Joseph D. Grant County Park

Katherine and I returned recently from a quick camping trip in Joseph D. Grant County Park. We’ve camped there before and have always enjoyed the beauty of this almost 11,000 acre park in Santa Clara County. Dogs (leashed) are allowed on the trails which is always a bonus. (We do have to keep an eye out for bobcats, wild pigs, coyotes and mountain lions!)

When we first camped at Joseph D. Grant last year, we were fortunate to see a brilliantly colored Vermilion Flycatcher. From what we’d heard, it was not within its normal range. Below is TheCornellLab’s All About Birds range map for the Vermilion Flycatcher. As you can see, Northern California is not their usual habitat.

Range Map for Vermilion Flycatcher from

When we arrived, one of the first things we did was head to the area where we’d seen the Vermilion Flycatcher last year. We were thrilled to see it was there! From people we spoke to, we learned that it had been coming back for the last four years.

Vermilion Flycatcher

We also saw another bird that we’d seen here for the first time last year, the Western Kingbird.

Western Kingbird

Competing for “Most Colorful Bird” were the Western Bluebirds. We saw many beautiful Western Bluebirds during our brief trip. Below, a female Western Bluebird takes on a pretty hearty meal. Is she eating for two? Or three, or four or eight? More importantly, lacking a knife and fork, how will she fit that into her beak?

Where there’s a hunger, there’s a way…

Speaking of Western Bluebirds, on our first full day, I was walking through the parking lot heading back to our campsite when I saw a Western Bluebird fly toward a tree ahead of me. Hoping that I would be able to see the bird perched on the other side of the tree, I slowed my approach.

When I got to the tree, I didn’t see the bird.


I was certain it hadn’t flown past the tree. I looked more closely and saw a small hole in the tree. I crept closer and looked inside. I don’t know who was more surprised…me or the bird!

It flew out past my head as I quickly backed away. I then spent about ten minutes trying to catch it going in or out again without success. I tried to hide near the bathroom (which is kind of creepy 🤣) but the bluebirds didn’t return. I returned to the campsite so the birds could return to their business.

The next day (and last day), Katherine and I packed the van and parked it near the tree. We then took the dogs and went off for a four-hour hike.

When we returned, we quietly entered the van, keeping both doors facing the tree open. We waited.

And we waited.

And the Western Bluebird returned. The male perched in a branch long enough for me to get a quick photo before he flew off. His colors were stunning.

The male Western Bluebird soon returned accompanied by his mate and with a spider wriggling in his beak. He gave the spider to his mate who then flew into the cavity.

Katherine was incredibly patient (or, incredibly tired from our hike–though to be fair, Katherine did have to carry Sam, our 14-1/2 lb dog, during some of the uphill portions of the hike). We spent quite a while in our “blind,” watching this exchange happen a couple more times before we left.

A bird more known for a cavity nest than the Western Bluebird (at least for me until now) is the Acorn Woodpecker. (And of course they are also known for storing thousands of acorns each year in holes they drill in any available and drillable surface.)

I saw two acorns perched near a couple of holes in a telephone pole. I thought they might be juveniles because a) they kept looking at the sky as if looking for a parent with food, and b) because I didn’t know what a juvenile Acorn Woodpecker looked like.

Since then, I’ve learned that the two below are both adults. Both have red caps, but the male’s covers more of his head while the female’s is a little bit of red farther back of her head. Notice in the photo below that the perched male’s cap extends to his cream-colored forehead; the female’s cap is limited to a small patch in the black feathers of her head.

Juveniles look similar except that their eyes are dark.

Another type of woodpecker we saw was a pair of amorous Nuttall’s Woodpeckers. These two got an early start to baby-making one morning on a tree branch above our campsite. Unlike some upstairs neighbors, they are quiet and they are quick (though, Katherine thought they took a little more time — think 30 seconds rather than 3 — than other birds we’ve seen “doing it”).

Nuttall’s Woodpeckers: Do Not DIsturb

Northern Flickers have always been a favorite (I know. I say that about almost every bird!) It is only recently that I learned they are part of the woodpecker family. Often I think I can hear their call, but am unable to locate them. But maybe I was looking in the wrong place. Flickers are an unusual woodpecker; they do most of their foraging on the ground, digging with their beak for ants and beetles.

The flicker flashes red or yellow from their wings when they take flight. In the west, we see the “red-shafted” flickers. Texas and the Great Plains are home to the “yellow-shafted” flickers.

Red-shafted Northern Flicker in flight

No trip to Joseph D. Grant park is complete without at least one Bald Eagle sighting. Near a large nest just outside the park, a Bald Eagle keeps watch.

Katherine saw a Golden Eagle. It was flying high above us with Turkey Vultures but I did not look in time to see it.

Oh, yes, and I know this isn’t a bird, but let me close with a photo of a bobcat we saw early on the morning of our second day. We are always excited to spot one of these beautiful cats.

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