FALL 2006


Point Reyes (MCI towers, Drakes Beach, ranches) 09-16-06 POSTED
Coyote Point Museum/Radio Road 09-23-06 POSTED
Pont Reyes (Limantour Beach, etc.) 09-30-06 POSTED
Princeton Harbor/Venice Beach 10-07-06 POSTED
SFBBO Fall Challenge (special event $50 donation) 10-08-06 POSTED
Moss Landing/Moon Glow/Zmudowski Beach 10-21-06 POSTED
Bodega Bay and Bodega Head 10-28-06 POSTED
Andrew Molera State Park 11-04-06 POSTED

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




Andrew Molera State Park 11-04-06

After two days of drippy autumn weather this morning's clear skies and warm temperatures felt more like May than November.... We toured the riparian woodland and campground areas, finding a nice complement of woodland birds like Townsend's Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, along with the occasional Hutton's Vireo and Bewick's Wren. We also saw a very cooperative American Dipper in the stream before the campground, a little sooner than expected. Things were going smoothly, in other words, and we stopped dutifully to review each and every Sparrow for possible unexpecteds... We spotted a Loggerhead Shrike on a distant wire and another Say's Phoebe. There weren't any great surprises though, and we kept working, glancing back at the hills every few mintutes for something large black and white.... It was all very pleasant, and the weather was wonderful, sunny, clear and warm but maybe nothing to write home about.

We'd been birding for about an hour-and-a-half, when from somewhere behind me I heard a voice directing me to look up. I turned to see something large black and white, but the white was on both surfaces of the outer wings. I puzzled for second until the white tail and breast were visible, then a great electric shock went through me and I yelled "CARACARA! It's a Caracara! Crested CARACARA!!" Several times and at great volume... I swear I heard my voice echo off off the hills, and at the very least, I'm sure they could hear me back at the campground a half mile away. I was, shall we say, rather pleased with the discovery.

I should mention that this particular bird, a unique scavenging Falcon from Southwestern states, has been reported on and off along the coast from Point Reyes to Big Sur for about two years, and that there are some lingering questions surrounding its origin. Is it an escapee or an exceptional vagrant? Experts differ, but the majority opinion seems to favor the latter, since the species is very rarely kept by falconers or in aviaries. In either case, it is exceedingly rare.

We got fantastic looks at the bird as it flew overhead, all white-palmed, long-necked and long-tailed. Then, surpassing even the experience of seeing the bird pass overhead, we saw it land in full view and that those of us with cameras began snapping like crazy. It was magnificent, singular and unforgettable! With any luck, some of these pictures will be on the website soon.

After sufficient appreciation, if that is even possible, we moved on to the coast. A small flock of Black Turnstones contained one Ruddy for us to pick out. All three Cormorants were identified on the rocks. An adult Peregrine Falcon was seen perched as well and calling loudly. The oddest discovery was a group of three American Wigeons among the Surf Scoters and various Gulls. The Gulls we saw were numerous but included fewer than anticipated species: Western, California, Ring-billed, Mew and Heerman's.

Back to the Caracara... We saw it again as we made our way back to the cars. This time it was much close and even more beautiful. We watched it for another moment or two before it decided to leave. It flew toward Point Sur, where I expect someone will relocate it soon. Ah, what a bird!

We ate our lunch at the tables beneath the trees and then strolled the road back toward the banding station. At the river crossing where there is normally a bridge we paused to look up and down. Another American Dipper was quietly working the area and we noticed some wing markings we hadn't seen on the earlier bird, and surmised this must be a different individual. Since we could not cross the river, we continued walking toward the corral where we spotted two Brown-headed Cowbirds foraging for insects beneath the horses and another House Wren near the log pile. We briefly explored the Bobcat trail after that finding ourselves all a bit too tired to continue, and beside that, there were no Caracaras there...

Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
Brown Pelican
Brandt's Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Canada Goose (Hwy 1)
American Wigeon
Mallard
Surf Scoter
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Merlin (Hwy 1)
Peregrine Falcon
California Quail
American Coot
Killdeer
Willlet
Ruddy Turnstone
Black Turnstone
Heerman's Gull
Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Westeren Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Nuttall's Woodpeckeer
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Loggerhead Shrike
Hutton's Vireo
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Bushtit
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
American Dipper
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Wrentit
European Starling
American Pipit
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch






Bodega Bay and Bodega Head 10-28-06

It was a beautiful day on the Sonoma County coast, not like last year’s trip at all. As we’ve often observed, the combination of good weather and early date contributed to the somewhat low species count. Still, it was a great day, with many good birds seen. We began as usual a the Tides restaurant, where we scoped the harbor for waterbirds. Pied-billed Grebes, Eared Grebes and Ruddy Ducks were in good supply, with Common Loon also present. A deeper scan of the water revealed both Western and Clark’s Grebes, as well as Greater Scaup, Surf Scoter and a single Pacific Loon. Gulls were numerous with most birds appearing to be Western. One or two first-wintere Glaucous-winged were among them, and an occasional Ring-billed flew by as well. At one point a fast flying Peregrine passed low over the water, scattering the smaller birds before it disappeared to the south.

Next we caravanned to the grocery store, Diekmann’s, I believe, to examine the trees below the parking area. Almost immediately we began to locate Yellow-rumped and Townsend’s Warblers, as well as Song and Fox Sparrows. Anna’s Hummingbirds were abundant and buzzed about protecting their feeding territory as if it were the middle of the breeding season. The water also produced some new birds such as California Gull and a lone Cackling Goose of the Aleutian race. The first of many Ruby-crowned Kinglets showed up here, as well as the familiar crowned Sparrows.

We continued to the horse pullout, where we hoped to pick up a few Passerines in trees along the residential road. A quick scan of the water however produced Snowy Egret, yet another Common Loon and a small group of Bufflehead that also contained Eared and Horned Grebe. Once in the cover of trees Hermit Thrush were detected along with Winter Wren, both birds preferring the denser underbrush just off the main road. The blackberry tangle across from the homes promised, but did not yield any Lincoln’s or White-throated Sparrows, but overhead we cold year several Northern Flickers, one of which showed every indication of being a pure “Yellow-shafted” form. It was an immature, so it lacked the distinctive black malar, but did show the tan (not gray) face, and brilliant yellow undertail and underwing coloration. Further up the road we managed to catch a glimpse of a Virginia Rail in the marsh which responded loudly to a recording, and a bit later we had the same results with a House Wren.

