Carrizo Plains Trip Report: 8 Dec. 2012
Quiet. One of the first things noticed. No cars, rumbling trucks, radios, noisy neighbors, practicing garage bands; not even an airplane. Out of the silence the small sounds of birds emerge: a passing Sage Sparrow, Horned Larks in the grass, White-crowned Sparrows wheezing in the sage, one Kestrel calling to another, the bubbling song of a Western Meadowlark. Small sounds, ones often drowned out by the city’s buzz.
An incredibly blue sky, no wind, dry roads, temperatures in the 60’s, wide open spaces and lots of interesting birds made this a wonderful trip to one of my favorite locales in Southern California. We started at the southeast end of Soda Lake Rd., as always, searching the ground squirrel burrows for a Burrowing Owl, but no luck this year. Slowly driving and birding, we found many small flocks of House Finches, Vesper, Savannah & White-crowned Sparrows, various raptors perched on poles and on the wing.
After checking out the buildings and equipment at Van Metre Ranch, we walked up a gentle barren slope to the northern fence line. Just beyond the barb wire rises the wrinkled hills of the Temblor Range, marking the San Andreas Fault. Sage bushes here are favored by the LeConte’s Thrasher, and we quickly glimpsed one who just as quickly disappeared. Fortunately we found 3 more later on, as well as a California Thrasher.
KCL campground always provides a nice table for lunch. The Great-horned Owl was absent but the trees and brush held Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, various sparrows and towhees as well as one more Say’s Phoebe and a few more Loggerhead Shrikes.
Raptors were everywhere and we had an unusually high number of Rough-legged Hawks and Prairie Falcons, two birds we always hope to find but often don’t.
Mountain Bluebirds were scattered all over the plains; we often found them kiting 20-40 ft. high in order to scan for ground insects.
We did a little exploring this year and took Simmler Rd. north to Elkhorn Rd., passing between the SE end of Soda Lake and the series of dry “ponds.” From a distance, the white soda covering the lake bed looked like snow, or small wind-tossed whitecaps, frozen in time. Heaps of dead Russian Thistle (aka tumbleweed) bordered the road, with the road itself covered at least axle-deep by shredded thistle brush, the residue left by earlier travelers. It looked so much like shredded wheat that we created a marketing campaign for a new breakfast cereal, Sagebrush Sugar Bombs - Sweet and crunchy with that delicious nutlike flavor of the old west.
We hadn’t been down Elkhorn Grade Road in about 20 years, when the downhill grade was so poor that driving uphill would have been impossible, had we tried to turn around. The surface is now better, but much longer than we remembered, partially because its twists and bumps prevent speeding. We stopped often to scan the numerous barren flats for Mountain Plover; none were seen, but flocks of sparrows and the ubiquitous Horned Larks were plentiful.
For those wishing to explore the Carrizo Plains by themselves, San Luis Obispo County Audubon now has an excellent 20-page birding guide. which you can download and print.
Goodwin Ed Center just south of Soda Lake is open Thurs – Sun, Dec. 1 to May 31, 9am – 4am. I highly recommend calling them to inquire about road conditions, birding highlights, permits to visit Painted Rock, and guided tours. 805-475-2131
Note the similarities and differences between the two trips listed below.
|Carrizo Plains Trips||Date||Date|
|Great Horned Owl||1|
|Le Conte’s Thrasher||4||1|
|Total Species – 36||27||29|