SCVAS Birdathon with "Team DeDUCKtions" 04-21-07
We staged our tour date one week later than last year in the hope of getting more spring migrants, and in an effort to get a few more Owls, a portion of our group went out on Friday night for a couple of hours. For that evening exploration we met at the park-and-ride near the intersection of Page Mill and Hwy 280 at 8:00 pm. We headed up the hill in three cars and tried our luck at various locations we had preselected. Unlike our scouting mission two weeks earlier however, we did not detect any Owls along Skyline. It may well have been that we began too early in the evening, or perhaps the weather somehow discouraged their vocalizing. Or it could be that the Northern Saw-whet Owls we heard were exploring other portions of their territory... In any case, it wasn't long before we realized what we believed was a guaranteed bird for the count was not going to end up on our final list... As we made our way home for a few hours of sleep, we visited Old Page Mill Road where we were able to hear and see a beautiful Western Screeh Owl in an oak near the old quarry gate. We observed it for a few minutes as it called and glared down on us. In the distance we also heard Great Horned Owl. So maybe our Owling effort wasn't a waste of time after all...
We were in bed by 11:00, but not very successful at sleeping. I tossed and turned, excited and worried about the day ahead. Cricket felt horribly ill from the winding drive up and down the hill and didn't sleep well either. It seemed like I had just closed my eyes when the alarm went off at 3:45 am. It was just enough time to shower, have 4 cups of coffee and a powerbar. It was also enough time to determine that Cricket was not feeling well enough to attend the first part of our tour. She would be joining us in the afternoon when her stomach settled.
04:45 am at Krispi Kreme and we're all awake.... sort of.
My brave team mates, all alert and smiling, met me in the Krispi Kreme parking lot at the intersection of Rengtorff and Hwy 101 at 4:45 am. Eric Goodill (electronic record keeper), Leonie Batkin (paper record keeper), Ashutosh Sinha (Nashville Warbler champion), Jeff Mencher (photographer and proud grandfather), Carol Dienger (world birder and guide), Pati Rouzer (SFBBO board member and brownie maker extraordinaire), Brian Christman (my best man, and Pygmy Owl enthusiast), Carolyn Straub (newest member of our team), Kelly "Cricket" (my wife who had to miss the Pygmy Owl...) and I hoped to reach Smith Creek before sunrise to maximize our enjoyment of the morning chorus.
We drove up Mount Hamilton Road in complete darkness, passing Grant Park and the lake, both of which we would visit later, to the trail head at Smith Creek. It was relatively easy without the all cyclists which usually head up the hill after sunrise. We kept our eyes open for any Owls that might fly over our cars, but none were seen. Only a Raccoon. We arrived at the firestation at Smith Creek while it was still very dark, and several birds were heard even before we were fully out of our cars such as Wild Turkey, American Robin, Dark-eyed Junco and Black-headed Grosbeak. After gathering all must have items together, including walkie-talkies, iPod, speakers, and torches, we hit the trail. Within a very short time we heard the toot call of a Northern Pygmy-Owl in a nearby tree. It was past the metal gate in an oak just when the trail descends to the creek--much closer to the road than it had been when Ashutosh and I saw it on an earlier visit. We got the torches on it quickly and we all got great looks at this feisty little predator. It was a lifer for several members of the group. We admired him for a few minutes, and he glared down on us fiercely and continued to call even after we moved away. Our count got of to a rapid start, with several target Passerines counted within minutes. House Wren, Orange-crowned, Yellow and Townsend's Warblers were among the birds found. California and Spotted Towhees were easily located also. Black-headed Grosbeaks were hard to miss and their songs could be heard the entire time we were there. We also found Brown Creeper, Purple Finch, and a lingering Ruby-crowned Kinglet. A nice discovery was a Hammond's Flycatcher, seen and heard in the trees overlooking the meadow. We also spent a few minutes in the upper area, beyond the facility. There we encountered our first Western Bluebirds, another Yellow Warbler, a Wilson's Warbler, and a major target, a Nashville Warbler. Also seen in this area were at least two Lincoln's Sparrows in the brush pile. Finally, back by the bridge near our cars we spotted several White-crowned Sparrows. Beyond the many singing birds we also had flyover Band-tailed Pigeion, Mallard, Wood Duck and Common Merganser, the latter of which meant we might just have less pressure on us late in the day, when we were scheduled to visit Stevens Creek Reservoir and McClellan Ranch.
