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Modoc County

Part 1: The Drive Up

I was thankful to be able to embark on this trip at all, seeing as "Jip" was ailing and needed a new transmission just before we left!  But what really surprised me was the time we made from San Diego: ended up in Willows, and even had time to take a power walk at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge! That’s what happens when you leave at 5:30 in the morning, I guess… But we stopped regularly, going through LA was a breeze (I’ll really have to remember that for future trips: go on a weekend morning), and we picked up a few species that will undoubtedly be unique for the trip: Western Gull, White-tailed Kite, and Roadrunner were the highlights!

Taking that aforementioned walk at the refuge was a hot one, but there were some "write-ins" there as well (the checklist I made up included only Modoc County species), including Black Phoebe. Other good birds just on the walk included Swainson’s and Red-shouldered Hawk (the latter is considered rare here). Came back to motel and went to dinner at this cute little diner with terrific food, where I got some "bear" souvenirs for my brother and his family (last name Baer), then came back to the motel to plan the next day.

Headed back out to the refuge the next morning, and being the "wrong time of year", I had it all to myself and saw great flocks of ibis and Red-winged Blackbirds going by, and even a flock of Canada Geese!  Mallards were the dominant duck, but I did have a trio of Woodies fly over, and at one of the spots you're allowed to get out of the car had a group of Cinnamon Teal and a Moorhen (I confess that I cheated and got out at other spots, but I really didn’t think it would bother anything…).  At the overlook had a group of Western-type Grebes way in the distance; I could barely pick out a golden bill on one, but even though it was probably a mixed group I left the only positive ID as Clark's (both would have been county birds for Glenn).  A pair of dark morph Swainson's Hawks on the way out was very nice, but the best bird of the drive (if the checklist is accurate, anyway), was a Long-billed Curlew; evidently they're not supposed to show up till next month, and even then very rarely!  A singing Blue Grosbeak was a county bird as well, along with (surprisingly) Yellowthroat and Bewick's Wren.  A Barn Owl flushed out of a tree, promptly chased by some little thing, and came upon a family of pheasants with cute little babies!  Saw a swallow that looked like a Bank but sounded like a Tree, so that was a subtle reminder not to let young Trees fool you... (and the adults were around as well...)

      

Scenes along the wildlife drive at Sacramento NWR

              

L-R:  Long-billed Curlew, evidently a bit early; White-faced Ibis flock; Great Egret in an idyllic scene...

                                      

L-R:  Baby Garter Snake in the restroom (I think it was dead…); Mule Deer in velvet hiding in the vegetation; dad pheasant and the kid (kinda reminds you of a Yellow Rail, huh?)

                            

Dark morph Swainson’s Hawks, and the start of the Wetlands Trail near the visitor’s center

Big disappointment: this was the first time I've ever driven through the I-5 corridor and not gotten Yellow-billed Magpie!!! L I jokingly said "West Nile Virus???" on the trip report, and one gal wrote back and said she felt that was definitely the case; the magpies have taken a big hit lately. Bummer.

  Anyway, headed on up 299 at Redding, and stopped at a couple of vista points, reading about the big fire they had back in 92.  Got some nice trip birds by doing that: Purple Finch, Spotted Towhee, Yellow Warbler, and Fat-billed Fox Sparrow all were singing.  At a second vista point had a Cooper's Hawk with lunch fly by at eye level, plus a singing Lazuli Bunting. A Cassin's Finch did its characteristic "cockatiel" whistle as it flew over unseen.

      

View of Mt Shasta along Highway 299, and Fountain Fire Vista, showing regrowth after a devastating fire in the 90s

        

Another vista point along 299

  Psyched myself up for the fact that Burney Falls State Park was probably gonna be mobbed on a Sunday afternoon, but it really wasn't bad (picked up an Oak Titmouse for the trip waiting in line at the road construction...).  Found a place to park and then headed down the paved trail to the falls, and just happened to look up through an open patch of trees and spot some flying bodies: finally some great looks at several Black Swifts!  While I was enjoying them another couple with a camera stopped and chattered excitedly; I hadn't even noticed the Osprey nest right across the way! 

                                                   

Osprey nest at Burney Falls State Park, but the real avian stars of the place are their nesting Black Swifts; male (right) shows a slightly notched tail.

After gawking at the falls along with everyone else I decided to do the Falls Loop, and once away from the falls you were away from the crowds as well, and certainly got my exercise!  It was a great, scenic loop, though, but because of the time of day and the roiling river I really didn't hear much.  The best bird (besides the swifts) was a perky little Winter Wren that popped out to say hello!  Up at the top a young Black-headed Grosbeak did his own "cockatiel" whistle, and caught sight of some more swifts, only I took a double take because these were brown and cigar-shaped: Vaux's Swifts!  Pays to double-check everything!

          

Trail down to the falls

                    

Revelers at the bottom, and the Falls Loop Trail, showing the volcanic rock that was exposed as the falls ate away at the firmament.

                    

Juvenile Black-headed Grosbeak along Burney Creek

 

                             

Left:  The back side of the loop had Pacific Wrens!   Right:  View from the parking area

I was pretty shot after that so after taking a swing through the campground and down to the lake (which was full of hooman beans anyway) I decided to head on in to the motel, ready to hit Modoc proper the next day! Added Bank Swallow at a corner grocer for the trip...

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