Cricket and I breezed through Panoche Valley today on our long-way-home from Turlock. The area was rather quiet as far as birds went, very cold and we made only a few stops. The first stop was Mercey Hot Springs where we counted 14 Long-eared Owls in the trees by the bath houses. The New Idria Road portion of the valley produced one Vesper Sparrow and two Mountain Bluebirds for us, as well as a Prairie Falcon, two Merlins. We heard several Horned Larks pass overhead, but saw none on the ground. Paicines Reservoir had a single Ferruginous Hawk perched in the oaks on the far side of the water.
Yesterday I made some quick stops in Alviso. A Pacific Loon was swimming in the A16 pond close to the EEC. There were many birds on the pond, and a large group of Gulls on the east-west levy that was made mostly of larger Gulls like Western, Glaucous-winged, Herring and a few Thayer's. Many Bonaparte's Gulls were foraging over the northwest portion of the pond. Most unusual was a single Greater White-fronted Goose and a few Horned Grebes (many Eared Grebes) in the center of the pond.
State and Spreckles was an enjoyable opportunity to compare various Gulls. There were two dozen Mew Gulls, among the many Ring-billed and California Gulls. Also present were several Herring and Thayer's, and one Western. It was especially rewarding to see the Thayer's and Herring beside each other, in the same position and same distance, highlighting the different head and bill shapes of the two.
At Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Ponds I located only one Eurasian Wigeon on the west pond, but two more Greater White-fronted Geese among the hundreds of Northern Shovelers and American Wigeons. Two Tree Swallows foraged over the Lockheed Pond and a single Wilson's Snipe was trying to blend in among the Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal.
We spent two nights at Kaz and Aiko's home in Lodi and found an opportunity to explore birding locations for the upcoming winter term. First we visited Mokelumne Fish Installation yesterday morning, finding a few birds worth mentioning. A small flock of Lark Sparrows were feeding along the entrance road with American Goldfinches and House Finches. Cricket found a pair of Phainopepla were foraging in the mistletoe clusters above the first parking area. You can see how happy she is below, even with the flu... Several Common Mergansers were found along the river as well as three (plus) Lewis's Woodpeckers. Rock Wren was found at the base of the dam and three Bald Eagles soared overhead (one near-adult, two juveniles). We did not relocate the American Dipper we had found over Thanksgiving.
Later, we visited Flood and Waverly yesterday. we found a large group of Mountain Bluebirds at the west end of Flood, and a Rough-legged Hawk at the intersection with Waverly. An adult Bald Eagle flew in as well, and continued west out of view. We were not able to relocate the Rock Wren in the corral north of the intersection we had fund over Thanksgiving. We also found a very large collection of Horned Larks south of the intersection of F&W.At least 100 birds. We scanned the group for Longspurs with no luck... It's worth another visit.
Finally, we visited Staten Island Road yesterday afternoon after a full day of exploring. Highlights here included hundreds of Tundra Swans on the north end, followed by many groups of incoming Cackling Geese. Small numbers of Snow/Ross's Geese were visible in the distance, as well as several small groups of White-faced Ibis. One Cattle Egret was found among the Great Egrets feeding along the roadside ditch. Of course, the Sandhill Cranes were impressively beautiful as they settled in the fields.
We visited Lodi Lake Park one morning with Kaz and found 9 Wood Ducks on Pigs Lake. This may not be surprising for those who visit regularly, but we certainly enjoyed them.
After our stay in Lodi, Aiko joined us to deliver packages to Lisa and Curtiss's house in Turlock. We saw them briefly before continuing in two cars to San Luis NWR. I don't know how long this has been the case, but we were surprised to find the Waterfowl Route has been changed. The eastern edge is now closed. To access the observation platform in the southeast of the preserve, make the first right AFTER you pass the left turn for the Tule Elk Route. Portions of the preserve previously one way are now two-way for cars. Highlight today was a pair of Hooded Mergansers on the southern east-west channel. From the platform we heard no less than 5 Great Horned Owls calling at sunset. Virginia Rail and Sora were also detected by voice. A single Ring-necked Duck female and several Wilson's Snipe were seen on the north-south portion of the route.
