Cricket wanted to see the Tufted Duck today so we made the journey to Scotts Valley to search again in the mobile home community. As I mentioned last week, the bird easy to locate and allowed close approach as it paddled around the small pond. It actually reminded me of the TUDUs I saw in Europe, where they are quite common and seem comfortable with humans and urban settings. This male bird has molted more into its alternate plumage, but seems to have worn away his crest. I will post a few images soon, but they aren't the best, of course. While walking throught he community, we also spotted a female Hooded Merganser and a Green Heron.
We returned from via the coast, stopping at Butano to search for Pileated Woodpecker, which we did not find. There were however, many Townsend's Warblers, two Hutton's Vireos, a few Brown Creepers, several dozen Pine Siskin, two Fox Sparrow and a Hairy Woodpecker. Dark-eyed Junco and Varied Thrush were seen along the entrance road.
After I dropped her off at home, I continued down to Ogier Ponds where I was able to find a Belted Kingfisher, two Common Moorhen, a Common Merganser, more Ring-necked Duck, a handful of Common Goldeneye and Greater Scaup. There was also a Merlin that whizzed by so fast I hardly got a look at it. Lucky I am familiar with the call or the bird would have gone unidentified! Most bizzar bird was probably a lone Tree Swallow that foraged over one of the large ponds.
Cricket and I were at Shoreline Lake at noon today and saw a single female Barrow's Goldeneye at the lake among a group of Common Goldeneye. The bird was quite clearly different from the other birds in having an entirely yellow bill that was noticeably shorter than the other birds. The headshape was typical for Barrow's as well. We managed to get one digiscope image which I hope to post soon. Other birds of note were a single Horned Grebe among the many Eared Grebes and a Belted Kingfisher.
After spending a wonderful Thanksgiving at Cricket's parent's home in Lodi with everyone from her family and my parents as well, we made a short jaunt the vinyard on Turner Island Road where the returning Vermilion Flycatcher had been reported. Well, the gate was locked so we couldn't get in. Oh well, we'll just have to visit again. So we visited Lodi Lake instead where we managed to locate another White-throated Sparrow. The bird was foraging, no surprise here... among a group of Golden-crowned and White-crowned Sparrows. Seems like this is a good year for the species. I think this may be my fourth of the season!. Anyway, after that it was off to Woodbridge Road to look at the Sandhill Cranes. Quite a few were seen, but not as many as the month before when we visited the area after Traci and Rob's wedding. More Tundra Swans were present however than before, a Wilson's Snipe and a Peregrine Falcon dive-bombing an Great Egret! The thrill for me was seeing a flock of perhaps 4,000 Cackling Geese with roughly half being the Aleutian subspecies. This was beyond the preserve on
Woodbridge Road near the grainery.
After returning to Mountain View, we made a quick afternoon trip to Oka Ponds. There we saw numerous Waterfowl including Greater Scaup, Bufflehead and Ring-necked Duck, as well as Hooded Merganser and friendly pair of male Wood Duck. An Osprey made a brief appearance overhead as it carried a large fish to the small island where it remained until we left. Double-crested Cormorants wer e practically innumerable and perched on the wires over the water
Brian Christman and I went for the Tufted Duck in Scott's Valley today. The location has not changed since the original discovery and Leonie's directions were very helpful: Take Highway 17 towards Santa Cruz, take the Hermon Road exit, turn right at the light. There is a light that allows you to turn left into 225 Mt. Hermon, this is the driveway into the Mobil Home Park. Take a right when you get to the ring road and park in the visitor parking area near the small putting green. Brian and I found the bird within a minute of hitting the path around the pond. As Leonie mentioned, it is a molting male, showing something between eclipse and alternate plumage, so beware, it may look a bit dingey compared to a full breeding male. The combination of the all-dark back (separating it from either Scaup species, and the lack of an obvious white stripe on the bill disqualifies Ring-necked Duck). The tuft is quite obvious and again, the back is completely browish-black. We ran into Anne Creevy and Kay Matthews there as well and all four of us enjoyed relaxed views of the bird as it paddled around among the Mallards. In a month or so, it might be in full alternate which would make for a nice photo opportunity since it seems likely the bird will remain the winter. As a bonus bird we got a female Common Merganser. Very beautiful and the closest look I've ever gotten, I think.
From there, Bri and I continued toward the coast, finding Natural Bridged closed due to last night's storm. We scanned briefly from the West Cliff Drive, but found little of note. Along Swanton road, just north of Davenport, we found a goodly flock of Ring-necked Ducks in a small pond by the side of the road. This is the area where last year the Crested Caracara was seen, but nothing that rare appeared today. Farther north we birded at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse where a lone male White-winged Scoter foraged just beyond the rocks. We considered the several Loons in the bay, but decided we could not responsibly call them Pacific, so no luck there... On the rocks were several Red-breasted Mergansers, Black Turnstones, a pair of Black Oystercatchers and a small flock of Surfbirds. Forster's Terns, Glaucous-winged, Western and California Gulls, Pelagic and Brandt's Cormorant, Western, Clark's, Eared and Horned Grebes were also present.
