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Kern River Valley Spring Arrival Dates & Birding Notes

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(March-May)

Edited version of Bob Barnes excellent notes.


Range of First of Spring Arrival Dates for select Kern River Valley species (from seven-years of records)

Great Egret - 28 Feb-30 Mar

Swainson's Hawk - 1 Apr

Yellow-billed Cuckoo - 22 May-9 Jun

Vaux's Swift - 14 Apr

Black-chinned Hummingbird - 19 Mar-16 Apr

Anna's Hummingbird - resident

Costa's Hummingbird - 1-11 Mar

Rufous Hummingbird - 19 Feb-23 Mar

Willow Flycatcher - 12-16 May

Dusky Flycatcher - 10-20 Apr

Gray Flycatcher - 8-19 Apr

Vermilion Flycatcher - 3 Apr

Ash-throated Flycatcher - 10-17 Apr

Brown-crested Flycatcher - 11 May

Cassin's Kingbird - 30 Mar-16 Apr

Western Kingbird - 16-26 Mar

Cassin's Vireo - 8-10 Apr

Warbling Vireo - 6-18 Apr

Tree Swallow - 24 Jan - 1 Mar

House Wren - 18-27 Mar

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 9 Apr

Townsend's Solitaire - 31 Mar

Orange-crowned Warbler - 23 Mar - 17 Apr

Nashville Warbler - 12-17 Apr

Yellow Warbler - 30 Mar - 15 Apr

Black-throated Gray Warbler - 2 -17 Apr

Hermit Warbler - 12-20 Apr

Common Yellowthroat - 23 Mar - 3 Apr

Wilson's Warbler - 31 Mar - 17 Apr

Summer Tanager - 26 Apr - 4 May

Western Tanager - 18 Apr

Green-tailed Towhee - 17 Apr

Chipping Sparrow - 15 Apr

Brewer's Sparrow - 30 Mar - 15 Apr

Black-headed Grosbeak - 6-13 Apr

Blue Grosbeak - 15-21 Apr

Lazuli Bunting - 10-19 Apr

Indigo Bunting - 17-30 May

Brown-headed Cowbird - 25 Mar

Hooded Oriole - 10 Mar - 3 Apr

Bullock's Oriole - 19-28 Mar

Scott's Oriole - 17-24 Feb-24

Lawrence's Goldfinch - 24 Feb - 24 Mar


Birding is best in the early morning. If you are going to cut your birding day short, it is highly recommended that you do so at the end of your birding day rather than at the beginning. The most successful birding in the Kern River Valley and vicinity requires an early start (30-45 minutes before sunrise). Spend the mornings in the valley and desert areas and the afternoons in the mountains. If you are able to spend several days birding this area, try to visit the mountains before noon for the best bird experience (in the afternoon on a summer's day find many species of butterflies).


ACCESS FOR THE LESS ABLED:

Universal access varies depending on time of year. Feeders at the Kern River Preserve may be viewed from vehicles displaying handicapped placards in the handicapped parking area, all others should park in the parking lot and sit at the picnic tables for ease of viewing feeder birds. Canebrake Ecological Reserve has a wheelchair accessible trail but the gate to the parking area requires an able bodied person to open. There are many pullouts and vehicle access points all the way around Isabella Reservoir and most of the campgrounds around the lake have paved interior roads that wheelchairs can move easily on. Tillie Creek Campground is an amazing birding area and except on busy holiday weekends has many closed roads that provide a leisurely birding experience. The Trail of 100 Giants is wheelchair accessible. The road leading to the trail is open after snow season between May 1st and Memorial Day Weekend each year.


SOME GOOD LOCATIONS FOR SELECT SPECIES OF HIGH INTEREST:

Greenhorn Summit area: White-headed Woodpecker, Townsend's Solitaire.

Kern River below Isabella main dam off Hwy. 155 from Main Dam Campground to Bureau of Land Management Slippery Rock river rafting access areas on north and south side of the river on the west side of Hwy. 155: American Dipper (up to six individuals).

Kern River Preserve Headquarters: California Quail, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, Spotted Towhee, Tricolored Blackbird, Lawrence's Goldfinch.

Tillie Creek Campground: California Quail, Acorn Woodpecker, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Western Scrub-Jay, Oak Titmouse, Spotted Towhee.


BIRDING STRATEGIES - MORNINGS/HALF-DAY, FULL DAY, and MULTI-DAY TRIPS:

Kern River Preserve Headquarters, Half-Day (All Spring) - 1. Arrive before sunrise at Headquarters. 2. Check out the birds in and around the yard for several minutes. Bird for 30-90 minutes west along the Farm Road trail leading from the southwest corner of the parking lot. Look for Lawrence's Goldfinch on the fiddleneck (wildflower) and Summer Tanager in the planted trees in the overflow parking area. Listen and look for Willow Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Northern Flicker, and Red-shouldered Hawk in the forest to the left as you walk west. 3. Return to Headquarters for a birding break of 15-30 minutes in the yard. 4. Bird the Nature Trail for one to two hours. 5. Return to Headquarters for a birding break of 15-30 minutes in the yard. 6. Bird the entrance driveway out to the open pastures, look for Tree Swallows, and Western Bluebirds in the bird boxes. 7. Return to Headquarters for lunch. Target Birds: Yellow-billed Cuckoo (after mid-June), Nuttall's Woodpecker, Willow Flycatcher (after mid-May), Western Bluebird, Yellow-breasted Chat (after late April), Summer Tanager (after late April), Blue Grosbeak (after late April), Lazuli Bunting (after late April), Indigo Bunting (after mid-May), Kern Red-winged Blackbird, Tricolored Blackbird, Bullock's Oriole (after late March), Lesser Goldfinch, Lawrence's Goldfinch (after late March)...

