Kestrel's Musings

Rambles and explorations from this perspective.

Carrizo Plain Spring Break


“Where the heck are we?” was the sentiment expressed a few times during our visit. Not out of a sense of being lost but rather disbelief that a place so remote and with such a sense of the wild west could be in the realm of California’s great Central Valley. We have spent spring break in Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Anza-Borrego, and the Mojave. This is none of those places yet it hints at some of them with Soda Lake, parched hills, wide open spaces, and lots of wildlife.


Over four days and three nights we observed 20 species of birds from our campsite area and 6 other species while exploring the plain and Caliente Mountains. A highlight was a Great-horned Owl nest right in camp. We had great views of the female with an occasional chick sighting as it would pop its white fuzz ball head up next to Mom. On the last evening some other campers had a bright flashlight aimed as the owls began to stir. I was able to observe the male fly into the nest tree and then back out moments later. Throughout the nights they would hoot for periods of time. One image below is of the spectrogram I took at about 5:30 one morning. Carrizo Plain National Monument is home to more threatened and endangered vertebrate species than any where else in California. As the website says, “Carrizo Plain National Monument is one of the best kept secrets in California.”

And of course, the El Nino winter drew me back, after having been for one night two years ago, to look for wildflowers. The wonderful Theodore Payne Wildflower Hotline was correct when they urged visitors to get out of the car. From the road it may seem that some blooms are fading but spend a few days exploring the various biomes and you will find awe inspiring moments. California Jewel Flower, Recurved Larkspur, Desert Blazing Star, Goldfields forever, peas, mustards, lupines, Phaceilias, and so on… We oohed and awed all over the place.

Finally, the history of this place intrigued kids and adults alike. Ranching in these remote western enclaves was undertaken back when folks pioneered with their imagination and hope. And when there was more water than these days. We made some of our own memories too. I am thankful that my dear friends said yes when I invited them to come explore. These times with our children fill us with recollections of when we were carefree, full of imagination and wonder. Corva turned 6 on this trip. We love her. We love each other. We are thankful for Carrizo Plain and these lasting memories.


 A special shout out to Jen, Brian and Evan who called us before we headed out to the Carrizo Plain. Having just spent Easter weekend there they wanted us to know how awesome it was, and we are glad they steered us towards “Casey Owl” campground (KCL Campground). We loved it.

Our Bird List (The first 20 species were observed in and around KCL Campground 29 March- 1 April. The last 6 were observed while we were out at Traver Ranch, Soda Lake and in the Caliente Mountains.):

  1. Western Kingbird
  2. White-crowned Sparrow
  3. California Towhee
  4. Bullock’s Oriole
  5. Great-horned Owl
  6. Brewer’s Blackbird
  7. Lark Sparrow
  8. House Finch
  9. Say’s Phoebe
  10. Common Raven
  11. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  12. Mourning Dove
  13. Western Meadowlark
  14. California Quail
  15. Northern Mockingbird
  16. Red-tailed Hawk
  17. European House Sparrow
  18. European Starling
  19. Black Phoebe
  20. Cooper’s Hawk
  21. Prairie Falcon
  22. Phainopepla
  23. American Pipit
  24. Horned Lark
  25. Sage Sparrow
  26. Loggerhead Shrike


Morning Garden Soundscapes

1. Bewick’s Wren. 

2. Bewick’s Wren flanked by Robin and Spotted Towhee with some Collard Dove at the end. There is a splash of White-breasted Nuthatch in there too.

3. House Wren with cow at the beginning and Acorn Woodpecker along with. 

I just heard my first Yellow-rumped Warbler singing as I write. Spring is on.

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Trabucco Ranch


Len McKenzie and I lead a bird walk for Sierra Foothill Conservancy at the Trabucco Ranch easement. We observed 28 species of birds and a bazillion wildflowers. A FOS (first of season) Orange-crowned Warbler singing was a highlight along with Lark Sparrows singing and a male Phainopepla perched for all to see. A pair of Cooper’s Hawks soaring over head was also pretty awesome.

Butter and Eggs, Blue Dicks, and Caterpillar Plant were just some of the fun common names bantered around. Apiaceae, Brassicaceae, and Boraginaceae were some of the scientific ones.

Trabucco Ranch is located in Bear Valley in the heart of the Central California Foothills. There is a long history to this place that is situated along historic routes to Yosemite.  Currently this property is under a conservation easement and plots are for sale.

Our complete list of bird sightings:

  1. Bewick’s Wren
  2. Oak Titmouse
  3. House Finch
  4. Stellar’s jay
  5. Northern Flicker
  6. Western Scrub-Jay
  7. American Robin
  8. Phainopepla
  9. Oregon Dark-eyed Junco
  10. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  11. Lark Sparrow
  12. Western Bluebird
  13. Golden-crowned Sparrow
  14. California Quail
  15. Bushtit
  16. Nuttal’s Woodpecker
  17. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  18. Turkey Vulture
  19. Spotted Towhee
  20. Orange-crowded Warbler
  21. Cooper’s Hawk
  22. California Towhee
  23. AcornWoodpecker
  24. Red-winged Blackbird
  25. Red-tailed Hawk
  26. Common Raven
  27. Black Phoebe
  28. House Wren