by Jake Bramante
It didn’t look good for birding. The fog was low and the birds, were largely quiet as we stood shivering at the entrance to Herron Park. Undeterred, we began our quest, heading up to The Notch. Before entering the forest, we spied an American Robin, heard a House Finch, and a silent Western Meadowlark flew over. Not a bad start.
We entered the forest which was mostly silent save a couple chickadees and singing Juncos. In the field trip description, I’d mentioned seeing Spotted Towhees and Williamson’s Sapsuckers, but who knows what you’ll see. Perhaps that’s part of the draw.
Onward we marched, stopping occasionally to listen to the forest and whatever it may bring. The cool morning and lack of sunshine dealt us a quiet forest. About 3/4 of the way up our 800ft elevation gain, the fog started to show some weakness. We passed areas that had been reliable for towhees in the past… but didn’t produce anything.
At the first overlook with an interpretive sign, views were completely obscured, but at our feet were some buttercup flowers (ranunculus) that brought joy that spring was fighting its way forward. Blue sky started to tease and with it more bird song. Was that the faint drumming of the sapsucker? Was that a Cassin’s Finch? A Townsend’s Solitaire?
Then out popped one of our target birds. A Spotted Towhee! Fortune favored as it landed on a short snag and held, giving everyone a pleasing view of this beautiful sparrow with its contrasting black and white, rusty sides, and that mysterious red eye. Buoyed by the sighting, we marched on with more sapsucker drumming, chickadees feebeeing, ravens cackling and a long distance turkey gobbling.
As we descended a Gray Jay swooped down, then out of sight. Everyone was game to try and locate the drumming of a particularly persistent male Williamson’s Sapsucker. We took a right at the horse trail and followed it and followed it until we saw a likely snag and there he was! Yellow belly, dark back with a contrasted wing patch and some red on his throat. We watched him drum his little drum, move again and drum once more.
We floated back down to the meadows and looked in vain for a bluebird and said goodbye to most everyone. A couple of us stragglers hung out and chatted when a Mountain Bluebird swooped in to say hello as the now bluebird sky stretched from horizon to horizon.