Toad in the Hole

April 11, 2005

Out Past Livermore

Joe heard there were a couple of recent tricolored blackbird colonies and a pair of Cassin's kingbirds out by Corral Hollow Road and Patterson Pass. Nice coolish Sunday morning, off we went.

First golden eagle was a youngster above Corral Hollow Road, wheeling in a leisurely fashion and visible from a handy pull-out. Good thing, because there was lots of traffic, mostly guys in pickups with dirtbikes loaded up, in a tearing hurry to get to the State Vehicular Recreation Area. And me all unarmed, dammit.

The kingbirds were supposed to be on the Alameda-San Joaquin county line, which is right in the middle of the wReck area. On the other side is a LawrenceLivermoreNL-US-Something'r'other explosives test area, quite an extensive piece of ground. I'm thinking it would be an efficient use of land to combine the two, myself. Hey, they want thrills, right? And I'd pay to watch.

If the birds are still in residence, the great annoying buzz of weekend Good Clean Fun was keeping them out of sight, which is unusual for kingbirds. Maybe we'll try again on a weekday.

East to the freeway, north just a bit to the Patterson Pass Road exit, and down that familiar road. Usually we do that on a loop with Altamont Pass in winter, for fancy hawks. This time we took a left onto a road I'd been wondering about for years; turns out to be a dead end to a mysterious enough gated commercial building -- manufacturing? Remote offices? Hard to tell, and no clue in the signage. Along that road is a little cattail pond where the blackbirds were supposed to be. We saw two females who, on studying the guides, seem to have been trikes, but we neither saw nor heard any males, which is weird indeed for blackbirds. We'd got a late start; maybe they were having a midday siesta.

The second blackbird location was dry in both senses: a creekbed with no visible water and no visible blackbirds. On the way there, though, we did see lots of western kingbirds, several shrikes (always heartening, and these are likely residents), two more golden eagles and one eagle, very distant, that just might have been a juvie bald, lots of white over tail. Several redtail pairs, three or four kestrels, and of course lots of turkey vultures.

Just a few magpies, but I think that's just because of the route we took. Lark sparrows, meadowlarks, lesser goldfinch, whitecrowns and goldencrowns, savanna sparrow; and Pacific chorus frog by ear. Ravens and crows harassing each other; crows harassing vultures. Ah, sweet Spring!

Lots more of the usual, and flowers scattered about: blue tritelia, several lupines (blue, purple, white; bush and herbaceous), blue dicks, fiddleneck, owl clover, paintbrush, butter-n-eggs, the usual posies in a handsome show. The grass is still green, but starting to ripen and get gold on the east side of the hills by I-580. Quite advanced in the season compared even to just two weeks ago when we went through there to Death Valley.

And butterflies. The painted ladies continue to stream through in serious numbers, more than one a second in some spots. Near that cattail pond, I scanned a drift of blooming mustard and found it speckled liberally with painted ladies, and there were more in a patch of milk thistle at one of the stops on Patterson. So they do stop to nectar in the middle of the day. I'm not surprised at their unfussy eating habits, as they're apparently about the most widely-distributed butterflies in the world -- pace the Chron's science writer, including in Australia.

Posted at April 11, 2005 12:19 AM


Interesting to read about birds and wildflowers from out west... so different from the southeast!

Posted by: Rurality at April 11, 2005 03:04 PM

Hi, Karen -- nice chickens!

It's a _lot_ different from the southeast. Joe and I drove to Arkansas last October, and we left before the summer drought had broken here. I got a good in-my-face look at the differences, and more of them have to do with water than with temperature or any other variable.

We have some huge trees here -- trees that can catch their own root water out of fog -- but it seemed that the oaks, sweetgums, and all in Arkansas were bigger on average than trees here, and the understory was lush and easygoing. The whole forest there resembled a riparian corridor here. Frogs and toads and turtles _on the roads_ there, just all over the place!

But it was more rare to see the broad sweeps of grassy hillsides we have here, and in spring, ours get brushed or blanketed or frosted with wildflower color, often a monochrome of dense bloom, followed in a week or two by a different monochrome as other plants bloom.

As for birds... yes, different. Two kinds of jays. commonly, and both bigger and sometimes noisier than eastern bluejays -- just for example. And there are more birds here in winter than summer.

I'll admit to missing cardinals and lightning bugs. If I were ever tempted to mess with the ecosystem by introducing a species, it'd be lightning bugs.

Posted by: Ron at April 11, 2005 04:24 PM

Well it's true - any grassy hillside here is not likely to be natural, and will always have cows on it.

Noisier than a bluejay??? Hard to believe. :)

Wish I'd been interested in birds when I was in CA years and years ago.

Posted by: Rurality at April 12, 2005 01:44 AM

Heh. And I often wish I'd been bolder and more systematic about looking at things when I grew up in Pennsylvania, particularly since Harrisburg is in a sort of North-South ecotone. Maples and sweetgums, for example; snow and ice-skating possible reliably but there's Virginia creeper and even kudzu, though that freezes off every winter.

Posted by: Ron at April 12, 2005 02:27 AM

Ah, Corral Hollow Road! I've lived in the east or south Bay Area all my life, and just discovered Corral Hollow Road a couple of years ago. When I drive it, I end up pulling onto the shoulder wherever there is one, to let the cars behind me pass. It's too beautiful and there are too many wonderful things to see to drive quickly.

(For those of you not lucky enough to have driven it, it's one of the passes over the Eastern Coast Ranges, running from Livermore in the west to Tracy in the east. Two lane road, switchbacks and 15 mph in a few places, very steep grass-covered hills and deeply incised stream channels that only run after a good rain. Cool rock outcrops, especially on the eastern side. Ancient oak trees, happy cows (hey, it's California!) and a fairly small section given over to an explosives test facility on one side of the road and an off-road vehicle recreation area on the other. Except for that tiny stretch, it's fabulous.

Posted by: Another Karen at April 12, 2005 02:48 AM

Ah. If you like Corral Hollow, you'll love Del Puerto Canyon and Mines Road. I think I'll make a separate blog entry about that.

Posted by: Ron at April 13, 2005 05:11 AM