Lake Merritt October 22, 2014 Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey # of participants: 8 # of species: 36
Now You See It… And now you don’t. The winter season is definitely starting at Lake Merritt; our walkers saw several of the expected migrants – Ruddy Ducks, Scaup, Eared Grebes, even a couple of long-necked Western Grebes.
Yellow-rumped Warblers were out in force in the park, along with Dark-eyed Juncos, both White Crowned and Golden Crowned Sparrows, and even a lone lorn shining Brewer’s Blackbird down near El Embarcadero where we’d never seen one before. Plus a Cooper’s Hawk in the garden, another hawk that flew past too quickly to recognize, a whole lot of the usually scarce Scrub Jays, and a brilliant goldfinch high in a tree.
But no Robins. No House Finches. No House Sparrows, either. The species on view amounted to barely more species than the summer run, despite all the newcomers filling out the crowd. But the weather was lovely and so were the views, and all in all we racked up another good day at Lake Merritt, where, of course, every day is a good day….Fort Mason October 19, 2014 Leader(s): David Assmann # of participants: 35 # of species: 45
The October 19th GGAS Field Trip at Fort Mason was a little difficult from a logistics perspective – the Nike Women’s Marathon, which ended at Crissy Field, resulted in all road access to Fort Mason being closed – I thought we would have few participants, but we still ended up with 35 people. Unfortunately a number of people arrived late and didn’t sign in. We had 45 species (listed below), with the highlights being a BLACKPOLL WARBLER, a HOODED ORIOLE and a WESTERN MEADOWLARK (not common at Fort Mason).Valle Vista Staging Area, Upper San Leandro Reservoir October 12, 2014 Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi # of participants: 20 # of species: 38
The weather was quite warm. The birds seemed relatively quiet and skulky. Several species that we would expect to see were not in evidence (Black Phoebe, Western Bluebird, Red-breasted Nuthatch). Others that we would expect to set our eyes on were heard only (Hermit Thrush, California Thrasher, Wrentit, Lesser Goldfinch). The water in the reservoir was quite low, with no water in the creek arm between the bridge and the body of the lakeSan Leandro Shoreline October 11, 2014 Leader(s): Jeffrey Black, Pat Greene # of participants: 5 # of species: 35
Jeffrey Black and I were joined by 5 other cycling birders at San Leandro BART. We headed East on Williams and other residential streets to the Bay Trail along the shoreline, where we proceeded south past San Lorenzo Creek, about 13 miles round trip. The weather was warm, sunny and nearly windless. We saw a total of 35 species and 3 other taxa. On Marina Blvd near the shore, we were treated to a male and a female Western Bluebird, along with Yellow-rumped Warblers, House Finches, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet all active in the same tree. We found that only two migrating duck species, Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler, had joined the local Mallards, but there was a good variety of shore birds. None of the species was present in large numbers. Two Horned Grebes with a nearby Eared Grebe provided a good comparison of these two species in winter plumage. We stopped for a snack south of San Lorenzo Creek where Elegant and Forster’s Terns perched on the pilings of an old pier. The Forster’s, in particular, were vocal, and entertained us by diving to feed. An Osprey was also spotted perched at this site. The warm sunny weather kept the recently arrived Golden-crowned Sparrows singing their sad song. It was a good day on the Bay.
Returning on the Bay Trail, we observed a beautiful, healthy looking Red Fox, calmly looking at us from across a narrow channel. It turned and sauntered off around the edge of the golf course. This sighting provoked dichotomous feelings; pleasure at the sight of this charismatic animal, and dread knowing that it is a great danger to several of the species we had been observing earlier. The CA Dept of Fish and Wildlife says it well: “Cute and capable of arousing a strong emotional response in some people, the non-native red fox is, nevertheless, unnatural in California ecosystems and a threat to some native wildlife”.Vollmer Peak October 10, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: 24 # of species: 27
We had almond cookies to commemorate the beginning of modern China’s uprising at Wuhan and other places in Hubei province and other provinces in October, 1911 on the 10th day of the month. We also talked more about August Vollmer, the early 20th century Berkeley Town Marshal and its first police chief. He served on the first East Bay Regional Park District Board of Directors, and the peak’s name was change from Bald Peak to Vollmer Peak in his honor in 1938.
Acorn Woodpecker continues to be the Bird o’ the Day, how long will they stay around? Our targets were California Thrasher which Judi S. had reported from the bench area near the first communication tower on the trail, and Pygmy Nuthatch at the intersection of the road to the peak and the Seaview Trail, and we were not disappointed (thrasher was heard only, though).
Thanks to Lowell D. for supplying the names of Odin’s ravens, Memory and Thought (our topic last week).Telegraph Hill, San Francisco October 7 2014 Leader(s): Carlo Arregio # of participants: n/r # of species: 36
This morning’s walk was birdy for Tel Hi with 36 species, the notables being Red-breasted Sapsucker, House Wren, and White-throated Sparrow. Band-tailed Pigeons did a flyover. Western Tanager, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow Warbler, and Townsend’s Warbler were observed. A long-awaited bird and one I’ve whined about never seeing is/was Brown Creeper. Now I can move on and whine about not seeing others birds here, like Golden Eagles.
A probable Willow Flycatcher that had been previously reported here teased three of us at the end. I saw a definite eye-ring, not almond or teardrop shaped as in a Pac-slope. Bicolored long bill that did not appear to have a dark tip, back that was more greenish than gray, tail pumping, light underparts, and not as dark overall as a Western Wood-Pewee. I tried looking at the primary projection and we only had dorsal views, but my initial impression was that this was a rather long-tailed bird with a shorter primary projection compared to a Western Wood-Pewee. This bird was foraging mid-level in a poplar stand off the Greenwich Steps and eschewing open perches. Great morning overall and lots of fun!San Francisco Botanical Garden October 5, 2014 Leader(s): Allan Ridley, Robert Cullison, Kimberly Jannarone, Josiah Clark # of participants: # of species: 54
Our group (Josiah’s) saw 8 species of warbler including Prothonotary and Nashville. 5 species of sparrow and something small and hidden being mobbed in a redwood by succulent garden we could not find. Lots of birds around and relatively few people in the arb believe it or not. Lots of free tailed bats over the crowds in the park the last days in the east winds, along with dragonflies by day. The wind is supposed to really switch this afternoon.Tilden Regional Park Nature Center October 3, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: n/r # of species: 33
Today’s theme was Common Ravens, whose scientific name, Corvus corax, combines Latin for crow and Greek for crow (a similar example from Krehe R.: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is “bear grape grape-bear”). Joe Eaton wrote an article in Bay Nature, July-September 2002 on the return of the raven to the Bay Area, and Bernd Heinrich has two books, Ravens in Winter, and Mind of the Raven about his studies with wild and captive/aviary ravens in Maine. The Birds of North America article, No. 476 by Boarman and Heinrich has not been revised since 1999.
Ravens have hurt populations of desert tortoise in the southwest, and western Snowy Plover in the coastal Bay Area. Urbanization has increased their populations with extra food sources (landfills, dumpsters) and there are many artificial nesting sites (power line towers, satellite dishes in the southwest and Distant Early Warning sites in the Arctic). Heinrich has demonstrated that ravens have insight which they use to solve problems: an example is a piece of salami tied to a string hung away from a raven will be pulled up “hand over over” (so to speak) until retrieved.
Thanks to Ann Hoff and her visiting class for some sightings today! Bird O’ the Day was Acorn Woodpecker, at least two dozen (where just one is cause for cheering at TNA).Arrowhead Marsh September 24, 2014 Leader(s): Chris Bard # of participants: 15 # of species: 32
The duck migration has not stared yet, so we saw only three species of ducks (Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Surf Scoter). Alas, no Rails were sighted thanks to the continued closure of the boardwalk viewing platform.Lake Merritt September 24 , 2014 Leader(s): Ruth Tobey # of participants: 4 # of species: 31
Our walk began fairly normally except for the construction noise from the Boat House parking lot where a restoration project is underway until the spring. Double-crested Cormorants filled the floats. There were more than a dozen White Pelicans on one of the islands and on shore near the Nature Center. A female Belted Kingfisher foraged successfully and whacked the fish unconscious before devouring it.
Several dozen Pied-billed Grebes foraged near the islands and a few Eared Grebes have arrived, diving continuously. The Western Bluebirds are still in the park. Today we found them hawking insects on the lawn under the trees leading to Children’s Fairyland. The breasts on the young ones have turned chestnut now.
