2017 Trip Reports

Lake Merritt
September 27, 2017
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 18
# of species:  39

Our walk participants were treated to not one but four species of birds rarely or never seen at the lake (and not in September when they did appear). We started with the second-ever Northern Pintail, this one an adult male with the full racing stripe down his neck. Then we encountered a Black-throated Gray Warbler, not seen since January 2014, a Brown Creeper, seen in January and February this year and before that not since November 2013, and two Greater White-fronted Geese, an adult and a juvenile, not recorded at the lake in the memory of anyone on the trip.

Besides the pintail, the lake islands offered all five of the usual heron-type birds – Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and Green Heron – plus both White and Brown Pelicans, the last of the year’s crop of Double-crested Cormorants (all out of their nests), and our more-or-less resident Belted Kingfisher, who flew back and forth rattling and chattering. A young Cooper’s Hawk terrorized the pigeons and baby Black-crowned Night-Herons, launching them into explosive flight (but not catching anyone as far as we could tell).

The trees in Lakeside Park and the garden offered up Townsend’s and Yellow-rumped Warblers and an elegant female Nuttall’s Woodpecker as well as the more usual Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Oak Titmice, and Dark-eyed Juncos pecked around the tree trunks. Anna’s Hummingbirds buzzed and chased one another overhead among the Monarch and Tiger Swallowtail butterflies.

September usually feels more like part of the quiet summer than the exciting winter, but this was an exception! Thirty-nine species all told – the most for the month in many years even though none of the winter ducks have splashed down; wait for October on the first of those – on the pleasantly hot morning of yet another good good day at Lake Merritt.

Fort Mason
September 17, 2017
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 40
# of species: 44

Today’s walk at Fort Mason had great highlights – many of the 40 participants were able to get pretty good looks at the BAY-BREASTED WARBLER in the lower Battery, and two lucky participants (not me) saw an adult BALD EAGLE fly over Alcatraz at the end of the trip. There were seven warbler species – the others included multiple BLACK-THROATED GRAY and YELLOW WARBLERS, as well as several TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, a WILSON’S WARBLER, and either one or two NASHVILLE WARBLERS. There were a number of PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHERS (mostly in the Battery or on the hillside), and two WESTERN WOOD-PEWEES. WARBLING VIREOS and WESTERN TANAGERS kept showing up (in the garden, and in the Battery). The first FOX SPARROW of the season was in the garden. At Aquatic Park, two SPOTTED SANDPIPERS made their way along the shore, and there were two WANDERING TATTLERS and a BLACK TURNSTONE on the abandoned pier.

Point Isabel
September 8, 2017
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 20
# of species: 46

Twenty of us enjoyed a balmy second Friday walk from Point Isabel in Richmond, up Meeker Slough and back on a rising tide.   We saw 46 bird species, one skunk, 2 young raccoons and one snake.  Sightings started with 2 Black-crowned Night-herons in the parking lot, followed soon after by an Osprey standing in the water with a Black Oystercatcher for the longest time, and then an extremely cooperative Ridgways Rail foraging along the exposed channel flowing west of the 51st St bridge.  We had several Yellow Warbler migrants, a pair of Canvasback ducks that have been present on Rare Alert for awhile and a pair of Gadwalls, but still too early for most waterfowl other than Mallards.  Those of us bringing up the rear on the walk back watched an accipiter (too far and fleeting) harassing a Red-tailed Hawk.  Ebird list at

Tilden Nature Area
Sept. 1, 2017
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 36
# of species: 22

We walked from Tilden Nature Area, to Jewel Lake and back again.

Today’s theme was Migration. None of the usual suspects have arrived yet: no records at eBird through the end of August of ducks (other than Mallards), no kinglets yet, no Hermit Thrush, no Yellow-rumped Warbler, no Fox Sparrow, no White-crowned or

 Lake Merritt
August 23, 2017
Leader(s):  Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 10
# of species:  29

We began our walk watching a group of five Pied-billed Grebes diving for their breakfast but quickly turned our attention when Johann shouted “Green Heron flying in!”  We had great scope views as the heron foraged along the edge of a nearby island.  Many of this year’s hatch of Double-crested Cormorants lounged on the floats just off shore.  We saw several pairs of White Pelicans and one participant reported a single Brown Pelican on his walk to join the group.  We enjoyed watching a close up Snowy Egret use his feet to lure nearby fish.  Most notable was a very noisy group of at least 50 American Crows that screeched their way into the tall trees by the maintenance yard.  We hoped they had possibly cornered a raptor, but could not see any cowering in the treetop.  Alas, we did not find the two Western Bluebird families that we saw last week, but there were plenty of Bushtits, Oak Titmice and Chestnut backed Chickadees everywhere.  In all, it was  a fine morning at the lake.

Valle Vista Staging Area, Moraga
August 11, 2017
Leader(s): Rusty Scalf
# of participants: 20
# of species: 36

The second Friday GGAS trip to Valle Vista Staging Area in Moraga this morning produced a surprise:  A family of Olive-sided Flycatchers with 2 fledglings being fed by their parents. This was in the Monterey Pine grove north of the parking lot. It was not the habitat where I’d expect nesting.

The complete eBird list with photos by Simi Raman

Tilden Nature Area
August 4, 2017
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 47
# of species: 33

We walked from the Tilden Nature Area to Jewel Lake and back again. Today’s theme was Hummingbirds: new 21st century stuff on anatomy and phylogeny. Let me know if you want notes and references. Check out National Geographic July 2017 issue for Hummingbird flight article- amazing!

A male Belted Kingfisher  flew out, dove for, and caught a fish while we watched. He then sat preening for a long time. A Nuttall’s Woodpecker,  Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker made for a Picidae Grand Slam!  A Warbling Vireo family foraged near the lake.  A Stellar’s Jay, California Scrub Jay and Common Raven made a Corvid Hat Trick.

Lake Merritt
July 26, 2017
Leader(s): Hilary Powers
# of participants: 28
# of species:  29

After the huge crowd (28 people – more like November than July – including 4 from CNET working on a story about technology and birding, due out in mid-August), the most notable sight on our walk was a juvenile Northern Pintail – a mallard-sized brown duck with a dark gray bill, a plain head, and a bright scale pattern in the back and wing covert feathers – which we’d never ever recorded on one of these walks. Once common on the lake, pintails have rarely been seen here since the 1960s.

Almost as notable (or perhaps more so to the less experienced birders in the group) was a mama raccoon with three kits, two of them strawberry blond. An adult blond raccoon was spotted several times a couple of years ago but not since – really blond, with honey-colored fur instead of gray and auburn where the usual coon has black – and I figured it was gone. Now it looks like that one is still around, or was very influential in the recessive-gene department.

Only 29 species all told, but lots of babies: robins with spotted breasts and only the least bit of orange on the flanks, bluebirds with streaky breasts and only the least bit of blue in the wings and tail, dark-headed Brown Pelicans, juncos wearing their sparrow suits and revealed only by the pair of white tail feathers, even a green-legged Snowy Egret stalking through the water and shaking a pale yellow foot to attract little fishes. Plus lots of bronze and pale tan cormorants, a few brown and streaky Black-crowned Night-Herons, and a bunch of young gulls of assorted species. Some of the Canada Geese may have been youngsters too, but they’re about as big as their parents now and wearing the full grown-up suit; their flight feathers haven’t quite grown in yet – but neither have the adults’ following the summer molt, so that’s no help.

Thinking of the geese, their numbers are way down this year – the lawns looked almost empty. This observation is confirmed by Joel Peters, who’s been tracking them for the past decade or so: only 737 showed up for the molt migration this July, versus 1557 in 2007 and 1820 in 2008.

