SCVAS Birdathon with Team DeDUCKtions
As with last year, we assembled a team of highly motivated birders for our all-day Santa Clara County adventure. Team DeDUCKtions was comprised of Mary Ann Allan, Leonie Batkin, Cynthia Berg, Juliette Bryson, Kelly Dodder, Matthew Dodder, Eric Goodill, Patty McGann, Sonny Mencher, Camille Moitozo, Kenneth Petersen, Ashutsoh Sinha, and Marilyn Waterman.
The excitement actually began on Friday night, beginning at 8:00 pm for a little owling. We met at the park-and-ride and headed up to Skyline Boulevard in the hope of finding Northern Saw-whet Owl. No luck there, but we did locate a Great Horned Owl perched on a phone pole near Gate 5 of Montebello OSP. Somewhat discouraged and eager to get some sleep, we returned to Hwy 280, retrieved the remaining cars and made a quick dash to Old Page Mill Road where we had often been successful with Western Screech Owl. Again we were not rewarded with the bird, but several members heard Barn Owl along the road. Well, by 11:00 most of us were at home and trying desperately to fall asleep, since start time was only a few hours away...
Five o-clock sharp the team was assembled at our traditional rendez vous, the Krispi Kreme parking lot at Rengstorff and Hwy 101. Dark-eyed Junco was already singing to us from the trees. A quick reorg of the cars allowed us to start driving again within minutes. Our first destination was Smith Creek, high above Grant Park in the San Jose hills. Faintly visible on the horizon was the sun, making me wonder why we hadn't gotten started even earlier.
By the time we arrived at Smith Creek, the sun was fully up and the creek was alive with song. American Robin, Black-headed Grosbeak, House Finch, and Bewick's Wren were all logged practically before we closed the car doors. The walk along the creek was pleasant and many additional birds began to appear. Pacific-slope Flycatcher and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Warbling and Cassin's Vireos, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Orange-crowned, Townsend's, Black-throated Gray and Hermit Warblers, Western Tanager. A lone Wild Turkey was quietly foraging in the meadow, and an unexpected Double-crested Cormorant flew overhead presumably toward the lake below us. We were off to a good start, but despite our efforts, no Northern Pygmy Owl would be found.
A brief detour to Kincaid Road produced additonal birds, but not the hoped-for Wood Duck. Instead we logged our first Western Kingbird and Bullock's Oriole, as well as Violet-green Swallow and Killdeer. We moved on. We were on a tight schedule.
Twin Gates was where we hoped to find some uncommon species that prefer open areas. We were pleased to find Lazuli Bunting here, always a crowd-pleaser, but not Lark Sparrows were present. Western Wood Pewee was calling from the trees below us bunches of Western Kingbirds an Bullock's were vocalizing in the huge oaks.
Again, many birds we had found in previous years were not located where we expected. The Rufous-crowned Sparrow for example could not be dug out from the chaparral area along Mount Hamilton Road. It hardly mattered though we got our first Wrentit here and in the trees directly beside our cars we had an amazing tree filled with excited insectivores. Townsend's, Black-throated Gray, and Hermit Warblers, Hammond's Flycatcher, Cassin's, Hutton's and Warbling Vireos... We could have stayed for a while but the clock was ticking.
As we continued downhill, some quick eyes and ears picked out Rufous-crowned Sparrow on the slopes and oddly, two Tricolored Blackbirds headed toward the lake. Hall's Lake itself was very productive with our first significant showing of Waterfowl, Golden Eagle, Belted Kingfisher, Spotted Sandpiper and many Swallows. The area surrounding the farmhouse in Grant Park proper was less active, but we did locate our first White-tailed Kite, Brown-headed Cowbird and Song Sparrow.
As everyone knows, it's often the urban birds that go uncounted on a big day, so we were careful not to forget them this time. As we made our way to Alum Rock Park, we located Northern Mockingbird and House Sparrow along White Avenue.
Perhaps the greatest error I made in planning the day was spending so much time at Alum Rock Park. We logged only two new birds here. Common Raven and Mallard... funny how we hadn't gotten these earlier, but somehow we hadn't. We had a nice lunch at the picnic tables, keeping our eyes open for anything new. Sadly, the Western Screech Owl was not visible in its traditional nest hole.
Our time along Sierra Road was very productive. Lark Sparrow appeared as we climbed up the grassy hills. And shortly after that we spotted Horned Lark on a fence post. Moments later we were seeing and hearing more Horned Larks and very surprisingly a large flock of American Pipits, many wearing full breeding colors. Our only Loggerhead Shrike was also found here.
Another detour to find the nesting Bald Eagle on Calaveras Reservoir was successful. Two motorcyclists were also resting in the shade of observation area. We let them look through our scopes at the adult in the nest, which they enjoyed quite a bit.
