USA California - Yuba Pass & Sierra Valley, June 27 -30, 2010

Published by Denise & David Hamilton (napabirders AT

Participants: Denise Hamilton, David Hamilton



Denise & David Hamilton, Napa, CA, drove up to Yuba Pass, on the afternoon on June 27, and spent the next 3 days birding the Pass area and Sierra Valley. An excellent map of the area and directions can be found at: We also used some directions from the old Birding Northern California book by Jean Richmond, published in 1987 by the Mt. Diablo Audubon Society.

June 27 - Yuba Pass area: We spent our first night at Bassett’s Station (, which is known for their hummingbird feeders. We aren’t sure if it was because of the late spring, but hummers were few. But there were a few male Calliopes, a target hummer, plus an Anna’s.

Around 7:00 pm, we headed south on Hwy 49, for approximately 3 miles to the turnoff to Wild Plum Campground. Once past the homes, we birded the road to the campground picking up Black-headed Grosbeaks, Cassin’s and Warbling Vireos, Western Tanagers, and others. We stopped at the bridge crossing the creek at the entrance to the campground, and found the previously-reported Dipper. We did not spend a whole lot of time here, but we think it would be quite birdy.

On the way back, we took a quick drive over to Sardine Lake, (from Bassett’s Station take Gold Lake Hwy (County Rd S620) to Packer Lake Road to Sardine Lake Road) for a quick look at the lake. In the few minutes we were there, we saw Fox Sparrow, White-headed Woodpecker. We did not have the time for any birding this time, but this area can be good.

We then headed back to Hwy 49 and east over Yuba Pass and down the road to the Scenic View. The trees are growing up, so the view isn’t that great. But we had read reports of Common Nighthawks and Common Poorwills calling around 9:00 pm, and right before 9, we heard both in the distance.

June 28: In the early AM, we headed from Bassett’s Station toward the Yuba Pass summit. We find it quite useful to stop for a few minutes at wide turnoffs along Hwy 49 and do some birding. We’ve picked up Townsend’s Solitaire, MacGillivray’s Warbler and others. Today, Mt. Quail were heard all along the road, and one put in a brief appearance right next to the road. One mile past Bassett’s Station is the San Francisco State University Sierra Nevada Field Station - ( ) where birders are welcome. We had two Hermit Warblers in the parking lot.

We stopped once again at Yuba Pass, where in the Sno-Park parking lot were nesting White-headed Woodpeckers and Red-breasted Sapsuckers. One lone female Cassin’s Finch and Pine Siskins were along the highway. We crossed the highway and walked up the forest road a few hundred yards, but it was pretty quite. So we got back in our car and drove past the campground up Forest Rd. 12, Yuba Pass Rd (the road is gravel and was in excellent shape for driving.) We drove slowly, stopping to walk the road when we heard or saw birds. We had Evening Grosbeak; Olive-sided, Hammond’s and Dusky Flycatchers; Nashville, MacGillivray’s, and Wilson’s Warblers; Townsend’s Solitaire; a female Williamson’s Sapsucker; Cassin’s Finch; and a BEAR! Again, we heard Mt. Quail all over, but did not see any. We drove on until we reached a spot where snow was completely across the road, so turned around there and headed back to the campground to eat lunch. (We tend to go on our trip during the weekdays, so campgrounds are fairly empty.) In the campground were Golden-crowned Kinglets, Mt. Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches.

By now it was late afternoon, so we headed off toward Sierra Valley. At Hwy 89, we turned North toward Calpine. About 1 ½ miles past the intersection of 49 & 89, on Hwy 89 is a large parking area on the left hand side of the road, marked with a sign for Mountain Quail Road: It is a short road, with a mix of Great Basin Sage and Jeffrey Pine, that could easily be walked. Since it was in the afternoon, and quite warm, we drove the road. It was pretty quiet, but we did see our first Green-tailed Towhee of the trip. (Birds that could be possibly be seen: Common Nighthawk, Gray Flycatcher, Black-billed Magpie, and Spotted and Green-tailed Towhees.)

Sierra Valley: We stay at Sleepy Pines Motel, in Portola. Phone: 530-832-4291 Nothing fancy, but comfortable and clean. The nice folks who own the place have bird houses all over – full of nesting Tree Swallows.

Since it was quite warm outside, we had dinner and then drove to the Maddalena Ranch, Feather River Land Trust (south on A24 from Hwy 70, crossing 2 train tracks, you will see what look like a cattle loading area on the right/west side of the road. Park in the lot, and then enter the gates and head down to the observation “wagon.”) From here you can scan the surrounding wetlands and really see a long distance - a scope comes in handy. In flight were MANY flocks of White-faced Ibis, vocal Willets, and a lone Northern Harrier. We saw the Common Moorhen, previously observed. Had great close-up views of Sage Thrashers, Vesper and Brewer’s Sparrow while walking out on the path. We were out here around 7:30 pm and the sun was still rather high - morning light may be better. Wetland viewing was limited (the reeds are quite grown in), so we just kept rescanning the areas where we could see open water.