From the opening treat – two Belted Kingfishers on the islands – to the last delightful view of Anna’s Hummingbirds buzzing Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches, and Western Bluebirds in the sensory garden rock fountain, it was another lovely lovely day at Lake Merritt. Quiet season? What quiet season?

Fort Mason
July 16, 2017
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 30
# of species: 40

The participants in the Fort Mason field trip were treated to a WESTERN TANAGER (female or young male) flying right in front of the group and landing about 15 feet away.  Later an adult male WESTERN TANAGER in full alternate plumage landed on the hillside above Aquatic Park.  That hillside was the hotspot for the morning – a PACIFIC SLOPE FLYCATCHER was flycatching there, a WILSON’S WARBLER was skulking in the foliage of one of the trees, and early in the morning a juvenile COOPER’S HAWK was chasing AMERICAN CROWS (and being chased by them as well), agitating the perched BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS. It was good to see the juvenile Cooper’s Hawk since it verified nesting success (the two adults were in the eucalyptus trees west of the garden first thing in the morning).  We saw at least two ALLEN’S HUMMINGBIRDS, six PIGEON GUILLEMOTS, and for the first time in a few months, two NUTTALL’S WOODPECKERS.

Hayward Shoreline
July 14, 2017
Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 25
# of species: 35

We walked from the HARD interpretive center to the locked gate of the tern colonies and returned. Low tide was at about 10:50. Weather was clear, 70 degrees.  There were lots of shorebirds coming through, including at least 1,000 WESTERN SANDPIPERS foraging on a low-tide mudflat. Other highlights include the continuing LAUGHING GULL, a few SNOWY PLOVERS, and a PEREGRINE FALCON diving through the shorebird flocks. There were lots of immature Avocets and a few immature Stilts.

Since most of us don’t bird this area in July, we were surprised and delighted by the numbers and variety.  View this checklist online at

Tilden Nature Area
July 7, 2017
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 55
# of species: 35

We walked from the Tilden Nature Area parking lot to Jewel Lake and back again. Our theme today was Breeding Bird Atlases of Bay Area Counties.

We had examples of the massive 5-lb first edition (2014) of Solano County’s (which was re-issed in a corrected and updated second edition [2015] that is one pound less and an inch shorter all around), the smaller 2015 Solano edition without photos, and the Contra Costa atlas from 2009. Other counties with atlases are Alameda (2011), Marin (1993), Sonoma (1995, second iteration finished in 2016, data on-line), Napa (2003), Santa Clara (2007), San Francisco (on-line, “in draft for life”, atlas period was 1991-92, 1993), San Mateo (2001).

Outside the immediate Bay Area: Monterey (1993)- the first California county to have a BBA, Santa Cruz (started up again in 2017 after the original atlas period of 1988-1992), and Yolo (atlasing done 2008-2014, but no support for compilation or publishing).

Bird O’ the Day was Black-headed Grosbeak, singing and a pair taking turns being good parents at a nest near Jewel Lake.

Lake Merritt
June 28, 2017
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 20
# of species:  33

The light was unspeakable for today’s bird walk – flat silvery sky like polished pewter from horizon to horizon, no shadows, and just enough wind to keep the trees moving ceaselessly – but the 20 or so birders who turned out saw some wonderful things anyway. The female Belted Kingfisher perched on a snag on one of the islands the cormorants have abandoned (only our second June sighting ever), and a Green Heron fossicked among the rocks on one island and a raccoon on another. Double-crested Cormorants flew nesting material to the trees, possibly new would-be parents looking to refurbish nests for a third round of babies. The air was full of swallows – mostly the brown Northern Rough-winged, but also some Violet-green and a couple that looked like Barn Swallows.

Fledglings were everywhere – adult-sized but identifiable by behavior or markings: bronze Double-crested Cormorants in the trees and on the floats, streaky Western Bluebirds playing on the lawn beside the lake, street gangs of American Crows near the fountain across Bellevue from the Nature Center, juvenile Dark-eyed Juncos under the Strawberry Trees, looking like alien species except for their paired white tail feathers. And behind the tot lot, a young Mew Gull strolled among the larger gulls, looking astonishingly cute for a member of that voracious class – the small head and pencil-thin bill making the eyes seem large and kindly (not something that generally comes to mind for a gull).

But the most memorable sight was one none of us could recognize, silhouetted against the sky in the dead pine beside the Monkey Puzzle tree in the garden: a brown bird with a heavily marked chest, more like scales than speckles, and thin feathers like horns rising behind and above each eye. Huh what? Not a Horned Lark; no collar (though the size was about right). Not someone with mussed head feathers like the bald California Towhee we’d seen earlier; way too sleek and symmetrical. Not an owl or a predator of any sort, except perhaps a bug-chaser; wrong beak. Nothing a fast image search turned up after the walk, either. Strange….

We were chilly but happy (and even happy to be chilly, with the memory of recent heat waves still vivid), and we racked up 33 species  this month, though the throng of House Sparrows hardly made up for the absence of the Cooper’s Hawk. All in all, yet another good day in the unbroken string of good days at Lake Merritt

Hilltop Lake
June 14, 2017
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 12
# of species: 32

We walked Hilltop Lake park for 2 hours today and saw 32 species, including a passel of juvenile Hooded Orioles, a Pied-billed Grebe and 3 young, an American Coot with 4 chicks and 2 White-crowned Sparrows (a juvenile and an adult), a Sharp-shinned Hawk, several Nuttall’s Woodpeckers, Allen’s and Anna’s Hummingbirds.  We also looked at Mallards in eclipse plumage.   A nice time was had by all, I do believe.

Yosemite National Park
June 2- 5, 2017
Leader(s): Dave Quady and Dave Cornman
# of participants: 14
# of species: 64

Fourteen birders enjoyed gorgeous weather and much interesting bird activity on Golden Gate Audubon Society’s annual spring field trip to western Yosemite National Park. Each year we regret missing some ‘expected’ species, but this year’s list seemed unusually long, including Orange-crowned Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and Wilson’s Warbler. Offsetting those misses were a number of ‘always nice to find’ species, including Mountain Quail (a male provided stunning scope looks), Pacific Wren, American Dipper (nesting in the absolutely roaring Crane Creek), Mountain Bluebird, Black-chinned Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, and Bullock’s Oriole (back in traditional oaks in the Foresta firescape; we’d missed it in the last two years). And of course Yosemite’s iconic nesting species always delight the eye: White-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, and Mountain Chickadee readily come to mind.

Our ‘official’ trip list (of birds recorded by at least one leader and one participant) totaled 64 species, a few lower than average. But who was complaining? The weather was gorgeous, trees and other foliage were bright green, and mountain dogwood was in full bloom. To top it off, a few of those who looked for owls on Saturday evening enjoyed a sow bear with two cubs plus a dozen deer, while others heard Hammond’s Flycatchers call. And everyone who ventured out that evening enjoyed a clear sky full of stars before we called it a night

Thanks to all the participants, who made this a very enjoyable trip for Dave and me to lead.

Tilden Nature Area
June 2, 2017
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 40
# of species: 27

We walked to Jewel Lake by way of the road and back by way of the Boardwalk.  We had visitors from Winston-Salem, Tucson, and Bakersfield. Additional honored guests today were Professors Carolyn Merchant and Charles Sellers of UC, Berkeley.

Today’s theme was eponyms (the names of birds given to honor people): we had Swainson’s Thrush, Bewick’s Wren, Steller’s Jay, Allen’s Hummingbird, Hutton’s Vireo, and Wilson’s Warbler. I told stories of these ornithologists and artists, and Prof. Merchant gave me a copy of her 2016 book, Spare the Birds!: George Bird Grinnell and the First Audubon Society. She reprints from the original Audubon Society publication (edited by Grinnell) biographies of Alexander Wilson and John James Audubon, written by Grinnell and serialized in his Audubon Magazine. Prof. Sellers was a founder of the Mecklenburg Audubon Society of Charlotte, North Carolina.

And we had a visit from Denise Wight, our birdsong instructor extraordinare! Thank you to the MoB (many observers) of 40 birders today! And to our Meet-Up birders: Melon, Melinda and Mike!

Southern Oregon
May 27-29, 2017
Leader(s): Harry Fuller
# of species: 120+

Today was an eleven-hour trip with a group of excited birders from Golden Gate Audubon Society.  We saw many of the same birds that our group saw the day before, but more time and a change of karma always means different birds.   Same: Vesper Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, those garish Western Tanagers who are so over-the-top in their garb, Flickers, Tree and Barn Swallow, Western and Mountain Bluebird, Ravens and more Ravens, Bald Eagle and Osprey, Robins and Juncos galore…but there were some additions and some birding moments unparallelled.
Late afternoon found us along Keene Creek upstream from Little Hyatt Lake.  Riparian willow thicket, uphill dry slope with brush, dense Doug-fir forest, across the creek was open grasslands…in short: four habitats meeting at one spot…and for over and hour we could barely keep up with the bird life…MacGillivray’s and Yellow Warbler, Willow Flycatcher and Western Wood-Pewee, Western Tanager of the garish sort not welcomed at the Court of St. James, Warbling Vireo, Song Sparrow, a pair of Green-tailed Towhee, Lazuli Bunting, Hairy Woodpecker, Flicker, Raven overhead…and then, as one birder asks, pointing up, “Is that a Turkey Vulture”…raptor soaring across the treetops upstream…long tail, short wings…white tufts at the base of the tail…xW#(@!#, I shout…that’s our Goshawk!  The bird is resident, dominant in its habitat and not often seen by primates as it has a large range and it ranges widely and daily…cruising the treetops for avian delectables.

Other bird-bits of the day: eleven Sandhill Cranes in a flock at Howard Prairie, presumably the yearlings who are a teen gang, none ready to pair off and breed…Mountain Bluebird in Hyatt Meadow once again putting the sky to shame…Great Gray Owl presiding over vole meadow…White Pelicans and Common Mergansers all collected at the shallow end of Howard Prairie Lake to escape the  boating tourists of Memorial Day weekend…White-headed Woodpecker at their nest hole…Pileated Woodpeckers who treated us to high-speed fly-bys…the tireless Spotted Owl who called for over an hour that we could never locate, see or bedevil by answering back, final score of that contest was: Owl 9, birders 0…Osprey diving at perched Bald Eagle, no pain, no gain…Wilson’s Snipe sitting atop fence posts…meadowlarks serenading the evening…the weird gooswan on Howard Prairie Lake with the long white neck and face that is some artificial genetic mix loose in the wild…it was about Canada Goose sized but not Canada Goose purely.

The second day  began with the obligatory trip up Tolman Creek Road from Ashland to pay obeisance to the resident ruler, a male Calliope Hummingbird at 3500 feet elevation.  We came, we saw, we bowed in admiration.  Also there: tanager, Nashville Warbler, Spotted Towhee, overhead Band-tailed Pigeons.  Then it was up Mt. Ashland.  Ho hum, another day, another Goshawk.  This one was spotted by one of our keen-eyed birders.  Far overhead, maybe five hundred feet above the Mt. Ashland Summit meaning this bird was 8000 feet above sea level and soaring levelly itself.

On our third and final day  we birded from Rocky Point and Pelican Guard to Merrill to Butte Valley. Eleven hours and many raptors later…we could report: half a dozen Bald Eagles, four Golden, a Ferruginous, countless Red-tails, Kestrel, three Harrier [it was our only day without a Goshawk]… Townsend Solitaire nesting on a busy, non-residential building, a kettle of eight Swainson’s Hawks along Lower Klamath Lake Road, coot attacking Great-tailed Grackle in a California marsh just south of Stateline Road, two Red-tail nestlings still far from ready to fledge in Butte Valley…and a total of over 120 species seen during our three days.

Best mammals were two marmots today and a river otter at Little Hyatt Lake on Saturday.

Lake Merritt
May 24, 2017
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 23
# of species:  32

Highlight of our walk – seen by only the last 10 or so of the 20-odd birders who started the trek – was an adult Green Heron fishing from the rocks in the garden lily pond: close enough to see every detail without binoculars and brilliant as a jeweled sculpture in the sun. It hooked its back claws into the steep slope of the stone and leaned out over the water from what surely looked like too far away to reach whatever it was hunting. Which turned out to be true. It plunged forward and fell into the water. And emerged with a fish. And did it all again, lean, splash, fish and all, before flying up and circling overhead and away.

In the island trees, the Double-crested Cormorant nests seemed to be on their second set of tenants. At any rate, the branches held a lot of adult-sized but pale not-quite-fledglings (and several full fledglings had made it to the floats in the lake), but the nests displayed fuzzy black babies half their size or less. Mental snapshot: four nestlings shoulder to shoulder reaching up toward a pair of adults on the branch just over their heads – while the adults twined their necks together and one teased the other with a twig of green leaves.

The cormorants have overflowed the islands to a tree at the corner of the tot lot and are nesting happily – ignored by passers-by without the caution tape and respect-the-wildlife signs that were there a couple of weeks ago. With any luck, they won’t kill that tree (as they’ve done on the island) as the branches they’re using overhang the path instead of the roots. That makes that part of the path a good one to skirt, of course….

The lake itself was approaching summer quiet, reduced to Mallards and mutt ducks, a pair of American Coots, and a bunch of Canada Geese. Geese spread over the lawns as well, having arrived a couple of weeks early for the yearly molt migration. June and July are usually the peak months for that, as birds come in from miles around for a change of flight suit. Protected grass and a safe retreat is all they need to drop their primary feathers and grow their new ones, so anyone unwilling to pave the lawns and put a pool cover over the lake just has to groan and put up with the mess.

Only 32 species in all, but that included a young Cooper’s Hawk giving us the hairy eyeball from the nearest island, and some California Scrub Jays (not nearly as common at the lake as it looks like they ought to be), and 25 crows in a tight bunch on the ground near the corporation yard, jumping in old leaves, bouncing into walls and fences, and generally behaving like middle-schoolers at recess. Yet another good day at Lake Merritt, where every day is a very good day indeed.

Corona Heights
May 19, 2017
Leader(s): Brian Fitch
# of participants:
# of species:

This morning’s  walk had excellent weather and a nice turnout of birds.  Highlights included 14 Turkey Vultures, 7 of which flew over Twin Peaks in a loose group, 2 White-throated Swifts that spent considerable time hawking right over us, an Allen’s Hummingbird, 2 or more Violet-green Swallows, 2-3 Yellow Warblers, one of which sang throughout the morning, a Wilson’s Warbler, a minimum of 12 Western Tanagers, with 6 females in a single tree as we finished the walk, heard only Black-headed Grosbeak and Hooded Oriole, a chattering young male Bullock’s Oriole, 2 or more Pine Siskins, several Lesser Goldfinches, and a flyover Lawrence’s Goldfinch which none of us could pick up visually.

We wondered whether the swifts could have been the recently reported birds from I-280, as they had full crops before disappearing briefly.  I didn’t accurately time how long they were gone, but they returned roughly 10-15 minutes later with empty crops.
Briones Regional Park
May 13, 2017
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 9
# of species:

Nice walk from Bear Creek Staging Area parking lot at Briones, up Abrigo Valley Trail to Maud Whalen Camp and back.  Everyone seemed to have had a nice time; we dawdled and watched birds for 4 hours!  Scored a couple Lazuli Buntings, the day’s targeted bird for a number of people, plus everyone seemed delighted to watch multiple Bullock’s Orioles at Maud Whalen Camp cavorting in the grass, dropping in and out of  2 nests, and feeding fledged young.   Western Kingbird and Lark Sparrow showed themselves there, too.  We also got great shots (views and camera work) of Violet-green Swallows and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on a nest.   Lovely day and great group of people.