At Children’s Fairyland we found our Bird of the Day: the first ever Acorn Woodpecker seen on our Wednesday morning Lake Merritt walks.
Across the street in the garden we found a decent number of White-crowned Sparrows including several immatures. As usual, it was a beautiful morning at the Lake.Corona Heights September 19, 2014 Leader(s): Dominik Mosur # of participants: n/r # of species: n/r
We found a decent diversity of migrants on our walk including a BLACKPOLL WARBLER in a mixed flock working the trees from the Randall Museum garden and up Museum Way. The first Golden-crowned and non-Nuttall’s White-crowns are back and with them was a Chipping Sparrow.Fort Mason September 14, 2014 Leader(s): David Assmann and Pamela Llewellyn # of participants: 20 # of species: 37
Highlights included three Orioles – Orchard, Hooded and Bullocks; an Acorn Woodpecker (normally rare in San Francisco but showing up in relatively large numbers this year, presumably due to the drought); a Wandering Tattler; and 16+ Yellow Warblers.Bayfront Park, Pinole September 12, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: 33 # of species: 37
We started at the end of Tennent Avenue. Dr. Denny Parker gave us an interesting commentary on the Water Resource Recovery Facility on-site as we walked around the park observing birds. Thanks to many of the observers who brought spotting scopes.
Thanks also to Steve Powell of BioMaAS who added many birds to our list for the day. Best bird o’ the day was Acorn Woodpecker! They are all over the East Bay, probably because of the mast year we seem to be having (lots of acorns everywhere).San Francisco Botanical Garden September 7, 2014 Leader(s): Allan Ridley, Robert Cullison, Kimberly Jannarone, Ginny Marshall # of participants: 60+ (four groups) # of species: 48
The walk was well attended and had a good showing of western migrants including several Yellow Warblers and a sizable group of Western Tanagers. A White-faced Ibis (first Arboretum and possibly first Golden Gate Park record) flew over the entrance heading west around 8:20 a.m., unfortunately only a couple of people were able to get on it before it was out of sight.Tilden Regional Park September 5, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: 37 # of species: 32
We met in the Nature Area parking lot, now accessible after 9+ months. Today’s theme was Steller’s Jay and Steller. We listened to recordings by Thomas Sander, Geoffrey Keller and others (Stokes Guide, Peterson).
At the Macaulay Library of Sounds website, search for Steller’s Jay, chose Audio Recordings, and listen to ML 13468 (no. 7), ML 192457 (no. 8), ML 42204 (no. 5), ML 44844 (no.21), ML 44859 (no. 20) for the “Wek” or “Shook-shook-shook” call. Listen to ML 13468 (no. 7), ML 56865 (no. 3), ML 168982 (no. 12) and ML 17201 (no. 23) for the “Wah” (mobbing call, other functions, too); the 17201 is poignant because it was made by Ted Parker, the deceased conservation biologist who knew over 4000 South American bird songs!
Song is at ML 49586 (no. 4) and it is beautiful. It is from Cordova, Alaska, very near to Kayak Island where Steller first encountered the jay! Peter R. says this is heard regularly being sung to juveniles, as if training them. For the Rattle call of female Steller’s Jay, go to <offline.whatbird.com>, put Steller’s Jay in the Search space, and scroll down to the Elliot Lang recordings of Vocalizations; No. 4 is the Rattle of female Steller’s Jay.
Take home: you can tell male (Musical, whooodle-whoodle, the backing-up truck sound) from female (rattle, like running your thumb down a long plastic comb) calls of Steller’s Jays. The elevation of the crest (angle in relation to the beak) tells the internal (mental) state of the bird: aroused and nervous (higher angle), or calm and confident (lower angle). See Jerram L. Brown’s 1964 paper in University of California Publications in Zoology 60 (4): 223-328 for details. Brown did this research in March of 1957 through April of 1960 in the Tilden Nature Area, in the Indian Camp parking lot and nearby forest, where we met and observed birds today!
Georg Wilhelm Steller (1709-1746) was naturalist and physician on Vitus Bering’s Second Kamchatka Expedition, and was given a single day on Kayak Island, Alaska (July 31, 1741) and a couple of days on the Shumagin Islands to study, record, analyze and collect North American specimens of plants and animals. Shipwrecked on the way back to Russia, Vitus Bering died on the island that bears his name; there, Steller dissected and recorded the only Steller’s Sea Cow ever studied scientifically. We also commemorate him with the Steller’s Sea Eagle.
The jay was the clue to Steller that the expedition had, indeed, reached North America; he recognized the bird’s affinity to the Blue Jay portrayed by Mark Catesby in his Natural History of Carolina (1731), which Steller had seen a copy of in St. Petersburg. His specimen of the jay was lost on the return trip, but a British ornithologist used Steller’s description to list the name “Steller’s Crow” in a book, and J.F. Gmelin used those notes to create the Latin name for the bird in 1788.Lake Merritt August 27, 2014 Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey # of participants: 8 # of species: 31
August was as always one of the slowest months for our walk, but it was enlivened by two separate broods of human grandchildren, plus appearances by a juvenile Snowy Egret (green legs instead of black), Great Blue Heron, Scrub Jay (which is rare at the Lake), and Western Bluebird. TWO Belted Kingfishers (rarely seen here in pairs) chased each other overhead, sounding their metallic rattling calls as they flew. And countless American White Pelicans dotted the lake and islands – literally countless, as they kept flying about in groups of half a dozen or so and there was no way to tell how often any given bunch came into view.
Several of the Double-crested Cormorants were still on station in and near their nests in the trees on the islands, but their population was down far enough for some hopeful gulls to have begun prowling about and looking for tidbits. The eucalyptus trees and thornless blackberries will never be the same! On the lake, the Pied-billed Grebes were back in force, but no other grebes had made an appearance. The mallards were swimming about in eclipse plumage, except for one drake who had most of his natty gray suit back, along with a faint green stubble like a buzz cut on his head.
In the park across Bellevue, the crows were mobbing an elusive and irritated Red-shouldered Hawk, and most of the other tree-loving birds were determinedly out of sight, though we did spot a couple of robins and some chickadees – and a flock of Bushtits swarmed past us in the garden.
Only 31 species overall, but good looks at good birds; no one felt the morning wasted. After all, we were at Lake Merritt, where every morning (afternoon, evening…) is worth seeing.Elsie Roemer Preserve, Alameda August 20, 2014 Leader(s): Penn Hughes # of participants: 11 # of species: 23
Highlights included lots of shorebirds, particularly substantial numbers of Western Sandpipers, Black-bellied Plovers, Black Oystercatchers and Dowitchers. We sighted a Caspian Tern as well as Elegant and Forster’s Terns. And in the distance, we saw a murre and a murrelet in flight.Vollmer Peak Tilden Regional Park August 16, 2014 Leader(s): Emilie Strauss # of participants: 24 # of species: n/r
The fog cleared giving us perfect visibility and an awe-inspiring view of Mt Diablo floating above the clouds.
We had a 5-warbler day: approximately 2 Townsend’s, 3 Hermits, 1 Orange-crowned, 4 Wilson’s, and a Black-throated Gray. Thanks to Denise Wight, we heard a Black-headed Grosbeak, and a (presumably) non-migrant California Thrasher. Also seen were multiple Western Flycatchers and a single House Wren.
Lesser Goldfinch were observed feeding young. Denise also spotted an Osprey transporting a fish over San Pablo Ridge.
