“Look, there is a raptor perched on a branch over the irrigation ditch,” someone beckoned. It was quite a ways down the channel and sat with its back to us. We began to call out its salient characteristics: long tail, white tail tip.
Rebecca brought her scope over, and Gale, the trip leader, took a look. “When it turned its head, it looked round,” she stated. “I think it is a sharpie.”
Some of us started walking down the ditch bank to get a better look; however, it took off before we could reach it. Meanwhile, those who waited had the opportunity to watch a Ring-billed Gull as it flew overhead.
The nineteen Thursday Birders headed slowly north from Romero along the irrigation ditch – some down at the ditch level and some up on the levee. The morning was still cool and the birds were getting a late start. Initially there was little action in the willows along the ditch, but gradually we began to see more activity.
An unidentified wren was working the low bushes, but dropped down before we could make a positive identification. A Black Phoebe buzzed from branch to branch and then sunned itself on the vent of a house that backed up to the ditch. We could hear an occasional Lesser Goldfinch, Sally spotted a Song Sparrow, and Cheri an Orange-crowned Warbler.
“Woodpecker,” someone on the levee called down. “I think it is a sapsucker.” A Downey Woodpecker popped into view, started climbing up one of the main trunks, and then flew off. A White-breasted Nuthatch flew into the same location. And then someone caught a glance of the Red-naped Sapsucker on a shaded vertical branch.
A mixed flock of blackbirds flew over. “I got a Yellow-headed,” Donna exclaimed, “and then I nearly fell into the ditch trying to look at the rest,” she laughed.
A Western Wood Peewee darted out from the willows to grab an insect, and then flew back to its perch, where it constantly turned its head from side to side in surveillance.
Our attention was focused on an empid with a large, distinct eye ring, giving it a wide-eyed look. Each time it re-landed, we clarified field markings: yellow lower mandible, yellowish chest. The consensus was that it was probably a Cordilleran; however, during migration it could be a Pacific Slope. “At this time of year, it is probably safest to say that it is a Western Flycatcher,” Rebecca remarked.
A Spotted Towhee flew across the ditch and into the bosque. Four Canada Geese honked as they flew over the tree tops, heading down the river.
In the willows at the end of the flood control outlet, we watched a Bewick’s Wren and immature White-crowned Sparrow.
As we entered the woods, two Robins could be heard squabbling high up on a branch before they flew off.
A ways down the trail, we stopped to watch another mystery empid. The eye-ring on this one was not as distinct. It had a longish notched tail, leading some to suspect it was a Dusky Flycatcher. Like the other empid, this one also was silent.
A Black-capped Chickadee serenaded us with its chick-a-de-de call.There were no birds on the river. We watched Northern Flickers fly between trees on the far bank, the underside of their wings flashing red in the morning sunlight. In fact, flickers were the most prevalent bird we saw during the morning.
A Belted Kingfisher flew down river, making its harsh rattle as it went.
And, then it was time to head back to the cars and head to the Village Pizza, content that we had seen 30 species.