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2018 Trip Reports

Lake Merritt
May 23, 2018
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 17
# of species: 34

Today felt like the coldest 4th Wednesday of the year, with enough moving water in the air to require windshield wipers on the drive to the park. Nonetheless, 17 intrepid birders — including a serious pre-teen who was returning to India later in the day — joined Golden Gate Audubon for the morning walk. Conditions improved somewhat through the morning, and we even had one fleeting patch of sunlight. 

The lake rewarded the attention, presenting three Least Terns showing off their yellow bills and diving and fishing and chasing each other, just as though they were routine visitors instead of never-seen-here-before, plus some novel-for-the-month sights. Eared and Horned Grebes, missing in May as far as my records go (2009), provided one representative each in full blazing breeding plumage, and the cormorants on the islands seemed further along than usual — or possibly behind, though that seems less likely. At any rate, instead of the crowd of branchers observed last year, we had nests full of adults with half-sized youngsters poking their heads up to be fed. One male was crouching in a nest, head back and tail up in the “Lookit me! I’ve snagged a condo! Come live with me and be my love!” pose, ready to start the season’s next round of domesticity. A Black Phoebe had a couple of fledglings parked on the rocks at the foot of the lake wall, far from hidden but convenient for bringing back bugs snatched near the surface of the water — and for long, satisfying looks at the chestnut edging on the young birds’ back feathers and quick glimpses of bright yellow-orange throats.

A couple of Canada Geese rested belly-down on the islands, heads high and white chin patches glowing like candles — probably prospective mamas on eggs. That’s late for the area; two park employees stopped us with different places where babies were to be found (though we didn’t actually see any), and the geese at Middle Harbor Park have had clutches following them around since mid-April, but most of the geese in Lakeside park have no offspring in hand. They seem to have arrived early for the molt migration, airing the odd empty wing and leaving a few flight feathers lying about, foretelling a busy and messy June.

One male Western Bluebird showed off in the trees below the playground, though the rest of his family stayed out of sight, while both Violet-green and Northern Rough-winged Swallows zipped across the lawns. Less happily received were a European Starling and a pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds in the bowling green; handsome birds all but unwelcome for being aggressively invasive in the former case and enthusiastic nest parasites in the latter.

All in all, it was a chilly but happy group that wound up the walk a little after noon, having seen 34 species (two up from last year) and enjoyed yet another visit with Lake Merritt, where every day is a good day….

Hilltop Lake
May 23, 2018
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 3
# of species: 2

A cool (55 degrees), overcast day.   We walked around the pond, which had a little bit of azolla (I presume) still on it (green now; previously red during the winter).    It was relatively quiet.   We saw 3 small American Coot chicks and a Mallard chick.  There was no sign of Pied-billed Grebe nor Common Gallinule chicks this visit, and Hooded Orioles were also AWOL.   It also was nice to see the Green Heron, colorful Red-winged Blackbirds and fledged Black Phoebes.   Ebird list:  S45965563.

Fort Mason
May 20, 2018
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants:
# of species: 

We were treated to extended views of a singing, and feeding, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK on the hillside above Aquatic Park, where a pair of HOODED ORIOLES also foraged. Otherwise, few migrants were around – a lingering YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER in the lower Battery, a WHITE-THROATED SWIFT flying over the Battery and a WILSON’S WARBLER in the garden. A BULLOCK’S ORIOLE was in the garden shortly after sunrise. The number of BRANDT’S CORMORANTS on Alcatraz right now is astounding – I listed 500 on eBird, but I’m sure that is a substantial undercount.

Yesterday (May 19th), there was also a singing male BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK at El Polin Springs (in the willow east of the spring), two LAZULI BUNTINGS on the hillside, and an OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER just south of Inspiration Point.

On Friday the 18th, the highlight at Fort Mason was a BROWN BOOBY flying east (one was reported in Alameda that afternoon after an absence of several days – likely the same bird). There was a singing male BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK at Fort Mason (perhaps the same one seen today), a WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, and a YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER.

On Thursday the 16th I started at Lake Merced, where a RED-NECKED PHALAROPE was swimming north of the concrete bridge; two GREEN HERONS flew over the lake; a VAUX’S and a WHITE-THROATED SWIFT were in with the swallows; and both a WARBLING VIREO and a WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE were near the Vista Grande Canal. Later that morning I went to the East Wash, and down the now almost impassable trail and found a lot of activity, including a SWAINSON’S THRUSH, a WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE, 2 WARBLING VIREOS, a YELLOW WARBLER, 5 WILSON’S WARBLERS, a BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK and 2 ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS (I also saw what looked like a hatch year HUTTTON’S VIREO.

Briones Regional Parkz
May 19, 2018
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 10
# of species: 36

It was a cool (55-60 degrees), breezy and mostly sunny day.  We walked from the far gravel parking lot at Bear Creek Staging Area, around Newt Hollow Picnic Area, then up Abrigo Valley Trail to Maud Whalen group campsite and back. Birds were not as active as I’d hoped and expected, but we managed to see most of our targeted species, i.e. Bullock’s Orioles, Western Kingbird, Lark Sparrow and Lazuli Bunting (by most of the group).   We heard a number calls – some identifiable, some not – without seeing the birds, who may have been hunkered down or maybe busy with young.   36 species identified: Ebird checklist S45879354.

