WINTER 2008


Hayward Shoreline 01-12-08 POSTED
Gray Lodge and Sacramento NWR 01-19+20-08 POSTED
Alviso Salt Ponds and SWPCP 01-27-08 POSTED
Panoche Valley 02-02-08 POSTED
Charleston Marsh and Shoreline Lake 02-09-08 POSTED
Venice Beach and Princeton Harbor 02-16-08 POSTED
Natural Bridges and other SMC coast stops 02-23-08 POSTED
Point Reyes 03-01-08 POSTED
Point Piños and other Monterey coast stops 03-08-08  

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





Alviso Salt Ponds and SWPCP 01-27-08

After all the dismal weather forecasts, I had little confidence this trip would last until noon. Well, as luck would have it, the weather wasn’t bad at all. It was gray of course, but it didn’t rain until about noon. It was time for lunch anyway, so we got a respectable 4 hours or so of birding in before returning home to warm up by the fire...

Alviso Marina was a good place to start. Most people hadn’t been there for a while, so the new bathrooms, boardwalk and improved parking area was a surprise. We scanned the main pond, A12, finding several Red-breasted Mergansers, a handful of Eared and Aechmophorus Grebes, both Western and Clarks, and a group of 4 Surf Scoters flying overhead. The nearby marsh had calling Virginia Rail and a briefly seen Sora. At one point a Peregrine Falcon shot over the water, eliciting a vocal response from both the Waterfowl and us! White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows crossed the path ahead of us, but nothing else to be travelling with them. We did however locate House Sparrow near the old cannery, a species we often miss on field trips. We also watched Northern Harrier forage over the marsh, but it seemed generally quiet in this area so we moved on quickly.

At the Don Edwards EEC we were rewarded with several new species. The Barn Owl was barely visible in its box, but identifiable and definitely countable! A small group of Green-winged Teal were found in the channel, Forster’s Terns foraged over the marsh, and American White Pelican was easily located on the first island. Gulls were numerous, with Western and California being the most numerous. Several Ring-billed were seen as well and an occasional pale giant, the Glaucous-winged were found. Eric spotted a small flock of Mew Gulls in the main pond. It was too far to get really good looks at, but all the field marks were there, including head shape and small unmarked bill. A single Thayer’s flew directly overhead and into the distant marsh, but we got it! A nice surprise were 6-8 Redhead sleeping among the many Northern Shovelers 200 yards out. Oh, yes, our first Savannah Sparrow was identified as it high-tailed it up the levy and away from us.

Some member left as it was getting cold, and the rain appeared to be upon us, but others decided to continue to SWPCP. Was that a sprinkle? There we challenged ourselves with finding ten more species. Any species that would be new for the day. Then we’d all be able to go home and warm up by the fire... 1. Common Moorhen was located at the “bridge” that crosses the channel, 2. Green Heron was found near the pump house (but not without a bit of searching), 3. Snowy Egret was right there, 4. Common Goldeneyes were paddling in front of us as we made our way to the hill, 5. Lincoln’s Sparrow crossed the levy in front of us and was just peeking out, 6. Canvasback was seen among the millions of Shovelers, 7. I forget what seven was... and then we ended up with American Bittern flying over the Lockheed ponds as number 10, with a few additional species like Greater Yellowlegs, Northern Flicker, White-tailed Kite and finally the rain... It was time to leave.

Thanks to everyone who decided to show up despite the ominous weather reports. We managed to stay essentially dry, and get a nice collection of birds, including Redhead, a new species for the term!


Canada Goose
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Mallard
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Canvasback
Redhead
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Surf Scoter
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
American White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Virginia Rail
Sora
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Least Sandpiper
Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Thayer's Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Forster's Tern
Barn Owl
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Bushtit
Marsh Wren
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
American Pipit
Common Yellowthroat
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Tricolored Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
House Finch
House Sparrow






Gray Lodge and Sacramento NWR 01-19+20-08

Once again, this full weekend field trip was worth the drive! As we did two years ago, we stayed at the Best Western Bonanza Inn in Yuba City. Most of us arrived early enough on Friday night that we were able to have dinner together at Sopa, the local Thai restaurant. We also made reservations at Salut, an Italian restaurant, for our Saturday dinner. Unlike two years ago, the weather was more cooperative, with no rain and somewhat warmer temperatures. Still, it was brisk, especially in the open areas, but we didn’t have to deal with extreme weather conditions, or heavy traffic.

