FALL 2005


Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Plant Saturday, September 17 POSTED
Point Reyes National Seashore (Abbott's Lagoon) Saturday, September 24 POSTED
Point Reyes National Seashore (Outer Point) Saturday, October 01 POSTED
Andrew Molera State Park Saturday, October 08 POSTED
Coyote Hills Regional Park Saturday, October 15 POSTED
Moss Landing, Elkhorn Slough, Moon Glow Dairy Saturday, October 22 POSTED
Bodega Bay Area Saturday, October 29 POSTED
Oka Percolation Ponds Saturday, November 05 POSTED

Note: The trip reports below are organized in reverse chronological order (more recent report first).





Oka Percolation Ponds 11-05-05

This was a new destination for our group, but familiar to members who had attended some of the Audubon walks. The area features a cluster of six man-made ponds, no doubt leftover from some county water project, with several aquatic acres for swimming species and plenty of wetland vegatation. There is a rich riparian habitat that extends the length of the nearby Los Gatos Creek and suits numerous Piciformes and Passerines. Dense underbrush exists in some areas, offering cover for the expected winter Sparrow species, and reedy edges of the ponds seem like excellent spots for secretive Ciconiiformes or Gruiiformes. Of course, there is also the sky... The list of possible birds is rather large, in other words.

We began by parking along Dell Avenue and scanning the fenced control ponds by the road. There, we got our first good looks at American Wigeon and Ring-necked Duck for the season, as well as a small group of Wood Ducks and a lone Spotted Sandpiper. From there we walked to the main ponds to find the sun in exactly the wrong place for us to survey the water... (Note to self: consider direction of sun when planning this trip in the future) We strolled toward the bridge, covering our eyes from the surface glare, to the southwest side of the ponds where we crossed into the relatively quite area, away from most of the foot traffic. There we found our Green Heron for the day, as well as a small flock of Cedar Waxwings in the eucalyptus trees and a few American Pipits walking on the levy. Few birds seemed to be on the water, so after circling ponds 4,6 and 5 (from BBOB) we made a brief exploration of the south side fo the creek before doubling back. We paused at the bridge to log Downy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker as well as a very cooperative Bobcat that snacked on a mouse, then cleaned its paws and stretched out for a short rest in full view of our scopes! What a beautiful animal. I was especially impressed with the white spots on his black ears and the subtle reddish tones on his legs.

We completed the pond trail around ponds 3,2 and 1, stopping at Snipe Island to locate our only Wilson's Snipe of the day, but after we got another look at Green Heron we decided it would be fun to explore elsewhere. So off to Stevens Creek Park, the Baytree picnic area to be specific, to search for the recently reported Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (imm.). We never did locate that particular bird, but we did find at least two Red-breasted Sapsucker, as well as Townsend's Warbler, Wrentit and Spotted Towhee in this very different habitat.

Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck
Turkey Vulture
Cooper’s Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Spotted Sandpiper
Wilson’s Snipe
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon
Anna’s Hunmmingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-breasted Sapsucker (SCP)
Downy Woodpecker
Nuttall’s Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe
Hutton’s Vireo (SCP)
Steller’s Jay (SCP)
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Oak Titmouse
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Bushtit
Bewick’s Wren
Wrentit (heard only SCP)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush (heard onlhy SCP)
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Townsend’s Warbler
Spotted Towhee (heard only SCP)
California Towhee
Golden-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow








Bodega Bay Area 10-29-05





Dense coastal fog made for a surreal beginning to our day. We began as usual at the Tides Restaurant to scan the bay for swimming birds. As we watched from the balcony, the bay appeared like a horizonless wall of mystery, gradually fading upward from pale bluish gray to a luminous pearly mist. The slowly changing light was almost overwhelmingly beautiful. Whatever happened the rest of the day, which birds we would see or not see, seemed irrelevant. We were satisfied already. But soon several species did begin to emerge from beyond and we identified Common Loon, several Grebes, Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorant, Greater Scaup, Surf Scoter, Belted Kingfisher, and several familiar Gulls. Slowly the fog began to lift and we then relocated to Diekmann's Grocery Store to search the trees for Passerines. Orange-crowned Warbler was a nice surprise, as was a skulking Fox Sparrow. We also met Benjamin "Mike" Parmeter, who provided us with the annotated checklist of Birds of Sonoma County that he had co-written with the late Gordon Bolander. Mike was very helpful and filled us in on the morning's bird news. Not much was happening, he said. No vagrants had appeared...