The time somehow got away with us and we opted to skip Owl Canyon and the various traditional Shorebirds stops in favor of heading out to Campbell Canyon for lunch. We recognized that the recently reported American Tree Sparrow and Northern Waterthrush had not been seen the past two days, but kept our eyes open for them anyway. As expected, they did not reappear, but several new day-species did. Common Yellowthroat was heard and seen in the reeds by the marsh where two Black-crowned Night Herons dozed, Wrentit was heard in the coyote bushes up slope, and two Cooper’s Hawks chased each other around the cove. We enjoyed a relaxing lunch at the picnic table overlooking the harbor mouth and managed to locate our first Pelagic Cormorant of the day, and the first of several Pigeon Guillemots.

After eating we packed up and headed up hill to the magnificent overlook. There we watched a very cooperative Thayer’s Gull, who exhibited textbook features and allowed us to view it from all angles. Simply a beautiful bird! We also found the Cormorant flock on the rocks below contained two species, Brandt’s and Pelagic. The comparison of headshapes and stance proved very informative. Surfbirds were numerous on the rocks as well, with many Black Turnstones mixed in. We were unsuccessful in locating Wandering Tattler or Black Oystercatcher
so decided to move on.

A brief stop at Owl Canyon on our way back to the Tides produced several White-winged Scoter on the water, with one male of the species swimming beside a female Surf Scoter. Very confusing. The willows were fairly quiet, but one Golden-crowned Kinglet was seen. It was a very cooperative bird and allowed us views of its bright yellow feet and a nearby Ruby-crowned Kinglet worked the same area.

Before leaving the bay we stopped at the Bird Walk on the south end of things. There we managed to put a few more birds on the list such as Western Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover and Dunlin, all of which were resting on the dried mud, along with Least Sandpiper, Dunlin and American Pipit. Green-winged Teal were located in the control pond inside the fence, Savannah Sparrow and California Towhee rushed for cover in the grassy edges and among the many Black Turnstones a single Ruddy was seen.

Come winter, we can expect the Waterfowl numbers to climb significantly, and if our visit is timed properly, Shorebird numbers should be high as well.

Cackling Goose ("Aleutian")
Gadwall
Mallard
Green-winged Teal
Greater Scaup
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Bufflehead
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Wild Turkey (feather only)
California Quail
Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's 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
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Virginia Rail
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
Willet
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Black Turnstone
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Dunlin
Dowitcher (species)
Heerman's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Thayer's Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Pigeon Guillemot
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker (including probable "Yellow-shafted)
Black Phoebe
Hutton's Vireo
Western Scrub Jay
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Bushtit
Pygmy Nuthatch (heard only)
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Wrenitit (heard only)
European Starling
American Pipit
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Finch

A few additional birds were seen by our car on the way out of Bodega Bay.

Canada Goose
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Ring-necked Duck
American Crow




Moss Landing/Moon Glow/Zmudowski Beach 10-21-06

Beautiful clear weather and warm temperatures likely accounted for the lack of unusual migrants. It is often said, and demonstrably true, that good weather doesn't always equal good birding. That's especially true if your plan is to look for vagrants along the Northern California coast. Still, we had some wonderful looks at species representative of the fall season and the approaching winter.

Scanning for Shorebirds along Jetty Road produced a nice sampling of birds, including both Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers (identified primarily by call), a handful of Dunlin and the uncommon Ruddy Turnstone. This last species was seen in high numbers of roughly 20 birds, although before most people had arrived. Perhaps not surprising, Black Turnstone was completely absent from the mud flats, and did not appear even when we explored the rock jetty. Forster's Terns were present in numbers and repeatedly dove for fish near the outflow that connects the two bodies of water. Elegant Terns and Bonaparte's Gulls were in smaller numbers as well. Loggerhead Shrike and White-tailed Kite utilized their favorite tree, situated in the middle of the marsh, as a shared outpost from which to make their occasional flights. Along the marsh edges we caught glimpses of Common Yellowthroat and Savannah Sparrow. Both White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows were seen, but the latter in lower numbers than we encountered the previous year... Yellow-rumped Warblers and a single Lincoln's Sparrow was also found near the outhouse.

Casting our eyes toward the harbor and the famous Gull Roost allowed us to examine all the various plumages of the species present. Western and Heerman's were the most common by far, with a single Ring-billed isolated to the side of the group. As discussed in class, the age spread was dominated by 1st winter and adult birds, with many fewer 2nd winter, and almost no 3rd winter individuals. Simply stated, there is a high mortality among young Gulls, but once they reach adulthood, they retain that plumage for their entire lives. Phil directed our attention to an uncommonly large gathering of Semipalmated Plovers on the far side of the harbor. They were so numerous and looked like little white stones scattered closely on the shore.

As we continued toward the harbor mouth, we stopped to examine the Aechmophorus Grebes and determined it was a mixed flock containing both Clark's and Western birds. The jetty was crowded with Brown Pelicans, Western and Heerman's Gulls as well as Brandt's and Double-crested Cormorants. I don't recall seeing any Pelagic Cormorants in the group, which was surprising. The beach did not yield any Snow Plovers as we had hoped, but Common Loon and Common Murre were seen just beyond the waves. Ted Chandik's group was there too, and we exchanged information about what we'd seen.... our reports were nearly identical.

We caravanned to Moon Glow Dairy to work the traditional Vermilion Flycatcher spot for a while. Several new species were logged, such as Tricolored Blackbird and Brown-headed Cowbird, but nothing brilliant red. Continuing toward through the cattle pens and parking by the eucalyptus grove, we hiked down along the pond levy trail. Bob Reiling and Frank Vanslager's group was already in position and about 50 yards ahead of us on the trail. We made slow progress behind them and as we began to catch up with them they froze, looking forward. I heard someone in their group say Palm Warbler! with stifled excitement. It was a bird we had seen almost exactly a year ago in the same location and hoped to find again, but the group informed us it had just flown... Oh, well. It happens that way sometimes. But we got great looks at American Pipit in the same area, somewhat alike in appearance, another Common Loon, and the second pond contained a surprising Red-necked Phalarope, female Canvasback, and Green-winged Teal. Further on, Northern Pintail was also found and a lone Whimbrel flew by.