Interesting insects included Pale Tiger Swallowtail and Eucalyptus Tortoise Beetle. Chris Thayer helped us with botanical ID included a nice (if dessicated) patch of Grindelia hirsutulis in 9 million year old Siesta clay.Corona Heights Park August 15, 2014 Leader(s): Brian Fitch and Dominik Mosur # of participants: n/r # of species: 32
Yesterday morning, Brian Fitch and I co-lead the 3rd Friday Golden Gate Audubon Society walk at Corona Heights Park. We had a total of 32 species with the following highlights:
Cooper’s Hawks – 4 juveniles, at times all seen together as they harassed the local Raven family and Eastern Gray Squirrels
Rufous/Allens Hummingbirds – 5+
Cedar Waxwing – fly-over, early arrival, several reports from Central CA coast (SCZ Co. et al) in past week
Orange-Crowned Warbler – FOS for me on Corona Hill
Hooded Oriole – female being followed by juv. Brown-headed Cowbird
With the clouds breaking up after noon, I watched for diurnal migrants over Corona Hill noting southbound:
Northern Rough-winged Swallows – 6Telegraph Hill August 12, 2014 Leader(s): Carlo Arregio # of participants: n/r # of species: 19
Had the pleasure today of birding around TelHi and the waterfront with local birders and visitors from PA and VA. It was a pretty quiet morning in general with 19 species. Someone saw what was probably a Pacific-slope Flycatcher but we couldn’t get a fix on the bird. There was a bird doing a fast series of yank-yank-yank-yank calls and I immediately thought Red-breasted Nuthatch but it seems way early for them. A glance at eBird from the last 10 years shows about 10 records in August, most of them in late August.
Undoubtedly the best birds were a pair of “close and confiding” juvenile male and female Cooper’s Hawks. They provided long, close looks at their streaking and size difference. flying overhead, and diving into a tree above our group on the lower Filbert Steps. At one point, a Red-tailed Hawk showed up and we were able to review buteo and accipiter differences. The pair engaged in stunning aerial displays and kept all passerines around Telegraph Hill honest (and hunkered down?). We finished up at the Waterfront, which was somewhat disappointing since a massive dredger was going about its business and wreaking havoc in the usual spot at Pier29. Still, out-of-towners got to see some Western specialties like Western Gull, Heermann’s Gull, and CA TowheePoint Isabel Regional Shoreline August 8, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: 30 # of species: 37
Many observers (party of 30 plus Maggie, Mimi’s dog) saw Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Curlew [Denny and I proved Denise Wight's "two bird theory" with this pair- he was watching the Godwit, I was watching the Curlew, and each insisted that their bird was "different" from the other one's], Willet, Least and Western Sandpipers, Brown and American White Pelicans, Black Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover and others. No Dunlin yet; this week has not had Dunlin registered as seen at eBird in any year since 1900 when the records begin.
We noted the publication this week of the late Rich Stallcup and Jules Evens’s Field Guide to Birds of the Northern California Coast, No. 109 in the California Natural History Guides series from UC Press.
Take home messages from today:
Black-bellied Plover is one of the most northern wintering plovers, from British Columbia south on the Pacific Coast. Perhaps its large size aids in thermoregulation; its large eyes are adapted for nocturnal foraging and it varies its feeding tactics so it can live well anywhere! Adults return to the same wintering sites several years in a row, so welcome them back!
Whimbrel is the most wide-ranging curlew, nesting in both Nearctic and Palearctic. Winters as far south as the tip of South America. The bill curve matches the burrow curve of the fiddler crab, Uca sp., in Panama! When Fall migration begins in July, successful females will leave unfledged young behind. Young arrive in September.
Long-billed Curlew is a Great Plains endemic whose nesting habitats have shrunk due to land-use changes (it has not bred in Minnesota since 1897, nor in Illinois since 1873). Family groups may migrate together! They have early departure on southern migration, reaching Humboldt Bay by mid-June. The bill, which may reach 9 inches in length and is noticeably longer in females than males, matches the burrow curve of ghost shrimp!
Black Turnstone breeds in the far north on Alaska’s western coast (85% of breeding is on Yukon-Kuskowim Delta); winters from Alaska (Kodiak Island) to Gulf of California and that’s it! A Pacific Coast specialty! Most return to the same wintering site each year, so (again) welcome them back! Though few return to their birth site, they return to nesting sites of previous year. And mates will often have previous nesting experience as a couple.Tilden Park Nature Area August 1, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: 40 # of species: 27
We met at the recently renovated Tilden Nature Area parking lot, gathering out of the line of traffic on the new pedestrian path. This will be our regular meeting place for First Fridays bird walks, after many months of meeting at Meadows Playfield. Thanks to everyone for their patience during the past year.
Our target bird was Lesser Goldfinch which we saw at The Spoils Site north of Jewel Lake (where the dredge spoils from 1990s clearing of Jewel Lake were dumped) which is a Composite/Asteraceae wonderland today. Lagniappe was Hutton’s Vireo, “singing” on cue at the start of the southern entrance to the Jewel Lake Boardwalk.
Thanks to Corinne G. for the Linum (flax) ID, Amy for the Swainson’s Thrush sighting, and to the Lesser and Hutton’s for sticking around in the same places I saw them on Thursday!
Answer to the question about eclipse plumage in male Mallards: it lasts about 3 to 4 wks, according to the Birds of North American account.Hayward Shoreline July 26 , 2014 Leader(s): Rusty Scalf, Steve and Carol Lombardi # of participants: 25 # of species: 39
Our ‘shuttle’ coast walk (end of Grant Ave to end of Winton Ave) was a big success achieving both of our goals: watching a variety of shorebirds make a living on the exposed mudflat; then looking through dense high tide roosts for less common species. With correct timing both can be done in a pleasant 2.5 mile walk. July 26 is a good choice for seeing returning birds that retain breeding colors and the low tide-scape at Grant Ave teemed with shorebirds.
Side by side Curlew & Whimbrel was a nice treat and we spotted several Ruddy Turnstone, a bird that has grown scarce in recent years. The roosts of Frank’s Dump were much reduced as the basin does not seem to flood at high tide and there are fewer protective islands for sleeping birds. The red stain of halobacteria clearly indicate brine and not a flush of new Bay waters. Still, there were hundreds of sleeping shorebirds packed into the couple remaining islands and scope studies did eventually reveal at least 8 Red Knot in transition plumage. In midday light we found Dowitcher/Knot color distinction tricky, till one Knot or another lifted its head, looked about, and gave us a break. We viewed from a good distance. Surrounding salt flats had at least 5 Snowy Plover, chasing brine flies, head down like little charging bulls.Lake Merritt July 23 , 2014 Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey # of participants: 4 # of species: 29
Not unexpectedly, the species count for the July Golden Gate Audubon 4th-Wednesday walk was way down – only 29 – but we had lovely sightings of the birds we did see. July and August are actually very good months for a new birder to join the walk; with fewer kinds of birds and greater differences between one kind and the next, you can begin to get a handle on what you’re seeing. It’s easy to remember how to tell a goose from a gull; telling one sort of goose from another is harder – and one sort of gull from another, forget about it till next year!
The White Pelicans were out in force, with about 15 either swimming in small groups or lounging on one of the islands with Hank-the-Rescue-Pelican, and two Brown Pelicans were doing their famous meatloaf impression on the floats. Two Green Herons (tiny, cinnamon-and-gray, not green) were playing chase-me, chase-me back and forth between the islands and the edge of the lake beyond the crafts center. The island trees had half a dozen or so Snowy Egrets, and we also saw a Great Egret, a juvenile Great Blue Heron (recognizable by the dark, streaky breast feathers), and lots of Black-crowned Night-Herons of all ages. A juvenile Belted Kingfisher (age defined by the rusty stripe down each side of the breast) braved the still-nesting cormorants to use the bare trees for a fishing post. Meanwhile, one black American Coot had returned to the lake, as had two Pied-billed Grebes.
The Mallards were in eclipse – meaning the drakes had lost their shiny green feathers and looked almost like hens – and the Canada Geese were in the last stages of molt, with new wing primaries peeping out from under the coverts on their backs. Another coupla weeks and it’ll almost be safe to walk on the lawns again!
Elsewhere in the park, thick leaves made birds smaller than crows or robins hard to spot, but Black Phoebes were perching and fly-catching almost everywhere we looked, including the middle of the bowling lawn. In the garden, a Chestnut-backed Chickadee was giving the bark of a redwood beside the monkey-puzzle tree a thorough going over – posing at all angles and giving us a show worthy of a professional camera shoot (which none of us had the camera to take advantage of, so memory will have to serve).