Our next stop was the northern-most end of the bay where we strolled through the neighborhood and found the Rail Ponds off of Bay Flat Road. We added Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Flicker, a heard-only Downy Woodpecker, Hermit Thrush, Winter Wren, Cedar Waxwing and Virginia Rail. This last bird, as well as the Wren, was heard responding to a short broadcast from my iPod, but we did not detect any Sora.

From there we moved to the trailhead at Owl Canyon. The path was narrow and slippery so after making a brief exploration of the trees and consequently flushing a Great Horned Owl, we opted to bird the hillside by the pullout. Eventually we relocated the Great Horned Owl high in the eucalyptus trees. Song and both Crowned Sparrows were present in the underbrush and a Northern Harrier foraged over the ridge.

We continued to the "Hole in the Head" to work the rock jetty and investigate the small marsh. On the beach we identified the bulk of our day's Gulls, as well as several Black Oystercatchers. The marsh produced a Black-crowned Night Heron and our only Cooper's Hawk. At this point, viewing conditions were clear and reasonably pleasant, a far cry from last winter's visit, but as we drove up hill to Bodega Head to scan the ocean the fog returned. From the top, only the closest rocks were visible, but we managed to find a large group Brandt's Cormorants and a flock of Surfbirds. Additional birds were understandably scarce and our seawatch didn't really go as planned, but there was no shortage of beauty. We stood on the cliffs, looking out at the ghostly white sky and the crashing surf far below, each incoming wave making a deep rumble against the rocks.

Back down the hill we drove, stopping twice along the way to work the Shorebird flocks on the widening mudflats. Semipalmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Sanderling, Western and Least Sandpipers, Marbled Godwit... even a great collection of Surfbirds were found. The variety of Shorebirds and the closeness of the flock made for nearly perfect observation conditions. I think we would have stayed longer, and perhaps managed a few more species, but were all quite hungry. So we moved on and claimed a large table at the Tides for our group lunch. It was Boyce's birthday and we celebrated with cake and song.

Before leaving the area altogether, a few of us stopped at the short bird walk on the south end of the bay. American Pipits were numerous in the dried mud pond, and the majority of our Dabbling Ducks were scoped beside the roadway leading into Doran beach. The best find was a Peregrine Falcon, apparently of the tundrius subspecies. It perched high in a conifer, allowing lengthy consideration of the fieldmarks, such as paler slate coloration, large white cheek patch and unmarked white upper breast. As we watched and admired this uncommon variety our day's only Red-shouldered Hawk dove at the trees and chased the Falcon away. Wow!

Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Brandt's Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night Heron
American Wigeon
Gadwall
Green-winged Teal
Mallard
Northern Pintail
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Greater Scaup
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter (seen by one)
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon "tundrius"
California Quail
Virginia Rail (heard only)
American Coot
Black Oystercatcher
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
Black-bellied Plover
Marbled Godwit
Whimbrel
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Ruddy Turnstone
Black Turnstone
Surfbird
Sanderling
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Dunlin
Glaucous-winged Gull
Western Gull
California Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Mew Gull
Heerman's Gull
Forster's Tern
Rock Pigeon
Great Horned Owl
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Northern Flicker
Downy Woodpecker (heard only)
Black Phoebe
Western Scrub Jay
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Wrentit (heard only)
Winter Wren
Marsh Wren (heard only)
Hermit Thrush
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow







Moss Landing, Elkhorn Slough, Moon Glow Dairy 10-22-05

When this trip was first scheduled, it was carefully timed to coincide with the the incoming LOW tide giving us an increasing number of Shorebirds which I predicted would be driven steadily toward to our telescopes. Well, perhaps I haven't quite learned to interpret tide schedules properly because at 8:00 am the water looked remarkably like it was at its height. A reduced number of waders were seen as a result and most of the mudflats were quite submerged.... In addition to that, the weather which was forecast to be PATCHY morning fog was instead, DENSE milk-like fog, that reduced visibility considerably! Oh, well. Despite these unexpected changes in plans, the day proved to be one of our best for this location, and certainly for the term. Go figure.

