I made a quick visit to Palo Alto Baylands during lunch today. Near the bridge there were great numbers of California Gulls, Marbled Godwits and Willets, with a dozen or so Long-billed Curlew and Least Sandpipers mixed in. Two Ring-billed Gulls and one Whimbrel was also present, and I believe one very contrasty juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher with tiger-striped tertials was foraging with the other Short-bills.

Six or so Violet-green Swallows also made an appearance over the Palo Alto Flood Control Basin along Frontage Road, but no Ibis. The immature Peregrine Falcon passing overhead caused a bit of a panic among the many American Avocets and Black-necked Stilt foraging on the flats.


After I-don't-want-to-tell-you-how-many attempts, Cricket and I were finally able to see the alternate-plumaged Black Tern in the northwest corner of salt pond A16. We had searched at Charleston Slough and A16 repeatedly, and at various times of day, but had not yet succeeded...

Tonight we began about 7:15 pm, parked our car near the locked gate, and walked toward the EEC. (Along the way we spotted three Burrowing Owls on the chainlink fence along Disk Drive., They're pretty dependable here). Anyway, we hoped perhaps the Tern would be on the first or second islands, but no luck with that (of course!). Instead we had the two Black Skimmers (with two chicks) and a Lesser Yellowlegs. On Sunday we had also had Wilson's Phalaropes here as well. On the second island we found two Ruddy Turnstones. We had been seen three Snowy Plovers on the south side of the levy (New Chicago Marsh) on Sunday as well, but tonight we had a single Semipalmated Plover, and both Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers. Red-necked Phalaropes had been present the day earlier, but today we saw none. The third and fourth islands had little activity, but the pond near the railroad tracks was filled with Wilson's Phalaropes, Dowitchers (mostly Short-billed by voice), and at least two Greater Yellowlegs. Yesterday, the salt pan on the opposite side of the tracks had a group of California Gulls pecking at the salt crystals and at least two Snowy Plovers among them. We were too concerned with declining sunlight to scan these areas thoroughly.

We continued walking fast toward the northwest corner of A16, a walk which took about 45 minutes from the locked gate, and began scanning the opposite shore from the small dock that provides a nice out-of-wind vantage point from which to scope. There were more than 100 Forster's Terns flying and perched on the mud and small wooden posts, and we worked through all of them. Moving from left to right we examined the pilings to the northeast of us, and the tiny mud bars that end with the large group of American White Pelicans roughly east of the little dock. Over and over we scoped that area, finding only Forster's Terns and an occasional Bonaparte's Gull.

Finally, at about 8:15 there was a frenzy of Tern activity near the northern most pilings. Realizing that the Black Tern might not be perched at all, and rather might be settling down for the evening after an afternoon of foraging, we scanned the cloud of Terns. Quickly we found the Black Tern among them. It hovered and dove repeatedly among the larger Forster's Terns as if it were searching for a good place to settle for the night. We left it about 15 minutes later, and it was still searching for a place to settle.

We've managed to find 4 out of 5 Terns since class ended:
Caspian, Least, Elegant, Black. Now on to the Common Tern...

So, I'm thinking Coyote Point, just off of the marina on the oyster bar, or perhaps salt pond A13 for the one remaining species. The Santa Clara County checklist indicates it should appear any day now.

Incidentally, if you haven't found Caspian or Elegant Terns yet, try the coast. Princeton Harbor was loud with both species a week ago.

And if it's Least Tern you seek, Crab Cove in Alameda is a good bet, as would be Hayward Shoreline or perhaps salt pond A2E, just north of Crittenden Marsh. The Stevens Creek trail will take you directly to the right area and since very hot weather is predicted this week, chances might be good. Bring water...



As you may remember, the 2009 Summer Challenge for our class was to make "5 Right Terns" before class begins in Fall. Ignoring Forster's because that is simply tooooo easy, that leaves Caspian, Elegant, Least, Black and Common for us to track down. Cricket and I scanned for Black Tern in the Sierra Valley two weeks ago, but as has been widely reported their status in the valley has changed over the past few years, with few if any reports of breeding there.

We were successfull in finding Caspian Tern in various places along the SF bay and along the coast since class ended. In many cases, the squawking adults are followed by whistling juveniles begging for food.

Saturday we added Least Tern with a trip to Crab Cove in Alameda thanks to a tip from Pati and Patty. Others will show up at Crittenden Marsh soon, so you could search for them there.

We also watched a beautiful group of pink-breasted Elegant Terns at Princeton Harbor. Coyote Point is usually good for numbers of them later in the season.

