SoCal: Death Valley

Our final destination on this trip was Death Valley. I had no idea what to expect. I’d driven through a portion of the valley a decade ago but didn’t remember how mountainous it actually is.

Temps during our stay were in the high 70s at day and low 50s at night. It was perfect.

The first night we stayed at Furnace Creek Campground located next to the Death Valley Visitor Center and the Oasis at Death Valley (formerly known as Furnace Creek Resort). There’s an expensive inn, an economy hotel and a few private RV campgrounds in the area including Fiddler’s Campground that had live music (karaoke and sometimes yodeling) after dark that could be heard from our campsite a block away.

Bat!

Bats made up for the lack of ambiance. I knew camping here would be a challenge but this lush green “oasis” is where many birds drop down during migration.

Amid festivals, a parade, construction, general business and a constant stream of cars and people around me I made the most of it and birded like I do. Luckily the birds didn’t seem to mind the chaos. The first evening I found a pair of Canada Geese on the golf course, because of course they would be there even in the desert.

Per the Birder’s Guide to SoCal the golf course is private property and birders are not welcome while others “commit golf.” So I followed the rules and birded from the fringes.

Though some were less obedient.

Golf course face-off

Par 4 Say’s Phoebe

From aerial photos (and per some eBird reports) I could see ponds on the property, but I couldn’t find a way to access them without trespassing. I got pretty close but ran into a dead end of thorny shrubs and had to backtrack a couple of miles. Not my finest hour. But I did find a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (not black-tailed since it has more white under the tail).

And a Verdin.

I ran out of time (energy and water) to find another way in. The best waterbird besides the geese was a flyover Mallard.

Good job desert-duck

The book mentions to look for White-winged doves calling from the Tamarisks or, “lately, Eurasian Collared Doves.” I could only find Eurasian-collared Doves and there are sparse eBird reports of White-winged on the property in recent years and none from 2018.

Shocking

The grounds had a few good sparrow spots. I found House, Savannah, Golden-crowned, White-crowned, weird looking Song Sparrows.

And lots of Lincoln Sparrows.

One lucky afternoon I picked out a (Red) Fox Sparrow in the heat waves.

It was interesting to see birds’ strategies for keeping cool. Most stayed in the shade.

Shady House Sparrows

Some panted, or splashed in puddles or took dust baths. I saw some blackbirds drinking from sprinklers at the visitor center and I found a pair of Great-tailed Grackles taking shade under cars in the parking lot.

The best parking lot bird was a Harris’s Sparrow! A rare bird for the area.

I “pished” for a brief moment and it immediately popped out on a close shrub.

Too close

Amazing! I found a variety of Icterids too, including Brewer’s Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, and the best surprise was Western Meadowlark.

In the shade of trees above there was a Cooper’s Hawk.

I had a couple of falcon fly-bys a Peregrine and a Prairie.

We had perfect weather until almost the last day when a windstorm blew through the valley. It wouldn’t be Death Valley if it didn’t try to kill us. The windstorm then turned into a sandstorm. Terrible for birding or doing anything outside.

Leaving the storm

Luckily we had the van for shelter, and this was also the day we drove to a smaller campground at higher elevation called Wildrose. It was less sandy here, but still very windy.

From the safety of the van I spotted Black-throated Sparrows on the hillsides.

We drove a little ways past the campground towards the charcoal kilns but the road conditions turned too bumpy so we turned around. On the way back we pulled over for a Horned Lark that hopped right up next to the van.

And we had distant looks at a Golden Eagle!

Back at the campsite I walked the road down to a small creek and found a Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

American Robin photobomb

A Bewick’s Wren.

And a Fox Sparrow scratching in the leaves.

As the sun was setting (at 4pm) and as I walked back to the campground I felt good about how birdy Death Valley was but I was also a little sad I hadn’t seen the poster-bird, a Greater Roadrunner, when just at that moment one walked right out in front of me. It raised its tail up and slowly lowered it down then continued down the road.

It was the perfect ending.