We began the day searching the small flocks of birds along the entrance road for the Ruddy Turnstone, which was found among the Willets, Least and Western Sandpipers, Dunlin, Sanderlings, Marbled Godwits and Semipalmated Plovers. Both Red-throated and Common Loons, Western, Horned and Eared Grebes were on the water, but oddly, few other Swimmers. As we moved away from our first viewing area and made our way toward the harbor mouth, we spotted a Merlin perched on the lone tree in the marsh. We then encountered an immature Pigeon Guillemot in the deeper central area of the harbor and enjoyed the many opportunities to compare the three species of Cormorant. Gulls were numerous, with the roost consisting mostly of Heerman's and California, but also Western, small numbers of Ring-billed and a lone Herring Gull. As we marched along the beach we had very close looks at an American Pipit and our Merlin again. We were, of course, hoping to find Snowy Plover, but none were found. We did however find a dead Northern Fulmar on the shore and studied the curious bill structure at close range. As we left the beach, a Common Murre perched on the jetty, quite close to a woman in a blue lawn chair. Returning to the cars, we also found a Horned Lark foraging on the ground by the picnic table.

As exciting as all these birds were, the real fun started when we made our first stop at Moon Glow Dairy. We hoped to relocate the Vermilion Flycatcher, possibly the same individual we have seen twice before, returned for its second winter. By now, the weather was clearing up and within a minute of setting up our scopes along the road, the bird was located. It has now acquired its full brilliant carmine plumage and positively floresces against the background of the its favorite trees. Overhead, the Tricolored Blackbirds gave their harsh, catfight-like calls.

We relocated then to the eucalyptus grove to search the ponds beneath the cattle enclosures. Sparrows seemed to be everywhere in the dry weedy habitat, with the two Crowned species, Lincoln's, Savannah, Song and a single Fox all accounted for. Yellow-rumped Warblers were conspicuous, but a pipit-like Warbler with yellow undertail coloration quickly caught our attention. The streaky brownish plumage, eye stripe and supercillium combined with its tail bobbing behavior made the identification complete. It was a Palm Warbler and the first vagrant Warbler our group had seen this season! Continuing along the levy trail we also located a Whimbrel, two Cattle Egrets, a uncharacteristic flock of 9 flying Wilson's Snipe, and a Say's Phoebe. The previously reported White-faced Ibis was not found, but a lone Spotted Sandpiper and a House Wren were nice consolations. After reaching the end of the trail and developing a powerful collective appetite for lunch, we reversed direction and headed back to the cars. Then, probably the strangest bird of the day, a Short-eared Owl flopped moth-like over the water chasing a California Gull! The Gull squawked repeately as it struggled to get away from the persistent attacks of the Owl. It was truly bizarre and completely unexpected. After that, we assumed the trip had pretty much produced all it was going to, but one more bird, a Tropical Kingbird was spotted close to the trail. We admired it for several minutes as it hawked for insects and repeatedly showed us its deeply notched tail, greenish upper breast, olive back and tail lacking white outers. It was an utterly textbook example. Yeah! Time for some chowder at Phil's Fish Market...

Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Northern Fulmar (deceased)
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brandt's Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant

Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Surf Scoter
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Merlin
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Spotted Sandpiper (seen by 1)
Whimbrel
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Black Turnstone
Sanderling
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Dunlin
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
Heerman's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Western Gull
Elegant Tern
Forster's Tern
Common Murre
Pigeon Gullemot
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Short-eared Owl
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee (heard only)
Bushtit
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Marsh Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
European Starling
American Pipit
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Spotted Towhee (heard only)
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow






Coyote Hills Regional Park 10-15-05

Dark skies overhead and intense golden light from beneath the shroud made for a dramatic beginning to crisp autumn morning. As we strolled along the willowed marsh edges, there were brief few drizzles until about 10:00 when the sun appeared in earnest and the air warmed to a comfortable degree. Sparrows abounded on the weedy slopes to our left with Song, White-crowned, Golden-crowned, Fox and Lincoln's all present. Later we would add Savannah along the bay trail. Yellow-rumped Warblers were numerous as expected, but Wilson's Warbler also made for a bright yellow surprise appearance near Hoot Hollow. In that same area, four Hermit Thrushes fed in full view, among the now familiar groups of foraging Sparrows. As we climbed the hill leading toward the south ponds we climbed the hill leading toward the south pond American Kestrel, Cooper's Hawk, Northern Harrier, White-tailed Kite and Red-tailed Hawk were all seen. We also watched the rocky outcropping for any sign of Rock Wren, but it was not located. As a consolation, Say's Phobe and Loggerhead Shrike were seen instead. The south pond had been drained completely so no Waterfowl were found there. As well, the bayfront contained few species, but Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, wintering Least Sandpiper, Dunlin and Short-billed Dowitcher were present. These last two species made for good field discussion with everyone contributing to the identification. As we scanned the bay, Eared Grebe, numerous Great Egrets, distant California and Western Gulls and flyover American Pipits were logged. Small numbers of American White Pelicans were seen soaring way overhead. We backtracked and then rounded the rocky hills by the first parking area, stopping at the tiny reed brake to listen for Common Yellowthroat. Bewick's Wren was heard in the chaparral, but little else was descovered here. We opted to walk along the road, and broadcast a few Rail calls. The Sora heard earlier in the morning did not call at this time, but Virginia Rail did. A few of us heard what could only have been Blue-gray Gnatcatcher here as well, but we could not get the bird to call again or show itself. That one got away, I guess... All in all, today was a good sampling of newly arrived wintering species, a few birds on their way south, and many resident birds. The hoped-for Merlin did not appear, but perhaps on one of the upcoming trips we'll have more luck with that.

Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
American White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night Heron
Turkey Vulture
Canada Goose
Gadwall
Mallard
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Ruddy Duck
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Ring-necked Pheasant
California Quail
Virginia Rail (heard only)
Sora (heard only)
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Killdeer
Black-necked Stilt
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Least Sandpiper

Dunlin
Short-billed Dowitcher
California Gull
Western Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker (heard only)
Northern Flicker
"Western" Flycatcher (pres. Pacific-slope)
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Loggerhead Shrike
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee (heard only)
Bushtit
Bewick's Wren (heard only)
Marsh Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
American Pipit (heard only)
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird (heard only)
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow







Andrew Molera State Park
10-08-05

After a spectacular morning drive south along the coast, passing by picture-perfect views of the unique Big Sur landscape, we arrived at Andrew Molera to find the weather a bit windy, but generally warm and clear. As we collected our scopes and binoculars, across the highway three great shadows made wide slow circles over the ridge. It took only an instant for us to realize they were California Condors and suddenly our trip was complete, not three minutes out of our cars! The birds soared for a few minutes, dipping behind the hills several times as we watched, and then reappearing a few minutes later as we scanned the clouds. Meanwhile, a rather late Blue-gray Gnatcatcher appeared in the chaparral above the lot and a few of us got very brief glimpses of this bonus bird. California Thrasher showed up as well, singing a bit just off the trail leading into the woods. Over the next hour we stolled through the mixed oak woodland leading to the campground and found ourselves frequenly glancing back over the hills. The Condors continued their circling and at one point an adult landed in a large conifer, its white upper wing coverts visible with some difficulty through our telescopes.

At this point we noticed the wind had picked up considerably, and as a result very few Songbirds were in evidence. Both Crowned Sparrows were present in droves of course, but Warblers and Vireos were much more difficult to detect. Of these, Townsend's were quite common, but Hutton's Vireo and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were also present in good numbers. And the wind continued to get stronger...

We back tracked to the trailhead and made our way to the Big Sur Ornithology Lab banding station for our scheduled demonstration. We arrived to find the banders already processing a Hermit Thrush and a Golden-crowned Sparrow. We watched as the banders took the silent birds out of their small cotton bags and made quick notes about the size, weight, fat content and estimated the age of each. Jessica explained the process to us in depth, including how to safely hold a bird while taking measurements, how to fasten the tiny aluminum leg band, and then she took us outside to watch each bird released. In all, we saw five birds processed including two Hermit Thrushes, two Golden-crowned Sparrows and a Fox Sparrow. After that we broke into two smaller groups and accompanied a bander to the nets to see if any new birds had been captured. None were found by either group so we watched as a net was closed down for the day and then we returned to the station. Jessica answered a few closing questions. One of the more interesting facts we learned was that most species seem to be holding their numbers the exception is Warbling Vireo, which is experiencing a significant decline, the reasons for which are not entirely understood. We thanked her for the presentation and continued birding along the river trail.

