I finally took a great leap forward in my birding by purchasing a scope and tripod. This way I could observe faraway birds without disturbing them, discern minute feather patterns, and also it would allow me to sketch, hands-free, in the field.
Now it was time to field test the scope and I could think of no better place to use the scope than the country roads north of Highway 12 near Rio Vista. This area is collectively known as Robinson Road and is a hotspot for wintering raptors, burrowing owl, and mountain plovers. This was the wide open openness that was made for scoping far off birds.
After scraping ice off my windscreen I headed north and rendezvoused with Dickcissel and Brown Creeper. It was one of the coldest mornings of the season and the sky was crisp and clear, a perfect day for the long view.
We arrived about an hour later and headed off 113 on Robinson Road. We scanned the fields to the north, trying to pick out the cryptic ground plover. A far off tawny bird caught my attention and I lined up my scope to capture the first bird to be seen through my new optics and it was a good one, a ferruginous hawk, Buteo regalis.
Our next target birds were mountain plover and rough-legged hawk. Robinson Road turned to the south and we willed a far off perched raptor to turn into a roughy but not even the scope could give a positive id.
The beautiful call of the western meadowlark was our constant soundtrack on Robinson Road.
Further down the road we had an outstanding overhead view of a light adult ferruginous hawk that seemed to appear out of the warm winter sun.
To our right was a freshly plowed field, ideal habitat for mountain plover. The road turned to the south, keeping the field to the right. I saw a large group of birds on either side of a farming road that bisected the plowed field. A scope view revealed a large group of killdeer with horned lark and western meadowlark mixed in. This was a very good sign. I scanned to the left of the mixed killdeer flock and that’s when I got our target bird, a flock of about 30 mountain plover; a real ponderous of plover! We had great views of these birds whose entire population is estimated to be at 11,000 to 14,000 birds.
After watching the plovers disappear simply by turning their brown backs to us, thereby melting into the plowed field, we headed south to the intersection of Robinson and Flannery Roads. This intersection always produced burrowing owl. And without fail, Brown Creeper spotted one, crouching on a roadside berm. The scope revealed the owl’s piercing eyes and swivel head.
Heading west on Flannery the raptor activity increased with harriers, red-tails, and ferruginous. One bird, rising in circles above the road caught my attention. It turned towards me and its bold carpal patches screamed rough-legged hawk! Lifer for Dicksissel and Brown Creeper. A toast was in order!
That little dirt claude is the much sought after Robinson Road specialty, the poorly named, mountain plover. From a digiscope photo.
Two birds, ferruginous hawk and mountain plover, which where identified with the aid of the scope.