11-30-05

Since many of you are not on the PenBird list, I thought I would forward this message to you in case you want to look for it as well. After four separate attempts to see this bird, I finally saw the Rusty Blackbird near the entrance of Bayfront Park (Menlow Park at the end of Marsh Road) at 1:50 this afternoon. It was perched on the telephone wires above the large cut log which is on the left shoulder of the entrance road just past the first speed bump. It was among a group of about 20 European Starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds and two Brewer's Blackbirds. I did not see any of the previously reported Tricolored Blackbirds in the group. The Rusty Blackbird is a non-breeding male with rather subtle rufous on the face, throat and back. If you do pursue it, watch for a bird that appears much like a female Brewer's Blackbird, but with more obvious supercilium and and pale throat and a YELLOW eye. Have fun!




11-27-05


I thought maybe Wunderlich Park would be a good place to locate Varied Thrush and/or Red-breasted Nuthatch, but when I arrived today around 11:00 the forest was very nearly silent. Again, with some difficulty, I was able to located a small flock high in the redwoods that included a few Golden-crowned Kinglets. Still it was a lovely walk, and very peaceful. Hermit Thrushes were numerous and easily observed and two Hairy Woodpeckers called repeatedly from deep in the woods.

Then it was off to Arastradero OSP to investigate the area around the lake. There has often been a sizeable flock of "Crowned" Sparrows there, but today only a few were present. Highlights of this short walk included the pair of White-tailed Kites that sat side by side on the ridge overlooking the trail. White-breasted Nuthatch, and Dark-eyed Juncos appeared along the trail, as well as a Downy Woodpecker.

As I drove the Hwy 237 toward Alviso, a Merlin (2 points) passed over the road near the Caribbean exit. Later in the day, a second Merlin was perched on a light post on El Camino in Mountain View. At Alviso, the intersection of State and Spreckles held few Shorebirds, mostly California Gulls and Black-necked Stilts. At the EEC however, the ponds beside entrance road held 2 Greater Yellowlegs, 4 Lesser Yellowlegs, many American Avocet, Least Sandpipers and Killdeer. The Salt ponds near the interpretive center contained great numbers of Gulls, with California being the most numerous, but Western, Glaucous-winged, Herring, Thayers, and Mew present as well. I did not stay long enough to check my work, but I assume Ring-billed was somewhere there in the group too. In the butterfly garden area near the parking lot, a few Golden-crowned and White-crowned Sparrows were present, but far outnumbered by the Fox Sparrows. These appeared to be "Sooty" Fox Sparrows, but I'm still trying to locate a "Slate-colored" variety. I see occasional birds that have significant gray on their heads and backs, some even with contrasting rufous coloration on their tail and wings, but I'm not convinced these are authentic "Slatys". I think these are more likely pale versions of the common "Sooty".





11-26-05

Kelly and I birded Golden Gate Park today, concentrating on the Chain of Lakes area in the western areas of the park. There we found Winter Wren (1 pt), Mew Gull (1 pt) and Lincoln's Sparrow (1 pt). Despite quite a bit of work, we were not able to locate Varied Thrush or Red-breasted Nuthatches, although Pygmy Nuthatch were abundant. At Strying Arboretum we managed to call down a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets (2 pts) from the redwood tops, but never had really satisfying looks at these tiny birds.

After admiring the DeYoung Museum from the outside, and wishing we had more time to brave the long lines of people waiting to get in, we drove down Hwy 1 to Rockaway Beach in Pacifica (Calera Creek mouth). There we were able to spot the Swamp Sparrow (3 pts) within a few minutes, but that I'm sure, was just good luck. Dean Manley was also present and we noted the subtlety of the bird which looks much like a rufous-tinged Lincoln's Sparrow but without obvious breast stripes. The best representation in Sibley is the first-winter bird, which has a dark crown, with a narrow median stripe. It is also quite shy and views were brief, but long enough to note all the relevant field marks. At least two Soras foraged in full view, and even swam across the small pond.