A short distance up the road we briefly toured Kincade Road. On the way we logged Blue-gray Gnatcatcher through the windows of our cars. On Kincade we hoped to refind the Wood Duck in the small pond, but none were present and it wasn't urgent, since we had seen two flyover at the creek. Instead we found the first of many Western Kingbirds of the day, Bullock's Oriole and both Red-winged and Brewer's Blackbirds near the cattle enclosure. Killdeers were guarding their young and called loudly. It's a beautiful road, and all the mistletoe made us consider Phainopela, but that was just a dream...
Along Kincade Road and we just saw our first Orioles of the day!
We arrived here in time to find a large group of cyclists preparing to head up to the observatory. There was a bit of a wait at the outhouse... The large oaks upslope provided good looks at several Lawrences's Goldfinches, more Bullock's Orioles and Black-headed Grosbeak. With a bit more patience we were able to locate Western Wood Pewee and a single Lark Sparrow. Yellow-rumped Warblers were in full breeding plumage, which was striking, and overhead we searched through the Swallows for anything new. We were, of course, already running behind schedule... We left and drove down hill toward one of the wide turnouts located near exposed earth and chaparral.
Mount Hamilton Road pullouts
This is the same spot we located Rufous-crowne Sparrow on two previous birdathons. We managed to coax out one of them again, and the chaparral on the slopes also produced a singing Calfiornia Thrasher. Time to move on.
Our Swallow collection enlarged here, where we found Cliff, Barn and Tree. Northern Rough-winged and Violet green were also present over the meadow, while the others preferred the lake. We found a few Waterbirds as expected. Double-crested Cormorant, Pied-billed Grebe, Forster's Terns, American Coot, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead, and Ruddy Duck. Many Song Sparrows were hiding in the bushes and Wrentit was heard up the hill a bit. Way overhead, quite far but still identifiable, was a Golden Eagle.
As we pulled up near the restrooms by the small bridge over the creek, we heard the Pacific-slope Flycatcher in the trees. Soon we found it, as well as Ash-throated Flycatcher. There were more Lawrence's Golfinches by the farmhouse. Seems like a really good year for them! Near the farmhouse also, we spotted a Sharp-shinned Hawk perching in a tree across the meadow. It later took flight and flew overhead, allowing us to confirm all the field marks we needed to identify. Oddly, no Cooper's Hawks were encountered all day... Little else was located in the park that we hadn't already seen.
Eric and Leonie securing sector 12, the area around the farmhouse...
...while the other troops proceed cautiously to the Lawrence's Goldfinch hidout.
Alum Rock Park
The itinerary I had settled on was over-ambitious, as anyone could have guessed. So we opted to skip a couple of stops, the first of which was Alum Rock Park. There we had hoped to find Western Tanager or Olive-sided Flycatcher, but the time required to search for those two birds would negatively impact our results elsewhere. The drive to Sierra Road however, produced some often neglected urban species. Northern Mockingbird was seen on the way down Mount Hamilton Road, while Rock Pigeon and House Sparrow were seen along North White Avenue.
The same reasoning used in the above change of plans was not used here. We took the detour up Sierra, a long route which would eventually lead us to Ed Levin. Just out of town we spotted another Lark Sparrow in a tree by the road. It sang for us and remained long enough for everyone to see well. At the summit we found our target species, Horned Lark. It was a single bird near the cattle enclosure and stock pond. As well there were several Savannah Sparrows in the grass, but no sign of the Grasshopper Sparrows. Several more Horned Larks were seen further up the road, where we conducted a brief search for Rock Wren, and apparently, some members of our group also noted White-throated Swift here.
Another detour took us past numerous cyclists to the overlook where the nesting Bald Eagle could be seen. I don't usually like to make single-species quests, but we made an exception in this case. It's quite wonderful to see this bird sitting on its nest, in plain view! The problem was turning our cars around after we were done admiring...
