Snow Mountain Ranch Field Trip Produces Fun Bird Sightings

Seven birders (and flower lovers) took a hike at Snow Mountain Ranch. Despite the cooler, wetter conditions there than in year’s past, we saw some great birds and some beautiful wildflowers. If I knew the plant names better, I could have kept a list of plants as well as birds.

We started the trip watching two Ruby-crowned Kinglets in a shrub close to the trail. In typical kinglet fashion, they flitted around, sang and one of them flashed his ruby crown several times for us.

As we walked up the canyon, we found that there was still water in the stream. We don’t usually see that this time of year. We spotted a House Wren at the entrance to the canyon, and our first flycatcher of the day. The flycatcher was singing from a sagebrush. I had to let the song rattle around in my brain for a minute before it clicked: Gray Frycatcher! We watched him for a few minutes and started to move along, when a male Northern Harrier flew over the ridge to the south of us. He had prey in his talons. We watched as he flew over the ridge and down over the field, where a female harrier flew up toward him. When she got fairly close, he dropped the prey to her - and she caught it! She then flew off to the southern end of the field, perhaps to feed chicks? That had to be one of the more exciting parts of the morning.

We hiked on up the canyon, stopping at the cottonwood trees just before you start up the steeper part of the hill. There, we found Nashville and Orange-crowned warblers and our second flycatcher of the day, which turned out to be a Hammond’s (after photo reviews). This bird was very quiet, but sat long enough to allow photos.

We went up to the Wildlflower trail, enjoying the views and the flowers. We also added Brewer’s and Vesper Sparrows to our list - we actually saw them, too - along with Horned Larks. As we were headed back down the hill, one of the Horned Larks sat up on a bare branch, visible to all of us. At the end of the Wildflower Trail, we watched a pair of kestrels and a pair of Northern Flickers hanging around the snags close to the cliffs. We suspect that the kestrels were already nesting in one of the many cavities in these snags, but they were good at concealing which cavity they were using.

Along the Ditch Bank Trail, we found several House wrens, more Orange-crowned Warblers, a small flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows, a Gray Flycatcher and our first of year and first of trip Western Kingbird. We also saw Turkey Vultures and California Scrub-Jays. We missed a couple of species that we often find there: Great Horned Owl and Loggerhead Shrike, but we ended up with a respectable total of 34 species.

-Karen Zook