Not all of you know that I actually have two blogs. Geotripper has been active since the late Paleozoic of cyberworld (2008), but I've also been producing Geotripper's California Birds since 2014. I came to love birds at first because of some journeys to the Hawaiian Islands where I was introduced to the unique native species there. Then I ended up with a pretty powerful camera lens that allowed me to see our local birds up close, and from then I was hooked.
I started writing (and just posted) a year-end summation of our bird discoveries this year on the Tuolumne River Parkway Trail, and by the time I finished, I realized I had written a fairly extensive description of my 'special place', the kind of place I wrote about in the previous post about seeing as much of the world as possible. So here is a description of my place, along with the absolutely fascinating birds that are found there.
|The first bird of 2019 near the Tuolumne River|
The Tuolumne is one of the most spectacular rivers in North America, with its headwaters in the alpine country of Yosemite National Park. It flows through a gorge as deep as the Grand Canyon, is trapped for a time in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, and then flows free again for a number of miles before being trapped again in Don Pedro Reservoir. After that, the river flows unimpeded until it joins the San Joaquin River near the Sacramento Delta. The stretch I walk almost daily is a two mile trail (the Tuolumne River Parkway) where the river emerges from the Mother Lode of the Sierra Nevada into the Central Valley.
|High water, 2017. At around 15,000 cfs, portions of the trail are underwater.|
The river has many moods. Although the flow is controlled by the dams upstream, there are times when the dams have to open their spillways to prevent them being overwhelmed by floodwaters. For much of the year, the flow is artificially kept at around 200-400 cubic feet per second (cfs). During 'normal' years, there will be a few 'surge' flows to help the salmon runs, and the water will reach 2,000-3,000 cfs. But in emergencies, the flows will reach 18,000 cfs or more (the worst ever was 1997 when the flows reached a record 70,000 cfs). At 15,000 cfs, almost the entire floodplain is inundated and portions of the trail end up underwater (see above, from 2017).
|The first Bald Eagle to be reported officially on the Parkway Trail|
|Western Tanager, a summer migrant along the river. One our most colorful species.|
|A Hooded Oriole. They nested on the bluffs this year and usually head south in the winter, but two of them remained in late November, the only ones reported in Central California|
|A Rufous Hummingbird along the river. I saw only a couple this year as they migrated through the region.|
|A female Phainopepla. The males are entirely black.|
|A male Bullock's Oriole. Like many birds, the females are less colorful.|
The spring also brings the swallows, the Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow, Cliff Swallow, and Northern Rough-winged Swallow. The sky is sometimes filled with hundreds of them.
|American White Pelicans occasionally fly over the Tuolumne River|
|The shallows of the Tuolumne provide good fishing for the Osprey (also known as the Sea Hawk).|
|Red-breasted Sapsucker, seen just once this year along the Tuolumne.|
|Lazuli Bunting at Ceres River Bluff Regional Park, downstream of the Parkway Trail|
I saw a Blue Grosbeak several times, at the Ceres River Bluff Regional Park downstream from the Parkway Trail, and I was especially surprised to find the bird upstream at Robert's Ferry Bridge. To make the experience even stranger, I saw a bobcat a few moments later. Our region is at the extreme north end of the range of this tropical bird.
|Blue Grosbeak at Ceres Bluff Regional Park, downstream of the Tuolumne Parkway Trail|
If you are a glutton for punishment, here is the complete list of all the Tuolumne River's 116 birds seen in 2019 (the all-time list numbers 133 species). If you click on the name, you'll be taken to eBird description of the species. If you want to contribute to the 2020 list, you can find it here: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L2153651?m=&yr=cur&changeDate=Set. I'm still an amateur at this, and would love the help of sharper-eyed people than myself. Who knows what we can find this year!