Horned Larks and a Carless Trip to Ukiah

Horned Larks were being seen at the Ukiah Waste Treatment Plant. I haven’t had much luck finding them on the coast so I made a last minute decision to travel over the hill to see if I could find them there. I had been thinking of doing a totally carless trip to Ukiah just so I could say I did it. It would mean either walking down the road (almost 2 miles) to the Little River Store or riding my bike down the road on a chilly morning. I would also have to do it before the time changes or I would be walking or biking up that 2 miles in the dark. Not something I wanted to do. I chose to take my bike. The ride down wasn’t too bad. 

When my favorite bus driver, Cheryl (I hope that’s how she spells it), picked me up she laughed and said they never knew where they would find me. The transfer to the Ukiah bus (route 75) happens at Navarro Beach Road. The bus ride over the hill is actually a pretty ride. You have the Navarro River watershed, the Redwoods, wine country, and oak hillsides with great views. Fall colors were in view most of the way as a view from the bus window shows.

My bike and I got off at Plant Rd. and I biked down to the UWTP. I was immediately greeted by Steve Stump who is a new birder and works at the plant. He walked me out to the north pond and helped me find the Horned Larks that had been there for several days. The picture below isn’t great but gets the job done. 

Funny story. While I was still birding Steve came out and said that there was a company lunch and all the employees were leaving and would have to lock the gate. He said that all I would have to do to get out was push the “red” button on the concrete wall by the gate and it would open. He also said that he would leave the lunch early and get back by 12:30 to get some birding in. So I continued to bird. When I went to push the “red” button nothing happened. The plant is surrounded by a fence with barbed-wire on top. I kept pushing that button and still nothing. There was another “red” button down by the gate so I pushed it, nothing. After trying all “red” buttons I had the feeling that I would be inside the plant until Steve got back. I ate my apple and birded around the buildings a little. Noticed that my only company was an old orange “tabby” cat. A truck went into the dog shelter next to the plant and saw me locked up. I wondered if someone would call the police. Then I saw the etchings in the asphalt at the gate that meant there was a pressure plate under it. I wondered if the weight of my bike and I could open the gate. Even jumped up and down a couple of times, nothing. A few seconds later an alarm went off and I felt I was now in trouble but it was the gate opening. I hustled out as fast as I could. Caught the 12:30 bus just up the road and no signs of Steve returning. In any case I got the Horned Larks and a Wilson’s Snipe for a year total of 239 birds with over 2456 truck miles saved.

I was intending to bird Riverside Park at the end of East Gobbi Street. Because of the narrow streets and the big buses in Ukiah the driver had to let me off at South State Street and Gobbi to bike down (1.5 miles) to the park. Nothing was happening there so I biked over to the Pear Tree Center and had a chocolate malt and waited for my bus ride back to the coast. 

Cheryl picked me up at Navarro Beach Road and when she dropped me off in Little River she laughed and said that the 2 mile bike ride up Little River Airport Dr. wasn’t looking so inviting after a long hot day in Ukiah. She was right. I must be getting some leg muscle because I beat my best time biking up the road by 6 minutes. 

I’ve decided that if I do it again I would just park my truck at the Van Damme Beach parking lot and would save about 6 miles over parking in Mendocino.