Yosemite National Park
May 18-20, 2018
Leader(s): Dave Quady and Dave Cornman
# of participants: 18
# of species: 6

Eighteen birders enjoyed gorgeous weather and lots of bird activity on Golden Gate Audubon Society’s annual spring field trip to western Yosemite National Park. This year’s trip differed from previous ones in two ways: it was earlier by two weeks, and we spent a half-day in the Rim Fire snag forest, searching specifically for Black-backed Woodpeckers. We didn’t find that species, but certainly gained an appreciation for the panoply of life and re-growth apparent among the snags, five years after that massive fire. Finally, with the Tioga Road not yet open, we were unable to bird higher elevation lodgepole pine forests that have long been a regular part of our itinerary.

Each year we regret missing some ‘expected’ species, which this year included Bushtit, Wrentit, Bewick’s Wren, Orange-crowned Warbler, Hermit Warbler, and Lesser Goldfinch. Offsetting those misses, we had a wonderful experience with a Great Gray Owl, a species we last recorded in 2014, and singing Nashville Warblers, not heard singing in recent trips. Yosemite’s iconic nesting species again delighted the eye: White-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, and Mountain Chickadee come quickly to mind.

Our ‘official’ trip list (of birds heard or seen by at least one leader and one participant, listed in American Ornithological Society taxonomic order) totaled 60 species, a half dozen lower than average. But who was complaining? The weather was gorgeous, more bird species were singing than in recent years, mountain dogwood bloomed in blindingly bright white, oaks were leafing out, and wildflowers dotted the ground with color. Where else would one rather be at this time of year?

Corona Heights
May 18, 2018
Leader(s): Sarah Burton
# of participants: 11
# of species: 15

Winds W 20-24 mph, misty with drizzle, temperatures 52-55F.

First GGAS bird walk as a guide. Participants first viewed a White-crowned Sparrow nest in the garden of the Randall Museum, then saw an Anna’s Hummingbird nest with two fledglings. Highlights were the pair of Lesser Goldfinches that, along with a pair of California Towhees, a Scrub-jay, and about five Bushtits, were flushed from a conifer on the east side of the hill shortly after a banded Red-tailed Hawk flew low and close into the branches. Not other buteos, accipiters, swallows, or swifts today, and far fewer migrants than were reported over the last two weeks. The Western Wood-Pewee, Western Tanagers, Olive-sided Flycatchers, and more, were likely hiding from the wet and cold conditions. Spirits were high, still, and participants engaged in listening and question asking until the very end. We completed the full loop together, I relying on bird factoids to compensate for the not-so-birdy day. Dominik Mosur was involved in the first 10 minutes of the walk and set up his scope so viewers could have a closer look at the hummingbird nest. Grateful for his knowledge, professionalism, reliability, and encouragement these last couple of months as I prepared for the walk today.

Tilden Nature Area
May 4, 2018
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 34
# of species: 31

Our regular birdwalk (earlier today was the Dawn Chorus themed walk at 5:30am).

Guests through Meet-up today from Bangalore, Karnataka state, India. Bird(s) O’ the Day: Cedar Waxwings uphill from the parking lot, and White-tailed Kites.

Dawn Chorus
May 4, 2018
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 25
# of species: 36

This weekend is International Dawn Chorus Sunday and this was our 7th annual Dawn Chorus walk on the first Friday of May from 5:30 to 8:00 a.m.  Honored guests were Dave Quady, and a visitor from Ithaca, N.Y. 

New information (to me, anyway): Dawn conditions are more stable and make the songs heard day after day by mates and rivals sound consistent, eliminating uncertainty and challenges: Yeah, that’s my guy who has survived the night! or That’s my neighbor and we’ve got an arrangement already- no threat!

Some of the birds heard/seen included Great Horned Owl, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Pacific Slope Flycatcher, Hutton’s Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Pacific Wren, Swainson’s Thrush and Black-headed Grosbeak.

Chain of Lakes, San Francisco
April 28, 2018
Leader(s): Bonnie Brown and Mitch Youngman
# of participants: 18
# of species: 29

Golden Gate Audubon Society outing today in the Chain of Lakes was fantastic and we got off to a great start with about 50 Cedar Waxwings in the Eucalyptus trees above South Lake.  They stayed near us for a while flying about in flocks and we had some good views.  We had a really wonderful group today, 23 in total, all locals.  It was great to have two people from the current SF Master Birding Program with us and they brought scopes (thank you Rebecca and Robert for sharing), so we had three scopes in total.  

 The scopes allowed our large group to get to see the female Red-Tailed Hawk on her nest, Allen’s Hummingbirds, and a highlight of the day, the Great Horned Owl and two owlets on branches above their nest on MLK Drive.  Great find of a bushtit nest right next to the trail at North Lake.  Towards the end, we finally got a few good looks at a beautiful Wilsons Warbler.  Our weather was a mix of cool ocean air and occasional warm sunshine, low 60’s.  All in all, it was another excellent morning walk.  Thank you all for joining us today and hope to see you again.