Saturday morning we left the Inn at 7:15 and made our way to Gray Lodge. Over the motel, thousands of American Crows were waking up and heading out to feed. They had been roosting in several large trees near the highway. As well, many hundreds of Yellow-billed were moving from their roosts to foraging areas, but oddly, they were going in a slightly different direction. We headed out too. We stopped once along Pennington road to admire a large number of Tundra Swans close to the road. Quite a few Geese were visible in the flooded fields here too, but they were farther away. Still, we were already surrounded by birds and the day was just beginning.


Photo: Jeff Mencher

At the preserve, just beyond the kiosk near Lot 14, Lori Cuesta had already arrived and was examining the Waterfowl in the marsh. We joined her and found American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck a few White-faced Ibis and a hand full of other birds. We then took the trail to the main platform. As some class members had predicted, Waterfowl turnout was not enormous, but we did manage to locate a respectable number, and from the platform we found a Eurasian Wigeon among the dozens of Americans. Hermit Thrush was also found along the levy, as was Fox Sparrow. Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered, Red-tailed, and Cooper’s Hawks were found here and eventually we also located a Bald Eagle, perched overlooking the flocks of Ducks.



Photo: Ken Lillis


Photo: Ken Lillis


Photo: Ken Lillis


Photo: Ken Lillis


Photo: Ken Lillis



Photo: Ken Lillis


Photo: Ken Lillis


We continued across the pond back toward the road where a great collection of white Geese was assembled. We found Snow and Ross’s Geese together, and as hoped, several blue phase Snows. Greater White-fronted Geese were separated, but also present on this pond, which interestingly also had a Eurasian Wigeon. That’s two, and it wasn’t even ten o’clock! A few Ring-necked Duck were here too, and a female Common Goldeneye. The few Scaup we noticed all appeared to be Lesser Scaup.

We arrived at lot 18 to find a blind, from which we could observe the Waterfowl quietly. Nothing new appeared, but we did hear a Virginia Rail in the low reeds just outside the door. Lot 18 was where a Northern Shrike had been reported on and off for a week or two. It did not appear to us, in fact we didn’t see a single Shrike, Northern or other until the next day!

It was as we headed through this area, and back toward our starting place that we began to take notice of the Gulls. First to be identified was a Herring adult, but later a juvenile. A bit after that we logged Ring-billed, but that was it as far as Larids went. Not a California in sight... We were nearly back to the lot when we flushed a Great Horned Owl from the willows, and as it landed we got distant, but diagnostic looks at its widely spaced horns and heavy silhouette. Oh, and just before we reached our cars we found another Eurasian Wigeon! Three before noon. Not bad at all! We had lunch near the cars to celebrate. Somewhat frustrated, I puzzled over the exact identity of a dark Buteo over the picnic area. After a moment of flipping through the field guide I realized it was most likely a "Harlan's" Red-tailed Hawk, a bird the whole class would have enjoyed seeing, but alas, only Eric and I were able to see it before it was away over the marsh.


Photo: Ken Lillis



Photo: Jeff Mencher

The auto loop produced a few more birds. We scrutinized every Hawk we came across, and scanned the shallow ponds for any new Ducks, Gulls or Shorebirds. Wilson’s Snipe were strangely absent, or at least invisible. Not hard to imagine, I guess... As we paused, mid-levy to identify a few more Herring Gulls, we squeezed another Eurasian Wigeon out of the flock. No, there are two! Four and five in a single breath. They must be putting something in the water...

A bit further on we were able to pause near a big pond with the sun behind us. Hundreds, maybe more than a thousand of several species. Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Ruddy Duck, American Wigeon, and you guessed it--three more Eurasian Wigeon. An amazing 8 total, equal to my one-time high count at SWPCP. There were also a few Ring-necked Ducks, and of course, gazillions of American Coots. We moved on, pausing occasionally to see if we could get another EUWI or perhaps a Duck we had missed, but nothing new appeared.