I have to say, writing about our trip I can’t help but think about the recent fires in California. It’s heartbreaking news. I’ve made a donation to the San Francisco SPCA for their disaster relief efforts to save animals affected by the fires. Much love to everyone in the state, they’ve been through a lot.

XOXO and happy holidays,

Audrey

Fall Yard Birding

Fall is here! Finally, the summer slumps have subsided. On one of the slow days I cleaned and disinfected all the feeders in anticipation of next season’s visitors. Healthy cute birds only please.

There were some scorching days this summer, I put up the sprinkler and it was as popular as ever. As was the hummingbird water. Even though there’s also a perfectly good birdbath in the yard.

I had more Rufous Hummingbird sightings this year, or I was home more often to see them.

I see you

At the end of August I had a new yard bird, a Greater Yellowlegs flyover that I never saw, but  heard the “tututu” call. Here’s a photo of one from my recent trip to Eugene.

In lieu of driving 2 hours to see a bird one day I was super lazy and stayed at home in the hammock. I’m not sure what I went outside for, but when I did I saw a flycatcher in the yard!

I zoomed back inside to grab the camera. Luckily the bird sat and preened for a while.

That peaked crown and that clear eye-ring, this is a Pacific-slope Flycatcher! Such a fun fall migrant. This inspired me to sit out in the yard for a bit and what a great time it was.

Dust yourself off.

Grab a snack.

And enjoy the show.

And that’s exactly what I did. As a Cooper’s Hawk flew over.

And I saw another new (or newly observed by me) yard bird, an Orange-crowned Warbler!

I watched the Chestnut-backed Chickadees check out their old nesting hole for bugs.

Did I mention they nested in the yard this year? I was so lucky to hear babies begging and to see parents bring bugs to the nest hole.

I was bummed to be out of town at the fire lookout when they fledged. So here’s a picture of a May fledgling.

Such good times in the yard. Another reason to be excited for September is fall planting. I’m working towards enhancing the yard for Portland Audubon’s Backyard Habitat Certification Program. Anything I can do to bring more birds to the yard!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Michigan- Yard Birds

After 7 years together it was time I finally met my boyfriend’s family. NBD. We’d just take a red-eye flight to Detroit, Michigan and hang out with everyone for a week. His niece Kellie was having a graduation party so it was a good time to make the trip.

His parents’ back yard was awesome. His mom had bird feeders out, so I knew we’d get along. I spent the majority of my time at the house either outside or staring out the back patio window. It was pretty great.

Cardinal through the window

House Sparrow and Northern Cardinal

The porch was often covered in Downy Woodpeckers.

Hi, welcome to Michigan

In the yard were Chipping Sparrows and Michigan’s state bird, the American Robin.

Young ones learning to fly and older pros taking their worm for a walk.

Not a statue

I explored the neighborhood and found Cedar Waxwing, American Goldfinch, Tufted Titmouse.

A Blue Jay at the playground.

And a pair of dreamy Eastern Bluebirds.

I looked up to see a Chimney Swift! They look a heck of a lot like Vaux’s Swifts back home.

Sometimes the weather wasn’t the best, it was warm, muggy, and often raining making it better to stay dry indoors watching the feeders.

Downy Woodpecker

Blue Jay

White-breasted Nuthatch

Red-bellied Woodpecker

I got brief glimpses of a female hummingbird, but sadly no photos. The only one it could be this time of year is a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

There was also a backyard flycatcher that I think is an Eastern Phoebe. I’m still working through my Michigan flycatchers.

The best bird in the yard was shy and only flashed an occasional orange in the bushes.

It took a while, but eventually enough of the bird popped out to identify it as a Baltimore Oriole!

Note the all-black hood and orange on the outer tail feathers. A mystery I was happy to have solved. It was such a peaceful and quiet backyard I could hang out there for hours.

Tomas and I went outside at night but didn’t hear any owls or nightjars as I’d hoped, instead we saw fireflies! I haven’t seen those since I lived in Virginia in the early 2000s. Made me wish I’d brought my night-photography setup, check out these cool photos of firefly timelapses.

Next time Michigan!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey