By Katie Boehnlein
Saturday May 26 began at daybreak for the 85 participants of this year’s Bird BioBlitz, bundled up against the misty, cold weather that awaited them throughout the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Eleven different groups, each led by a knowledgeable leader, dispersed throughout the Monument’s diverse habitats, from the northernmost reaches at Grizzly Peak to the far south Horseshoe Ranch area. All groups sought to locate as many birds as they could throughout an eight hour period, relying on both sight and knowledge of bird songs to identify species.
Despite the fact that groups consisted of both first-time birders and seasoned veterans, the BioBlitzers were able to identify 117 species all together, both resident and migrating species, as well as almost 2,000 individuals! John Alexander, director of Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO) stressed how remarkable it was that “during one eight-hour period, nearly half the number of species that have been reported during the entire month of May in all of Jackson and Siskiyou counties were recorded.”
I felt lucky to bushwhack through Chinquapin and scramble over rock outcrops at Surveyor Ridge, a high elevation site in Klamath County that is a recent Monument addition due to President Obama’s 2017 Monument expansion. Led by SOU Biology professor Michael Parker and avid birder Bob Hunter, we spent most of the morning chasing sunshine as we traversed the large rock outcrops that dot Surveyor Ridge. Our group of eight tuned our binoculars towards the trees all around us, feet feeling to avoid rock crevices and the snare of Chinquapin bushes. At first we just listened, trees alive with calls, shoos, chits, and delicate songs, our avian friends announcing their presence- a Williamson’s Sapsucker, a Dusky Flycatcher, a Mountain Chickadee. But later in the morning, as we perched on the top of a rock outcrop, a trio of “lemonheads,” or Hermit Warblers, called together and then emerged to chase each other through the bare branches surrounding us. Their colors seemed as bright as the spring sunshine, seemingly not dampened by the cold mist blowing by.
Surveyor Ridge was one of many sites that had not been surveyed for birds prior to 2017’s expansion, so this year’s event was an exciting time to generate useful data for science and conservation. Thanks to the dozens of citizen scientists and group leaders, we now have a greater understanding of bird abundance and diversity at Surveyor Ridge, Grizzly Peak, Little Hyatt Lake, Horseshoe Ranch in Northern California, and the lower reaches of Jenny Creek. Our scientific partner this year, Klamath Bird Observatory, aided us greatly by compiling all data through eBird Northwest to ensure that the results of the eleven surveys could be collected and compared together.
Despite seemingly disparaging weather, both participants and leaders enjoyed themselves. Ornithologist Pepper Trail, who led a group to along the PCT near Hobart Bluff, remarked that “it was very rewarding to lead others into the monument to document its tremendous biodiversity first-hand. Even on a cold and soggy morning the enthusiasm was palpable.” Participant Barb Settles who visited Box O Ranch with John Bullock, said that her favorite part was fording Jenny Creek barefoot and “feeling absolutely happy to get over it and find birds. It was so lovely with the meadows and the willows and the birds calling us.” Participant Carol Mockridge, who went with Frank Lospalluto to Pilot Rock reflected that “you know you’re fighting for a great cause when the weather conditions are miserable and you just keep going. We are so lucky to have such a treasure in our backyard and so many people who love it.”
Thanks so much to our expert leaders and the citizen-scientists for participating. Scroll down to read short summaries of each group’s findings and see the map for the corresponding Monument location. Many thanks to the Mindful Birding Award, Rogue Valley Audubon, and Klamath Bird Observatory for their generous donations and volunteer collaboration for this year’s BioBlitz! We are excited for many more to come.
Summary of 2018 BioBlitz, by site location and leader:
GRIZZLY PEAK: Sooney Viani and her group surveyed Shale City Road, Grizzly Peak, and Willow-Witt Ranch areas, which encompass the newly-added northern reaches of the Monument. The morning was cold with low clouds while the group ascended Shale City Rd, but the bright colors of a Lazuli Bunting and two Western Tanagers soon warmed them up. The group observed 34 species throughout the day, including Mountain Quails and a Pacific-slope Flycatcher calling through the drip, drip of the foggy forest. A special highlight was a grand Pileated Woodpecker that swooped by the group, its right wing almost grazing Sooney and Jeff!