We were getting hungry, so after a 2-minute stop on Dolan Road where we added American Kestrel to the list, we reported to Phil's Fish Market for lunch. Clam Chowder is my traditional choice, but please, somebody remind me I don't need anything more than the small size... I was stuffed, as I'm sure everyone was.

As everyone returned to their cars, Kay and Joan discovered a Common Murre sitting on the pavement just inside a fenced area. I was already in my car, and as I rolled up, they motioned to me. I pulled off to the side and got out of my car. I approached the bird, enough to see that it was not oiled, and after a moment, decided it had a better chance of surviving if it was in the water. So I gingerly put my hands around it, thinking somewhat naively that it would understand my intentions. The situation quickly changed from human-helping-a-weak-and-defenseless-creature, to human-wishing-he'd-worn-heavy-bite-proof-gloves!! Make no mistake, Murres are strong little birds, capable of inflicting bloody painful bites, especially in the sensitive skin between human fingers! I walked as quickly as I could to the shallow channel, motivated by increasing pain, where I hoped to release the delightful bird before it severed a digit. As I dropped it into the water, it made a calf-like squawk at me over its shoulder and then paddled away, looking just fine. Yeah, you're welcome... I muttered.

So I was a little late at the next stop, Zmudowski State Beach, and as I drove, I got a call from Jeff who was waiting there. "Yeah, sorry I'm late, I had to put a Common Murre back into the water." The phone was a little crackly. Not a great connection in other words. There was a long pause and I assumed they couldn't hear me. "Ok..." I continued, sounding a little frazzled, I'm sure. "I'll be there in a minute." When I arrived Phil asked for clarification on my story. He seemed a little confused. "You said something about a Murre, what was it??" I told him and the others who were equally puzzled, that I had just put a Common Murre back into the water. "You DID say that. We thought that's what you'd said but that didn't make any sense! That's really what he said!" as he turned to confirm the story with everyone. I showed off the bleeding gashes on my hand somewhat proudly, and the group gathered around to hear the details. I began to understand how weird my being late, the crackling cell phone conversation and the non sequitur explanation must have seemed. Eric, the unflappable voice of calm, offered me some disinfectant.

Cricket reminds me of my usual hands-off approach to nature. Don't intervene. Let nature run its course. Let the evolutionary process run. Well, I'm afraid she's right to remind me. Usually I don't think it is wise for humans to get involved in the natural course of nature, unless we are the direct cause of a situation. So, were human's directly responsible for this bird's situation? Who can tell? All I knew was that it needed help, and maybe putting it back into the water gave it a slightly better chance of surviving. Or maybe it would expose it to additional threats... The truth is I don't know. I simply saw an animal that was in a bad way, and my emotions took over. So don't look to me as an example of best practice.

After that, we walked along the freshwater pond, finding two more Lincoln's Sparrows, two Yellow-rumped Warblers, scads of Double-crested Cormorants and a mysterious diving Duck. I challenged the group to identify the bird. After a minute of page-flipping and group conferencing, Leonie proclaimed with supreme confidence, "Ring-necked Duck!" All the subtle field marks were present, including the whitish eye-ring and faint stripe behind it, but it was an unexpected bird and not in a habitat we thought ideal.

Finally, a walk on the beach allowed us to search for any last minute birds. Nothing new arrived, but it sure was lovely, and a perfect way to end an extra long half-day trip. Driving over Hwy 17, I occasionally caught sight of my hand on the steering wheel and all the stinging cuts. I smiled and thought about the Murre. I hoped it was doing well.

Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
Brown Pelican
Brandt's Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snow Egret
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Mallard
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Canvasback
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Surf Scoter
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
California Quail
Virginia Rail
Sora
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Whimbrel
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Dunlin
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Red-necked Phalarope
Bonaparte's Gull
Heerman's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Western Gull
Elegant Tern
Forster's Tern
Common Murre
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Loggerhead Shrike
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Barn Swallow
Bushtit
Marsh Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
European Starling
American Pipit
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
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






SFBBO Fall Challenge 10-08-06

My team "The DeDUCKtions" toured portions of Santa Clara County yesterday. We concentrated on two major areas: the eastern hills beginning at Alum Rock, and then Ed Levin Park, and after that, the bay, making several stops in Alviso before continuing to Shoreline where we finished birding. Sounds reasonable enough, but our original plan also included the western hills... oh, well.

Our team included myself, Kelly Dodder, Eric Goodill, Leonie Batkin, Ashutosh Sinha, Geoff Baum, Phil Lacroute, Janet Hanson, Janice Smith and Sandy Moore.

We gathered at Alum Rock Park at 7:00 where our first bird Wild Turkey was seen along the entrance road. Within minutes we had also logged Band-tailed Pigeon, California Towhee, Acorn Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Dark-eyed Junco and both Crowned Sparrows. Despite a long walk through the sulfur springs area, no additional birds were seen in that area.

We hiked up the chaparral trail from the parking lot where Rufous-crowned Sparrow was easily coaxed out of the underbrush. As we climbed both Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks were seen overhead. Also in this area were Spotted Towhee, California Thrasher and Song Sparrow. We continued up to the eucalyptus grove where we encountered Hutton's Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped and Townsend's Warblers, Anna's Hummingbird, California Quail, Hermit Thrush and Fox Sparrow. A Red-breasted Sapsucker flew into one of the tall trees, representing a FOS bird for many of us. Returning to the lot, we crossed the stone bridge toward the visitors center and found several more species, most notably a Wilson's Warbler, Hairy Woodpecker, and several Brown Creepers.

Sensing it was getting late (close to 10:00 now), we relocated the cars to the Rustic Lands picnic area. We walked along the road back to the rock wall by the overpass, hoping to see an Owl in the crevices or a Rock Wren, but neither appeared. We returned to the cars via the picnic area and began to worry about the birds we had not yet seen... American Robin and White-breasted Nuthatch. Turkey Vultures were now circling over the ridge. Yeah!

