Monday, June 23, 2008

Montane Adventures - Part III

It was a beautiful day... the sun beat down. I had the radio on, I was drivin'. The trees went by... me and Del were singin'. Little runaway, I was flyin'.

Well, it was a beautiful day, the sun was beating down, and the trees were going by. Tom Petty, however, never said anything about birding, or, more specifically, searching for Pinyon Jays. My dad and I were drivin' along Highway 74, when a pale blue bird flew up from the side of the road. We stopped, and sure enough, there was a Pinyon Jay walking around in the road. Several others called from the pine trees along the road. We had nice looks at them, and heard Western Meadowlarks and a Black-chinned Sparrow while we were stopped.

Sunday was our last day of birding the San Jacinto Mountains. Per usual, we arose early (fortunately, the swallows did not disturb us during the night; either they weren't calling or they didn't wake us up) and quickly packed up and left. While driving through the Garner Valley, we spotted several Pinyon Jays. Our main target, however, lay some miles up the road. We were headed for some desert areas to search for birds of the desert. We reached the Cahuilla Tewana Overlook, located along Highway 74, around 7:30 a.m. As soon as we exited the car, we were hit by a wall of heat. Phew! The sun was really beating down now!

At first, all was quiet apart from some buzzing cicadas. Then a very sharp-looking Black-throated Sparrow popped up atop a yucca and serenaded us for several minutes. It stayed there long enough for me to find in in my scope and digiscope several shots.

After a short time, we decided to get out of there and leave the hot desert to the lizards (there were many, including California Whiptail), Black-throated Sparrows, and antelope squirrels (at least, I'm pretty sure that's what they were). We took a spin through Pinyon Flats Campground, which produced nothing other than a couple Western Scrub-Jays. On a whim, I decided to stop at the intersection of Highway 74 and Santa Rose Mountain Road to search for Gray Vireos. A long shot, but it can't hurt to look, I thought as we pulled over and stepped out into the heat. We were greeted by the song of a Gray Vireo drifting up out of the chaparral-clad canyon! I quickly whipped out my iPod and played Gray Vireo a couple times. A small gray bird popped up in a bush in front of us - there it was! It sat there and sang a few times, looking for what it thought was an intruder, before flitting back down into the canyon. Another life bird for me, and an exciting one at that; it is rare here and difficult to find.

By now, it was very hot and the birds were difficult to find, so we hit the road for home. It was a really fun trip; I saw five life birds, sixteen year birds, and nine state birds. Of course, the scenery was nothing short of incredible. I can't wait to go again!


Birdnerdguy said...

Last time this comment didn't work so I'm trying again:

Cool! I still don't have GRVA for CA, and I don't think too many people have either. Are you sure that it was safe to play its song on the iPod though?

Neil Gilbert said...

Yeah, the GRVI might have flown up and impaled my eyes with its bill...

But seriously, I sincerely doubt it did any harm. First of all, not many people bird the area, and it's not a very good spot for birding (a narrow pull-off from a two-lane highway), and I would be very surprised if other people went there looking for it. Of course, recordings have to be used carefully, and should not be used in heavily-birded areas. I've been birding in the San Jacintos twice and never seen any signs of birders, and I can't recall ever seeing postings from the San Jacintos.

Birdnerdguy said...

Well yeah but the problem is that the bird uses all of its energy that it normally reserves for defending territory and such against something unimportant (aka you). Maybe playing the call once or twice isn't too bad, but...(and I don't mean to sound like a mother here) doesn't that kinda go against the ABA Code of Ethics and everything?

Neil Gilbert said...

I wouldn't say that popping up onto a bush and singing a few times would "use up all of its energy". I know of people who completely shun recordings and of others that wander around blasting recordings at every bird they see. Personally, I think that recordings are fine as long as they are used with moderation and responsibly.

Nancy said...

Hi Neil,
I live in Pinyon Flats. Today I took a picture of a bird and tried to email it to you but your email rejected it. I was wondering if you could identify it for me.

Neil Gilbert said...

Hi Nancy,

Try emailing me at: I'll see if I can identify for you!