Del Valle Regional Park & Mines Road
April 27, 2018
Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 11
# of species: 74

We had a pretty nice day birding at Del Valle Regional Park and along Mines and San Antonio Valley Roads. We got most of the expected spring birds, including Bald Eagles on their long-used nest at Del Valle along with multiple Phainopepla and Lewis’s Woodpeckers.  We were surprised and delighted to see several tule elk cows with young calves grazing in the pasture next to the road at the Lewis’s Woodpecker spot in San Antonio Valley.

Hilltop Lake, Richmond
April 25, 2018
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 6
# of species: 39

Eight of us spent about 2 hours noodling around Hilltop Lake today (about 0.75 miles total).   It was mostly sunny, 55-62 degrees.  Most of the Azolla (small-leaf  floating aquatic plant) was gone; the remaining chunk at the north end was green, rather than the red color of the last couple months.  Ducks are gone, except for a few mallards, and so are the Northern Flickers.  Swallows are back (we identified 3 species), as are the Hooded Orioles.  The Pied-billed Grebe was calling a lot; hopefully breeding behavior.  A couple other uncommon visitors were the Green Heron and the Black-headed Grosbeak.  We saw 39 species plus an Accipiter.   The Ebird checklist is S44940980.

Lake Merritt
April 25, 2018
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 14
# of species:  32

A few participants in the April 4th-Wednesday Golden Gate Audubon walk – not including me, alas – got to see one of the finest sights springtime has to offer: a pair of Eared Grebes in full copper and steel and gold breeding plumage rise up and run side by side across the water. By the time others whirled to look, the two were swimming sedately. Still a treat, every move and turn perfectly matched, but with no sign that surface speed was any part of their lives.

It was a quiet day – at 32 species, tied for the lowest count in several Aprils – but well filled with brilliant moments: the fledgling Double-crested Cormorant spreading its new wings on the edge of an island, the would-be papa cormorant circling the islands to build the height needed to deliver a heavy branch to a nest for the second wave of breeding, the lone Horned Grebe in breeding plumage in a group of Eared Grebes. Across the street behind the bird paddock, Cedar Waxwings filled a tall snag over the garden. A pair of Western Bluebirds shared the Necklace of Lights with brown Northern Rough-winged Swallows, while a crowd of House Sparrows sorted through the lawn below them. You’d think House Sparrows would be too common to mention, but lately they’ve been rare at the lake: this was their first appearance this year. We  saw them only three times last year and four the year before; they haven’t shown up in April since 2015.

Human encounters had charms of their own. We got a scope focused on an active Black Phoebe nest, and a young mother lifted her daughter from a stroller so she could look too. The child beamed happily and told us of seeing wild Keas in New Zealand: a good start to a life with birds. Later, a six-foot-tall woman stopped us to demand, “Can you answer a bird question? I keep seeing Kookaburras in the trees, but I thought Kookaburras live in Australia?!” “You’re seeing kingfishers – and you’re right, Kookaburras are kingfishers that live in Australia. But there are lots of different kinds: all Kookaburras are kingfishers, but not all kingfishers are Kookaburras; these ones are Belted Kingfishers, smaller and a different color, but a lot alike.” “That answers my question!” She grinned and strolled on, a goddess in white shorts and loose top.

And thus another trip along the lake – far enough to see the few scaup remaining in front of the fountain at El Embarcadero, with one big Western Grebe among them – then back across Bellevue and around the Garden Center and through the garden, moving from overcast to bright sunlight and enjoying every moment of yet another good day at Lake Merritt.

Corona Heights
April 20, 2018
Leader(s): Brian Fitch
# of participants: n/r
# of species: n/r

Today was my final time as official leader of this walk, after roughly 20 years of working mostly with a group of other leaders.  Human participants showed up in good numbers, in contrast to the birds, with few migrants, and even residents being strikingly sparse for a beautiful April morning.

Most of the highlights showed up late for the remaining birders, including a perched first year Cooper’s Hawk, a low swooping White-throated Swift, and a calling Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  The entire group was able to view a male Black-headed Grosbeak which eventually cooperated after hiding in grass and eucs.  I also heard a distant Hooded Oriole.

Thanks to Golden Gate Audubon for sponsoring this event, which was originally started as a simple censusing project by Margaret Goodale of the Randall Museum.  It will hopefully continue as a monthly walk on into the future with other leaders.

Mount Diablo State Park: Miller Canyon
April 20, 2018
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 6
# of species: 49

It was a beautiful sunny day with not much wind, 62-75 degrees.   Seven of us  walked down Mitchell Canyon Road Trail, turned right toward Black Point trail and then south on small trail parallel to and upslope from Mitchell Canyon trail.  This joined Red Road trail where we walked past chaparral on one side and a creek on the other of the trail up to the large stand of oaks near the top.   When we came back down, everyone was game to go a bit farther south on Mitchell Canyon trail to look for Lazuli Buntings (which we think we heard but unfortunately did not see).    We got back at 2:30, having walked about 3.5 miles for six hours (we did dawdle, apparently).