HYATT LAKE: Dick Ashford and his small group surveyed Hyatt Lake and Little Hyatt Lake. This team experienced fog and cold throughout the day with a nice stretch of sunshine in the late morning. Overall, they reported 48 species, highlights being a surprise Great Grey Owl and a not-often reported Marsh Wren as well. Water-loving Double-crested Cormorants, Osprey, American Dipper, and a Killdeer with a broken wing display added to the fun.
UPPER JENNY CREEK: Norm Barrett and his group surveyed the upper reaches of Jenny Creek. Their morning started out cold, wet, and miserable until 10am when the sun and birds came out. By the end, they had found 32 species, including MacGillivray’s Warblers, a Rufous Hummingbird, and Warbling Vireo, and Chipping Sparrows.
SURVEYOR RIDGE: Michael Parker, joined by Bob Hunter, surveyed Surveyor Ridge, an important high-elevation site in the Monument. Due to its easterly location (the only area of the Monument in Klamath county), the group seemed to avoid the pervasive clouds that other groups experienced. They had 32 species, including two Rock Wrens on one of the site’s characteristic large rock outcroppings. They also had a Williamson's sapsucker, Hermit and Yellow-rumped Warblers, a lone Fox Sparrow and a very vocal sandhill crane. The highlight of the morning, however, came on the drive to the site when a Northern Goshawk crossed in front of the caravan- the delight of everyone!
EMIGRANT CREEK ROAD: Ellie Armstrong and Shannon Rio’s group surveyed Upper Emigrant Creek Road, the lower-elevation reaches of the newly expanded Monument. They had an especially great group, say the leaders, and everyone was fun! They ended the day with 42 species.
CORRAL AREA: Vince Zauskey and his group surveyed the Corral Area off Hwy 99. This team of five started by ascended to the Mt. Ashland turnoff inside a cloud with only 100 feet of visibility! Most of their survey was done above the Corral parking lot, and highlights included two Evening Grosbeaks, four Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and a Wrentit. However, they were surprised that they did not see any chickadee species or any woodpeckers except a Red-shafted Flicker. Vince’s group ended up seeing 36 species by the end of the day.
PIILOT ROCK: Frank Lospalluto’s group surveyed the Pilot Rock area, and were birding in a cold, wet cloud all day. They found 30 species by day’s end.
AGATE FLAT: Romain Cooper and his group surveyed the Agate Flat area, which is in the southern part of the Monument near the California border. They were lucky to have a generally sunny day of birding despite beginning the day by fording Jenny Creek on a bitterly chilly morning. Out of the 50 species observed, one unexpected bird was a Prairie Falcon. The group also noticed that Warbler flocks (including Townsends) indicated migration is still on-going across the border.
SODA MOUNTAIN: Pepper Trail and his group surveyed Hobart Bluff, including parts of the Soda Mountain Wilderness. This intrepid group kindly did not make any remarks to their leader about the 5:30 start time on a cold and soggy morning. They slogged along the muddy PCT picking up a total of 31 species throughout the day, buoyed by coffee and pie at the Green Springs Inn, of course. Good sights included a Green-tailed Towhee, Townsend's Solitaire, Wilson's Warbler, Lincoln's Sparrow, and Pine Siskins, as well as rain-spangled wildflowers.
LOWER JENNY CREEK: John Bullock and his group surveyed the lower reaches of Jenny Creek at Box O Ranch. Despite a foggy morning, by the time they had arrived at the trailhead for the Box O Ranch, there were only a few scattered clouds scudding across the sky, driven by a cold wind. This enthusiastic group of ten split into two: one group crossing the creek to survey, while the other heading north along the ditch road. This group found 51 species, including many highlights: 26 Lazuli Buntings (!), two Sandhill Cranes, and a Cedar Waxwing hiding among the willows.
HORSESHOE RANCH WILDLIFE AREA: Joey Russell’s group surveyed Horseshoe Ranch, also a new site in the expanded Monument and the only site occurring in California. They located 39 species including Acorn Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, a Willow Flycatcher, a Hutton’s Vireo, a Black-throated Gray Warbler, and an unidentified hummingbird. It was a wonderful day, especially on our way back down Scotch Creek, says Joey, rather cold and windy in the morning with lots of mud sticking to our shoes!