Cricket and I visited San Luis Obispo County over the holiday week. Our base of operations was Morro Bay, where we stayed four nights in a motel with an impressive view of both the ocean and the famous rock. From here we stopped at various birding locations such as Sweet Springs, Baywood Park, Morro Bay Marina, and Morro Rock itself. We also explored the Carrizo Plain which is a good two hours inland from the coast. Highlights of our trip were a flock of nearly 40 Mountain Plovers, countless Horned Larks, some 200 Mountain Bluebirds, 6 Ferruginous Hawks, 3 Prairie Falcons and scads of Sage Sparrows (A.b. cinerea). The star of the show was definitely the LeConte's Thrasher which was found along San Diego Road off of Elkhorn. We were warned by park staff not to attempt accessing the "Gravel Pit" where Eric Goodill had seen the bird a month earlier, so we had to get to the spot two days later via Elkhorn Road. On our way back to the coast we encountered two Phainopela and an immature Bald Eagle along Hwy 58.
Perhaps less impressive, but still fun were our results on the immediate coast. There we found Wilson's Warbler, Sora and Virginia Rail, Royal Terns, Marbled Murrelets and Tree Swallows at Oso Flaco, while Montana De Oro produced a small group of unseasonable Barn Swallows. Views from the bluff were absolutely beautiful and we were fortunate to have clear weather our entire visit.
During the high tide at Morro Bay Marina, we observed hundreds of Brant in the shallows, while Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Curlew
and Willet foraged in the marsh. We did not see any unusual Sparrows or Rails, but we were fortunate to find a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a House Wren in the bushes.
After a few days of birding and some delicious food, we headed home, stopping first at the Hearst Castle for the "experience tour" which was a lot of fun. We arrived home before dark, ready to usher in the new year quietly.
Eric Goodill and I visited Lake Cunningham in San Jose this afternoon from about 2:30-3:30 to find the Eastern Phoebe. After parking in Lot C (near the restrooms) we marched over the soggy lawn to water where we viewed the small island on the east side of the lake. On our way there we found both Black and Say's Phoebes near the wooden trellis, but our target bird appeared after a brief search of the island. As others reported, the bird foragedactively from the south side of the island, and was easily seen from the main trail. We did not hear it call, but enjoyed viewing the bird as it caught flies over the water. It seemed to favor two particular perches, one being a leafless branch close to the water, and a small rock on the far left of the island.
Many Tree and a few Viole-green Swallows were also present, but we did not observe any of the recently reported White-throated Swifts.
Spectacular photo: Eric Goodill
At about 1:30 pm this afternoon, during my lunch break, I was able to relocate the previously reported Swamp Sparrow at the Palo Alto Baylands. I walked out along the airport runway trail, roughly 100 yards from the main lagoon trail, to where the coyote bushes on the left suddenly end and an area of flattened reeds appears on the right. For about 10 minutes I pished until the shy bird emerged from the reeds and briefly appeared in the open before ducking back for cover. It reappeared several times, but form only a moment at a time. Twice it flew over the flattened vegetation and called. Also present were two Lincoln's Sparrows and a Sora.
During my lunch break 12:30 I rushed over to Charleston Marsh in Mountain View (the parcourse on Charleston Road off of Shoreline Blvd) and relocated the Northern Waterthrush . It responded to pishing immediately and rose from the tangle of willows into view across from parcourse #3. It called repeatedly before returning to cover.
As of 10:30 am this morning, the Worm-eating Warbler was still present at Ferry Park in San Francisco. Petersen and I arrived (in heavy rain) to find bird activity very high in the low trees on the south side (closest to Clay Street) of the little park. Within moments we found several Townsend's Warblers, many Yellow-rumped Warblers and a single Black-throated Gray Warbler which was bathing in one of the puddles. The Sparrow flock contained a 15-20 White-crowned Warblers and single "tan-striped" White-throated Sparrow which stuck to the ground, close to cover.
