A White-throated Sparrow was foraging along Palo Alto Avenue near the intersection of Bryant and Poe Streets at 2:00 today. The San Francisquito Creek runs between Palo Alto and Menlo Park and there's quite a bit of underbrush for the birds to hide. This is exactly the same area I reported a WTSP last year, but this bird appeared to have paler head stripes and more brightly yellow lores. Lots of Hermit Thrushes were to be heard in the area as well.
In the evening, Cricket and I worked on her Red-winged Blackbird Halloween costume, and took a short break to go outside and see the complete lunar eclipse. The full moon was deep maroon colored and edged in orange. Very beautiful.
Several people from class have now been to see the juvenile Sabine's Gull that seems to pass between the Palo Alto Flood Control Basin (between San Antonio and Embarcadero on Frontage Rod) and Salt Pond A1 (just north of Shoreline Lake). Cricket and I were away this weekend and haven't seen the bird yet. If it remains in the area, perhaps we'll have another chance.
While we were in the central valley attending a family wedding, we made a point of visiting the Sandhill Crane Preserve on Woodbridge Road in Lodi. We observed several hundred Sandhill Cranes, some quite close to the road. Many of the birds were engaging in their elaborate dances, jumpbing straight up with necks arched forward and legs kicking. It was exciting to watch. As well, there were a few Wilson's Snipe in the shallow pools and a lone Tundra Swan. Waterfowl numbers were high, comprised mostly of Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail. Far out in one field their were three Cattle Egret and nearly everywhere we looked there were Red-winged and Brewer's Blackbird flocks that also contained a few Brown-headed Cowbirds.
Before work, I drove to Bayfront Park to meet Eric and Jody. After waiting for a few minutes, the recently reported White-throated Sparrow popped out briefly. The bird is rather dull, a typical "tan-striped" variety, but its throat is clearly demarcated white against a grayish upper breast, and its overall shape is more slouched and larger-headed than the nearby White-crowned Sparrows.
This past weekend the appearance of a Cackling Goose on our field trip to Andrew Molera State Park highlighted the need for more detailed study on the distinction between Canada and the newly recongized Cackling Goose. David Sibley has a ve. It can be found at http://www.sibleyguides.com/canada_cackling.htm A couple of other interesting articles can be found at http://www.oceanwanderers.com/CAGO.Subspecies.html and also at http://www.utahbirds.org/RecCom/NewGoose.htm
The latter article deals mainly with the challenge of Utah birders, but he discussion is still worthwhile. What is remaining is for Sibley and NGS to revise their field guides to reflect the new AOU's decision so birders will have less confusing methods of determining which species/subspecies they are looking at...
With regard to our specific bird, Eric's wondeful shots can be found at:
Shelia just emailed me today saying that she and Yvonne had gone on Sunday to see the Lark Bunting at Bayfront Park. They found the bird easily. Those who haven't gone yet.... what's keeping you?
I love the fall. The wet smells of wood and dirt, the relaxed earthy colors resting on everything that was once green, the strangely muffled sound of nature fatigued. The skies are dark and heavy, as if about to rain, and yet in places the sun shines in sideways... Strange and perfect. This was my lunch hour walk along the San Francisquito Creek. Utterly wonderful. Recent rain had dampened the earth and evidently triggered a massive termite hatch. Thousands of flying insects could be seen along the shoulders of the creek with some patches of soil squirming with hoards fledging young struggling to take wing. Perhaps it was this sudden appearance of accessible protein-rich food that provoked such an excited response from many of the birds. Black Phoebes were vocalizing and flycatching excitedly, Northern Flickers were dashing back and forth across the banks, coming to rest occasionally near a bloom, and even Golden-crowned Sparrows were engaging in what appeared to be clumsy flycatching efforts. Other birds seen included my first large flock of Cedar Waxwings for the season, a White-breasted Nuthatch, several Ruby-crowned Kinglet, California and Spotted Towhee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Bushtit, American Robin, Western Scrub Jay and a Hermit Thrush that seemed to be very curious about this strange human watching the termites.
I rushed over to PA Baylands before work and spent more than an hour looking for the Great-tailed Grackles that Eric discovered yesterday. I was not able to refind them but I don't think that should discourage anyone from trying. There is lots of appropriate habitat in that are for the birds: the Duck Pond, the boat launch and even the dump near Byxbee Park. Any place where groups of Brewer's or Red-winged Blackbirds would work...
Eric's report is quite significant. The Great-tailed Grackle has been expanding both west and north in recent years and many people believe within 10 years we may see greater numbers in the county. There have been previous reports, often in marshy/reedy areas like Almaden Lake or Harkin's Slough (Santa Cruz county) with even some nests. The Central Valley is often the most reliable place to locate them. Still, the numbers are very small and always worth reporting.
Eric Goodill found a pair of Great-tailed Grackles at the Palo Alto Baylands near the interpretive center. He has posted some images on his website and I expect to upload them to my gallery very soon. His images can be found at:
http://homepage.mac.com/ericgmac/birds/DSCN8957.JPG (male tail)
http://homepage.mac.com/ericgmac/birds/DSCN8959.JPG (female facial patterning)
http://homepage.mac.com/ericgmac/birds/DSCN8964.JPG (male bill & flat head)
http://homepage.mac.com/ericgmac/birds/DSCN8966.JPG (male flat head)
We just returned from Bayfront Park, having relocated the Lark Bunting uphill from the first parking lot. Two digiscope images have been posted in my gallery. (Definitely amateur, but at least the fieldmarks are visible...)
While Cricket and I were there, several birders, including Sidd Ramachandramurthi of Mountain View, told us about a Pacific Golden Plover on the "unvegetated" levy visible from the last parking area near the orange sign. Later we heard the report on the NCal BirdBox left by Leslie Lieurance. We were able to view the bird from the orange sign, looking back along the levy. The bird is smaller, more slender and golder than the numerous Black-bellied Plovers. As it preened the dark tail was visible briefly, but views were difficult at that distance. We did not observe the underwing and could not judge the primary extension. Heat shimmer made photography difficult at best. At that distance, exact ID was impossible (for us), but we felt we were looking at a Golden Plover of some kind.
Today is my birthday and I took a well-needed day off from work. A quick trip to Bayfront Park produced the Lark Bunting again, which was exactly where it has been for the past few days. Today's looks however were uncommonly good and I managed to get within 15' of the bird as it foraged in full light.
I managed to get away from deadlines for a little while and went birding on my lunch break. I just returned from Bayfront Park at the end of Marsh Road and am happy to report that the winter Lark Bunting was still present at 1:45pm today. To find the area take the Marsh Road exit off of Hwy 101 and drive toward the bay. The road dead ends at the park entrance. Drive in and follow the road around the to the left and park in the first parking lot near the restrooms. On the right side of the road as you stand in the lot, you will see a small trail that leads up between the trees. The Lark Bunting was feeding on the ground in the shadow of the large euculyptus tree just beyond the yellow warning tape and "City of Menlo Park" barricade. The bird is slightly larger bodied and shorter tailed than the White-crowned Sparrows. It is also heavily streaked. The eye ring, heavy grayish bill and large white panel on the wings are all useful fieldmarks and quite obvious on this individual. So far Eric, Jody and Leonie have already succeeded in finding it and I look forward to hearing from more of you if your schedules allow you to pursue this very rare species.
The month is starting out with a bang. Eric, Jody and Leonie have all gone to see the Prothonotary Warbler in South San Francisco. Details of the bird's exact location can be found on the NCal Birdbox 451.681.7422. Eric was able to get some nice images, one of which has been posted in my gallery. The others can be found here: