SPRING 2004


Coyote Hills Regional Park 03-27-04 POSTED
Stevens Creek Park 04-03-04 POSTED
Grant Ranch/Twin Gates/Smith Creek 04-10-04 POSTED
Fremont Peak State Park 05-01-04 POSTED
Pinnacles National Monument (East side) 05-08-04 POSTED
Cosumnes River Preserve 05-15-04 POSTED
Mines Road/Del Puerto Canyon 05-22-04 POSTED

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



Mines Road/Del Puerto Canyon 05-22-04

The weather was much cooler than expected, with heavy overcast skies until 11:00. Around noon, we began our descent into the San Antonio Valley and it became warm and bird activity increased somewhat. The week before had been very successful for other birding groups, but on this day our target species were scarce and difficult to locate. That being said however, we eventually managed to find five species on our term-target list, but it took more effort than we hoped. Our first stop, Murietta Wells, produced good looks at American Kestrel on a nest, both Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawk as well as two White-tailed Kite. Other birds of note were Bullock's Oriole and Western Tanager, the first of several for both species. Yellow-billed Magpies were logged here too and were seen throughout the day. We were fortunate to find a few Barn Owl feathers clinging to a palm tree, but could not approach the bird or its apparent nest. No trespassing! This was frustrating at first, to know the bird was probably visible if we could only get closer, but rules must be observed. (By day's end we would see four living Barn Owls so this early disappointment would be forgotten...) We stopped before the Del Valle Road junction to investigate a road kill. It was a beautiful male Barn Owl that had no objection to our close-up observation. We admired it for a few moments and nearby we could see telltale bleaching and owl pellets indicating a favorite perch. Directly above these clues, we found two more Barn Owls, these, were still very much alive. A moment later, they flushed from their hiding places and we watched them fly and land in full day light. This wonderful view more than made up for the private property bird... A bit farther, and after the Del Valle junction, the famous bridge where we usually find numerous Flycatchers, Swallows, Orioles, and Phainopepla was relatively quiet and produced little in the way of new species. Conditions were very dry there and may partly explain the lack of activity. As we continued up hill we spotted a Greater Roadrunner from the road but lost it quickly up slope. Later we would see four more, apparently a family. Before we reached the summit we stopped in a lush creek area to locate Yellow Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, several Bullock's Orioles and a singing Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Lark Sparrow as present in a few places, but was most easily observed below the summit. Then we went up into the sage brush habitat and down into the San Antonio. We worked the cattle guard area, hoping to find Sage Sparrow. Several of the birds were heard on both sides of the road, with brief looks at individuals as they perched on the tops of shrubs. Joan found a curious bird high in the branches of a pine. A telescope view of the bird revealed it to be a singing male Sage Sparrow! Uncommonly good looks at this bird were satisfying but puzzling. It seemed an unusual spot for such a shy, low-to-the-ground bird. Evidently, it was broadcasting its love song to a wider audience in the same way Spotted Towhees do in breeding season. The volunteer firestation trees afforded us great looks at Bullock's and a single Hooded Oriole, Western Kingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher and nesting Lawrence's Goldfinches. We broke for lunch before continuing down the road to find our Lewis' Woodpecker. It flew overhead quickly and disappeared in the distance. Oh well, at least we got a look... We retraced our steps and turned at the junction to begin our long drive through the Del Puerto Canyon. A few birders gathered by the side of the road clued us into the presence of several Wood Ducks on the small pond. We viewed the birds for several minutes before returning to our cars. Both Canyon and Rock Wrens were heard and seen in the rocky areas of the canyon, as well as a nest with three Common Raven chicks in the same place they were the year before. Owl Rock lived up to its name with two more Barn Owls, a female and a male, but the hoped-for Costa's Hummingbird did not appear. As consolations another Rock Wren, a Loggerhead Shrike and an unseasonable Say's Phoebe were located. Finally, we drove through the wide grassy hills before Hwy 5 and stopped to search for the Blue Grosbeak of previous years. No luck with that one; it was far too dry to support a nesting pair. Numerous Western Kingbirds were present and a lone Cassin's Kingbird was also found. Not a bad list at all!