Finally, we made a late afternoon stop at Bayfront Park in Menlo Park to try our luck at the Rusty Blackbird that has been present for 2 days. No luck there. In fact, no Blackbirds at all... Maybe tomorrow.





11-25-05


It's been a busy weekend! After spending Thanksgiving at Cricket's parents' home, she and I visited the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Observation Area along Woodbridge Road in Lodi. We were please to see many hundreds of Sandhill Cranes at the platform as well as a few Wilson's Snipe, Loggerhead Shrike and a Belted Kingfisher . A bit farther up the road, near the grainery, we found a huge flock of Cackling Geese . Among them were a full 50% that bore the white necklace of the "Aleutian" form (2 points). The remainder may have as well, but many were sleeping and it was difficult to tell. The individuals that raised their heads while we scoped did not show any necklace and appeared darker overall ("minima"?). Farther out in the fields, huge numbers of Swans, all seeming to be Tundra Swans , were visible. Our greatest surprise of the day was seeing only one Yellow-billed Magpie along Turner Road.

Then today, Cricket and I decided to look for the Tufted Duck (3 points) reported earlier today by Ron Thorn. We found the female, just as Ron had posted, among the large flock of Scaup, both Lesser and Greater, in the Mindinau Lagoon in Redwood Shores around 2:00 pm. The spot was easily located by taking Redwood Shores Boulevard into the area, turning left onto Shearwater, and then left again on Mindinau. Parking was easy near the gazeebo, where the bird was seen. She is, however, a very subtle bird. Superficially, she resembles a female Scaup, but lacks the extensive white on her face and has a noticeable (although small) tuft on the back of her crown. We also located three Redhead (2 points), a male and two females, a Red-breasted Merganser and small numbers of Hooded Merganser in the area.

At the Radio Road pond, two Blue-winged Teals (2 points) were sleeping close to shore, the flock of Black Skimmers seemed unchanged since last week, and an entirely rufous, apparent eclipse male Eurasian Wigeon was associating with several American Wigeons (3 points for Kelly) on the far side of the pond. Another birder, David from Santa Cruz, alerted us to a male Barrow's Goldeneye (2 points) along Redwood Shores Drive near the Radio Road intersection, and we later relocated the male there among a goodly flock of Common Goldeneye. Again, Hooded Mergansers were present.

We also followed Ron's lead by driving the length of Davit Lane in Redwood Shores, in search of the hatch-year Greater White-fronted Goose. At the main pond, easily viewed from the road, Cricket located another Barrow's Goldeneye and a Black-crowned Night Heron (imm), but our target was not located until we stopped by the playing field at the dead end. We parked and immediately came upon a huge flock of Canada Geese and a small group of feral Greylags. Sure enough, a tiny dark Goose of similar pattern appeared among them, it was the Greater White-fronted Goose (2 points), quite comfortable among the others, but noticeably thinner than its associates.

After that we searched for the Common Teal (Green-winged Teal "Eurasian") at the fenced pond behind Nobb Hill. Construction now makes observation a little more difficult there because of fencing, but access was still possible by stepping through the trees along the edge. Our search was not successful however, save for another two Blue-winged Teal males and good numbers of Canvasbacks. Wind picked up considerably at that point so it was back home for leftovers...





11-21-05


At lunch I visited the Palo Alto Baylands to search the Sparrow flock around the ranger's house... Nothing unusual to report there unfortunately, but I did manage to locate a good number of Bonaparte's Gulls (1-point against the "Big 15") on the mudflats near the Yacht club. Bonaparte's Gulls were also numerous on the duck pond where I was able to get very close and admire their unusual patterns. Of course they are wearing their basic (winter) plumage so they currently lack the black heads we see at other times of the year. Still, their small size and Phalarope-like posture is distinctive and made for an interesting comparison. Glaucous-winged were present as well, and many MANY Ring-bills, Californias and Westerns.

