Biking the Coastal Bluffs Trail

One cold, clear yet smokey morning, Katherine and I biked Wilder Ranch State Park’s Coastal Bluffs Trail.

Smoke from the previous day’s controlled burn in Wilder Ranch State Park covers the valleys

We weren’t officially birding but enjoyed seeing a variety of birds: sparrows in the brush and in the fields of Brussel Sprouts, shorebirds foraging on the beach and rocks below us, raptors flying above or perched on utility poles and fences.

Having recently seen (and ID’d) a Fox Sparrow at UCSC Coastal Campus, I immediately recognized one when I saw it in Wilder.

Fox Sparrow

Once we knew what to look for, Katherine and I saw Townsend’s Warblers everywhere!

Townsend’s Warbler.

Looking out over the ocean, Katherine spotted a duck-like bird paddling along with the Surf Scoters. Later, we identified it as a Red-breasted Merganser. According to the ABA Field Guide to Birds of California (a great resource!), these “highly migratory” birds visit California during their non-breeding season. The Red-breasted Merganser is North America’s fastest duck, reaching speeds up to 100mph! (I’m gonna assume the Guide is talking about flying — not swimming!)

Red-breasted Merganser

We saw a Snowy Egret flying in to forage among the rocks. Also, Surfbirds (a new bird ID for us!) and Black Turnstones foraged together under the eyes of Brown Pelicans. Waves caused some consternation…

A Brown Pelican flew in to be accosted by two begging juveniles…at least, I hope they were juveniles!

I spotted a male Northern Harrier (aka “The Gray Ghost”) perched on a fence. As I took its photo, it took off, flying toward me! It passed me on the right, flying low in typical Harrier fashion (flying low, that is, not passing on the right!)

Many raptors were seen flying over or perched above the farm fields. These included the small but fierce Merlin, a female Northern Harrier (or three), an Osprey and a Cooper’s Hawk. (Not shown are the Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks we also saw.)

Another great adventure exploring and re-exploring the natural world in Santa Cruz county!

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