Several of you have already logged Black Tern at either Charleston Slough or Alviso EEC. Despite several trips to each location, Crickt and I have not succeeded with that species yet this season... We're determined to catch it soon however, which would leave only Common Tern. Ironically, Common is the toughtest by far in our area but I'm betting on either Coyote Point marina or Alviso Marina ponds. There's still a month and a half before class starts, so I think there's time.

I don't know about you, but I'm really enjoying this particular challenge because the appearance of each species is nicely paced in our area. The first few are relatively easy and widespread, while the tougher ones are local and not simultaneous. Certainly, not guaranteed!

In other news, the AOU has released its 50th supplement to the checklist of North American Birds (which includes Central America). While the full text appeared in The Auk (subscribers only), but a very nice summary is available here: http://djringer.com/birding/2009/07/11/aou-50th-supplement-taxonomic-and-nomenclatural-changes/

Ted Floyd of Birding Magazine fame sent out a very brief summary to BIRDCHAT which I am brieferizing here (for us N.Californians). It consists of mostly renames and reassignments:

-- Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow becomes Nelson’s Sparrow.

-- "Tanager" genera Piranga (as well as southern genera Habia, and Chlorothraupis) moved to Cardinalidae to reflect well-documented relationship with Grosbeaks

-- Siskins and New World Goldfinches moved into genus Spinus. (Pine Siskin will now be called Spinus Pinus!)

-- Proposal to split Savannah Sparrow into several distinct species did not pass (too bad, I was looking forward to that...)

Anyway, that's it from the news desk. We'll see you in the field.


I finally got a chance to get to the Palo Alto Flood Control Basin along Frontage Road in Palo Alto today. On my way home from work, finding the recently reported White-faced Ibis took all of 45 seconds. I wish finding local rarities was always that easy!

06-29-09 through 07-02-09 Mono Basin and Yosemite

DAY 0 (Mono Lake arrival)
Cricket and I were not completely clear on what we would do after the group trip to Yuba Pass, but we knew we wanted something different. So we made the journey to Mono Lake and explored that area. Stopping first at Bodie, we found more Green-tailed Towhees and Brewer's Sparrows along the long gravel entrance road. We arrived late afternoon, so no Greater Sage Grouse were to be found. But the old ghost town, it's many interesting buildings and beautiful surroundings kept us occupied. We did find several Rock Wren, Mountain Bluebirds and Cliff and Violet-green Swallows working the area however, and heard Sage Sparrow (presumably the nevadadensis subspecies) as we explored.

(Note: all the images included below were taken with my iPhone... We're both pretty happy with the results!)

The road into Bodie. Lots of Sage which means Vesper, Sage (nevadadensis), and Brewer's Sparrows, Green-tailed Towhee and Rock Wren also...


Looking though the dusty glass into one of the abandoned buildings.

A school room

The tiny Methodist Church




The Bodie mine

Arriving at Lee Vining close to dinner there wasn't much time to go birding. Outside our motel room we enjoyed the view of the lake as House Wren and Violet-green Swallows worked the area. We also had a Red-breasted Sapsucker feeing not more than 6-feet off the railing. I visited the Mono Lake Committe Information Center and purchased WAY too many books. I asked them about recent reports of Black-backed Woodpeckers and they asked me if I wanted to become a member... (As soon as we got back to Mountain View a thank you note awaited us which included a personalized message about Black-backed Woodpecker... we weree very impressed with their customer service.) Anyway, we met up with Pati and Patty for dinner, and they offered to show us the Navy Beach area where they had seen and heard Common Nighthawk the night before. We were not disappointed. The birds foraged loudly overhead for at least a hour with sunset Sage Thrashers, Vesper and Brewer's Sparrows singing themselves into the night.

Sunset at Navy Beach near South Tufa. Our friends Pati and Patty took this image. They're the ones who showed us the Nighthawks.

Sunset at Navy Beach. Brewer's and Sage Sparrows were heard here, as well as Sage Thrasher, and Common Nighthawk

DAY 1 (Mono Lake environs)
The following morning, we met the two women again to pursue a lead on Northern Goshawk in an area outside of town. Despite a lenghty search, we were not successful, but at least we have an improved sense of the habitat and may visit the area again on a future visit. After that, we separated and decided to visit the burn south of Lee Vining where there had been recent reports of Black-backed and Lewis's Woodpeckers. Still, no luck, but we did have great looks at nesting Mountain Bluebird, Hairy Woodpecker and Clark's Nutcrackers. We presumed that the birds had either fledged or the nest tree had been "harvested". There were numerous piles of lumber along the sandy road, more than we were led to believe from the recent reports. The area was a strange combination of silent burned woodland and pretty new wildflowers.