And so through the garden and back to the cars, with no sign of baby bluebirds but all in all still yet another good day at Lake Merritt, which when you get down to it really doesn’t have any other kind.Fort Mason July 20. 2014 Leader(s): David Assmann # of participants: 13 # of species: 42
The highlights of this morning’s field trip at Fort Mason included an OSPREY flying near Alcatraz Island, and two sightings of a HOODED ORIOLE. The BULLOCK’S ORIOLE that I spotted when I first entered the garden was gone by the time the field trip started.Dimond Park/Sausal Creek July 16, 2014 Leader(s): Penn Hughes # of participan\ts: 6 # of species: 18
It was a beautiful morning for walking. Most numerous were the American Robins (13) but Spotted Towhee was a close second with 12 seen. Brown Creeper, Wilson’s Warbler. Steller’s Jay, Scrub Jay, Violet-Green Swallow and Northern Rough-winged Swallow were also ID’d. We saw a total of 18 speciesTilden Park July 11, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: 32 # of species: 23
We met at Meadows Playfield and walked up the Gorge Trail to the intersection with the Curran Trail (this is also below Brook picnic site), where we were not disappointed and heard two Pacific Wrens “countersigning”- one starts and a second comes right in. The Pacific Wren was split off from the eastern populations of the Winter Wren, based on vocalizations, morphology, and reproductive isolation in western Canada where the Eastern and Western types of Winter Wren met. We heard lots of Swainson’s Thrush songs; the fluting spiral is the Advertising Song, and it stops once young birds of a nest have fledged. Swainson’s has populations in the West (really just along the coast) in riparian habitat; these are “russet-backed”, and they overwinter in Central America. The great majority of Swainson’ s are of the “olive-backed” clan, are in the north and eastern North America and nest in montane fir forests across Canada, and they migrate to South America (as far as Argentina). Can you say “upcoming species split”.?
Thank you to Tom B. for bringing the scope, and Safe Journey! to our Swedish visitors.Tilden Park Nature Area July 4, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: MOB # of species: 29
We met at Meadows Playfield; future First Friday Birdwalks will meet in the Tilden Nature Area parking lot (near the EEC and Little Farm) as the construction in and repairs to the new parking lot have been completed. Thank you to all for your patience during this project.
Today’s theme was the California Towhee. Lauryn Benedict has revised article No. 632 for Birds of North America: Melozone crissalis, the California Towhee. When you see a pair of towhees greeting each other with the “pair reunion duet” this is a mated pair that may have been together for more than 5 years. They average 3 of these duets per hour. The unmated males spend 47% of their time singing the “bouncing golf ball” song; mated males spend less than 1/10 of 1% of their time singing. Mated males with territories do the “chink” note to mark out their territory early in the morning; females make that call, too.Lake Merritt June 25 , 2014 Leader(s): Hilary Powers # of participants: 12 # of species: 31
Only one of the dozen or so people who joined the walk today was still on the trip when the peak bird (birds!) of the day appeared: a clutch of 5 fledgling Western Bluebirds with their drab blue and fawn mother on the lawn beside the back gate to the garden – the one across from the boathouse. We’d seen bluebirds at the lake in the spring of 2013 but none this year, but clearly that doesn’t mean they weren’t around!
Elsewhere in the park, the Canada Goose molt migration was in full swing, with cast-off feathers everywhere. When we were beside the dome cage, a group of 60 or 70 geese came running straight at us, flapping their wings (but happily head up and honking instead of head down and hissing); they fled down the far side of the cage and we never figured out what had spooked them. Despite the goose density in that one spot, it looked as though there were fewer geese overall this year – even below the playground where they were thickest, you could see more lawn than geese. Not a lot more, but at least you couldn’t have walked across without getting down from a goose….
The Double-crested Cormorant rookery was still in full swing – probably with a second shift of babies, judging by the number of new bronzy fledglings perching on the floats and the islands – and putting the plop of death on the biggest trees and the thornless blackberries under them. At least the birds have abandoned the plane tree beside the playground; earlier in the season, it looked like a few intrepid would-be nesters were going to leave the lake and move across. On the other islands, the new understory growth is getting well established, and there’s a bumper crop of elderberries just beginning to come ripe – which bodes well for birding later in the summer.
We also saw two White Pelicans besides Hank-the-rescue-bird, plus a Brown Pelican fishing cheerfully and with some success. And a Caspian Tern flew over, pointing his cocktail-frank beak at the lake, but didn’t seem to see anything worth diving after. All told, it was a 31-species day, including one returning American Coot and a party of 3 Pied-billed Grebes, the latter still in their breeding plumage. So never mind that June is a quiet month at the lake, it was a very good day at Lake Merritt, where every day is a good day….Fort Mason June 22, 2014 Leader(s): David Assmann # of participants: 30 # of species: 39
No rarities (other than the Northern Gannet), but 39 species of birds seen today by 30 birders on the monthly Fort Mason GGAS Bird Walk. The NORTHERN GANNET was seen only by a few before it disappeared. Three different HOODED ORIOLES were seen at different times during the walk. A murder of AMERICAN CROWS harassed a COOPER’S HAWK, and then a RED-TAILED HAWK, and at one point the COOPER’S HAWK turned on the Red-Tail as well, along with 25 or more Crows already harassing the Hawk. One WILSON’S WARBLER – a rare sighting for Fort Mason at this time of year – was seen. The most intriguing bird was a calling warbler after the walk was over that sounded a bit like a YELLOW WARBLER but the song was cut short. Never did see the bird, but might be worth looking for over the next day or so.Kensington Hilltop School Trail June 13, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: 30 # of species: 25
We walked the Kensington Hilltop School Trail (“Ye Old School Trail”) from the stub end of Grizzly Peak Blvd at Kenyon, north to the school and back. We started at the Summit Reservoir a few blocks to the south, at Spruce Street. As it was also The Fourth of July Butterfly Count day for Berkeley, we observed and counted butterflies, too: Anise and Western Tiger Swallowtails, Cabbage White, Alfalfa, Echo Blue, Red and Lorquin’s Admirals, Buckeye, Mylitta Crescent, Umber and Common Checkered SkippersValle Vista Staging Area June 8, 2014 Leader(s): Maureen Lahiff # of participants: 20 # of species: n/r
We saw fledgling Bluebirds – quite the ID challenge! – and Red winged Blackbirds being fed. We had good looks at Pacific-slope flycatcher and did quite a lot of birding by ear.Tilden Regional Park June 6, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: 45 # of species: 41
Our Birdwalk still met at Meadows Playfield because of repairs and construction in Tilden Nature Area (and no access at all through the parking lot today). Theme was Migration, and I can send notes if you would like to see them, from John Rappole’s recent book, The Avian Migrant.
Because it was the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe at Normandy, France (June 6, 1944), we started with some D-Day stories:
Bob S. had a friend who was on the beach to greet the first wave of soldiers because he had arrived to demolish the obstacles in the water; Suzannne had a cousin with the only house left standing near one of the US beachheads because German dynamite stored in the basement did not detonate (a visiting GI veteran years later told the cousin that the house had been used for wounded soldiers until, looking in the basement for wine, they discovered the dynamite and evacuated while ordnance removal teams disposed of it); Keith had an uncle who was an Austrian refugee in England whose knowledge of German was to be used on a team of British intelligence that landed on the beach but he did not survive the day); and Mary’s father was a photo interpreter who was pictured in John Mason Brown’s book, Many a Watchful Night, with his team several days (or weeks?) before D-Day, in England, examining photos of the beach obstacles that Bob S.’s friend destroyed that morning! Alan’s major professor Dr.Kenneth Hagen was a US Navy lieutenant who directed his Coast Guard coxswain to “Put this boat on the beach!” when their landing craft was being shelled. For a lighter moment, Dave said “I was born on June 6th !” and so we all said, Happy Birthday!Yosemite National Park May 30-June 1, 2014 Leader(s): Dave Quady and Dave Cornman # of participants: 23 # of species: 73
Several of our usual birding areas were closed to entry by last year’s Rim Fire, and others were heavily damaged. Despite this, 73 species made our ‘official’ list (recorded by at least one leader and one participant), a handful higher than average. Great Horned Owl and Clark’s Nutcrackers, both noted by participants but not by the leaders, were a bonus. We birded Evergreen Road and the Upper Carlon Day Use Area on Friday afternoon; Hodgdon Meadow Saturday morning and the Yosemite Creek and Tamarack Flat campground roads in the afternoon; and on Sunday morning the Crane Flat Fire Lookout road followed by the Foresta Group Camp, Big Meadow, Foresta Falls, and the road to the Merced River lookout. Widespread seasonal nesting activity was topped by occupied nests, many found by Dave Cornman’s diligent scouting. Personal highlights included the first Lark Sparrow we’ve recorded in the park, a brilliant male Mountain Bluebird (the trip’s second ever), a pair of Pine Grosbeaks, and – of course – four owl species for the group.Lake Merritt May 28 , 2014 Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey # of participants: 10 # of species: 30
Our walk group encountered fewer species than usual in May – only 30, compared to 35 last year, and more than 30 every year since 2010. All the seasonal migrants were gone, including the Pied-billed Grebes that often hold out till June. But the weight of birds was probably high: lots of Canada Geese, including both an unusual number of goslings and an early start to the molt migration, along with lots and lots of Double-crested Cormorants filling every available fork in the newly bare island trees, five or six White Pelicans, a Brown Pelican (seen in May only in a couple of past years), and a Great Blue Heron (seen this month only once before, and never as a juvenile like this one).
