Monday Afternoon in the Hills

I lost a full two days of birding in California when JetBlue canceled my Friday flight due to bad weather. I couldn’t get out till Sunday. :-( Monday morning I taught XML, but as soon as that once done I headed for the hills, literally. I decided to spend the afternoon at Ed Levin County Park and Alum Rock Park in the eastern hills. Local birders had been reporting some good stuff here, and I’d never really gotten up into the hills so I thought it would be worth checking out.

After an excellent bowl of Pho at a strip mall restaurant in Milpitas, I arrived at Ed Levin County Park about 1:30. I started at Sandy Wool Lake which hosted the usual American Coots and Mallards, a Gadwall or two, as well as one gull I never got close enough to to identify conclusively. The views around the lake were pretty spectacular though it was disappointing to McMansions going up on several of the nearby hillsides.

Parachutist gliding over trees

Turkey Vultures flew over frequently, as did at least two unidentified other raptors. I’m afraid I’m not very good at identifying West Coast raptors though. One was strikingly golden underneath. A Golden Eagle maybe? However, aside from the striking gold color it didn’t look especially eagle-like. More hawkish overall.

Turkey vultures soaring over hill

An Anna’s Hummingbird was flitting around the restroom gardens. A dozen+ White-crowned Sparrows were foraging under the trees. Then I got distracted by an unusual bird flitting past. I followed it east to where it perched in a tree, and proved to be the first of several Western Bluebirds. These were relatively common at the site all day. I also found some Red-winged Blackbirds and American Robins taking advantage of a water pump and perching on a nearby fence.

Western Bluebirds, male and female

The next surprise was what I initially thought was a warbler by the bright yellow and distinct coloration, but turned into a full breeding-plumage Lesser Goldfinch. I’d seen these before, but never one so close and cooperative. It was flitting around in the grass. The wingbars were a lot more distinct than I realized. I think in the future I should be better able to distinguish this species from American Goldfinch at a glance. I suspect a lot of the Goldfinch sp. I have down in my past California records are actually Americans, because the Lesser really does stand out when you get a good look at it.

My one and only woodpecker of the day was a Northern Flicker that flew west across the field and led me back toward the north end of the lake. A couple of Northern Mockingbirds flew by. In the trees down by the lake I found my first warblers, both Yellow-rumped.

Near the Southeast corner of the lake I found my first Black Phoebes, as well as two Bewicks Wrens, one carrying nesting material. Moving on to the Elm Parking Lot, I found some Mourning Doves as well as more Phoebes and Bluebirds.

Spring Valley

I drove over to Spring Valley parking lot. This was another pretty site, though it mostly featured the same species. I did find my first Purple Finches along with more Phoebes, Bluebirds, and a few Western Scrub Jays. Finally a Red-tailed Hawk flew over. This raptor at least I can recognize.

Two Purple Finches

Two Western Scrub jays foraging in dirt path

I thought about continuing up the road to the reservoir, but I didn’t have a scope and I didn’t feel comfortable driving a winding mountain road in the small tank Dollar Rent-A-Car had given me instead of the compact car I’d reserved so I left Ed Levin and headed south toward Alum Rock Park.

Alum Rock Park

It took me a little while longer than it should have to get to Alum Rock Park because:

  • I didn’t know where I was going.
  • When I got there, the gate I arrived at was closed.

Consequently I didn’t start there till about 5:00 P.M. with only a couple of hours of daylight left (really even less because it’s in q canyon). Still it was extremely pretty. The trees at the very first parking lot were full of birds including Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Oak Titmouse. Turkey Vultures were flying over, and Song Sparrows were singing in the bushes.

I didn’t have a lot of time so I drove up the road hopping from parking area to parking area. (If I’d had more time it seemed like a really nice place to do some hiking.) The Visitor’s Center was the best yielding numerous Steller’s Jays, California Towhees, and Dark-eyed Juncos (Oregon race). These were feeding off picnic remains and garbage, and consequently being very cooperative.

Steller's Jay walking toward garbage on picnic table

However the surprise of the day had to be the Wild Turkey that flew in and then hopped the fence and headed up the hill:

Female turkey

Species Count

Total species Count for the day was only 29. That’s not spectacular, but not bad since I didn’t start till the early afternoon, and many of them were year birds.

  • Wild Turkey
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Mourning Dove
  • Black Phoebe
  • Steller’s Jay
  • Chestnut-backed Chickadee
  • Oak Titmouse
  • American Robin
  • California Towhee
  • Song Sparrow
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Gadwall
  • Mallard
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • American Coot
  • Anna’s Hummingbird
  • Northern Flicker
  • Western Scrub-Jay
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • Western Bluebird
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Purple Finch
  • Lesser Goldfinch


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