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2018 Trip Reports

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.