Inspiration Point/Nimitz Way
May 12, 2017
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 20
# of species: 37

We met at Inspiration Point and walked on the Inspiration Trail that starts nearby (EBMUD permit required). “Bird” of the Day was Canis latrans, the Coyote; we saw at least two, one of which flushed Wild Turkeys for us! Two Lazuli Buntings were First of Season for many in the party.  A Hutton’s Vireo pair were gathering nesting material.

Napa River Boat Trip
May 8, 2017
Leader(s): Pamela Llewellyn
# of participants: 28
# of species: 38

We had excellent view of many nests, including Osprey, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Double-crested Cormorant and Red-tailed Hawk.

Leona Canyon
May 5, 2017
Leader(s): Rusty Scalf
# of participants: 12
# of species: 39

This morning’s GGAS walk up Leona Canyon was delightful.  Like everywhere, vegetation is celebrating and the canyon is quite lush.

Below find the eBird list (thank you Erica Rutherford)  with some nice photos (thank you John Colbert) including shots of an active Hairy Woodpecker nest (thank you Sue Morgan).

Tilden Nature Area
May 5, 2017
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 38
# of species: 33

We met at the Tilden Nature Area parking lot and walked to Jewel Lake on the road and Boardwalk, with a detour on the service road to see an Anna’s Hummingbird nest in a California Bay tree. FOS Swainson’s Thrush for many today.

Theme was syrinx and brain. See Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s third edition of Handbook of Bird Biology for details. The non-Passerine birds who show vocal learning, the Parrots and the Hummingbirds, each have a learning system in their brains that is different from (but analogous to) the song learning system in the songbirds.

Tilden Park Dawn Chorus
May 5, 2017
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 16
# of species: 31

We met at the foot of Canon Drive, by Big Leaf Picnic Area in Tilden Regional Park, and walked around in the nearby Meadows Playfield and then walked up to Blue Gum Gate and back.

Serenades by Pacific Wren at the play field and House Wren in the eucalyptus near Blue Gum Gate were the highlights of the early morning.  This is the weekend for International Dawn Chorus Sunday, but we always do it on the First Friday walk of May. We read Dawn Chorus poems (Emily Dickinson’s #723, Sarah Dugsdale’s Dawn Chorus, and Kathe Jordan read her own).

Male birds are singing to say: I’ve survived the night, I’m on my territory, I’m well fed and full of stamina, what about you, I’m talk’n to you! Females are paying attention to length of song, consistency and accuracy of performance, presence in a previously-known location (birds do know one from another). Female social partners have been known to use the dark of early day to seek an “intimate encounter” with another male as a (brief) biological partner before returning to the nest territory. Birds with larger pupils sing earliest. It may still be too dark to see their insect prey, and that prey may still be relatively immobile from the night’s cold, so the birds sing.

Chain of Lakes, Golden Gate Park
April 30, 2017
Leader(s): Bonnie Brown and Mitch Youngman
# of participants: 13
# of species:  31

We lucked out with great sunny, calm weather in the 60-low 70s this morning. We had another great group of birders and nice to see both new faces (even a couple from Arizona) and some regular joiners. The highlights today were the high numbers of Red-Winged blackbirds, particularly at North Lake, with the males putting on impressive displays of their beautiful brilliant red shoulders. We had a good number of Tree Swallows and a few of us caught a glimpse of a few of them flying over the lake catching insects with quite a lot of splashing in the water, which was interesting to see.

A new Red Shouldered Hawk nest may be in the makings across from the Restrooms on John F Kennedy drive, both birds were active on this possible nest and flying around with nesting material. Speaking of nesting material,other birds were flying around with stuff in their bills – e.g., Ravens, Calif Towhees. It was a busy spring day for the birds, that’s for sure. The other highlights were having a really good look at the two Great Horned Owlets, they are getting quite big and that nest is looking cramped, so perhaps they will fledge soon. Right at the end of our fun morning walk, we had a great close up look at a Wilsons Warbler, what a beautiful specimen he was. Thanks to everyone for joining us today, and hope to see you again!

Coyote Creek Banding Station
April 29, 2017
Leader(s): Pamela Llewellyn
# of participants: 11
# of species:

Private tours at the Coyote Creek Banding Station are available through the SFBBO.  Highlights of this trip include observation of the set up and operation of this facility along with an educational talk that covers the history, purpose and objectives of the banding program.  The group was able to see American Robin, Bullock’s Oriole, Pacific slope Flycatcher and Anna’s Hummingbird in the hand.

Lake Merritt
April 26, 2017
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 15
# of species:  37

The most memorable sight of the walk was not a happy one: a male scaup huddled in shallow water, right wing looking scorched. The covert feathers were yellow and crinkled instead of smooth and bright white, and the flight feathers were a bristling wreck: each had its central shaft and side barbs, but no barbules at all. Probably doomed. Any sort of flight seemed unlikely on that wing and flight to the far northern breeding grounds impossible, but swimming away from a rescue attempt would have been a near certainty. No idea what could cause that much damage and leave the bird alive.

We wandered on in a grim mood, only to be astonished back into good cheer by the sight of a male Western Bluebird perched on a stump about 15 feet off the path and catching all the light a gray day could offer, which was enough to make him seem to glow from the inside. He and  Mrs. Bluebird fluttered around the ring-o-lights wires, probably worried about a nest in the area, until we left.

Overall, the species count was predictably down, but we got good looks at a couple of Green Herons and a Belted Kingfisher on one of the islands, and enjoyed watching the cormorant rookery in full swing there… and, less welcome, in one of the trees overhanging the path from the playground. Many of the birds still had their double crests, and the males were actively fetching sticks for nest construction even though we spotted one baby out on a branch. There could well have been more – but branchers are as big as their parents, recognizable only by having brownish feathers, paler on the breast, which is hard to spot when they’re silhouetted against the sky. This one was facing the sun and almost white from throat to belly, making it stand out.

Hank-the-rescue-pelican cruised by so close to the shore that we could watch his pouch underwater, swelling to a pale yellow globe and shrinking down to a bright orange strip as he raised his head. He was all alone again this month.

The winter birds were almost all gone except for a Western Grebe, a couple of Eared Grebes in their party clothes, and another (uninjured) scaup, but we did see one female Common Goldeneye. She was swimming outside the floats (which now curve around the islands in summer mode rather than crossing the lake), the first April sighting since I started keeping track in 2009.

So life and death go on. The weather was cold and threatening (but not delivering) rain, and the day was still better at Lake Merritt than anywhere else….

Contra Costa County Big 6 Hours Birdathon Trip
April 23, 2017
Leader(s): Bruce Mast
# of participants: 6
# of species:

Six of us set out to find out how many species we could tally in Contra Costa County in 6 hours. We started the morning at Mitchell Canyon where the migrant action was as good as I’ve seen it this spring–several Western Tanagers, 6 warbler species, 3 hummingbird species, FOS Lazuli Bunting, and on and on. We had a few surprising misses, notably White-breasted Nuthatch and Bullock’s Orioles, and the Phainopeplas were uncooperative yesterday. Driving out, we were treated to a White-tailed Kite hunting in the fields to the west.