Pied-billed Grebe
Great Egret
Green Heron
Wood Duck
Mallard
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Cooper's Hawk
Golden Eagle (seen by 2)
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Wild Turkey
California Quail
American Coot
Killdeer
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Barn Owl
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Lewis' Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Western Wood Pewee (heard only)
Pacific-slope Flycatcher (heard only)
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Cassin's Kingbird
Western Kingbird
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Steller's Jay (heard only)
Western Scrub Jay
Yellow-billed Magpie
American Crow
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee (heard only)
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
White-breasted Nuthatch (heard only)
Rock Wren
Canyon Wren
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Western Bluebird
Wrentit (heard only)
California Thrasher (heard only)
Loggerhead Shrike
European Starling
Hutton's Vireo (heard only)
Yellow Warbler
Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Sage Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (heard only)
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Hooded Oriole (seen by 2)
Bullock's Oriole
Purple Finch (heard only)
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
Lawrence's Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow



Cosumnes River Preserver 05-15-04

This was our first group trip to a central valley location in spring and the first time to this specific spot. The weather on this day was a bit cool in the morning but by 10:00 cleared and became warm. Mosquitos were not nearly as troublesome as I feared, but several of us encountered ticks along the way. For various reasons, I viewed this destination as a bit of an experiment. Usually we reserve the valley for our late fall and winter sessions to see the numerous Waterfowl and Sandhill Cranes. During spring and summer however, the area offers chances at a few species we seldom see in the immediate bay area and certainly cannot locate in the winter valley, namely Swainson's Hawk, Black-chinned Hummingbird and Blue Grosbeak. The area is very beautiful and possesses diverse biozones. We toured the Willow Slough Trail, which provides a nice cross section of the habitats to be found in the preserve and were rewarded with looks at four of our term target species. We walked through lush riparian woodland, irrigated year round by the gentle meandering river, small sheltered ponds, a large drained tule-choked marsh, and wide open grassland. Bickering, Western Kingbirds and Ash-throated Flycatchers were located at numerous places along the river while Black-headed Grosbeaks and a few migrant Western Tanagers added brilliant color to the day. A real highlight of our visit, earlier in the day than expected, was a much anticipated Swainson's Hawk that flew over our group and allowed a relaxed examination of topical and structural field marks. The individual was a melanistic bird adding another dimension to our identification. Nearby we had both Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks for comparison. As we passed across the tule bridge and into the dried pond, we located a single Bank Swallow among the many Tree, Cliff and Barn Swallows that foraged on insects and gathered mud for nests; as well there were some Cinnamon Teal. On through the narrow, single track path we entered denser woodland with singing Yellow and Townsend's Warblers. Observation was difficult in this area, but most of us managed to get good looks at these tiny treetop species. (Truly, this beautiful area must possess some sort of Tolkienesque woodland magic that birding instructors cannot possibly hope to understand. In front of my eyes an exciting discovery, a Black-throated Gray Warbler somehow transformed itself into a more common Townsend's Warbler. There's no way I could mistake these two species, so the only plausible explanation is that it had to have been magic... Quite amazing!) Anyway, a brief stop at one of the ponds produced not only a family of Pied-billed Grebes with several young, but also a group of five River Otters frolicking on the far side. Finally we crossed the bridge to the visitors center to find nesting House Wrens in the rafters and a feeder with, you guessed it, a Black-chinned Hummingbird perched and posing. Perhaps we will visit this location again in spring and try once again for the Blue Grosbeak which becomes more common as the season progresses.

Pied-billed Grebe
American White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
American Bittern (seen by one)
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron (seen by one)
Wood Duck
Mallard
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Gadwall
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier (entrance road)
Red-shouldered Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel (entrance road)
Ring-necked Pheasant (heard only)
Common Moorhen (heard only)
Killdeer (entrance road)
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Western Wood Pewee
Black Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Western Scrub Jay
Yellow-billed Magpie
American Crow
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
White-breasted Nuthatch (heard only)
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Marsh Wren
American Robin
Wrentit (heard only)
Cedar Waxwing
European Starling
Yellow Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock's Oriole
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow




Pinnacles National Monument (East side) 05-08-04

Our group trip to Pinnacles National Monument was, quite seriously, a dream come true for me. The story is this as follows. In 1984, I made the trek down to Los Padres National Forest to see the last remaining wild California Condors in their dwindling southern California habitat. At that time there were a mere 8 individuals. The following year, I made the journey again, this time with my father, and found only 4 birds remaining. In the months between my two visits, the population had suffered the devastating loss of four birds, slashing the wild group in half and reducing the gene pool to an even more alarmingly low level. Imagine what it means to have an entire species reduced to such tiny numbers, with each individual possessing a precious amount of diversity in its DNA; and now there were four birds completely lost, forever. Because of this, the decision had been made by leading ornithologists, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, National Park Service and the California Department of Fish and Game to combine the wild birds with the group of captive birds that were already involved in an ongoing breeding program in San Diego. It appeared this desperate effort was the only hope for the species, as it would prevent the loss of more birds to poison or gun outside the protection of captivity. With the capture of the last free-flying Condors in 1987 however, was closed a chapter in the great species' history, and the skies over Los Padres were changed forever.

It followed, somewhat logically, that this might well be the last time I would ever see the birds, as the they would remain in protective captivity indefinitely. I tried to imagine something else, a different ending to this story. But it was very difficult. At one point I had the entire wild population of California Condor, in my telescope at once as they made wide circles in the distance, reminding me that they were indeed, members one of the rarest species in the world, horribly fragile and in danger, and they needed help. I had never then, nor have I since, felt such a profound sadness, strangely mixed with fear, as when I saw these 4 circling shadows. My eyes filled as the heavy realization descended on me that within a short time I might well witness the extinction of this great animal. Ever since that day I have dreamed of a time when I could share the sight of these magnificent birds with my friends. And so began a 20-year dream that today became reality...

Moving forward, in recent years the captive population, having reached a critical mass, was deemed large enough to begin the delicate reintroduction process. It seemed like the impossible had happened. The birds might actually fly again. Release sites in the Ventana Wilderness area in Big Sur were selected, followed soon by remote regions of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and finally Pinnacles National Monument in California. Generally the method was this; several immature birds, all hatched in captivity, were moved to an outdoor enclosure in one of the aforementioned areas, and after a suitable adjustment period, they were released with a more mature, perhaps wild-born bird. The older bird functioned as a mentor for the younger inexperienced individuals, showing them how to forage and feed, where to roost and basically, how to avoid trouble. The plan worked quite well in Big Sur and Arizona, and eventually, Pinnacles. As of December 2003 the program had advanced satisfactorily and there were a total of 137 Condors in captivity and 85 free-flying birds. Among this number there were 28 chicks in captivity and two chicks in the wild. The total world population therefore stood at 222 Condors.

That is where our group enters the story. Six birds were released in December of 2003 in Pinnacles, carefully monitored with radio transmitters and large, brightly colored number tags to identify each bird. Food for them was laid out every day or so near the release site, with care to avoid contact with their human sponsors, lest they become imprinted and lose their wild instincts. Somehow this had to be done while also allowing the researchers to maintain constant watch over the birds' comings and goings, food intake and general health. The project generated great interest locally because of its proximity to the Bay area and articles were appearing in every local newspaper. There was an almost audible click in my brain when it occurred on me that here, just 90 minutes' drive from our classroom, were free-flying Condors waiting for our group to see. As it turned out though, two birds had to be removed from the park because of poor health and behavioral problems, so that by the time we visited Pinnacles, only four birds remained in the area. This however, seemed a small obstacle.

With high expectations we made the strenuous hike up the appropriately named, Condor Gulch Overlook trail, and eagerly watched the skies. We had seen a single Condor at a great distance along the Bear Gulch trail earlier in the day as it soared among nine Turkey Vultures. The huge bird had impressed us with its unfamiliar silhouette and larger size. We also noted its much blacker coloration and flat winged flight style. But we were not completely satisfied with this first one-mile-away experience. We all wanted a closer look.

So up the trail we hiked, watching and waiting, sweating. There was little bird activity at this mid day hour; it was too hot for most of the Passerines to be active but we knew it was a good time for thermal-loving Raptors. Still, inexplicably, not many birds were presenting themselves. Almost immediately after I suggested we give up and head back down hill we managed to spot the nesting Prairie Falcon in a small cave on the High Peaks face. We were even able to capture it in the telescope several times and watched excitedly as it tried to drive intruding away Common Ravens from its aerie. It seemed a bit of a consolation though, after having expected to see the Condor, but we didn't complain.

