Petersen and I scouted out Panoche Valley in preparation for an upcoming class field trip. The morning fog and chilly weather made for a slow start.
At Paicines Reservoir we found 8 Tundra Swans, a dense group of Common Mergansers and a single Prairie Falcon. The first of many Say's Phoebes was found hear as well.
We continued to most of our usual haunts in search of target birds but came up with only a few. (Hopefully Clay, Debbi and the other counters had better results...) We did come across two Phainopepla, both males, in widely spaced appropriate oak savannah habitat. Activity really started to increase as we descended into the valley proper and the area surrounding the Panoche Inn was jumping with Lark Sparrows. Past the junction with Panoche Road, and New Idria, but still along Panoche Road we had a high count of 10 Vesper Sparrows. A Golden Eagle also flew over as we were studying the Sparrows. We backtracked to Little Panoche in search of the Mountain Plovers Clay had reported, but we were unsuccessful. We did however, see another Prairie Falcon.
Up and over Shotgun Pass toward Mercey Hot Springs we found a single Burrowing Owl (thanks to Todd for the assistance) across from the corral. We also counted 12 Long-eared Owls in the tamarask trees and one pine near the restrooms at Mercey. The BLM road did not produce the hoped-for Mountain Bluebirds, but Horned Larks were numerous a few hundred yards above the entrance gate, and 4 Sage Sparrows up the hill a mile or more near the second gate.
Eric Goodill, Petersen, Cricket and I made a full day of birding along the coast. We began in Santa Cruz where we quickly relocated the Rock Sandpiper on Westcliff Drive near the De La Costa intersection. Also present were Whimbrel, Sanderling, Surfbirds, Black Oystercachers and Black Turnstones. In the water we found all three Cormorants, both Aechmophorus Grebes, as well as Horned and Eared.
Swanton Road was too foggy to succeed with a Raptor search, but the small pond produced American Coot, Pied-billed Grebe and Ring-necked Duck.
From there we drove up to San Mateo County where we bumped into Ron Thorn and Kris Olson at Pigeon Point. None of us had seen much from the lighthouse, although Common, Pacific and Red-throated Loons were far off shore. They tipped us off on some interesting birds farther north. As they said, two Black Scoters were swimming off of Pomponio State Beach, along with Surf Scoters and a Red-necked Grebe.
Still farther north we attempted to find any unusual Gulls at Venice Beach. Heerman's, Glaucous-winged, Western, California, Herring, Thayer's and Mew Gulls were all present. Two birds caught our attention: a large uniformly pale Gull with a black-tipped pinkish bill. The only thing that prevented us from calling it a first-cycle Glaucous was the fact that the wingtips appeared too dark. We were left believing it might be a hybrid Glaucous x Glaucous-winged... The second bird of interest was a large dark-mantled bird with an icy-pale iris and some smudging around the eye. Could this be a third winter Slaty-backed? Too tough to call because it flew before we were able to assess the wing-tips, leg color or overall body structure. Oh, well. It's just the first day of the year.
At Skylawn we made a brief search for Red Crossbills, but found none. Instead we were treated to Western Bluebird, Townsend's Warbler, Red-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches and a "Slate-colored" Junco on the lawn below the veterans memorial.