Classmembers Tom and Joan Merigan were our guides today for a delightful walk at Jasper Ridge. This preserve is closed to the public but well worth the effort to secure a guide. Tom went through the program to become a docent a while back and has focused this efforts on studying the connection between plants and the unique geology of the area. On this day, the flowers were at their height and we were able to find many species that enjoy the different conditions that exist there. The floral display was astounding and apparently at its height. In addition to the flowers, of course, we saw many birds. While I tried to my hardest to concentrate on the ground I couldn't help but notice at least 6 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (first this spring), singing California Thrasher, several Pacific-slope Flycatchers (also, first this spring), 3-4 House Wrens, and quite a few Orange-crowned Warblers. Thank you Tom and Joan for a wonderful walk and all your knowledge which helped us understand how exciting the world of flowers can be. Tom's website, devoted to Jasper Ridge flora can be found at: http://www.stanford.edu/%7Emerigan/


Today, Kelly and I decided to find the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow that was discovered a few weeks ago at Oyster Point in South San Francisco. (The bird is quite rare on the west coast, but is still occasionally found in tidal marsh areas during winter. It is the more expected of the two Sharp-tails: Nelson's and Saltmarsh, which were previously considered a single species.) We arrived in the area, a small pickleweed and cordgrass marsh located behind some industrial buildings about 45 minutes before high tide. It is during this time that many secretive species like Rails and the Sharp-tailed Sparrow move toward the edges of the marsh to escape the rising water. The rest of the time they skulk around in the vegetation, alternately feeding and hiding--very difficult to see, in other words. A few people were already assembled around what appeared to be the highest part of the marsh, while others were spaced out along the periphery. Within a few minutes, one birder motioned excitedly to us that he had the bird in view. We ran to where he was and were able to view the bird in full view for about almost a minute before it moved to a more distant and inaccessible corner of the marsh. It's flight was a bit weak and quite low, and it quickly dropped out of view, not to be seen again that day. As brief as our view was, it was exciting to see this uncommon and unmistakable bird. Also present that day were numerous Song, Savannah and a few Lincoln's Sparrows. A single Clapper Rail was heard as well.


I heard a strange sound in the trees today along the creek. It was a bit like a Western Gray Squirrel, but not quite... It was similarly drawn out and hoarse, but slower and more doleful than a Squirrel. I eventually located the source--an adult Cooper's Hawk sitting in a large buckeye tree over the water. As I watched, thinking this was an unfamiliar vocalization, another Cooper's Hawk, a male, entered the scene. He landed on a branch near the female after a swoop from below. With hardly a second wasted, he ran up along the branch toward her and mounted her. Their intimacy lasted only 1 or 2 seconds before he was off again, calling loudly "kip-kip-kip-kip-kip". She remained on her perch, straightening her feathers, making me think this was the place they had chosen to build start their family. As with the Peregrine Falcons of a few days earlier, I found myself excited by the thought of seeing young birds result from this union. Stay tuned...


Kelly and I visited Byxbee Park in Palo Alto today in preparation for an upcoming class trip and and found a single female Hooded Merganser by the dam. As well we watched the Peregrine Falcon pair near the nest they've been showing an interest in the past few weeks. We observed the pair for about 20 minutes on the power towers and even saw them copulate. We could hear their loud, excited call notes. It was pretty thrilling, but still more exciting to think we might see young falcons in the weeks to come.


Today was an especially good walk during lunch. I took my usual walk along the San Francisquito Creek near downtown Palo Alto. There, I found an adult Cooper's Hawk calling loudly in the top of a large conifer. Later I discovered an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk low on the banks in a blackberry bush. The birds around it included Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Hermit Thrush and both Golden-crowned and White-crowned Sparrows. They were clearly agitated by the Raptor's presence. As I veered toward University Avenue I saw a Peregrine Falcon land on the top edge of the FedEx building. Not bad for a stressful day at work.


Brian Christman and I looked for the previously reported Long-eared Owls in the Elm picnic area at Ed Levin Park. He and I were unsuccessful after more than an hour of searching, but we saw evidence of the birds in the form of dozens of pellets beneath the dense pines. As a consolation we were able to find a single Barn Owl perched silently in a different area. Also, we heard a Northern Pygmy-Owl along the creek near the golf course. We walked quickly to where the sound originated and of course it stopped. Then it began to call again but from farther away. The bird seemed to be moving down stream quickly, and eventually slipping away before we could view it. The entire time we searched we could hear the constant buzzing of Allen's Hummingbirds in the area too.

We then hiked up the Tularcitos and Caliente trails above the pond to the sycamore trees. There we heard a mysterious and incessant "peeping" we could not place. After some time we discovered a female Anna's Hummingbird feeding two young birds in the widely spaced branches. Watching her thrust her long pointed bill deeply into each of the chick's throats was interesting but caused us to reflect on her need for accuracy... In that same area we found Rufous-crowned Sparrow in full song as it perched on a fence post. Continuing up the hill we found a single Yellow-billed Magpieand Western Bluebird.

The most exciting sight of the day was a pair of Golden Eagles at the top of our walk. They were engaged in a dramatic courtship display with one bird doing a repeated "U" flight. It flew up at a steep angle, nearly vertical in fact, wings closed as if it were in a full stoop upward. Then it came to a stall at the top, performed what appeared to be an acrobatic summersault and dropped towards earth with wings partly opened. Descending at great speed it came to the bottom of the "U" and opened its wings fully to begin another upward dive before closing its wings again and performing the maneuver again. I still get a chill thinking about how beautiful the experience was.


The previously reported tan-striped White-throated Sparrow is still present near the conference building across from olive trees along the main entrance drive. It was difficult to see, but I did get a second or two to see the yellow lores and sharply white throat that are distinctive. There was also a pair of Hairy Woodpecker working on a large tree and several Purple Finches in full song. Along the Bunny Creek trail I saw several Townsend's and Orange-crowned Warblers. Three Cooper's Hawks were circling high over the trail doing a weird, stiff-winged flight and calling loudly.

The Peregrine Falcon is still showing interest in the lower of the two nests on the power lines across from boat launch at the Palo Alto Baylands. Only one bird was visible but it flew directly to the nest from the west and sat in it for about 20 minutes. It then flew off and made a large circle around the tower, calling loudly, then landing closer to the top of the tower. It scanned the area from that higher perch and then repeated its circle around the tower before landing again in the nest. A scope was helpful, but the bird was easily seen with binoculars only. Beautiful!