Saturday, March 7, 2009
On our recent trip to Northern California, we found ourselves at Clear Lake State Park on a drizzly afternoon. Clear Lake, in wine country north of the Bay Area, is the largest lake in California (Lake Tahoe is of course partly in Nevada, which allows Clear Lake to claim this title). The area looks quite European with surrounding mountains and plenty of orchards and vineyards, and there are lakeside towns named Nice and Lucerne, reflecting the origins of the Europeans who settled here.
Almost as soon as we entered the gates of the state park we encountered a large flock of wild turkeys crossing the road in front of us.
We counted 34 in this flock, which was crossing again in the other direction a few minutes later when we came back to the gate to pay our entry fee in the "honor system" box.
Around the next bend we saw several acorn woodpeckers in a grove of old oaks, but I was not able to get a good photo. These are the woodpeckers that chip away little alcoves in the bark of a designated "granary" tree and then neatly hammer acorns into them for storage; if you happen to have seen David Attenborough's "The Life of Birds," you will probably remember the wonderful footage of these birds in action. We also saw a handsome black-tailed deer on the hill by the side of the road.
Soon we parked at the edge of the lake, where we spotted three common mergansers swimming very close to shore. I like the shot below of the mergansers swimming past a lone male mallard.
The digiscoped photo below catches one of the mergansers back on land around a bit of a bend. My resident bird expert had never seen mergansers on land before, and I haven't seen many mergansers at all, so we enjoyed the view of these handsome diving ducks with their long bills and shaggy crests.
As we crossed a small bridge over a creek that flowed into the lake, we saw a group of what would become one of the signature birds of this trip, as we saw so many: the ruddy duck. This small diving duck is most easily recognizable by its stiff tail often held upright, white cheeks, and large flat bill that is blue during breeding season.
Below is a close-up of the bird at the left rear in the photo above - the only one holding its tail upright in proper ruddy-duck fashion.
We only spent an hour or two at this park before it started to get dark and we needed to head out to find a place to stay; the next day we headed to other locations on the lake and then back to the coast. It was a great start to our week of California bird-watching.