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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Coast Starlight: Southbound

On Sunday afternoon we took off from Union Station in Portland heading south on an Amtrak train along the Coast Starlight route. The first part of the trip traversed territory I'm pretty familiar with, but as we got further south in Willamette Valley we entered more rural country and ended up seeing just about every possible farm animal. The highlight was a newborn sheep that was too young to even stand up yet!

We headed through the mountains in the dark, though I could tell there was snow on the ground. I look forward to seeing that section of the trip in the daylight when we head back north. In the morning, I woke up as we pulled out of the Sacramento station. We had breakfast along San Pablo Bay, where there was lots of bird activity. I saw my first year birds of the day - a turkey vulture (111 - they'll be reaching Oregon and Washington soon!) and a western grebe (112). 

One reason train travel is so fun is because you get to see things you otherwise wouldn't be able to see - the train often travels where roads don't. I've taken the Empire Builder from Portland to Chicago three times, and you get to see a lot of stunning scenery with no roads in sight. On this trip, one thing that stood out as we traveled through several big cities was the human side of things that are often out of sight: homeless camps, trash, and graffiti - everywhere.

Not exactly the most pleasant thing to look at (though some of the graffiti is pretty impressive), but interesting nonetheless. After getting through the Bay Area, there were more natural areas to take in, and that meant more birds.

Near San Lorenzo I saw a pair of snowy egrets (113), near Morgan Hill I saw a flock of wild turkeys (114), and then as we traveled along the Elk Horn Slough (pictured above) I added willet (115), black-necked stilt (116) and western gull (117).

As we continued south, the sun came out and the climate became more arid. Between Salinas and Pasos Robles I saw an immature golden eagle (118) riding the thermals over a cliff. That was the last year bird for the train ride, but I was pretty amazed I added eight year birds while traveling at such speeds!

Here are a couple more pictures from the train before we pulled into San Luis Obispo - our stop:

When we stepped off the train, the sweatshirts came off, the sunglasses came on, and I could almost feel my body sighing in relief as it soaked up the sun for what felt like the first time in months. It was warm! This is what we came for. And this - the view from our hotel room porch:

After settling in, we had time before sunset to go for a walk and explore the trail down to the beach. In half an hour I added three more year birds - black phoebe (119), white-throated swift (120), and a single whimbrel (121) down on the rocks with two pairs of black oystercatchers. The swifts were the biggest surprise, and it took me a moment to identify them. I first detected them by their descending call, which I finally located as coming from up overhead. There was a flock of about fifty of them swarming around, I'm assuming gathering up before roosting for the night. They look like ants in this photo, but it was impressive - you'll have to take my word for it!

There were lots of surfers enjoying the last few waves before sunset:

And it was a very spectacular sunset!

Next up, our first full day at Pismo Beach: butterflies, birds, and horses!

1 comment:

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

A commanding lead already...and you've only just stepped off the train!!!

Why are the railway lines used as a dumping ground? Same here a right mess in places.