Last minute Yolo County "Big Day" with the Birdwatching Club at UCD
Today, we had the OSU Big Day. This was originally planned out by Ohio State University for teams to compete against each other to get the most amount of species. However, on a facebook group, one member of OSU asked for other university clubs to get involved so I decided to try to form some groups with some birders in the club. Despite last minute notice for such an event and with the Museum Biodiversity Day on the same day, finals coming up, and many preoccupied plans that others had, I knew this wouldn't be a full on "big day" but rather an opportunity to get those out of the house and see how many species one can get. Many birders who were out could only bird for a part of the day rather than a half or whole day but we commend birders for getting out because we hope to have a more planned out event in the future.
With little work and much of it finished, I decided to spend the day birding. I picked up Brittney Koehler at 5 AM to do some owling at Putah Creek Canyon at the fishing accesses and on the Yolo side of Lake Solano. Unfortunately, the owls we pulled out there were GREAT-HORNED OWL where we were hoping for screech or pygmy leading the owling to start slow. Then as it got light, we started the morning at Fishing Access #1 where we got some decent coast range birds such as PACIFIC WREN, HOODED MERGANSER, and HAIRY WOODPECKER as well as great looks of non-bird life like American Beaver and River Otters. We then drove near the Putah Canyon Resort and the Highway 128 Bridge where we added BARROW'S GOLDENEYE and other waterfowl along the creek. We then pulled into the Lake Solano lot trying to see if there were any swallows flying over the lake to pick out for Violet-green but was surprised when an OSPREY circled and flew above the Yolo County side of the lake. We then drove to Winters WTP where though there wasn't a great amount of waterfowl diversity, though we added birds like LESSER SCAUP, there was a RING-NECKED PHEASANT that called from a distance. We then drove on Road 31 to get a viewing of at least 60 LONG-BILLED CURLEW on a field when a sudden (and first of the year for me) dark-morph SWAINSON'S HAWK flew right above our car. Then dropping Brittney off at Trader Joe's, I headed towards Woodland WTP. There, I added birds like EARED GREBE, BONAPARTE'S GULL, BURROWING OWL, PEREGRINE FALCON, GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE, and a second OSPREY circled the pond. I eventually made my way to the dump and though adding all the common larus species (like ICELAND (THAYER'S) and GLAUCOUS-WINGED), I couldn't find a Glaucous Gull or Lesser Black-backed though I did get a BALD EAGLE (though it was flushing the gulls). Running into Zane, I asked him to call me if he did get any of these two rarities. I checked the massive landfill pond for either gulls and though I did not get any (except a lone California Gull), there were some TRICOLORED BLACKBIRDS in the distance of the dump where the males were showing off the white on the scapulars. I get a sudden call from Zane that he refound a Glaucous but I had to stop at Davis WTP to scan a MASSIVE flock of SNOW GEESE where I was able to pull out a ROSS'S GOOSE and some CACKLING GEESE and made it back to Zane. There back at the pond was a first-cycle GLAUCOUS GULL which was a great bird to end with near the Yolo Dump. I then made my way to the north end of the county to snatch some MOUNTAIN PLOVERS but then got completely distracted realizing I did not pack for lunch so I wasted time driving around and getting a Carl's Jr. beyond burger. Finally, I made my way to Capay/ Esparto. I first stopped at Capay Open Space waiting and playing some playback for California Thrasher and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher with 0 luck and left to look for Mountain Bluebirds where I had a single flock of 13 MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRDS at Road 16A. I drove back south to check Capay Cemetery where once I had 32 Chipping Sparrows but could not find or hear a single one though I added a RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER, a bird we were missing for the day. I drove back to Capay Open Space with little luck for either bird. I then drove to County Road 23 to get a SHORT-EARED OWL during sunset and decided to look around the cemetery with no luck of Barn Owl. I could have spent more time owling but I ended up spending much of my time studying since this day, we weren't trying to break any records (therefore, dipping on owls such as Barn, Northern Pygmy, and Western Screech). I think that was a good day where I birded 0 at any city or town or at the bypass and only in the outskirts until Davis Cemetery at the end where I even dipped on what I was looking for.
Wentao Yang and Violet Wu, though had the Museum's Biodiversity Day to help out at, did have a productive morning at Bridgeway Pond. They were able to start out with the specialty BLUE-WINGED TEAL that hangs out in this pond at decent numbers. They were also able to pick through the rails and get COMMON GALLINULE, SORA, and even great visuals of a VIRGINIA'S RAIL, something even I struggle to get. Some other decent birds they got included SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, LEAST and SPOTTED SANDPIPER, AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN, and COMMON MERGANSER.
Tenaya Russell, Lu To, and Angelica Murillo were the team that was out at the bypass. Though they did not manage to have a scope (so we are missing birds like Dunlin which would be far out in the shorebird fields), they still managed to get some awesome birds at the bypass. The spotlight for them was pulling in to get stellar views of an AMERICAN BITTERN near Lot A at the bypass. Also what was notable was the massive streams of SANDHILL CRANES flying over the bypass. Despite not having a scope, they still managed to get shorebirds like WILSON'S SNIPE and LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER and while scanning through enough blackbirds, they found a YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD in the mix. They also had an OSPREY flyover as well (three ospreys in three completely separate spots in the county? SICK!).
Alia Tu was checking the arboretum for some more local birds as well as neotropical birds to the list. As quoted by Alia, "There was just like five mallards all tryna mate with a female and some kid was like what are they doing? And the mom was like 'they're playing mommy and daddy tag.'" I thought when I read this, this was absolutely hilarious. She managed to get some decent birds such as the roosting BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON and a TOWNSEND'S WARBLER.
Rushi Tawade checked North Davis Farms hoping for some overwintering neotropical birds like Western Tanager or migrant Rufous Hummingbirds. However, he missed both but did note some good looks of a coyote which is always fun to see!
Katia Goldberg after working for biodiversity day ended up birding at the north part of Davis near Northstar Park. She was able to get the notable COMMON GALLINULE there as well as some other common species of birds like CEDAR WAXWINGS.
We had some PhD students also bird in some spots as well.
Jessica Greer and Will Hemstrom went to Babel Slough. Though it was quite unproductive as they noted, they still managed to get birds such as WHITE-THROATED SWIFT and WRENTIT which we haven't gotten so far.
Jasen Liu also helped in trying to find a White-throated Sparrow at Willowbank Ditch. Though he stunk out, he did manage to add PURPLE FINCH to our list.
To conclude, we did manage to have a great day. There are ways how we DEFINITELY could have planned better and incorporated more people (though being last minute and first time trying some sort of "big day" with the club, it did manage to go well). With less coverage in towns and zero coverage in the Capay Valley and such few people with scopes or were owling, we could have aimed for more species to over 150. We did have some significant misses such as Dunlin, Pine Siskin, Barn Owl, Steller's Jay, or Lark Sparrow. That being said, our day was still excellent where we had a total of 140 species of all people birding together. A great way to wrap up the winter in Yolo County. Even with the misses, we made up with AWESOME species (I mean you can always read above on what we got). Also without trying to break any records, just getting people out to bird did make this more of a "pilot" big day and would have better planned club Big Days in the future.
I want to thank Brittney Koehler, Wentao Yang, Violet Wu, Teneya Russell, Angelica Murillo, Lu To, Alia Tu, Rushi Tawade, Katia Goldberg, Will Hemstrom, Jessica Greer, and Jasen Liu for helping participate in this event! I also want to thank Cassidy Ficker and the rest of the OSU Ornithology Club for organizing this event. This was fantastic and we plan on doing big days in the future.
To see our full list of species, see below: