In the six days since my last trip to Merced NWR, three species of Geese have arrived in large numbers. Greater White-fronted, Snow and Canada Gese were all well represented. Apparently, Ross' were not present, but should be shortly. A full report of the species found on the field trip can be found at: Trip Reports.


On a scouting trip to Merced NWR I stopped in Los Banos to fill up my gas tank. As soon as I got out of my car, I heard a call I had not heard in over a year. Across the street, on top of a telephone pole a medium-sized blackbird was vocalizing loudly. At first glance I knew it was a Grackle of some sort, but which one? Great-tailed Grackles have been seen in increasing numbers in Northern California in the past few years, with a breeding pair appearing on Almaden Lake this past spring. Boat-tailed is similarly large, but has never appeared away from its Gulf Coast habitat. The Common Grackle however, has been seen in Northern California, but is "exceedingly rare". It was this species that first jumped to mind. The bird I saw displayed in my mind all the field marks that would make it a Common Grackle. Not only was the size only slightly (but still noticeably) larger than a Brewer's Blackbird, but the tail was longer and "keeled". It did not have the exceptionally long tail of a Great-tailed but one longer than a Brewer's. This cannot be the sole fieldmark considered though. The head, was not as flat as the GTGR's, but somewhat rounded, and a long bill that was heavy at the base. The plumage was glossy black with some bronze highlights about the back and wings. Overall, it seemed like a Brewer's Blackbird in the initial stages of steroid treatment.

I immediately phoned in the report to the Rare Bird Alert. Later I emailed Mike Rogers of the California Rare Birds Committee, to get his opinion. He said all the marks I described sounded good and it was likely the Common Grackle I had seen, but he cautioned me that Great-taileds were much more likely in the Central Valley, and that Commons had never been seen in Merced County! One concern is the possiblity of a hybrid Brewer's x Great-tailed. I have to admit I never considered that option, but the resulting bird might be the right size... Anyway, Mike Rogers has forwarded my report to the Committee for review and they will decide if the report is worth adding to the state record.

The trip to Merced was somewhat less exciting than the Shell station, but still had many interesting birds. Perhaps 8,000 Sandhill Cranes were present along with hundreds of White-faced Ibis, a few dozen Cattle Egrets and Common Snipe and Loggerhead Shrike. Tree Swallows were everywhere! No geese were present for the scouting trip, however I have heard Greater White-fronted Geese have arrived in small numbers and Snow and Ross' Geese are still on their way.


After the field trip to Princeton Harbour, Brian and I decided to search for the Golden Eagles at the Stanford Dish. Within a few minutes of arriving at the Alpin Road entrance and hiking up the trail, we were able to see three of the four birds that frequent the area. The vocalized as they flew over us toward Hwy 280.


Tonight I heard and saw a Barn Owl as it flew over El Camino Real near my apartment. This bird is by no means rare, but it was a bit surprising to see it in such a busy area. As it passed above the traffic, its white underside was easily visible. Earlier in the day I noticed a peculiar segregation of Ducks in the Baylands. In the freshwater drain behind the Duck Pond and airport there was a large concentration of Northern Pintails while no Northern Shovelers seemed to be present. Nearby, in the Palo Alto Flood Control Basin along Frontage Road, the situation was completely reversed, with huge numbers of Shovelers and no Pintails.


During my lunch hour I decided to sit in my car and read the new Sibley Guide to Birds in the rain. As I read happily to the sound of drizzle on my windshield I heard a familiar sound. Directly above me on the telephone wires came the soft few! of a Western Bluebird. Soon another five joined him. I have never noticed these birds east of El Camino in Palo Alto. Ofcourse they are common in the Stanford grassland and hills, but I was less than two blocks from University Avenue and right near my office! I always associate these birds with more open, rural areas. While this is not a rare bird, its sudden appearance close to my office impressed me. I reminded me of the morning about three years ago when I parked my car near the downtown Fire Station and looked up to see a Peregrine Falcon on top of a telephone pole just one block from work!


I've noticed the arrival of many Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets this past week. Keep a look out for these winter songbirds, both of which can be found almost immediately after you step off your front porch! As well, Dark-eyed Juncos seem to be dropping into the lower elevations and can be found easily in the residential areas among the usual House Finches and House Sparrows. Cedar Waxwings have also shown up on the Peninsula and will be here in numbers until spring.


After our field trip to Alum Rock I decided to continue birding in the South Bay and chase down some rareties. The Ruff and Stilt Sandpiper were both still present at the corner of State and Spreckles in Alviso to be found (with some difficulty) among a large group of Dowitchers. At the nearby Environmental Education Center (EEC) there was also an imm. Golden Eagle, all the expected gulls and shorebirds as well as a pair of Black Skimmers.


A friend and I participated in the annual Diabetes Walk-a-thon today and our path took us through some nice neighborhoods in Palo Alto. Besides admiring the many nice homes in Professorville we managed to conduct a small bird survey of the area. We encountered Red-tailed Hawk, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Acorn Woodpecker, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Downey Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, Western Scrub Jay, Stellar's Jay, Bewick's Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Oak Titmouse, Bushtit, Orange-crowned Warbler, American Robin, California Towhee, Lesser and American Goldfinch, House Finch and House Sparrow.