A mutual friend made introductions between Mary and East coast birder Ruth Pfeffer, owner and trip leader of the tour company Birding with Ruth. Ruth and her son David were planning a trip to San Francisco and hoping to see some California specialty birds. We met up on Election Day 2012 to do some dry country birding on Mines Road and the San Antonio Valley.
Even at 9 am, it was a surprisingly warm clear fall day under clear skies with very little wind. The warmth of the day may have suppressed some of the expected bird activity, especially in the sage habitat.
Our first stop came just after the fork between Mines Road and the turnoff to Del Valley regional park, where we got familiar with many of the birds we would see all day: Western Scrub Jay, Oak Titmouse, Western Bluebird, Dark-eyed Juncos (Oregon race), Golden-crowned and White-crowned Sparrows. Lark Sparrows and Bushtits made an appearance, and we studied the flight calls and perching habits of Anna's Hummingbird. A Yellow-billed Magpie stopped to check out something in the road, giving us a chance to really see the beautiful color in its wings.
Driving south along Mines Road, we stopped several times to try for Rufous-crowned Sparrows with no luck. These stops turned up many standard Bay Area parkland birds - Calfornia and Spotted Towhee, a large flock of California Quail among the Manzanita bushes, and a curious thick-billed Fox Sparrow who used the sage brush as cover to come quite close.
Our true targets were the more uncommon western birds and there we had some success. From the front seats, Ruth and Mary both spotted only the long, wedge-shaped tail of a Greater Roadrunner leaving the road for the cover of the sage. Ruth had a brief look at a Phainopepla flying from one oak to another.
Our favorite sighting came after lunch at the Junction Cafe when we watched a Lewis's Woodpecker extracting the acorns from an Acorn Woodpecker grainery in a wooden power pole about one mile south of Junction. Thief!
Our last bird of the day was a Ferruginous Hawk perched on an exposed dead tree eating a lizard - after this magnificent view, our trusty Subaru wagon refused to start. It took a couple hours and a lot of help from residents of the area to get a jump start and get rolling out of the valley in time to see the sun set over Livermore. We were especially grateful for all the help we got from customers and the staff at the Junction Cafe - Greg, Justina, and Mary Lee
Mammal sightings for the day: Western Cottontail - 1, Tule Elk - 50, Bobcat - 1, Coyote - 1, Striped Skunk - 1