Little was seen on our way to the beach unless you want to count a fleeting glimpse of an American Dipper and an obvious Kingbird species that got away too fast to identify. Due to the timing we suspected it might be a Tropical though... Farther out on the gravel sandbar we located an immature Greater White-fronted Goose, also a bit of a surprise. We continued to the beach for a Aechmoporus species, two more species of Cormorant, three species of Gull and a flock of Black Turnstones. It was so beautiful and bright by the water, but the blinding glare made identification of and swimming birds, such as a possible Harlequin Duck, very difficult. We returned to the picnic area for a birthday lunch. After great food and a round of Happy Birthday, a few of us decided to search for the Tropical Kingbird (!) that one of the banders informed us had been seen an hour earlier at the station. "An hour ago, huh?" That was too much of a coincindence (to be mere concidence...) and it cast an interesing light on the Kingbird we had failed to identify. Well, of course, it wasn't there when we returned, but as a consolation, we had wonderful looks at American Dipper from the wooden bridge again and a Lincoln's Sparrow foraging right out in the open. These last two sightings were among the best many of us had had of these to rather shy species.

Horned Grebe
Aechmophorus species
Brandt's Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
California Condor
Greater White-fronted Goose
White-tailed Kite
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
California Quail
American Coot
Black Turnstone
Heerman's Gull
California Gull
Western Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher (heard only)
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Kingbird species (prob. Tropical)
Hutton's Vireo
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Bushtit
Brown Creeper
Bewick's Wren
American Dipper
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Hermit Thrush
California Thrasher
American Pipit (heard only)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (heard only)
Townsend's Warbler
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch







Point Reyes National Seashore (Mendoza and Nunes Ranches, Lighthouse, and Bear Valley) 10-01-05

There's a mysterious schedule to the outer reaches of the Point Reyes peninsula. Each fall, birders eagerly await a rare and subtle convergency of weather conditions and timing that will produce a spectacular appearance of southbound migrant Warblers. Each year, I am one of those birders, struggling to understand the complexity of events that will lead our group to a day of remarkable discoveries. A date was chosen, checklists and field guides were studied, lunch was packed. And so we set out, binoculars polished and expectation high... Ahead of us, the road disappeared into a field of white as a heavy, sleeping fog shrouded the point reducing visibility and keeping most Passerines down. As one might expect, our Warbler search didn't produce the hoped-for results, but as often happens, a few unexpected birds made up for the many no-shows. Temperatures were mild though, so we continued as we had planned despite the lack of migrant activity. Into what seemed a birdless void we drove.

We met first at the Inverness Store to scan the Tomales Bay where a distant perched Peregrine Falcon provided an immediate ID challenge. The closer Gull flock included mostly California, with a few Ring-billed and Westerns. Western and Eared Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Brown and American White Pelicans, Mallard and Greater Scaup were among the swimming birds. We logged both Crowned Sparrows here, along with Song Sparrow but no hoped-for Lincoln's appeared. Common Yellowthroat gave it's electric shock call from the reeds and along the muddy shore Black-necked Stilt and Greater Yellowlegs foraged. Overhead, the Osprey of the previous week failed to show but one member of the group had seen it near Olema. (Linda and Boyce reported Merlin from the Olema Marsh as well).

Excited to get to business we moved out quickly to reach the ranch lands and search for migrant songbirds. Mendoza Ranch (Historic B Ranch) was buffetted by incoming mist which clouded over the lenses of all eyeglass-wearing members of the group. Sparrows foraged along the road several streaky juvenile White-crowns were among the adult birds. A well camouflaged Great Horned Owl perched motionless in the upper branches of the cypress trees on the north end of the ranch looking at first glance much like a hornet nest. A single Red-breasted Nuthatch moved slowly in that same area but little other activity was observed. The rarest bird of the day, a White-winged Dove, appeared briefly below the road as it drank water from the stock pond and then moved abruptly to the south. As we returned to our cars, a female Barn Owl flopped among the branches across from the farm house. It flew to a nearby tree and remained visible for a short time. The streaky breast and overall awkwardness of the bird let us to believe it was a young female.

