04-29-01

On a scouting trip for next week's walk in Stevens Creek Park, we found a variety of colorful spring birds near the lower picnic area. There was nearly constant singing from both Wilson's Warbler and Warbling Vireo in the thick new foliage. As well, there were occasional bursts of enthusiastic whistling from several Black-headed Grosbeaks in the oaks and an Olive-sided Flycatcher near the top of tall eucalyptus tree. Most colorful of all there were at least four Western Tanagers and three Bullock's Orioles to be seen. Purple Finch was vocalizing loudly as it both courted a female and chased a rival male. We also found an Anna's Hummingbird nest which was constructed of cobwebs and lichen. I'm looking forward to bringing our group to this spot for the first time, and hopefully we'll have the same kind of good birding experience we had today.


04-25-01

Mark your calendars! Saturday, June 2 has been set for this year's Annual Palo Alto Summer Bird Count. I'd like to get you all started thinking about how you can help. The Count covers all the same regions as the familiar Christmas Bird Count, but provides much needed information about breeding bird species in our area. Because it's set for Saturday, and the weather is likely to be great, there's really no reason not to spend a few hours helping the effort. I think we'd all be birding anyway...

All eight Regions will need to be covered as in winter, with Regional Coordinators to help assign teams to various spots within that Region. The Regions are as follows:

Region 1 (Redwood City and East Palo Alto waterfronts)
Region 2 (Palo Alto Baylands, Shoreline Park and Moffet Field)
Region 3 (Residential Menlo Park, Atherton and Redwood City)
Region 4 (Residential Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale)
Region 5 (Woodside)
Region 6 (Los Altos Hills)
Region 7 (Skyline Open Space Areas)
Region 8 (Lower Skyline, Foothills Park and Montebello)

I would like to ask the people who Coordinated these Regions to take them again and help ensure this year goes as smoothly as December did. It was a huge success! As the date gets closer, I will have a better idea which areas still need volunteers and I may send out another plea for help.

Until the Regional Coordinators have committed, you may contact me regarding opportunities for the Count.

Finally, to make sure I stay on topic, I'd like to add that I heard a Nashville Warbler singing by the dumpster of my apartment complex. This is the first time I've detected this species in my neigborhood, which is only one block from El Camino Real and typically not a real warbler hot spot.


04-21-01

After a moderately successful, but very enjoyable walk at Ano Nuevo State Reserve with our group, a few of us continued birding along the coast and had a small picnic at Pescadero Beach (hot garlic artichoke bread from Mussi's Deli...) We had a few Caspian Terns, Surfbirds, Black Oystercatcher, scores of Band-tailed Pigeons and an immature Golden Eagle which flew right over our car.

Our journey continued up to the crest of Hwy 92 where we made a brief stop at the Skylawn Memorial Garden and were able to relocate the previously reported pair of Red Crossbills easily. They very cooperatively posed atop a small tree to give us great looks at their remarkable bills which is designed to pry open pinecones, allowing the bird to remove the pinenut with its tongue.

Finally we stopped at Frenchman's Meadow on Stanford Campus to see the nesting Hooded Orioles. We observed both males and females of these more slender, slightly smaller Orioles. The greenish yellow bellies of the females is a good feature to look for if the more obvious males are not seen. Bullock's females have a whitish belly and often a warmer coloration. As impossible as it seems, I think the Hoodeds are even more beautiful than the Bullock's Orioles, but I realize I'm splitting hairs...


04-15-01

Happy Easter to everyone! Today I was awoken by the harsh rattling of a Belted Kingfisher in my pool area. A moment later there was the sound of Killdeer, American Kestrel and Bullock's Oriole. I didn't have to hear much more before I realized all of these sounds were coming form a single Northern Mockingbird! I've now heard this bird immitate a large variety of local birds which also includes Steller's Jay, Scrub Jay, American Robin, California Quail and Brown-headed Cowbird. This amazing repetoir is sung almost continuously both during the day and long after dark... never in the same sequence. It's nothing less than remarkable how accurate his impersonations can be. I especially like hearing some of the birds which do not occur in my immediate neighborhood, indicating that this individual Mockingbird has come from somewhere up in the hills where Steller's Jay and California Quail are common.

The drama continues with the nesting birds around my apartment complex... Today I saw a Western Scrub Jay attempting to raid the House Sparrow nest above my neighbor's door. The Jay, which seemed far too large to gain access to the small nest hole was determined but apparently unsuccessful. It will be interesting to see if it continues to pursue the small birds. At the moment I believe the nest still contains only eggs as I have heard no high-pitched squeeks in the hole. I wasn't around to see if the Jay made off with any eggs. If the eggs remain and they hatch the chicks will be vulnerable to another attack as they make their first journeys out of the nest. I am reminded once again that you needn't go far to find amazing displays of the natural world; in this case, not eight feet from my front door!


04-14-01

After this morning's field trip, Kenneth Petersen, Phil and Joan Leighton and I went to see the Alviso Reeve which was, as reported, hard to get a good look at... Les Chibana had already arrived and pointed us toward the bird. Patience was rewarded with good (but brief) looks at the bird as it skulked around the weeds opposite the fenced area at the corner of State and Spreckles in Alviso.

Kenneth Petersen and I later visited Ed Levin Park to find many more Bullock's Orioles a few Selasphorus Hummingbirds, two of which were definately Rufous Hummingbirds. Most likely, there were some Allen's mixed in with this aggressively territorial group. We also found a Rufous-crowned Sparrow near the sycamore trees on the hillside near the hang gliders.

Finally, I went to Charleston Slough where there appeared to be 13 Black Skimmers on the island including one immature. A bit farther out along the main trail there were 85+ White Pelicans soaring above Adobe Creek, many with large breeding horns on their bills and roughly 30 Bonaparte's Gulls with full black heads.


04-12-01

The moment I arrived home after work this evening I heard the characteristic chatter of an Oriole above the carport. The sound did not seem exactly like the familiar Bullock's Oriole, but perhaps the less common Hooded. It was thinner and shorter than usual and interspersed with chirps reminiscent of a House Sparrow's, but lacked the jumble of musical whistles I might expect from a Bullock's. I searched the top of the huge eucalyptus tree, which is only few feet away from two large palm trees, but I could find no bird to go with the sounds. I turned to get my binoculars out of the glove compartment and managed to raise them just in time to see a streak of brilliant orange fly out of the branches and over the next apartment complex. As it flew, the bird's tail seemed longer in relation to the body than would be expected for a Bullock's, but it moved so fast the only color I was conscious of was orange. I'm afraid I don't have enough information to rule out either species, so it will just have to remain "Oriole species". I'll keep my eyes and ears open for its return at which time I'll try to identify it for sure...

On a sad note, the Mourning Dove nest I've mentioned before was destroyed two days ago, presumably by a cat. Two out of the three eggs were found broken on the ground amid the remains of the nest material and a jumble of adult feathers. My guess is that a cat got to the nest by jumping from the roof a one of the cars. The remaining egg was collected by a neighbor who came by to ask what he should do. I suggested it was probably too late, but if kept warm for a day or two it might still hatch. Since Mourning Doves can have up to six broods a year, the pair may already be setting up house for a second try. Good luck to them!