Another stop, which proved less helpful to our count than hoped, was Ed Levin Park. There were so many possibilities here, but only one, White-throated Swift was located. We broke up here; with smaller teams hiking up to the sycamores, others surveying the flowers near the dog run, others scoping the pond. No one reported great results, and fatigue was definitely setting in. We wrapped up our visit here with some scope-filling views of the Great Horned Owl nestling beside the lake.
The Alviso EEC was hugely helpful for our spirits. Immediately upon passing the gate, we logged new Shorebirds. Western and Least Sandpiper, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, and Short-billed Dowitcher (Long-billed was found a bit later). Northern Pintail was also spotted in the shallow ponds and on the power lines we found an adult Peregrine Falcon. When we reached the parking area, we exited the cars to find Eurasian Collared Dove perched above us. We found more of this beautiful species later as well. The salt ponds provided our best Gull assortment with Bonaparte's, California, Ring-billed, Western, Glaucous-winged AND a very late Thayer's Gull. The reeds contained several chattering Marsh Wrens.
The State and Spreckles intersection had many of the same Shorebirds we'd already logged, plus quite a few Dunlin in full breeding colors. WOW, are they beautiful this time of year! We stopped at the Jubilee Christian Church to find Burrowing Owl, Ring-necked Pheasant before moving on.
The next stop was Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Ponds (SPWCP) where Snowy Egret, Green Heron and Black-crowned Night Heron were easily found in the channel leading beside the trail. Also located, but with some more effort was Common Moorhen, Caspian Tern.
Shoreline Lake was next, via the Charleston Slough entrance along Terminal Way. Our targets were Surf Scoter, any lingering Grebes and hopefully the recently reported Red-throated Loon. Well one out of three isn't horrible, I guess. We came away with Surf Scoter, but added Black Skimmer, Willet and Marbled Godwit as well. The Mountain View Forebay contained Sora, Long-billed Dowitcher, Green-winged Teal and Lesser Scaup.
We were really getting tired by now, and we had reached that point where we had to make some sacrifices to maximize our results. We opted to skip Palo Alto Baylands and speed to Steven's Creek Reservoir. We wanted Osprey, but got Common Merganser and Wood Duck instead. OK! Let's move.
Finally, we visited McClellan Ranch where Hooded Oriole was easily found in the palm trees, and our last bird of the day, just as the sun was beginning to fade below the hills, was a Sharp-shinned Hawk. We were careful to examine all the features to ensure we were not mistaking a male Cooper's, but it passed the test.
This year's effort was a huge success. In the end we logged 144 species, down slightly from last year, but no matter. It was still a rewarding day filled with laughter and great discoveries. Due to the generous support of our many sponsors, who helped us meet the $5000 dollar-for-dollar challenge offered by Leonie Batkin, our team will be contributing in excess of $10,000 to SCVAS. Thank you also to our 12 eager team members, who happily endured long hours without sleep, long drives with very few restroom stops, way too little sleep and periods of slow birding. You all deserve a huge thank you. Your support will help Audubon continue its wonderful education and conservation efforts. So THANK YOU once again! Now get some rest, and think about next year!
Chronologic List (prepared by Eric Goodill):
Great Horned Owl Montebello gate 5
Barn Owl Old Page Mill Road
Dark-eyed Junco Costco parking lot
Steller’s Jay Smith Creek
Spotted Towhee Smith Creek
California Towhee Smith Creek
Bewick’s Wren Smith Creek
Black-headed Grosbeak Smith Creek
Black Phoebe Smith Creek
House Wren Smith Creek
American Crow Smith Creek
California Quail Smith Creek
Wild Turkey Smith Creek
Great Blue Heron Smith Creek
Brown Creeper Smith Creek
American Robin Smith Creek
Band-tailed Pigeon Smith Creek
Cassin’s Vireo Smith Creek
Chestnut-backed Chickadee Smith Creek
Black-throated Gray Warbler Smith Creek
Wilson’s Warbler Smith Creek
Purple Finch Smith Creek
Warbling Vireo Smith Creek
Orange-crowned Warbler Smith Creek
Western Tanager Smith Creek
Hermit Warbler Smith Creek
Pacific-slope Flycatcher Smith Creek
Townsend’s Warbler Smith Creek
Nuttall’s Woodpecker Smith Creek
Red-tailed Hawk Smith Creek