From there we caravanned to Nunes Ranch (Historic A Ranch) to explore the famous cypress trees. Silence. Nothing... This in itself was not surpising, many of the migrant birds are quiet, but one often sees some faint movement in the branches. Only the hiss of incoming fog and a hazy stillness... Eventually a small rufous bird dashed from one tangled brush pile to another. Two members believed it might be a Wren so we broadcast a short sample of Winter Wren from the iPod. Sure enough, the little bird appeared and we all admired. Beyond that one tiny bird, there seemed to be no other lifeforms in the area, so we continued to the intersection with Chimney Rock. There the Blackbird flock as shockingly large and contained mostly Tricoloreds but also Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds. They squawked and complained constantly, sounding much like Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and moved from slope to slope and a wave-like roll. At one point a Peregrine Falcon streaked through and caused the group to scatter wildly. The European Starling remain rather segregated across the road. In the field below us we saw a Long-tailed Wiesel and a (Botta's?) Pocket Gopher poking their head out of their burrows. These were the first of several mammal species we encountered during the day. One or two members also saw a Vole it its burrow.

With some trepidation, we continued to the Lighthouse to investigate the situation there. There we encountered similar conditions. Dense fog and a slight north wind with close to no bird activity. A few species appeared however. Two singing Fox Sparrow were near the residence as were Savannah, Song and the two familiar crowned Sparrows. Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hutton's Vireo and a "Western" Flycatcher were located on our way back to the cars.

We then went to Drake's Beach for our picnic lunch. The sky was slightly clearer here, with small patches of blue visible in the distance. The beach held several species of Gulls, Glaucous-winged and Heerman's being new for the day. Offshore Common, Pacific and Red-throated Loons were observed. Willet, Marbled Godwit and Sanderling made brief appearances at the water's edge. In the trees Hutton's Vireo (came to explore the iPod), American Goldfinch and a "Yellow-shafted" Flicker were found. This last bird was only seen by me, and it's difficult to say if it was a fully eastern bird or an intergrade. Behind the picnic area, we walked the short trail beside the pond to find Gadwall, Pied-billed Grebe and a female Ring-necked Duck. Virgia Rail was heard, as was Marsh Wren (both with the help of the iPod again) and Common Yellowthroat. We had fleeting glimpse of a Catharus species which we identified as a probable Swainson's Thrush due to the complete lack of reddish tones on the rump. In the distance we saw a small harem of Tule Elk including a male huge antlers.

Back to Bear Valley, to walk the earthquake trail. Perhpas things would be more active there... We added Nuttall's, Acorn and Downy Woodpecker and got wonderful looks at a cooperative Golden-crowned Kinglet. This last species is seldom seen on our fieldtrips, but often heard in this area. Warbler flocks from the previous week were absent, with only a single Townsend's Warbler remaining. Mammal-wise we saw a Western Gray Squirrel with unusually strong bicolored pattern and two Black-tailed Deer.

Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Great Egret
Canada Goose
Mallard
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Merlin (reported by Linda and Boyce at Olema Marsh)
Peregrine Falcon
Osprey (seen while driving near Olema)
California Quail
Virginia Rail (heard only)
American Coot
Killdeer
Black-necked Stilt
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Marbled Godwit
Sanderling
Heerman's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Mourning Dove
White-winged Dove
Rock Pigeon
Barn Owl
Great Horned Owl
Anna's Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker ("Yellow-shafted" at Drakes Beach)
"Western" Flycatcher (pres. Pacific-slope)
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Barn Swallow
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Winter Wren
Marsh Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Western Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush (probable)
Hutton's Vireo
European Starling
Townsend's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow






Point Reyes National Seashore (Abbott's Lagoon, MCI towers and Bear Valley) 09-24-05

Despite weather forecast of "mostly cloudy, low 60s with 10-15 mile winds" our walk was sunny and warm with very little breeze. Perhaps it was because of these favorable conditions that very few Shorebirds were seen on this trip, which was intended to be a Shorebird-blitz. Similarly, vagrant Warbler activity was surprisingly low, infact zero for us, with other birding groups echoing some of the same frustration. No matter. Our day was wonderful and it was great to be outside on such an uncommonly nice day.

