Toad in the Hole

June 25, 2005

Patterson Pass Daytrip

In pursuit of yet another denizen of the Diablo Audubon birding maillist, we took off east on Wednesday morning, across the hills on I-580 to the remaining open area around Livermore. The grassland wildflowers were pretty much gone; maybe there’s still a seep-spring monkeyflower or two down in the creeks but we couldn’t see them. The yellow star thistles are up, though. Ugh.

In the spot on Patterson Pass Road where we’d been skunked by the alleged blue grosbeak a month or so ago, we took advantage of a relatively slow day and stood at the pull-off for a few minutes again. The bird was supposed to be still there and still singing.

Better luck this time: we heard a slightly different song, and there he was, in one of a zillion willows concealing the creek below us. Problem was, while I could see him from my spot on the flat space of the pull-out, I couldn’t see the whole gorge that Joe could see from the bank above. So we had a few moments’ frustration – "There! Over by the bare spot, in the dead bit of that willow! No, there!!" -- during which the bird flew upstream into the next thicket, out of sight. What I didn’t know was that there were rather more bare spots and willows than I’d accounted for in giving directions.

So we stayed awhile and waited to see if he’d reappear. We saw a Bullock’s oriole flash by and back again; the odd Brewer’s blackbird; several lark sparrows chasing each other around and basking on fences. Heard house finches. Listened to the windpowermills hum and moan and susurrate hoarsely. Mostly ignored the occasional passing car or truck.

Fortunately for domestic tranquillity, he showed up again, sang, spent some time snapping things out of the willows and singing some more. Nifty bird: in the shade, an inky deep blue that looks like a bird-shaped hole in the vegetation, with those chestnut wing bits that you can see from quite a distance. In the sun, an equally yummy blue that still seems to be in another plane from the landscape. He gave us a good five-minute show before disappearing again.

When we pulled out and drove around the next bend, we saw an adolescent coyote, all gangly-looking and distracted, standing and then trotting in the gold-dry grass. Then a second nearby – I’m sure they knew each other, about the same age, but with a curiously bobbed tail, about half the normal length. A few beef cattle in the same field ignored them completely.

Just south of Byron, we found the advertised gathering of Swainson’s hawks (probably some of yours, Pica!), hanging around and over(sometimes w-a-a-ay over) a couple of fields off a couple of side roads by the dozens and twenties. Most of them seemed to be juveniles, all marbly-looking, with that dihedral flight, somehow a bit lighter and less ponderous than the couple of redtails we saw with them.

Seems like molting season for everybody, Swainson’ses and redtails both. I saw one Swainson’s, a near-full adult, with two central tailfeathers grown out longer than the rest (which gave him a very odd jaegerlike look) doing the on-the-hook maneuver that redtails also do, for a few minutes. Kept looking over his shoulder.

There were crows and ravens hanging out there too. Funny to see the pale hawk heads popping up out of alfalfa fields along with the corvids’. There were a couple of treefuls of them, too, next to the fields, and lots of commuting in between. Also a big stack orbiting high on a thermal. Some of the fields had recently been mowed, and I suppose the disturbed bugs and little rodents were the attraction.

On the roads to and from all this, we saw several loggerhead shrikes, which is reassuring since they were probably on territory in this season. That species is in trouble in various places on the continent, and I’m not sure why.

Posted at June 25, 2005 02:39 AM


I've wondered that too, about the shrikes. I just knew we'd be seeing them all the time out here in the country, but we've seen nary a one.

In the days before we had so many critters, we used to go to Dauphin Island for migration at least twice a year. We saw them there all the time. But the last several times we went there were few or none.

We have the Blue Grosbeaks here - always have to look twice to determine Blue Grosbeak vs. Indigo Bunting since the blue is so similar.

Posted by: Rurality at June 27, 2005 01:52 PM