We saw 49 species, starting with a bunch in the parking lot.   Our sightings included 3 wren species and 7 warbler species.   A treat for me was the Bell’s Sparrow, though it stayed only a couple seconds atop its shrub on Red Road.   We fretted over several species, including the flycatcher that sat directly above our heads but would not call, show its primary projection or show us its back.  We settled on an ID of Pacific-slope Flycatcher, given the combination of largish yellow lower mandible, olive overtones, slightly extended (though not the cleanest) eye ring,  and slight crest.  One of the warblers in the two warblery live oaks under which we spent much time had a white eye ring (too fleeting to see whether it was a broken eye ring), yellow belly and solid grey head and hood, however the hood came half way down its belly.  Still, I can’t think of anything else that comes close to what I saw,  except the MacGillivray’s Warbler (okay, I assumed it wasn’t a Connecticut Warbler).  Finally, a raptor flew very quickly across the main trail, flashing a lot of white, which caused one of us to “see” a Northern Harrier and another to get an accipiter GISS (general impression of size and shape).   Considering the setting and behavior, I consulted with a friend and long-term hawk bander and rescue expert, who said that rear and side in-flight views of accipiters, particularly Cooper’s Hawks, have very fluffy, prominent white undertail coverts that sometimes blow up around the base of the tail and can show a lot of white around the tail.   I settled on Accipiter.

Coming back we ran into the most aggressive little gopher snake which kept charging and “striking” at us; I think it thought it was a rattlesnake.   I believe a good time was had by all.  We saw 49 species plus an Accipiter and a Selasphorus hummingbird.  Ebird checklist is S44852276.

Point Pinole
April 13, 2018
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 18
# of species: 50

It was a beautiful sunny, warm day.  We walked about 2.2 miles from the Giant Highway Staging Area out along the Bay View, Nitro, Woods and Station Trails and back to the parking lot.  Ducks were mostly gone except for a few American Wigeons, a raft of 100 or so Scaups, a couple female Canvasbacks and a single Ruddy Duck with a brilliant blue bill.  A fair number of shorebirds were present and a lot of Western Bluebirds.  Highlights of the walk were Dunlins in breeding plumage with nice black bellies, an unexpected Golden-crowned Kinglet, brilliantly colored Western Bluebirds and Yellow-rumped Warblers, a couple nesting White-tailed Kites, and great looks at a very accommodating Osprey.   Ebird list: S44536565.

Bay Trail Bike and Bird, Coyote Point Park  to Foster City
April 1,  2018
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier and Pat Greene
# of participants: 6
# of species: 53

Our joint GGAS/Grizzly Peak Cyclists bike & bird trip  was to see the last of the season’s ducks and to look for shorebirds in breeding plumage.  There was a total of six of us.   It was a lovely, sunny Easter Day (60-68 degrees) and the Coyote Point Recreational Area had already begun filling up with family picnics when we arrived.   The Bay Trail there is entirely paved and proceeds along open water, through marshes, and along little fresh water/brackish ponds and sloughs.  The remaining ducks in the bay were predominantly American Wigeons, Surf Scoters and some Scaups, with handfuls of 7 other species along the way.   Highlights were 60 Caspian Terns, a female Hooded Merganser, Black-bellied Plovers, Avocets and one Eared Grebe in or transitioning into breeding plumage, and a pair of Ospreys on a nest.   In all, we saw 53 species (https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S44176225) and biked an easy 15 miles round trip.  On the ride back, the wind came up, and with it hordes of windsurfers.

Lake Merritt
March 28, 2018
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 35
# of species: 40

Before the Eared and Horned Grebes head off to their breeding grounds – now’s the time to see some truly spectacular avian dress-up wear. (Well, the 4th-Wednesday Golden Gate Audubon group missed out on Horned Grebe, but the Tuesday4BirdsFriends bunch saw a beauty the preceding morning, so they’re there.) Both species are flat out gorgeous, with body plumage that looks like polished copper and steel and head decorations like beaten gold. In addition, a lot of the Ruddy Duck drakes have fully auburn backs to set off their black and white heads and their brilliant blue bills.

They’ll all be leaving in the next few weeks, along with the Greater and Lesser Scaup (which are showing off plumage that looks like their regular winter wear but much brighter and shinier overall) and the last of the Canvasbacks and Bufflehead. The Double-crested Cormorants will stay… but if you want a hope of seeing their crests, get down to the lake before the end of April; they all, males and females alike, put on black or sometimes white bunny-ear party hats for the pairing-up season but then drop them whether or not they snag a nesting spot. Birds will be raising broods in the trees on the islands till September, but the second and third tenants of the nests will have smooth heads while they work. (Some birds have been looking over the tree by the playground where they nested last year, but none have picked spots there yet – good news for the cleanup crew if that situation continues.)

The Northern Rough-winged Swallows have returned to their nesting holes in the rock wall of the lake below the playground, and a few people on the walk had the delight of seeing a pair swoop past mating in mid-air. All got to watch one perch on the Necklace-of-Lights wire, neat and brown and looking like 200 mph sitting still. We also saw two active Black Phoebe nests (and doubtless missed a dozen more), and stayed a while near the Bushtit nest first observed in February but couldn’t tell if it was still busy or not. Bushtits take about two and a half weeks to hatch eggs and as long again to fledge youngsters, so it could have been in use, but the parents didn’t show up while we watched.

The total species count was 40, moderately low for the month, despite picking up a rarely seen Red-breasted Merganser and an Allen’s-or-Rufous Hummingbird (the orange ones, which defy precise identification when they buzz past at speed), along with the Western Bluebirds (out of sight last month) and the first Lesser Goldfinch of the year. We missed out on Chestnut-backed Chickadee and House Finch, both almost always seen in Lakeside Park, and also failed to see the Northern Flicker, Cedar Waxwing, Townsend’s Warbler, and Golden-crowned Sparrow that had turned up on Tuesday morning. Nonetheless, it was sunny… and warm… and altogether pleasant for a change, and even though we could use more rain this year, we were happy not to be getting any on this, yet another good day at Lake Merritt.

Hilltop Lake Park
March 14, 2018
Leader(s): Kathy Bleier
# of participants: 7
# of species: 28

It was a short walk (about 0.7 miles) around the 10-12 acre lake on a day threatening rain.  Still, the regular die-hards showed up and a few new people for a total of 8 participants, including the leader.   The birds were relatively quiet.  We saw a total of 28 species, including 3 woodpecker species and our first Allen’s Hummingbird of the season.  A few  Canvasbacks, Ring-necked Ducks and Bufflehead remain.   The rain finally came, so we ended a half hour earlier than usual.   Ebird checklist: checklist/S43646492

San Leandro Shoreline Bike and Bird Trip
March 10, 2018
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier and Pat Greene
# of participants: 1
# of species: 56

If a rare duck visits the marina but (almost) no one bikes there to see it, does it still quack?   Three of us say yes (ok, we didn’t actually hear it quack).  This was a joint Golden Gate Audubon and Grizzly Peak Cyclists trip, co-led by Cathy Bleier and Pat Greene.  It was a chilly day (about 55 degrees) with 20% of rain.  Only one participant showed up, but we had a fun day anyway.  We spent quite a while with the Harlequin Duck and got within about 20 feet when it settled on the shore.   We then went about 3 miles farther down the trail to the Heron Bay wetlands.   Avocets were coming into breeding plumage but not the Black-bellied Plover or Dunlins yet.  A few Surfbirds were present, too.  Like last year, a couple Bicolored Red-winged Blackbirds practically stood on our feet while displaying for us.   We returned to San Leandro BART having biked a total of about 7 miles and seen 56 species.   Ebird checklist/S43542794

Bodega Bay
March 4, 2018
Leader(s):Rusty Scalf
# of participants: 13
# of species: 59

There were many good birds on this trip including Brant, Red-throated Loon, Pacific Loon, Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Brandt’s Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant. and Snowy Plover.

Tilden Nature Area
March 2, 2018
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 24
# of species: 27

We walked to Jewel Lake and back again in wet, dark(ish), sun, hail, rain conditions.

Thanks to the 24 observers (23 and me!) who came out today; some drove into the parking lot with snow or hail on their cars from the higher elevations to the south and east. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker did not appear at the cotoneaster in the parking lot, but we had Northern Flicker, Hairy Woodpecker and Acorn Woodpecker for a Picidae hat-trick and a Corvid grand slam, too: Steller’s Jay, California Scrub-Jay, American Crow and Common Raven.

Topic today was Birdwatching with American Women: a selection of nature writings, by Deborah Strom. Women birders were crucial in: ending the millinery and fashion trade use of birds on hats and clothing in the early 20th century (Celia Leighton Thaxter’s essay “Women’s Heartlessness”); spreading the nature education movement nation-wide (Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study); producing “our first modern field guide”,  said GGAS member Harry Fuller of Florence Merriam Bailey’s Handbook of Birds of the Western United States; introducing field techniques for research that are still used today (Margaret Morse Nice’s Song Sparrow studies).

Lake Merritt
February 28, 2018
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 22
# of species: 44

We arrived to find the Double-crested Cormorants well settled on the islands. Every surviving nest there had a bird in it. A few prospective couples sat together, but mostly it was solo males, beak and tail pointed skyward in cormorant-speak for “See my fine condo! Come live with me and be my love!” (The human eye can’t tell the difference between males and females, but it’s known that the males grab territory and then females pick males – or territory – to suit themselves.)

If you want to see bunny-ear crests instead of these birds’ usual snake-smooth heads, now’s the time to head over to the nature center. The crests will last through March and start disappearing in April, even though birds will be on nests into September. (Not *these* birds, of course; it takes about a month to hatch a clutch of eggs and another month for the babies to fledge, so – since there’s no evidence that cormorants double-clutch – the first round of parents will be long gone about their business by then. And probably the second round, too…. Thus far there was no action in the tree beside the playground that served as overflow housing last year.

At the other end of the visibility scale, we found a Bushtit nest in the sensory garden: a deep woven pouch apparently big enough to hold a dozen or more of the tiny gray birds instead of the solitary pair that owns it, this being the time of year when the usually gregarious species shuns all company. Including human company – hence the lack of specific directions for finding this hidden jewel.