Migrant Corner unimproved trail (Kern River Preserve), Half-Day (April-May w. peak 20 April-20 May) - The Migrant Corner Trail starts 100' north of the northeast corner of the Sierra Way Bridge over the South Fork Kern River. The bridge is located 1.2 miles north of Hwy. 178 in Weldon. Park well off the road on either side of the road. Be very careful of traffic, local residents use this as a highway between Weldon and Kernville and drive highway speeds.

Arrive before sunrise. Spend a short time checking both sides of the bridge and check the tree tops, hillside, and overhead for signs of migrants heading northwest.

Start east along the unimproved trail for about 225 feet and take switchback up the hill to treetop level. Keep checking for evidence of migration. About 300 feet farther along, the trail will pass by some large boulders. On a good morning this is a prime spot to watch the tree tops for spring migrants. Another 600 feet down the trail find a fence with a pedestrian pass through. In another 500 feet find a large combination wet meadow, dry meadow, and desert scrub area. 

A morning of careful birding can yield 50-100 species depending upon weather, amount of water present, and level of birding skills.

Bird species encountered fairly often to very often in 2-6 hours spent birding along this Migrant Corner route 25 April-15 May include: Wood Duck*, Prairie Falcon*, California Quail*, Virginia Rail*, Sora*, Solitary Sandpiper (late April in wet years), Common Snipe*, Greater Roadrunner*, Barn Owl*, Great Horned Owl*, Long-eared Owl* (at night), Black Swift (keep looking!), Vaux's Swift (into the thousands), White-throated Swift*, Black-chinned Hummingbird*, Anna's Hummingbird*, four woodpecker species* including Nuttall's*, eleven flycatcher species including Olive-sided, 5 Empidonax, Ash-throated*, & Brown-crested*, Cassin's Vireo, six swallow species including Violet-green, Oak Titmouse*, Bushtit*, Rock Wren*, Canyon Wren*, Western Bluebird*,  Swainson's Thrush, eleven warbler species including Black-throated Gray, Townsend's, Hermit, MacGillivray's, & Yellow-breasted Chat*, Summer Tanager*, Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, Spotted Towhee*, California Towhee*, twelve sparrow species including Rufous-crowned* (hillside), Brewer's* (desert scrub), Lark*, Black-throated* (desert scrub), and Savannah* (nevadensis subspecies), Black-headed Grosbeak*, Blue Grosbeak*, Lazuli Bunting*. Red-winged Blackbird* (Kern subspecies), Tricolored Blackbird*, Western Meadowlark*, Bullock's Oriole*, Lesser Goldfinch*, and Lawrence's Goldfinch* (very reliable). * - nesting species.

If a migration phenomenon is encountered it can be truly awesome. As many as 5000 Vaux's Swifts, 1200 Western Tanagers, 900 Black-headed Grosbeaks, 500 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 200 Swainson's Thrushes, and 100+ Western Kingbirds, and 100+ Lazuli Buntings have been tallied over a single point in a single late April through mid-May morning! In any case, species diversity is all but guaranteed to be good to excellent.

Migrant Corner Trail is usually not birded after spring migration slows as it gets to be quite hot and less interesting as May ends and June begins. However, since birds make their way to the north edge of the forest here before launching for flights further north, this area is often checked by careful birders in mid or even late June for late migrants and eastern vagrant species. Formal field trips might best avoid birding this area after late May unless a rarity has been reported. Among the "rare" to "casual" "eastern" species encountered in the past along the Migrant Corner Trail and north forest edge from late May through June are: Least Flycatcher (multiple day stays), White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo* (nesting some years), Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Baltimore Oriole.

Kern Plateau Full Day - 1. Lower Chimney Peak Road (year round) 2. Chimney Creek Campground (after mid-May)  3. 5000'-6000' Kennedy Meadows Road (after mid-May) 4. 7000' Troy Meadow Campground (after Memorial Day and not on weekends) 5. 8000' Black Rock Ranger Station (after Memorial Day) 6. 9400' Bald Mountain Lookout (when the snow clears)...Target Birds: 1. Cactus Wren, Black-throated Sparrow, Scott's Oriole 2. Plumbeous Vireo 3. Pinyon Jay  4. Williamson's Sapsucker, Clark's Nutcracker, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, Red Crossbill 5. Calliope Hummingbird, Green-tailed Towhee 6. Sooty Grouse, Clark's Nutcracker.

Canebrake Ecological Reserve is a great birding spot owned and managed by the California Dept. of Fish & Game.

Spring Birding Notes    Summer Birding Notes    Fall Birding Notes    Winter Birding Notes

KRV birding guide...Bob Barnes local area guide to bird locations and seasons.

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