The Northern Rough-winged Swallows were breeding in the lake wall between the playground and El Embarcadero, as they have for the past two years, and putting on a good show for us. Instead of limiting themselves to high-flying insects, these brown beauties skim the lawns, racing past at knee height with no concern for nearby humans, so you can get a really good look at them.
Away from the lake, we saw flocks of English Sparrows on the lawns – many more than usual – as well as some young Dark-eyed Juncos and Oak Titmice with young ones begging. Several pairs of Anna’s Hummingbirds chased each other around, and so did one pair of ladder-backed Nuttall’s Woodpeckers.
And the weather was beautiful, clear and just breezy enough for comfort, and all told it was yet another wonderful day among the endless string of wonderful days at Lake Merritt.
Fort Mason May 18, 2014 Leader(s): David Assmann # of participants: 7 # of species: 36
Brisk winds and fog led to a slow start to this morning’s walk, but it picked up towards the end with a bright YELLOW WARBLER, followed in quick succession by up to three HOODED ORIOLES, three WESTERN TANAGERS, and at least one WHITE-THROATED SWIFT. Another YELLOW WARBLER showed up after the conclusion of the walkMitchell Canyon/Mount Diablo State Park May 17, 2014 Leader(s): Maureen Lahiff # of participants: 30 # of species: n/r
We had good looks at a perched Olive-sided Flycatcher. A Black-headed Grossbeak pair were on a nest and copulating. A Nuttall’s Woodpecker was in a nest. We heard it calling and saw it getting fed.Corona Hill May 16, 2014 Leader(s): Dominik Mosur # of participan\ts: 20 # of species: n/r
It was fairly quiet with a few migrants, (5+) Western Tanagers, female Lazuli Bunting and the first Yellow Warbler of spring to make it to the hill. The highlight for the group was watching the amazing “COURTSHIP FALL” of a pair of WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS. The two swifts locked together and fell spinning toward the ground before breaking away, viewed from the top of Corona Hill (el. ~500 feet) Because of their presence here in late spring/early summer most years I have suspected that the swifts might breed in the neighborhood. A possible nesting site could be somewhere on the old St. Joseph’s Hospital building (now condominiums) across the way from Corona on the south side of Buena Vista Park.
Before the start of the walk I found a male grosbeak on the north side of the hill. This bird had whitish underparts and a rather faint yellowish/orange triangle on the upper breast as well as some orange flecking on the head. I’ve never seen a hybrid Rose-breasted X Black-headed Grosbeak before but suspect this is what this bird was (unless it was a worn first summer Rose-breasted.) I didn’t manage to get any photos but did record its “squeak” call if anyone wants to have a listen, email me off list.
Briones Regional Park – Bear Creek Staging Area May 9, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: 35 # of species: 42
We started at the Bear Creek entrance staging area and walked to the archery range/Scout Camp area and back.
Lazuli Buntings book-ended the trip with Acorn Woodpeckers in the middle.
Bird of the Day: Hermit Warbler. FOS Ash-throated Flycatcher for me. Long looks at Wrentit out in the open for the admiration of all.
North Beach/Telegraph Hill May 7, 2014 Leader(s): Carlo Arregio # of participants: n/r # of species: 24
While there were no migrants like last week, we had a fun time checking out resident birds while dodging the work trucks, city workers, and volunteers frantically planting and squaring things away for the mid-May re-opening of Coit Tower.
Best bird was seen from upper Calhoun Terrace (thanks to Michael Gertz for pointing out this spot) looking down on a building roof. We watched a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk picking away at a gull corpse.Mosquito Ridge Road from Foresthill to French Meadows Reservoir May 4, 2014 Leader(s): Rusty Scalf, Steve and Carol Lombardi # of participants: 16 # of species: 55
We conceived of the Mosquito Ridge Road trip as a way to experience the way life zones change with changes in elevation and this excursion proved a fascinating study. These life zones form belts along the mountainsides between bounding elevations, and are largely defined by trees. We made an effort to be aware of which species of trees and birds were present at each stop. As we climbed, the species composition changed. We said good-bye to Orange-crowned and Black-throated Gray Warblers as we left the black oak belt before saying hello to Yellow-rumped and Hermit Warblers at higher elevation in Ponderosa pine/Douglas fir habitat.
The birding was challenging this year. There was lots of birdsong but we had to work hard to see the singers. We detected the same eight warbler species as last year, but some were detected largely by song (an intimate encounter with a male Hermit Warbler notwithstanding). Other highlights included a look straight up at a Northern Pygmy Owl (thanks, Carol) and a merganser, which on closer inspection turned into a breeding plumage Common Loon (thanks to Brandi and Mark for not giving up on this bird). A fine trip, from start to finish.San Francisco Arboretum May 4, 2014 Leader(s): Kimberly Jannarone # of participants: 12 # of species: 32
My group of twelve saw about 32 species. Our only migrant was a Black-Headed Grosbeak, but we enjoyed some extraordinary views of bird behavior. Namely:
Two Red-Shouldered Hawks perched low and exposed at the Children’s garden. The male, perched on the pole, was getting dive-bombed by a Raven. The Raven kept attacking, and finally the hawk hunkered down on the pole, fluffed his feathers, opened his bill, and attacked, chasing the Raven off for all. It was quite a show, all at about eye-level and in excellent light.
We also saw three male California Quail. One was sitting on a branch, calling, about 10 feet away from us. The other two were engaged in an ongoing Coyote vs Roadrunner fight along a path by Chile. They chased each other back and forth, back and forth, and were still doing so when we had to move on.
We also had some nice views of Cedar Waxwings, Wilson’s Warblers, Purple Finches, and the rest of the regulars.Tilden Park Nature Area May 2, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: 25 # of species: 45
25 observers (including Mike T. who also attended the Dawn Chorus walk three hours before)! Juan Carlos Solis from California Academy/Wild Care also joined us.
Best bird was a late-staying female Bufflehead, honorable mention to House Wren and Western Wood-Pewee. FOS Warbling Vireo for meLake Merritt April 23, 2014 Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey # of participants: 14 # of species: 38
They don’t want to wait for the new trees on the islands to get big enough to nest in — not when there are fine nest-worthy trees across the path…. In April, for the first time ever, we observed half a dozen big black Double-crested Cormorants in a tree at the end of the tot lot, with one nest established and another bird displaying over what seemed to be a chosen site. All balanced over one of the benches, already well covered in what is gently termed whitewash.
The rest of the rookery is in full swing on the islands; they’ve got to be brooding chicks up there, but it’s almost impossible to spot them from the ground. (The first eggs laid probably hatched around the beginning of April, and the chicks should be beginning to creep out onto the branches, though they won’t fledge — begin to fly — for another couple of weeks.) The pale juveniles visible around the colony now were probably born last year; they don’t breed until two years of age.
Besides the cormorants, it was a banner day for ruddy ruddy ruddy Ruddy Ducks — males in their full blue-billed red party clothes — and for Horned and Eared Grebes with their beautiful beaten-gold headgear. The last few Greater and Lesser Scaup were also showing off their best and brightest, with wings so bright and white it was easy to mistake any of the drakes for the Tufted Duck — who was alas not in evidence.
The brown and white Northern Rough-winged Swallows were breeding again in the lake walls, and for a rarish change we also saw Violet-green Swallows dipping and swirling among them. A few much-striped Song Sparrows (also fairly rare at the lake) enlivened the day, as did the big flock of masked Cedar Waxwings we surprised quenching their thirst in a rain puddle.