After hearing of the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper that was reported on Friday, we opted to spend less time at the Bear Valley headquarters and rush to the lagoon right away. There we met Rich Stallcup and his group as well as Kenneth Peterson and other birders intent on finding the Sharp-tail. Everyone, it seemed was eager to relocate this bird. As our team began the long walk out we stopped to identify a few small birds in the chaparral. Yellow-rumped and Yellow Warblers, as well as a single Orange-crowned were seen. White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows, Fox and Savannah Sparrow, Spotted Towhee were all present as well as heard-only Wrentit. At the small pond a cooperative Virgina Rail posed for several minutes, allowing everyone to admire it. Then we moved onward quickly to find the lagoon essentially empty of Shorebirds. A large group of Gulls, mostly Heerman's and Californias, bathed on the north end, but mixed in were a few adult Ring-bills and Westerns. American White, and Brown Pelicans were bathing as well, but as we scanned the shores, very few Shorebirds were visible. Marbled Godwit and Willet were the only obvious species. Gradually, a few other birds appeared such as Greater Yellowlegs and Black-bellied Plover. We decided to continue around the lagoon because perhaps the flocks were on the far side. No large groups ever materialized though and we retreated somewhat disappointed. A small group Pectoral Sandpipers had been seen in the extreme south end, as we learned from Rich, but we never got that far. Perhaps we will visit that area on a future trip.

Time for a change of scenary! We caravanned to the MCI towers to enjoy our lunch and search the cypress trees. A few additional species were located here, namely Barn Owl, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Western Wood Pewee and "Western" Flycatcher, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Brown Creeper, and Townsend's Warbler. The area is beautiful of course, but again the activity was lower than expected. Ted Chandik's group described the same situation in the Outer Point areas they had visited earlier in the day. We began to think that nice weather was to blame... Bring on the storms, I say!

We gathered around the hood of one of the cars and spread out the map to review our options. The Outer Point was dead. Abbot's Lagoon was so yesterday... A short discussion was all that was necessary to decide we'd return to Bear Valley, bird the area we had skipped earlier and call it quits. Before that however, we would stop at the Inverness Store, pick up a cold drink and scan the Tomales Bay for anything.

Well, that worked out rather well, actually. On the bay there was a group of three Black Scoters. Unexpected and welcome! Next... I had the feeling that we were scraping for anything at this point. Overhead we saw American Crows. That's new for today!! Yes...

At Bear Valley headquarters we took the short Earthquake Trail beside the creek and surveyed the riparian habitat. Leonie spotted a female-plumaged Western Tanager and several people called out Townsend's Warblers. Western-type Flycatchers appeared once or twice. Warbling and Hutton's Vireos. Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Ashutosh then found a Black-throated Gray Warbler and then another. The place was surrounded. Before long we had added almost ten species to our day and in only half an hour. Next week, perhaps we will spend a bit more time in this area because it was so productive today. Then again, I guess it would be best to check the weather first.

Pacific Loon (off shore)
Common Loon
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Mallard
Northern Pintail
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Greater Scaup
Surf Scoter
Black Scoter
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
California Quail
Virginia Rail
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Marbled Godwit
Sanderling
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandipiper
Red-necked Phalarope
Heerman's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Western Gull
Common Murre
Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Barn Owl
Great Horned Owl
Anna's Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Western Wood Pewee
"Western" Flycatcher (pres. Pacific-slope)
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Kingbird species
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Bushtit
Brown Creeper
Bewick's Wren
Marsh Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Western Bluebird
American Robin
Wrentit (heard only)
American Pipit
European Starling

Hutton's Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler (both "Audubon's" and "Myrtle")
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-breasted Chat (at MCI towers and seen only by Eric G. Later reported by Rich Stallcup)
Western Tanager
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow



 


Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Plant (SWPCP, and Alviso EEC add-on) 09-17-05

First trip of the term and we see a fabulous bird! More about that later... The weather was lovely, especially after about 10:00 when the sky cleared and it became quite warm. After investigating the freshwater channel and the various fall Warblers we encountered, we walked out along the main levy trail out toward the Gull rooste. We focused on the large pools as before, hoping to find newly arrived winter Waterfowl and perhaps some migrant Phalaropes. As expected, a few species have arrived, but generally it seemed still a bit early in the season.