Near the nature center, we heard a loud and repeated call – sort of like a Scrub Jay but more metallic, almost trumpet-like, very strange. Finally the source flew into view, startling everyone: a Steller’s Jay, whose voice would have been instantly recognizable up in the Oakland hills but just didn’t belong in a city park. (We’d encountered them only twice before, in October 2013 and November 2014, so the time of year didn’t fit, either.)

The lake held the usual winter migrants, in better numbers than past months. For the first time this winter, a couple of Lesser Scaup swam close enough to the nature center to make it easy to talk about ways to tell them from their Greater Scaup cousins. The greaters stayed out with the main flock between the islands and El Embarcadero, but were numerous and near enough to continue the comparison. Hank-the-rescue-pelican had one companion, as he occasionally does at this time of year – fourth February sighting since records start in 2009 – but basically zero hope of retaining her for the upcoming breeding season. If you’re a colony-nesting hen, a solitary male just can’t hold you.

A pair of well-equipped birders we passed swore up and down that they’d just seen (and lost track of) a Red-necked Grebe in the main flock, and we spent a long time looking for it bird by bird. That’d have been a Big Deal, seen only twice before (in 2010 and 2011) and headline-worthy news, but we couldn’t find it. Nonetheless, despite a truly biting wind, it was a solid, 44-species day – a good day at Lake Merritt (which really doesn’t have any other kind, as I may have mentioned before).

Patterson Pass
February 24, 2018
Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 16
# of species: n/a

16 of us braved the chilly temps and ferocious wind to search for raptors and other stuff at the Brushy Peak Regional Preserve north of Livermore, and then transited Patterson Pass Rd. from west to east.

The bad news is that we’re in another drought. The good news is that Frick Lake – the seasonal pond south of Brushy Peak – has dried up, so we didn’t have to screw around looking at gulls.

We dipped on two of our targets, Ferruginous Hawk and Mountain Bluebird.
Otherwise, it was a pretty successful day, with good looks at three Burrowing Owls, several Loggerhead Shrikes – apparently paired up for breeding, as well as several Golden Eagles and a beautiful Prairie Falcon. We finished up at the Midway Rd. intersection looking at a mixed flock of “black” birds; Tri-colored, Red-winged, Brewers, B-h Cowbirds, and, of course, Starlings, foraging around a cattle feeding station.

Big fun, but I hope it warms up, soon.

Lake Merced
February 20, 2018
Leader(s): Dan Murphy
# of participants: 16
# of species: 50

We birded around Lake Merced this morning. Species wise it was a slow day with only about 50 species. But the quality of those birds was pretty nice. Among our first half dozen or so birds at the Sunset Circle was a male Cinnamon Teal and a male Hermit Warbler. Both species have been previously reported from this area, but both were quite a
surprise. The teal was swimming along the marsh to the NE of the bridge.
The Hermit Warbler was in the Monterey cypress along the edge of the parking lot looking down at the bridge. Among our last birds were a Palm Warbler and a Hutton’s Vireo by the old boat launching site near the Boathouse. They were along the hillside below the street parking on Harding Dr. It’s where the Lucy’s Warbler was seen several times. I don’t think the Palm Warbler was previously reported. The Hutton’s Vireo was
cool because it’s a fairly unusual bird that I don’t recall seeing around there previously.

Fort Mason
February 18, 2018
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 18
# of species: 42

Participants in today’s Golden Gate Audubon field trip at Fort Mason were able to see a WANDERING TATTLER walk along a ledge at the edge of Aquatic Park from a distance of no more than 8-10 feet, with the bird being unconcerned about the people with binoculars a few feet away. We also got great scope views of an ALLEN’S HUMMINGBIRD on a nest on the nearby hillside. A number (6+) of NORTHERN FLICKERS were in the garden, including a male YELLOW-SHAFTED, which posed on a branch of a Eucalyptus tree for 5+ minutes before flying, showing off its yellow feathers. A WHITE-THROATED SPARROW landed right in front of the group and foraged on the ground in front of us. At the beginning of the morning, a BROWN CREEPER was climbing up the large evergreen tree near the entrance to the garden, and a RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER put in a brief appearance. A DOWNY and a NUTTALL’S WOODPECKER rounded out the woodpecker sightings in the garden. One PINE SISKIN worked a flowering tree on the east side of the garden. By the time we got over to the tennis courts in late morning to look for the Yellow Warbler, the wind had really picked up and we could not find it.

Heron’s Head Park Great American Backyard Bird Count
February 17, 2018
Leader(s):
# of participants: 15
# of species: 45

Huge thanks to Tim Tindol for presenting on the Black Oystercatcher as part of Science Saturday at Heron’s Head Park today.  Also thanks again to Mary Betlach and Alexia and Tim Tindol for participating in the Black Oystercatcher monitoring and support for this event at the EcoCenter at Herons Head Park.

Science Saturday walk at Heron’s Head Park, Feb. 17, 2018, ~ 1 – 2 PM, post high tide: we saw the continuing RIDGEWAY’S RAIL east end of the marsh (about the “eye” of the heron’s “head”, looking from the sky) actively foraging head deep in pickleweed. Other uncommon birds for this site included a male GREEN-WINGED TEAL and a female RED-BREASTED MERGANSER.