Ed Levin Park
This was our lunch stop, and one of the most productive portions of the trip. Warbling Vireo was located in the trees along the entrance road and we took a moment to scan the lake for anything new. We ate overlooking the pond, which had 2 loud Caspian Terns criss-crossing over it. Double-crested Cormorant were found again here as well as more Forster's Terns. Then it was time to move on. We gobbled down a few of Pati's delicious espresso brownies for an energy booste. WOW! We hiked up the hill toward the sycamore grove where we quickly heard the insect like songs of Grasshopper Sparrows in the tall grass. Eventually we got good close looks at one bird as it perched on a twig and sang for us. Lazuli Bunting was then seen in the top of one sycamore, its blue head simply electric in the overcast light. Rufous-crowned Sparrows were seen very well here too, but unfortunately, despite a lenghty search, no Blue Grosbeak, male or female... Before leaving the park we stopped at the hang glider's parking area, to search for Allen's or Rufous Hummingbirds. We heard a saw a female Selasphorus, and heard a male, but neither would pause long enough for a firm identification. Together, they remain "Selasphorus species" on our final list...
We just found Grasshopper Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow AND Lazuli Bunting!
Immediately upon turning onto Zankar, the bird list started to explode with new birds! As we passed the sewage treatment plant, we observed a dozen or so Bonaparte's Gulls, in fancy plumage, flying overhead. We continued past the plant and next drove into the EEC where a male Ring-necked Pheasant was casually crossing the tracks. There we began logging loads of Shorebirds, including Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Least and Western Sandpipers. The Dunlin were in spectacular alternate plumage, as were all the other Sandpipers. Gulls in the pond included Western, Glaucous-winged, Herring, Thayer's, Ring-billed and California, but we also saw additonal Forster's Terns and quite a few Ducks. Most satisfying was finding both species of Scaup. Overhead, many Swallows foraged, but not the hoped for Vaux's Swift until much later. The Barn Owl was in the nest box, but only seen by one sharp-eyed observer who evidently has better than average low-light visibility, Carol. Common Yellowthroat, both species of Dowitcher and Cinnamon Teal were in the channel, along with Common Moorhen. On our way out, we paused by the train tracks to find the Burrowing Owl on its mound. We then left the EEC and briefly stopped at State and Spreckles where little new was found, but several Semipalmated Plovers were nice anyway. Then it was off to the Marina. We found Clark's Grebe in the main pond, and both Sora and Virginia Rail were heard in the reeds. Biggest surprise here was a Fox Sparrow, which Ashutosh discovered along the edges of the marsh. Heading back to Hwy 237 Brian spotted another Burrowing Owl along North First Street by the golf course.
We really hoped the Sunnyvale Water Polution Control Ponds would provide us with a Green Heron for the day, but alas, it was not meant to be. Instead we found several Black-crowned Night Herons, another Common Moorhen but little else we needed. We got nice looks at Northern Rough-winged Swallows perched on the fence, which allowed us an uncommon view.
Having already found a few needed bird we hadn't expected before this, we opted to skip Shoreline Park. We had seen Burrowing Owl two stops earlier, as well as American Wigeon. We figured we could find more by going to Charleston Slough at the end of Terminal Way and scanning one side of the lake, and then looping back to the observation deck.
We never did find the Canvasbacks that Dotty and her group reported to us. It was now raining and the Wild Women were all bundled up. They said they still had to go to Ed Levin, but it was now after 5:00 and we wondered if they would make it there in time to see anything. I hope they did. Anyway, we crossed paths on our way out to the ponds. We spotted both Eared and Horned Grebe on the lake, as well as Surf Scoter and Western Grebe. To our left, flying among the many Swallows over the main pond was our only Vaux's Swift of the day. I love Swifts, and I shouted loudly to our group to watch for the little gray bird overhead. There was also a White-throated Swift in this cloud, but most people found the tiny Vaux's. We also scanned the Slough where many Shorebirds were arriving to forage on the mud flats. Dunlin, Marbled Godwit, Least and Western Sandipipers, Dowitchers were all present. Most rewarding was a Whimbrel. There were Black-bellied Plovers in glorious alternate plumage as well, and many people commented how nice it was to see Black-bellied Plovers with actual black bellies!