We moved on to Waterbird Park, which served up some good shorebirds, White Pelicans, 4 swallow species, and a flock of Cedar Waxwings. Hugh Harvey tipped me off to the nice pond on the other side of the hill, which was great for dabbling ducks. The most surprising find was a Green Heron, which flew in and perched on a power line to make sure we didn’t miss it. A Black-headed Grosbeak made up for a miss at Mitchell Canyon.

We moved on to Miller Knox, which was unproductive except for a few Buffleheads and the day’s only Chestnut-backed Chickadee. Right around the corner, Sandpiper Spit afforded decent, if distant, looks at Brooks Island. 9 Brants were passing through, Caspian Terns were numerous, and we located a small cluster of Least Terns roosting on the sandy beach. Driving out, a whistled call note attracted our attention to a pair of Hooded Orioles.

We moved on to Meeker Slough, where we added more shorebirds and a lingering Canvasback. We finished up at Vincent Park, where we added Pelagic Cormorant, Allen’s Hummingbird, beautiful Common Loon in breeding plumage, and a couple other goodies.

When the dealing was done and there was time enough for counting, we tallied up 114 species, including the Mute Swan at Waterbird Park and a couple generic sp. A great day, great weather, great company, great flowers (I’m told)—what’s not to like? A big thank you to Bob Power, Doug Mosher, Alex Smolyanskaya, Kristen Beckus-Baker, and James Leach for wonderful birding and enthusiasm!

Inspiration Point Birdathon Trip
April 23, 2017
Leader(s): Glen Tepke
# of participants: 4
# of species: 104

As part of the Golden Gate Audubon Society’s annual Birdathon  fundraising event, the Dippers – Pat Bacchetti, Phil Cotty, Mark Rauzon  and myself – spent an all-too-short six hours  on a  whirlwind tour of seven birding sites in or adjacent to the city of  Oakland. We finished with 104 species, and as these things always go,  had another five species within five minutes of either end of our  six-hour window. Even if we had been able to count the extra birds, we  wouldn’t have caught up with Bob Power’s 116, so hat’s off to Bob and  his team for another championship performance. But we had a lot of fun,  and had some good highlight birds, mostly at our first stop, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve:

Pileated Woodpecker – well heard in the grove of eucalyptus snags on the
south side of Round Top.

Rock Wren – in a clump of coyote bushes at the highest point of the
Round Top Loop Trail – an odd location, with no rocks in the immediate

Western Tanager – a couple of flyovers at the back ridge.

At Lake Temescal Regional Park, new team member Phil Cotty spotted a  distant Olive-sided Flycatcher. Always nice to see that declining  species. We also had a Snowy Plover at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, a  new Oakland bird for me.

Thanks to all of the team for the sharp eyes and ears and for making the  day so much fun.

Inspiration Point Birdathon Trip
April 21, 2017
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 14
# of species: 36

We had beautiful weather for a nice walk down the EBMUD Inspiration Trail (permit required) and then along the Nimitz Way in Tilden Regional Park for about 1/2 mile.

Butterflies: (Anise Swallowtail, Painted Lady, Cabbage White and Sara’s Orange-tip) were extra.

Birds O’ the Day were California Quail and American White Pelicans. Corvid Grand Slam, too! (Steller’s Jay, California Scrub Jay, American Crow and Common Raven). Thanks to all for their support for Golden Gate Audubon Society in its Centennial Year 2017!

Fort Mason
April 16, 2017
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 30
# of species: 45

It turned out to be an interesting morning before, during and after the GGAS field trip at Fort Mason. Prior to the trip starting, a female COMMON MERGANSER was in Aquatic Park.  When the trip started, we had excellent looks at the continuing male BULLOCK’S ORIOLE and three HOODED ORIOLES.  The WHITE-THROATED SPARROW was still in the garden, and a PEREGRINE FALCON flew over.  In the Battery we watched several species of swallow, along with a WHITE-THROATED SWIFT. The rain started to come down at 9:15 so we ended the trip, but the few birders who remained were treated to the sight of a WESTERN KINGBIRD. A few minutes later, as we were watching two RED-THROATED LOONS in the Bay, a WHITE-TAILED KITE flew over.

Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary Alameda Birds and Chocolate Birdathon Trip
April 15, 2017
Leader(s): Kristi Whitfield
# of participants:18
# of species: n/r

Our Birdathon Trip, Chocolate Seminar and Birding included many new birders.  We gathered for about 90 minutes of chocolate education and tasting and then a few hours of birding at the Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary in Alameda.
The tide was high and there were lots of birds, many in breeding plumage. The new birders were checking off lifers at a rapid pace.
Video highlights here:
Dolphin Charter Napa River Boat Trip
April 14, 2014
Leader(s): Hillary Powers
# of participants: 24
# of species: 52

The weather was splendid – perfectly sunny, only occasionally windy enough to drive almost everyone downstairs. Species count was on the low side, partly because the big peep flocks were too far away to identify individuals, but any day with a Great Horned Owl, a bunch of Northern Harriers, and a Peregrine Falcon (or two) is a good day!  Large flocks of peeps and gulls stayed just out of binocular view. Highlights of the day were a Great Horned Owl nesting on a crossbar under a bridge and looking down at us like a big fat cat and several really lovely looks at a Hooded Oriole balancing on a wire.

Alameda County Big 6 Hours Birdathon Trip
April 9, 2017
Leader(s): Bob Power
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 116

We started at Redwood Gate at 8:02 with a covey of Quail and ended at Garin Gate at 2:02 with a fly-in Red-shouldered Hawk, and 114 species in-between for a total of 116.

The highlight was flushing a Short-eared Owl at Frank’s Dump.  On the way down to the Dump, we had a Ruddy Turnstone along the shoreline.

The other sub-highlight, almost eclipsing the owl, was the world’s greatest collection of birders ever assembled (other than our team) at Coyote Hills. Thought it was a festival.

Birds and Wine: Livermore Birdathon Trip
April 9, 2017
Leader(s): Bruce Mast
# of participants:
# of species:

This trip was part of the GGAS annual Birdathon. Our group birded Mines Road and San Antonio Valley, stopped at Charles R Winery on Greenville Rd for a picnic lunch, wine tasting, and tour, and then visited Sycamore Grove Park, before returning to Oakland. A few highlights:

We started out on an inauspicious note as we struggled to locate a bathroom before we ever called our first bird sighting but the consolation prize was  a nice pair of Western Kingbirds in the sycamore over the parking lot at La Quinta. The breakfast spread didn’t look too bad either. We quickly rallied at about MM 6.17, where we paused to check for local specialties. Out the gate, we enjoyed a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk that blasted out of scrubby tree and flew up to the high fence line. After it moved on, other birds started to pop out, notably a showy pair of Bullock’s Orioles in the large lone oak. We heard a Rufous-Crowned Sparrow giving its mewing calls and then it popped up on top of a sage, where it gave us long lingering scope views. We also spotted a juvie Sharp-shinned Hawk circling overhead. 2 Accipiters in one stop! But alas, no Roadrunner.

Moving on to MM 9.05, we missed Roadrunner for the 2nd time but we got good looks at a couple cooperative Yellow-billed Magpies that flew into a nearby oak.

We then high-tailed it to Santa Clara County, where we stopped at some great Chaparral habitat at the crest of the Arroyo Mocho watershed. Conditions were clear and calm–great for listening to chaparral choruses. We were rewarded with dueting male and female Wrentits.. In the nearby thickets, we heard chupping Hermit Thrushes, which won’t be lingering much longer. Best bird was probably the California Thrasher that popped up on an exposed perch up on the hill crest and gave us prolonged scope views of his chaparral sonata.