After no more than nine minutes of search we spotted the water-soaked tannish Worm-eating Warbler in the top of the purple-leaved plum trees just north of the main walkway throught the park. After it tried to shake itself dry for a few moments, it eventually began to forage actively in the dead-leaf areas of the tall trees closer to
Clay Street. We observed it on and off for a about 20 minutes as it appeared (and frequently disappeared) behind the dripping dead leaves at eye-level up to about 15 feet. Occasionally, it spread its short tail nervously, appearing slightly spiky. The bill was fairly long, with some pinkish-horn color at the base.
Also seen while we searched the branches was a single Tennessee Warbler. It was very yellowish-green with a pale supercilium, slightly darker eye-stripe and a relatively short tail and nearly white undertail coverts. We did not notice any pattern on the tail because we concerned more with the Worm-eater...
When the rain finally slowed to a stop, the activity also slowed. So we took off for a celebratory coffee.
Photo of water-logged Worm-eating Warbler: Petersen
An exploratory team consisting of Ashutosh Sinha, Eric Goodill, Petersen and I paid a visit to Arrohead Marsh today. The extreme high tide here, combined with the board walk, which leads over the marsh, provides an uncommon opportunity to observe Rails and other marsh-skulkers. Today was not a disappointment, unless you want to dwell on the fact that we did not relocate last-year's Yellow Rail... We found instead, close to 40 Clapper Rails, approximately 30 Sora and one Virginia Rail. Not bad, infact. I can't remember ever seeing that many Rails in one day, even when Waldo's Dike was still around.
I made quick stop at Charleston Marsh across from MIPS Technologies on Charleston Road in Mountain View. As hoped, one of the two Northern Waterthrush responded almost immediately to pishing. Today, the bird was very close to the main road, in the willows just beneath the trellis that marks the beginning of the left-hand trail and par course. Hopefully, it (they) will remain for the Palo Alto Christmas Bird Count.
On Geng Road in Palo Alto, very little was on the small golf course pond, however on the nearby lawn a group of two dozen Canada Geese also contained two Cackling Geese, one of which was an "Aleutian" with a very clean white collar.
Cricket and I finally visited Lake Merritt and were able to relocate the drake Tufted Duck near the Rotary Nature Center.
At first we didn't remember where we were supposed to look, so we drove into the Lakeside Park entrance, paid our fee, and immediately parked. Searching the area at the top of Bellevue Ave we found little in the way of Diving Ducks save a few Bufflehead, so walked to the bottom. Near the boathouse we began to have better luck and found a few Goldeneyes. At first we saw only Common Goldeneyes, but then we located a single male Barrow's Goldeneye among them. Its forward sloped profile, crescent-shaped white facial mark and darker scapulars were clearly seen.
We continued walking clockwise around the lake until we reached the Rotary Nature Center. Many Lesser Scaup and Canvasback were gathered here in the shadows of the trees. We found one pair of Ring-necked Duck here as well. We kept walking toward Grand Avenue and found a huge collection of mostly Greater Scaup. Remembering that our target bird was slightly smaller and might prefer the shallows, we doubled back, returning to the Nature Center were we focused our attention to the multitudinous group of ducks that were accepting handouts. We quickly found the male Tufted Duck among the Lesser Scaup.
Later, at Arrohead Marsh we had many Common Goldeneye, Greater and Lesser Scaup, American Wigeon but nothing unusual. A few Clapper Rails and a single Sora called to us as we ate our lunch on a bench.
On our way home we stopped at Hayward Shoreline. Not much was playing there, but along Winton we spotted a large Falcon on a powerline. At first we thought it might be a Prairie because it was so pale. On closer examination, we determined it to be a juvenile tundrius race of Peregrine Falcon. We noted the scalloped coverts, narrowly-barred tail, pale crown and supercilium, the narrow mustache and slight pale crescent behind the eye. As the bird raised its wings we also noted the uniform barring without dark axillaries.