Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bonny Summer Trip July 2013 Part 1

After visiting Bonny Wildlife Refuge twice in the winter I decided that it was time to pay a visit in the summer. Ideally we would've gone in late May, but May it a hectic month for everyone with school ending and vacations beginning. We missed migration and the majority of breeding season. We eventually found a date that worked (for the most part) for everybody.

My friends Francis Commercon, Austin Hess, Jordan and of course myself all piled in my mom's CRV at 6:00 AM on the 21st of June ready for two days of birding paradise. We have several gallons of water, and a large 24 of water bottles and several bags and a cooler of food. It felt like we were leaving for a week.

We started out our drive with breakfast in Bennett and continued on out east. It takes about three hours to get to Bonny but we have never made it in that time. Someone is always hungry or someone needs a bathroom. So we ended up stopping once for gas and once for some birding at the famous Last Chance rest stop.

Last chance was extremely disappointing for Jordan, Francis and I. We had only heard of the glorious migrants found in those few trees. We pictured a sprawling rest stop with benches and BBQs, instead we rolled up to a dirt parking lot with a small "pond" that harbored a few Red-winged Blackbirds. Austin, who'd been here earlier in the spring, laughed at the shock on our faces. Birds were few and far between. Perhaps because it was mid July and in combination with the fire that blazed through last summer.
Brown Thrasher
Common Grackle
Mourning Dove
Eurasian Collared Dove
House Sparrow
Western Kingbird
House Finch
Barn Swallow

We continued toward Bonny with only an hour to go the anticipation of Northern Cardinals, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and Bell's Vireos keeping us awake and energized.
Previously on our winter trips we encountered birds like Yellow-shafted Flicker, Eastern Bluebirds and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Bonny is right between the split of eastern and western birds.
During this last hour we all enjoyed a episode of radiolab.

Austin's Photo of Wild Turkeys

When the turn finally came into few we turned onto the dirt road and over the cattle guard. All the windows came down in anticipation of new sounds. Yellow Warblers, Northern Flickers and Warbling Vireos called to us from the tops of trees and Yellow-breasted Chats chattered from deep thickets. When we pulled into our typical starting point a large flock of turkeys scattered into the tall grass clucking and chattering as they went.

Buffalo Gourd
Photo by Austin Hess

Immediately we all jumped out and begin pulling on packs organizing camera lenses and pulling gators up over our shins. The hot sun beat down on us and we trekked out to the right along the forest edge. Follow the sound of House Wrens into the thick willows.

Resting after a long hike through the poison ivy
We spent about ten minutes hiking through the forest before realizing that the area changed drastically from summer to winter. We were hiking through fields of poison ivy as well as waist high thistle. The three of us with gators were extremely grateful that we'd remember to bring them...for that other one though, it was a long rough day. Austin had shorts and tall socks with no gators, but h trudged through everything we did with a little less enthusiasm but his continued endurance gave us a chance to find birds like Spotted Towhees and one of the highlights of the trip singing Indigo Buntings. Miraculously non of us left with any poinson ivy rashes.

Indigo Bunting by Austin Hess
We decided to stay out of the center of the forest and more on the edge habitat between the forest and the marsh. There was an nice open area that took us for maybe half a mile and then we came to thick Russian  Olive and thistle. At this point in the day it was becoming very hot and almost no birds singing, calling or foraging. The curse of mid July. We'd be graced with good looks at a male Eastern Bluebird, Red-headed Woodpeckers feeding nestlings, and a mama turkey with her polts. It had been a productive morning.

Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker by Austin Hess
Running low on water we begin to make our way back toward the car cutting straight back through the semi circle we'd just made. Its become clear to me after three trips now of being stuck in thick willow and salt cedar that we need a better map. We spent a good two hours squeezing four people onto deer trails through the willows and cattails. The last 30 minutes or so was exhausting it seemed like we'd never find the road and that we'd just keep walking through this endless thicket of elastic branches. The moment the woods were in view again was a moment of celebration. We could see the car off in the distance parked in front of the out of service restrooms. We were still
 a football field away.
Red-headed Woodpecker by Austin Hess
 A football field of thistle and poison ivy.
 The sweet relief of finding the car led to new enthusiasm for exploration and we planned our afternoon adventure to find a camping spot and some more light hiking. We drove over the damn and found the open camp site and set up our tents. It was then that we discovered that the restrooms at this site were unlocked!

Complimentary Bullsnake

 wooo nothing is more exciting than finding a working bathroom at an old rundown campsite....semi working anyway. No running water, no toilet paper...so still primitive, and apparently the women's bathrooms come complimentary with a bullsnake and small mouse. In the unlit bathroom this snake gave me quiet the scare as I couldn't see it well enough to tell what it was initially. It was just a snake curling up the wall in the corned of the room while a mouse ran frantically back and forth across the other wall. I figured it'd be rattlin away if it were a rattle snake but I opened the door a crack to let the light in and saw it was a bullsnake. Easy! I picked him up and showed off the snake in the bathroom. We all held it and got some photos and let it go...outside of the bathroom. And as for the mouse he ran out the door when I left.

Franken pancake

 For dinner we had franken pancakes and sausage and chilled out for a while before our highly anticipated owling at 9.

See the next entry for part 2


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