Migrant Warblers were conspicuous in the channel leading out of the parking area and in the weedy ditch to the left of the trail. Small groups consisted mostly of Common Yellowthroat and Yellow Warbler. One Orange-crowned Warbler was also seen among them and our first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the season. Say's Phoebe perched on a pole up hill to our left and mixed in with the flocks of Barn, Violet-green and a few Tree Swallows, a single Northern Rough-winged Swallow appeared overhead as well as perhaps 10-15 Vaux's Swifts during our walk. Cooper's Hawk patrolled the area, occasionally flushing all the House Finches and European Starlings that were gathered on the hill. Two Green Heron and several Black-crowned Night Heron allowed themselves to be viewed near the fenced enclosure, as well as American Coot and Common Moorhen. Pied-billed Grebe appeared several times in the shallows during our walk, some still showing the bill stripe, while others did not. Stripe-faced young remained mostly hidden, but did appear at one point.

As we approached the radar station a large group of Swallows was gathered on the wires overhead. Ashutosh called our attention to one bird that appeared larger than the rest. Immediately upon getting it in our binoculars and telescopes it became obvious that we were looking at a Purple Martin. The dark bird was charcoal-colored on the back with black around its eyes and considerable smudging on its breast. What struck us all, beyond the relative size of the bird, was the ashy-gray collar that swept up behind the auricular area and to the nape. Judging from the amount of pale gray on the forehead and smooth grayish smudges on its breast, most of us agreed it was likely a female. In flight it seemed quite large with long wings and a long notched tail. For the most part it remained separate from the other Swallows, but the 2-3 times it was seen among the others, a good size comparison was possible. Easily the least expected and the hands-down favorite bird of the day!

After that thrilling find, we continued toward the pump house, stopping near the reeds to coax out 5 Virginia Rails with the help of my iPod and a tiny speaker. Worked like charm! Within a few seconds of broadcasting a short pumping call, the marsh was loud with their voices. Another minute later and our group, which was stretched out over a 20 yard length, were pointing to the various birds as they peeked out to investigate.

Little else was seen near the pump house save numerous Eared Grebe, Red-necked Phalaropes , and Northern Shoveler . Small numbers of Gadwall and a single Greater Scaup (female, identified on basis of headshape and bill size) were located toward the center of the large pool and of course Ruddy Ducks abounded. I forgot to mention earlier that a flock of 10 Brown Pelicans circled high over the main pool earlier, but now an enormous flock of American White Pelicans were entering the scene.

Among the many Gulls, Ring-bills seemed to be in the majority, with fewer California Gulls and only 3 Bonaparte's Gulls. The most unusual Gull located here was a Herring Gull (most likely just arrived) and quite segregated from the rest. Forster's Terns perched on the levy farther out along the trail, all wearing their black masks, and two Caspian Terns flew over the pond.

After returning to our cars, most of the group relocated to the State and Spreckles intersection in Alviso, There we encountered both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, sleeping Dowitchers (we'll attempt identification when they are awake and vocalizing...) as well as many Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet. The Larid population was entirely composed of California Gulls here. Along the train tracks by the EEC we found Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, and additional peeps but nothing unexpected.

An Osprey perched along the entrance road to the EEC and beckoned us to continue in. So we did, making a short loop in the marsh along the boardwalk and leaving via the main pool. Among the mostly California Gulls, 3 Western Gulls rested. Several more White Pelicans were among them. In the native garden by the parking area more Warblers were appearing, 3 Common Yellowthroat, Yellow and another Yellow-rumped. Bushtits also chirped in the shrubs, our last bird for the day.

Canada Goose
Gadwall
Mallard
Northern Shoveler
Greater Scaup
Ruddy Duck
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret 
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Turkey Vulture
Osprey (EEC)
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Virginia Rail
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Semipalmated Plover
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet (EEC)
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs (EEC)
Western Sandpiper (EEC)
Least Sandpiper
Dowitcher (species)
Red-necked Phalarope
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Western Gull (EEC)
Caspian Tern
Forster's Tern
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Vaux's Swift
Anna's Hummingbird
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
American Crow
Common Raven
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Bushtit (EEC)
Bewick's Wren
Marsh Wren
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Savannah Sparrow (EEC)
Song Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
House Sparrow