Next stop was Ed Levin Park where surprisingly little was added to our list. We hiked up to the sycamore grove where perhaps we would find something lingering in the trees. Lincoln's Sparrow was seen in the fennel on our way, but otherwise it was spooky how quiet it was. Say's Phoebe, Belted KIngfisher, American Coot, Mallard, American Kestrel, Golden Eagle were all seen eventually. but it was obvious that we should move on and cut our losses. Before we left altogether, we did a circle around the lower picnic area where we found evidence of Owls, like feathers and pellets, but we couldn't count those unfortunately.

We made our way to Alviso where we had several stops on the itinerary. The Environmental Education Center (EEC) was a perfect place for our lunch at 1:00, and as we drove in nine or more species were suddenly added to the list. Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Western and Least Sandpipers. As well there were Loggerhead Shrike and Osprey. The covered observation area was a nice place to regroup and while we ate an adult Peregrine Falcon buzzed by at low altitude, frightening the various smaller birds. Northern Harrier coursed over the marsh and Double-crested Cormorants criss-crossed the sky. Next we walked the boardwalk finding Willet and Dunlin as well as all of the earlier Shorebirds. Once on the levy we were able to get a good look at the Gull mob and identified Western, Ring-billed, California and Thayer's. We also had fly over Herrring and Glaucous-winged Gulls. White Pelicans were numerous and a string of 14 Brown Pelicans flew beyond the distant shore. Ducks were now a frequent sight with Northern Shoveler and Ruddy Ducks dominating the group. Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall and Mallard were present as well. We continued in a clockwise direction, stopping near the marsh grass. Common Yellowthroat was seen briefly, but we could not find any Marsh Wrens... curious. A Barn Owl was visible (with difficulty) in the nest box in the trees over the channel. It was now after 3:00. Yikes.

We opted to drive slowly back toward the entrance and walk the tracks. Nothing unusual new was located here however, save several Black-bellied Plovers. So it was off to State and Spreckles next where the "Peep-show" was astounding. Least and Western were abundant, numbering many many hundreds of birds, as were Dunlin. Again, nothing new in that order, but both Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes were represented by a single bird each. We also had a single Barn Swallow perched on a wire near the maintenance facility. Dean Manly pulled up to look at the birds and several members spoke with him, discovering that he had not been able to find the Cattle Egret earlier in the day. That gave us cause for concern, but we were still planning on giving it a try.

We made a quick loop through town, visiting the Alviso Marina to pick up anything we could. Another Barn Swallow and a new Cliff Swallow, as well as Clark's Grebe.

Driving along Disc Drive were finally able to locate Western Meadowlark, as well as Burrowing Owl on the field to the right of the road as we drove toward Jubilee Church. Eager to pick up any rare, or recently reported birds, we stopped in the Jubilee Church lot to look toward Arzino Ranch. It was difficult to see much because of the tall grass and the fence obscuring our view, but we were finally able to see the Cattle Egret as it occasionally popped its head up above the growth, and eventually flew to an open area. At this point, the sun was about two hands above the horizon, so we knew we'd better start moving faster. As we made our way to Hwy 237 a large flock of dark birds, European Starlings we surmised, was balling up in mid air in defense maneuver as a Cooper's Hawk shot back and forth in attack. Very exciting. It's after 4:00.

We were all tired now and the walk out to the radar station at Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Ponds (SWPCP) was a little daunting. The channel on the left is now completely drained, leaving little habitat for Green Heron or Common Moorhen, while on the right side of the levy, the water was abnormally high. We saw Common Moorhen further out, near the pumps, but Green Heron eluded us. Once at the pumps we saw Mary Ann Allen there who reported the she had not seen the Franklin's Gull. We looked anyway, finding Forster's Terns and a single Mew Gull in the large pond. Northern Pintails were now added to the list as was Green-winged Teal. Thanks Mary Ann!

The light was visibly getting golden and we made a quick decision about what to do next. Our original plan was now completely out the window, and maybe it wouldn't matter. We weighed the options we had and the species we still lacked. Steven's Creek Park was too far and offered only small numbers of new, easily seen birds. McClellan Ranch would have to be sacrificed as well. We'd already gotten Barn Owl, and we doubted we could locate Wood Duck quickly. Swifts were just chance... maybe at Hoover Tower. Finally, Shoreline Park was where we decided to wrap things up.

Once at the Shoreline Park Golf course, we parked quickly and deployed. White-tailed Kite and Burrowing Owls from the road. A walk to the lake produced what we expected Surf Scoter and a very welcome Greater Scaup. The large salt pond beside the lake contained nothing we hadn't seen, despite all our efforts to find Wigeons. But the marsh in Mountain View Forebay contained several Black-crowned Night Herons and two Sora. We returned to the golf course via the lake and decided it was too dark to do any birding beyone Owling and we were all very hungry and tired. So we caravanned to Thai City in Palo Alto and had our dinner there, after which we all went home and slept.

Thanks to everyone on our team, it was a great day! We ended up seeing 116 species, and we enjoyed everyone of them.

Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Clark's Grebe
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Black-crowned Night Heron
Turkey Vulture
Canada Goose
Gadwall
Mallard
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Greater Scaup
Surf Scoter
Ruddy Duck
Osprey
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Wid Turkey
California Quail
Virginia Rail
Sora
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Killdeer
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Willet
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Dunlin
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope
Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Thayer's Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Forster's Tern
Rock Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Barn Owl
Burrowing Owl
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Loggerhead Shrike
Hutton's Vireo
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
Brown Creeper
Bewick's Wren
Marsh Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Wrentit
Northern Mockingbird
California Thrasher
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
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
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow






Princeton Harbor/Venice Beach 10-07-06

I've never liked smoked salmon. I just need to be honest about that. So when a co-worker brought a shrink-wraped block of the stuff to an office party I was pretty skeptical. I sampled it reluctantly however, and surprisingly, despite all my prejudices, I liked it. In fact, I loved it! I suddenly realized what the big deal was all about. Wow! All these years I'd thought smoked fish was flakey and dry... I'd seen the smoked salmon-colored light, in other words. Sprinkle on some chopped red onion, and capers (I love capers, by the way...) and there's a dinner. Since that revelation, every trip to the coast has included a visit to the cold-smoked source. In fact, I've been to the coast more than a few times since that first experience, and now that I'm thinking about it, I might be planning a few more trips, as long as I can guarantee two things: 1) the Creekside Smokehouse is open, and 2) we see the great birds we did today.