As if scripted to make a dramatic entry, it quietly appeared out of nowhere! A lone black sail, wide against the brilliant blue sky. Just above the ridge, moving away from the Falcon was a California Condor. Its mass was impressive and unmistakable. I think everyone could hear my excitement as I called out, "We have a Condor! We have a California Condor!" Soon it was fully visible and we were able to see the mottled white triangles on the underwing coverts. It banked directly over us and headed back toward the cliff face, and then back toward the Prairie Falcon. The smaller bird screamed in protest, its harsh calls echoing against the cliffs, and then preceded to dive bomb the Condor against which it appeared as a dwarf, no larger than a Swallow chasing a Raven. The drama we observed was unforgettable, emotional and ultimately, almost impossible to capture with words. I believe we all felt something deep at that moment. A presence. An undeniable feeling that we had just witnessed something precious. It's so hard to articulate what we were seeing and feeling. But we saw it... a free-flying California Condor!

So there you have it, the story of how for twenty years I waited to share this with you, a view of one of the rarest species on earth, flying free once again, and demonstrably on its way to recovery.

California Condor
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier (Hwy 25)
Cooper's Hawk
Osprey
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Prairie Falcon
Wild Turkey (Hwy 25)
California Quail
Mourning Dove
Greater Roadrunner (Hwy 25)
Burrowing Owl (Hwy 25)
White-throated Swift
Anna's Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker (heard only)
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Violet-green Swallow
Western Scrub Jay
Steller's Jay
Yellow-billed Magpie (Hwy 25)
Common Raven
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
White-breasted Nuthatch (heard only)
Canyon Wren
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (heard only)
Western Bluebird
American Robin
Wrentit (heard only)
California Thrasher
Phainopepla (Hwy 25)
Loggerhead Shrike (Hwy 25)
European Starling
Cassin's Vireo (a class first)
Hutton's Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Orange-crowned Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak
Spotted Towhee
Califoria Towhee
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird (Hwy 25)
Western Meadowlark (Hwy 25)
Brewer's Blackbird (Hwy 25)
Brown-headed Cowbird (heard only)
Purple Finch
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch



Fremont Peak State Park 05-01-04

Absolutely perfect weather made this beautiful location and the following picnic pure joy for our group! The park is a small and underutilized gem in the hills of San Benito County with a mixture of oak/pine woodland with vast slopes of chaparral with barren rocky outcropping near the peak. We did not know exactly what to expect on this, our first group trip to the location, (there seems to be no checklist) but we were rewarded with good looks at several target species. Olive-sided Flycatchers and their distinctive "Quick! Free beer!" songs were with us the entire day. Rock Wren was easily located among the rocks near the top and we observed a pair for several minutes as they struggled to provide food to their young, while simultaneously preventing us from seeing the exact location of the nest. They flitted about nervously with food in mouth, ready to feed, but seemed eager for our group to leave. We left, knowing their young would go hungry if we didn't move on. Nevertheless, we all got great looks at the birds and heard then vocalize on several occasions. Elsewhere along the trail our group had one of those shared moments of wonder. A male and female Western Tanager darted around the upper branches of a Valley Oak, allowing everyone to get world class looks at one of California's most colorful birds. Nothing makes me happier on these outings than when the whole group gasps at once when a bird like this appears... Black-headed Grosbeaks were in abundance and we were able to study their song quite well. Many of us decided after getting so close to the top, we might as well to all the way and make the awkward climb to the flagpole. The view from the peak was breathtaking. An interesting non-avian species we encountered during our visit was a Rattlesnake. The young snake was right on the path, requiring us to give it the right of way. As it seemed uninterested in moving, many of us had to clamber over the rocks to avoid being bitten. Eventually, we all got down the trail safely, but it was pretty exciting (read nervous) for a few minutes. While our species list is rather small (composed predominantly of Passerines), and several expected species were completely missed, I think the trip was a great success. It was a nice opportunity to visit a new location, have a picnic, enjoy the perfect weather and celebrate spring!

Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
California Quail
Anna's Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Hammond's Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Violet-green Swallow
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
Yellow-billed Magpie (along entrance road)
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
Brown Creeper (heard only)
Rock Wren
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Western Bluebird
American Robin
Wrentit (heard only)
European Starling
Hutton's Vireo (heard only)
Warbling Vireo
Orange-crowned Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
MacGillivray's Warbler (heard only)
Wilson's Warbler
Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak
Spotted Towhee (heard only)
California Towhee
Lark Sparrow (seen by one)
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Bullock's Oriole
House Finch
Purple Finch
Lesser Goldfinch



Grant Ranch/Twin Gates/Smith Creek 04-10-04

As predicted this was a marvelous day! Weather was stunningly beautiful with bright blue skies and great numbers of birds for us to identify. A few of the familiar woodland Passerines were identified by voice alone but eventually we got good looks at a good percentage of species on the list. Activity was high around the ranch house where we had Lincoln's Sparrows and at least two Grasshopper Sparrows singing in the weedy area north of the cookhouse. We also located nesting Tree and Northern Rough-winged Swallows, a Lawrence's Goldfinch, lots of Bullock's Orioles, two Black-headed Grosbeaks and an Ash-throated Flycatcher. Other birds located included Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Western Bluebird, Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and Yellow-billed Magpie. House Wrens simply could not be missed as their busy songs were everywhere.

In this same area, which is also visible from the main road, we observed two Western Kingbird perched on the old picket fence beyond the coyote bush. Suddenly, another bird entered the scene and there was much squabbling. When the intruder settled on a nearby post, it appeared darker about the head, with a clearly demarkated white cheek, a dark blackish-olive tail, and a complete absence of white outer tail feathers! The bird posed for a moment before moving again. We watched it on and off for the next few minutes, and even managed several scope views, as it rested for a moment, then tussled again with the Westerns. From both the front and back of the bird we noticed the pale grayish terminal band on the tail several times and noticed it was in sharp contrast to the other Kingbirds. We judged it to be a Cassin's Kingbird but did not make note of the wing coverts or their relative paleness that the Sibley guide mentions. The bird was quite active and eventually dropped out of sight and was not seen again. Later as we tried to scan the field from the utility area at the ranch house, but with no luck.

After this exciting start to the day, we continued up hill, bypassing the lake altogether, found a single female Wild Turkey along the way, and regrouped at Twin Gates where we saw several more Orioles, heard some additional Grosbeaks, but failed to locate any Lark Sparrows. Little else was happening at the Gates actually, but we were fortunate to find a small group of Lawrence's Goldfinch in the oaks above the parking area. After a short time, we carpooled up to Smith Creek where activity was high again. There were lots of songs to sort through, but few new species were identified. We bumped into Al Eisner who directed us toward a Brown Creeper, which we all observed for a moment or two where the trail crosses the stream. In the same area Warbling Vireo was singing too. We heard an invisible Belted Kingfisher in the distance, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, but Black-headed Grosbeak was conspicuous and fairly easily seen.

Great Blue Heron
Canada Goose
Mallard
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk (heard only)
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Wild Turkey
California Quail
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Selasphorus species (heard only)
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker (heard only)
Hairy Woodpecker (heard only)
Northern Flicker
Pacfic-slope Flycatcher (heard only)
Black Pheobe
Ash-throated Flycatcher (heard only)
Cassin's Kingbird
Western Kingbird
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Western Scrub Jay
Steller's Jay
Yellow-billed Magpie
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Western Bluebird
American Robin
Wrentit
European Starling
Hutton's Vireo
Warbling Vireo (heard only)
Orange-crowned Warbler (heard only)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (both Audbon's and Myrtle)
Common Yellowthroat
Black-headed Grosbeak
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow (heard only)
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock's Oriole
Purple Finch
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
Lawrence's Goldfinch
American Goldfinch



Stevens Creek Park 04-03-04

As predicted, the weather was perfect! It was sunny, warm and clear with no wind. Our expectations were high for colorful spring birds. We began in the north parking lot, touring the riparian woodland with its many flowering cottonwoods, then moving through the darker live oak, bay laurel and tanoak woodland and finally up toward the reservoir where coyote bush was in abundance before returning the way we came. Sound was the main focus of the day, and bird songs could be heard at every turn, giving us ample opportunity to compare some confusingly similar vocalizations. The three trillers of the day, Dark-eyed Junco, Orange-crowned Warbler and Wilson's Warbler were all heard in rapid succession and I think everyone was able to hear the subtle differences between them. As well, Purple Finch and House Finch were singing in the same area and a few among us were able to pick them out as well. The happy up-and-down song of both Warbling Vireo and Black-headed Grosbeak were heard in a few locations and by the end of the day they too were quite familiar to our group. We managed to get views at all of these birds eventually, but it was satisfying to identify them by sound first so we would know what to look for. Overhead, we had a dramatic display by a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks and a conflict between a Cooper's Hawk and a Turkey Vulture. A Sharp-shinned Hawk was also seen by some members of the group. We did well on Piciformes, logging five species all together including the similar Downy and Hairy Woodpecker pair. Our first Olive-sided Flycatcher of the season and several Pacific-slope Flycatchers were located near the lower bathrooms and Ranger Station. Only one Bullock's Oriole was located by sight, but several were heard. As we emerged from the shelter of the riparian woodland and began our short climb to the reservoir, we had great looks at a curious Wrentit, a male Belted Kingfisher perching on a wire 100' above the valley floor and heard a California Thrasher singing loudly in the chaparral. There was little activity on the water save several Double-crested Cormorants wearing their breeding plumes and a motionless Black-crowned Night Heron. The recent Osprey was not relocated.

Double-crested Cormorant
Black-crowned Night Heron
Mallard
Turkey Vulture
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
California Quail (heard only)
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Bewick's Wren
American Robin
Wrentit
California Thrasher (heard only)
Cedar Waxwing
European Starling
Hutton's Vireo (heard only)
Warbling Vireo
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's and Myrtle forms)
Townsend's Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Black-headed Grosbeak
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Song Sparrow (heard only)
Dark-eyed Junco
Bullock's Oriole
Purple Finch (heard only)
House Finch
American Goldfinch (heard only)



Coyote Hills Regional Park 03-27-04

This was our first outing of the term and spring was definitely in the air! It was overcast for the first hour or so, but cleared by mid-morning and became sunny and warm as we approached lunch. Breeding behavior was evident throughout the day. Whether it was the simple song of Orange-crowned Warblers, the courtship flight and nest building of Red-tailed Hawks or the full-on copulation of Black-necked Stilts, the change in seasons was demonstrated by the birds' activities. We began by identifying a few Anseriformes in the main pond, finding Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead, and Ruddy Duck easily. On the Passerine front, Red-winged Blackbirds and multitudes of Swallows foraged overhead, the Marsh Wrens buzzed, clicked and rattled for us at close range and a small group of American Goldfinches perched cooperatively in the willows. We then moved moved into the trees to try our luck at both the nesting Great Horned Owl and the colorful Bullock's Orioles, both of which were well viewed by everyone in the group. Quickly, the dry chatter and whistled "quick! quick! look up here, up here!" of the male Orioles became familiar but we also located Allen's Hummingbirds nearby and noticed their high-piched trill. It's hard to say which of these two species is more colorful or exciting... Personally, I think it's the reactions of our group, especially the newcomers, that thrill me most. Up and over the hill to the second marsh we saw several more Anseriformes, including a Snow Goose, Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintail. Following the trail out to the bay we added American Kestrel, Eared Grebe in full breeding regalia and all of our Charadriiformes for the day, Killdeer, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt and Greater Yellowlegs. Numerous Larids sat on the distant levy, but only two allowed themselves to be identified, Western and Bonaparte's Gulls. We then left the bay and retraced our steps for a while before reaching the small parking area near the road. Here we watched a male Northern Mockingbird in full song and Yvonne spotted an adult Golden Eagle far overhead. Lastly we climbed the trail to see the incredible view of the marsh and woodland below. Only one more species was added as we wrapped up the day, a White-throated Swift flying bat-like among the more graceful Cliff Swallows by the visitors center. This was a great introduction to the colorful Passerines that await us the rest of the term.

Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
American White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Snow Goose
Canada Goose
Green-winged Teal
Mallard
Northern Pintail
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
American Wigeon
Bufflehead
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Ring-necked Pheasant
California Quail
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Killdeer
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Bonaparte's Gull
Western Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
White-throated Swift
Anna's Hummingbird
Allen's Hummingbird
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
Bewick's Wren
Marsh Wren
American Robin
European Starling
Orange-crowned Warbler (heard only)
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Spotted Towhee (heard only)
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
Bullock's Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch

The following species were logged after the group disbanded. Cricket and I saw the two Waterfowl while crossing the Dumbarton bridge (maybe some of you noticed them as well). The remaining species were located just outside the visitors center in the oaks by the picnic tables. Darn! Our group was right there...

Black-bellied Plover
Willet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Cedar Waxwings
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Wilson's Warbler