Sycamore Grove Park (11/6/2022)

Today was my last day of performing in Livermore, so I spent the afternoon visiting this place again.

I tried out a curated route on AllTrails (Sycamore Grove Trail with South Loop), but I now think a choose-your-own-adventure from the park’s trail map makes more sense. Also wanted to end in the Magpie Nature Loop to hear or see the Great Horned Owl I only heard on Friday. And, as you can see, I was SUCCESSFUL.

Started out on the Winery Loop and soon spotted a Northern Flicker high up in a bare tree. Totally visible and unobscured! Folks, it’s a good day when that happens. It obliviously posed for me, and I was so grateful. Just past there I was able to take some photos of that white algae-looking stuff on the riverbed rocks. Both Seek and iNat thought they were ants. ANTS. Yeah, that’s going to be a toughie.

Heard then saw another Northern Flicker far off on a Western Sycamore tree that was being hounded by an Acorn Woodpecker! The Woodpecker ended up chasing it off to another tree. DANG.

After watching a Red-tailed Hawk above flying near a group of Turkey Vultures, I saw an American Kestrel high up in a tree. Haven’t seen one in forever! Such a treat. And, my gawd. That face. It could not be more cute. Nope.

Cut down a Walnut-lined trail (full of Acorn Woodpeckers and a large group of Mourning Doves off to the side) and spotted a COYOTE ahead! It was trotting on the trail I was about to meet up with. And toward someone approaching with their Huskie-looking dog, thankfully on leash. The owner smartly stopped and waited. The Coyote stopped, turned around, and trotted back. Avoiding the other dog approaching from the other end on the trail, also thankfully leashed. Why this Coyote was on a trail with people and dogs was odd. Maybe the cloudy skies made it think it was close to sunset? But, yes. It AVOIDED the people and the dogs. Wished I’d gotten better photos of it, but it was never still.

Took the Wagon Road Trail to get to some ponds. This area was pretty deserted. A couple runners. And dead grassy fields and hillsides for the most part. Probably looks nice when green grass is there. But such few trees or shrubs. Aside from some Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf growing on the remaining eucs that survived an apparent fire, there wasn’t much to look at.

Got near the Cattail Pond, and things got interesting! A couple Coyote Brush bushes appeared alongside the trail. A Northern Harrier was cruising the hillside. Another raptor further away was also soaring. And at the pond, there was activity! A Black Phoebe and an Anna’s Hummingbird and a group of White-crowned Sparrows and maybe a Spotted Towhee and at least one Red-winged Blackbird and even a turtle were all out. It’s probably pretty hopping in the Spring or on a hot/sunny day. Even a White-tailed Kite was hovering nearby.

I took my snack break on the convenient bench right there and caused the nearby Sparrows to scatter. But they slowly returned after I was seated and didn’t make much noise. They even got kinda close to me. One even hopped up on a sign to watch me while it preened.

Spotted the Northern Harrier again and got crap photos. But they should be good enough for an iNat ID confirmation.

The rest of that loop was pretty blah, scenery-wise. Very few trees in what looked like mostly a wasteland. But I did see a perched Red-tailed Hawk on one of the towers. And a group of Western Bluebirds were on the trail ahead of me. That was IT. However, I did see a couple signs saying, “Riparian Restoration in Progress.” So, things should improve over there.

Headed back and took the Walnut Trail then the Olivinia Trail back to the Northeast part, which was nice and empty. Maybe it was the cloudy weather, but I was pleasantly surprised that the park wasn’t crazy crowded on a Sunday as I had feared it would be. Had no trouble parking, either. And the actual trails in the park (vs. the paved trails) seem mostly unused in comparison.

Joined up with the Creek Trail and headed for the owl spot. It was close to sunset. Thought I heard A HOOT and went to where it might’ve been and waited. Nothing. Happened to see spine bones (!) on the ground and had a hard time figuring out how I didn’t see them the last time.

I decided to just watch in the open space where I’d heard the hooting on Friday. And, THEN IT HAPPENED. Saw a raptor fly seemingly out of nowhere and into a tree close to the one it came from. Right where I’d heard the hoot on Friday. Walked to where I thought it landed in a Valley Oak. Nope. WHERE WAS IT? Looked slightly left, and THERE IT WAS. Perched on a Sycamore branch. Right out in the open. TA-DA! Owl photos below for the owl fans.

This was more pleasing than usual. See, I hadn’t seen any of GHO observations on iNat in this exact spot. Just a couple, on the trail and at the creek. Not in the middle of the Loop. And on Friday, since I wasn’t able to locate the owl, I thought maybe I was hearing it from those previous spots inside of in the middle like where it sounded it was coming from. So I’m particularly happy to show they also like the middle! Or, maybe just this one. Didn’t hear another. HM.

Overall, I really like this park. Open for 30 minutes after sunset. Machine to pay for the parking fee. Good restrooms. Decent trail signage. A variety of wildlife boxes. Small botanical garden. And apparently a very desirable spot for a number of birds. Should I ever find myself in the area again, I think I’ll check out the Southern end. iNat shows that a Barn Owl hangs out down there…

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