China Camp State Park (2/7/2022)

Today I went back to China Camp for my monthly day trip. I decided I’d do Miwok Meadows again (but in reverse) and continue on the Shoreline Trail til it reached the China Camp Visitors Center, then walk back on the road for a loop.

Before I even started on the trail, I saw a large raptor cruising over the pickleweed and hillsides. I even saw it dive down, where some small thing ran and hid away from it! Wish I was able to get a photo, because it did not look familiar. Closest match I got for a guess is either a Northern Harrier or a Rough-legged Hawk. It was mostly white with gray and black, but the best marker I could see was a white section at the top of the tail. I watched it for a while, but it was pretty far most of the time. While following it with my binocs, a woman said to me, “Is it a baby raptor?” And, I told her my understanding is that baby raptors are the same size as adult raptors. Funny thing was, this raptor was NOT SMALL. But, that should tell you how far away it was. If it WAS a Rough-legged Hawk, then it was a LIFE BIRD. Sadly, I’m not sure… But, I saw a White-tailed Kite doing its hover thing in the area, so I was able to ID at least ONE raptor!

I’m glad I returned to Miwok Meadows! Instead of finding many mushrooms there, like last time, I heard and saw a good amount of birds.

And, there were flowers there. Milkmaids completely OWNED THE PLACE, which was fantastic. I caught sight of one blooming Blue Dicks and a handful of Sun Cups. Oh, and even some Warrior’s Plume, which I wasn’t sure if I’d see at such low elevation.

The whole place looked amazing in the sunshine with all the greenery everywhere.

And, I saw a newtome MOTH, the Oak Winter Highflier. Despite its name, I spotted it hanging on a leaf. And, it let me take all the photos I wanted to. Never moved. So kind.

Turkey-Tail was often present. Likely indicates how infrequent the logs around there get moved. Some small streams were still running! And, the usual bikers. Even on a Monday.

I heard a strange and unfamiliar sound. Maybe a distressed squirrel? Nope. A Red-breasted Sapsucker! I followed it a little, then it was on a tree relatively close to me, at which point two loud-talking people on bikes came by. And, it flew off. I was pretty annoyed. It took a while to find it and then to get close to it and UGH. It is the only downside to China Camp. For that reason, I don’t think I’d ever visit on a weekend day again.

About twentyish feet onward, I heard woodpeckery sounds and found that Red-breasted Sapsucker! Got a crap photo of it, but I’m glad I got something so I can submit to iNat.

Fortunately, it wasn’t the end of my bird encounters. Just past there, in the creek/stream area, a Fox Sparrow was madly stomping on dead leaves. And, Dark-eyed Juncos were nearby, making sounds I’ve never heard them do before. Wish I had gotten a recording. They have a number of different-sounding sounds! They’re starting to become elevated to American Robin status in my mind.

I heard a Northern Flicker but couldn’t find it.

Also heard and saw Brown Creepers before I made it to the picnic area. I heard a Northern Flicker again, and it sounded like it wasn’t buried in the oaks. I started to look for it, but then I heard something familiar. There were California Quail past the picnic tables! I always delight in seeing them. Perhaps because I haven’t often seen them. And, they are so lovely to look at and funny to watch running. There were eight total, four couples. They were shy when strange sounds happened, but they seemed not to mind me so much.

After watching them for a bit, I found the Northern Flicker! And, there were two, seemingly calling to each other? I didn’t get great looks at the one in the open, but I got to see it. It’s satisfying to find something you’ve been looking for. Oh, and Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Mourning Dove were also there.

I left the picnic area, and around the corner was another California Quail couple and a Spotted Towhee. They were hanging out near each other. And, as I was taking photos, I think the female quail was making little “Be careful” noises to her partner, as she stood still to watch me while he ate from the grass. It was cute.

Another (or the same?) Red-breasted Sapsucker was near, along with a California Scrub-Jay up high at the top of a tree watching it all.

I neared the end of Miwok Meadows. I had no expectation I was going to spend so much time there, but there were many birds to see! On my way out, I got to watch a super small butterfly flit about. It was BEAUTIFUL. It was like a tiny blue fairy dotting about. I never saw it still with the top of its wings visible, but there was no mistaking that the blue must’ve been gorgeous to see. Also, some California Buttercups were out.

I got to the end, where there’s a bunch of pickleweed. And, two American Pipits were feeding alongside two Mallard couples. The Mallards all made funny crunching sounds while they ate. This is also where I started to hear FROGS. Not seen, but definitely heard.

I started onto new territory on the Shoreline Trail. And, not much else was seen, other than tons more Milkmaids. It’s entirely shaded at the afternoon hour, so it was dark and cool and mostly empty of people/bikers. But, I did spot a Hermit Thrush and some Bowltube Iris before it ended at the Visitors Center.

My plan was to walk back on the road to get back to my car. I realized near the end of the trail that it might not be the smartest/safest plan. But, I crossed the road and took a look out at the bay from Bullhead Flat. Spotted some Common Goldeneyes and Ruddy Ducks in the water.

A park employee stopped by to clean out the bathrooms, and he asked if I’d taken a lot of pictures and how far I walked. I asked him if it was safe to walk back to Turtleback Hill on the road, and he said it was. He then told me about a woman who was not quite all there that decided to lie in the road. The sheriff had to come. I had no intention of doing such a thing, so I felt ok about my plan. His name was Jose’. He was really nice.

So, I walked back on the road! And, because of that, I got great views of the marshy bits that I always wish I could see when driving on that road. I also got to stop at the couple picnic areas on the way, Weber Point and Buckeye Point. China Camp is surprisingly a great place to come for a picnic. All these spots are nice, give you a view of the rocks and bits of beach below, and all have bathrooms!

Around a bend, I spotted a bird in the water that didn’t look that familiar. A Surf Scoter couple! Apparently, I’ve seen them at the Farallones, and I believe I’ve seen them superfaraway at ocean edges. But, I think I got my best looks ever at it this time. That delightful beak! Wish my digital camera could’ve done it justice, but some photos came out somewhat in focus. So, yay!

I got close to Turtleback Hill, when all of a sudden I heard shrieking. COYOTE. In the hillside of the Miwok Meadows. Then, ANOTHER COYOTE. AND, ANOTHER. There were at least three, but I think there were MORE. All howling/shrieking. Then, SILENCE. I’m REALLY GLAD I wasn’t on the Shoreline Trail at that moment, because I would’ve had a heart attack if I was much closer.

I had just noticed how pretty the half-full moon was before this happened. Do coyotes howl at half-full moons? Regardless, it was a dramatic way to end my Naturing time.

Got to my car, and I heard a turkey sound. Yep, a whole group (gaggle?) of Wild Turkeys were all up in a barren tree on the hillside. It is pretty funny to see such huge birds high up in trees. I don’t think it’ll ever not be funny to me.

So, I’m almost done with China Camp! I don’t care about the ridge trails. Views are not my thing. There’s a couple more trails between the Visitors Center and the Village. Not quite enough for another day trip. But, perhaps it could be paired with a picnic…?

Back home, I was looking at my photos from my day when I heard faint howling. And then, again. And, AGAIN. We’ve heard coyotes in GGPark howling from our place before. But, again, at half-full moons?? I need to look that up tomorrow. Almost always something to look up tomorrow!

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