Love of Carrizo Plain in the Time of COVID-19

April 7, 2020 at 8:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, California wildflowers, Nature, Nature photography, San Luis Obispo County, Wildflowers, Wildlife) ()

Pronghorn females

I have visited Carrizo Plain National Monument about a dozen times and this is the first time I saw pronghorns. I guess it helped that it was not a people-frenzied super bloom year, as last year was, and it was also in the midst of the Safe-at-Home era of the COVID-19 pandemic, so running across them was more likely.

Two pronghorn does

Carrizo Plain is a wide open valley between the Temblor Range to the east and the Caliente Range to the west. Soda Lake Road connects to Hwy 58 on the north and Rt. 166 to the south, and there are several inholding residences/ranches/leases along the route, so I doubt the road could really be closed like so many other parks are now.

Soda Lake from Elkhorn Road

Unlike last year, when the hills were vividly yellow, splotched with purple, and the valley floor was a riot of lemon yellow, the hills today are their usual brown or greenish brown, and the flower fields are less than spectacular. The gold fiddlenecks and small purple filaree were abundant, but unlike last year the milk vetch seemed to be in its glory everywhere.

Milk vetch and red seed pods

Milk vetch

I had hip surgery two weeks ago, and I am already walking without a cane in the house (and with one outside) and able to drive with no difficulty. My friend Marilyn found her volunteer job at a Colorado wildlife refuge on hiatus due to the pandemic, and was able to drive over to my house in time to take me home from the hospital the day after my surgery. She has been an amazing caretaker, and she LOVES to cook. She’s quite good at it, too.

Marilyn photographing the milk vetch

So the trip to one of my favorite places in Central Coast California was a treat for us both, and a very safe one due to the scarcity of people and its very rural nature.

Tidy Tips and Goldfields

San Joaquin Antelope Squirrel

Fortunately, the vault toilets at the Soda Lake Overlook and the visitor center were open, even though the visitor center is closed. Many of us used disinfectant wipes to open the doors and clean our hands when using them, however.

Bell’s sparrow

Bell’s sparrow

I was able to find the Bell’s sparrow for Marilyn – a lifer for her. This was a singing male. They prefer the saltbush-type habitat in the alkaline areas.

Prairie falcon duel

Prairie falcon duel

I thought at first the larger bird was a hawk but could not get the facial and underwing features to match up to a red-tailed hawk or any other for that matter. Better birders than I determined the larger bird was an exceptionally large female being harassed by an exceptionally small male, probably because he already had a mate (most likely at Painted Rock nearby) and was protecting his territory. He flew close to us twice before resuming his harassment.

Male prairie falcon

San Joaquin Antelope Squirrel amid goldfields and red-stemmed filaree

The San Joaquin antelope squirrel above is classified as Endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List and its numbers today are decreasing due to conversion of their habitat to agricultural lands, among others. Both the prairie falcons and the antelope squirrels were near the visitor center. Marilyn didn’t like the mid-morning light and wanted to move on. Good thing we didn’t!

Male Western Meadowlark

Funny how the meadowlarks often don’t present their best side to the camera!

Male Horned Lark

It’s so much easier to get nice portraits of birds during breeding season when males perch high to sing and lure in sweethearts!

Horned Lark singing

I like how his horns show up when singing.

Me doing a very short walk 2 weeks and 3 days after hip replacement surgery!!!!!!!

Me doing a very short walk 2 weeks and 3 days after hip replacement surgery!!!!!!! The clouds showed up by late afternoon, harbingers of the storm to come by the next morning. Prior to becoming a national monument, Carrizo Plain had numerous ranches. Many old tanks are dotted throughout. We took Panorama Road off Soda Lake Road and joined the Elkhorn Road heading northwest. After this week’s rains, the Simmler and Panorama roads will be highly impassable. More of my favorite pronghorn images FROM THE 2019 SUPERBLOOM AT CARRIZO PLAIN: The hills this year are brown, some with tints of green. The “March Miracle” rains didn’t bring out a superbloom, and I’m wondering if the April rains will bring about a new crop of different flora. My favorite flower: purple owl’s clover amid goldfields I think these are the hillside daisies that covered the landscape last year. This year we found one single patch of them. On the way home we stopped at the famed Shell Creek Road off Hwy 58, about 25 miles from Paso Robles, to check out the blooms.

Marilyn at Shell Creek Road

Lupine and Tidy Tips

Tidy Tips

Shell Creek Road

Western Kingbird

Common Raven

Red-tailed hawk with a full crop (meaning it just ate)

Red-tailed hawk perched at a row of mailboxes near Shell Creek Road

Again, not as spectacular as last year, but still quite lovely. A lot of people were out there, but in family groups, social distancing. What a lovely, lovely day!

Western Kingbird

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

Feel free to reblog or share

Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

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Contact:  cindy at cindymcintyre.com

3 Comments

  1. patti henshaw said,

    Glad to see your photos and descriptions. Its like a travel log to follow next times I get to visit Carrizo Plain. Happy you are doing well and you have a good friend to social distance with and recover from surgery.

  2. Everette Sikes said,

    You take the greatest pictures,love them. Glad your hip replacement went well. Take care Everette

    On Tue, Apr 7, 2020 at 10:00 AM Cindy McIntyre’s Blog wrote:

    > Cindy McIntyre posted: ” I have visited Carrizo Plain National Monument > about a dozen times and this is the first time I saw pronghorns. I guess it > helped that it was not a people-frenzied super bloom year, as last year > was, and it was also in the midst of the Safe-at-Home era ” >

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