Rabbit Valley CO should be named Lark Sparrow Valley CO

Birding Rabbit Valley was exciting in a different way than the previous Western Colorado habitats. I had never birded a strictly semi-arid environment so the birding would be different than the other days.

I left the motel at 5AM to be at Rabbit Valley by 5:30, a 25 minute drive almost to the Utah border, to listen for Common Poorwill and Common Nighthawk.  The area is a typical sagebrush area with sparse pinyon and junipers mixed in with the sagebrush. It was as quiet as previous days so I should have heard either species if they had been calling.  But no luck. The noise from I-70 could easily be heard, making the day a little different from other days with the constant backdrop of semis.  But it felt good being out early.

Rabbit Valley Sunrise
A view to the east from the entrance of Rabbit Valley.
Rabbit Valley Sunrise 2
Right after sunrise, the view to the Southwest. Not many birds calling.

At dawn around the north entrance there wasn’t much happening except Rock Wrens, Lark Sparrows, and Black-throated Sparrows. So I drove several miles along the north boundary road. Nothing. So I decided to tun around and head back.

One of the few birds calling at dawn, a distant Rock Wren. Not on a rock though.

I finally saw a red finch that I hoped might be a Cassin’s Finch. I stopped to check it out and it turned out to be a House Finch and it’s flock.  But the stop proved very productive as I then heard several other birds.  I’m not sure if it was the geographic location, or that the day was finally getting into full swing, or my presence, but the few birds that were there started calling.   So I stayed and birded the area for several hours with good results.

The valley should be called Lark Valley instead of Rabbit Valley. The Lark Sparrows greatly outnumbered the rabbits.
I guess when there are few objects to perch on, you had better share with other species. Black-throated and Lark Sparrows.

The area had more Rock Wren and Black-throated Sparrows plus many more Lark Sparrows.  While watching these species I heard a raucous “caw” down the road.  Took me a minute but it dawned on me that it was Pinyon Jays heading my way.  One of the few birds I really wanted to see on the trip.  So I then proceeded to spend probably an hour chasing them around the dry, arid, sagebrush area.  They would fly from bush to bush, never giving good looks, and never coming out in the open except to fly.  But I did get a few looks and in the chase saw several other species.

This is about as good of looks as I got of Pinyon Jays. Luckily that would change the next day.
A Common Raven came to check out all the noise that the Pinyon Jays were making.

A Gray Vireo started calling from the top of a bush giving good looks.  Then Sagebrush Sparrow, Sage Thrasher, Say’s Phoebe, and an Ash-throated Flycatcher all appeared at one time or another. And the Lark Sparrows were still thick.

Probably my favorite photo from the trip. This Ash-throated Flycatcher was perched nearby while I chased the jays.
Rabbit Valley Landscape
A few from one of the small hills I was going up and over following the Pinyon Jays.
Another Lark Sparrow. I told you they were abundant.
A Western Meadowlark was checking me out as I left the park.

Unlike the previous days I wasn’t at altitude and the day started to warm up quickly. And there was no wind.  Hindsight says I should have walked to Rabbit Canyon and spent the day birding in the shade of the canyon. But it would have been a good walk in the hot sun to get to the canyon since it wasn’t accessible by car, 4WD only.

Rabbit Valley Rough Road
Here is a typical route back to Rabbit Valley. I don’t think the rental car would traverse it very well.

So I headed across to the Interstate to Brewster Ridge were Scott’s Orioles sometimes nest.

Rabbit Valley Sparse Vegetation
This is the view from Rabbit Valley looking up at Brewster’s Ridge to the Northwest. You can see the road cut into the side of the hill on the right side of the photo.

The day was not “officially” hot and there wasn’t anything on Brewster’s Ridge except Black-throated Sparrows.  I got out and walked for a half hour and didn’t hear anything else.

Brester's Ridge
Now on top of Brewster’s Ridge. Not much here…
Brester's Ridge 2
If the reports of Scott’s Orioles nesting in these Junipers were true, which I doubted at the time, they would have to wait until another time.

I then stopped by a local lake that might have birds.  Nothing there. And lastly went by a local wetland that had Prairie Dogs.

Prairie Dog
This guy really didn’t like me be there. He “barked” the whole time I was around.

I then called it an early day at 2PM to go back and catch up on my notes.

ABA #400 – Birding Southern California in November

Even though the migrants had moved on and I knew the number of species present wouldn’t be large, my new position at work gave me a chance to bird the San Diego area for two days in November.

I reached out to San Diego blogger Greg Gillson for the best spot to see some of the western birds I haven’t seen. Resident birds like Black and Say’s Phoebe’s, California Towhee, Cassin’s Kingbird, Nuttall’s and Acorn Woodpecker. Since I was sitting at 397 species on the ABA (American Birding Association) list, seeing just a few of these birds would put me over 400.  Greg replied that Mission Trails Regional Park would be a choice in November.  And he was correct.

I decided to go to Mission Trails the first day for traffic reasons and work the coast the second day.  I didn’t even get out of the motel parking lot when I heard and then saw a Black Phoebe calling.  ABA #398.

Really bad photo in early morning light. Black Phoebe – San Diego 11/21/14

I eventually got moving towards the park after seeing a Western Gull, and numerous Anna’s Hummingbirds and Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The gull had been eating from a McDonald’s bag, but I decided not to take that photo. Western Gull – San Diego 11/21/14
Anna’s Hummingbirds were all around the motel parking lot. San Diego – 11/21/14


Odd seeing the yellow throat. The most numerous species on the day. Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler – San Diego 11/21/14

Once reaching Mission Trails I had the same problem as the motel, getting out of the parking lot. There were lots of birds flying and calling and I since I wasn’t sure if there would be more down the road, I stayed put in the parking lot.  Lesser Goldfinches were in good numbers.

I lightened the photo to show the distinctive dark cap. Lesser Goldfinch – Mission Trails 11/17/14

A Western Scrub-Jay flew in.  More Anna Hummingbirds.  Then two Nuttell’s Woodpeckers called and flew into a distant tree,  ABA #399. I watched them for some time but they never came closer.  Interesting on the barred back versus the stripped of the Downy Woodpecker.

Finally crossing over to the campground parking lot there was a Lark Sparrow that puzzled me for a minute.  Guess I had missed it when studying up on the status and distribution.

Lark Sparrow – Mission Hills, San Diego 11/17/14

Then a House Wrens flew in along with Bushtits.

Secretive House Sparrow popped out for a moment. Mission Hills, San Diego 11/17/14


I saw several flocks of Bushtits on the day. Wish we had them back east… Mission Hills, San Diego 11/17/14

Then a bird I initially thought from its flight was a Jay, flew by and out to an open field.  It perched on a distant pole but sat and gave a good, if distant view.  Cassin’s Kingbird – ABA #400. (For the record #300 was a Baird’s Sandpiper in Illinois on 8/21/10).

By the time I got done looking at the bird through my binocs, a second one flew in on another pole. Cassin’s Kingbird – Mission Hills – San Diego – 11/21/14

I will post about the rest of the trip at a later date.

So on to #500.  I am guessing the time gap between 400 and 500 will be a lot shorter than the gap between 300 and 400 and will come in Arizona.