Hawks and the Green Flash-Birding the South Mendocino Coast

One of my favorite places to bird is the South Mendocino Coast. It has several vagrant traps that have produced some great rare birds during the Fall. It is the home of Manchester State Park where the San Andreas Faultline hits the Pacific Ocean for the final time. There’s the Garcia River, Point Arena Lighthouse and the Point Arena Cove (harbor) which is the home of Al (or Alice) the Laysan Albatross, famous for spending the last 20 Winters there. Tundra Swans also Winter in the area, sometimes with Sandhill Cranes. Yes it’s one of my favorite places but the trouble is I can’t get there by bus unless I want to camp for a few days.

Pictured below is looking east on the Garcia River from near the lighthouse.

So how does a “green” birder get to the South Mendocino Coast? He hitchhikes. Every year the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society sponsors an all day raptor field trip to the south coast. I called David Jensen, past president of the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society, to see if he could pick me up at the Van Damme Beach parking lot Saturday morning on his way to Navarro Beach Road, the meeting spot for the trip. Being a nice guy he agreed. 15 people packed (carpooled) into four cars made the trip south. Lot’s of stops on the way down with some pretty impressive scenery.

I was looking for several year birds during the trip. My list included Ferruginous Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Pacific Golden-Plover, Tundra Swan, and a possible Sandhill Crane. On the way down the coast everyone agreed that it was unseasonably hot and dry. Many of the open fields were dry and the coastal ponds were low. 

Our most numerous raptor was the Red-tailed Hawk with well over 40 seen. American Kestrels were numerous but it seemed not as many as past years. We saw many Northern Harriers but I only saw one White-tailed Kite, less than expected. The fields where I’ve alway seen Ferruginous Hawks were empty. We stopped for lunch at the Manchester State Park picnic area on Kinney Road and I was beginning to worry about seeing my target birds. One of the cars had legged behind and when they arrived they reported seeing a Rough-legged Hawk. I had to console myself with a lovely Say’s Phoebe that joined us for lunch. Sorry no picture I was eating. A short time later a Ferruginous Hawk was spotted in a far off tree, add one bird to my year. We chased the FEHA and while we were looking for it in the fields David Jensen spotted it in a tree just feet away and looking down on us.


I believe this is our largest Hawk. It’s listed as rare in Mendocino County but is a regular visitor. A short time later a Rough-legged Hawk was observed kiting far out over the fields. Too far out for a picture and I certainly look forward to a better view but add bird number two to my year list. The Rough-legged Hawk was also a Mendocino County bird for me. That’s number 8 for the year. RLHA’s are listed as rare in Mendocino with only one or two per year spotted. We moved over to to Stoneboro Rd. and found another FEHA hunting in a large field. While watching it David Jensen pointed out a Clay-colored Sparrow that popped up on a fence. As I mentioned in an earlier post they are a rare sparrow on the West Coast. Moved on over to Lighthouse Rd. and walked out to the Garcia River overlook. Had a great look at a Peragrine Falcon, our second of the day. We found no swans, cranes, geese (except for Cackling and Canadian), shorebirds (except for one Black-bellied Plover and one Dowitcher near the River mouth) or large groups of ducks.

It was getting dark on the way home so David decided to watch the sunset from a turnout. We were hoping for a green flash as the sun went down and we got one.

A search of Wikipedia states this about “green flashes”, “Green flashes and green rays are optical phenomena that occur shortly after sunset or before sunrise, when a green spot is visible, usually for no more than a second or two, above the sun, or it may resemble a green ray shooting up from the sunset point. Green flashes are a group of phenomena stemming from different causes, and some are more common than others…Green flashes are enhanced by mirage, which increase refraction. A green flash is more likely to be seen in stable, clear air, when more of the light from the setting sun reaches the observer without being scattered. One might expect to see a blue flash, but the blue is preferentially scattered out of the line of sight, and the remaining light ends up looking green.”

It was a great outing and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Total birds seen is 246 with over 2759 carbon producing truck miles saved.


NOTE: This last week of birding found me biking up a road to the Lake Mendocino Dam over near Ukiah, walking miles up Ten Mile Beach and hawk watching on the South Coast of Mendocino. I’ve figured that if I had done all that in my truck I would have driven over 221 miles. I drove a total of 18 miles in my truck this last week.

I forgot to add this picture of this rare two headed bird. I’ve never seen a two person lite aircraft.


Time For A Reset

The Mendocino Coast Audubon Society will soon publish an article by me about my experimental year of birding Mendocino County using just the MTA, my bike, and hiking. You can read the article below. Since it will have my blog address in it, it might bring in new readers of my blog. I think this might be a good time to “reset” and point out some of the posts that I feel are important and should be read and since I have 86 posts this will help you find them.

As pointed out in the article below, the Black Oystercatcher has become a “California Bird Species of Special Concern” just based on the effects of climate change. You can find the link to the report in this post.

One post that everyone should read is, “So —What’s the Hurry.” It shocked me! It’s about two reports. One is called, “Greenhouse-Gas Emission Targets for Limiting Global Warming to 2C” and the other is called, “Unburnable Carbon”. The basic results of these two reports state that, “80 percent of all fossil fuel reserves would have to remain untouched to prevent uncontrollable warming.”

Another post to read is, “We Did It”. It’s about breaking the 400ppm Carbon Dioxide barrier. The first time mankind has done that and it looks like we’re not going to slow down.