But I digress...

Anyway, we gathered, as usual, in the lot by the bait and tackle shops around the harbor. Walking to the end of the dock, we scanned the large groups of Gulls for anything unusual. In the absense of rareties, we were content to review the common birds. First-winter, second-winter, third-winter, adult... Dark and burley, puzzle-patterned Westerns, sharply-dressed, all solid-and-formal Heerman's, and somewhere inbetween, appropriately casual Californias. They were all at the party. We also had brief looks at young (and contrasty) Herrings, and a million other birds too vague to identify. By all accounts, our efforts were rewarded. We identified (with confidence) a handfull of individuals, and just as many plumages. We were off to a good start.

After a quick survey of the group, it was determined that they were eager (willing) to tackle (endure) a challenging (night-marish) review (glassy-eyed staring-at) of the legendary Venice Beach Gull flock. Though early in the season, the collection of birds was massive. Thousands of Gulls--I have no idea of exactly how many, but many--were gathered on the beach. For the most part they slept and were peaceful, but some were awake and squabbling. They argued, bathed, rose up and replaced themselves in a somewhat organized manner on the beach in a rhythm that roughly matched that of the incoming and outgoing surf. It was beautiful to watch, and like nothing the poor birders in the prairie states ever get to see. Sun and surf. Nearly countless Gulls, Elegant Terns, and off shore Harbor Porpoise. As a bonus we spotted a few Parasitic Jaegers chasing the peace-loving Elegant Terns and presumably forcing them to disgorge their most recent meal.

Among the flock we picked out two juvenile Ring-billed Gulls, very rare on the San Mateo Coast, and two or three Glacous-winged Gulls. As well there was a basic-plumaged Red-necked Phalarope surface feeding in the lagoon and a weirdly out-of-place, coastal male Wood Duck. Walking along the coastal cliff, we also picked out a few Brown-headed Cowbirds among the perched Brewer's and Red-winged Blackbirds. Drably plumaged American Goldfinches were numerous, almost out numbering the uncountable House Finches. Shockingly bright was a Yellow Warbler that appeared briefly before flying north (?!) out of view.

After the overdose of Gulls we opted to revive ourselves at the brewery back in town. A few minute's drive back to our starting place and we were sititng and ordering food. Lunch was wonderful, of coure, and then we were birding again, fully replenished.

We reparked the cars in the lot by Maverick's Beach. Strolling out to the rock jetty we encountered a few new birds, including Great Blue Heron, Marsh Wren and Common Yellowthroat in the dried marsh, and Say's Phoebe by the radio tower. The cypress grove contained a small flock of Warblers which was comprised of Townsend's, Yellow-rumped and a single Black-throate Gray. As well a few Black-headed Grosbeak were lounging among the branches in the sun.

The harbor had little activity, save for a flotilla of Clark's Grebes (one Western Grebe, and one Red-throated Loon mixed in), Surf Scoter, Brandt's Cormorant and occasional flocks of airborne Sanderlings. We continued toward the far corner where Rock Sandpiper is often reported. There we found large and promising mixed flock of Shorebirds which contained Sanderling, Dunlin, Western Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Willet, Black Turnstone, Surfbird and Black Oystercatcher. Most surprising were two Short-billed Dowitchers foraging on the rocks like long-billed Tattlers. It made for an iteresting study, especially since the instructor didn't know what to make of these last two birds... but try as we did, we could not pull a rarity out of the flock.

Satisfied with the day's list, we made our way back to the cars but stopped dead about half way because of a Kingbird perched on the barbed wire above the trail. The bird perched cooperatively, allowing us to gather all the intell we needed. Long bill, green back, strongly notched tail, and yes, yellow extending from the belly to the upper breast. It was a textbook example of a Tropical Kingbird! A perfect bird to end a perfect day!

Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
Brown Pelican
Brandt's Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night Heron
Wood Duck
Surf Scoter
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Merlin
Peregrine Falcon
Black-bellied Plover
Black Oystercatcher
Willet
Whimbrel
Marbled Godwit
Black Turnstone
Sanderling
Western Sandpiper
Dunlin
Surfbird
Short-billed Dowitcher
Red-necked Phalarope
Parasitic Jaeger
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Heerman's Gull
Elegant Tern
Common Murre
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Tropical Kingbird
American Crow
Common Raven
Bewick's Wren
Marsh Wren
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
American Pipit
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch





Point Reyes (Limantour Beach, etc.)
09-30-06

The original intent of this trip was to visit areas different than those of two weeks ago. We'd constructed an appropriately loose plan of working Limantour Beach and the nearby estero during low time, maybe visiting Abbott's Lagoon to scout out the recently reported Buff-breasted Sandpiper. We even contingency plans if those areas were slow... maybe back to Johnson's Oyster Company or Tomales Bay. In preparation we'd been working on Shorebirds for at least two weeks and hoped to make use of our new skills, especially with distinguishing between the two Dowitcher species. Everything was set. It was going to be simple. But the news started to roll in...

Beginning late week, reports of dramatic land bird movement on the Outer Point got our attention. The Shorebird situation was uncharacteristically slow at Abbott's Lagoon (due in part to the uncommonly high water level), and there were literally NO birds present for a day or two. What to do... What to do? When Leonie produced her Friday list for review (she'd arrived the day before and fit in some birding the previous afternoon) the purpose of our visit became clear: We would visit the ranches and do what we could to intercept Leonie's migrant Warblers.

