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
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