No Black-backed Woodpeckers.... we believe the nest tree was "harvested"

Chipping Sparrows were to be found all around, as well as Mountain Bluebird

Hairy Woodpecker and Red-breasted Sapsucker.... but no Black-backs

Rock Wren again...

In the distance we heard Clark's Nutcracker

Cricket and I returned to Lee Vining, and visited the South Tufa area. This was where we had observed the Nighthawks the night before, but today we were intent on finding the nevadadensis Sage Sparrows. A quick broadcast of the song produced the bird, which was noticeably paler and more stripy than our "Bell's" variety. Perhaps this will be split by the AOU at some point... Also present here was the Gray Flycatcher, which was seen from the car as we drove, and remained for scope-filling views. Wonderful to see this so quickly after two other Empidonax species. Some time at the lake brought us close to nesting Osprey, as well as very vocal Brewer's Sparrows, Green-tailed Towhees and yet more Sage Thrashers.

The haunting formations at South Tufa

I think everyone takes a picture from this vantage point

From here we went to the visitor's center where we watched the exceptional orientation video and enjoyed the beautiful view from the platform. A short hike down toward the riparian corridor provided even more views of the various sage species, as well as nesting Yellow Warbler and a Western Wood Pewee.

A nice bit of shade makes Cricket very happy

After dinner, we made a futile search for Common Poorwill along the dirt road by the county park. We had just seen hoards of Wilson's Phalaropes, California Gulls but no Eared Grebes on the lake. Wilson's Snipe were easy to hear, but somewhat harder to view in this area.

DAY 2 (Saddle Bag Lake)
Our last full day in the Mono Basin was in fact spent just east of Tioga Pass, hiking around Saddlebag Lake. There we hoped to have a repeat of our last visit and find the Gray-crowned Rosy Finch. We did see them, a family of three in fact, on the northwest corner of the lake in the snow covered sections of alpine meadow. Also here were nesting Spotted Sandpipers, Rock Wren, Mountain Bluebird, Clark's Nutcracker and Cassin's Finch. There were also Yellow-bellied Marmots, and a very cool mammal called a Pika, of which we saw three. We made the 7-mile hike at 10,000 feet, amid precarious boulders, patches of snow and a shallow stream we had to cross to continue. Our boots got soaked, but at least it was warm. Just before reaching the trailhead again, and a change of shoes, we found both Wilson's and MacGillivray's Warblers in the moist drainage.

The sunlight bouncing off the snow was blinding here

We first found the Gray-crowned Rosy Finch family here. Not far from where we had seen it seven years ago....

Also present here was Spotted Sandpiper with, you guessed it... spots!

It was so bright here it was impossible to look up without squinting

The ground was very mushy here and we had to be careful where we stepped

Cricket was not happy with me at this point. The water was icy cold!

Again, she was NOT totally excited about me....

The hidden lake on the northeast corner of Saddlebag. We found at least two more Gray-crowned Rosy Finches here

Almost at the end of our 7-mile hike

Back at our motel in Lee Vining

DAY 3 (Yosemite, Hwy 120)
It seems a terrible injustice to "do" Yosemite in one day, but that is in fact all we had time for. We shot past Saddlebag and through the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite, not stopping until we reached the Tuolumne Meadows. There we hiked into the Soda Springs area to see the Red Crossbills and another Townsend's Solitaire. We had hoped to find Pine Grosbeak here, but were not so lucky. There were plenty of Pine Siskin and Cassin's Finches of course, and we did find some curiously gray-scaled Juncos that resembled a hybrid between "Oregon" and "Slate-colored". The unique, "cold" coloring lacked browns altogether... Enough said.

Tuolumne Meadows at 7:00 am

We also stopped at Olmstead Point to find the valley completely full of smoke. We assumed it was a forest fire, and the air choked our throats and stung our eyes. Still we managed a hike down to the lower stage and found a nesting pair of Williamson's Sapsuckers, as well as Olive-sided and Hammond's Flycatchers. High overhead we saw what appeared to be Black Swifts and far below us we hear several Mountain Quail. The small grove of pine trees had a surprising number of Nashville Warblers present and very vocal.

Olmstead Point with the valley filling up with smoke from a forest fire. It stung our eyes and made it hard to breathe

Half Dome all but invisible...

After finding a Williamson's Sapsucker nest we built a celebratory monument... We're pretty close to a very steep cliff.

Finally, we stopped at Crane Flat for a picnic lunch in the grove behind the gas station. The area was quite birdy, and at least three MacGillivray's Warblers were singing around the small meadow. As we ate lunch on a fallen tree, Cricket and I were treated to a Lincoln's Sparrow in full voice just a few feet from us.