With many of the winter visitors on their way north, we were down to 38 species — but it was still another lovely day at Lake Merritt, where every day is lovely but may well take more study than this one to recognize that loveliness….Fort Mason April 20, 2014 Leader(s): David Assmann # of participants: 15 # of species: 38
The Northern Gannet was the major highlight of this trip. A Blue Gray Gnatcatcher was there just before the trip, but it left before I had a chance to show it to anyone. Wandering Tattler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Wildon’s Warbler and Hooded Oriole were also seen on our trip.Meadows Playfield April 4, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: 20 # of species: 40
We started early (at 8:00 am) to have pastries and juice to celebrate 50 GGAS bird walks led by Alan.
Tilden Nature Area (TNA) parking lot is still closed so we met at Meadows Playfield (intersection of Lone Oak Road and Central Park Drive, Tilden Regional Park) and we will meet there again for May 2nd bird walks as well (those will be at 5:30 am for Dawn Chorus Birdwalk, and 8:30 am for the regular First Friday walk).
Thanks to Tom and Diane B. for bringing the scope that showed us the pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds so clearly. And how about that Pacific Slope Flycatcher? FOS for many of us! Good looks at many birds today (male and female Townsend’s Warblers, thePac Slope flycatcher, Downy Woodpeckers, displaying tom Turkeys). Recent rains brought out the Russula mushrooms, too. And a male mule deer in velvet (newly-forming antlers).Lake Merritt March 26, 2014 Leader(s): Hilary Powers # of participants: 1 # of species: 25
Our walk today made February’s walk look like a dry stroll, so we skipped the park side of Bellevue and the garden entirely — the birds that live in the trees, unlike the ones on the lake and the single intrepid birder who joined the walk, mostly have the sense to stay out of the pouring rain. We did see a big flock of Cedar Waxwings in one of the tall sycamores by the lake, though, and were treated to the once-in-my-lifetime sight of a California Towhee plunging upward on the tail of a Rock Pigeon with what certainly looked like intent to close the last few inches between them and start pulling pieces off the pigeon. The pair disappeared behind a tree before the conclusion, leaving a strong sense of What Was That All About?! behind….
On the lake, some of the Ruddy Ducks were ruddy enough to glow through the curtain of falling water, and the Eared Grebes were donning their party clothes of steel and copper, with bright gold fans around their ruby eyes. The black-and-white Bufflehead drakes were doing weird head dances to attract their brown female companions. The rusty-headed Canvasbacks were all gone, but one female Common Goldeneye hadn’t gotten the departure order. The Tufted Duck was still in attendance, swimming down about three-quarters of the way from the nature center to the El Embarcadero fountain.
Black-crowned Night-Herons were fishing and strolling in normal numbers, and the American Coots were thick on the ground and water — enough to make up a substantial share of the lake’s biomass. The trees were full of Double-crested Cormorant nests, and many of the residents were ignoring the rain and fishing in flotillas, somewhat surprisingly, given the lack of sun to dry their feathers. (Or perhaps they knew the sun would be blazing by noon; we certainly didn’t when we packed it in around 10:45.)
Otherwise, counts of other species continued low, as reported for the past few months. Whatever it is that’s changed for the lake, I wish it would change back — but it was still, rain and all, a good day at Lake Merritt, where, when all’s said and done, every day is a good day.Fort Mason March 16, 2014 Leader(s): David Assmann # of participants: 26 # of species: 47
The best bird on this morning’s trip was a WESTERN KINGBIRD that perched out in the open before flying across the Bay to Marin. We also had a SPOTTED TOWEE in the garden along with multiple views of at least one of the HOODED ORIOLES. The abandoned pier had three WANDERING TATTLERS, a BLACK TURNSTONE and a SURFBIRD. Two RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS were in Aquatic Park (before the walk started). The two over-wintering RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKERS were seen by almost everyone. Large flocks of CEDAR WAXWINGS were visible.Seal Rocks, Sutro Park March 15, 2014 Leader(s): Martha Wessitsh # of participants: 7 # of species: 39
We were able to see a good combination of both land and shore birds. Highlights included Red-throated Loon, Common Loon, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Eurasian Collared Dove, Allen’s Hummingbird, Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Pygmy Nuthatch.Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline March 9, 2014 Leader(s): Maureen Lahiff # of participants: 12 # of species:n/r
Today’s treats included Cedar Waxwings, diving Forster’s Terns and some birds that were beginning to show alternate plumage (Eared Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, Black-bellied Plover and Forster’s Terns). We also spotted a Clapper Rail from the trail but needed high magnification on the scope.Telegraph Hill/North Beach March 9, 2014 Leader(s): Carlo Arregio # of participants: n/r # of species: n/r
A small but lively bunch, including an out-of-town visitor from back East, braved the time change and enjoyed a walk that took us around Telegraph Hill, down the Filbert Steps, through Levis Plaza and to Sydney Walton Square. Some notable observations were Fox Sparrows up close double-scratching for food, Golden-crowned Sparrows, and a crisply marked Townsend’s Warbler. No Palm Warbler.
A couple of glimpses that never changed into a solid ID. One was a Downy/Hairy Woodpecker. It undulated past us, landed on a tree across the parking lot, and paused enough for me to see the white spot, then disappeared. Couldn’t get a look at the bill. It appeared smaller than a robin, but had to let that go.
The other tantalizing glimpse might have been an Orange-crowned Warbler but that also vanished and we couldn’t re-find it. The best bird of the day turned out to be macro fungi: Shaggy ManesNorth Berkeley and Rose Garden March 14, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: # of species:
We met at Amador and Mariposa in North Berkeley (outside the 2-hr parking restriction zones). Ann K. met us with her copy of Charles A. Keeler’s BIrd Notes Afield (second edition) for “show and tell.” We deferred detailed discussion of David A. Sibley’s new second edition of his field guide till next month. I noted that our birding friend Jim Hargrove gave it a great review on-line.
I talked about Charles Keeler’s roles as Berkeley Civic Leader, Bad Biologist and Forgotten Poet. His Bird Notes Afield describes the birds of Berkeley around 1899 (first edition) and 1907 (second edition). He was a major influence on the development of North Berkeley architecture and landscape design. He (like many American biologists of his day) was a Neo-Lamarckian, writing a book on coloration of North American birds (seven years before the re-discovery of Mendel’s laws of inheritance) that assumed traits acquired during a bird’s lifetime were passed on to future generations (we deferred a discussion of epigenetics to another day). And he kept a Late-Victorian poetic style well into the 20th century, while his contemporary William Butler Yeats, the British War Poets, and others internationally moved poetry forward.
We walked up Eunice to the Berkeley Rose Garden, then along 100-year old Rose Walk, a Berkeley Landmark, to Greenwood Common (also a Berkeley Landmark) and Terrace to see the houses and look at birds along the way. The Common was subdivided by William Wurster (chairman of the architecture department at UC Berkeley) in the 1950s and attracted excellent architects of the day (Joseph Esherick, Donald Olsen, Henry Hill and others). We then walked on Buena Vista Way, past several homes designed by Bernard Maybeck (Charles Seeger House, Matthewson House (both 1923 Fire survivors), Maybeck’s Sack House (his “bubblecrete” answer to his own house’s destruction in the 1923 Fire), and down La Loma past Tyndal Bishop House (by Ernest Coxhead right after the fire), John Ballantine’s house (built on the site of the house he lost in the fire, and this time built of concrete blocks!), and the Andrew Lawson house, built on the Hayward Fault by the geologist who first mapped the San Andreas fault. We finished our tour of the La Loma Historic District with a look at The Tolman Cottages (they were built for Edward Tolman, the UC psychology professor) as they are being rehabbed back to their 1925 glory. Jacque Ensign of the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association told us a bit of the history of the nearby Cedar Path and steps, completed by a Girl Scout troop recently. We walked down Cedar past the Pueblo-style Agnes Cleaveland House (the owner grew up in Cimmaron in the New Mexico Territory before statehood). After a brief view of the George Blood House on Euclid near Hawthorne Terrace (by Walter Ratcliff, Jr.), we walked down Vine Lane to Vine and then back to our starting point.
Let me know if you want a bibliography for today’s walk.
Thanks to Denny, Lois, Jacque and others for comments and Judi, Penn and others for keeping us birding, and especially to Steve B. for all his family stories (walking up Rose Street to Grizzly Peak before the La Loma extension sealed off that route; working in the Lawson House in the 1930s; going to to the Hillside School; living in a Henry Hill-designed house, etc.).