Because Cricket knew I'd been facinated by the Drawbridge story for years, she secretly arranged for me to visit the sinking ghost town north of Alviso in the tidal marsh as part of this year's San Jose Christmas Bird Count. She was going to accompany me for the visit but has been sick with the flu. So on the day of the count we decided she should remain in bed and I would tell her about it when I returned. Our team consisted of Bill Walker, Mary Wisnewski and Lori Cuesta. The route took us onto portions of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Preserve, accessed with permission from PG&E. We had a good variety of birds, including some species that the team had not found in previous years, namely Greater White-fronted Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Lesser Scaup, Mew and Thayer's Gulls, but we also had Prairie Falcon, Merlin, Golden Eagle. Other highlights included Brown Pelican, Snowy Plover, Black-bellied Plover, and Loggerhead Shrike. Below are a few images I shot with my cellphone. The sequence taken from the train tracks, coming into town from the north and returning to our vehicle as we look back into the sun.
I was doing some very late Christmas Shopping on Hamilton Avenue in downtown Palo Alto today, and found that the White-throated Swifts were still very active in the Spanish tiles over University Art. Several birds were moving over the tops of buildings in the vicinity, calling loudly as I tried to focus on gift giving.
The wintering adult Swamp Sparrow made an appearance today at 1:00 pm (shortly after the peak tide). I was able to get brief, but unobstructed views of it as it skulked in and out of low cover about 100 yards down the PA Airport runway trail. This is the same area it has been reported previously. To reach the area, take the main trail past the Lucy Evans visitors center, follow the trail around the lagoon and turn right at the runway. Look for a dead coyote bush and flattened vegetation on the right of the trail, shortly after the bright orange wind sock. A bunch of new wood chips have been unloaded here as well.
In the area, 3-4 Soras and 5 Virginia Rails were calling. Strangely, no Clapper Rails today, but I had heard them earlier in the week.
Eric Goodill and I visited Jeffery Fontana Park in San Jose this morning. We refound the flock of Chipping Sparrows on the lawn in front of the policeman's memorial sculpture (near the intersection of Golden Oak Way and Cecala Drive. We counted a minimum of 10 birds, but I expect there may have been at least 12. Also in the are were a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a Cooper's Hawk, and 2 Merlins. The second Merlin we saw eviscerating a Lesser Goldfinch while two other LEGOs (the lucky ones) watched from neighboring branches in the same tree. A single Wilson's Snipe was seen briefly as it flew west along the creek away from Almaden Expressway.
It's not often I get a chance to compare two Sapsucker species side-by-side... But this afternoon I visited the corner of Creek and Arbor to say hello to the Yellow-bellied female. As I stood by the phone pole I could see a Sapsucker but it wasn't the one I had come for. It was actually a Red-breasted Sapsucker. It was feeding quietly on the branch that hangs over the road. It then moved to the acacia and continued to feed. Suddenly, it was joined by the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. and there was a brief squabble. They resolved their differences, and for a moment or two, both Sapsucker species were feeding within inches of each other giving ample opportunity to compare the facial patterning and back pattern. It was a beautiful moment. The discrete rows of white spots on the back of the Red-breasted were in sharp contrast to the more diffuse, less organized rows of white on the Yellow-bellied's back.
I noticed that there were some very fresh and new, bright holes in the acacia. These new holes are distinctively rectangular. The older ones appear smaller and round. I observed the Red-breasted Sapsucker making use of these new holes, but I didn't see it actively chiseling.
Also present was a Merlin in the tall redwood trees above the houses.
I've stopped by Creek and Arbor several times now to see famed female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and I've enjoyed meeting a few folks I knew only by name. It's been a very nice experience chatting quietly at the corner with everyone.
