For Memorial Day weekend this year I went up to visit my family in Paso Robles. Cooking and visiting with family consumed most of my time. I got very little time to look at the birds and animals. I did though run across a few birds and managed to take a couple photos. One of the local birds that is fairly common near my folk’s ranch is the Yellow-billed Magpie. Yellow-billed Magpie is one of California’s two truly endemic birds the other being the Island Scrub-Jay of Santa Cruz Island.
Nacimiento Road to the north of town is a very good place to find this bird. In the morning on Memorial Day I took a very quick look for these unique and beautiful birds. Declining populations due to such factors as West Nile Disease and loss of habitat has caused great concern lately. They are quite vocal and their distinctive plumage makes them easy to find in the oak habitats that they frequent. The Black-billed Magpie is almost identical. Yellow-billed Magpie has always been my favorite of the two because of their striking yellow bill.
In my brief birding time I also took a walk one night in my brother’s vineyards. This was just irresistible since I could hear Great Horned, Barn and Western Screech-Owls at night. This young Barn Owl, who did not yet fly very well, fluttered out of a nearby tree and onto the ground right in front of me. It is such a pleasure to see so many Barn Owl boxes in the agricultural areas in the Central Valley of California.
Many places across the US have seen tremendous declines in Barn Owl populations due to loss of habitat and in particular nest site availability. In a drive through the Central Valley of California you can see that many of the vineyards have put up Barn Owl nesting boxes on poles about 10-15 feet high dispersed throughout the fields. Ranchers and vineyard owners like to attract the Barn Owls because they help to control rodent populations.