We moved on to a spot just north of the new CDF fire station that used to feature a cattle guard. This spot has been a go-to spot for Bell’s Sparrow for years. Today was no exception. With a bit of patience, we heard and then saw a nice Bell’s Sparrow perched up and singing perhaps 50 yard back in the chamise on the east side of the road. A Say’s Phoebe on the fence line provided a nice bonus.

Moving on, we camped out on San Antonio Valley Road a short distance south of the junction, where we watched first 2, then 3, then 5 Lewis’s Woodpeckers doing their woodpecker thang–flying around, hawking insects, foraging on the big oak limbs.We then headed east on Del Puerto Canyon Rd about1.8 miles where we stopped at a large stock pond on the north side of the road. Plenty of blackbirds in the reeds, all showing nice white fringes on their epaulets and all sounding like they were being strangled–Tricolored Blackbirds. Good to see this small nesting colony is intact despite the crashing populations in the Central Valley.

On the return trip, we stopped at the corral at ALA MM 15.7 to see what might be moving. Stop looked like a bust until Joyce looked up and called out an eagle. Golden Eagle circling with the ravens overhead. Score!

Another try for Roadrunner and a quick stop at an unsupervised Flicker nest hole and then it was on to Charles R Winery. I’m told the wines were delicious–pinot gris, chardonnay, syrah, zinfandel, port. And then there was the bright male Rufous Hummingbird zipping in and out of the flowers and buzzing off like a tiny VW beetle. Most surprising bird of the trip from where I sit.

We ended the trip with a stop at Sycamore Grove Park. A few people got furtive glimpses at a fleeing female Wood Duck but most had to settle for a singing (but not showing) Warbling Vireo. Back on the freeway and home by 5 pm.

Tilden Nature Area
April 7, 2017
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 22
# of species: 26

Golden Gate Audubon Society First Friday Bird Walk, April 7, 2017, Tilden Nature Area, to Jewel Lake and back (boardwalk closed due to last night’s windstorm).

Warblers were our target and we had both Orange-crowned and Wilson’s; the Birds of North America pamphlet for each of them was researched in the Tilden Nature Area by Dr. William Gilbert.

During our discussion of a hummingbird sighting (was it a Rufous or an Allen’s?), Doug E. came up with this: Selasphorus is Latin for “it’s one or the other”. And Lowell D. suggested “drunken wing tipping” as a visual cue for Turkey Vulture, our totem bird.

Lake Merritt
March 22, 2017
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 12
# of species:  41

Standouts today included a couple of European Starlings in their fine spotted breeding plumage, as well as a Mourning Dove — two species often seen in the Bay Area but very rarely at Lake Merritt. We also saw three California Scrub Jays, even though months can go by without a glimpse of even one.  We heard House Sparrows for the first time this year, and saw three House Finches also for the first time in months. Violet-green Swallows were hawking for insects over the water, and we saw one brown Northern Rough-winged Swallow near the stretch of embankment where they’ve nested for the past few years.

On the islands, a Green Heron posed as for a portrait in a densely pink-flowering shrub, and a Great Blue Heron silhouetted itself against the sky. The Double-crested Cormorants — still showing crests — filled the newly bare trees with nests, and this was one of the few days of the year when it was easy to spot the male birds: they’re the ones carrying sticks through the air. Normally we can’t tell the difference (though they can), but while the nests are under construction it’s the males carrying supplies and the females doing the building.

The winter migrants have begun to leave, but we saw a lot of Ruddy Ducks — many living up to their name for a change. A few Common Goldeneyes showed off their full-moon cheek patches, and both Greater and Lesser Scaup were still here in substantial numbers, the males shining black and brindled gray and bright white as they prepare for the flight north.

Hank-the-rescue-pelican was on his own in the bird paddock, gloomily eyeing a smallish Cocker Spaniel that cowered by its person’s leg, both perhaps thinking of the possibility of doing lunch. Hank has his breeding bump prominent on his bill, but no one to show off for — the last of his companions left in November or early December, and he probably won’t see another of his kind till May or even June: they’re all down in San Diego and environs raising the next crop of chicks in a crowded nest neighborhood, and none of them have time for our solitary.

Best land sighting: Along the path to Children’s Fairyland, two Oak Titmice dashed back and forth from branch to branch and tree to tree, the one in the lead never getting too far ahead, and the one in the rear hopefully carrying a big black bug. Ah, love….

All told, we encountered 41 species — including a few of the big Western Grebes so notably missing earlier in the season — and a good deal of sunshine and no rain whatsoever despite the morning’s storm, and it was yet another genuinely good day at Lake Merritt.

Fort Mason
March 19, 2017
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 36
# of species:  57

Pulses of avian activity made for some nice moments of excitement for the participants in the monthly GGAS walk at Fort Mason this morning. The best sightings were of one (or more) WESTERN KINGBIRDS in the Battery. A Kingbird was in view pretty much regularly for a 30 minute period while flycatching and perching at the tops of trees.  Although we never saw two Kingbirds at the same time, one would fly over and then another would be seen perched on the opposite side of the battery just moments later. Four BAND-TAILED PIGEONS flew over the Battery as well. At the beginning of the morning the HOUSE WREN was calling in the garden, and almost everyone had good views of the continuing BULLOCK’S ORIOLE in the Bottlebrush on the eastern fence of the garden. Activity quieted down when a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK came bursting out of an evergreen, scattering small birds in every direction. A LINCOLN’S SPARROW showed up twice in the garden, and the WHITE-THROATED SPARROW showed up at the very end.  From Aquatic Park we could see the GREAT HORNED OWL perched on the back of the palm north of the General’s House, and we watched a DOWNY WOODPECKER excavating a nest hole. A VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW circled over several times. A HORNED GREBE in Aquatic Park was turning into alternate plumage. A male WESTERN TANAGER added some color to a mostly overcast morning, and small flocks of CEDAR WAXWINGS flew over periodically as well. Collectively we were able to identify 57 species.

Coyote Hills
March 18, 2017
Leaders: Pamela Llewellyn
# of participants: 20
# of species: 64

Coyote Hills is a diverse habitat with a wide variety of bird species throughout the year.  Highlights of this trip included nesting Tree Swallows, vocalizing American Bittern, Virginia Rail, Pied-billed Grebe, Sora and Ridgway’s Rail with the grand finale of a White-faced Ibis at the end of the trip.

Silver Lake- Valley Falls Raptor Survey
March 10, 2017
Leaders: Tom Lawler
# of participants: 3
# of species: 11+

Kara Jakse, Cindy Zalunardo and Diane Burgess assisted me with the Silver Lake – Valley Falls raptor survey. The weather was real nice to the southeast. This was the final count of the season which also turned out to be our lowest count of the season. 169 birds were sighted with eagles being the dominate species. Red-tailed, Roughy and Harrier numbers were way down compared to the previous year. We got some great looks at Sandhill Cranes which are beginning to make their push into the area. We sighted 48 cranes but these numbers will go way up in the next two weeks when hundreds of these birds gather around Paisley. Other notable sightings were two Turkey Vultures, a singing Northern Shrike, loads of Tree Swallows (at Summer Lake),  a Bobcat at Ft. Rock that was not 10 ft from the car but we did not notice it until it ran off, and lots of Pronghorn.

Species counted:

Red-tailed:                             61
Roughy:                                 11
Ferruginous:                           3
Unident Buteo:                       2
Golden Eagle:                      23
Bald Eagle (adult):               27
Bald Eagle (sub-adult)        15
Kestrel:                                   3
Prairie Falcon:                        1
Cooper’s                                  1
Harrier:                                   20
Great Horned Owl:                 2

Tilden Nature Area to Jewel Lake and Return
March 3, 2017
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 44
# of species: 35

Today’s topic was “Nice to Sparrows: Margaret Morse Nice, 1883-1974.”
Margaret Morse Nice was the first female president of a major American ornithological society, the Wilson Ornithological Club (now Society), which since 1997 has awarded the Margaret Morse Nice Medal for “a lifetime of contributions to ornithology.” In 1942, the American Ornithological Union (now Society) awarded her the Brewster Medal for her studies on the Song Sparrow.

