The Harry P. Schmidt Park is just on the outskirts of the town of Gustine California. It looked like a fairly typical city park with some tennis courts, 2 baseball diamonds and a big lake. The lake was what initially piqued my curiosity and caused me to stop. There were quite a few ducks around but nothing out of the ordinary so I decided to at least stretch my legs and ended up coming up with probably one of the best birds of the trip.
I was warned ahead of time that due to habitat loss and a steep decline in their population that the Yellow-billed Magpie would be one of the more difficult species to find. There is a great article by the Audubon Society here about this species decline. This species is also endemic to Central California and I really had not planned on thoroughly birding this area … just kind of passing through on my way from the coast to Yosemite and back.
It was right around lunch time and very hot so I didn’t really expect many birds to be active but off in the distance I noticed 3 larger birds hopping around on the ground and when I got my binoculars on them I was shocked to see a whole group of Yellow-billed Magpies (L). I followed these guys around for an hour or so and they never allowed me to get close to them. I hid behind trees, crawled on my hands and knees and tried looking another direction as I approach them on an angle but nothing worked until I got in my car and drove to another part of the park and one decided to come and land at a reasonable distance.
I was so stoked to find these guys and I hope they make a comeback as they are pretty cool looking and I really hate it when we (humans) are the cause of a species decline especially when we know what the causes are and do little or nothing to fix them. Sorry for the rant but seeing such a beautiful creature and knowing that I might not see one again does bum me out.
I left Gustine and continued West towards Mariposa where I went South on California 49 so that I could come into Yosemite from California 41. I wanted to come in from the South because I had received some advice on where it was possible to see Great Gray Owls near the Southern entrance to Yosemite. Miles and miles before even getting to the park there are numerous pull-offs because the views are just stunning!
There is a golf course in Wawona that has a wonderful trail that winds around much of the course. It was now quite late in the afternoon and I only had an hour or so to search for the Great Gray Owls and unfortunately never ran into one. I did see an Orange-crowned Warbler, Savannah and Grasshopper Sparrows and unidentified Flycatcher amongst the more common species.
The entrance to Yosemite is right past Wawona and I enquired at the entrance about camping and the very pleasant Park Ranger informed me that 95% of the campground spots were already reserved and all the close campgrounds were already full … but there was one WAY, WAY on the other side of the park that I might still get into so I again ended up pulling into a campground quite a bit after dark!
It was amazing that this was only my second day and I had already seen so, so very much! It was pleasantly cool in the campgrounds and perfectly clear and the view with millions of stars to close out my day was priceless!