My most popular post is, “Miami is Doomed”. It’s part of my “doomed” series that points out that climate change is happening now.

Another popular post is a recent one called, “The Politics of Climate Change”.

Those of you who like their coffee should read, “Coffee!!”. 

For my experiences riding the MTA click on “MTA” in the “tag” cloud on my blog.

For those who live in Mendocino County I’ve written a series of articles for the newsletter here at the Woods in Little River about how to get around without a car. My post titled, “The Woods Newsletter” (should get a more catchy title) is about getting practically anywhere in the world without a car.

The article below is much shorter than the original article. It was thought that it was too long, not upbeat enough (who would think that climate change could be upbeat), took a slap at a birding organization, and questioned the fact that birding was a low impact hobby. You can decide for yourself if it was a slap. Read, “Is the ABA Schizophrenic?“. For my feelings on extreme birding read, “Open Letter to Cornell Lab of Ornithology“.

Finally you can read about my experience with the recent Snowy Plover nest on Ten Mile Beach. It’s called, “Great Joy! great Sadness!”

Writing a blog has been interesting. I’ve never thought about doing something like this. Every view gets me excited. I have over 170 views. I have 7 followers, been read in five countries, and been “reblogged” and pingbacked(?). Please leave your comments.

Photo credit goes to Jeffrey B. Beard, North Coast Supervisor for MTA and Beards’ Photographic Arts



By Richard Hubacek

These days you might find me on the Mendocino Transit Authority’s (MTA) Route 60, the Coaster, heading North, my bike in their bike rack, to do a SOS Survey at Virgin Creek. Or you might find me eating a Subway Sandwich, looking at the Ukiah WalMart parking lot, while waiting for MTA’s Route 75 to take me back to the coast after pursuing a Common Gallinule at Mendocino College or a Grasshopper Sparrow at the Ukiah Waste Treatment Plant. What’s going on?

I have been doing SOS Surveys for several years now. After reading an article in the July, 2012 issue of “Birding” called, “The Green Big Day”, I got to thinking about the way I bird. I also have to admit that I have been reading some very disturbing books and reports on the future effects of climate change. I thought that I would be dead before those effects took hold, but it’s happening now. Global warming is causing sea levels to rise. I didn’t think the shorebirds would like that. I decided to see if I could lower my carbon footprint.

It’s 33 miles round trip from my home in Little River to Virgin Creek. I remembered seeing those buses with the big MTA on the side. I checked their schedule and found that I could easily take 23 miles off my trip, more if I wanted to brave Little River Airport Rd. on my bike (I’m not that brave). I did most of my SOS Surveys last year using that method.

It was suggested that I write an article about it for this newsletter. That got me to thinking about expanding the idea of just SOS Surveys to doing an experimental year of seeing how many different bird species I can find in Mendocino County using the MTA, my bike, shoe leather and using my truck as little as possible. So 2013 has been a year of lowering my carbon footprint, easing my pocketbook, and doing what I love to do, bird. I’m up to 222 species with over 1614 car miles saved.

As members of Audubon you should know that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the lower 48 states. 7 of the top 10 hottest years have occurred in the last 15 years. That heat created a massive drought (predicted to continue) across the middle of the country. Rising seas brought disaster to New York and New Jersey. Storms are getting more extreme. Last year Arctic Sea Ice was 18% less than the previous record low in 2007. The ice is melting faster then the computer models predict. This last May carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit 400ppm. A level mankind has never experienced. 350ppm is considered the safe level. All this is impacting our bird populations.

I have started a blog to document my adventures during my experimental year. It also provides links to reports on the good and mostly bad effects of global warming. One of those links should be especially interesting to the readers of this newsletter. It tells about how our Black Oystercatcher became a “California Bird Species of Special Concern” just because of climate change. My blog is at:  greenbirdingmendo.wordpress.com


Apparently the editor thought I was being too modest. The new title for the Audubon article will be, “SOS Volunteer Goes Green for the Birds—and for the Earth”.

Black Oystercatcher-A California Bird Species of Special Concern

Back in 2008, Western Field Ornithologists and California Department of Fish and Game published, “California Bird Species of Special Concern”. It was a ranked assessment of species, subspecies, and distinct populations of birds of immediate conservation concern in California. It was edited by W. David Shuford and Thomas Gardall. It’s 450 pages of information with individual accounts on the birds they found to be of special concern.

They ranked the birds using seven criteria such as population trends, range trends, population concentration, impact of threats, etc. The Black Oystercatcher was not on their list of bird species of special concern. So what happened? Climate change was not one of the criteria they used.

That has changed. In 2012, PRBO and California Department of Fish and Game published, ” A Climate Change  Vulnerability Assessment of California’s At-Risk Birds”. Authors are Thomas Gardali, Nathaniel E. Seavy, Ryan T. DiGaudio, and Lyann Comrack. This report reevaluated 358 birds and their susceptibility to the effects of climate change. Because of this new ranking 5 new bird species were added to the original list and 10 had their priorities raised. The Black Oystercatcher was one of the new birds added to the list. In fact it was one of thirteen birds having the highest “climate vulnerability scores” in the new assessment.

The Mendocino Coast Audubon Society has taken on the Black Oystercatcher as one of their “citizen science” projects and is  going on their third year of documenting their numbers and nesting success here on the Mendocino coast. They are currently plentiful here so let’s hope for their future. If you are interested in reading the new assessment you can find it here.