We completed the loop around 3, and decided as a group we had time to explore Z road off of Hwy 162. There we hoped to find a nice flock of Tundra Swans, which might in turn attract a few hungry Bald Eagles. We came across a few piles of mulch on the southern end and were able to see dozens of Sparrows foraging on insects and seeds. Savannah, Song, Lincoln’s, White-crowned, Golden-crowned... There were also House Sparrows, House Finches and an occasional American Pipit. Farther north, we found a few hundred Tundra Swans, mostly far from the road, but a few far enough to photograph, but no Eagles. After admiring the Swans, and there really is nothing more beautiful than Swans in flight, silhouetted by a golden sunset... we made our way back to the hotel. We stopped once to watch our one Rough-legged Hawk of the day. First it was perched on the bare ground, and as we pulled our cars off the road, it flapped its heavy wings and flew across the road out of sight.


Photo: Ken Lillis


Photo: Ken Lillis

After calling the restaurant, and pushing our reservation out 45 minutes we rested and washed up before dinner. The meal was wonderful with several plates of fried calamari as an appetizer. I went down the list and figured the day’s total. 89 species. No Ferruginous Hawk. No American Bittern. No Loggerhead Shrike. No Western Bluebird.... There were still a few targets for tomorrow...

7:15 the next morning and we were all checked out and ready to go. Sacramento NWR was about an hour away, and if we kept our eyes open we might be able to find some open country species along the dead-straight Hwy 162 before we arrived at the preserve. Sure enough, our first stop produced a Ferruginous Hawk and two Bald Eagles over the fields. We also found a huge flock, the biggest I’d ever seen, of White-faced Ibis. There had to be more than 300 individuals in this group. As we watched, they lifted off and away on those beautiful blackish wings.



Photo: Ken Lillis


Photo: Ken Lillis


Photo: Jeff Mencher


After meeting Lori Cuesta, who had stayed at here favorite hotel in Willows, we continued toward Hwy I-5. She had located a few American Robins for us in the orchard by Z road. We resumed our drive west stopping only at the end where a few piles of mulch and field debris was attracting flocks of various species. European Starling was conspicuous, as was Brewer’s and Red-winged Blackbird. Sparrows included Savannah, White-crowned, Golden-crowned and House Sparrow (not actually a Sparrow...). We also scared up an American Bittern, our first of the trip, but it got a way too quickly to really satisfy.

At the preserve we paid our entrance fee, used the facilities and set out on the nature trail. The sky was gray and it was rather cold. It seemed pretty quiet, in fact. Except occasionally, rather faintly we heard the distant cries of Geese, and as we cast our eyes around in search of the sound we would see a great swarm of white, snowflake-like birds crisscrossing the fields as a larger dark form flew among them... a Bald Eagle! How wonderful! The colors here were truly beautiful. There were few, if any leaves on the trees, yet the twiggy branches hinted at color to come. Reddish, yellowish, greenish-gray branches were everywhere, subtle, but enhanced by the oppressive gray of the sky. It was as if all the colors of the rainbow had been subdued, but they were all still in attendance. A quiet, misty, grayish spectrum. A dream for artists and photographers, I think.

Anyway...

A new bird for this area was a perched Peregrine Falcon, found by Kelly, and female Hooded Merganser found by Mary Ann. The Merganser launched from the marsh almost immediately upon discovery. The bird took off, leaving a few ripples in the otherwise smooth pond. We also had a male Downy Woodpecker and Nuttall's Woodpecker in the same tree, making for great comparison. Interestingly, amid all the subtle colors we were seeing here, the Yellow-rumped Warblers were acquiring something like full breeding plumage. Several individuals showed bright yellow, and deep black and navy on their bodies. The males were looking like field guide males!


