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Reprise 9: Butterbredt Spring Weekend Camping Trip, 1-2 May, 2010

April 25, 2020

Editor’s Note: Entry number nine in our tenth anniversary exercise in total recall was originally posted May 2, 2010, is nineteenth in overall popularity but first in field trip report popularity. We still try to run camping trips to Butterbredt twice a year – Springtime and Halloween – but don’t always succeed. I posted it, but Mary wrote it.


Indian Paintbrush (G.Bando 5/10)

Great weather was the rule, although powerful, gusty winds on Highway 14 challenged control of my Dolphin RV on Friday evening. Three of us were en route to Sageland, in preparation for our Saturday morning meeting with the rest of our group at Butterbredt Spring.

Next morning, warmly dressed, we drove up and down through a frosty Butterbredt Canyon in Roxie’s 4WD hybrid Ford. We chose that route partly to test the road – which is often messed up by motorcycles and tricky to drive –but also to catch migrants. It was a hasty journey, but we heard unmistakable songs of Western Meadowlarks, briefly glimpsed a Mountain Quail scurrying up the hill, had a great look at a male Scott’s Oriole on a Joshua Tree, a Western Kingbird and a briefly perched Cooper’s Hawk. Approaching the spring, we saw large groups of migrants passing westward along the canyon’s sides and ridge, too quickly to count or even guess their names.

Western Kingbird (G.Bando 5/10)

We three – my daughter Roxane, my neighbor Linda Cady (retired Jr. High science teacher who loved camping with her students, is a nature enthusiast and new to birding) and I –  met the rest of our group waiting at the Spring: Jean Garrett, Gloria Bando and Chris Lord. We later joined Keith Axelson at his Sageland Ranch where we camped and had dinner, including a cake to celebrate his 85th birthday on this trip, which he inaugurated many years ago. Many birders honor Keith as primarily responsible for establishing Butterbredt Spring as a premier birding destination and Sanctuary, supported by Santa Monica Bay Audubon.

8:15 a.m. is a little late to catch all the migrants, but we immediately found many species of birds. A beautiful male and female Black-throated Grey Warbler, Lesser Goldfinches, Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Wilson’s Warblers dripping off willow branches, male and female Black-headed Grosbeaks, Yellow-rumped Warblers in eye-popping breeding plumage and White-crowned Sparrows to list a few. Mourning Doves and House Finches were numerous. California Towhees, Bewick’s Wrens, House Wrens and Rock Wrens were all singing. Long-eared Owls and Roadrunners were absent, but maybe next year! Floral bonuses included: deep pink Beavertail Cactus on the slopes, many yellows, especially brilliant Biglow’s Coreopsis, Golden Bush, and other yellow composites. Purple Chia was also common, and deep blue, fragrant Bush Lupine warranted  numerous pictures.

An interesting variety of difficult-to-identify lizards were a frequent distraction: we think they included a yellowish Southern Alligator Lizard, a Common Leopard Lizard, a Western Skink, a Whiptail and numerous Fence Lizards.  I hesitate to speculate on butterflies, but American Ladies and small Blues were common.

Common Leopard Lizard. Cryptic, isn’t it? (G.Bando 5/10)

While walking back up-canyon, Jean spotted a House Finch, seeming secure in its nest built in a very prickly cholla cactus. An Ash-throated Flycatcher perched and called. Hammond’s Flycatcher’s were in the Spring’s cottonwoods and along the trail. A couple of Loggerhead Shrikes sat on trailside Joshua trees. California and Mt. Quail and Chukar lurked and chattered in the shrubbery. The call of a male Mt. Quail tantalizingly, and invisibly, echoed down the canyon.

To our surprise we found both an out-of-place Acorn Woodpecker on a cottonwood tree in the desert canyon, and an excellent look at Green-tailed Towhee. Even more surprising was a Yellow-breasted Chat foraging low in trailside bushes and the base of willows beyond the large cottonwood. It was uncharacteristically silent, but willing to be seen!

Exploring independently around the spring, Chris found a MacGillivray’s Warbler, both Cassin’s and Warbling Vireos, and a Costa’s Hummingbird. We joined him and saw Hermit Thrushes working the ground and three Great Horned Owls in the trees. A Black-throated Sparrow was viewed singing.

Chris needed to leave early, so after lunch he took Jawbone Road to Sageland Ranch to say hi to Keith. Our two remaining vehicles tackled the sandy track back up Butterbredt Canon in hopes of eagles and other rarities. Jean, expertly driving her non-4WD car, managed the challenge. We saw Common Ravens and Red-tailed Hawks, but no Pinyon Jays or Golden Eagles by the time we exited onto Kelso Valley Rd. The pond and creek at Tunnel Well, which occasionally harbors Wilson’s Snipes, didn’t, but we added more Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Red-winged Blackbirds, a Killdeer and Spotted Towhee.

Welcomed at Sageland, we set up camp, explored the local canyon, relaxed and enjoyed observing the numerous nesting bird families as we added to our sightings. Of the dozens of wintering Pine Siskins, seven remained to swarm Keith’s finch feeders. Three nest boxes held active Western Bluebird families. One of the male bluebirds pounded a window periodically, as it had been doing for some weeks. A pair of Say’s Phoebes tended their nest under an eve. A pair of Phainopeplas displayed in the tree tops and an American Kestrel pair, nesting in the large box on the water tank, entertained us, with the male bringing lizards to feed his mate and spell her on egg duty. They eat a lot of lizards! At sundown, Kingbirds twittered as they settled to sleep in the trees, and groups of quail fluttered and chattered as they found their night’s roosts.