Acorn Woodpecker Smith Creek
Downy Woodpecker Smith Creek
Ash-throated Flycatcher Smith Creek
Hermit Thrush Smith Creek
Hairy Woodpecker Smith Creek
Western Scrub-Jay Smith Creek
Yellow-billed Magpie Smith Creek
Golden-crowned Sparrow Smith Creek
Lesser Goldfinch Smith Creek
Double-crested Cormorant Smith Creek
Oak Titmouse Smith Creek
Anna’s Hummingbird Smith Creek
Hutton’s Vireo Smith Creek
Western Bluebird Smith Creek
Northern Flicker Smith Creek
California Thrasher Smith Creek
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Smith Creek
White-breasted Nuthatch Smith Creek
Cedar Waxwing Smith Creek
European Starling Kincaid Road
American Goldfinch Kincaid Road
Red-winged Blackbird Kincaid Road
Western Kingbird Kincaid Road
Common Yellowthroat Kincaid Road
Brewer’s Blackbird Kincaid Road
Bullock’s Oriole Kincaid Road
Killdeer Kincaid Road
Violet-green Swallow Kincaid Road
Yellow-rumped Warbler Kincaid Road
Turkey Vulture Twin Gates
Mourning Dove Twin Gates
Western Wood-Pewee Twin Gates
Tree Swallow Twin Gates
Lazuli Bunting Twin Gates
House Finch Twin Gates
Hammond’s Flycatcher Rufous-crowned Sparrow turnout
Wrentit Rufous-crowned Sparrow turnout
Tricolored Blackbird Driving
Rufous-crowned Sparrow Driving
Bufflehead Grant Lake
Golden Eagle Grant Lake
Western Grebe Grant Lake
Least Sandpiper Grant Lake
Belted Kingfisher Grant Lake
Spotted Sandpiper Grant Lake
Cinnamon Teal Grant Lake
Pied-billed Grebe Grant Lake
Great Egret Grant Lake
Canada Goose Grant Lake
Gadwall Grant Lake
American Coot Grant Lake
Ruddy Duck Grant Lake
Cooper’s Hawk Grant Lake
Red-shouldered Hawk Grant Lake
Rock Pigeon Grant Lake
Cliff Swallow Grant Lake
Savannah Sparrow Grant Lake
Barn Swallow Grant Ranch
White-tailed Kite Grant Ranch
Brown-headed Cowbird Grant Ranch
White-crowned Sparrow Grant Ranch
Song Sparrow Grant Ranch
Bushtit Grant Ranch
Northern Mockingbird Driving
House Sparrow Driving
Western Meadowlark Driving
Common Raven Alum Rock Park
Mallard Alum Rock Park
American Kestrel Driving
Lark Sparrow Sierra Road
Horned Lark Sierra Road
American Pipit Sierra Road
Loggerhead Shrike Sierra Road
Bald Eagle Calaveras Road
White-throated Swift Ed Levin
Western Sandpiper Alviso EEC
Black-necked Stilt Alviso EEC
Semipalmated Plover Alviso EEC
American Avocet Alviso EEC
Northern Harrier Alviso EEC
Short-billed Dowitcher Alviso EEC
Northern Pintail Alviso EEC
Peregrine Falcon Alviso EEC
Eurasian Collared-Dove Alviso EEC
Forster’s Tern Alviso EEC
Bonaparte’s Gull Alviso EEC
Thayer’s Gull Alviso EEC
Northern Shoveler Alviso EEC
Glaucous-winged Gull Alviso EEC
California Gull Alviso EEC
American White Pelican Alviso EEC
Ring-billed Gull Alviso EEC
Western Gull Alviso EEC
Marsh Wren Alviso EEC
Dunlin State & Sprec kles
Burrowing Owl Driving
Ring-necked Pheasant Jubilee Church
Green Heron Sunnyvale WPCP
Snowy Egret Sunnyvale WPCP
Black-crowned Night-Heron Sunnyvale WPCP
Common Moorhen Sunnyvale WPCP
Caspian Tern Sunnyvale WPCP
Clark’s Grebe Shoreline Lake
Surf Scoter Shoreline Lake
Black Skimmer Shoreline Lake
Willet Shoreline Lake
Marbled Godwit Shoreline Lake
Sora Mountain View Forebay
Long-billed Dowitcher Mountain View Forebay
Green-winged Teal Charleston Slough
Lesser Scaup Charleston Slough
Common Merganser Stevens Creek Reservoir
Wood Duck Stevens Creek Reservoir
Hooded Oriole McClellan Ranch
Sharp-shinned Hawk McClellan Ranch
Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Eurasian Collared Dove
Great Horned Owl
Western Wood Pewee
Western Scrub Jay
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Gray Warbler
I made a quick trip to Alviso EEC this morning and refound the recently reported Glaucous Gull. It was resting on the second island as I walked out along the levy trail. There was a confusing array of well-worn immature Gulls, including several Glaucous-winged Gulls with bleached coverts and primaries, some also showed poorly defined dark tips on their bills. I began to consider multiple Glaucous Gulls until I got the real one in view. Once I had the actual GLGU in my scope, it was easy to distinguish from these other Gulls by its very bulky size, clearly defined dark-tipped pinkish bill, and most interesting was the blunt, parallel-edged bill. There was almost no gondeal angle on the lower mandible and very little hook. The bird was quite pale, but no paler than nearby Glaucous-wings. Also present were Ring-billed, California, Herring, Thayer's and Western.
The Barn Owl was resting close to the entrance of its nest box.