Finally, after almost two weeks of solid deadlines and a brief sickness, I was able to get out and do some birding! Cricket and I made an early morning stop at the pond on Geng Road in Palo Alto which produced good looks at a lovely pair of Hooded Mergansers. The day before I had stopped here and failed to find them but go an adult Peregrine Falcon on the power tower, a Fox Sparrow and Hermit Thrush in the underbrush and loads of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Hutton's Vireo in the willows overhead as consolations.
We also stopped in at the Duck Pond at the end of Embarcadero in hopes of relocating the Blue-winged Teal. No luck there unfortunately, but a Sharp-shinned Hawk made a brief appearance as we left the area. There were lots of Gulls on the mud flats including a few dozen Bonaparte's Gulls .
We also made a brief tour of Redwood Shores/Radio Road where we saw a single Blue-winged Teal quite close to the entrance road. Other birds of interest in the large pond included two Hooded Mergansers and a Wilson's Snipe . A pair of Peregrine Falcons repeatedly dive-bombed an immature Red-tailed Hawk near the dog run and even attracted the attention of dog owners and bike riders. There was so much complaining from the Falcons that it could be heard over the barking dogs. It was really exciting to watch the Hawk lumber out of range of the angry couple! Numerous other expected Ducks were present, but not any Eurasian Wigeons. We found more than enough of those later in Sunnyvale WPCP...
Then it was off to the main pond near the senior center in Foster City where all three species of Mergansers, Hooded, Common and a single female Red-breasted were seen. Horned, Eared, Western and Pied-billed Grebes, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye were observed, but we could not locate any of the hoped-for Barrow's among them. On the far shore, we picked out a Spotted Sandpiper bobbing as it foraged.
Later in the afternoon, after visiting a few San Mateo County locations, we were able to locate 4 brilliant male Eurasian Wigeons in the west pond at Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Plant. The pond was filled with enormous numbers of ducks, mostly American Wigeons and Northern Shovelers, but of course other species such as Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Mallard, Ruddy Duck were also well represented. Three of the male EUWIs were seen together in one scope view, while a fourth bird was visible about 50 yards away at the same time. Two additional birds may have been the previously reported hybrids and were striking in their pale golden faces and darker rust where green might appear on typical AMWIs. Still, the overall pattern was not as well defined as the hybrid images in Sibley, so I'm not exactly sure what to make of these birds. Certainly some proportion of them is EUWI, but how much? Shocking also was the great number of Common Moorhen that we saw. During our two hour walk, we observed no less than 25 individuals, many of which appeared quite comfortable in the open.
Those of you who attended our final field trip of the term will remember Kent Van Vuren, who we bumped into on the auto loop at Merced NWR. He is the records keeper for the county and was very pleased to meet our group. He said that not many birders had been working the valley for a couple of months, so we took that as an invitation to find something good... Well, he beat us to it! We saw him again a bit later and he alerted us to a Vesper Sparrow close to the road. Way to go Kent! We all observed the bird well, but failed to notice a few features that would have made us happier. I posed some questions about the bird on Sunday evening, mostly concerning the tail and throat and got an answer today. Be sure also to look at the full trip report for this most successful mission. Enjoy.
Thanks for your message. We missed the "Aleutian" Cackling Geese. Believe it or not this would have been a county bird for me. About the Vesper Sparrow. I first noticed it flying up from a bush close to where we parked and clearly saw the white outer tail feathers and that is what first caught my attention. I definitely was not expecting a Vesper Sparrow in that area. Before it flew to where you saw it I was able to get a view of some chestnut color at the bend of the right wing. I didn't study the throat so can't be of much help there, though Vesper Sparrows really vary a lot in the winter. I suspect this was a young bird but I am not an expert in aging all sparrows. What was interesting about this bird was how dark it was, definitely one of the darkest Vesper Sparrows I have ever seen. Maybe this might explain the gray or browinish throat. The White-throated Sparrow is a great bird for the valley floor. Much rarer in Merced County than in the coastal counties. Probably your best bird of the day. We too saw the Prairie Falcon. We couldn't figure out why they mowed down the reeds around the Meadow Lark Trail at Merced NWR. Any ideas?
Kent Van Vuren
At 3:15 this afternoon, the White-throated Sparrow was still present along San Franciscquito Creek, this time across from the condominium complex at 320 Palo Alto Ave. There is a short tree trunk and a bush that the bird was foraging around in the company of a small flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows. The bird seems to move up and down stream from the three-way intersection of Poe, Bryant and Palo Alto. A Red-breasted Sapsucker was also feeding in the pepper tree nearby.