And the biggest Bird of the Day ever: a Lockheed C-130 which made at least 3 passes as we watched from Greenwood Terrace!Meadows Playfield March 7, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: 36 # of species: 34
Since construction continues in the Tilden Nature Area, we are still meeting for these First Friday GGAS walks at the intersection of Lone Oak Road and Central Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park, near the Meadows Playfield.
Our theme today was Birdwatching with American Women, by Deborah Strom. We talked about Gene Stratton-Porter, Anna Botsford Comstock, Florence Merriam Bailey, Margaret Morse Nice, Aletha Sherman, Sarah Orne Jewitt, Neltje Blanchan Doubleday and Mabel Osgood Wright.
American women ornithologists were at the forefront of the late-19th, early- 20th century conservation movement to protect birds from plume hunters and the millinery trade. In the same era, they were founders of the nature study movement, setting the precedents for nature walks and for bird sanctuaries and preserves that we enjoy today. The negative attitudes several of these authors had about hawks are the source of much of the animosity towards predatory birds that remains today.
A few of them ranked as best-selling authors in the early 20th century (Gene Stratton-Porter may have been the richest writer of her day), and some were held in the highest esteem by the American Ornithologist’s Union (becoming elected Members, receiving the Brewster Medal). Most are all-but-forgotten today, by both the general public that once bought their books by the millions, and by the ornithology profession and birders.
But several of these birdwatchers have “Friends of….” websites and their homes or other property are preserved and managed as historic sites or sanctuaries.Lake Merritt February 26, 2014 Leader(s): Hilary Powers # of participants: 2 # of species: 25
Our walk was down to two birders and one leader, braving intermittent light rain for a look at the lake in one of its peak months.
Strangest sight of the day: a White-crowned Sparrow harassing (courting?) a Black Phoebe. First the sparrow plunged straight up at the phoebe, three feet or so, then they both landed on the ground a few feet apart. Then the phoebe took off for the woods across Bellevue flying straight and fast, with the sparrow in hot pursuit! They normally ignore each other like rocks. But not this time….
On the lake itself, the species count was as high as ever, setting aside two singleton birds (the Ring-necked Duck and the Redhead) that haven’t shown up this year, but the number of individuals seemed low again this month. A lot of Greater and Lesser Scaup but not the huge rafts of yesteryear; a few grebes of various kinds but not a crowd; and – most amazingly – only two Black-crowned Night Herons, both brown juveniles who apparently didn’t get the word when all their kin left for a convention. (One of the birders said numbers were normal Monday and down to zip on Tuesday. Dunno what happened there.) On the other hand, Hank-the-rescue Pelican had two friends, raising hopes that someone will stay with him, and we had a pair of Common Mergansers rather than just the usual female.
The Tufted Duck was swimming between the islands and El Embarcadero – always worth a fuss because he shouldn’t be here at all; his kin are mostly to be found in northern Europe and Asia. He’s not a rare bird on his home range, but here he supports a minor tourist industry of birders looking to add to their life lists without international travel.
The Double-crested Cormorants were well established in the trees on the islands, with most of the best nest sites taken even though some of the visitors were only barely showing their bunny-ear crests. This is a week or so earlier than in the past two years, when the nests weren’t getting serious attention until the first week or so of March and only a few early birds had picked out spots.
We saw some interesting birds in the park across Bellevue, including an Allen’s Hummingbird gleaming copper in a rare beam of sun, but mostly the tree birds were out of sight, having the sense to stay out of the rain on this fine damp day at Lake Merritt, where every day is a fine day regardless of the weather….Upper San Leandro Reservoir February 23 , 2014 Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi # of participants: 3 # of species: 56
We only had three people attend our trip to Upper San Leandro Reservoir. However, two of them were non-members and enthusiastic beginners, so we had a great time in great weather. We had good looks at multiple Wood Ducks and a pair of Wrentits foraging in the bare poison oak stalks right next to the road.East Solano County (East and North of Suisun City) February 22 , 2014 Leader(s): Maureen Lahiff # of participants: 10 # of species: 21
Raptors were the highlight of this trip including Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, and Merlin. We observed a Kestrel pair and several Red-tailed Hawk pairs, including Red-tailed Hawk copulation. We also saw about 10-12 Loggerhead Shrike over the course of the day.Las Gallinas February 18 , 2014 Leader(s): Bob Lewis # of participants: 14 # of species: 52
The day was overcast but pleasant, and in addition to some good birds, including a pair of Hooded Mergansers, several Common Mergansers and a Peregrine Falcon, we got to watch a group of four coyotes playing, and one catching and devouring a gopher; and a River Otter swimming in the first pond. A group of six Cackling Geese remain.Fort Mason February 16, 2014 Leader(s): David Assmann # of participants: 20 # of species: 45
Four WANDERING TATTLERS were the main highlight on this morning’s trip. It was a good morning for Woodpeckers as well – 2 RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKERS as well as DOWNY WOODPECKERS, NORTHERN FLICKERS and a NUTTALL’S WOODPECKER. There were two male RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS in the Bay. A SAY’S PHOEBE showed up at the end, after most participants had left.Berkeley Marina/Eastshore State Park February 7, 2014 Leader(s): Anne Hoff # of participants: 13 # of species: 47
The weather changed from drizzle to showers to steady rain but 13 hardy participants braved the elements. We were rewarded by a show-off male Northern Harrier. Two Black Oystercatchers foraged in the mud and we saw a good number and good variety of shorebirds.Meadows Playfield February 7, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: 19 # of species: 32
We met at Meadows Playfield due to continuing construction at Tilden Nature Area. It was rainy on and off for the entire period of the walk. Mentioned in Dispatches: Johan L., who found the first Red-Breasted Sapsucker by ear and got us a set of Four Piciformes in One Tree (Downy, Hairy, Nuttall’s and another Red-Breasted) at the end, plus a Northern Flicker calling, for a Grand Slam plus One! Thanks to Bob S. for the scope and great views of Red-Tailed Hawk at the start. Thanks to Nina, Ericka, Tina and Diane who joined us for the first time.Berkeley Aquatic Park to Richmond Marina Bicycle Trip February 1, 2014 Leader(s): Pat Greene and Jeffrey Black # of participants: 11 # of species: 40
We had a beautiful, sunny, almost windless winter day (too many of these this year). We met at Berkeley Aquatic Park and cycled directly to the multi-user bridge over the freeway; a frisbee golf tournament in progress discouraged us from venturing south and around the lagoon. The tide was very high, which greatly reduced the number of shorebirds we saw on this route but we did see a good assortment of ducks and other waterfowl. And the high tide showed us a Clapper Rail, which we see rarely on this route. Another highlight was a group of Wilson’s Snipe, which we have not seen here for several years.Abbott’s Lagoon January 26, 2014 Leader(s): Emilie Strauss # of participants: 19 # of species: n/r
Our trip high light was watching an American Bittern at an extremely close vantage point for 10-plus minutes!Pescadero State Beach and Marsh January 25, 2014 Leader(s): Martha Wessitsh # of participants: 6 # of species: 31
This is a good trip for species such as Surf Scoter, Brandt’s Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant as well as Black Oystercatcher and Whimbrel. And sea otters are a welcome bonus.Lake Merritt January 22, 2014 Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey # of participants: 26 # of species: 55
A crowd of birders saw lots of kinds of birds (the max in a long time) on our walk. The weather was unfortunately lovely, and the viewing was excellent. The leader population made it possible to chase down several birds that would otherwise have hidden from the group; most prominent: two Black-throated Gray Warblers, a couple of Orange-crowned warblers, and a Red-breasted Sapsucker.
On the lake, Hank-the-rescue-pelican had a friend again this month (the only other January sighting was in 2013), and we could see the breeding bump on his beak starting to grow. All the expected species were there except for Horned Grebes, Barrow’s Goldeneyes, and the Green Heron; that is, nine species of ducks, four of grebes, four of herons, and five of gulls, and we saw the Tufted Duck twice, once down near El Embarcadero and then again up with the scavenger flock at the Nature Center.
The scavenger flock remains the world’s best place for sorting out Greater and Lesser Scaup; the head shape (round versus baseball-cap-bad-hair) and the beak markings (black triangle versus straight nail) are easy to see with the birds swimming practically underfoot, and the lighting usually makes the unreliable but memorable head color mnemonic (green = Greater; purple = Lesser) work just fine.
