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Field Trip Report: Wind Wolves Preserve, 4 Dec., 2010

December 10, 2010
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[This report is a bit longer than usual because we found the preserve to be an especially beautiful and interesting place.]

Wind Wolves Preserve is located on the north slope of the Tecuya Ridge, the mountains on the south end of the San Joachin Valley, about 15 miles west of the Tejon (Grapevine) Pass and the #5 freeway. It was acquired about 16 years ago by The Wildlands Conservancy (TWC), a privately funded foundation. Weekdays are primarily devoted to programs for school children, with the weekends open for public use. It is very popular with bike riders who ride back and forth across the mountains from Pine Mountain Club, or car-shuttle back.

We’d arranged to meet with docents at 9 AM, so we had to speed past many grassland birds, including a Roadrunner, on the 3 mile drive from Hwy 166 to the front gate.  TWC’s Ecologist Dave Clendenen, Preserve Education Director Sherryl Clendenen and Preserve Naturalist Paige O’Mara met us at the trailhead, and then graciously drove us in their large van several miles further up the canyon to “The Willows”, a beautiful riparian area filled with enormous ancient cottonwoods

At "The Willows" (L.Johnson 12/4/10)

and streamside willows. I was particularly impressed by one spot where the stream ran through the crotch of a huge cottonwood limb which – still living – was half-buried in the ground, blocking the flow.  We stopped once on our way up Emigdio Canyon to check out the Golden Eagle sitting on the canyon ridge, but apparently it didn’t like the looks of the biped-filled metal box far below it, and flew away before most of us clambered out the van doors.

Anna's Hummingbird at Fuschias (Dan Siegler 12/4/10)

Emigdio Canyon was the route favored by the Indians and early Spanish to descend northward into the San Joachin valley. The bottom of the aptly named “Grapevine” route we currently use was then filled with brambly grapevines, bears and other such wildlife; thus, relegating foot traffic to the steep sides of the pass. Emigdio pass was a far easier route. The Canyon became part of a Spanish land grant and passed through several hands before TWC bought it. Altitude at the preserve ranges from about 800 ft near the north-end entrance to about 6000 ft. at its southern border in the mountains.

White-crowned Sparrow (Dan Siegler 12/4/10)

We wandered around the willows area for several hours, spotting birds, a few chill-tolerant butterflies and flowers, deer on the hillsides and bobcat scat (white and conical) at our feet. Red-tailed and Ferruginous Hawks, American Kestrels and a Prairie Falcon flew overhead, occasionally diving on a prospective breakfast, and we eventually saw the eagle again, unmistakable with its long, broad wings, finger-like spread primaries, slowly gliding down the ridgeline. On the rocky cliffs above us we found at least 4 eagle nests: the local pair doesn’t use the same nest every year. Dave informed us that the area is very popular in the spring with nesting Lawrence’s Goldfinches: anyone seeking this species – beautiful but tricky to reliably locate – should try this location. We tracked down a call in the willows to a Hutton’s Vireo (listen to it), gleaning on the willow stems. This is another species frequently difficult to find, and I don’t think that all of us got onto it before it moved off.

The latter half of March appears to be the best time for wildflowers, although this is variable, depending on winter rains and springtime temperatures. Late April – early May is best for nesting birds, especially Bullock’s Orioles and the goldfinches.

After lunch, those of us who didn’t have to immediately return home dawdled

Mountain Bluebird, American Goldfinches & House Finches on fence (L.Johnson 12/4/10)

along the entrance road, adding species to the trip list. Most noteworthy were the enormous number of Mountain Bluebirds on the roadside fences and fields. We settled on a count of 200, but they were so numerous and constantly moving, that there could easily have been ten times that number. There were far more than any of us had ever seen anywhere before. We also saw the Roadrunner again, plus various blackbird species, Lark Sparrows and dozens of American Goldfinches.

Driving back down the #5, we decided to stop off at Quail Lake near Gorman and check the outlet channel for goldeneyes, as it had hosted a Barrow’s Goldeneye last winter. We didn’t find this species, but did find a small flock of diving ducks including Buffleheads and Common Goldeneyes among the Lesser Scaup. A chilly wind blowing down off the mountains finally drove us back into our cars.

We highly recommend Wind Wolves Preserve for hiking, birding, wildflowers & butterflies (in season) and biking. They also have campsites available (by reservation).

Thanks to everyone who came, and especially thanks to Dave, Sherryl & Paige for showing us around. Link to Wind Wolves Preserve website.    [Chuck Almdale]

Wind Entrance Quail
TRIP LIST 12/4/10
Wolves Road Outlet
Lesser Scaup 30
Bufflehead 20
Common Goldeneye 14
Ruddy Duck 3
California Quail 25
Eared Grebe 1
Double-crested Cormorant 3
Northern Harrier 6 2
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 3
Ferruginous Hawk 1
Golden Eagle 1
American Kestrel 4 2
Prairie Falcon 1
Killdeer 2
Mourning Dove 4 3
Greater Roadrunner 1
Anna’s Hummingbird 2
Nuttall’s Woodpecker Heard
Northern Flicker 2
Black Phoebe 4 7
Say’s Phoebe 4 1
Loggerhead Shrike 2
Hutton’s Vireo 1
Common Raven 12 15 3
Bushtit 15
Rock Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 6
Mountain Bluebird 200
Hermit Thrush Heard
American Robin 3
European Starling 40
American Pipit 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 4
Spotted Towhee 2
California Towhee 3
Lark Sparrow 8
Savannah Sparrow 20
Song Sparrow 1
White-crowned Sparrow 2 6
Golden-crowned Sparrow 3
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Western Meadowlark 40
Brewer’s Blackbird 25
House Finch 12 18
Lesser Goldfinch 8
American Goldfinch 70
House Sparrow 12
Totals  –  49 species 28 21 9
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