"Thick-billed" Fox Sparrow on West Cuesta Ridge

Kevin Zimmer

Susan and I went to West Cuesta Ridge this morning (Thursday, 10/29) hoping to find any signs of irruptive montane species in the cypress groves up near the antennas.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us, the road (which is in quite good condition) was closed to vehicular traffic sometime since my last visit in June, probably to reduce fire risk from campers.  So, instead of driving to the botanic area and hiking the road from there, we had to park at the bottom of the road, just off the 101, and hike 4+ miles uphill just to get into the cypress groves, followed by 4+ miles of hiking back down.  By the time we made it to the cypress, it was warm and sunny, and there was scarcely a bird not named “Ruby-crowned Kinglet” to be seen or heard.  However, on the way up, we did see 1 “Thick-billed” (stephensi-type) Fox Sparrow and heard a second one (their call notes are sharp and metallic; very different from the “smacking” or “tooth-sucking” calls of most other Fox Sparrows) in one of the ridge-top saddles vegetated with chaparral.  I heard several typical sounding “Sooty” Fox Sparrows (fuliginosa-types) as well, but I was pleased to find these “Thick-billed” Fox Sparrows — the first I have encountered in the county.

On a side note:  Pine Siskin numbers have been building steadily at our feeders (N end of Atascadero) for the past week (at least 20 present today), and, as of this afternoon, they have been joined by 3 American Goldfinches, our first ones since May.

Kevin Zimmer

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