Field Notes 1/18 – A 4-mile Hike in the Mountains

Moore Creek Park is just past the end of the Chiles Pope Valley arm of Lake Hennessey. The trees are a mile high up here, and while only between 600-900 feet elevation, you feel on top of the world. The creek rushes along the Western edge of the park, what is now a mighty roar, thanks to rain in October and November, was a mere trickle this time last year. The streams cascading out of the hillsides are abundant too. I went up to the park hoping to see the reclusive Pileated Woodpecker, a rare inhabitant of these mature mountainous forests. I had spotted one briefly at the same location in June of 2020. A year and half later might be a stretch for tracking down the same bird, especially one with a territorial range of 200 acres. Tell you what, I didn’t find the giant woodpecker, but I did accomplish a four-mile hike through the wilderness with 20 avian species accounted for. Not a bad day for birding, despite the quiet stillness.

Now, you’ll notice I did not get a lot of photos on this outing. Many of the birds were small and fast, or too far away for a clear shot. Two ravens canoodled on a branch, high above the parking lot. They reminded me of cats, nudging each other’s faces and practically purring. The most exciting find was the flock of at least 40 robins that flushed from the Ponderosas. I’d heard them chortling here and there throughout the hike. As I was making my way back down the trail, they flushed, scattering across the sky like a mid-day meteor shower. In the winter, robins can form huge cohorts with numbers in the hundreds, so I’m sure there were many more still hiding in the untouched forest across the creek. Many birds were heard but not seen: oak titmice whinnying in their namesake trees; both California and Spotted towhees scratching in the underbrush; a downy woodpecker too small to see in the countless trees it could’ve been hiding in. A few Steller’s jays made their presence known, as jays are wont to do. One perched boldly atop a large shrub, proudly chewing on an acorn it had acquired, likely by unscrupulous methods. A California scrub jay chased a titmouse of a prime perching branch and claimed it as its own. My last find before giving my legs gave up and I had to turn around, was a hermit thrush “chupp chupping” from a bush. I’ve developed a fondness for thrushes, although American Robins are probably last on the favorites list. I’d love to see a veery, but I’ll have to do some traveling for that as they aren’t typically found in Napa.

Two ravens sitting in a tree
Hermit thrush hiding in shrubbery

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