Most birders who have visited California Gulch in Santa Cruz county will be surprised to learn that I found four LEAST GREBES there today, an adult and three well-grown but still stripy-headed juveniles. Were they waddling along the gulch itself? Splashing in one of the puddles on the road? No, there’s a nice pond just down canyon from the dam, which is about 1.3 miles south of Ruby Road, or about a third of the way from Ruby Rd to the Five-striped Sparrow site.
I haven’t visited this pond for a couple of months. It’s been empty in the past, but quite full for at least a year. The habitat is excellent, with lots of overhanging and submerged branches, somewhat reminiscent of the favored coves at Pena Blanca Lake. Therefore, I think it’s fair to assume that the grebes nested here. To add a bit of wild speculation, I wouldn’t be surprised if another adult was present, maybe on a nest. The visible adult was at times displaying and calling, and showed aggression towards the juveniles.
To get to this pond (which on Google Maps is named Ruby Lakes, I suspect incorrectly):
Take Ruby Rd (dirt road) from either Nogales or Arivaca, until you reach California Gulch Rd (rougher dirt road) where you’ll turn south. After about a mile, you’ll see a grassy area on the left, followed by the top half of a stand of cottonwoods and willows, visible above the dam, which itself only becomes evident once you’ve gone past it. Park just before the dam (off the road and out of the puddles) and walk a few yards past the dam along the road. Then, take the rough track down to the left, following the canyon for about a quarter mile until you reach the pond.
Warning: there are a couple of big puddles not long after you turn from Ruby Rd. One of these is at least two feet deep and a couple of times lately water has come over the hood of my midsize SUV, making for an exciting experience! A high clearance vehicle and a healthy sense of adventure may be required. Or, you could walk/wade in from Ruby Rd.
Bigger warning: if water is flowing quickly over the road, do NOT attempt to cross.
Also at California Gulch Dam area:
NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET, GRAY FLYCATCHER, and a couple of MacGILLIVRAY’S WARBLERS.
FIVE-STRIPED SPARROWS were up and singing all the way along the gulch, plus ZONE-TAILED HAWK, PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER, ten PURPLE MARTINS, SUMMER and WESTERN TANAGERS, VARIED BUNTING, and HOODED ORIOLE.
Oro Blanco Wash:
BOTTERI’S and RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROWS, LARK BUNTING.
GREAT EGRET, BLACK VULTURE, COMMON GROUND-DOVE, TROPICAL KINGBIRD, SUMMER TANAGER.
RING-NECKED DUCK, two NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS, GRAY HAWK, a pair of TROPICAL KINGBIRDS, and 15 BANK SWALLOWS heading, absurdly, north.
Rio Rico Pond:
Just a few MALLARDS and a PIED-BILLED GREBE on the water and a couple of TROPICAL KINGBIRDS nearby.