Sunday, June 19, 2011

California/Arizona, Feb 2011 - Day Eight

We arrived in Ventura around 4am after a very long drive (for Josh and Matt at least, I slept most of the way!) only to discover that the Santa Cruz trip had been cancelled due to weather! Luckily we had planned to do a day in the mountains the next day, so we just switched it up and booked a trip out for the next day. We headed up to Happy Canyon, a place my friend had told me about before the trip. It turned out to be a great place to spend the morning with a range of habitats varying from low farmland to oak forests to mountain scrub right up to Ponderosa pine forest! On the drive up in the predawn twilight I had a Common Poorwill fly right over the road - unfortunately none of the other guys saw it and I was the only one who had seen one before. As we headed up into the canyon we got Mountain and Western Bluebirds, Red-tailed Hawk, Cedar Waxwing, Say's Phoebe, Brewer's Blackbird, California Quail, Acorn Woodpecker, California Towhee, Bewick's Wren, Western Scrub-Jay and many of our main target - Yellow-billed Magpie. They turned out to be fairly common in the lower part of the canyon and we had very good looks on the way up and again on the way back down!

Yellow-billed Magpie in the mist

As we got further up the canyon the bird life shifted slightly and we found Fox and Golden-crowned Sparrows, Wrentit, Cassin's Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, California Thrasher, Lesser Goldfinch and a large flock of Western Meadowlarks. Even further up the canyon we got into snow and the beginnings of the Ponderosa forest, and then to a road closed sign! I guess an inch of snow is enough to close a road in California... We decided to walk up the road a bit more into the forest and got Band-tailed Pigeon, Steller's Jay, Mountain Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker.

Misty mountains in Happy Canyon

The awesome Happy Canyon Road

Snow in the Ponderosas

Checking out Steller's Jays

By this point it was getting a bit late in the morning so we had to head back down the canyon, picking up Oak Titmouse, Hermit Thrush and Savannah Sparrow. Our next stop was Lompoc on the coast to look for Chestnut-backed Chickadees at their southernmost breeding spot. A quick check of the estuary got us Red-shouldered Hawk, Bald Eagle, Sanderling, Black-bellied and Snowy Plovers, Least and Western Sandpipers, Western and Clark's Grebes, Great and Snowy Egrets, Pacific Loon, Surf Scoter, Mew and Glaucous-winged Gulls and many other species of ducks and gulls. Over and in the marsh were Tree and Rough-winged Swallows, Common Yellowthroat and Marsh Wrens. We then noticed the willows where the chickadees apparently hang out, so we headed over there. While combing through the willows we found Short-eared Owl, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Anna's and Allen's Hummingbirds, Bushtit, Pacific Wren and American Goldfinch, and at least one Chestnut-backed Chickadee!

Flowers in Lompoc

Having found our target, we grabbed some lunch and headed back into the mountains, toward Mount Piños. On the way we added Lark Sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike and American Pipit. As we headed up into the high mountains it got steadily colder, and near the top it was -10ºC with close to two feet of snow on the ground! We spent a bit of time here playing in the snow as there didn't seem to be any birds around other than a Golden-crowned Kinglet. Then it was time to head down the mountain before a snowstorm moved in and we went back to Ventura for supper and to get a hotel, our first sleep in a bed (and shower) in several days!

Tobogganing atop Mount Piños

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