It was a cool day at the coast, literally and figuratively. This first-cycle Black-legged Kittiwake at Pilarcitos Creek was a lifer for several members of the group. We watched it for about half an hour during which time it flew twice, revealing the shocking pattern on it's wings and tail. Truly a runt compared to the other Gulls, but easily stole the show.
Must have been my mood or something, but I went to the Palo Alto Dump today expressly to study dark birds. My interest was mostly in the Common Raven I'd seen yesterday, but also present were America Crows, Brewer's Blackbirds and European Starlings—all displaying unique flight profiles. Side by side the two Corvids make an especially interesting comparison. I'd like to draw them again.
I really enjoyed studying the Bonaparte's Gulls moving between the water treatment facility and yacht club slough in Palo Alto today. These little, tern-like Gulls are very graceful and fluttery on the wing. I was struck by the all-white primaries of the adults, yet they are narrowly tipped in black. The wings are very angular and pointed, hardly like the larger Gulls that share the genus... The few first-winter birds in the group of several dozen were much more patterned, with darker primaries and interesting carpal bar, and dark-tipped tail. On occasion many hundreds of this species with gather here, but today there were only a few.
The highlight of Saturday's trip to Point Reyes in the rain was a male Long-tailed Duck seen from the Chimney Rock parking lot. It dove so frequently it was hard to get an extended look. Still, we all got reasonable looks at this rare winter visitor. Cricket and I went back on Sunday to get another look. Looks were someone more extended, but it was still an active diver and moved around the bay with the many Surf Scoters. Truly an unusual pattern of dark and light unlike anything we're used to.
Another favorite from Saturday's rainy visit to Point Reyes was a remarkable number of Varied Thrush. As anticipated, we found them early in the day around the picnic tables at the Bear Valley visitors center. We also saw them crossing the road to Limantour and through Samuel P. Taylor park. They sang their eerie, dissonant notes from the wet woodland, occasionally posing in full view. Very exotic looking by all accounts. The "intra-primary patterning" was difficult for me to make sense of without looking at a field guide. It tried.
I saw 4 Western Meadowlarks at Byxbee Park today. They were slumping through the short grass a few feet away. I managed to make a quick sketch of the two positions I saw most often... crouching while feeding and alert to predators. I really enjoyed trying to capture the complicated pattern on the back and coverts, and noticed the tight barring continued all the way to the primaries. Very uncommon in Passerines. Wrens share this feature of course... In flight I noticed the outer tail feathers really lit up! Perhaps a signal to its companions that it was time to move.
Female Merlin from Coyote Hills Regional Park during yesterday's class trip. The wide dark barring on her tail was the most obvious feature visible from both above and below. Wide wings at base and somewhat shorter, more tapered shape of tail made for interesting comparison to nearby American Kestrel. This bird was being dive-bombed by Tree Swallows that did not like the Falcon's presence near the nest boxes.
Chestnut-backed Chickadees across our driveway. I was struck by the nearly perfect X pattern the black and white makes. Also noticed how the pale edges of coverts and tertials creates interest on the wings.
The Ruddy Ducks at the Geng Road pond in Palo Alto were in full testosterone overdrive today. The bright blue-billed males were all heated up, showing off their best dance routines—slapping their breasts with their plastic-blue bills, bobbing their heads and splashing about for one cool female. Perhaps they were also showing off for each other. One male seemed to have an edge on the others, and wow! were his tail and "horns" erect!