Today I also received my brand new companion to the NGS Field Guide, the much anticipated "Complete Birds of North America" from Amazon.com today: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0792241754/104-4060757-6707121?v=glance&n=283155&s=books&v=glance

At first glance, it appears to be worth the price $23 (retail $35). It is similar in format to the Kenn Kaufman "Lives of North American Birds": http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0395770173/104-4060757-6707121?v=glance&n=283155&s=books&v=glance but contains more up-to-date records, recent taxonomic changes. and much more emphasis on field identification for difficult species. All bird families are introduced with generous articles, each species illustrated or photographed, and in many cases it borrows detailed migration maps from the 2003 NGS Atlas of birds. If you are a frequent traveller to US extreme edges, such as Ålaska, Texas Rio Grande or Florida Keys, you will appreciate the attention of super rarities like Stygian Owl, Spotted Flycatcher and Paint-billed Crake...

I've only leafed through it so far, but my first impression is very good. I expect I will enjoy the added detail that compliments the NGS field guide. I will bring it to class for those of you who are interested.





11-20-05

Today was the first day since class ended that I've been able to search for "BIG 15" species so my friend Brian and I headed out to Coyote Point Museum to have a look around. We will visit the same park in winter with class, so we wanted to scout it out and get a sense of where to concentrate our efforts. We arrived about 9, finding the tide low enough to attract numerous shorebirds to the mud near the boat harbor. Highlights there included Black Oystercatcher, Black and Ruddy Turnstone , Red Knot and Whimbrel. Diving ducks were numerous, but consisted of Surf Scoters, Common Goldeneye , Buffleheads, Greater Scaups and Ruddy Ducks . One Spotted Sandpiper was seen along the beach.

Near the "Captian's House" we worked the large flock of Zonotrichias, finding White-crowned and Golden-crowned but not hoped-for White-throated. Several Fox Sparrows gave us pause as we considered the possibility of the uncommon "Slate-colored" variety. None possessed the distinct streaks on the upper breast, but their pale coloration is worth studying so that it can be distinguished from the variety on the B-15 list. Pygmy Nuthatches were heard and seen in tall eucalyptus trees overhead, and Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were positively everywhere.

We then headed to Redwood Shores, stopping first at at the Nobb Hill Grocery store pond. There we located a Blue-winged Teal (2-points) and numerous American Wigeons as well as many Canada Geese, Northern Shoveler , Northern Pintails , Cinnamon and Green-winged Teal. Many Dowitchers, Marbled Godwits , Least Sandpipers , Willets, American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts were also present. At one point a Northern Harrier coursed through, sending the entire group into a frenzy... It was quite a sight!

The Redwood Shores/Radio Road area produced five Black Skimmers, another Blue-winged Teal (0-points) and a group of 6 Hooded Mergansers (1-point). Willet, Marbled Godwit and Dowitchers were abundant at both locations.

After lunch we visited Shoreline Park, to search for Barrow's Goldeneye (2-points*), which was easily picked out on the Charleston Slough side. We spotted a male and female, as well as a male hybrid Barrow's X Common Goldeneye . It's worth mentioning that the hybrid male is very similar to the full-bred Barrow's, but as Brian observed, the white facial patch is not as crescent-shaped and the black on the sides is less extensive. It's head shape is somewhere in between the two extremes of the full species. On the nearby salt pond A1 we scoped a distant drake Eurasian Wigeon (3-points) on the far side among the many Americans.

(*Although omitted from the B-15 assignment, both Barrow's Goldeneye and Redhead are 2-point birds)





11-08-05


The Washington Post said Thursday, that the C.I.A. has been hiding and questioning suspected Al Qaeda terrorists in a prison network it set up in Eastern Europe. The report produced sharp criticism of the United States. When presented with this startling (and shocking headline) the GOP promptly requested an investigation into who leaked the story. I find it interesting that their first reaction was not something more like horror at the possibility of torture at the hands of U.S. forces... (Meanwhile George Bush is in South America at a free trade summit fielding unexpected questions about the U.S. and its use of torture... How sad is that?)

