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
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
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
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!