wildlife Refuges, Colusa and Delevan. Both were auto-routes around tracts of riparian woods, reed beds and shallow pools – situated in an area of intensive agriculture, mostly rice paddies. This wasn’t planned birding but we did, nevertheless, produce a ‘trip tick’, in the form of Ring-necked Pheasant, along with a good supporting cast which included American Bittern, Northern Harrier, Wild Turkey, Cinnamon Teal, Black Tern & Wood Duck. The weather deteriorated as the day went on and by mid-afternoon it was pouring down – that put paid to any birding once we arrived at the motel. Let’s hope for better things tomorrow.

In the meantime, Bob & Sue, thanks for your company over the last four weeks – your continuous optimism and enthusiasm has kept us going and you’ve certainly found your fair-share of the birds – we’ll miss you. Safe travels.

Maintaining  our near perfect record of a new bird each day – todays offering is a bit ‘naff’ but welcome nonetheless – Ring-necked Pheasant


Day 42 – North Bay birding miscellany


Bird of the day – an unexpected Vaux’s Swift, over Las Gallinas wildlife ponds. Record shot

Today was our last birding around the Greater San Fransisco area and the final full day with Bob & Sue, before we drop them off at their airport hotel tomorrow morning. We visited half a dozen sites around North Bay and, perhaps surprisingly, added a number of State, GABRAT and America ticks. After we’ve said our farewells tomorrow, Jane and I make the long drive north to the California / Oregon border. We’ve really enjoyed being based here in Petaluma for these past few days. The town has a real community feel – friendly, with interesting buildings, very good places to eat and accessible birding. A fitting place to end this stage of our Great American Birding RoAd Trip. As far as the numbers go, we’ve now birded five States, driven well over five thousand miles and seen over 420 species – 167 of those in California. Who knows what the next three weeks has in store.

Day 41 – Birding Point Reyes


Nuttall’s Woodpecker – largely confined to west California. An America tick for me

Before we started this trip our research suggested that Point Reyes would be a high point. Situated on the Pacific coast, 30 miles north-west of San Fransisco, the Point Reyes Peninsula is bounded by Tomales Bay to the north-east and by Bolinas Lagoon on the south-east side. This strategic location, combined with a variety of habitats, means that the species count for the region is approaching an incredible 500. We’d originally planned to spend a couple of days birding the area but by lunch today, admittedly not helped by the weather which was a steady light drizzle and mist, it was apparent that the birds just weren’t around.  Things did improve in the afternoon when first we managed to find a lone Oldsquaw (Long-tailed Duck) at Abbott’s Lagoon and then, at Bolinas, a young Bald Eagle and a Nuttall’s Woodpecker – the latter an American tick.

A young Bald Eagle – only the second of the entire trip. Record shot


Another good bird for the day was Band-tailed Pigeon, which we’ve only just started seeing


The beach below the light-house on Point Reyes is a traditional breeding location for Elephant Seal. Here, looking down the ‘business-end’ of a female


Day 40 – Crossing the Golden Gate


Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco – shrouded in mist. Inset, Alcatraz, iconic prison – 1934 to 1963 

We spent the morning visiting three coastal reserves between Monterey and San Francisco – Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge, Moss Landing and Año Nuevo State Park. In the afternoon, after checking in to our rather up-market hotel in Petaluma, we visited the local town wetland – Shollenberger Park. Although the weather was cool and overcast, we avoided actually getting wet. Surprisingly, we racked-up probably our biggest day list of the trip, including several America ticks. The National Route 1 / State Route 101, fortuitously, takes you right over the Golden Gate Bridge. We stopped-off and did the tourist thing, though it would be nice to see it again in that famous California sunshine! The iconic Alcatraz Island –  home to the abandoned prison, the site of the oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast of America, early military fortifications, and a colony of nesting seabirds (mostly Western Gull and cormorants ), was barely visible in the mist.

Snowy Plover –  there are thought to be around two thousand breeding pairs along the  California coast


Adding a little colour to an otherwise drab day – American Goldfinch. A GABRAT tick


Day 39 – Monterey Bay – birding and more


The most amazing spectacle of the day was the Southern Sea Otter in the harbour. These amazing creatures keep their new-born infants safe and dry – they aren’t fully waterproof at this age, by nursing them on their bellies, whilst doing the back-stroke to get around!

Our itinerary brought us to Monterey for one specific purpose, to look for sea-birds. We had originally hoped to be able to connect with a pelagic (a dedicated boat-trip to deep off-shore waters) but were told that, because of the unpredictability of the weather in Spring, the boats don’t run. We were advised that the next best option was to take a whale-watching cruise into Monterey Bay. There’s plenty of choice – for $200 we could have got any number of boat trips, but recent sightings only involved Hump-backed Whale, Dolphin, Seals and Sea Otter – with no specific information on bird species. Instead, we decided to spend the day looking for birds in the harbour, on the adjacent beaches and sea-watching from Point Pinos. What a good decision! We saw some excellent birds and marine wildlife and some interesting historic places into the bargain. Altogether, a fabulous day, packed full of interesting stuff and virtually no driving!

Also in the harbour, Common Loon and Pigeon Guillemot (very like our Black Guillemot)



In the gull roost at the local boating lake we found this 2cy(?) Glaucous-winged Gull


Historic Fisherman’s Wharfe – home to some amazing marine wildlife


Harbour Seal and Brandt’s Cormorant


Highlights of the afternoons sea-watch (aided by the arrival of local sea-watching expert Mark Kudrav – thanks Mark for your invaluable assistance) – Heermann’s Gull (record shot)


Black-footed Albatross – a ‘life tick’. Seen here with some of the thousands of Sooty Shearwaters streaming past


Oh, and this guy – a relatively close in-shore Hump-backed Whale. Who needs a whale-watching trip when you can see all of this from the shore