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Pt. Sal Trail Grasshopper Sparrows

Florence Sanchez
 

I hiked this trail/road today, starting at 7 a.m.  It was a gorgeous morning for a hike.  It got a little windy by the time I got to the Vandenberg gate and continued so on the road, especially as I walked down to a place offering good views of Lompoc, Pt. Arguello, and Pt. Sal beach below.  However, the rest of the trail both coming and going was fine.

My target bird for this hike was Grasshopper Sparrow.  In previous years I've failed to get one here, but this year I hit pay dirt.  I had nine separate sightings of this elusive sparrow all along hike from the bottom to the Vandenberg Gate.  Granted, I think some were repeat sightings of the same birds, but sorting these out very conservatively, I am sure I had a minimum of 4 Sparrows.  The birds were perching and singing  from the tops of tiny shrubs in the middle of grassy areas and they did so fairy close to the road.  Consequently I had the best and closest views of some of them that I've ever had with this species.

Other grassland birds included several singing Western Meadowlarks and a few Lark Sparrows--fewer than in previous years.  I found no Horned Larks here today.  In the scrub and willows along the lower part of the road, there were a few Lazuli Buntings and Black-headed Grosbeaks were singing near the trailhead.  Red-winged Blackbirds were abundant on the lower fields.  Most of the swallows overhead were Cliff Swallows, but I also had singles of Barn, N. Rough-winged, and Violet-Green Swallows (unexpected).  A pair of Northern Harriers worked the lower fields for a while.  Most unexpected was a Belted Kingfisher that flew overhead when I returned to my car.  It was being chased vigorously by a pair of Red-winged Blackbirds.

The flower show here was mediocre compared to previous years, but there were patches of various species to keep things interesting.   I was glad to find small amounts of the large-flowered Lotus on the lower part of the trail and several clumps of Blue-eyed grass.  Especially nice were here-and-there plants of Checkerbloom.  The flowers on these plants were an especially deep rose-pink, rather than the more washed out hue we normally see.  I knew Chocolate lilies would be done blooming but I looked in vain for the plants until I spotted a couple of the mature seed heads in an area where the grasses were shorter.  I concluded that the grasses had gotten so tall that I just couldn't see the shorter remains of the Lilies.

I began my hike a little after 7 a.m. and didn't run into any people until after 10, when I was more than half-way down.  That was nice!


Florence Sanchez