The Western Scrub-Jays patronized other feeders while small flocks of California Quails cleaned up below; the chipmunks vacuumed their share despite Keith’s black kitty watching for a chance to grab one.

The admirable Saki has learned never to make a move on a bird! He is probably one of the world’s few well-trained cats. Occasionally, a handsome little male Costa’s hummer with brilliant magenta georgette came to sip at the nectar feeder but, unfortunately, male or female Scott’s Orioles chose not to appear. A male Bullock’s Oriole did visit in the trees. Nuttall’s Woodpeckers, male and female, drummed to mark territory and find insects. More unique were the pair of Hairy Woodpeckers seen foraging in the grounds. I must mention the California Thrasher pouring out song up on the hillside, along with Bewick’s Wrens, and an Oak Titmouse sounding off.  Morning calls included the unmistakable coo of a Eurasian Collared Dove, which has found its way to Keith’s land, and, of course, European Starlings.

Baby Blue Eyes on sandy soil (G.Bando 5/10)

Keith had prepared, mowed clear paths, cut away overgrown branches, improved the trail in his canyon for our safety and convenience. The stream flows continuously. It is an idyllic place. We were able to add Song Sparrow, Western Wood Pewee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Brewer’s Sparrow to our lists, if they had not been seen before, along with a debated empidonax flycatcher.

Townsend’s Warblers and a Plumbeous Vireo were seen later. At night, Western Screech-Owls gave their little warbling contact calls to prove their presence in a hollow cottonwood limb, where we hope they are raising a family. Also distant Great Horned Owls hooted under the ever brilliant desert starry sky.

On Sunday morning a pair of Ash-throated Flycatchers entertained us by continually examining the empty, for rent, nest boxes, bringing material with obvious thoughts of setting up housekeeping.

We we then hiked through fences and brush to Dove Spring Rd., admiring the flowers and checking Joshua Tree nest holes.

House Finch nest in Cholla cactus – Watch that first step when leaving! (G.Bando 5/10)

We found a pair of Cactus Wrens with a nest in progress in their favorite nesting location, a cholla cactus. We saw Western Kingbirds with similar intentions. Occasionally we needed to dodge roaring motorcycles (the only sour note in Paradise). Sadly, their idea of “fun” doesn’t merely miss the wonder of their surroundings but often defies all laws protecting that environment. Fortunately, the Friends of Jawbone Canyon, the BLM, and the SCA organization of young volunteers (which SMBAS supports financially), have made huge improvements in blocking and obliterating their illegal trails.

We also found a House Finch nest in a cholla. Theirs is an open-bowl nest unlike the Cactus Wren’s nest which is a roughly globe-shaped nest with a side entrance, always well-buried among the extremely thorny cholla branches. Incidentally, a cholla location did not save a wren nest last season when a bear came along, tore the nest and birds out of the cholla and devoured them!

As we hiked we could hear the melodic songs of distant Scott’s Orioles and the ever elusive Mt. Quail calling. We can be glad those are so cautious. Hunting season will test their survival strategies.

Most of our participants needed to head back to Los Angeles in the afternoon, but took with them, I believe, memories of a beautiful experience. I thank them, as does Keith, for joining us and making the outing a success.

I often think how very fortunate we are to have this tradition and connection to the real, wild world, where there is escape from the insanity, the violence, the unending consumerism, commercialism, and banal entertainments which currently dominate  human society and destroy Nature. There, in the desert wilderness, one can escape to a haven of sanity, quiet, where all living things – animal, plant, and even the earth itself – are allowed to exist in peace, work out destiny, and, you can hear the birds sing!

All this peace may be gone at some point, of course, under the groaning rumble of wind turbines on the ridges (ask someone who lives near one; they are not as ecologically benign as touted.) Or when development creeps south along the valley road. But for now, we are greatly privileged. I am sorry some, who wanted to come, could not make it after all this year. Perhaps they and others will join us on another occasion. My species count may not be altogether complete. But it I will add it to almost 30 years of memorable Butterbredt Spring spring trips! Thanks, Keith, for having made them possible.    [Mary Prismon]

Butterbredt Trip List May 1-2, 2010
Chukar Western Bluebird
Mountain Quail Hermit Thrush
California Quail Northern Mockingbird
Cooper’s Hawk California Thrasher
Red-tailed Hawk European Starling
American Kestrel Phainopepla
Killdeer Orange-crowned Warbler
Eurasian Collared Dove Yellow-rumped Warbler
Mourning Dove Black-throated Grey Warbler
Western Screech-Owl Townsend’s Warbler
Great Horned Owl MacGillivray’s Warbler
Costa’s Hummingbird Wilson’s Warbler
Acorn Woodpecker Yellow-breasted Chat
Nuttall’s Woodpecker Green-tailed Towhee
Hairy Woodpecker Spotted Towhee.
Western Wood Pewee California Towhee
Hammond’s Flycatcher Chipping Sparrow
Say’s Phoebe Brewer’s Sparrow
Ash-throated Flycatcher Black-throated Sparrow
Western Kingbird Song Sparrow
Loggerhead Shrike White-crowned Sparrow
Plumbeous  Vireo Dark-eyed Junco
Cassin’s Vireo Black-headed Grosbeak
Warbling Vireo Red-winged Blackbird
Western Scrub Jay Western Meadowlark
Common Raven Brewers Blackbird
Oak Titmouse Bullock’s Oriole
Cactus Wren Scott’s Oriole
Rock Wren House Finch
Bewick’s Wren Pine Siskin
House Wren Lesser Goldfinch
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 63 Species

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