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Butterbredt Spring Halloween Campout 10/31 – 11/1

November 1, 2009

Thirteen, turned out to be a lucky number, the participants in our Butterbredt Spring birding, camping at Sageland, feasting, and imaginative pumpkin carving event, with plenty of surprise sightings!

First, after meeting Saturday morning at the Spring’s gate, there enjoying the sweet winter calls of myriads of White-crowned Sparrows who were flying in to the puddles in the rushes, we wondered what was making another murmuring sound.

In the cottonwood grove, Chuck Bragg spotted an interesting warbler with a “white” face. Possibly a Hermit? Others saw a Robin. The usual Bewick’s Wrens and Rock Wrens were about. No sign of the expected Great Horned Owls.

Onward, we crawled through the eastern fence to the water trough where it was apparent the flow needed help. As the outflow began trickling down the slope into the open puddle area, literally dozens and dozens of Sage Sparrows flew in from the surroundings for a drink and bath. They came from many directions, running, tails high, like miniature Roadrunners. Their contact calls explained the mystery murmur we’d heard earlier. Standing out of their way, we observed their every feature, better than ever previously, in my case.

Further down the trail produced a number of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, more wrens, House Finches, a Flicker, Lesser Gold Finches, an Orange-crowned Warbler, a distant Raven, but no Long-eared Owls.

Returning, we paused again under the big Cottonwood in the draw where Chuck spotted an animal high in the tree’s  crotch, apparently sleeping. Raccoon, was the guess, but no. It finally turned its sleepy head to reveal a “fox”. Much speculation followed regarding its species but eventually all agreed, the tail was black to the tip, and the red in the coat was typical of our native species. That non-bird, so high in a tree was a great sighting! Foxes do climb, it seems, and like to sleep days, out of reach of harm. Then, a Great Horned Owl was discovered high in one of the  Spring’s cottonwoods on the way out.

After snacks, the group chose to proceed up the Butterbredt Canyon OHV road in hopes of specialties. It reportedly had been recently graded and passable, even for most regular autos. Chuck lead in his Prius, did not get stuck, and Liz Galton, despite lack of previous experience, bravely followed at the end, in her Prius, unaware of the to-be-expected challenges of sand, bumps, narrow passages. She did well, but, might not want to attempt another such run. The only new bird was a perched Loggerhead Shrike. Eagles absent. No Meadowlarks, Roadrunners, Mountain Bluebirds, Pinyon Jays. However, reports indicate big raptors and the Bluebirds are now in the area – available for the upcoming Christmas Bird Count.

Continuing then, to Keith Axelson’s Sageland Ranch, off Kelso Creek, for camping, partying, more walks, many more birds, (they regularly flock there to his stream, feeders, and great riparian habitat), we carved our pumpkins for the evening’s show and contest, and enjoyed barbeque dinners with special deserts. Afterwards, came the pumpkin lighted display which was spectacular, possibly the best ever in many years. Chuck Bragg, out of long practice, judged a prize for each one with a final for his outstanding, unique, incised “Rabbit Bush”! Who could argue?

Hollowed heads of fallen friends are prominently displayed

The golden glow of rabbit brush is a signature feature of this outing as are the brilliant yellow crowns of the cottonwoods at this season, and the campfire, and, happily, the perfect weather.

During an afternoon walk down to Kelso Creek and return, Chuck, lucky man, spotted an unusual woodpecker-type bird, black, with a long white wing patch, a Williamson’s Sapsucker male. We were blown away! Usually found in higher elevation woodlands, it was the first-ever male seen there by Keith. Later it turned up in nearby trees and some of us had a chance for our best ever view of this rather uncommon bird.

Roxane Seidner also discovered another unexpected bird, below the suspension bridge, a Wilson’s Snipe, lurking along the stream. Of course, when the rest of us rushed to look, it had already slipped away.

Two other sightings deserve mention. We were horrified on our initial arrival at the Butterbredt Spring to see a large pile of feathers, the discarded wings of a quail flock, possibly, also of Chuckars,  left by hunters. Although in legal hunting season, it is impossible to imagine anyone wanting to shoot these beautiful little birds.

The other sighting involved Keith’s recently built and installed owl box. Lys, Keith’s daughter, noticed feathers around the bottom edge of the box, so, on a hunch, he opened it, discovering a little Screech Owl calmly roosting there. We were all permitted a very brief look. This seems like a happy replacement family for Sageland, after Keith’s original family of Screech Owls perished from effects of the drought and predation. We heard them calling each other in the evenings, a sweet and haunting warble, rather than a screech.

Sunday, Nov. 1, some participants needed to leave for home, but those continuing enjoyed a long hike up Axelson Creek to Dove Spring Road, cross country, thence up the rocky draw northeast,  where we observed a wood-log barrier recently installed by the SCA (Student Conservation Association) and Keith. This type of barrier virtually prevents motorcyclists from jumping off a legitimate trail at critical points, in order for them  to cut down canyons or cross country. These barriers are very substantial, virtually impossible to ignore, bypass or up-root, as happens with posted signs and other obstacles. It is satisfying to see  support of SCA being rewarded.

The atmosphere at Butterbredt and Sageland was, and always is, very birdy, very beautiful, restful, sometimes, eventful, Nature at its best!. This was no exception. One is reluctant to leave. The group was altogether congenial. We hope we will see them and other of our members on more  outing at SMBAS sponsored Butterbredt Spring.

Leader: Mary Prismon

Participants: Chuck Bragg, Lys Axelson, Keith Axelson, Andrew and Sylvia Nawrocky, John Vanderhoest, Jean Garrett, Gloria Bando, Elizabeth Galton, Natsumi Rice, Roxane Seidner, Mary Prismon,  Allison Sheehey

A bird list follows.
Bird List: Butterbredt Spring, Kelso Valley, Sageland
10/31 – 11/2 – 2009

White-crowned Sparrow Sage Sparrow
Ruby-crowned Kinglet California Towhee
California Quail Red-tailed Hawk
American Robin Nashville Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler Bewick’s Wren
Rock Wren House Finch
Northern Flicker Common Raven
Spotted Towhee American Kestrel
Cooper’s Hawk Dark-eyed Junco
Wilson’s Snipe Williamson’s Sapsucker (male)
Pine Siskin Western Bluebird
Anna’s Hummingbird Scrub Jay
European Starling Western Screech Owl
California Thrasher Red-breasted Sapsucker
Loggerhead Shrike Lesser Goldfinch
Nuttall’s Woodpecker
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