A New Way to get to Ukiah

Things were happening at the Ukiah Waste Treatment Plant last week. Reports of 9 American White Pelicans arriving at the ponds last weekend and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper coming in a few days later. The pelicans are listed as rare during this time and the sandpiper is extremely rare. I watched the reports of the pelicans dwindle in number. From 9 to 6, then 3, then 1. Thursday was the first day I could get over there because of work. On Wednesday the Buff-breasted Sandpiper was still there and only one pelican. I had to get to Ukiah. As explained in previous posts to get to Ukiah as early as possible I have to take the CC Rider which means driving to Fort Bragg to catch the bus at 7:30AM. There has been another option but it’s never worked before. MTA has an early pickup in Mendocino but you have to schedule it the day before by noon. Every time I called there hasn’t been anybody being picked up that early. I can’t justify calling them to just pick me up. My truck still gets better mileage then the little bus they send for the early run. When I called Wednesday they said that I wasn’t the only person for Thursday so I scheduled a 7:00AM pickup. It costs me an additional $2.50 making my round trip to Ukiah $7.50. Still worth it and it saves me an additional 20 “green” miles. The trip to Fort Bragg went smoothly. There were actually three of us for the ride making the trip even greener. A man who was on the early bus said that he was commuting from Mendocino to Willets every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday which means I will be able to use this service to get into Fort Bragg early.

While waiting for the bus to Ukiah I got to talking with some people with bikes. They said that there were 11 bikes on the trip Wednesday. All but two had to be loaded into the back of the bus. Don’t know how they did it. Last week the CC Rider bus had broken down on it’s way to Santa Rosa and was in for repairs. It’s bigger than the normal coast buses and can hold more. So when our bus came it was one of the smaller buses which we almost filled. It was only the second time riding that I didn’t have a seat of my own. I sat next to the guy from Mendocino and we had a conversation about his commute to Willets, his world travels and the fast cars he had driven in his life. He did most of the talking. We had three bikes on the bus. Along the way we made two stops for other passengers who were carrying lots of luggage including a guitar and a big bass fiddle. We could have started a band. I guess we only needed chickens on the roof. When my seat mate got off in Willets another seat mate got on. In fact the bus was so full that a 300 pound man in a wheelchair had to be told that we were full and he would have to catch the next bus into Ukiah which would be a 45 minute wait. My new seat mate was an older man who had grown up in Fort Bragg. He knew several people and their histories that I knew at the assisted living facility where I work so I was able to get a few words in during our conversation. MTA transferred all the passengers to a bigger bus when we arrived in Ukiah. I took the Local 9 to the waste treatment plant.

I have been meaning to take some pictures of the WTP but I always forget. Below is a Google Map view from the air. It shows all the ponds full. If you look closely you can see them shooting water into the air (between lower second and third ponds). They do that to get the water to evaporate into the air during the hot weather. During my current trip the top pond was dry and the middle was going down leaving some good mud for shorebirds. The Russian River is on the right and you can see the MTA’s maintenance plant to the left. The Russian River provides some good riparian habitat for other birds.

To make an already long story short I found two White Pelicans but missed the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. The pelicans took off just after I got there so this picture is the best I could do.

The sandpiper was seen at 7:43AM that morning. It hasn’t been reported since so I missed it by at least 2 hours. Bummer!!

The rest of the day was spent returning some shoes for my wife at Payless, touring a Kohls (had never been in one before) and doing some shopping at the Home Depot and having lunch at the local Denny’s (food as bad as I remembered but used their WiFi).

Returned to the coast by the southern route and because my truck was in Mendocino instead of Fort Bragg I only had to drive the five miles home. American White Pelican was number 229 for the year.

To Celebrate I’m Going to Have a Beer

It’s been a good birding week. Last Thursday I got over to Ukiah again. I took Route 75 both ways. Route 75 is using Highways 128 and 253. At the Ukiah Waste Treatment Plant I got Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Yellow-breasted Chat. I missed the American Avocets that had been reported the previous day. I then took the Local 9 to the corner of South Orchard Ave. and East Gobbi St. and walked down to Riverside Park. At the corner of East Gobbi and Oak Manor Dr. I heard a calling Hooded Oriole. After sometime I was able to see it. I had expected a hard time finding that bird. Nothing new at the park so I walked to the Pear Tree Shopping Center and did some shopping at Big Five Sporting Goods Store and the Home Depot. Also had a cup of Jamoca Ice Cream at Baskin Robbins. I think I’m getting this bus riding down.

