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Traditional Holloween Butterbredt Weekend: 26-27 October, 2013

October 30, 2013
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Drought conditions in the desert this year were obvious in the blackened shrubbery, dry earth and in the astonishingly, extremely low counts of expected bird species. Although water has been available at sources such as Butterbredt, Sageland, Tunnel Spring on Kelso Valley Rd., the usually abundant flocks of White-crowned Sparrows, Bell’s Sparrows, California Quail, for instance, simply were not found. Foraging cattle, now gone, helped eliminate what little seeds and vegetation that had grown, food for birds and mammals. Nor were there the raptors who are their predators. No eagles, (think wind turbines), one Red-tailed Hawk, one Cooper’s Hawk, no Great Horned Owls lurking in the cottonwoods at  Butterbredt or Sageland. In fact, small mammals seemed strangely scarce.  I was happy to spot a bush bunny as I was leaving and one or two chipmunks at our camp site.

Nevertheless, we collected a count of 32 bird species, and some of those, quite rare. Tops was the White-throated Sparrow at Keith Axelson’s, seen well for a short time on Friday, but never again. A day earlier, Keith reported, Golden-crowned Sparrows and a Slate-colored Junco were among a large party of juncos, which by Saturday were reduced to about five birds under his feeders. Pine Siskins and Lesser Goldfinches had also deserted, leaving only two House Finches and a few juncos on the nyjer seeds. Keith’s recently spotted Sharp-shinned hawk never showed up. Worst news, the four species of sapsuckers, Red-bellied, Red-naped, Williamson’s, and one other “mystery” species, seen briefly by Keith, Lys and her friend shortly before we arrived, never appeared again at their Chinese Elm food tree. In conclusion, we guessed that the missing birds had been migrating and, perhaps, had decided to escape before stormy, cold weather arrived on Saturday.

A banquet for butterflies (Roxie Seidner 10/26/13)

A banquet for butterflies (Roxie Seidner 10/26/13)

Regardless of these factors, our trip was beautiful. Glowing golden Rabbit Brush carpeted the slopes among Joshua Trees, apparently immune to drought. Gold and green highlighted the Cottonwoods, which harbored many cheeping Yellow-rumped Warblers, quite a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets, some Bushtits and, surprisingly, more than six Northern Flickers in the different locations we visited. Feathers under the trees suggested they had supplied prey for some raptor. Only one Rock Wren seen, three Bewick’s Wrens, one Mourning Dove, (no Eurasian Collared Doves –previously well established at Sageland). In balance, Chuck Bragg spotted a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher for us down at Butterbredt before leaving, and we did watch three Red-breasted Sapsuckers, seemingly squabbling, in the trees at Keith’s. Another great surprise were Lys’ catching the sounds of Cedar Waxwings, a large flock checking the mistletoe berries along with Western Bluebirds, in the big Cottonwood at the ranch. They did not stay long but had not been seen there for several years. Another pleasant surprise on our Sunday walk up Axelson Creek, was in fact the only bird found – a beautiful Hermit Thrush lurking in the undergrowth.

Water trough elicits rigorous observation (Roxie Seidner 10/26/13)

Water trough elicits rigorous observation
(Roxie Seidner 10/26/13)

There was evidence that a flash flood had raced through Butterbredt Spring but had not struck Sageland. Roads were beautifully graded. The cattle trough was full of water and plants. Just, no birds around!

Red Admiral Butterfly (C. Bragg 10/26/13)

Red Admiral Butterfly (C. Bragg 10/26/13)

In contrast to past trips and current expectations were huge flights of Painted Lady butterflies, seen everywhere, on the rabbit brush flowers and, especially, flying in masses ahead of us on our drive up Butterbredt Canyon road Saturday. Monarchs also floated among the crowd, and  even a very unexpected Queen butterfly, a  Red Admiral, an occasional Yellow Sulfur, and a Blue or two. I know, butterflies are not the object of the trip, but interesting and beautiful.

"I'm lost in a daydream" pumpkin (C. Bragg 10/26/13)

“I’m lost in a daydream – and there’s a mouse in my eye.”
Pumpkins by Kay (C. Bragg 10/26/13)

Having fun, great food, pumpkin carving and amazing judging and displays, jokes, stories of sightings, mishaps, past times, and, of course BIRDS are the objective. But:

Having an experience few city-dwellers are ever privileged to see, the huge black desert sky, its brilliant stars, the milky way, towering over us as we sleep, almost every year, myself, for some 28 years; each one is different – and the  people, and stories remembered, are treasures. This is a tradition of our chapter and, hopefully, more of our members will discover and enjoy it.      Mary Prismon

Butterbredt Trip List October 26-27, 2013
California Quail 50+ Bewick’s Wren 3
Turkey Vulture 1 Cactus Wren 2
Cooper’s Hawk 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5
Mourning Dove 1 Western Bluebird 4
Greater Roadrunner 1 Hermit Thrush 1
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 California Thrasher 1
Red-breasted Sapsucker 3 European Starling 4
Nuttall’s Woodpecker 1 Cedar Waxwing 15
Northern Flicker 7 Yellow-rumped Warbler 50+
Black Phoebe 1 California Towhee 2
Loggerhead Shrike 3 Sage Sparrow 1
Western Scrub-Jay 6 White-throated Sparrow 1
Common Raven 2 White-crowned Sparrow 5
Bushtit 3 Dark-eyed Junco 6
Rock Wren 1 House Finch 2
Total Species   32
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