Eleven Bird Club members from throughout Northern California celebrated leap day with a romp through the lower foothills of Calaveras County on a seasonally warm day. Trip leaders Chris Conard and Dan Airola led a trip through grasslands, ponds and reservoirs, oak woodlands and rocky canyons.
Participants met in Galt and carpooled to the start in the faux goldrush “town” built near the real Copperopolis along Highway 4. After supporting the local economy, we first birded Copperopolis pond, where we picked up many waterfowl, Wilson’s Snipe, a Red-shouldered Hawk nest, and the season’s first Cliff Swallows. We then drove north Rock Creek Road, picking up good looks at Phanopepla, Say’s Phoebe, and Loggerhead Shrike. A stop at a farm pond yield a third-year Bald Eagle in it “osprey-type” plumage as well as a Canvasback in with the nervous flock of American Coots. Proceeding on, we snagged a Rough-legged Hawk and several Ferruginous Hawks, as well as Lark Sparrows and Lewis’ Woodpeckers before reaching Salt Springs Valley.
In the driving loop around Salt Springs, we found Ferruginous Hawks everywhere, as well as another Rough-leg, and harrier, red-tails, ravens, Horned Larks, and a smattering of Tricolored Blackbirds mixed with Red-wings. Although we dipped on the Prairie Falcon, we had a nice look at a Merlin, a distant pair of Ospreys, and a heat-shimmering flock of Canvasbacks. A briefly calling Marsh Wren was a bonus.
Despite a fair amount of boat traffic on Salt Springs Valley Reservoir, we pulled in a lot of waterfowl, White Pelicans, another Bald Eagle, several Eared Grebes, and a California Gull.
We descended through the gorgeous Rock Creek canyon, where buckeyes and other deciduous trees were breaking bud. Orange-crowned warblers were singing already. The highlight, in addition to the typical array of oak woodland and riparian species, were two singing Canyon Wrens.
From Rock Creek, we high-tailed it north through the miniscule “town” of Milton, then through Jenny Lind and on to Valley Springs. We missed the Barrow’s Goldeneyes that sometime occur at the sewage ponds behind Starbucks, but we saw a Common Goldeneye and many basking Western Pond Turtles. Proceeding north through East Bay Municipal Utility District watershed lands, the highlight was an up-close coyote.
Our final stop was at the south shore of Camanche Reservoir. On the “Trout Ponds” there, we found more Ospreys on nest, nesting Great Blue Herons, a Common Gallinule. At the reservoir overlook point we found 250 Western and Clark’s Grebes fanned out across a wide swath. From there we returned to our Galt meeting place and set off for home.
Our trip total was 93 species. As important, we had great weather, great scenery, and gave everyone a wealth of sites to re-visit during other seasons.