Thursday, April 17, 2014

Secret pockets along I-5

Our trip from Huachuca City, Arizona to Ashland, Oregon included stops in Gila Bend, AZ- Lake Havasu City,AZ-Newberry Springs, CA-Lost Hills, CA-Lodi, CA - Red Bluff, CA.  For us, it is a grueling drive when we have to travel everyday. We normally try to limit our daily drives between 150-200 miles/day and include some kind of nature walk to ground ourselves. There was not much to see in Gila Bend due to high winds that day. In Lake Havasu City, we did get down to the Bill Williams River NWR to say hi to our friends. Newberry Springs on Highway 40 is one of those ghost towns on the old Rte 66 with not much in the way of accessible nature. 

When we hit I-5 in the Bakersfield area, there was little in the way of opportunities to explore nature due to the expansion of mass agricultural practices in this region. I try and check on ebird hotspots when we are going to be visiting a new area to see if there are any interesting places we can explore. (ebird is an incredibly powerful tool). When we checked out areas around Lost Hills (north of Bakersfield) , Kern National Wildlife Refuge caught our attention. We did not know there was a wildlife refuge in this area. So, we went to check it once we got ourselves situated at the campground. (By the way the campground was next door to water treatment ponds so there were quite a few birds around our campground. We saw our first Bullock's Oriole and Western Kingbird of the year there!)

Kern National Wildlife Refuge (NWR)- (some of the information is from the Kern NWR website) For thousands of years, California's Central Valley has provided habitat for millions of waterfowl, shorebirds and other wetland dependent species. The southern portion of the the Central Valley, known as the San Joaquin Valley, once contained numerous lakes and marshes comprising over 800,000 acres of natural wetlands, the largest freshwater marsh in the western U.S. Today, as a result of agricultural and oil extraction practices, there is less than one tenth of one percent of this remaining habitat left.  

Kern NWR was established in 1960 and consists of approximately 11,000 acres of natural desert uplands, a relict riparian corridor, and developed marsh. Through restoration and maintenance of native habitat diversity, the refuge also provides suitable habitat for several endangered species (San Joaquin kit fox, Tipton kangaroo rat, & the blunt-nosed leopard lizard) as well as preserving a remnant example of the historic valley uplands in the San Joaquin Desert.

The following are a few photos from Kern NWR:

Savannah Sparrow- it was nice to see our familiar Savannah Sparrow with the yellow in front of the eye

Male & female Cinnamon Teal-what long bills they have

Western Kingbirds were everywhere!! Neither of us had ever seen so many Western Kingbirds in one place- I think Bob's count was 25 but I think that was conservative:)

American Avocet

Common Gallinule

Northern Mockingbird

Cosumnes River Preserve-We camped in a great RV Park in Lodi, CA. We had checked ebird and found a local wildlife refuge listed. We were actually looking for another wildlife refuge when we stumbled on the Cosumnes River Preserve.  The Cosumnes River is 80 miles long. Its headwaters in the El Dorado National Forest rise to only 8,000' above sea level.  From mostly rain, but also snow melt, the river's water meanders from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Central Valley, just south of Sacramento.

Yet the Cosumnes River is far more important than its size would indicate. It is the only remaining unregulated river on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. In its lower reaches, it flows through one of the biologically richest regions in California's Central Valley, before merging with the Mokelumne River to then flow into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and eventually the Pacific Ocean. The Cosumnes River Preserve was created to safeguard much of this unique landscape.

The free-flowing nature of the river allows frequent and regular winter and spring over bank flooding that fosters the growth of native vegetation and the wildlife that depends on those habitats. More than 250 bird species, more than 40 fish species, and some 230 plant species have been identified on the Preserve!

In 1984, the Nature Conservancy purchased 85 acres of old-growth riparian forest approximately 20 miles south of Sacramento, establishing the Cosumnes River Preserve. While building a partnership of what is now a consortium of nine private and public entities, TNC acquired lands and conservations easements that now protect 46,000 acres, that include blue and valley oak woodlands, freshwater wetlands, vernal pool grasslands.

Below are photos from Cosumnes River Preserve:

These Tree Swallows were defending territories

Black-necked Stilt feeding

Blue-winged Teal- always a treat

Ring-necked Duck


Western Meadowlark singing from a tree top

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Black Phoebe looking for insects

House Wren

Red Bluff Recreation Area-Red Bluff, CA. When we first pulled into the Red Bluff RV Park, we were blown away.....  it was perfect: beautiful trees, lawns, away from the road noise and an incredible family Mexican Restaurant next door:) We checked out ebird to see what types of birding hotspots were in the area and found Red Bluff Recreation Area- someone had recently seen Lawrence's Goldfinches ( a new bird for us) and it was only 6 miles down the road! 

Red Bluff Recreation Area is located on the Red Bluff Diversion Dam on the Sacramento River. The area bisects 488 acres of riparian forest, flowering grasslands, wetlands, and oak woodlands providing very diverse habitats attracting a wide variety of species. The Forest Service claims a bird list of over 125 species. This recreation area exists as a result of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act that was signed by President Bush in 1992. This act modified the Central Valley Project that was authorized in 1935 by including fish and wildlife mitigation as a project function. What a gem- there are 14 miles of beautiful trails, campgrounds and day use areas. 

Photos from Red Bluff Recreation Area:

Male Western Bluebirds

Male Anna's Hummingbird

Everything was blooming

What a view

Lawrence's Goldfinch-
This was a new bird for us. They exhibited very different behavior from Lesser or American Goldfinches. They were hanging out singing at eye level in the trees off of the walking path. They were also congregating on and feeding in the dirt patches. We located them by their unique call.


Back shot of the Lawrence's Goldfinch on the ground.

Acorn Woodpecker protecting its nest. There were European Starlings surrounding this poor Acorn Woodpecker that looked like it was trying to protect its nest. The Starlings compete for nesting cavities.

Yellow-billed Magpie is another new bird for me. Bob has seen them before. Apparently the only place they live is in the Sacramento Valley.

This bird was exhibiting something that might be mating behavior- it was flapping its wings and calling incessantly.

What a mountain view

Next stop Ashland Oregon where Bob & I are shedding much of our worldly possessions. More to come in next blog.

In Joy,

Turtle and Hawk

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