Niko Tinbergen wrote, on her 70th birthday, “Through your works you have become known to ornithologists throughout the entire world as the one who laid the foundation for the population studies now so zealously persecuted.” Ernst Mayr wrote, after she died, “I have always felt that she, almost single-handedly, initiated a new era in American ornithology and the only effective countermovement against the list chasing movement. She early recognized the importance of a study of bird individuals because this is the only method to get reliable life history data. She was one of the first people in this country to analyze a local deme.”

In her autobiography, Research is a Passion For Me, Margaret Morse Nice wrote, “I feel that the study of ornithology is a wonderful game in which strong sympathy and fellowship reign between the serious participants: we are friends and glad to help one another.”

Dover Publications has reprinted her two volumes of Studies in the Life History of the Song Sparrow,  and there is a nice sample of her work in The Watcher at The Nest.
Michael Elsohn Ross’s Bird Watching with Margaret Morse Nice is an excellent book for both young (its audience) and old.

Today’s Bird of the Day was Orange-crowned Warbler, of which there were many singing males.

McLaughlin Eastshore State Park
March 2, 2017
Leader(s): Emilie Strauss
# of participants: 11
# of species: 54

Highlights included a nice diversity of ducks and shorebirds, including Black Turnstone and Black Oystercatchers.  The Berkeley meadows were flooded and afloat with almost 10 species of ducks and shorebirds. After most of the group left, we saw a first-of-season barn swallow fly over the Berkeley Marina.

Lake Merritt
February 22, 2017
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 15
# of species:  41

Our February walk was as early as it gets – so it was a bit of a surprise to see the Double-crested Cormorants on the spot. Most of the ones crowding the floats were beginning to show their bunny-ears crests, and a few were fully developed, as was the one bird who’d picked out a prime nest spot in the top of a dying tree. Besides being first on the field, that one was unusual in having crests that were not black like the majority of the local population and not white like the minority either; they were a fine brindled pepper-and-salt pattern, especially bushy and very distinguished.

Several Western Grebes swam with the scaup and Ruddy Ducks toward the Embarcadero fountain end of the lake: the first of their species to show up here since March 2016. Up by the islands, we saw one female Red-breasted Merganser and both a male and half a dozen female Common Mergansers (instead of the several pairs of each seen in recent months). The change may indicate a drop in salinity of the lake; Red-breasted Mergansers prefer salt water and Commons fresh, and with all this rain, unusual amounts of fresh water have been flowing into the lake from the Embarcadero creeks and the street drains.

Spring is definitely on the way. If the cormorants weren’t evidence enough, some of the Ruddy Ducks have mostly turned ruddy, the scaup drakes have shining white wings, and Hank-the-rescue-pelican is growing his breeding bump in lonely solitude. The Barrow’s Goldeneyes have departed. The rest of the winter visitors are still here – but see them soon or wait for next November.

The welcome-to-the-walk talk was interrupted by a Nuttall’s Woodpecker who showed off his fine ladder-pattern back and brilliant red head in a tamarisk near the dome cage where we meet – right at eye level, for a good long look with no neck strain. A couple of other males appeared later in the morning too, and also a rarely seen Downy Woodpecker. Yellow-rumped Warblers crowded the trees in the park, along with so many loud crows we were sure there had to be a raptor around, but we couldn’t find it and figured they couldn’t be harassing the pair of California Scrub-Jays (note the new name) that were watching them, so who knows? Pure crowly mischief.

Not a tremendously busy day – only 41 species, low for midwinter – but the clouds parted for welcome gleams of sun and dropped no rain at all: yet another good day at Lake Merritt….

Fort Mason
February 19, 2017
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 13
# of species: 45

Bullock’s Oriole, White-throated Sparrow and House Wren were the highlights.

Mount Sutro
February 18, 2017
Leader(s): Pat Greene
# of participants: 15
# of species: 22

We met at the UCSF Woods Lot where parking was permitted for a Sutro Stewards work day ( The weather was forecast to be rainy through ~10 AM, but the rain had stopped before daybreak, and I was surprised and happy as birders started arriving. We started under mostly cloudy skies with partial clearing through the morning. The temperature was about 55°F, and a breeze of 8-10 mph sent us up the fairly sheltered Northridge Trail to the Summit, instead of Historic Trail where the wind with cool temps can be uncomfortable. The summit meadow was surprisingly calm, but not very birdy–the birds seemed to hunkered down. SF had been experiencing extreme winds and a lot of rain during the previous 48 hours, so we avoided the narrow South Ridge and Quarry Trails, and descended Nike Road past the Sutro Nursery to Fairy Gates trail for the return to the start (

The birdiest spot of the day being the parking lot at the start; the best bird of the day for many of us was a Red-breasted Sapsucker. A large eucalyptus with Sapsucker tracks had been noticed a couple of years ago on the west side of the lot, but spotting the bird has not been a sure thing. On this morning it was working a tree on the east side of the lot. Views were filtered through foliage, but with patience, all were able to see the bird.  We also heard and saw many Robins, Song Sparrow, Townsend’s Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Dark-eyed Junco before setting off on the trails.

The group was fairly large for birding on the sometimes narrow trails. But it was in interesting group, with Maryann Rainey, a Sutro Stewards nursery volunteer, providing commentary on the Sutro Stewards plantings along in openings created by trail building and hazardous tree removal. Another participant found a beautiful small salamander with orange legs and tail. Mushrooms were also up after all the rain. Alan Hopkins, well known in the SF birding community, also joined us and was a big help spotting birds, and helping share birds with the group.

Chain of Lakes Park, San Francisco
February 12, 2017
Leader(s): Mitch Youngman and Bonnie Brown
# of participants:
# of species: 34

Got lucky yet again with the weather! Sunny but started off chilly at 46F and warmed up nicely. Calm and clear morning, which I think we all really appreciated after all that rain. Another fun and friendly group today, Mitch gave a nice introduction and overview of GGAS (it was a Centennial walk after all!). We started at South Lake with a nice look at 5 Hooded Mergansers (with that being the first sighting I knew it would be a good day). Had a good look at a Northern Flicker low in the shrubs and pretty close up. Then we walked via Middle Lake, and it’s a lake again! Water has reappeared. A bit quiet through this area. Mitch brought his scope and we were all able to see the Great Horned Owl on it’s nest, one of the gals in our group had pictures of the owl and owlet from last season. That was fun to see! Then over to North Lake and there was a giant tree over the trail but plan B always works out and we took a secret shortcut to access the trail. Heard the Red Tails a few times and then they showed off for us a bit. A pair was seen on a tree and then flying, calling. Maybe they will take up residence in a nearby nest? A highlight this morning was certainly the Allen’s Hummingbirds, we saw at least 6. Twice we saw swooping behavior and also their impressive vertical flying maneuver. A lot of American Robins and Ravens observed today as well. And last but not least, we saw the Belted Kingfisher at South Lake right as we finished our walk. Not all got to see that one, but the few of us that did were quite happy with this last minute find! See you all next quarter!
View this checklist online at  Happy birding,

Brushy Peak, Patterson Pass
February 5, 2017
Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 8
# of species: 51

We had a fabulous raptor-y day at Brushy Peak and Patterson Pass Rd.  In the process, we discussed GGAS’s involvement with protecting birds from the Patterson Pass wind turbines.