We drove immediately toward Nunes Ranch where our Leonie, and Rich Stallcup had both reported the greatest land bird activity. As we rolled up to Mendoza Ranch though we noticed a dozen or so birders stretched out over the length of the farm. Some were pointing up and exclaiming while others were obviously trying to follow their instructions. I rolled down the window and inquired. According to one birder (very distracted), there was a Blackburnian Warbler directly above the road. So we made our second departure from our best-laid plans and pulled off the road. I radioed to the other cars and within a minute or two, everyone was parked and searching the trees. A Blackpoll Warbler appeared almost immediately, but was quickly gone again. I saw it one more time, but unfortunately, very few others got to see it. Townsend's and Yellow-rumped were present, the latter in significant numbers, and soon we had the Blackburnian itself in our sites. Bright and beautiful! It was much more warmly colored than the similar Townsends's, with obvious orangey tones to the facial pattern. We admired it for some time, but when another group of cars started to pull of the road, we decided to stay ahead of the crowd and move on toward Nunes. Some birders remained behind for a moment or two more, and were able to spot a Pacific Golden Plover in the cattle enclosure near the barn. More on that later...



At Nunes, the excitement was even greater. No less than 12 cars were parked on the shoulder. Some birders were staring up into the trees, while others were looking in the weeds. A few rebels were looking toward the skies, like there wasn't enough on earth... In the fennel by the road there were a White-throated Sparrow and a Clay-colored Sparrow, both seen well by most members of the group, with even some pictures gotten. In the cypress branches closest to the road we had a Tennessee Warbler and the just-reported Black-throated Green! We continued into the grove (we were scarcely off the road when these first birds appeared) and encountered a Cooper's Hawk and a Barn Owl high in the trees. Further in, close to the far end, two dozen birders at least were assembled. They had already located Black-and-White, and Magnolia Warblers for us. These birds were found again within minutes, as well as Yellow, Common Yellowthroat, Townsend's and many Black-throated Grays. In fact, I can't remember seeing so many Black-throated Grays... There were also a Swainson's and a Hermit Thrush, Fox and Lincoln's Sparrow, Anna's Hummingbird, Warbling Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a juvenile Bullock's Oriole. One bird after another poked out of the greenery to a chorus of exclamations.



Above: White-throated Sparrow. Photo by Brooke Miller


Above: Lincoln's Sparrow. Photo by Brooke Miller


Above: Hermit Thrush. Photo by Brooke Miller



Above: Magnolia Warbler. Photo by Brooke Miller


Above: Black-throated Gray Warbler. Photo by Phil Leighton


Above: Black-throated Green Warbler. Photo by Phil Leighton

After more than an hour here, we continued to the Fish Docks where activity was comparatively low. Still we had Great Horned Owl, Common Murre, Red-billed Loon, Elegant Tern, Black-throated Gray, Orange-crowned and Yellow Warblers, as well as Western Wood Pewee and Willow Flycatcher. So maybe it wasn't so slow after all. I also read later that evening that someone had found a Gray Catbird at 5:00... Oh, well.


Above: Great Horned Owl. Photo by Phil Leighton

We ate our lunches by the overlook and, as I returned from the restroom, I learned of a bird that nearly made my heart stop--a Yellow-green Vireo. The other birder told me it had been found about 45 minutes earlier at the junction of Sir Francis Drake and Chimney Rock Road... "wait a minute", I said to him. "That's less than a mile from here. Right up this road?!" I pointed uphill. "This road??" sounding shocked, I'm sure. "Yes", he said. "We drove right past the area because there were about 100 people there already. We couldn't find a place to park... It was crazy!" I walked quickly back to our group. "You'll never guess what I just heard..." I told them of course, because no one did guess. Needless to say, everyone chewed their sandwiches more quickly and reached for their field guides. Vireo... Yellow-green... page 301... Super rare... My memory of what happened next is a little blurry, but we wrapped lunch up and headed to the junction with our line of 6 cars. As warned, there were multitudes of people. It's amazing how fast news gets around...

The focus appeared to be on the gully where a massive search party was stalking quietly and pointing. One guy, camera guy, we called him, carried a huge lens... I just happened to have this with me... We watched him for guidance as we stood along the road. "It's right there!" someone said. I missed it, even though another birder was right next to me coaching me on where to look. "There it is again..." someone else said. "I'm going in!" I said as I pushed through the fennel... Some followed me, others tried a different vantage point. We were dividing for more efficiency and my team was everywhere. Someone did eventually refind the bird, of course. but it took me a while to get a good look. Between the thorny blackberry vines, the sneezy fennel and the deep mud, and about 5 dozen other operatives, it was an obstacle course. Finally most of our group saw the Vireo at one time or another. It was obviously larger and thinner than the nearby Warbling Vireo, had a dark red eye, pronounced facial pattern, a Gatorade-green vest and a pronounced bluish crown--all clearly visible, if only for a second or two at a time. Beautiful and easily recognized, and a lifer for almost everyone in the group--at least in the ABA checklist area! In retrospect, I like to think that our group deployed in a well-planned manner, like trained spies... In truth, we (me included) all spread out, and scrambled around excitedly, and simply clambered to get the best view we could. We must have appeared rather silly to the drivers that passed by, gawking through their windows at us. Why are they all circled around that mud hole, honey?? Who could blame us for looking ridiculous though? A rare bird had been reported only an hour earlier, and we were right there and part of the excitment.

After that, it didn't really matter what we saw. Maybe we wouldn't see anything... There just wasn't that much left! We'd seen an ABA-level 3 species: occurs annually in ABA, but is extremely local and very difficult to see. But we continued anyway. First we made a second stop at Mendoza to sweep up the Pacific Golden Plover for anyone who hadn't seen it earlier (like me), as well as the Prairie Warbler. This tail-pumping Warbler was in the fennel north of the trees and across from the pond.

From there we drove to Limantour Beach, where the original plan was fulfilled. We picked up a few Shorebirds such as Willet, Marbled Godwit and Long-billed Curlew in the estero, as well as Sanderling, Dunlin and Western Sandpiper on the beach. Most exciting I think was an Osprey that passed overhead, dozens of low flying Brown Pelicans, Pacific and Common Loons, Clark's and Red-necked Grebe.

We finished the evening by eating together in Point Reyes Station, thanks to Brook's offer to organize. What a day this was! It seems right to recognize the many birders we met who were so generous with up-to-the-moment updates about where birds were being seen. Since my cellphone wouldn't work after Bear Valley we were somewhat cut off from the world and such information was obviously helpful and greatly appreciated. Thanks to especially to Gary Deghi, Ted Chandik, Rich Stallcup, Todd Easterla and the many other nameless birders who were eager to help, especially with the Yellow-green Vireo! Thanks also to all members of class, who helped find the birds we were hearing about.

Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Red-necked Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Brandt's Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Great Egret
Greater White-fronted Goose
Cinnamon Teal
Mallard
Gadwall
White-winged Scoter
Surf Scoter
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
California Quail
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Pacific Golden Plover
Killdeer
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Whimbrel
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Sanderling
Western Sandpiper
Dunlin
Short-billed Dowitcher
Heerman's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Western Gull
Elegant Tern
Common Murre
Rock Pigeon
Barn Owl
Great Horned Owl
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisheer
Acorn Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Western Wood Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
"Western" Flycatcher (pres. Pacific-slope)
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Bewick's Wren
Marsh Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
European Starling
Warbling Vireo
Yellow-green Vireo
Orange-crowned Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Lazuli Bunting
California Towhett
Clack-colored Sparrow
Savanna Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brown-headed Cowbird
Oriole species (pres. Bullock's juv.)
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow




Coyote Point Museum/Radio Road 09-23-06

The weather was wonderful today. Sunny, warm and clear from the start! We began by surveying the eucalyptus and pines around the museum, finding numerous Pygmy Nuthatches, a Yellow-rumped and a Townsend's Warbler and a tree full of Cedar Waxwings, as well and 3 Band-tailed Pigeons criss-crossing the area. American Robins, including two spotted juveniles, foraged in the open areas along side Dark-eyed Juncos, and along the water's edge we located a Spotted Sandpiper (sans spots, of course) and a Black-crowned Night Heron. Visible from the platform were two male Surf Scoters swimming on the smooth surface of the bay.

Moved by a desire to escape the gunfire at the shooting range, we emerged from the grove and heading toward the harbor where we had our first Golden-crowned Sparrow of the season. It was calling from the top of a small tree. Nearby there was a Fox Sparrow in the underbrush--another season-first for the group. Belted Kingfisher was also present, as we've come to expect here.

From there, we made our way down along the jogging trail leading toward the PGE Substation, but found little new in this area. A flock of Bustits, a Northern Mockingbird, Snowy Egret and our first Mallards of the day were all we were able to dig up. It was easy to see why this spot tends to catch interesting migrants. The habitat hosts a freshwater marsh, dense underbrush and a variety of trees, all within a small area of 50 yards wide.

Activity was high on the mudflats with vast numbers of Willets, Black-bellied Plovers, Marbled Godwits, Least and Western Sandpipers dominating the aviscape. As anticipated, we spent a lot of our time trying to make sense of the flock of Dowitchers. We had success identifying juvenile Short-billeds, whose tertials were tiger-striped and easily seen, as well as a few Long-billed on the basis of their flight call. It was a thoroughly exhausting exercise though... And as hard as we tried, most of the Dowitchers, still fell into the very large, and unsatisfying category of Limnodramus idontknowus... A real highlight was seeing some of the Elegant Tern flock splitting off into pairs and engaging in breathtaking, synchronized flights. Each member of a pair echoed the maneuvers of the other so that they followed eachother like graceful airborne dancers. It was pure excitement to behold!

We moved up the trail toward the harbor mouth, occasionally stopping to review the changing flock of Shorebirds, which we discovered contained also Semipalmated Plover, Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets and two rock-loving species, Black Turnstone and Black Oystercatcher. The fennel beside the trail hosted several Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroat as well as an Orange-crowned Warbler, Lesser Goldfinch, Song and Savannah Sparrows. After a short scanning effort at the harbor mouth, we returned to the picnic area for lunch. As we walked, an Osprey flew over the water searching for fish.

Most people chose to continue birding after lunch by visiting the famous Radio Road ponds in Redwood Shores. There we had more opportunities to identify Dowitchers, and had somewhat better success because the birds were much closer, allowing us to hear their feeding chatter and evaluate bill shape. Some birds showed the bison-backed profile and floppy, up-turned tertials indicating Long-billed, while others were comparitively flat-backed. It was a mixed flock again. Occasionally, we were also able to hear identifiable calls. More study is necessary...

The small islands had a high of roughly 25 Black Skimmers, hundreds of Willets and Marbled Godwits, Elegant and Forster's Terns. Swimming were a variety of Ducks, most noteably 4 Blue-winged Teal. Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Mallard, Green-winged and Cinnamon Tea, and Ruddy Duck were present as well as several Red-necked Phalaropes. An immature Peregrine made a brief appearance, as did a Cooper's Hawk, momentarily causing a stir in the flock. As many already know, Radio Road will shortly be overrun with Waterfowl, including Hooded Mergansers, and perhaps a Eurasian Wigeon or two. It was a good birding today, but it's definitely worth a winter visit as well!

Pied-billed Grebe
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night Heron
Turkey Vulture
Canada Goose
Gadwall
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnnamon Teal
Green-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Surf Scoter
Ruddy Duck
Osprey
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
Black Oystercatcher
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Spotted Sandpiper
Whimbrel
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Black Turnstone
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Red-necked Phalarope
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Elegant Tern
Forster's Tern
Black Skimmer
Rock Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Downy Woodpecker
Black Phoebe
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Barn Swallow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
Pygmy Nuthatch
Bewick's Wren
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow





Point Reyes (MCI towers, Drakes Beach, ranches) 09-16-06

Tempted by recent reports of landbird migrants on the outer point, and the relative lack of Shorebird activity at Abbott's Lagoon, we switched the emphasis of our two Point Reyes trips and concentrated on Passerines for our first trip of the term. Weather was startlingly beautiful, but as is often observed, good picnic weather doesn't always make for the best birding, certainly when fall vagrants are concerned...

Predicting what might found in the coastal cypress trees on the south end of the peninsula is difficult, to say the least, but one thing is certain: it's important to remain flexible in your plans, and no matter how improbable someone's verbal account of a sighting might be... give them the benefit of the doubt and start driving!

At Bear Valley, several people made a quick stop before gathering in Inverness. Those present managed to spot a few species not seen during the rest of the day, such as Dark-eyed Junco, California Towhee and Pygmy Nuthatch. We continued to the Inverness Store, where birding began in earnest. First logged were two marsh species, Common Yellowthroat and Marsh Wren, as well as the first of many American Goldfinches. A Yellow Warbler was also present in the willows lining the shore. Ashutosh identified a European Collared Dove on a wire, but unfortunately not everyone was able to see it before it flew. This introduced species is expanding northward at an alarming rate, and will eventually become a frequent addition to our class reports. At the moment though, it is still an uncommon find.

