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Zephyr Sketching (Eastbound)

The California Zephyr Train number 6 pulled into Colfax Station running about 30 minutes late.

I was boarding the Zephyr with my mom and her husband Steve and we were heading to Denver, Colorado. We would be spending the night and eating three meals a day on the Zephyr. This is AMTRAK’s longest daily route and it is a village on rails.

I did a few pre-trip sketches. The first is of the predicted consist of our train. A consist is the make up of the train, for instance: two locomotives, a baggage car, three sleeper cars, a diner car etc. I anticipated two locomotives and eight cars. Turns out I guessed right. I sketched them in and I would label them later during our first stretch break in Reno, Nevada. The second was the baggage cart outside Colfax Station, which I did the day before we boarded the Zephyr.

The eastbound California Zephyr pulls into Colfax. We were the only passengers who boarded. Mom and Steve are “racing” to the platform before the Zephyr’s short stop is over.

I was familiar with sketching from the California Zephyr from my previous trip last April. You have to sketch fast, taking in passing information creating an overall composite or impression. The brush pen was the perfect tool for Zephyr sketching.

One of my favorite Zephyr sketches was done in Room A (Mom and Steve’s room) during happy hour. We where somewhere east of Reno.

Crew change at Grand Junction, Colorado. Locomotive 160 painted in it’s “Pepsi Can” livery, to celebrate AMTRAK’s 50th anniversary.
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The Smallest Gull at the River’s End

The world’s smallest gull had recently been spotted in a flock of Bonaparte’s gulls at the San Lorenzo River mouth.

It was a rare west coast gull and the one spotted on May 13, 2022 was only the 5th Santa Cruz County record.

This is the appropriately named little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus). I had seen this rarity on June 9, 2004 at Pescadero March in San Mateo County but I had not seen the diminutive gull since.

My first attempt to add the little gull to my Santa Cruz County list was foiled by a foot race that closed access to the San Lorenzo River mouth. I would have to try again later. Luckily the gull hung around with the flock of Bonaparte’s gull.

I tried again the following weekend. The flock had moved from the river mouth, up river, just north of the railroad trestle. There were about 75 Bonaparte’s gull, so searching through the flock for a slightly smaller gull showing a brown “M” on it’s wings, proved to be a challenge.

I got fleeting and very unsatisfying looks of the gull as the gull flock burst into the air climbing ever higher into the sky, which made me want to come back another time to try to see the bird again. And to get good reference photos for a sketch. Which is exactly what I did the following Saturday morning.

I returned to the Riverway Trail, which is just north of the train trestle that crosses the San Lorenzo River. The Bonaparte’s gull flock had moved from the river mouth (south of the trestle) further up the river. I imagine the large amount of human traffic and off leash dogs on the main beach may have something to do with the relocation.

There where now just 21 Bonaparte’s gulls left in the flock and they were roosting on the western shore of the river, the same river that flows past my cabin, further up the San Lorenzo Valley. Because there where less gulls, picking out the world’s smallest gull would be much easier. It also helped that there was another birder on the trail, already looking at the little gull!

This time the little gull was roosting on a riverside rock 15 feet from the trail! The morning was foggy which was perfect flat, low-contrast light for getting great photographs.

The little gull was also roosting close to the Bonaparte’s, giving me a nice size comparison of the two similar species.

The little gull and the larger adult Bonaparte’s gull on the right.
Loose sketch of the little gull based on one of my photographs.
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Santa Cruz County Brown Booby

Whenever I’ve seen a booby, it is usually flying away from view or sitting still, like a statue. Of course I’m referring to a bird!

In Santa Cruz County, I have seen a red-footed booby at the Concrete Ship at Seacliff State Beach on November 3, 2018 but I have always wanted to add the more common brown booby but none have stuck around long enough for me to see it.

The red-footed booby at the Concrete Ship being harassed by a juvenile brown pelican.

Until an adult female brown booby had been spotted roosting on the cliffs just south of Fern Grotto on the Old Cove Landing Trail at Wilder Ranch State Park. I just hoped she would stick around long enough for me to get a look!

Wilder Ranch State Park is a 7,000 acre State Park that reached from the Santa Cruz County Coastline up to the peak of Ben Lomond Mountain. It is a popular destination for hikers, bikers, birders, nature loafers, and wave watchers.

On Saturday morning I was heading out on one of my favorite hiking/birding trails in the park, the Old Cove Landing Trail. After parking on Highway 1, I headed down a trail and into the historic farm site with contains houses and farm buildings.

It was here, in the and around the buildings, that Lindsey, Stevie, Christine, John, and Mick appeared in the video for “Little Lies”. It is from the album Tango in the Night (1987), which has sold over 15 million copies. “Little Lies” was the highest charting single from the album, reaching number 1. It is still played on 80’s hit radio stations today. Maybe Wilder Ranch had a little to do with it.

I headed through the farm buildings and I was about to crossed the railroad track to the Old Cove Trail when I spotted a California thrasher at the top of a coyote bush. They are more visible and more vocal at this time of year.

One of the many “California”birds I saw on my quest for the brown booby. The others where California towhee, gull, quail, and scrub-jay.

It is about a mile hike on the Old Cove Landing Trail to get to the place where the bobby had been seen. I arrived at the coastal bluffs just south of Fern Grotto Beach.

In front of me was a long flat rock. I scanned the rock: western gulls, lots of Brandt’s cormorants, a lone black oystercatcher, brown pelicans but no brown booby. It must be out to sea fishing or it was just gone. I had decided to give the bird an hour. So I waited for the brown booby to appear. I scanned the southern horizon looking for a booby flying towards my position. I saw none.

I tried to turn a roosting brown pelican into a brown booby, it’s large bill was tucked into it’s back feathers but the feet color was wrong. No booby.

Below me a bird flew into view and landed on the cliff next to a Brandt’s Cormorant. It was the brown booby!! It must have been roosted out of view on the cliff I was standing on.

This is the angle where I first got looks at the brown booby.
I moved to a position directly above the booby, without falling over to join it, to get some better photos.