Human Rights Watch expressed disappointment over the call for a Congressional inquiry. "It's sad that the Republican Congressional leadership wants to focus not on the C.I.A.'s maintenance of secret facilities, where detainees are held without charge or trial and are highly vulnerable to torture and abuse, but on those who discovered this blatant illegality," said Kenneth Roth, the organization's executive director. (NY Times)

Isn't it also intersting that the McCain Ammendment, which attempts to clarify U.S. oppostion to torture has been criticized by Vice President Dick Cheney. He seems bent on eliminating certain clauses from the document and allowing the C.I.A. the greatest latitude while interrogating detainees. That's interesting, Dick. You say the U.S. doesn't condone torture, and yet you want any statements that mention torture struck from the field manual... And why is it we don't know who these detainees are, anyway... Oh, that's right, they aren't allowed to have access to lawyers or any contact with their families. They aren't even charged with anything or granted a jury to hear their case... That sounds pretty suspect to me!





11-07-05

Today Cricket and I drove through the Central Valley on our way home from Lodi. We had just visited Cricket's cousin, Traci and her husband Rob's home in Placerville for Auntie Yoshi's memorial gathering the day before. After the luncheon, we had left the hills and headed back to Kaz and Aiko's for the night. As we descended the Sierra foothills into the valley we watched the distant horizon as the intense twisting streaks of storm clouds alternated with the deep salmon-orange of the sunset. They slowly combined, but never fully mixed. They seemed the perfect painting of the complex emotions we had felt at the memorial. There was no talking in our car, only two set of eyes staring toward the west.

Yoshi is survived by her husband Uncle Jerry, and their two children Traci, and Bruce, who now lives in Arizona with his wife, Priscilla. As a relatively new member of this family, I feel a distict loss with Yoshi's passing. I've known her for such a short time, yet I'm struck with where she will no longer be. She will not be sitting with us at Thanksgiving dinner, or sharing stories of their travels in the huge camper they've called home for three years... She will not be sending us Christmas cards, or postcards from national parks. We will not be talking about food, or how beautiful Yosemite is in the spring... Small things I know, but they make me sad. I can't even imagine what her sisters Aiko (my mother in-law), Mitsie or Keiko must be feeling now. Yoshi, we all miss you--even the newcomers you made feel so welcome, like me. There are so many things I would have liked to discuss with you before you left... but there always are, I guess. But that's changed now... So now we have to say good bye, and we wish you good luck on your next great journey.

With all these swirling thoughts in our minds we pulled into the Eisenberg Sandhill Crane Preserve on Sunday night where the Lodi Crane Festival was just winding down. Two large bus loads of birders and about a dozen cars gathered at the observation area. It's strange how a scene like this--a group of like-minded bird watchers, can be so completely unwelcome at times. All we wanted was silence. Something to reflect our moods. But that wasn't likely to happen, so after giving the scene a fair trial we prepared to leave about three minutes after we arrived.
We threw the scope into the car, feeling like the world simply didn't understand us. But somehow, quite unexpectedly, it all managed to work. Despite our own stubbornly quiet moods and the unwelcome crowds of people talking loudly, the spectacle of Cranes brought with it its own kind of peace. In the short time we had stayed we managed to see hundreds of Sandhill Cranes that were assembling in the fields by the road. And with them were huge numbers of Mallards, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers and Gadwalls. The sun was dropping fast, so we could not see much else, but we find Wilson's Snipe and Loggerhead Shrike. A few Canada and Cackling Geese were heard in the distance, perhaps even Greater White-fronted Geese, combined with the comforting rattle of distant Cranes. As we got into the car and buckled up it seemed oddly peaceful. Something magic and alive was all around us, gliding in on 7-foot wings and silhouetted against the sky. I remember a silent pause, like there is when you realize you've left the keys in the front door. The mob of birders seemed irrelevant to us now. Only the birds remained.