We left Inverness after about 20 minutes and made our way toward the MCI towers, stopping first near the turn off to Oyster Point. Shorebirds were present on the mudflats and among them were Willet, Marbled Godwit, Least Sandpiper, and Greater Yellowlegs. Upslope, near the coast guard facility, a Western Kingbird perched for several minutes. Luckily, the white outer-tail feathers were visible when it flew, because without seeing them it would have been difficult to identify.

The radio towers and the long stretch of cypress trees were less productive that we had hoped. However, several new species were located, such as Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Osprey, Willow Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Townsend's Warbler. On second thought, when I look back at the previous sentence, it was pretty productive. So disregard what I said earlier... It was great!

We continued to Drakes Beach where we planned to bird the willows, the freshwater pond and the beach. Common Yellowthroat and Yellow Warblers were now becoming familiar sights, and as we approached the pond we added Sora and Virginia Rail to our list. Walking toward the water where Elegant Terns were already visible and calling loudly, we bumped into another birder. He asked what we'd seen and we gave a short summary of our morning. Nothing too unusual yet, we continued. "How about you?", we asked. In a very relaxed voice he told us about the Yellow-throated at Nunes, the Blackpoll at Mendoza and a few other things we planned to search for later. But the Yellow-throated was the highlight, he said, still very calm. For some reason, the first bird he mentioned just didn't register with me. "Oh, yeah, we've seen some of those." I said casually. You see, I really thought he meant Common Yellowthroat... In fact, I could have sworn that was what he had said. Selective hearing, I guess. It just seemed too unlikely. A few minutes later, it began to sink in. Yellow-throated Warbler! He said Yellow-THROATED! Kelly, who was obviously paying closer attention than I, had already gone back for more details. Just as I was waking up from whatever sleep I had been in, she returned with the full scoop. "It's at Nunes Ranch, she said. It IS a Yellow-throated Warbler. Those guys told me all about it." she said excitedly. "Ok folks," I yelled. "Change in plans! We're going to Nunes Ranch. Let's go! Let's go! Yellow-throated Warbler at Nunes!!" I was rushing toward our car.

I drove very fast... Poor Eric and Ashutosh, probably terrified, sat in the back seat as I drove at 70 mph up and over the hills, around blind curves and actually became airborne once or twice, as I rushed toward Nunes. When we arrived I said to Kelly and the guys: "DEPLOY!". They must have been happy to be safely parked at that point. We all jumped out and began our maneuver into position. Within a minute we had the bird in our sights, with great assistance from another troupe already in operation. I looked back at the road, no one else from our team had arrived. I had left them a mile or more back. OOPs... I thought, and suddenly felt like a very poor leader. I hoped everyone would be able to find the bird and forgive me for speeding ahead like I had. Fortunately, the other cars were starting to pull up and roll to a stop by the trees. I rushed out to communicate the urgency of the situation. "The bird is still there! Run! Run! It's STILL there."

Everyone did see the bird eventually, including the "lost car" that had gotten separated. It took a return trip in the afternoon to retrieve the Warbler for them, but by the end of the day, everyone had seen the bird. It's not often we see a species that rare, and it was a lifer for almost everyone, including me.



Above: Yellow-throated Warbler. Photo by Phil Leighton


Above: Yellow-throated Warbler. Photo by Brooke Miller

The rest of the day passed smoothly, but with few other surprises. We ate lunch at the Chimney Rock parking area, and found another Willow Flycatcher, as well as a Western Wood Pewee by the residence. These two species inspired some great field discussion, concerned in great part with the relative primary projection and the birds' flight behaviors. We later located a Black-throated Gray Warbler foraging in the cypress trees, and while we knew of the presence of a Great Horned Owl, we chose to forego that bird in favor of the lighthouse trees where we would search of more Passerines. Once there, we found two Swainson's Thrushes and two Winter Wrens in the "Ovenbird trees", as well as a small group of Common Murre in the water below. Western Wood Pewee hawked insects from a dead snag and another Flycatcher, perhaps a "Western" was seen by some. There was also a Red-breasted Nuthatch, and a pair of Peregrine Falcons made a swift appearance overhead.



Above: Black-throated Gray Warbler. Photo by Phil Leighton

We stopped back at Nunes, allowing the "lost car" to get a look at the prize bird of the day, and then made our way to Mendoza where with difficulty we were able to locate the first-winter Blackpoll Warbler. Unfortunately, no hoped-for Rose-breasted Grosbeak appeared, but it hardly mattered.... We bumped into Rich Stallcup who said that in all the years records had been gathered, some 500 Blackpoll Warblers had wandered onto the Outer Point, while a mere 9 Yellow-throated Warblers had ever appeared. Rich said that if we were going to choose one bird to see, we'd chosen the right one!

Finally, we stopped at Oyster Point, where we finished up by watching the small flock of Red-necked Phalaropes and picking off a couple of Gulls and distant silhouette's we presumed to be Shorebirds.

Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Western Grebe
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Brandt's Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Great Egret
Mallard
Surf Scoter
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Wild Turkey (San Geronimo Valley)
California Quail
Virginia Rail (heard only)
Sora
American Coot
Killdeer
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Marbled Godwit
Sanderling
Least Sandpiper
Dowitcher (species)
Red-necked Phalarope
Heerman's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged x Western hybrid Gull
Elegant Tern
Common Murre
Eurasian Collared-Dove (seen by one)
Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon
Barn Owl
Great Horned Owl
Swift (species)
Anna's Hummingbird
Selasphorus (species)
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker (Bear Valley)
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Western Wood Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
"Western" Flycatcher (presumably Pacific-slope)
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Western Kingbird
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch (Bear Valley)
Bewick's Wren
Winter Wren
Marsh Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Bear Valley, heard only)
Western Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Wrentit (heard only, female)

European Starling
Hutton's Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
California Towhee (Bear Valley)
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (Bear Valley)
Red-winged Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow