McClellan Ranch Preserve (9/26/2022)

Today was my monthly day trip day. Ok, so I’ve had these open tabs of Western Screech-Owl observations on iNat for SOME TIME NOW. It was tough to get down to the Peninsula this Summer! But today was THE DAY.

Western Screech-Owls have been observed at some place called McClellan Ranch Preserve in Cupertino a handful of times in the past handful of months. It looked like a barn, so there seemed to be a good chance to spot them! I know nothing about them (like when they start hooting). Or anything, really. My owl fu is not so great beyond Great Horned Owls. And, in order to graduate to the next level owl pin from Carrie, I need to step up my game.

Using iNat doesn’t count against me, right?

But, let’s start from the very beginning… I’ve been so looking forward to this day trip day. While it’s been fantastic to be on stage again, I have so missed my Naturing outings. And, to be able to adventure somewhere new and not have to cross a bridge or two and pay a toll was JUST AWESOME.

Ok, so. The Ranch. It’s been around a while! And, it looks like it! Well, I should say the buildings look and are authentic, but they’ve been kept up very well. The site even has an authentic blacksmith shop that was moved there for preservation. And old-timey enclosures for your usual farm animals, though I saw none today.

What was a nice surprise was seeing the signs here and there of what things were, flora-wise! Looks like they have nature education whatnots happening here. The Santa Clara Audubon Society and other Naturey orgs have office space here in what was the farmhouse. Just past the office spaces was an Anna’s Hummingbird preening in such a unique pose that the sides of its gorget showed off gorgeous pink scales. SO COOL.

But, that barn was calling me. And, IT DELIVERED.

There was one Western Screech-Owl up in there. With literally TONS of feathers all up in there, too. iNat observations have shown two up there. And, there’s an owl box hanging from the rafters, too. For them, I suppose? So nice!

When I first saw it, it appeared to be sleeping. But, it’s neck feathers puffed out repeatedly. Gotta look up what that’s for. It slowly opened its eyes soon after I started looking at it. And, lucky for me, it was awake for a bit and even turned to look puzzled at me!

I soon left it alone. I wasn’t making much noise, but I was afraid I might be keeping it from sleeping, so I left. Quite happy to have finally seen one! And, it saw me! I was flippin’ ecstatic!!!

I had planned to follow what sounded like a somewhat blah trail (the Stevens Creek Trail on AllTrails), that was described as paved. But I got sidetracked next to the Community Garden when I saw a flycatcher bird. Western Wood-Pewee! And, a Black Phoebe, too! A Common Checkered-Skipper was below! An Acorn Woodpecker was above! So exciting.

I followed an opening in the trees that led me to some simple benches and the first of what would be a number of simple wood signs indicating the tree it was under. THAT led me to Stevens Creek! It’s quite adorable right there, looking more like a lovely stream. And, get this. I grew up in San Jose. To me, Stevens Creek was a street where the mall was. And where Winchester Mystery House and those glorious Century Dome Movie Theaters were near. I had never actually seen the creek the entire time I lived in San Jose. And, here it was right in front of me. GAWD. That took way too long.

Instead of trying to find the paved “trail” I had planned to follow, I found a dirt trail that seemed to follow the creek. And that was definitely more my cup of tea. Found out later that that was the last part of the curated trail, but yeah. I avoided a paved trail. I win!

Along that ohsocharming creek trail, I found a Western Fence Lizard and a Vivid Dancer and a black squirrel (what are those??) and even a baby Mule Deer foraged quietly just off the trail ahead of me at one point. It was kind of magical.

Also along this trail, along with the occasional tree sign, were some interesting things. Like many bird boxes. And what looked like a Woodrat house. And a tiny gathering spot with log benches. It felt like this space was well-loved. And that felt nice to be in.

I also learned of two trees I was curious about that were all over the property. Western Sycamore and Black Walnut. I fell in love with them both.

Oh, did I mention the place is overrun with California Ground Squirrels? Well, IT IS. They run the place. And there are those holes with driveways for them just about everywhere you look.

I neared the end of the loop, and I spotted what looked like a pile of owl pellet contents on the ground near the creek. Couldn’t find an owl nearby, but I think I’d have a much harder time spotting a Western Screech-Owl in a tree. They are so small!

Before heading out, I got to see a Grasshopper jump from underneath me! Pallid-winged or Occidental? Hoping someone on iNat can help me.

After leaving, I made a quick stop to Blackberry Farm to see what I missed from taking the Stevens Creek Trail to it. Didn’t miss much! It’s mostly a golf course, swimming pool (not in use), and a group picnic area. Definitely didn’t need to walk to it. But, I found something worth seeing there. Despite no blackberries that I could see (COME ON, FOLKS), a Blue Elder tree with berries in it was a nice treat. Took a bit for me to remember its name. But, it came to me soon enough. Sometimes my own internal flora database surprises me.

All in all, a very worthwhile trip down South to see a newtome OWL, among other things. And I got to enjoy a creekside walk that very much made me feel like I can finally embrace FALL. Delighted, I must say!

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