Also of note: nice pickup in American Avocet with at least 15 at HHP in a high tide roost; Noreen and I counted another 7 a bit later at Pier 94, many are well into pre-alternate molt. Aechmophorus grebes were pair bonding, no dancing yet but definitely lining up their dance cards.

Pier 94: very large number of gulls especially Mew Gull which we estimated at 325, perhaps staging up for northerly movements. Also one each of Herring Gull (in Hansen’s pond) and Iceland Gull east of north marsh. This Iceland Gull has light eyes as only a small percentage of this species exhibits but, otherwise, typical adult Thayer’s ssp.

Lake Merced
February 19, 2018
Leader(s): Dan and Joan Murphy
# of participants: 16
# of species: 50

Species wise it was a slow day with only about 50 species.  But the quality of those birds was pretty nice.  Among our first half dozen or so birds at the Sunset Circle was a male Cinnamon Teal and a male Hermit Thrush.  Both species have been previously reported from this area, but both were quite a surprise.  The teal was swimming along the marsh to the NE of the bridge.  The Hermit Warbler was in the Monterey cypress along the edge of the parking lot looking down at the bridge.

Among our last birds were a Palm Warbler and a Hutton’s Vireo by the old boat launching site near the Boathouse.  They were along the hillside below the street parking on Harding Dr.  It’s where the Lucy’s Warbler was seen several times. I don’t think the Palm Warbler was previously reported.  The Hutton’s Vireo was cool because it’s a fairly unusual bird that I don’t recall seeing around there previously.

Hilltop Lake Park
February 14, 2018
Leader(s): Kathy Bleier
# of participants: 9
# of species: 28

A sunny but brisk day at the lake (about 55 degrees) and a bit quiet.   The ducks were mostly gone (a few Canvasbacks, Buffleheads and a couple others) and the lake was covered with what I assume is Azolla, a tiny reddish aquatic fern.   A lot of colorful male Anna’s Hummingbirds were present, but no females visible and no mating aerial displays yet.   A couple swallows are back (fast and gone).   A Myrtle or two were among the Yellow-rumped Warblers and we had 3 woodpecker species.   Looking forward to what spring brings.  Ebird list S42759016

Dolphin Charter Delta Trip
February 11, 2018
Leader(s): Hilary Powers
# of participants: 29
# of species: 59

We sighted a pair of Peregrines under a bridge, and a pair of Great Horned Owls in a bare tree right at the edge of the channel, a Loggerhead Shrike on a wire and a huge raccoon on the base of a power tower. We had some of the roughest water ever (according to the captain) in the last few hours, but it was a grand trip anyway.

Kennedy Grove Recreational Area
February 9, 2018
Leader(s):Rusty Scalf
# of participants: 13
# of species: 46

The walk went pretty well.  We did minimal climbing, but saw lots of birds including great looks at Varied Thrush and a singing Cal Thrasher.

We largely stayed on the on the perimeter trails and not the steeper ‘Sea Foam’ trail.Other good birds included Ring-necked Duck, American White Pelican and Hutton’s Vireo.

Tilden Nature Area
February 2, 2018
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 37
# of species: 35

Today is Groundhog Day! We walked to Jewel Lake and back again. Guest Phyllis E. came from Cleveland, OH.
The Groundhog saw his shadow, his old-soul, and returned to his den and will re-emerge without it and start spring, again (we hope sooner, rather than later!). See “Totemism and Civic Boosterism in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, 1899-1909” by Christopher R. Davis [Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, vol 68, number 2, April 1985] [available on-line].

Bird o’ The Day was a Red-naped Sapsucker. George S. has pictures. Other birds seen include Bufflehead, Allen’s Hummingbird, Hermit Thrush, Varied Thrush and Pacific Wren.

Golden Gate Park – Chain of Lakes
January 28, 2018
Leader(s): Bonnie Brown and Pauline Yeckley
# of participants: 15
# of species: 29

We had 15 friends join in and two of those were 9 year old girls. It was a glorious, sunny, windless Winter morning in SF, Cool at the start, 49 degrees and slowly warmed up to the mid 60’s. We started at South Lake and then walked counter clockwise to Middle Lake, JFK drive (to check the Great Horned Owl nest – nobody was home today), North Lake, to the Gardeners shed and then back to the cars. Highlights were: Allens Hummingbirds! We saw their swooping behavior, vertical descents and had a really nice close up look at one in the sunshine at the water source at the south end of North Lake. Lots of Yellow Rumped Warblers, mostly heard but we did see several as well. We looked for the Belted Kingfisher at South Lake when we started but didn’t see her. On our way back to South Lake, we did get some great looks at it. Very active and fun to watch. The surprise of the morning occurred after most people left. Saw something flying south to north heading towards South Lake and it turned out to be a mature Bald Eagle! About 6 of us confirmed the sighting. 5 minutes later we saw it again in the northwest direction, soaring. Wow! Lovely morning with another great group. View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S42315564

Lake Merritt
January 24, 2018
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 26
# of species: 48

In a season of firsts, another: as we were gathering, first-comers got a good look at a Merlin sitting at the top of the highest branch of the biggest bare tree on the island. Merlins are not common in the Bay Area, and no one on the trip could recall seeing one at the lake before.

