Yolo County big day, 4/30/21 (long)
On April 30th, Danny Karp and I did a big day in Yolo County, finishing with 154 species. We are both fully vaccinated and share a bubble for our daughters' daycare, so we decided to go for it and drive together. We enjoyed a nice diversity of migrants, but struggled to find waterbirds. Our biggest highlights were strong ridgeline migration on Rayhouse Road, as well as specialties there like Pileated Woodpecker, Steller's Jay, and Common Poorwill, nice birding on Road 81 with Yellow-breasted Chat and Golden Eagle, lingering Snow and Greater White-Fronted Geese all over the place, and smatterings of migrants throughout the day. A longer description is below.
We started at 2:45am in Davis. By 4:15am, we were out of the car at Rayhouse Road, having already found many BARN and GREAT HORNED OWLS, COMMON GALLINULE, and a few other easy species. The owling was steady along Rayhouse Road, and we added WESTERN SCREECH- and NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL in short succession. We reached the first ridge around 5:15am and heard a few COMMON POORWILL. Even at that early hour the BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS were cranked up in the patches of buckeye interspersed through the chaparral. They were the bird of dawn -- we detected ~40 of them over the next hour, including quite a few flyovers. But then the WESTERN TANAGERS took over, and we saw 50+ between 6:30-7:45am. It was fun to watch a tree fill with tanagers, then see them take off over the ridge, only to have the tree fill again with a new tanager flock.
Flyovers at dawn were pretty good, and included many WILSON'S and BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLERS, our only TOWNSEND'S WARBLER of the day, lots of LAZULI BUNTINGS, and many unidentified others. Just before sunrise we had heard the flight calls of a small group of SWAINSON'S THRUSHES. Good thing we did, because we found zero during our daylight birding. Although the migrants were fun, we also made sure we didn't miss the chaparral specialities. Our scouring and listening yielded all the expected scrub-lovers: WRENTIT, CALIFORNIA THRASHER, BELL'S SPARROW, BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER. In the distance we heard MOUNTAIN QUAIL throughout the morning, and had many flyover BAND-TAILED PIGEON.
Heading back down Rayhouse Road to our cars, the birding was extremely slow. We're not sure why the birds weren't singing, but we heard very few songs even from locals like ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER and PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER. Fortunately we did manage to finally found HUTTON'S VIREO and STELLER'S JAY before we left their territory for good. We also appreciated the slow "wuk"-ing of a PILEATED WOODPECKER, although we never encountered any Hairy Woodpeckers. Just before we hopped into our car, we enjoyed VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS overhead and a glowing NASHVILLE WARBLER foraging in a flowering willow along Cache Creek.
Back in the car, we made a few stops as we rolled south out of Cache Creek Canyon, adding another Nashville Warbler, a YELLOW WARBLER, and several RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROWS. We then poked around a few spots along Cache Creek and along small roads offshooting CA 16. Our best luck was along Rd 81, where we poked around the end of the road and watched 2 GOLDEN EAGLES soaring, a VAUX'S SWIFT, and a PHAINOPEPLA, while a LINCOLN'S SPARROW buzzed and a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT whistled and clucked from a little marshy patch. We had heard LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCH multiple times on Rayhouse Road, but we finally got to see (and hear) a flyby on Rd 81.
We hustled onward to Davis Wetlands, so that we would have time to bird it before its early closing time of 1pm. As we passed the Davis WTP, we noted a lone SNOW GOOSE and a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE. Inside the wetlands we had a mix of expected shorebirds, a SORA, and a not-too-diverse smattering of ducks. The highlight was a HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER that Danny noted perched up in a low snag in the middle of the marshes. It felt odd to have it in this habitat, so we checked closely to make sure it wasn't a Dusky or Gray. Leaving the wetlands, we drove north to the Woodland WTP to bird the North Regional Pond and the small ponds on the south side of Gibson. It was starting to feel like a pretty weak shorebird day, but RED-NECKED PHALAROPES (4 on North Pond, 5 in a small pond on the south side) were a treat. We also enjoyed the HORNED GREBE that was around that day, but didn't find any Clark's/Westerns, nor the recent Cackling Goose, nor any Black Terns or even a Greater Yellowlegs (which we missed for the day!).
At this point in the late afternoon, we poked southward, stopping here and there as we wound our way to the Yolo Bypass. Little stops offered up SAY'S PHOEBE, LARK SPARROW, CATTLE EGRET, and DUNLIN. The Yolo Bypass was very dry, with slow and steady birding. HORNED LARKS flashed their red clay backs as they flushed from the road, and WHITE-TAILED KITES and NORTHERN HARRIER were regularly in view. An AMERICAN BITTERN boomed unseen from a marsh, and a male BLUE GROSBEAK gave some obscured views as he sang. We finally (!!) found AMERICAN GOLDFINCH, a bird that had been unexpectedly absent all morning.
It was around 5pm, and we had 0 gulls and 1 tern, plus some missing ducks and shorebirds. So we decided to drive over to West Sacramento to bird Bridgeway Island Pond and the deepwater shipping channel. The pond was pretty quiet, but a pair of BLUE-WINGED TEAL gave us a boost of energy. 4 CALIFORNIA GULLS passed overhead going south, and a FORSTER'S TERN winged down the shipping channel. We saw two adult BALD EAGLES, and enjoyed watching flights of Western Sandpipers heading up and down the channel. No luck with Western or Clark's Grebes.
With our remaining time, we decided to poke around the Davis Cemetery, adding a staked out HOODED ORIOLE (thanks to Jasen Liu for sharing the spot), but not finding any non-Anna's Hummingbirds in the bottlebrush. We did happen upon some migrants, finding our second Hammond's Flycatcher and second Ruby-crowned Kinglet of the day. Both great birds for the location and date, but not given their full due because of the checklist nature of a big day. With the sun setting, we elected to call it quits, although we surely could have picked up another bird or two in the waning light or with some evening marsh listening. We'll save that for a wetter year with a higher list!
Overall, we had a lovely day, highlighted by the tanager and Black-headed Grosbeak migration in the hills. We are still both learning the ins and outs of the county, so a future big day could be better with a few more stakeouts. Our big challenge was the dryness of this spring. Most of our big misses were waterbirds, including Green Heron, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Pintail, Common Goldeneye, Virginia Rail, Black-bellied Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Ring-billed Gull. We also had no Rufous or Black-chinned Hummingbirds, which was surprising considering the amount of time we devoted around good nectar plants in full flower.
Next up, a biking big day this week. We'll see how that fares!