Photo: Ken Lillis

The auto loop was not entirely productive. We found many of the species we had already encountered, but perhaps got better looks at a few. Ring-necked Ducks were easily found here, as were Ruddy Ducks, some of which showed bluish breeding bills, Western Meadowlark and American Pipits were conspicuous. Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Harriers, well, they were simply everywhere and in all plumages. Predictably pale morphs, unexpectedly dark morphs, confusingly mottled juveniles, slender grayish males, husky streaked females, and honey-colored young birds...!


Photo: Jeff Mencher



Photo: Ken Lillis


At the platform we found an adult Bald Eagle just waiting for us to admire. It was perched high in a tree overlooking the ponds, and in full scope view. Below it, flotillas of Waterfowl and skids of probing Shorebirds. Among them were a few Least Sandpipers, many Long-billed Dowitchers and a single Wilson’s Snipe! Thank you Mary Ann, we were looking for that! From the platform we found four Blue-winged Teal as well as other familiar ducks. A Peregrine Falcon made a brief appearance as well.



Photo: Jeff Mencher

We continued on the loop, encountering Peregrine Falcon again, Cooper’s and Red-shouldered Hawk. It wasn’t until we’d reached the last pond that we found our first “Canada-type” Geese. Two birds still confuse me, even after reviewing the photographs. One bird showed white at the base of the bill, much like a Greater White-fronted. Could it be a hybrid, and if so, was it a Cackling or a Canada hybrid. You be the judge.


Photo: Jeff Mencher

We had lunch near the visitors center, and discussed the happy news from Bob Power’s group. Kat Greene had called me while we were on the loop. I had string of 6 cars behind me and a Bald Eagle overhead... They had just seen a Yellow Rail at Arrowhead Marsh in Alameda... Yeah?? There’s just the tiny matter of that being four hours away from where we are right now... Oh, well. I hope everyone is still happy they decided to come with me to the central valley. Isn’t it great here? Bald Eagles everywhere... Anybody??

After lunch, we opted to visit Zamora Road area off of Hwy 505 South. Actually, the area was unfamiliar to me and Lori Cuesta escorted us through the side roads. Almost immediately, we found a beautiful Rough-legged Hawk perched on a post just yards from the road. We watched it as it flew up hill, then over us and across the highway. We got a much better, longer look than the day before, and in better light. As we scoped the hillside we also found a flock of 40 or so Horned Larks, but no Longspurs among them as far as we could tell. A red fox loped up the wash, frequently looking at us (looking at him), before disappearing. Continuing along the side roads, we neared a ranch where Burrowing Owl was easily found beside the cars, and further out a single Ferruginous Hawk. The first and only Ferruginous of the weekend. Still further we came across a flock of sheep. We paused and searched the dried earth at the feet of the animals. Lucky! A single Mountain Plover was not far from the road, and everyone got a great look. It was a lifer for several in the group, and hopefully not the last Mountain Plover we’ll see this term. We saw only a few birds after this. We heard Bluebirds, presumably Western, but no telling for sure, and saw a single Loggerhead Shrike (finally). After that we hooked back up with Zamora Road, said our good byes and kept going till we reached home.



Photo: Jeff Mencher


Photo: Jeff Mencher


Photo: Jeff Mencher


Photo: Jeff Mencher

Thank you everyone who attended this very special trip. Several lifers for the group. A few Bald Eagles. Lots of Swans and two great meals! I can’t wait until next year!



Photo: Ken Lillis


Greater White-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Ross's Goose
Cackling Goose (possible hybrid XGreater White-fronted?)
Tundra Swan
Gadwall
Eurasian Wigeon
American Wigeon
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Ring-necked Pheasant
California Quail
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
American White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night Heron
White-faced Ibis
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Virginia Rail (H)
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Mountain Plover
Black-necked Stilt
Greater Yellowlegs
Long-billed Curlew
Least Sandpiper
Dunlin
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Burrowing Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Loggerhead Shrike
Western Scrub Jay
Yellow-billed Magpie
American Crow
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
Bushtit
Bewick's Wren
Marsh Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Western Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
American Pipit
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow







Hayward Shoreline and Coyote Hills Regional Park 01-12-08

I have been thinking of taking our group to this east bay preserve for several years, but recent reports of interesting birds demanded we finally check it out. The morning was slightly foggy, with a flat gray sky and mild temperatures. By mid morning the sun was emerging, and warming considerably. We began by searching for the Tropical Kingbird on the power lines by the parking lot, but that did not prove successful. Somewhat disappointed, but not especially surprised we headed out on the trail leading toward the bay. The landfill to our north was where we hoped to locate a flock of Horned Larks, and possibly the Lapland Longspur that has been associating with them. A good-sized flock of Canada Geese was foraging on the hillside, and to our east we picked up a few Cackling Geese, most of which showed the obvious white collar of the Aleutian race. Finding the group of Horned Larks was a bit for difficult than it had been on my scouting mission the week earlier, but within a short time we were hearing and seeing small numbers of Larks foraging in the short grass. Eventually we spotted the Longspur among them and were rewarded with very clear looks at this rare wintering species. We admired it for a quite a while before moving on. It's not everyday you see a Longspur, and this was indeed a class-first!


Photo: Patty McGann


Photo: Ken Petersen


Photo: Ken Petersen


Photo: Patty McGann


Photo: Patty McGann


Photo: Patty McGann

The tide was quite low by the time we arrived at the bay, and many Shorebirds were present. Black-bellied Plovers, Willet and Marbled Godwit made up the bulk of birds, but Sanderling and Least Sandpipers were also numerous. Small numbers of Red Knot foraged close to the breakwater beside Dunlin and we picked out a few Ruddy Turnstone on the rocks. We didn't spend much time examining Gulls, but three species were identified--Western, Glaucous-winged and Ring-billed. At one point an Osprey flew over the flats, scattering many of the Shorebirds we had been watching. Also present were both Ross's and Snow Geese, which made for an interesting comparison.



Photo: Patty McGann


Photo: Jeff Mencher

Working our way around the channel and back toward the cars we found a few more species at the inflow. American Wigeon, Gadwall, Greater and Lesser Scaup and a few "Dowitcher species"... We'll work harder on nailing those down when we're not staring into the sun...

In the pond just south of the lot we found still more Ducks, but nothing unexpected. Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Duck and Canvasback were all sleeping with their heads down. On the far end of the pond a few Bonaparte's Gulls were seen fluttering up and down from the surface, picking up bits of food. We also found our first Phoebes in this area, both Black and Say's and a very nice discovery was a dark Merlin that perched briefly enough for identification, but not long enough to satisfy. There were quite a few Tree Swallows working the area, as well there were two Barn Swallows, both rather unusual this time of year. White-throated Swifts were much less numerous than the week before, but still present.

We made our way back to the cars, finding Yellow-rumped Warbler, California Towhee, and Chestnut-backed Chickadee in the eucalyptus trees. Our last attempt at finding the Tropical Kingbird was not rewarded, except for Kendric who saw the bird fly over the road and into the distant field. We continued to search without success. Oh, well... Onward.

Coyote Hills was a nice change of scenery. The hoped for additional woodland species were few, but the weather was lovely. Highlights include Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker and very testosteroned Ruby-crowned Kinglet! We also added Marsh Wren. Overhead we were treated to a veritable Raptor show with several Red-tailed Hawks of different color phases, the most striking of which was a rich dark-phase, quite chocolate, actually! On the hilltop we spotted a second Merlin, much lighter than the one in Hayward.


Photo: Ken Petersen


Photo: Ken Petersen


Photo: Ken Petersen


Photo: Ken Petersen


Photo: Ken Petersen


Snow Goose
Ross's Goose
Canada Goose
Cackling Goose

American Wigeon
Mallard
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Canvasback
Lesser Scaup
Greater Scaup
Surf Scoter
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Ruddy Duck
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
American White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Merlin
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Long-billled Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Black Turnstone
Red Knot
Sanderling
Least Sandpiper
Dunlin
Dowitcher species
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Forster's Tern
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
White-throated Swift
Anna's Hummingbird
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Bushtit
Bewick's Wren
Marsh Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
European Starling
American Pipit
Yellow-rumped Warbler
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Lapland Longspur
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
House Finch
American Goldfinch