While I share in everyone's enthusiasm for this uncommon winter visitor however, I'd like to suggest that we all take a moment to consider how our presence might impact the bird's ability to feed. We've probably all noticed some questionable behavior in the past week as birders and photographers attempt to get better looks at her. It might be time to talk about that...
I'd like to suggest that we all give her a little more space. She is in fact sustaining herself by these visits to the acacia tree so we should remain at a comfortable distance from her. While she is feeding we should not approach her. I'm thinking we should probably refrain from flash photography.... After all, keeping our distance and being patient will probably result in better experiences for us (and more importantly, the Sapsucker). She is what matters after all.
If this seems harsh, just imagine if you were her, trying to feed with a birder/photographer directly beneath you... you might not feel so safe. You might just move to a different tree (or out of the area entirely...) In light of the upcoming CBC season, we want to check in on, but NOT chase away, species like this...
She represents an uncommon opportunity to see the species in our county, but it is also a very important time for her, She needs to feed normally and feel safe. We should let her do so. Her ability to feed, should cme before our need to see/photograph her.
That's it for now. Enjoy this beautiful bird, but please give here a little space. We wouldn't want to scare here away, would we...?
This morning I stopped at the kite flying area of Shoreline Park. There were still quite a number of Cackling Geese in and among the larger Canada Geese. At lunch today, I wandered over to Shoreline Lake where I was able to refind the male and female Barrow's Goldeneyes. Salt pond A1 had large numbers of American Wigeon and 4 drake Eurasian Wigeon that I could see, probably more escaped detection. The channel leading into the forebay had a Common Moorhen swimming away from the pipe.
I visited Ed Levin County Park today in search of unusual Sapsuckers in the tamarisk trees near the entrance to the Spring Valley Pond section. I found 6 Red-breasted Sapsuckers in the vicinity of the pond and ranger station, but was not rewarded with any other varieties. On the South end of Spring Valley Pond however, I did
locate an Orange-crowned Warbler in the willows.
A white-striped White-throated Sparrow was in the fennel patch near the maintenance yard beside the Airpoint School. This small road leads north off of Calaveras, directly across from the tamarisk trees at the Spring Valley entrance of Ed Levin. Strolling beneath the pepper trees I saw two more Sapsuckers, but cannot be sure if they were different individuals than the earlier ones. In any case, Sapsucker viewing was pretty good here.
Over the hills above Sandy Wool Lake I saw three Golden Eagles, two adults, and one immature. A fourth Golden Eagle was located on the down-slope of Sierra Road. A Loggerhead Shrike was working the area
as well. Yellow-billed Magpies were present in various portions of Sierra Road, and a spectacular dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk. while I was at Ed Levin, in the lower picnic ground, I heard a European Starling imitating a Barn Owl of all things! I'd heard Curve-billed Thrashers imitate Common Poorwills in the southwest, but I had never heard any of our local mimics imitating a nocturnal species. This suggests that at some point in its life, this particular Starling was kept awake by screeching Barn Owls... I was very surprised by this portion of his song, and even though it wasn't full volume, I could see his throat move with the sound. He also did renditions of White-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow-billed Magpie and Western Scrub Jay. Quite a bird!
The female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was still present today at 2:45 - 3:15 pm in the acacia tree near the intersection of Creek and Arbor in Menlo Park. She vocalized several times. Also present was a Brown Creeper in the oak tree beside the 15 mph sign.
At 12:45 pm the female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that was discovered yesterday by Joanne Lazar reappeared near the corner of Creek and Arbor in Menlo Park. It foraged in an acacia tree located next to the yellow 15 mph sign. Francis Toldi and Mary Jane Parrine were there as well and we all got wonderful looks. Judging from that tree, and others nearby, there's little reason for this beautiful Sapsucker to leave the area any time soon.
Photo: Ed Ehmke