Debi Shearwater’s trip out of Half Moon Bay was full on Saturday so I decided to try a Monterey Seabirds trip in Monterey Bay. We had a good number of Ashy Storm-Petrels with a few Black Storm-Petrels mixed in and a blonde headed South Polar Skua.
At around 9:30 AM we had a shearwater that was initially called a Short-tailed Shearwater, but after reviewing my photos, was probably a melanistic Sooty. Of course I had no idea that at approximately this same time, four people on Debi’s boat, including my friend Doug Koch, were looking at a Great-winged Petrel! Still it was fun to be back in Monterey Bay where my brother Jim and I first ventured out to seabird on a fishing boat in the early 80’s.
When the boat returned to dock by 3:30 PM and I realized I would have plenty of light left in the day, I decided to drive 2 hours east into the Panoche Valley and eliminate any future stress of not yet having Long-eared Owl on my year-list. Now I wasn’t really worried about missing Long-eared Owl. Some pretty good birders were committed to helping me find the birds. In fact Scott Seltman, a top Kansas birder, had vowed to not letting this owl mar my year end list with it’s absence. But I also remembered the advice from Jon Dunn about the Mercy Hot Springs birds. Jon had said, “If the birds are in, you walk up to the reservation office, pay the man the $5 bucks and he’ll take you to find the birds”. Kind of like a children’s petting zoo, except the birds are wild.
The only question was were the owls in this early and Lynn Hemink, who lives in Fresno, confirmed that they were indeed in! Three of them were roosting in a pine tree next to one of the cabins.
Wham – Bam! Just like that I’d advanced to 713. Actually the drive along Panoche Rd. was both scenic and birdy with at least fifty Yellow-billed Magpies along the way.
Mercy Hot Springs looks like a pretty good migrant trap as well. At least four Barn Owls were quietly roosting in the grove behind the springs.