We had Dark-eyed Juncos and California Towhees and four other kinds of sparrows, plus two good looks at Red-tailed Hawks and one at a fine juvenile Cooper’s Hawk and all in all an embarrassment of riches when it came to species count. That didn’t quite make up for the scary observation that the populations of some of those species were shockingly low; at a rough estimate, the numbers of scaup and Canvasbacks were around 10% of what was routine a few years ago, and most of the other migratory ducks seemed down as well, though not so dramatically. Does this year’s warm weather mean they have more places to go? We can hope, but not with any great confidence….
But other than that, it was a grand day at Lake Merritt, where every day is a day well worth seeing.Sacramento Valley January 18-19, 2014 Leader(s): Rusty Scalf, Steve and Carol Lombardi # of participants: 28 # of species: 94
Our weekend trip to the Delta and Valley 1/18-19 enjoyed shirtsleeve weather and great numbers of birds.
Cosumnes Preserve: On any winter outing to Delta wetlands one hopes to see cranes, ducks, geese and shorebirds. At Cosumnes, all these species occur together in a beautiful panorama. What we saw depended on which direction we pointed our binoculars, whether close or farther away. We saw a good variety of dabbling ducks–in perfect light and close range, where metallic greens on Green-winged Teal glow like hummingbird gorgets–and watched both Lincoln’s Sparrow and Wilson’s Snipe feeding in good light; not half-obscured in grass. Wonderful place.
Staten Island Road: This Nature Conservancy farming experiment was its bountiful self with large numbers of Cackling Geese, remarkable numbers of Shoveler along with plenty of Sandhill Cranes and Tundra Swans. This might be the best place around for seeing Canvasback, and we had good close views.
Colusa Refuge: This refuge might have the most rewarding auto-tour loop in California. We had great closeup studies of White-fronted, Snow and Ross’ Geese (including “blue” forms for both of the white geese) and some fine views of raptors as well. Beginners had their ‘life” Lincoln’s Sparrow, feeding and eventually sun-bathing near the entrance parking lot, and were delighted by 2 roosting Great Horned Owls and a dining White Tailed Kite.
Sacramento Refuge: This refuge had the full variety of waterfowl one would expect and good numbers (although perhaps just a quarter of what one might see in November during hunting season). Ducks and Geese were plentiful everywhere but clearly more dispersed than during the fall. That contrast alone was interesting. We had a fine day with raptors including very close views of Peregrine Falcon, Cooper’s and Red-shouldered Hawk; and more distant views of adult Bald Eagles.
Gray Lodge: The cross-valley drive to Gray Lodge was itself rewarding with scores of Ibis feeding in flooded fields. At Gray Lodge, spectacular overflights by skeins of white geese were a great way to begin our final venue. We enjoyed the walk (on what is otherwise a driving trip) through the riparian woodlands to the viewing platform, rounding out our trip list with a number of passerines including House Wren. The vista from the platform offered great: large numbers of waterfowl as far as the eye could see–and one can see for miles.Bodega Bay January 12, 2014 Leader(s): Maureen Lahiff # of participants: 11 # of species: 26
We started at high tide. Pelagic and Brandt’s Cormorants were at Bodega headlands. Common Loons and a few Red-throated Loons and a sizable number of Brant (close to 100) were other memorable birds.Berkeley Marina Bicycle Trip January 11, 2014 Leader(s): Jeffrey Black and Pat Greene # of participants: 12 # of species: 42
Even with a 40% possibility of precipitation, 12 participants ignored the weather and joined us at Aquatic Park. It was about 55°F from start to finish with a little breeze; overcast, but excellent bright, diffused light. We made a complete circuit of all the Aquatic Park ponds, and then crossed the Hwy 80 bridge and headed south to Point Emery. We spent so much time on the birds on this route that most riders left us as we passed the bridge on the way north. The rest of us checked out the little inlet behind the SeaBreeze, and then we also called it a day. Many birds were close in and the colors were beautiful. One highlight was watching a Forster’s Tern dive for a fish, come up with one that looked a little to big to handle–two gulls quickly gave chase, and the Tern dropped the fish. I think they all lost out on that one. The rain–really just a drizzle–came later. Other good birds: Black Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Black Turnstone, Pelagic Cormorant, Red-breasted Merganser.Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline January 10, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: n/r # of species: 48
The herring run has not started here yet, but Richardson’s Bay in Tiburon (across SF Bay in Marin County) was reported in local papers and by Audubon California as active with fish and gulls feeding on them. Thanks to Judi and Bob and Terry for the scopes. Visitor from Astoria, Queens, NY! And thanks to the faithful Pt. Richmond locals who are watching out here most days of the year for their knowledge and insights.Salton Sea January 5, 2014 Leader(s): Eddie Bartley and Noreen Weeden # of participants: 16 # of species: 95
We visited four locations: Dos Palmas Preserve, Salton Sea Yacht Club and two areas of the Salton Sea NWR: Unit 1 and Red Hill. The most numerous species were Snow Goose, Northern Shoveler, Double-crested Cormorant, White-faced Ibis and Red-winged Blackbird. We also found Gambel’s Quail, Cattle Egret, Virginia Rail, Sandhill Crane, Red Phalarope, Greater Roadrunner, Cassin’s Kingbird, Verdin , Cactus Wren, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Phainopepla, Abert’s Towhee and Vesper Sparrow.Strybing Arboretum January 5, 2014 Leader(s): Kimberly Jannarone, Ginny Marshall, Allan Ridley # of participants: 10 # of species: n/r
This morning I led a group of about 10 intrepid birders around the SF Botanical Gardens for the monthly GGAS bird walk.
Numbers of birds were low, but we had great looks at some charmers. We had close-ups of a Downy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker side by side. We spent extended time with two BROWN CREEPERS, who called and foraged on a tree by the main pond. One VARIED THRUSH posed on a branch near the “catbird spot” (we did not see the catbird), and other Varieds foraged with Robins nearby. A flock of ten CEDAR WAXWINGS flew up out of a high tree, rewarding us for our patience in trying to track down their high-pitched calls.
We all got satisfying looks at the continuing BLACK AND WHITE WARBLER down by the pond. One TURKEY VULTURE flew over. Two GREEN-WINGED TEAL were foraging on the main pond. The Canadian Air Force (Canada Geese) made several aerial missions during our three hours in the gardens.
After the walk, I went back and saw the continuing NASHVILLE WARBLER, which was foraging in its usual spot near the bathrooms. An ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER kept it company. This spot is particularly good after the sun has hit the red-flowering bushes.Tilden Nature Area January 3, 2014 Leader(s): Alan Kaplan # of participants: 39 # of species: 29
Large group of observers, many for the first time on this scheduled walk, some for the first time ever birding Visitors from Soissons, France, too! Thanks to Bob S. for the scope and to all for Eyes and Ears!
Highlight was the struggle between a female Hooded Merganser and a crayfish she had seized at Jewel Lake. The bird won! Great Blue Heron arrived to feed on smaller fish.
Our topic was the Origin and Ancestry of Birds, and an introduction to Bird Orders. More next month. Total of 29 species seen or heard (plus one basking Red Admiral “Admirable” butterfly).Arrowhead Marsh Bicycle Trip January 1, 2014 Leader(s): Kathy Jarrett # of participants: 10 # of species: 47
A New Year’s Day bicycle-birding trip was a huge success. Beautiful sunny weather heralded a great birding day. We started from the EBRPD Tidewater staging area in Oakland near the High St bridge to Alameda where a large group of Least Sandpipers was on the dock and House Finches, White Crowned and Golden Crowned Sparrows were in the scrub and on the ground. Large flocks of Greater Scaup, Ruddy Ducks and Coots were on the bay, and smaller groups of Wigeons, Pintails, Green-winged Teals, Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes and Avocets. We also saw Eared, Horned, Clarks and Western Grebes on the bay; some of the Westerns were vocalizing. Thanks to the people with scopes at the Arrowhead viewing platform we were able to see Soras and Clapper Rails. The platform itself was full of birds waiting out the extreme high tide – lots of Willets, Marbled Godwits and Black-necked Stilts along with a Great Blue Heron and Great White Egret. A ride around the loop gave us a Say’s Phoebe and a Burrowning Owl (at #2). We saw the Tropical Kingbird also mentioned by Derek Heins; it was in the grassy area north of 66th Ave.