We drove over to Marble Hot Springs Road and parked up on the metal bridge. Cliff Swallows are numerous, along with Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Marsh Wrens, Pied-billed Grebes and Coots feeding young; while an American Bittern sang. In the open water near the bridge, there were lovely male Ruddy Ducks in breeding plumage, Redheads, Gadwall, Mallard, & Cinnamon Teal. We stayed out there while the sun set, watching hundreds of White-faced Ibis flying overhead. On the drive back to our motel, we were happy to see a hunting Short-eared Owl over the fields along Hwy 23.

June 29: Out by 6:30 am, heading to Red Rock Rd: It is a bit out of the valley (take 70 to 395 going north from Hallelujah Junction ~ 10 mi. to Red Rock Rd.) Stop along the first couple of miles – many tracks go off to the left and right of the road; just pull off and drive or walk. Highlights: Gray Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Black-billed Magpies, Barn Owl, Green-tailed Towhee, Western Kingbird, and a pair of Cooper’s Hawks. The hawks were nesting there last year and were very vocal. We did not see them this year until all of a sudden one started to call. We looked up just in time to see the bird swoop directly at us - we ducked!! - and moved away quickly. Just a bit into Nevada, the rocky outcroppings on both sides of the road had Rock Wrens. Last year we saw Ash-throated Flycatchers here. Be sure to check out the beautiful rocks.

We returned to Hwy 70, to Chilcoot, taking 284 to Frenchman Lake: The lovely canyon road to the lake has some nice riparian areas - stop where you are able to scan and listen. We found Yellow Warblers, Brown Creeper, Red-breasted Sapsucker, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Violet-green Swallows, Rufous Hummingbird, and nesting Cliff Swallows and Rock Pigeons. A Rock Wren was found at the entrance road around the lake. Heading around the lake to the left, there is the Cottonwood Family and Group Campground. Since we were here on a weekday (last year, also) there is hardly a soul around - It would be a lovely place to camp. Both years in Loop C, we’ve had great looks at Williamson’s Sapsuckers. Other birds: Northern Flickers, Cassin’s Finches, and White-breasted & Pygmy Nuthatches, and the usual suspects. As you continue along the long, dusty road around the lake, Green-tailed Towhees are everywhere. (Last year, Brewer’s Sparrows were ALL over; this year none.) There was also a pair of Mt. Bluebirds. White Pelicans, Caspian Terns, Western Grebes, gulls and a few ducks were on the lake.

In the late afternoon, we drove back to Sierra Valley to Heriot Lane. There we found Wilson’s Phalaropes, Black-crowned Night Heron, Willets, American Avocets, & a Great Blue Heron. Marble Hot Springs Rd. had the birds previously posted. We headed back to Portola for showers and some rest.

After debating whether or not to just return to our room after dinner, we instead drove over to Lake Davis, 7 miles north out of Portola. We followed the Brown Binocular Signs to a parking lot. There we saw a White-headed Woodpecker and a pair of nesting Mountain Bluebirds (along the lake edge, looking to the left, are some large dead tree trunks lying down. Bluebirds nesting in a hole on the HUGE stump.) There were Double –crested Cormorants, White Pelicans, Western Grebes & Gadwall on the lake. A Spotted Sandpiper worked the shoreline. While the sun was setting, Ring-billed (and California ?) Gulls filled a small island on the lake. While we were driving away, Common Nighthawks were overhead.

June 30: We were up early and returned to Marble Hot Springs Road and Heriot Lane. It is beautiful out there first thing in the morning. The previous birds mentioned were still around, and also picked up a pair of Northern Pintails, a Clark’s Grebe, and winnowing Wilson’s Snipe overhead. A Peregrine or Prairie Falcon swooped past, but too quickly for us to be able to ID it.

We drove down to Hwy 49, driving east to Loyalton to the Rotary picnic area: southeast of Loyalton on Smithneck Rd. (outside of Sierra Brooks - go through the "town" a ways; the picnic grounds are obvious on the right.) On the power poles across the road were Lewis’s Woodpeckers; Other birds: Bullock’s Oriole, Lazuli Bunting, Black-billed Magpie, W. Scrub Jay, and Green-tailed Towhee.

We then drove back up Smithneck Rd to Antelope Valley Road (near or in Sierra Brooks.) This was the first time we were ever on this road. We’d suggest driving only the first 3 - 4 miles. (Drivable in a car - a bit rutted. After the 3-4 miles, a low car would not do well - there were some pretty deep ruts and the birds were few and far between. However, there is a reservoir on the other end of the road, which may have something worthwhile another time of year. That could be reached easier off of Hwy 49 out of Loyalton.)

Again, we drove slowly, listening and stopping. Highlights: more BB Magpie, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Black-headed Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch, Fox Sparrow, and a roosting Common Nighthawk, and more of the expected species.