Again, a casualty of an overly-aggressive schedule. We skipped it, and therefore undoubtedly missed something good...
Palo Alto Baylands
The Duck Pond was our first stop. It was raining quite hard by now, so we drove right up to the Heronry and made short work of the area. No Cattle Egret... Also not a surprise. I'd hate to spoil my perfect record of NOT seeing this bird there. Still, the crazy gurgling sounds of the Snowy Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons nesting in the trees is worth a visit. Truly bizarre! We considered counting some of the strange barnyard hybrid Waterfowl, but figured our sponsors would call us on it, so we decided not to risk it. We were also rewarded with top quality views of Clapper Rail on the boardwalk leading out to the bay from Lucy Stern Interpretive Center. The bird walked ahead of us in the pickleweed and then paused beneath the wooden walkway and called loudly. This was during another period of rain, so a few people missed the show.
Steven's Creek Park
The sun was dropping rapidly. In fact, we couldn't see the sun for all the drizzle and clouds. At least the rain had slowed to a tolerable drizzle. We drove past the north entrance and continued to the picnic area overlooking the reservoir. There we hoped to relocate the Common Loon of the previous week, but did not succeed. Instead we found four, count 'em, four Spotted Sandpipers along the shore. Since the females are occasionally polyandrous, I wonder how many females are included in this number and how many male-attended nests might be in the area... Anyway, we were very happy with that, seeing we knew finding just one would be a challenge. It's also a good thing we had already succeeded in finding Common Merganser because the only swimming birds we encountered were Double-crested Cormorants and a few widely spaced American Coots.
Our last stop was made out of sheer desperation. Could we possibly get any new birds with the declining light and drippy weather. Well, we did. As soon as we exited our cars we heard the characteristic chatter of Hooded Oriole in the oaks above the red Audubon headquarters. We also managed, with a little help from two torches, to spot a Barn Owl in the red barn... We failed unfortunately to hear or see any Belted Kingfishers during our tour, but this was especially surprising here. We strolled the entire creek trail with no luck, but it was still a successful day and very appropriate that our last 2 birds would be seen at SCVAS.
Exhausted but happy. L to R: Brian Christman, Jeff Mencher, Eric Goodill, me (in back), Cricket (in front), Carolyn Straub, Leonie Batkin, Carol Dienger, Ashutosh Sinha. Pati Rouzer (taking the picture...)
Dinner at Hobee's
Despite everyone's exhaustion, Eric Goodill and Leonie Batkin, aka "records", and the rest of the group did the final reconciliation over dinner. Our total birds, including species we saw and those we only heard, which I'm happy to say was relatively few, was 152 species. A full 12 birds beyond what we found last year. It included about 17 species we did not encounter last year, such as Northern Pygmy Owl, Nashville Warbler It also revealed some painful misses--species we think we should have been able to find, but did not... Some of these are lingering species, others we know will be more easily found later in the season. In any case, we missed 'em.
American White Pelican
Cooper's Hawk (ouch!)
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Hutton's Vireo (double ouch!!)
Black-throated Gray Warbler
It will take some time to tally up our contributions, but it looks like we are very close to receiving all of our $5000 challenge grant, making our contribution to the SCVAS education and conservation efforts a true victory! [NOTE: final tally of contributions exceeded $11,000]
Thanks to everyone on our team of cheerful birders, but more importantly to the many people who helped make this effort a success with their generous pledges of support. Your contributions are greatly appreciated by everyone on our team, and of course, by the Audubon chapter. The funds you have helped us collect will allow the education and conservation programs our community counts on to flourish in the coming year. We couldn't do it without you! Thank you again!
Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Western Screech Owl
Great Horned Owl
Northern Pygmy Owl
Wesetern Wood Pewee
Western Scrub Jay
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
I visited Palo Alto Baylands today during lunch. After dropping off some cardboard at the recycling center I surveyed the Duck Pond... No Cattle Egret, of course. I've been there many time, but obviously at the wrong time, because I haven't seen it yet... Anyway, the mudflats were filled with Western Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Dunlin and both Dowitcher species. The wonderful thing was that everyone was in full breeding plumage! If you haven't seen a Dunlin in alternate, this is your chance!
The SCVAS birdathon has been going on for several weeks, and my "Team DeDUCKtions" will head out tomorrow night for a little Owling along Skyline and on Old Page Mill Road, followed by an all-day Santa Clara County bonanza on Saturday. Here's the itinerary I sent to my team mates: Eric Goodill, Leonie Batkin, Ashutosh Sinha, Jeff Mencher, Pati Rouzer, Brian Christman, Carol Dienger, Carolyn Straub, Kelly "Cricket" and myself.
-Smith Creek (I want to be there BEFORE sunrise, if possible, to maximize our morning chorus)
-Kincade Road (farther away than Smith Creek, I know, but a quick stop, and could be worthwhile for Wood Duck and YB Magpie)
-Twin Gates (Lark Sparrow, Western Kingbird)
-Mount Hamilton pullouts (Rufous-crowned Sparrow)
-Grant Lake (lingering winter Waterfowl?, Wrentit, Calfornia Thrasher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher?)
-Grant Park proper (Wild Turkey, woodland species)
-Alum Rock Park? (Western Tanager, Bullock's Oriole, Rufous-crowned Sparrow)
-Sierra Road (for Horned Lark)
-Calaveras Reservoir (for Bald Eagle)
-Ed Levin Park (for Lawrence's Goldfinch, Lazuli Bunting, Grasshopper and Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Blue Grosbeak??)
-Alviso (various stops such as the water treatment facility for Bonaparte's Gull, EEC for other Gulls, Rails and possible Barn Owl)
-SWPCP (we've stopped here before to grab a few Waterfowl. It may still have a few)
-Shoreline Park (main entrance for Burrowing Owl and main pond for any lingering winter Waterfowl)
-Charleston Slough (at the end of San Antonio for Black Skimmers and Forster's Tern...)
-Matadero Creek? (Green Heron?)
-Palo Alto Baylands (California Clapper Rail, Cattle Egret)
-Steven's Creek Park (remaining Passerines such as Cassin's Vireo, Wilson's Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher...)
-McClellan Ranch (Hooded Oriole, Barn Owl, Wood Duck)
We'll see how it goes...
Black-crowned Night Heron and Snowy Egret along the creek, as well as Pacific-slope Flycatcher and a few lingering Yellow-rumped Warblers.
Eric Goodill, Kelly and I did some scouting for next week's Birdathon. First stop was Ed Levin Park where 3-4 Lawrence's Goldfinches were seen in the trees across from the hang gliders parking lot. One Selasphorus hummer in this area eluded solid identification.
Up the hill toward the Sycamore Grove above the dog run, we heard and saw two more Lawrence's Goldfinches, several Grasshopper, Rufous-crowned and one Lincoln's Sparrow. Also seen was a male and female Lazuli Bunting. Most exciting were two probable Blue Grosbeak females, that made a brief appearance in the largest sycamore before dashing away uphill. These two stout birds were cinnamon brown, big-headed with medium-length tails, but they left before I could identify with certainty. They popped into view immediately after I played the song which is what caught my attention. I had hoped they might be present. Something to look for next week, of course... Several White-throated Swifts were foraging overhead, and Western Kingbirds were conspicuous and numerous.
At Calaveras Reservoir, the Bald Eagle was sitting on its nest, easily visible from the road, about 6 minute's drive from the intersection with Calaveras and Felter Roads. Yellow-billled Magpie, White-breasted Nuthatch were also nice birds seen here.
The summit of Sierra Road produced several Savannah Sparrows and a Horned Lark.
I forgot to mention that we noted an Ash-throated Flycatcher in two places this morning: First bird was near the Lawrence's Goldfinch spot by the hang-glider's parking area along the entrance road. The second bird was found by voice at the sycamore grove near the Lazuli Bunting.
As well, we had an Ash-throated Flycatcher, a pair of Western Wood Pewee, and several Pacific-slope Flycatchers yesterday on my class visit to Steven's Creek Park. Also discovered there were several
Wilson's, Orange-crowned and Townsend's Warblers.
Prior to our retreat on March 24, SCVAS board members made a short loop around McClellan Ranch along the creek. The Wood Ducks Lisa mentioned were setting up nest at that time and we discussed the possibility they might be located again during our birdathon day. We observed the female enter the nest hole, which was a large hole in an angled sycamore trunk. We noted Wood Ducks several times, both male and female, but were were not sure how many individuals were present. I'm glad to hear the nest is still active, sounds like we'll definitely be stopping there again next week for the Birdathon, also to see the BARN OWL in the barn!
On my lunch hour walk along San Francisquito Creek I noticed a pair of American Robins setting up nest in a pine branch overhanging the creek at the intersection of Cowper and Palo Alto. There were several Yellow-rumped Warblers in full breeding plumage singing here, and Violet-green, Tree and Northern Rough-winged Swallows overhead. At the intersection with Emerson I spotted a "singing" Pacific-slope Flycatcher working both sides of the creek. Lively Bewick's Wren and White-breasted Nuthatch was also heard in the area.
Ashutosh Sinha and I did a bit more scouting this morning for the upcoming SCVAS Birdathon. We were intent on finding (and seeing) a Northern Pygmy Owl. We decided to try Smith Creek, about 1 mile uphill from Twin Gates, on Mount Hamilton Road. The fenced utility building marks the spot, and thankfully the "No Parking" signs have been removed. We had looked along the creek before without luck, but today, we heard the "toot" calls very soon after we arrived. As we strolled along the creek, the bird seemed to be getting closer, and the nearby raucous calls of Steller's Jays and all manner of smaller birds, we figured he might be close. Sure enough, a moment later, an angry group that included Chestnut-backed Chicadees, Orange-crowned Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Purple Finches chased the Northern Pygmy Owl into the tree directly overhead! We watched him for several minutes as he continued to call, bobbed his tail and rotating his head around to face his many aggressors. It was very exciting and the first time I had actually seen an N. Pygmy Owl being harassed by so many birds. One female-plumaged Purple Finch actually made contact! Pretty brave, I'd say...
Anyway, the trail also produced a Hairy Woodpecker, House Wren, Brown Creeper, Warbling Vireo, many Orange-crowned Warblers, and a heard-only Black-headed Grosbeak.
We then conducted a long, rather unsuccessful search up and over Mount Hamilton for anything unusual. Most notable were several small ponds, each with 2-5 pairs of Wood Ducks. We also located several singing California Thrashers and a male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in the chaparral down from the peak.
Somewhat discouraged, we returned to the Smith Creek area. We drove along Kinkade Road. More Wood Ducks were present on the small pond, as well as 6 Yellow-billed Magpie, and 4 Band-tailed Pigeon. All the mistletoe made me think about Phainopepla, but the only black birds we saw were Red-winged and Brewer's Blackbirds.
We left after a short time and continued past Smith Creek back down hill and stopped at Twin Gates. Bullock's Orioles were calling loudly from the oaks above the parking lot, as well as several Lark Sparrows. Two fly-over Lawrence's Goldfinches were a nice bonus, but we soon lost them over the trees. No Kingbirds were seen here, which surprised us a bit.
We continued down hill. Wild Turkeys were seen in a couple of places along the road. By the time we arrived at Grant Lake, we had seen Barn, Cliff, Violet-green Swallows, but oddly, no Trees... I guess we just weren't looking close enough. Zonotrichia Sparrows were sparse, but we did manage both Golden-crowned and White-crowned. A few good roadside spots for Rufous-crowned Sparrows went unexplored today, but we'll get to them on count day! Finally, as the Santa Clara Valley was in view again, we spotted two Western Kingbirds on the barbed-wire fence and it was time for lunch...
If you would like to support our "Team DeDUCKtions" on April 21, we have an incredible "challenge grant" from an anonymous donor who will match each dollar contributed up to $5,000. That means your pledge will be doubled!! Help us meet that goal by pledging your support now! There's NO better way of making your dollars count and helping the educational programs at SCVAS. Please contact SCVAS (408) 252-3747 to be a part of our team, or simply make a pledge!