Toad in the Hole

April 06, 2005

Sunol Stroll

Drove down to Sunol Regional Park today, because someone had reported a Harris' sparrow hanging out with a flock of golden-crowns. What the heck, an excuse to get out on a sunny day. The creek was running high and merry, and everybody was full of Spring excitement.

Posies were popping out by the road -- several lupines, mostly blue; one was so blue I took it for delphinium at first. Also some pale pink lotus, woodland star, fiddleneck, poppies, the exotic short deep-pink cranesbill, mule ears, butter-n-eggs, owl clover, paintbrush. Tha bigleaf maples and oaks (achoo) were blooming too -- I took bad photos of the maple flowers, because they're really quite handsome: a sort of dangling loose snapdragon like a set of windchimes, red and yellow, that on close inspection has tiny maple noses starting out on it.

Found the sparrow flock after being redirected to the other parking lot, and after a few minutes' patience as they skittered in and out of some low snowberry lining the leaf-littered path, sure enough, one was a first-year Harris'. It seemed a bit shyer than the golden-crowns, retreating to cover more often and for longer periods.

We also has a couple of glimpses of a dusky-footed woodrat doing the same dance in and out of the brush. Cute little booger.

Strung out on the same path, a couple of spotted and several California towhees, plain titmouse making lots of noise, Hutton's vireo, chickadees, acorn woodpeckers, black phoebe, and a Bullock's oriole by ear, chattering and singing.

After the sparrow flock got flushed by walkers, we strolled out onto the arched and weirdly bouncy bridge over the creek, where a few other birders were looking around. Another oriole (or the same one, dunno) -- two orioles, male and female, in sight this time, in the sun, chasing and bopping around in the mostly-leafless sycamores along the creek. A park naturalist told us that one of the stick nests in view over the water belonged to a pair of red-shouldered hawks, and sure enough we heard one hollering, though no one was on the nest. Cliff swallows dashed over, and a house wren sat on a twig near one end of the bridge and sang his head off for at least five minutes.

Turned onto the trail in the general direction of Little Yosemite, and there were more house wrens carrying on -- in total at least three males and two females, paired up and one carying nesting material. We stopped to sort out a chatter between acorn woodpecker and red-shafted flicker, and followed the flicker up a sycamore trunk, where she did us a great favor.

She skittered up over a hole in the trunk, and a face appeared in it, looking for all the works like a little fuzzy old man just awakened from not enough sleep and grumpy about it. Once the face was in sunlight, it blinked and winced and finally settled in to enjoy the warmth. As it poked out farther, filling the hole completely, we decided it was a western screech-owl. There it stayed, eyes slitted, basking and occasionally blinking, eventually bringing its small ear tufts up.

We walked up the trail a bit, taking wildflower photos -- lots of blue-eyed grass -- and watching those wrens carry on, admiring the new foliage on oaks and sycamores and walnut, until it felt like lunchtime.

Coming back, we re-found the sycamore and hole and the owl was still there, apparently napping in its hole in the sunshine.

Posted at April 6, 2005 01:52 AM