Friday I did my SOS Survey. While I didn’t find anything new at Virgin Creek, the beach was hopping with shorebirds on their way north. Semipalmated Plovers, Dunlin, and Western Sandpipers were plentiful and mostly in breeding plumage. And There are some birds that have done their thing already.

Today at the Little River Airport I added a singing Swainson’s Thrush (always nice to hear and I’ve never had one in April), an Olive-sided Flycatcher that beat the earliest record by one day, and a Green Heron that was only the second one I’ve found there. Also heard Purple Martin, a regular, in the Redwood Trees and I’m still seeing large numbers of Red Crossbills.

So what am I celebrating about? On Friday while doing the SOS Survey I broke the 1000 carbon producing car miles barrier. I have now save 1022 car miles and I’m up to 185 birds seen.

Mendocino Dam

This last Thursday I decided to target a few birds that could be most easily found at the Mendocino Dam, just North of Ukiah. These birds are Ring-billed Gull, Rock Wren, and Clark’s Grebe. This trip to Ukiah would the first time I’ve taken my bike there. The reason for that is because the bus doesn’t go to the dam. I would have to get off just before the bus turns onto Hensley Creek Rd. towards Mendocino College and continue on bike for a little over 2 miles to the dam. I was a little nervous about this ride as North State Street is a busy road with many large trucks using it.

The trip started out a little late in Fort Bragg And by the time we got to Willets we where 17 minutes behind schedule and I was worried that I would be late transferring to the Local 9 going North. Actually made it in time but when I went to put my bike on the rack I learned that Ukiah wasn’t as bike friendly as the coast. Apparently because of their bigger busses and some narrow turns on some streets the bike rack intrudes into the oncoming lane. The driver said I would have to get on at the Library if I wanted to go North. I guess seeing my jaw drop and the fact I didn’t know how to get to the Library, the driver relented and took me to my getting off spot. I can see their reasoning for the restriction but it’s not mentioned in any of their schedules. I checked. 

The bike ride to the dam was easier then I expected. There was a bike lane almost all the way. I almost made it to the top of the dam but did have to walk a short distance.

I found a Rock Wren as soon as I walked through the gate. It might have been carrying nesting material. Rock Wrens are rare in Mendocino. In fact most maps of their distribution seem to show them outside our area. ROWR’s are regular on the dam. I’ve also seen them in the Covelo area. Found at least 3 of them (maybe 4) on the dam. There was a large raft of Grebes below the dam. Most of them were Westerns with a few Clark’s mixed in. Cliff Swallows had arrived, a new year bird. They nest under whatever the structure pictured above is. Only saw 2 gulls that turned out to be first year California Gulls so I missed Ring-billed Gulls. Will have to find them later in the year. 

The ride down from the dam was easy. It was all downhill. When I got on the bus to head South to the Ukiah Waste Treatment Plant the bus driver told me how I would have to bypass the narrow streets they couldn’t take my bike. When I got to the Library I got off and biked two blocks south to Gobbi and Safeway. Got back on the same bus to continue to Plant Road.

Added 2 birds at the UWTP. A Lincoln’s Sparrow which Steve helped me find and 2 Northern Rough-winged Swallows. Could not find the Chipping Sparrows that were being found there. Apparently they have only been seen in the morning and I was there in the afternoon. 

As an example of riding the bus system, you find ways over time to catch rides. I had been thinking that I needed to catch the bus at the Pear Tree Center to get back to the coast. After several rides I realized that I could catch Route 75 across from Plant Road. It added to the time I could bird by just catching it there.

Early that morning I added a Great Horned Owl at Spring Ranch on the way to the bus stop in Fort Bragg. With the Brown-headed Cowbirds I found on the way to do my SOS Survey and the Rufous Hummingbird I found at the airport I’m now at 159 birds with at least 663 miles saved.

When your’re at the Mendocino Dam you get the feeling you’re on top of it all.