Those who arrived after the Merlin flew off were understandably disappointed, but the Barrow’s Goldeneye was some comfort, and so were the pair of bright black and white Bufflehead drakes who chased each other back and forth under the interested eye of a neat brown Bufflehead duck. Elsewhere on the lake, the winter picture continued much as in recent months. A pair of Lesser Scaup had found their way to the scavenger flock by the nature center, which was new, but the remainder mostly clustered down toward El Embarcadero with the Greater Scaup – still hundreds rather than thousands – along with more typical numbers of Common Goldeneyes and Bufflehead. Several Canvasback drakes and one duck swam past the islands, among a lot of (currently non-ruddy) Ruddy Ducks, Pied-billed Grebes, and Eared Grebes.

Walking down the lake shore, we paused to check out last summer’s Black Phoebe nest – not obviously occupied, though there was one Black Phoebe nearby – and to admire a small flock of Western Bluebirds – the first to show themselves since last July – bouncing between one of the cork oaks and the lawn. Bluebirds still feel like news at the lake, where they first appeared in 2013.

Three Western Grebes swam with the scaup flock, and even raised their heads (abandoning their floating meatloaf act) long enough for everyone to see their mustard yellow beaks and be sure what they were.

Over in Lakeside Park and the garden, the Oak Titmice were out in force – ten or a dozen tiny gray-crested birds instead of the usual two or three – and there was an unusual amount of woodpecker action too. We saw four ladder-backed Nuttall’s Woodpeckers and also a white-backed Downy Woodpecker, a much rarer sight in the park. Four species of sparrows – White-crowned, Golden-crowned, Song, and Fox – fossicked the garden beds along with the California Towhees and Lesser Goldfinches, while numerous hummingbirds zoomed overhead.

All told, we saw 48 species of birds – a solid winter total, especially since we missed out on the expected Kingfisher, Junco, and Bewick’s Wren (all probably around somewhere, just not where the group was looking). And the rain didn’t start till well after the trip ended, so it was as ever a very good day at Lake Merritt.

Fort Mason
January 21, 2018
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 21
# of species: 49

Another good day at Fort Mason with 49 species seen. Aquatic Park turned out to be a hotspot again, with two BONAPARTE’S GULLS over the water, along with 4 SNOWY EGRETS repeating their skimming behavior from yesterday. There were three COMMON MURRES, including one in full alternate plumage sitting on the pier, and two in basic plumage swimming in Aquatic Park. There were a number of WESTERN GREBES, a CLARK’S GREBE, a BUFFLEHEAD, two HORNED GREBES, two COMMON LOONS, and a RED-THROATED LOON. One of the WANDERING TATTLERS was foraging out on the exposed rocks near the wall, giving the whole group stunning views from 15 feet away. The WHITE-THROATED SPARROW continued in the garden, and everyone got great looks at the male YELLOW WARBLER near the tennis courts – it’s beginning to get a little striping on its breast.

Salton Sea
January 13, 2018
Leader(s): Eddie Bartley and Noreen Weeden
# of participants: 17
# of species: 100

100 species of birds seen by 17 GGAS members on a beautiful day at the Salton Sea.  Salinity is rising meaning less fish so the bird distribution is changing.  Less fish-eating birds. Large number of Redhead ducks, Snow Geese, Sandhill cranes. Best birds Stilt Sandpiper, both American and Least Bittern.  We saw the expected desert species plus new for the trip, Sage Thrasher.

Shadow Cliffs Regional Park
January 13, 2019
Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 20
# of species: 53

20 or so enthusiastic birders put up with the foggy, chilly, windy weather to bird with us at Shadow Cliffs Regional Rec. Area in Pleasanton today. In spite of the lousy weather, we saw pretty much the expected species, although the woodland birds were pretty quiet and skulky. We walked from the swimming beach east along the shoreline, then up the levee to the east (rookery) end, returned through the woods along the ponds, then west along the levee to the end of the park, and returned to the parking lot. View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41882471

Tilden Nature Area
January 5, 2018
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 31
# of species: 25

We walked, as usual, to Jewel Lake and back again; on the boardwalk going north to the Lake, and then back to the Little Farm by way of the Loop Road and Jewel Lake Trail steps. Light rain much of the time. The birds were the usual suspects; good birds included Fox Sparrow, Varied Thrush, Hermit Thrush and Brown Creeper.

Hilltop Lake Park
January 3, 2018
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 10
# of species: 31

Ten of us walked around Hilltop Lake in Richmond, despite the forecast of rain later in the morning.   It was a relatively quiet day bird-wise, except for the lake which was chock-full of Ring-necked Ducks, Gadwalls, American Wigeons, Buffleheads and Coots.  Still, with the usual suspects, we saw 31 species.  Nice walk, as ever.

Arrowhead Marsh Bicycle Trip
January 1, 2018
Leader(s):Kathy Jarrett
# of participants: 8
# of species: 61

Some fine birds were found today, including Burrowing Owl, Merlin, American Pipit, Say’s Phoebe, Blue-winged Teal, Ridgway’s Rail and Sora.