As usual this fall, Brushy Peak and Laughlin Rd. were teeming with raptors.  Highlights included three Ferruginous Hawks, a Merlin, a Burrowing Owl, and a bunch of Kestrels, Red-tails, and Harriers. Loggerhead Shrikes were also relatively numerous.

Also, as usual this fall, Patterson Pass Rd. was relatively slow, although we had a nice look at an adult Golden Eagle, another Ferrug., and a bunch of Red-tails, Kestrels and Shrikes. Judging from recent postings, there is only one Mountain Bluebird in winter residence on Patterson Pass Rd. this winter. We saw him.

Tilden Park Nature Area
February 3, 2017
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 18
# of species: 29

Our theme today was dual: Groundhog Day, and Mixed Species Flocks.

Two take-home lessons of Groundhog Day: The stars above us tonight (early February) are the star patterns of the Vernal Equinox sky of 3500 years ago, when (French folklorists tell us) there were spring celebrations that included The Bear (as Ursa Major, our Big Dipper). The “six more weeks of winter” (now closer to seven) marks off the time since today’s star patterns were those of the spring: “precession of the equinox” (due to the Earth’s axis wobbling in a 26,000 year cycle) causes the stars to appear a week earlier each 500 years. The Bear emerges from its hibernation, expecting a spring event, finds it is still winter, and goes back to sleep. The French say it sleeps for 40 more days, the Germans say the badger (another winter hibernator) sleeps for 4 weeks. German immigrants brought their folklore to Pennsylvania, and transferred their many early-February traditions to the groundhog. 2017 was the 131st year of the Gobbler’s Knob event in Punxsutawney, PA – the groundhog saw its shadow: six more weeks of winter! See H. Newell Wardle, Note on the Groundhog Myth and its Origin, Journal of American Folklore, 1919, vol. 32, pp 521-522 (it is available on line!). Thank you, Professor Alan Dundes, for this reference!

The other lesson is: Groundhogs wake up early in February so they can have grandchildren. Males go around to the wintering sites of females (who are still hibernating) and cuddle with them, a bonding activity that makes the male familiar when they meet in another month or so (maybe his scent is left in the female’s den?). Females are in estrus for only two weeks; ovulation is induced by copulation; gestation is 30 days; and the young are in the burrows for another 20-30 days, then out in the world and on their own soon after. Groundhog young need to have enough time to fatten for hibernation, so the earlier the males wake up from their hibernation, visit females for a “familiarity tour” (they may go to back to hibernate for awhile), and then mate when the females emerge, the better chance their offspring will survive to have offspring. So, the groundhog gets up early to have grandchildren!

New information on Mixed Species Flocks is available on line (you need to hunt around for a free PDF but it is available): Sridhar, H. et al., 2012, The American Naturalist 180(6):770-790, Positive Relationships between Association Strength and Phenotypic Similarity Characterize the Assembly of Mixed-Species Bird Flocks Worldwide. Birds in MSF’s are likely to be similar in size and shape, have similar foraging styles, and are often phylogenetically related.  Also, “Like Chasing Tornadoes” by Jack Connor (Living Bird, Autumn 2014. pp 38-39), and “Chickadees in Winter” by Bernd Heinrich (Natural History, March 2015, pp. 30-35) are fun to read, too.
Lake Merritt
January 25, 2017
Leader(s): Hilary Powers
# of participants: 21
# of species: 39

The species count was down for today’s walk, but the rarity count was way up. We had Barrow’s Goldeneyes for the first January this decade, and we had not one but two pair each of Common and Red-breasted Mergansers. A first-year Red-tailed Hawk sat on one of the islands till the crows ran it off, and a tiny Brown Creeper – another January first, and the first in any month since November 2003 – shared a tree near the playground with a Nuttall’s Woodpecker and a Western Bluebird. In the garden, a Fox Sparrow joined the White-crowned and Golden-crown sparrows in the vegetable beds.

So the 20-odd participants in the walk were delighted with what they saw and hardly noticed what common sights of past years they were missing: both Western and Clark’s Grebes, wild White Pelicans, even Double-crested Cormorants were least in sight (though I did see one cormorant after the walk, while loading the scope in the car). No Great Egrets or Great Blue Herons, no Green Herons, no Belted Kingfishers, no Titmice, no House Sparrows or House Finches….

A strange day, indeed – cold but sunny and bright, providing very good looks at what there was to see. Familiar wonders like the coots’ lobed green toes or Hank-the-rescue-pelican’s twisted shoulder, mild surprises like a Ruby-crowned Kinglet – usual description: if you didn’t see it, it was a kinglet! – fluttering around the front of a branch in plain sight for several minutes, raw if possibly misguided courage from the group members who slithered down a concrete goose-ramp to rescue a turtle the size of a salad plate from a salty death. (And came out dry, with the turtle in a plastic bag to bear off to a better home.) But a good day all round, well up to the standard of Lake Merritt, where every day truly is a good day.

Fort Mason
January 15, 2017
Leader(s): David Assmann,
# of participants: 25
# of species: 55
Fort Mason was quite active this morning, particularly after the sun came out. The participants collectively saw 56 species. Ducks in and around Aquatic Park included a female BUFFLEHEAD, two AMERICAN WIGEONS and a male RED-BREASTED MERGANSER. A COMMON MURRE swam just offshore. The WANDERING TATTLER was immediately below the sea wall, so participants were treated to stunning views from 10 feet away or less. While watching the Tattler bob its tail, two BLACK TURNSTONES flew in next to the Tattler. At least 14 FORSTER’S TERNS were fishing in the Bay, and a BONAPARTE’S GULL flew west. There were three EARED GREBES in Aquatic Park, along with several WESTERN GREBES. In one of the trees next to Aquatic Park, an ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD sat on a nest. Raptors included a very visible RED-TAILED HAWK in the garden, a COOPER’S HAWK north of the garden, and a MERLIN in the Battery. The BULLOCK’S ORIOLE was chattering at the beginning of the morning, and perched out for the last participants to see at the end of the walk. A WHITE-THROATED SPARROW was visible periodically, and a LINCOLN’S SPARROW afforded good views on the north side of the garden. A RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER was working the Avocado tree in the garden. We had several good sightings of an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER. A HOUSE WREN called in the garden, and at the very end, a WESTERN BLUEBIRD was on the far south side of the Great Meadow, and a SAY’S PHOEBE was in front of the Headquarters.

Tilden Nature Area
January 6, 2017
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 24
# of species: 32

Our theme today was Winter Survival of Birds: Life on the Edge and how they cope.

Highlights were: Corvid Grand Slam (Common Raven, American Crow, Steller’s Jay and Scrub Jay); Picidae Hat Trick (Northern Flicker, Hairy Woodpecker, Nuttall’s Woodpecker); Raptor Great Grand Slam (Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk and Golden Eagle). Mammal of the Day: Coyote (three of them on the road to Jewel Lake).

Strybing Arboretum, San Francisco
January 1, 2017
Leader(s): Kimberly Jannarone & others
# of participants: 12+
# of species: 30+

Happy 2016, birders! About a dozen of us welcomed it in by birding the Arboretum together this morning.
A real delight was a Pacific Wren rewarding our stillness and patience by hopping out near our feet, foraging around, and then going back to its business in the bushes. After this, we felt the new year had promise.
While we consistently arrived a few minutes late to where Ginny’s group had just seen some rarer birds, we enjoyed saying hello to over 30 species and getting great looks at many, including a Pied-Billed Grebe looking subtle and elegant on the pond, an acrobatic Downy Woodpecker who hung upside down in front of us for a long while, a open view in full sunlight of a Hutton’s Vireo, and a couple of very close Brown Creepers. We saw a pair of Fox Sparrows doing their double-scratch, and Song Sparrows were almost everywhere.