Carrizo Plains and Elkhorn Road

Kevin Zimmer

I spent today (Thursday, 2/25) birding Carrizo Plains (mostly along Soda Lake Road) and nearby Elkhorn Road. Most noteworthy were some early migrants: 1 Cassin’s Kingbird photographed along Soda Lake Road; and 6-8 Tree Swallows and 1-2 Cliff Swallows foraging low over Elkhorn Road (just above the tops of the Ephedra and Atriplex. This struck me as early for all three species this far inland, and although I have often found the odd Cassin’s Kingbird overwintering in Shandon, I’ve not found the species in winter in Carrizo Plains proper. There were also 7 Greater Yellowlegs in the small alkaline watercourse at the first culvert on Seven Mile Road. I also photographed a Sage Thrasher along Elkhorn Road – possibly a migrant, although it could also be a wintering bird. In a further sign that spring is arriving early, I saw a male Common Side-blotched Lizard along Elkhorn Road doing his territorial push-up display, although the temperature never got above 57º F according to my car’s thermometer!

My most interesting observation of the day came when I was walking a broad wash filled with saltbush about 22-24 miles out Elkhorn Road (from its intersection with Seven Mile Road), looking unsuccessfully for Le Conte’s Thrashers (which were MIA from several places where I have located nests, territorial pairs, or family groups in past years, including as recently as May of 2020). As I was hiking the wash, I flushed a Short-eared Owl from the base of a saltbush. I’ve never seen Short-eared Owls along Elkhorn Road — only down in the Soda Lake basin. This area was on a well-drained alluvial fan, nearly devoid of any grass as ground cover. When the owl flushed, it flew low, farther up the drainage, and then dropped back into cover after perhaps 50 meters. But, almost immediately, it was spotted by a Common Raven passing overhead, and the raven went into attack mode, driving the owl back into the air. The raven chased the owl for hundreds of meters, and the owl responded by spiraling higher and higher, with the raven still in pursuit. The owl stayed above the raven, which eventually broke off the chase, only to have the owl turn the tables and strafe the raven a couple of times before sailing off out of sight.

Kevin Zimmer

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