Since we had missed Western Bluebirds so far, we tried one last spot that we had read about for them. Take Hwy 49 to Sierraville, and turn south on Hwy 89. Driving down 89, the first road you come to on the right (has a sign for Rodeo Grounds), turn there. Drive slowly the short distance to Cemetery Rd. On the power lines we found the Western Bluebirds, and this is also another spot for Black-billed Magpies. We walked around the cemetery some for reported Great Horned Owl, but did not see any. We returned to Hwy 89 to head for home.

Species Lists

Total species seen: 123

(Where found: Many locations - *; Antelope Valley Rd. – AV; Frenchman Lake Rd, Lake & Campground – FL; Lake Davis – LD; Red Rock Canyon – RR; Rotary Park – RP; Sierra Valley – SV; Sierraville Cemetery area – SC; Wild Plum Campground – WP; Yuba Pass area – YP)

Pied-billed Grebe - SV
Western Grebe - FL, LD
Clark’s Grebe - SV
Am. White Pelican - FL, LD
Double-crested Cormorant - LD
Am. Bittern - SV
Great Blue Heron - SV
Black-crowned Night Heron - SV
White-faced Ibis - SV
Canada Goose *
Wood Duck - SV
Mallard *
No. Pintail - SV
Cinnamon Teal - SV
No. Shoveler - SV
Gadwall - SV
Redhead - SV
Ruddy Duck - SV
Turkey Vulture *
Osprey - FL, LD, SV
No. Harrier - SV
Cooper’s Hawk - RR
Red-tailed Hawk - SV
Am. Kestrel - AV, RP,RR
California Quail - AV, SV
Mountain Quail - YP
Sora (heard) - SV
Common Moorhen - SV
Am. Coot *
Sandhill Crane - SV
Killdeer - SV
Am. Avocet - AV
Willet - SV
Spotted Sandpiper - LD
Wilson’s Snipe - SV
Wilson’s Phalarope - SV
Ring-billed Gull - FL, LD
California Gull - FL, LD
Caspian Tern - FL
Rock Pigeon - FL
Mourning Dove - AV, RP, RR
Barn Owl - RR
Short-eared Owl - SV
Common Nighthawk - AV, LD, YP
Common Poorwill (heard) - YP
Anna’s Hummingbird - YP
Calliope Hummingbird - YP
Rufous Hummingbird - FL, RR
Lewis’s Woodpecker - AV, RP
Red-breasted Sapsucker - AV, FL, WP, YP
Williamson’s Sapsucker - FL,YP
Downy Woodpecker - YP
Hairy Woodpecker - AV
White-headed Woodpecker - FL, LD, YP
No. Flicker - AV, FL, RP, YP
Olive-sided Flycatcher - YP
Western Wood-Pewee *
Hammond’s Flycatcher - YP
Dusky Flycatcher - YP
Gray Flycatcher - RR
Western Kingbird - RR, SV
Horned Lark - SV
Tree Swallow *
Violet-green Swallow - FL
Cliff Swallow *
Barn Swallow *
Steller’s Jay *
Western Scrub-Jay - AV, RP
Black-billed Magpie - AV, RP, SC, SV
Am. Crow *
Common Raven *
Mountain Chickadee - AV, FL, RP, YP
Bushtit - RR
Red-breasted Nuthatch - FL, YP
White-breasted Nuthatch - FL
Brown Creeper - FL
Rock Wren - FL, RR
Bewick’s Wren - AV, FL, RR
House Wren - AV, FL
Marsh Wren - SV
Am. Dipper - WP
Golden-crowned Kinglet - YP
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - RR
Western Bluebird - SC
Mountain Bluebird - FL, LD
Townsend’s Solitaire - YP
Swainson’s Thrush - YP
Hermit Thrush - YP
American Robin *
Sage Thrasher - SV
European Starling *
Cassin’s Vireo - AV, WP, YP
Warbling Vireo *
Nashville Warbler - YP
Yellow Warbler - AV, FL
Yellow-rumped Warbler - FL, LD, YP
Hermit Warbler - YP
MacGillivray’s Warbler - FL, YP
Wilson’s Warbler - YP
Western Tanager - FL, SC, WP,YP
Black-headed Grosbeak - AV, WP,YP
Lazuli Bunting - RP (’09 YP)
Green-tailed Towhee - AV, FL, RP, RR
Spotted Towhee *
Brewer’s Sparrow - SV (’09 FL)
Vesper’s Sparrow - SV
Savannah Sparrow - SV
Fox Sparrow - AV, YP
Song Sparrow *
Dark-eyed Junco *
Red-winged Blackbird *
Western Meadowlark *
Yellow-headed Blackbird - SV
Brewer’s Blackbird *
Brown-headed Cowbird *
Bullock’s Oriole - RP
Cassin’s Finch - AV, FL, YP
House Finch - SV
Pine Siskin - YP (& Sleepy Pines Motel, Portola)
Lesser Goldfinch *
Evening Grosbeak - YP
House Sparrow - SV